Founders Ministries

A Theology of Motherhood

I have read Tom Ascol’s treatment of the discussion surrounding the supposed overthrow of Roe v. Wade and the implications that has for the future of abortion in the United States. His treatment is sensitive, fittingly nuanced, biblically sound, pastoral, legally aware, clear, and fraternal in areas of disagreement among pro-life Christians. He points out that one area of disagreement among those who are pro-life is the degree, if any, of culpability on the part of the mother. This article was prompted in a positive way by his. My desire is to focus on the theology of responsible motherhood in the critical months from conception to birth.
When an abortion occurs, is there culpability? Every Christian should say, “Yes.” Upon whom does this culpability fall? Certainly it falls on the one whose profession puts himself, or herself, in the position of terminating the person who has been conceived. With just as much certainty, a biblical theology would point to both parents as culpable, in varying degrees depending on circumstances. In particular, however, caring for life from the moment of conception falls on the woman whose body has been designed by God both to conceive, carry, nourish, bring to term and give birth to the person conceived. This article will argue that this is an absolute ethical responsibility derived from God’s purpose and mandate at creation, continued after the fall (even in difficulties), reinforced by the reality of the incarnation, analogically emphasized by the doctrine of the new birth, and planted in the heart as an ineradicable element of conscience and knowledge of God.
When God created mankind in the persons of Adam and Eve, he clearly stated that created humanity, arising from his power and purpose, was male and female (Genesis 1:27; 5:1, 2). Denial of these two genders in their respective roles is a denial of the wisdom and prerogative of God in creation, particularly his design for mankind.  Perversion of the very precise and purposeful order of creation is viewed throughout Scripture as sinful and an evidence of human perversity in rebellion against the knowledge of God and knowledge embedded within the conscience. This purposeful, God-established distinction, is obvious from the very phenomena of creation (Romans 1:20, 24-25, 26-27). Violations of the distinctions are described as exchanging “natural relations for those that are contrary to nature” (Romans 1:26). “Contrary to nature” means contrary to the designed purpose given at creation. In this sense, all actions contrary to nature, even as contrary to moral law, are sins. Redemption and justification forgive transgressions and cleanse from sinful corruption that include these kinds of perversions (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). If they were not sin and worthy of condemnation, then there would be no need of the grace of justification in light of them.
The first commandment that the man and woman received as a couple, after God made the woman from the very bone and flesh of the man, was “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 2:21-25 and 1:28). This places on the couple, and particularly on the woman the stewardship from God himself to populate the world with image-bearers through procreation. The woman has a particular stewardship to do all that she can to bring to completion the fruitfulness of her womb; a pregnant woman has a specific commission from God issued at creation that will be in force as long as the earth stands. A conceived child is not her property nor her prerogative but is a stewardship from the Creator. The involvement of her body does not give her sovereignty over the life of the child but presents her with a solemn responsibility for protection of that life. This responsibility descends on her from above derived from a command and creation ordinance from God. The claim that a woman has a right over her own body is, in this particular case, clearly false for her body was given by God, designed by him peculiarly for this purpose. Like the unnatural in sexual involvements, both the desire and the action of attack on life in the womb is unnatural, contrary to the created nature of the woman and the life concerned, and is thus unlawful, sinful, and any perpetrator is culpable.
A pregnant woman has a specific commission from God issued at creation that will be in force as long as the earth stands. A conceived child is not her property nor her prerogative but is a stewardship from the Creator.
After the fall, the first judgment issued was in the form of a prophecy of redemption. This prophecy involved the woman giving birth to one who would crush the serpent’s head. The gravity of such a pregnancy is intensified in that the one to be born in order to defeat the serpent is called “her seed” or “her offspring.” The woman will have a child that is not from the seed implanted by a human male. Its true humanity comes from her alone. Her seed and her body will give rise to what Isaiah prophesied, “A virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (7:14). This cryptic language from Genesis and extended by Isaiah was not fully understood (Well, it has never been fully understood!) until Mary heard the announcement, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you: and for that reason the holy being conceived in you will be called, Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The Angel then told Joseph, after he had discovered that Mary was indeed pregnant, “The one conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” The woman’s body was created for the purpose of bringing into the world the Messiah, mysteriously God and man in one person so that Elizabeth could say, “And how has it happened to me that the mother of my Lord would come to me?” (Luke 1:43). She said this less than one month after conception—Mary was mother and the child was Lord. In this light Paul taught, “The woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through the childbearing—if they are continuing in faith and love and holiness with self-control” (1 Timothy 2:15). Though the pain of childbirth is a curse of the fall, it is in the context of that pain that salvation comes—the childbearing. Paul refers here to the specific childbearing mentioned in Genesis 3:15 as the seed that would undo the work of Satan immediately followed by the promise of pain in that, and in all, childbearing (3:16). Every childbearing is a reminder both of original sin and the promise of redemption. The termination of the childbearing nurses a sinful prejudice against purposeful creation, the justness of the curse, and the mystery of redemption. The woman was given the assignment of bringing into the world its, and her, Savior. The Savior covenanted to be “born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, in order that we might receive the placement as sons” (Galatians 4:4, 5). These realities connected with the bearing and birthing of children are primordially immutable absolutes, an attack upon which is a moral challenge to the covenantal integrity of the triune God.
The Baptist Faith and Message affirmation that “Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord” reflects the biblical teaching concerning conception. David testified that he was “shapen in iniquity” and “in sin” at the point of conception (Psalm 51:5), that is, corrupt morally through his connection with Adam. His being was of moral stature from conception. At the moment of the conception of the Christ, he was of moral stature, “the holy thing conceived,” (Luke 1:35) and was seen as a person, the Lord, (Luke 1:43). Also, through the marvel and mystery of the union of Christ’s two natures in one person, we know that from the moment that the Holy Spirit came on Mary, the human nature had personhood, for in that event the power of the Most High also overshadowed her. The Son of God eternally-generated by the Most High, by that dynamic of generation, became one in person with the seed of the woman impregnated by the operation of the Holy Spirit. Abortion is nothing less that the taking of human life. It is an unnatural and unlawful act of aggression against the wise purpose of God both for the child and for the woman’s body. Those who violate this purpose are culpable.
The analogy to new birth gives another level of clarity and sobriety of the unified responsibility for life from conception to birth. Jesus said, “You must be born again” and apart from the new birth one can neither see nor enter the kingdom of God (John 3:1-8). Birth is the natural consequence of begetting. “Enosh lived ninety years and begot Cainan” (Genesis 5:9). “Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (Genesis 6:10). The male planted the seed—begot—for these children and the entire process from that time of conception to their birth is collapsed into a single event. Peter presented the new birth in this way when he wrote, “who according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). In the analogy between the operation of human corruption and the operation of divine truth, James traces the effect of corruption from conception to birth: “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:15). The merciful work of the Lord in the new birth is described in these terms. “Of his own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:18). The point is, that the movement from begottenness to birth is seen as a unit. The one naturally gives rise to the other and it is God’s intent, as seen in his own action of regeneration, that nothing interrupt that connection.
Abortion is an unnatural and unlawful act of aggression against the wise purpose of God both for the child and for the woman’s body.
These moral realities are written on the heart. Both by observation of form and anatomy and by divine mandate, Adam and Eve knew their assigned places from the first consciousness of creation (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:20-25). Sabbath and fitting sexuality, representative of both tables of the law, were present in the earliest conscious experience. This knowledge does not leave the conscience.  In spite of the most precipitous decline into perfect lawlessness and aggressively flagrant abuse of fitness according to God’s purpose, Paul can write, “who knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:32). When Paul wrote of a “conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:2), he is not referring to the loss of consciousness of right and wrong but to an aggressive and callous preference for one’s personal views over the God-centered propositions of implied rightness in creation and stated in Scripture. The point here is that no person is without a witness to the preeminent value of conceived life and our responsibility to nurture and protect it. One cannot argue that some women simply do not know what they are doing when they seek an abortion.
The implications of this doctrine first relate to the church and then to society. We can hope for no progress in society without an unequivocal conviction on the part of the church concerning both life at conception and parental, particularly female, stewardship of that life. We cannot present a theology that diminishes human responsibility for honoring with obedience God’s creation purpose, redemptive necessity, the new birth, and the law written on the heart. Those involved in an abortion should understand that this is not a neutral act in which some parties are innocent—except rarely—but each is culpable for the taking of human life. If the church is not convinced of this, we never will function as leaven to stop the rampant hideousness of abortion.

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Toward a Principled Pro-Life Ethic in Post-Roe America

The Supreme Court of the United States’ possible reversal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion is reason for Christians and moral people everywhere to rejoice. Dobbs v. Jackson will go down in history as significant as Brown v. the Board of Education for overruling previous, unjust decisions by the Supreme Court. Much of the joy, however, has been drowned out by a vitriolic clash among pro-life Christians regarding how best to work for the abolition of abortion in our nation.
Many traditional “pro-life” leaders feel threatened by those who insist, in the language of the 2021 Southern Baptist resolution, on “abolishing abortion immediately without exception or compromise.” Denny Burk, who opposed that resolution, believes it to be “a repudiation of the pro-life movement” and claims that the messengers who overwhelmingly voted to adopt it were uninformed. Consequently, he is calling on Southern Baptists to attend the annual meeting in Anaheim next month to withstand any other attempts to encourage the SBC to reaffirm the views that were adopted in that 2021 resolution.
It seems to me that most of the people involved in this clash are genuinely committed to the abolition of abortion, though they may disagree on the best way to work for that. There are some elites within the pro-life establishment, however, who are taking positions that undermine our common goal. As we have seen in so many other areas of evangelical life the last several years, it is the elite class that is woefully out of step with the rank-and-file believers who are working hard to see the scourge of abortion brought to an immediate end in our nation.
Last week provided a perfect illustration what I am talking about. Those events highlight the divide that exists among sincere Christians who want to see the end of abortion in our country and also expose the pro-life elitists whose actions helped undermine what could have been a tremendous step to outlaw abortion in Louisiana.
For the first time in the history of the United States, a bill made it out of committee that had the prospect of making abortion illegal in the state of Louisiana (HB 813). Called the “Abolition of Abortion in Louisiana Act of 2022,” the bill contained language that should have caused all Christians to celebrate:
Section 2. Acknowledging the sanctity of innocent human life, created in the image of God, which should be equally protected from fertilization to natural death, the legislature hereby declares that the purpose of this Act is to:
(1) Fully recognize the human personhood of an unborn child at all stages of development prior to birth from the moment of fertilization.
(2) Ensure the right to life and equal protection of the laws to all unborn children from the moment of fertilization by protecting them by the same laws protecting other human beings.
(3) Recognize that the United States Constitution and the laws of the United States are the supreme law of the land.
Such language excites any Christian who genuinely wants to see the end of abortion, whether a self-identified “abolitionist” or not. The response from 76 pro-life groups, however, proved that such was not the case. Leaders from those groups, including the Southern Baptist Convention’s acting president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Brent Leatherwood, issued “An Open Letter to State Lawmakers from America’s Leading Pro-life Organizations.”
These leaders of the pro-life establishment express their complete opposition to a law that would treat any woman who procures an abortion as being culpable in any way. They build their argument on this stated premise:
The tragedy of abortion isn’t limited to the unborn child who loses her life. The mother who aborts her child is also Roe’s victim. She is the victim of a callous industry created to take lives; an industry that claims to provide for “women’s health,” but denies the reality that far too many American women suffered devastating physical and psychological damage following abortion.
According to that philosophy, all abortive women are victims. Because they suffer post-abortion trauma they cannot ever be held legally responsible for ending her preborn baby’s life. Strange logic that.
Shall we apply it to drunk driving, too? After all, professional marketers are paid around 6 billion dollars a year by the alcoholic beverage industry to convince people to drink booze. When a drunk driver kills a family of five, using the elitist-pro-life logic above, should we not hold the driver responsible because he also is a “victim of a callous industry”? After all, alcoholism is defined by the National Institutes of Health as “an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol”
To make sure that no one misunderstands the elitist-pro-life position Leatherwood, et al., continue:
Women are victims of abortion and require our compassion and support as well as ready access to counseling and social services in the days, weeks, months, and years following an abortion.
As national and state pro-life organizations, representing tens of millions of pro-life men, women, and children across the country, let us be clear: We state unequivocally that we do not support any measures seeking to criminalize or punish women and we stand firmly opposed to include [sic] such penalties in legislation. (emphasis in the original)
By that flawed logic, women who have abortions for any reason are never responsible in any way for the death of their babies. To hold them responsible, according to these elitist pro-life leaders, is incompatible with showing compassion and support.
In 2021 Southern Baptists adopted the most decisive anti-abortion resolution in the history of the convention. It builds on and extends the language of previous resolutions, affirming the sacredness of human life and calling for the immediate ending of abortion. Over 5,000 copies of the text of the resolution were printed and distributed to messengers before the vote. Denny Burk, who is one of the Southern Baptist theologians and ethicists who took exception to that strongest anti-abortion resolution Southern Baptists have ever adopted, provides a little better assessment of what a post-Roe Christian ethic should look like. But only a little. His arguments also lack the kind of clear, biblical thinking that is desperately needed as we move forward.
In an article entitled “Why Pro-Lifers Support Laws to Punish Abortionists but Not Mothers,” Burk tries to defend the “pro-life” position that both pro-abortionists and abolitionists see as clearly inconsistent. He writes:
Pro-lifers believe that it should be illegal to perform abortions. Thus we favor policies that punish those who perform abortions, not the mothers who allow them.
He divides his defense of this position into two dimensions: moral and legal. Morally, the reason that women who hire abortionists should never be punished is because “it is not always clear what level of culpability should be assigned to the mother.” He at least acknowledges that the woman has some “moral agency and culpability,” but because it is not always clear “to what degree she is implicated,” she should not be punished for her involvement in ending a human life.
His arguments about the legal dimension can be summed up in his opinion that, if the woman who hires an abortionist is held legally liable with the abortionist for ending a human life, it will be harder to convict the abortionist. I find his argument on this point (and those of Americans United for Life, whom he quotes) completely unconvincing. To provide one simple objection, if there’s no potential charge available, how can you make a plea bargain in exchange for testimony against the abortionist? But since these legal arguments are not germane to my concerns, I won’t engage them but simply encourage you to read them for yourself.
To summarize Dr. Burk’s moral argument, he believes that women who hire someone to abort their preborn babies are morally culpable in some degree, though it is difficult to know how much. Because of that difficulty, no woman should be held legally accountable in any sense for ending the life of their babies through abortion.
Rather than alleviate women who hire abortionists of all culpability, as the pro-life open letter does, Burk acknowledges that they have some responsibility. But because it is not easy to determine exactly how much or in exactly what way, they should not be prosecuted at all. Yet recognition of different levels of culpability in homicide cases has been a part of jurisprudence at least since Old Testament times. This is the rationale for cities of refuge, where those guilty of unintentional homicide could flee for protection from the manslayer (see Deuteronomy 19:1-13). Such cities, however, were no refuge for anyone who willfully or maliciously took life because that person was fully culpable for the homicide he or she committed.
Within American jurisprudence there are various classifications related to homicide laws (and some variance from state to state): murder, manslaughter, vehicular homicide, negligent homicide, conspiracy to commit murder, etc. The distinctions are due to the different degrees of culpability of the perpetrators. The court system has the responsibility of sorting that out, and there is very well-developed case law in the American system that helps to differentiate between varying levels of culpability. This analysis is commonplace—necessary any time the judicial system responds to the unjustified taking of a human life. The challenge that Burk identifies, varying levels of culpability, can be complex but it is not unique to the case of abortion. Legal systems are accustomed to dealing with this sort of complexity.
Does it not, then, make sense to allow the legal system to do its job regarding what charges to file and what sentence to impose for a homicide that occurs in an abortion, rather than using the fact that determining the degree of culpability is hard as an excuse to withhold any legal sanctions?
In light of these disagreements and the confusion they have spawned, here are my recommendations of some basic principles that all Christians should hold as we try to develop a common-sense ethic about abortion in a post-Roe nation.

Human life begins at conception/fertilization. On this I think all pro-lifers, abolitionists, and right-thinking Christians agree.
All killing of human life by another human is homicide.
There are varying degrees of culpability for homicide resulting in varying kinds of crimes. Some homicides are justified (self-defense) and some are first-degree murders. Others fall between that spectrum.
Both biblical and United States criminal law recognize #2 and #3.
LA HB813 sought to codify that a human life begins at conception/fertilization and is to be granted equal protection under the law from that point.
The Open Letter signed by ERLC acting President helped dissuade Louisiana legislators from passing the bill.
The Open Letter contradicted the 2021 SBC Resolution on abolishing abortion that the messengers adopted. I addressed this more fully in a thread on Twitter, but compare the language of the Open Letter quoted above to what SBC messengers approved in 2021:

RESOLVED, that the messengers of the SBC meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, June 15-16, 2021, do state unequivocally that abortion is murder, and we reject any position that allows for any exceptions to the legal protection of our preborn neighbors, compromises God’s holy standard of justice, or promotes any God-hating partiality (Psa 94:6; Isa 10:1-2; Prov 24:11; Psa 82:1-4), and…
RESOLVED, that we affirm that the murder of preborn children is a crime against humanity that must be punished equally under the law, and be it further
RESOLVED, that we humbly confess and lament any complicity in recognizing exceptions that legitimize or regulate abortion, and of any apathy, in not laboring with the power and influence we have to abolish abortion, and be it further
RESOLVED, that as Southern Baptists we will engage, with God’s help, in establishing equal justice and protection for the preborn according to the authority of God’s Word as well as local and federal law, and call upon pastors and leaders to use their God-given gifts of preaching, teaching, and leading with one unified, principled, prophetic voice to abolish abortion… (emphasis added)

The moral law of God functions both to restrain evil and instruct in what is good and right. In the Protestant-Reformed tradition these functions have been regarded as the second and third uses of the law, respectively. Civil law that prohibits hiring an abortionist and affixes penalties for doing so would, thereby, help teach everyone, including women who might contemplate seeking an abortion, that abortion is homicide.
It is right to legally prohibit abortion by granting equal protection under the law to preborn humans. It is at this point that the stark inconsistencies of the professional pro-life position become apparent. They want to affirm the full humanity of preborn babies but do not want to afford them equal protection under the law that is afforded to humans who survive the womb because either the woman who hires an abortionist is not culpable (i.e. Brent Leatherwood and the other Open Letter signers) or the degree of her culpability is too difficult to discern (i.e. Burk). Were a preborn child granted equal protection, then her homicide would be treated like that of any other homicide that had co-conspirators or accomplices requiring the court system to sort it out legally.
Such prohibition does not mean that all women seeking abortion, doctors performing them, and helpers facilitating them would be judged equally culpable or equally guilty. As in all homicide cases, each case should be adjudicated based on the facts and any mitigating circumstances (#3 above).
This would mean that no woman who arranges to have an abortion would be judged either automatically guilty or innocent of any particular crime simply because she is a woman or simply because she had an abortion.

These 11 principles can help frame the debate going forward for Christians who take the written Word of God seriously. All but one of them (#7, which is particularly of concern to Southern Baptists) deal with issues that all evangelicals should think through carefully.
We should all want to end the holocaust of abortion. But we should work to be precise in our language and measured in our judgments. Much confusion, I believe, has resulted from a lack of appropriate nuance in our communication at this point.
While abortion is always homicide, it is not necessarily murder on the part of everyone involved (though it sometimes is). When some who want to see abortion abolished hear “abortion is murder and should be criminalized,” they might think that those talking this way are advocating murder charges for every mother, father, and all others involved in such a killing. Emphatically, this is not my position.
We must not err on either side at this point. That is, we must not treat all post-abortive mothers as victims. But neither must we treat them all as murderers. Each case must be considered on its own merits. Those forced into having abortions by abusive boyfriends or pimps are victims. Those who choose to kill their preborn children of their own volition while #ShoutingTheirAbortions are murderers, and there are numerous scenarios in between. We must care for and proclaim the gospel to all these women as we call upon civil magistrates to provide preborn children the equal protection of the law and let the legal system do its job in determining the degree of culpability in each case.
That is why I refer to elective abortion as homicide, as opposed to murder. It should be legally prohibited and preborn children at risk of being killed should receive the equal protection of the law. I cannot imagine why any Christian who believes that abortion ends the life of one of God’s image-bearers would disagree with this.
It is important for Christians to get the nature of abortion right. If, like the open letter, we treat as victims all women who pay abortionists to kill their preborn babies, then we cut them off from the grace of God in Christ Jesus. The Lord Jesus is a real Savior for real sinners. If you convince someone that they are not responsible for their sin, then you eliminate their need of a Savior for that sin and effectively shut them up to a life of trying to deal with what they have done without the forgiveness that is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Are women who seek abortions victims? Of course, in the sense that every human being is a victim of sin and its consequences. Beyond that there is no doubt that some women are coerced and manipulated into abortion due to being trafficked or otherwise abused. As the Bible requires in making any judgment, all the relevant facts must be taken into account. But these realities do not mean that as a class all women who procure abortions are victims in some special sense, or on par with the babies that are intentionally killed by the procedure. We should be compassionate toward all women who seek an abortion and especially to those who have been lied to, intimidated, or in some other way manipulated into participating in that act of homicide. But I would defy Brent Leatherwood and the pro-life leaders who signed the open letter to convince the women who “shout their abortion” that they should see themselves that way. Better yet, I would encourage them to watch these testimonies of post-abortive women.
If a person is only a victim and has done nothing wrong, then she doesn’t need forgiveness. But those who are guilty of sin do. Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Until abortionists and the women who pay for their services come to terms with their complicity in the ending of a human life that is made in the image of God, they will never seek forgiveness. Until reality is honestly assessed, genuine repentance will never be sincerely professed.
So my plea to those who think they are being compassionate to women by absolving them of any responsibility in the abortion they freely secure is to recognize that they are doing tremendous spiritual damage to the very people they desire to help. Such compassion is cruel.
There is a Savior for sinners, including those who are guilty of participating in the sin of abortion. Jesus Christ came into the world to live a righteous life and die a sacrificial death so that all who repent and look to Him in faith might be saved. His grace is enough to forgive both abortionists and those who employ them to end the life of their preborn child.
So while we work for justice to protect the lives of the preborn, let’s never forget to preach the gospel that saves even the foremost of sinners and encourage abortionists, those who employ them, pro-lifers, and abolitionists to trust the Lord Jesus Christ and find eternal life in Him.

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La Alianza Endorsement for SBC22

La Alianza is a collaboration of Hispanic Southern Baptist leaders throughout the United States. The following open letter came unsolicited and is posted here at their request.
La Alianza is a group of Hispanic leaders from different states that have been meeting for the last months with the purpose of supporting each other through the ministry of prayer, preaching, and the theological proclamation of the truths of the Word of God.
As pastors and messengers at the upcoming annual meeting in Anaheim California, we are pleased to announce our endorsement of Dr. Tom Ascol for President of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Voddie Baucham for President of the SBC Pastor’s Conference, and Dr. Javier Chavez for SBC Recording-Secretary.
The men mentioned above are known for their leadership profile, their spirit of service, and their strong convictions to see a unified convention centered around the Gospel.
As Southern Baptists we are all about the Great Commission, our adherence to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, and the unity of our convention across all languages and ethnicities.
Jaime LoayzaIglesia Gracia Internacional (MS)
Joel SalazarIglesia Biblica Ciudad de Gracia (AZ)
Omar Reynoso HenriquezMisión Bautista (NH)
Javier EsquivelIglesia Bautista Castillo Fuerte (MA)
Gilmer MauricioIglesia Bautista Restauracion Familiar (IA)
Marin LeyvaIglesia Woodlawn (WA)
Yonathan MorisGrace Community Church (TX)
Marino MartinezPrimera Iglesia Bautista Hispana Tallahassee (FL)
Carlos MaysonetIglesia Hispana Bautista Raham (FL)
Luis LeonIglesia Hispana Bautista Raham (FL)
Johnny RodriguezNorth Florida BC Hispanic (FL)
Josh ChavezAmistad Cristiana International (GA)
Rodrigo TexmayéIglesia Bautista Shalom (GA)
Raudel SantiagoIglesia Bautista Esperanza (GA)
Edgar MontañoIglesia Nueva Esperanza (GA)
Wilmer MarinComunidad Cristiana Internacional (GA)
Santos CastilloTabernaculo Bautista Emanuel (GA)
Hector NavarretePrimera Iglesia Bautista Hispana Rome (GA)
Jose VeraIglesia Biblica Reformada Rey de Gloria (GA)
Jose Luis EscobarIglesia Bautista Dulce Refugio (GA)
Marcos TelloIglesia Bautista Nueva Vida (GA)
Andres RodriguezHispanic Ministry Mt. Zion Baptist Church (GA)
Jaime CastañedaIglesia Bautista Luz y Vida (GA)
Ruben HernandezPrimera Iglesia Bautista Hispana de Jefferson (GA)
Martin RodriguezMinisterio Conexión (GA)

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Abortion and Our Lost Ability to Reason Morally

The inability or unwillingness of Christians to employ rigorous, biblical, moral reasoning to address public attacks on God and Scripture over the last few years has been as stunning as it has been revealing. From the unbiblical assessments of lawless rioting and flagrant theft to descriptions of legalized abortion the United States, many who name the Name of Christ—including those in positions of leadership—have fallen woefully short of speaking with the wisdom we desperately need.
The recent attempt by the US Senate to codify the legal murder of unborn children further highlights how anemic Christian public theology is today. Forty-nine Senators voted to legalize the murder of babies up to the point of their birth. Everyone of them is a Democrat. Yet, Christian deplorables have been lectured by our betters for at least the last seven years on how and why we must make room for voting for Democrat candidates at every level of government. We have been told that we do not understand the complexities of the issues involved; that though Christians might be personally opposed to abortion we must allow that they can, nevertheless, vote for political leaders who are committed to the slaughter of innocent children; and that since the Bible doesn’t tell us “how” to fight against abortion, we mustn’t argue in terms of national righteousness for one political candidate over another or contend that any political party is better or worse than another.
Yet, as I was reminded this morning when I reread it, the Democrat party platform includes five references to making abortion legal, tax-payer-funded, and readily available in the USA.
To know God and to fear Him means that we tremble at His Word, believe His gospel, and love His law.
 Many sincere but naive Christians have been led astray by such perverted moral reasoning and have consequently voted for the party of death in the last several political elections. They have done so with reassurances that they honored Christ with their vote. Christians who, like R.C. Sproul, out of moral conviction have argued against voting for any candidate who advocates abortion, have been labeled white supremacists, Christian nationalists, ignorant fundamentalists, and worse.
I and other Christian pastors have been accused of suddenly “becoming political” & making politics more important than theology. We have been slandered as contending that unity is now based on politics rather than devotion to Christ and His Word. We have been charged with having politics drive and shape our doctrinal convictions and of requiring certain political affinities in the churches we serve.
Such accusations are not only erroneous, they are also ignorant. They are a commentary on how poorly many Christians, including many Christian leaders reason morally. Christ is Lord over everything—including politics. His rule does not end at the voting booth. Christians must vote like Christians. Neighbor-love means that I seek the greatest good for my neighbor. My neighbors in the US will be in a far worse position spiritually, morally, and before God with every additional advocate for child-murder that is placed in public office. That is true because “righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).
The more “we the people” give political power to baby-murderers the more we increase our national sin and rebellion against God and the more we provoke Him to His face and “tempt” Him to do to America what He did to Sodom and Gomorrah and has done with nations throughout history.
God’s people in America should repent of our complacency and complicity in the forty-nine-year holocaust we are living through and call for the immediate end of legalized abortion.
 To know God and to fear Him means that we tremble at His Word, believe His gospel, and love His law. It requires that we seek His honor by advocating for His ways not only in our private lives but in every area of influence He entrusts to us, including the right to vote.
To vote for anyone who advocates policies of legalized murder is foolish and sinful. Leaders who encourage Christians to do so are doubly culpable and have forfeited their right to be followed. If the innocent blood of Abel cried out to the Lord (Genesis 4:10), what must be the deafening cry in heaven from the more than 63 million innocent babies that have been legally slaughtered in the US since 1973! And yet, we have Christian leaders and ethicists contending that it is allowable for Christians to vote for pro-abortionists. Other, more conservative leaders, have argued that the call for the immediate end of the abortion holocaust is unloving, disingenuous, or impolite. Such leaders, if they refuse to repent, should be ignored and rejected as untrustworthy by those who would be faithful to Jesus Christ and honor His lordship over all the earth.
 Praise God for the prospect of having the evil ruling of Roe v Wade overturned by SCOTUS. But whether or not that happens, God’s people in America should repent of our complacency and complicity in the forty-nine-year holocaust we are living through and call for the immediate end of legalized abortion. We must insist on equal protection under the law for the most vulnerable among us. And we must never forget nor let our reasoning lose sight of the fact that abortion is murder.
 May God have mercy on this nation.

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What I Really Said in the Baptist Press Interview (with audio)

Baptist Press recently released an interview that Jonathan Howe and Brandon Porter conducted with me in my study in Cape Coral, Florida, on April 5. Both they and I recorded the interview. They did so indicating that they would edit out the “ums,” “uhs,” and “wells,” etc. from the transcript in order to make the article flow well without losing the contextually understood meaning of my words.
In the interview that they posted, however, there appears to have been some difficulties in making those edits. In fact, my responses were largely left unedited except for the exclusion of certain things I said. Baptist Press did, thankfully, correct a misattribution of a vile word to me, after I sent a screenshot of the error to Brandon with the correction, “The word is prig.” There are other misquotes throughout the article, but I quickly decided it would be too tedious and time consuming to send the authors all of them.
Despite these editorial issues, feedback I have received indicates that many people seem to have gained some insight into my meaning. For this I am grateful. Others, however, have jumped on the poorly edited section regarding women serving on SBC committees to erroneously conclude that I am against such. I regret that. Though I did answer the question I was asked directly, that does not come out in what was printed. Here is a word-for-word transcript of that exchange:

Tom: I don’t think I would be asking any women to be chairmen of a board…
BP: …but could serve as on the board?
Tom:…board members? Yeah. I mean, yeah. Again there might be a situation I can’t envision…

There was some talking over at that point as Jonathan Howe interrupted me. But to his direct question, “But could [women] serve as [members] on the board?” I answered, “Yeah.” I went on to use the example of women serving in combat, which I believe is contrary to God’s design in distinguishing men from women. My point was that the God-designed distinctions between men and women do not end at the doors of the church. To hear that exact part of the interview, click here. You can listen to the complete exchange in the audio below (found at 00:46:26).
I do not know how the interview arrived in print with the unfortunate editorial issues it contains, but in the interest of openness and transparency, I am making available the full audio below. In it you can hear a more complete and accurate version of the how the questions were phrased as well as my exact answers.

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The Law of Love

Life is all about relationships. A significant part of what it means for us to be created in the image of God is to be relational. God Himself is a relational being. Not only does He relate personally to us as His image-bearers, He also has enjoyed perfect relational harmony as Father, Son, and Spirit from all eternity.
Our greatest joys and sorrows come because of relationships. In order for us to live as we ought, we must have our relationships properly ordered. This means that we must relate to the right things in the right way. God has not left us to figure out on our own how to do this. He has spoken very simply and clearly about the essence and priority of all human relationships. Jesus explained it when answering a question from a lawyer.
“Which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matt. 22:36). The question seems innocent enough until we consider its background and context. The Jewish leaders had plotted against Jesus and were trying to “entangle him in his talk” (v. 15). After turning the tables on them when they asked Him about taxes, exposing their ignorance of Scripture and God’s power concerning the resurrection, He entertained this question about the law.
Rabbis had lengthy debates over this question. They had divided the Mosaic Law into 613 commands — 248 positive ones and 365 negative ones. Their arguments focused on which ones are great and heavy versus those that are small and light.
In order for us to live as we ought, we must have our relationships properly ordered.
Jesus dismissed all of those niggling debates by giving a comprehensive answer that both satisfied the inquisitor and revealed God’s overarching will for those who bear His image. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt: 22:37–40).
Jesus’ answer gives the point and purpose of the whole law. He summarizes our complete responsibility in terms of relationships, specifically, our relationships to God and to people. The essence of all our relationships, He says, is love.
The first priority of love is God Himself. We are to love God comprehensively and supremely. Heart, soul, and mind are each qualified by “all,” indicating that we are obligated to love God with every part of every faculty that we possess.
What does such love look like? Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). So obedience is closely connected to loving the Lord, but it is not enough to say that they are the same thing. Love is more than an act of the will. It includes that, but it first arises in the affections.
John makes this connection in 1 John 5:3 where he writes, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” Loving God involves keeping His commandments — not as a burden but as a delight. More than a dozen times this attitude of delighting in God’s law is expressed in Psalm 119.
Augustine described the love that we are to have for God as “the motion of the soul toward the enjoyment of God for His own sake, and the enjoyment of one’s self and of one’s neighbor for the sake of God.” To love God is to enjoy Him above everything and everyone else and out of that joy to live in glad obedience to His will.
But Jesus does not stop there. He goes on to teach us that, after loving God supremely, our next greatest responsibility is to love people sincerely. Contrary to what some teach about this, Jesus is not commanding self-love. Nor should His words be taken to imply that we cannot love others until we learn to love ourselves.
To love God is to enjoy Him above everything and everyone else and out of that joy to live in glad obedience to His will.
Jesus assumes that we already do love ourselves. Paul explicitly makes this point by noting that “no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it” (Eph. 5:29). This kind of natural self-love is manifested by the choices that we make to serve our own interests. No matter how destructive such choices are, they are expressions of self-love.
Once we understand the inevitability of self-love, Jesus’ command that we love others as much as we love ourselves becomes incredibly broad. The health, comfort, companionship, and benefits that I desire for myself I am also to desire for my neighbors.
This means that while I must never love people — even my closest relations — more than God, I must love them as much as I love myself.
All of this, of course, shows how completely dependent we are on the grace of Jesus Christ. We cannot love God supremely or people sincerely apart from His love first reaching us through the power of the Gospel. Only as we are so loved will we be set free to love in return.

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7 Signs of a Strong Convention

I am grateful to the Lord to be the father of five children. Being the father of five by no means makes me a parental expert, but it does mean I’ve had some repeat experiences with each child. One of those experiences is taking your newborn to the pediatrician for their first appointment. The nurse measures, weighs, and may even do a bilirubin test on the little one. And then the doctor gives you the results. As a father, what I was always most interested in with these exams is, “Is my child healthy?” The doctors, you see, have a standard, and by this standard, they are able to give you a pretty good idea of whether or not your precious baby is on a healthy track.
As Christians, we have a standard too. We have the Word of the living God. The Bible is a sufficient plumb line for measuring the health of an individual Christian, individual local church, or even a group of churches choosing to cooperate together like we have in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Much has been written over the last few years about areas of drift in our convention. I am among those who’ve written about matters of concern. But this is not what I want to do in today’s post. My goal is to give you a standard for what a solid, healthy convention looks like, not based on history or experience, but on the Scriptures. I do not mean to suggest history and experience have no place. Of course, they do! But the goal of today’s post is to give you God’s standard for what constitutes a strong group of churches. In doing this, I urge you to consider our convention’s state for yourself and pray for any area that we are weak in based on this evaluation.
I am sure other verses could be used for such a test, but the passage I want to examine is found in Ephesians 4:7-16. I have a couple of disclaimers before we begin. First, I cannot get into verses 7-12 in this post as that could take a whole book to get through! Secondly, I understand that Paul is writing to a specific local church here. However, the same principles that apply to one local church necessarily apply to a group of local churches.
With that being said, and understanding this is not a full exposition, let’s dive in. Our focus is primarily upon verses 13-16. What does a strong convention of churches look like? Here are seven signs:

Genuine Unity

“until we all attain to the unity of the faith…” (v.13)
As local churches focus on Bible-centered, prayer-saturated, local church loving, Christ exalting ministry (cf. v.11-12), they are brought into greater unity. This unity is not centered on secular ideas, skin color, or social issues. Instead, this is genuine unity created by the Holy Spirit of God (cf. Eph. 4:3) as He continually grows us together by faith in Christ.
Because of Christ’s sovereign and gracious gifting each local church may have certain areas of ministry they thrive at better than others. But the diversity of gifting comes together in a convention only to strengthen cooperation together in unity for the same mission: Seeing Christ exalted over the nations.
Churches rooted in the Scriptures, bowing to their authority and trusting their sufficiency, and focused on the glory of Christ have genuine unity even if they may disagree on certain peripheral issues. Not every church in a strong convention will look exactly the same. But each one will have full dependence on the gospel as the hope of the nations and seek to have the Bible as their final standard on all matters of the faith, including soteriology, anthropology, ecclesiology, and so on.

Doctrinal Fidelity

“and knowledge of the Son of God…” (v.13)
Knowledge of the Son of God is certainly necessary for any person to be a Christian. Yet, it is also true that a strong Christian, church, or group of churches is continually growing and standing firm in the knowledge of the Son of God.
A healthy convention is one that is faithful to sound doctrine. It possesses confessional integrity. And this doctrinal fidelity leads to greater unity! Curtis Vaughn writes,

“Unity” is to be taken with both “faith” and “knowledge,” and the latter two words are both modified by “of the Son of God.” What Paul contemplates is a oneness of faith in, and a oneness of knowledge concerning, the Son of God…The word “faith” is to be taken in the sense of trust and confidence. The Greek word for “knowledge” is a particularly strong one, denoting full, accurate, and true knowledge.[1]

A strong convention is one strong in the doctrine of the Son of God and all of the implications for His local churches that flow out of His life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and coming return.

Increasing Maturity

“…to mature manhood…” (v.13)
A strong convention is a mature convention full of mature and maturing local churches and Christians. This doesn’t mean there is no room for those who need to grow because we all need to grow!
It does certainly mean, however, that the leadership of such a convention consists of those mature in the faith. The metaphor Paul uses here is one of “manhood.” True, the church is often referred to as the “Bride” of Christ. But here, there is another image: one of a strong, healthy adult man unwavering in his convictions and resolution in his commitments to Christ.
Churches in a strong convention seek to spur one another on into greater maturity in the faith, holding one another accountable to the Scriptures and the convention’s stated confession. A mature convention is not afraid and even compelled to separate from churches that repeatedly and persistently show a lack of concern for God’s Word or growing in Christ.

Christ Conformity

“to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” (v.13)
This is how we know maturity is never finished. Because our goal for maturity is the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Complete conformity to Christ is something not fully and finally realized until glory. Yet, a healthy Christian, church, or convention constantly strives toward sincere holiness of life.
Being full of Christ means loving all He loves and hating what He hates. It means, like Jesus, we are concerned first and foremost about the glory of God. It means having the powers of our discernment trained in differentiating between good and evil. It means loving the Word of God, biblical worship, the local church, and the lost. It means bearing the fruit of the Spirit and understanding the moments that call for humble compassion and those that call for a strong rebuke.
In sum, a strong convention is a holy convention seeking to follow Christ in all areas.

Steadfast Immobility

“so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (v.14)
A healthy convention of churches is one that shall not be moved. It is not a ship drifting too far from the shore or a crumbling leaf blown around by an autumn wind.
The contrast here in this passage is between a grown man and a small child. A child can be easily tricked, but not a mature man. Thus, a strong convention is on guard against the godless ideologies and worldly philosophies constantly seeking to infiltrate the church.
A healthy group of churches understands that the Evil One is perpetually seeking to destroy the work of Christ on earth. It understands that today’s liberal tendencies might not look exactly like yesterday’s because Satan is crafty and will adapt his tactics custom-made for every epoch of history. Therefore, a strong convention will stand resolutely upon God’s Word and warn and even rebuke churches or leaders who are not showing appropriate care when it comes to guarding against deceitful schemes.

Loving Honesty

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (v.15)
A strong convention speaks the truth in love. That is, churches do not speak deceitful schemes or faulty doctrine. Rather, they speak, preach, teach, and live out the truth of the Scriptures. The only way to “grow up” is through the Word of God. Therefore, a healthy convention of churches loves to speak the truth to one another and to a lost and dying world. It holds the inerrant, infallible Bible as its highest authority and it trusts the Bible to teach it on all matters of the faith and to speak a sufficient word to every generation.
Often, this speaking the truth encourages and edifies the churches. But at times, the truth will convict, challenge, and rebuke people. Consider the opening illustration of taking your newborn to the doctor. If something was wrong, you would want to know, right? It would not be loving of the doctor to lie to you. So, a healthy convention of churches speaks even difficult truths to one another. Yet, all of this is done in love. In the words of R.C. Sproul, “we call attention to the truth in an extraordinarily compassionate and tender and loving spirit.”[2]
And finally, when speaking the truth to the unregenerate, a healthy convention does not seek to minimize God’s Word. Instead, it calls upon all to repent of every sin and come to Christ in faith, finding Him as the only suitable and all-sufficient Savior for all mankind.

Godward Affinity

“from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (v.16)
A strong convention of churches builds itself up in love. Though its churches may be in different geographical locations, have diverse demographics, and possess a variety of gifts, there is a genuine love for God and one another that binds the convention together.
A love for the triune God and bringing Him glory in all things means that a strong convention is concerned about honoring God in all things, from worship to evangelism, to everyday life, to convention practices. Loving God means that a convention of churches seeks to please one another by first and foremost pleasing God. A strong convention understands that we love one another best when we love God most. And it is through this that a convention will be continually built up in love.
This is not an exhaustive list, of course. But it reminds us that God would not have any convention of churches to be childish. A strong convention must be growing in the Lord, aspiring to mature manhood. A childish convention would have symptoms that are the opposite of the signs of health above, like Superficial Unity, Confessional Infidelity, Acceptable Immaturity, Worldly Conformity, Drifting Carelessly, Hating Honesty, and Cultural Affinity.
God has given us a standard, brothers and sisters. It is by His own Bible that we are to assess our spiritual health. May we not compare ourselves to contemporaries or generations past. We must look into the mirror of the Word of God. Take some time today to consider your own walk with the Lord, the state of the local church you are a member of, and the Southern Baptist Convention. Pray for our health. Pray that the Lord would be pleased to bring about the recovery of the gospel and the reformation of churches in our convention.
[1] Curtis Vaughan, Ephesians, Founders Study Guide Commentary (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2002), 95.
[2] R. C. Sproul, The Purpose of God: Ephesians (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 107.

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Love Is Not Love

You probably have heard the phrase, “love is love.” Over the last few years it has been made famous by yard signs, songs, movies, and even a comic book. The “love is love” campaign was started six years ago as an LGBTQ+ advocacy initiative with the purpose of “spreading positive images of the LGBTQ+ community, with a focus on increasing visibility in spaces where LGBTQ+ issues may not be well-understood.” The phrase, “love is love” has even earned an entry in the Urban Dictionary where it is defined as “meaning that the love expressed by an individual or couple is valid regardless of the sexual orientation or gender identity of their lover or partner.”
This notion of love is often used as a trump card to shut down any critique of various perverted opinions and actions that are being pushed into contemporary cultural values. A man wants to have sex with a man or a woman with a woman? Who are you to object, because “love is love.” Adults sexually preying on children? Don’t call them pedophiles, call them “minor attracted people.” Because “love is love.” Will Smith and his wife want to commit unfettered adultery? Who are you to judge, because, you know, love is love.
But love is not love. At least real love isn’t. Otherwise, the Apostle Paul would not have exhorted Christians in Rome by saying, “Let love be genuine” (Romans 12:9a). He is saying that our love must be without pretense or hypocrisy. Why does he put it like this? Because he recognized in his day what modern believers need to recognize in our own, that there is much pretend love in the world.
John Calvin acknowledged this reality in the sixteenth century, as well. He said, “It is difficult to express how ingenious almost all men are in counterfeiting a love which they do not really possess.” In other words, not everybody talking about love is expressing the genuine article.
Genuine love has some intrinsic qualities. These qualities are exemplified in the negative and positive exhortations that Paul adds immediately after calling for genuine love. He writes, “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (Romans 12:9b). Genuine love hates evil. It is repulsed by evil. What this means is that if you are a genuine loving person, you will hate evil. On the flip side, genuine love clings to what is good.
We see these intrinsic qualities demonstrated in God Himself. God is love and as such, He hates. Proverbs 6:16-19 lists seven specific things that God hates. Psalm 5:5 says He hates “all evildoers.” In Isaiah 61:8 He says, “I hate robbery and wrong.” Jesus says in Revelation 2:6 that He hates the works of heretics. It is because God is love that He hates.
But God, who is love, is also good and does good (Psalm 119:68). His will is good. Christians whose minds are increasingly being renewed by the Word of God will come to recognize this more and more (Romans 12:2). Paul came to understand this which is why he called God’s law holy righteous and good and stated, “I agree with the law, that it is good” (Romans 7:12,16).
Just as the God who is love defines what love is, so too the God who is good defines what is good.
If you are going to be a person of genuine love then you must learn to “abhor what is evil” and “hold fast to what is good.” This is vitally important for believers to recognize. We must teach this to our children and our grandchildren because they are being discipled to think contrary to this by the world in an almost constant 24/7 effort.
If you are going to be a person of genuine love then you must learn to “abhor what is evil” and “hold fast to what is good.”
To stand for this and to live this way will be very difficult. Why? Because we are living in a day that is increasingly dominated by people who, to borrow language from Isaiah 5:20, “call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” And as people of genuine love, we are called to abhor evil and hold fast to good.
Do you see the dilemma? If God’s people are going to “let love be genuine” then we must be willing to be called bigots and haters. This is inevitable because the world, who calls good evil and evil good, will judge us to be vile for hating true evil (which to them is good) and clinging to true good (which to them is evil).
So, if you refuse to applaud the man who changed his name to Lia Thomas as an NCAA “woman’s swim champion” the world will call you unloving. If you refuse to celebrate the man who changed his name to Rachel Lavine and was given USA Today’s “woman of the year” award, you will be judged a bigot. If, as Scripture instructs us to do, you actually hate the evil that both of those cases represent then be prepared to be canceled by those who call evil good.
Love is not love. God is love and love is what the God who is love says it is. Love is neither self-existent nor self-defined. God alone is self-existent and all true love comes from Him and is determined by Him.
The early church father, Augustine, once said, “Love, and do what thou wilt.” He was not advocating a licentious lifestyle. Neither was he suggesting that you can do whatever you want and then justify it by saying that you were motivated by love. Rather, he was arguing for the same point that Paul makes in Romans 12:9. Love is the fundamental principle of the Christian life.
If you get love right—abhor what is evil and hold fast to what is good—then you will want to pursue a life that is holy, right, and good.
Do not let anyone deceive you about the nature of genuine love. Love is what the God who IS love says in His Word.
Love is neither self-existent nor self-defined. God alone is self-existent and all true love comes from Him and is determined by Him.
Paul wrote a whole chapter on genuine love to help us recognize it and distinguish it from counterfeits. Listen to part of what he says in 1 Corinthians 13 (vv. 4-8):

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

This is what real love—genuine love—looks like. When someone tries to get you to sin by telling you that they love you or complaining that if you don’t then you really don’t love them, recognize that what they are offering you is a cheap imitation of real love. Genuine love “does not insist on its own way.”
Similarly, genuine love rejoices in truth. That’s why Christians should not attend a so-called wedding between two men or two women or celebrate in any way those who reject God’s good design for sexuality by claiming to be true to themselves. For a Christian to approve these things would be to rejoice at wrongdoing and not to rejoice in the truth.
Instead, we should say, “I will not celebrate evil with you because I love you and I want you to learn to love and enjoy what is good.” And we will also say, “I will not practice deceit with you but will tell you the truth because I love your interests more than my own and I am willing to be castigated and rejected for your sake.”
That is the nature of real love. It is costly, but it is the kind of love that is desperately needed in our world today. Anything less is not genuine.

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The Word of God in the Thessalonian Letters

Having established a church in Philippi (Acts 16) where there was no synagogue, Paul now, having suffered in Philippi at the hands of Romans (16:19-24), goes to Thessalonica and uses the synagogue on three Sabbath days to reason with the Jews and “devout” Greeks from the Scripture (Acts 17:1-4). We are told that his method consisted of “explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.’” Many of those who heard his biblical exposition believed his message. Some Jews were offended and jealous (Acts 17:5) of Paul’s ability in expository reasoning. They resisted strongly the idea that the Messiah had come and they were not privy to this most historically pivotal event. How is this “Jesus” qualified as Messiah and why are Gentiles received as his people? This Paul is an imposter speaking of behalf of another imposter and deserves to be driven from the city. They appealed to the city authorities under the hypocritical guise of loyalty to Caesar. The entire controversy centered on the validity of Paul’s understanding of the Scripture and whether he was qualified to discern that Jesus was the Christ. Paul’s correspondence with the church at Thessalonica, therefore, had much material about the word of God vis a vis the authority of the apostle.
His preached word he and they believed was the Word of God. When they heard Paul preach, they accepted it, not simply as a man’s interpretation of verses compared to events, but as the “word of God.” Paul affirmed their conviction as the truth (1 Th 2:13). “Our gospel,” Paul recalled, came in the power of the Holy Spirit and brought them to be among the believers of Macedonia (1 Th 1:4, 5). He reminded them that, though pummeled in Philippi because of his preaching, he did not change the message. His “exhortation does not come from error” and is neither impure nor deceitful, but arises from one who was “approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel” (2:2-4). He was an “apostle of Christ,” and consequently a man of authority but used this authority only to “impart to you … the gospel of God.” Paul never wavered, even in the face of hostility and persecution, from his claim before the world that he was appointed by the risen Christ as an apostle. He never amended any teaching given in the context of that calling as possibly misperceived or as a matter of speculation or only informed opinion. This is one of the stubborn facts that must be considered when we ask if we have a word of truth about God and eternity. Has God spoken? In conjunction with the Hebrew prophets, Paul gives an unequivocal “Yes.”
When he gave further instruction on individual doctrines he wrote with confidence of God’s revelation: “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will not precede those who have fallen asleep, etc” (1 Th. 4:15-18). An articulation of the relation of the living to the dead in the context of the return of Jesus who “died and rose again,” events surrounding his return, and the manner of his gathering his people to himself, and the certainty of living in his glorious presence for eternity—these things are not manufactured by imagination but are soberly reported as propositions of revelation.
Also, when he gave instruction concerning the moral implications of gospel truth, he assumed the position as a spokesman from God: “We request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that just as you received instruction, …for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus, … he who rejects this is not rejecting men but the God who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (4:1-8). These clear exhortations to sexual purity as one dominant aspect of sanctification went against the prevailing conduct of the culture and put the Pauline instruction at the level of divine mandate by revelation. Even so, when describing how they should work for self-sufficiency and peaceful relations Paul put his words in the sphere of absolute authority, “just as we commanded you” (4:11). In the second letter to these Christians, Paul reiterated this authority by expressing his confidence that they will “do what we command” (3:4). He follows that by introducing an element of church life that perhaps they had not practiced or seen clearly by saying, “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us” (3:6). Whereas the “tradition” of the elders, or the “tradition” of the Pharisees, or the “tradition” of men of empty philosophy (Colossians 2:8) was handed down from generations past, or “turned over” to contemporaries from historically-trusted sources, Paul’s instructions that he handed down, his traditions, that which he turned over to them were from God. This tradition was not handed down from hallowed halls of venerated historical sources but came from the mind and mouth of the eternal God. Again, when he learned that some were not working, he reminded them that he “used to give them this order,” and now again to these loafers he would “command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion” (3:12).
This conviction so ever-present in this correspondence is confirmed by pervasive New Testament testimony and conviction. In 1 Corinthians 2:10, Paul claimed that eternal things, things of divine grace, “God has revealed to us through the Spirit;” in 2 Corinthians 13:3, he zealously affirmed in a tense setting that “Christ is speaking in me.” In Galatians 1:12 as prelude to his extended argument for the exclusive claim to truthfulness of his gospel, he wrote, “I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” In Ephesians 3:4, 5, Paul laid claim to “insight into the mystery of Christ” from its having been “revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” The writer of Hebrews 2:3, 4 warned of dire consequences for rejecting the message presented by the Lord himself that was “attested to us by those who heard,” to whom God bore witness by “signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” In 1 John 4:6 the beloved disciple wrote that the “spirit of truth and the spirit of error” was to be defined in terms of hearing and obeying the message of the apostles: “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us” Peter claims that the word of the prophets receives its expected clarification through those who were eyewitness of the majesty of Christ and that their writings, like those of the prophets were the product of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:16-21). That is why he can say that his readers should “remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandments of the Lord and Savior through your apostles.” He then can go on to commend Paul, even in the most difficult of his writings, as a producer of Scripture as free from error (2 Peter 3:2, 15-18).
Paul claimed revelatory and authoritative status not only for what he preached in his apostolic mission, but for what he wrote to expand or re-emphasize his spoken word. He told the Thessalonians, “I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren” (1 Thessalonians 5:27). In his second epistle to this same church he wrote, “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person” (2 Thessalonians 3:14). He also made sure they knew that the letter was from him: “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter” (3:17). Every letter that he wrote was to be taken as his word of apostolic authority arising from the commission of Christ and the revelation received from the Holy Spirit. His writings reconfirm what he spoke as he indicates in 1 Thessalonians 4:6 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5: “just as we told you before; … Do you not remember that while I was with you I was telling you these things?” Also, his writings expand what he spoke in giving further detail: “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us” (2 Th 2:15). In 1 Thessalonians he wrote an expansion of his teaching to them on death, resurrection and the return of Christ (4:13-18).
He wrote in an authoritative apostolic manner to churches where he had never to that point preached. His most expansive exposition of the entire history of salvation was written to a church that he did not directly found and to which he had not been. He felt an apostolic obligation to instruct them and bear fruit among them (Romans 1:8-15). In this letter, both deeply personal and highly instructive doctrinally he gave coherent discussion on the relation between creation and the knowledge of God, the fall of Adam, the call of Abraham, giving of the law to Israel, the eternal issues of justice involved in the death and resurrection of Christ, divine sovereignty in the present based on eternal decrees within the mysterious communicative activities of the triune God, the relation between justification and personal pursuit of holiness, the church, the secular political authorities, his personal missionary ministry, and other related subjects. He expected them to receive this writing: “On some points I have written to you very boldly, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of the gospel of God …according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept hidden for long ages” that he had received “according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith” (Romans 15:15, 16; 16:25, 26).
Another issue concerning the word of revelation given to Paul as he wrote about it in these letters concerns the necessity of an effectual work of the Spirt to seal the truth in the hearts of hearers. The Spirit revealed these truths, he inspired the proper connections of words to the truth revealed, and he makes that revealed and inspired truth to be loved and trusted by the elect. Its subject matter should be, not only intriguing, but compelling in itself. The gospel that is revealed deals with sin, redemption, heaven and hell. Far outstripping the most coherent and carefully constructed systems of human philosophy, the gospel gives substantial knowledge of God. The person of Christ as communicated in this revelation is the most interesting, excellent, transcendently wise and compassionate, truthful, confident, clear-minded, exalted, humble, and determinatively purposeful person in all literature of all cultures of all ages. It is impossible within a neutral intellectual setting for the person of Christ and his striking and shocking work of redemption not to be the most fascinating subject and desired person of history. So compelling was Christ in every aspect of his person—God and man in one person—and work—completely innocent and positively righteous yet slain for sinners—that Paul can say with perfect rationality and with an approving conscience, “If anyone does not love the Lord he is to be accursed” (1 Corinthians 16:22).
But none who hear of him are in a neutral position.  Too much about God, righteousness, holiness, obedience, and judgment for enemies of truth to embrace him for who he claims to be. He is rejected when left to our natural enmity. Paul looks at this phenomenon in these letters to the Thessalonians. In 1 Th 2:14-16 he outlines Jewish opposition to the Gospel as well as that generated among the Gentiles in Thessalonica. In Thessalonica there was “much opposition” (1 Thessalonians 2:2) which Paul explained in 2 Thessalonians. 2:10 in terms of “the deception of wickedness for those who perish” creating an unwillingness to “receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.” Thus, we find that any willingness of spirit and mind to receive this message is an indication of effectuality under the Spirit’s power. Paul described this phenomenon early in the letters by observing that his preaching (1 Thessalonians 1:5) came “not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” In 1 Thessalonians 2:12, 13, he admonished them to “walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory,” for this word “performs its work in you who really believe.” In speaking of the love implied in and commanded in the gospel Paul wrote, (1 Thessalonians 4:9),  “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.” By his own power, God himself will “establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:13). This truth of divine determination and absolute effectuality Paul repeats when he writes, “Now may the God of peace, himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” (1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24). This is consistent with the character of the new covenant as described in Jeremiah 31:33, 34, reiterated in John 6:45, and in 1 John 2:27 (“They will all be taught by God; … But as his anointing teaches you about everything and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.”). In 2 Thessalonians. 2:13, 14, Paul proposes the fitness of God’s prerogative in his pre-mundane love of some resulting in their election to salvation. Election to salvation consummates in each chosen one through the sanctifying influence of the Spirit embedding the natural the function of truth in their mind, heart, and will. This constitutes the call to salvation, as Paul stated it, “through our gospel.” Final salvation is summarized as “the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The way in which Paul interweaves the truthfulness and revelatory character of Scripture in the Thessalonians letters, should give every Christian an absolute confidence in the Bible. As an extension of that confidence, we should have an intensified focus, a magnifying glass that takes diffused light and pinpoints one white-hot truth to which everything pertains—a focus on the Gospel. All of it is designed to move toward the Messiah’s being God’s salvation, the glory of His people Israel, and a light of revelation to the Gentiles.
Do not seek to employ any other methods than the truth. The Spirit of truth blesses the truth, in particular as truth culminates in and points to the Lord Jesus. The Spirit’s eternal existence consists of his procession from the Father and the Son as fully embodying the love of the Father in the Son and perfect delight in the Son and the Son’s necessarily reciprocal relationship to the Father. As the Spirit eternally proceeds within this essence summarized in eternal love, his peculiar operation in this fallen world is to communicate the revelation of this eternal purpose that is seen most vividly and clearly in the truth of the gospel. Paul exhibited no doubt that this gospel, revealed by God in Christ and then in truthful propositions about Christ, was the gospel he preached.

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E Pluribus Unum and Local Churches

The Continental Congress signed a Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, establishing the 13 British Colonies as an independent nation to be called the United States of America.
Before Congress adjourned that day, they also passed the following resolution:

Resolved, that Dr. Franklin, Mr. J Adams and Mr. Jefferson, be a committee to bring in a device for a seal for the United States of America.

The task was more difficult than anyone expected and it took more than six years to complete. The seal that was finally adopted by Congress has at the very center an eagle with an olive branch in one talon and thirteen arrows in the other, symbolizing the nation’s commitment to both peace and strength. The beak of the eagle clinches a scroll on which is written, “E Pluribus Unum”—a Latin phrase which means, “out of many, one.” You can see the seal on the one-dollar bill and some United States coins. It is used to ratify treaties and to seal other important documents for the U.S. government.
“Out of many, one” was an important concept for the success of the new nation because prior to that they had been independent colonies with separate laws and charters. But to form a new nation that would indeed be united, those early colonists had to embrace the idea that, though they each maintained a sense of independent identity from each other, they would stand united with each other as a new nation.
That concept, E Pluribus Unum, is seen also in the way that the New Testament describes local churches under the lordship of Jesus Christ. A church is made up of individual Christians, but those individuals are united in a common confession, a common cause, and a common commitment to live together following Jesus Christ as Lord.
The Apostle Paul regularly draws on the analogy of a human body to explain the nature of the relationships that exist among church members. He does this in Romans 12:4-5; Ephesians 2:11-16, 3:6, 4:15-16; Colossians 1:18, 24, and then more extensively in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.
Three vital dimensions of local church relationships are highlighted by understanding the church as the body of Christ. Every church of Christ is marked by unity, diversity, and interdependence. We see this in the way that a human body has been designed by God to function.
In Romans 12:4-5, Paul puts it like this: For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Many members comprise one body—out of many, one. The interconnectedness that individual church members have with each other underscores the depth of unity that spiritually does and practically should characterize every local church.
Every church of Christ is marked by unity, diversity, and interdependence.
Members of a true church are “members of one another” (a phrase that Paul also uses in Ephesians 4:25). That is, in Christ and through the providential direction of our lives to unite with a particular church, Christians become spiritually joined to each other. This unity is not to be taken lightly nor easily dismissed. Rather, believers are obligated to live in ways that are “worthy of the calling” to which we have been called, which includes being “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1, 3).
Such genuine unity does not, however, mean uniformity. Church members are still individuals, each with his or her own unique personalities, gifts, experiences, and stations in life. The analogy of a church as a body demonstrates this point by highlighting the diversity of members.
“The members do not all have the same function.” That is, they have different designs to carry out different responsibilities. Paul makes this point even more starkly in 1 Corinthians 12. “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (vv. 15-18).
God gifts His people in just the ways that He sees fit and our giftedness is to be used in service to the whole body. When this happens, then “the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:16). This truth compelled Charles Spurgeon to say, “This is one of the things we want very much—that every member of the Church should recognize that he is ordained to service.”
The unity in diversity that characterizes every church of Jesus Christ inevitably results in lives of interdependence among church members. Christians need each other and this mutual dependence is by God’s design for our own growth in grace. Again, in Paul’s extended illustration to the Corinthians, he writes,

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it (1 Corinthians 12:21-27).

If a church is thinking rightly about what God has designed it to be it will both recognize and encourage this kind of interdependence. Weak members will not be despised nor strong members resented. The sense of belonging to something greater than our individual endeavors will be strong. Just as a broken arm traumatizes the whole body and a foot massage relaxes the whole person, so what happens to one church member affects the whole church.
God gifts His people in just the ways that He sees fit and our giftedness is to be used in service to the whole body.
The church is God’s idea. Jesus is the Head of every individual church that is worthy of the name. The call to follow Christ is a call to follow Him together. The Christian life is a team sport. You cannot successfully live it in isolation from other believers. The bonds of fellowship, encouragement, and discipleship that God has provided through the ministry of a local church are indispensable for vital spirituality.
Through committed membership in a local church a Christian’s weaknesses are strengthened, strengths are shared, eccentricities are exposed, sins are rebuked, gifts are utilized, and needs are met. It takes a church to grow a Christian.
So, praise God for His wisdom in creating the church. My counsel to every Christian is this: find a healthy church and build your life around it. By doing so you will not only be blessed, but will become a channel of blessing for others.

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