Monday, August 13, 2018

Spiritual Viruses, part 2: Submission to the Word of God

As I was challenged (by the dramatic shift in thinking in the GKv churches on "women in office") to research God's design in humanity as male and female, I heard of Kathy Keller her book: "Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles: A Case for Gender Roles in Ministry".
As this book gives a good explanation of God's design in terms of "the complementarian perspective", I decided to translate the book into Dutch in the hope that many Christians would recognize the dangerous shift.

Kathy writes about her discovery that the Bible is the reliable Word of God. "No one among my family or friends believed that; so it wasn't a view I was raised to hold, and it brought with it massive consequences. For instance; now I trusted God's Word as truth, written to aid my flourishing and not to diminish it, my choices needed to be submitted to Scripture. When my choices and God's commands clashed, he won."
Around the same time we were listening to Franchis Chan on a youtube clip where he expressed his willingness to surrender all to Jesus and to obey God's Word, even where it didn't make sense to him. He said something like, "If the Bible would tell me to stand on my head, and it seemed foolish to me, I would still do my best to stand on my head... in faithful and loving submission to God!"

In a lecture by D.A. Carson entitled "Subtle Ways to Abandon the Autority of Scripture", he suggests that throughout the centuries the Church has been tested to see whether or not she would continue to submit to the authority of the Word of God. Sometimes the issues appear trivial and insignificant, until you recognize it to be another scheme of Satan to drive a wedge between the Church and her God. Carson suggests that issues like "women in church leadership" and "homosexual lifestyles in the church" are of this calibre. 

6 "Men and women are equal." 
Jordan Peterson, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Toronto has angered feminists by insisting that men and women are not equal. If we give them true freedom to choose -research shows- women will be much more likely (about 20 : 1 in Scandinavia) to choose to be a nurse, where men will be much more likely to choose to be an engineer. 
We all know that men and women are created differently, and we know that form and function are closely related in God's created order. People of all times and places have known this to be true.
If we read in Genesis about the world before the Great Flood, we see how men became violent and abusive to women. Throughout history men have abused women for their own service and pleasure. Yet, to dismiss or ignore the male-female differences is not going to solve this problem!
If we look at Jesus and the apostles, we note that men and women are equally valuable in the Church of Christ. Christ has shed his blood for men and women alike. And although a husband and his wife must submit to eachother, this does not make the relationship symmetric. Jesus and his apostles maintain unique roles for men and women, and they did not do so for fear that the church was not yet ready for what it really ought to be (as some have slanderously suggested).
I have heard the slogan "men and women are equal" many times. Usually it started with the equal value, but a few sentences later the same slogan shifted to mean that also in the church the roles for men and women ought to be the same.

Ernst Leeftink, a GKv pastor who has thought and written a fair bit about the issue of "women in office" also reviewed Kathy Keller her bookHe valued her insights, but in the end he was disappointed that she could not answer the question 'Why God had decided to assign the offices of elder and preacher only to qualified men'. Actually, Leeftink paraphrases Kathy her question in this way "Why Jewish tradition and the practice in the early Christian church restricted the guarding of the truth to the men." (waarom in de joodse traditie en dus ook in de eerste christelijke gemeente de taak van het bewaken van de gezonde bijbelse leer alleen bij mannen is neergelegd) Her failure to answer this question, according to Leeftink, proves that Kathy her argument has no objective basis and may therefore be dismissed. Notice the shift from "God's will" to "Jewish tradition and early Christian practice". Contrast Leeftink's conclusion with the voluntary submission to the biblical authority that we found expressed by Kathy Keller and Francis Chan! 

Schemes of the Devil
What are the most effective ways to spread spiritual viruses in the churches? 
A key position of strategic importance would be the training school for the ministry. I realized this when I studied for the ministry at Heritage Theological Seminary. Professor Webb was promoting his progressive redemptive hermeneutic, whereby essentially our modern perception of "the way things ought to be" (according to the godless culture around us) is presupposed to be superior to Paul's perception (as influenced by the primitive culture of his time, rather than inspired by the Holy Spirit). Dr. Webb was a clever academic and the year I was a full-time student there I heard hardly any objections against his teaching from faculty or students. I realized that, if this virus continued to infest the churches, the damage could be horrendous.
Another powerful agent is the press. When I grew up in the GKv, the churches found much unity and strength in their national daily newspaper, the "Reformed Family Paper".  Over the years, however, the nature of this paper changed a lot. In 1967 the name was changed to "Dutch daily" to reflect a desire for a greater audience. Twenty-five years later the editorial staff opened up to any self-professing Christian, and over time the paper sought to present a broad scope of ideas and opninions from all who called themselves Christians. Many or most of the older members remained faithful in their subscriptions as the paper remained a source of church news and family announcements.

7 "Living in Faithfulness and Love"
Whenever we visited our families in Holland, we would inevitable read the "Dutch Daily" to familiarize ourselves with the developments. We noticed in this paper a growing preference for articles that promoted the idea that all churches are equally good, that there is nothing wrong with sex outside marriage (even with unbelievers), and homosexual practice is not condemned by God's Word if it happens "in faithfulness and love", which usually implies that it is practised with one exclusive partner. 
Although the Bible has no passage condoning "men sleeping together" but consistently calling it an abomination, the virus has done its work. Even before synod has come to a conclusion, they are advised not to keep homosexual couples from the Lord's Supper.
"How could God be so cruel not to give a fulfilled life to our children whom he has given a homexual inclination? How could a church be so unloving not to accept these covenant children as brothers and sisters in the flock.

Four years ago, I wrote in a post:
Behind Dr. Webb's views I now see a world-wide web, woven by the Evil One.  It entangles many church leaders and teachers, and in its deception the Enemy seeks to destroy the church.  According to Dr. J. van Bruggen, the new hermeneutics is now making strong inroads in the Reformed churches in The Netherlands.  This brings many pastors and elders to re-interpret Paul, for instance on the matter of female pastors and elders in the church.  Such a change has not yet been accepted, but the momentum exists and the common opinion seems to be that the acceptance of ‘women in office’ is just a matter of time.  However, it’s not the acceptance of women in office that will be the turning point. If the new hermeneutic is already embraced, the Horse of Troy is within the walls! 

The gates are wide open to the enemy; time will tell for those who keep their eyes wide open and stand strong in the armor of God!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Spiritual Viruses (Seven schemes to destroy the church), part one

In the previous couple of posts I have given some examples of the spiritual decay that we recently observed in the churches of our youth. A generation ago most leaders in these churches would have understood and shared our current grief and serious concerns. The common reactions in the same churches now are dismissal, apathy, and anger. A few of our closest friends have been willing to listen and to be challenged in their thinking and -after months- begin to slowly understand what we are saying and why we are concerned.

What happened? How is it possible that so many leaders of these churches -whom we saw as pillars of the church- are now following -or even leading- the flocks into the ravine?  Over the years, they have begun to think differently; a slow but persistent paradigm shift. The denomination seems to have been transformed from a fairly closed group of churches that tried to see the world from the apostolic perspective into a significant group that seeks to be contemporary and relevant for today's culture and hence tries to read and interpret the apostolic writings in a way that must facilitate this goal.

What we noticed (after twenty four years in Canada and eight years in China) is that certain new convictions have become established in the popular mindset. These convictions are often expressed as metaphores or slogans that appear attractive against the backdrop of the pillarized, ethnocentric past. I want to briefly discuss seven of these 'spiritual viruses' as we have observed and experienced them during our three years in our 'old country'.
What do I mean, then, with 'spiritual viruses'? They are metaphores and slogans that have gone viral in the churches (have become popular and widely appreciated), have become lodged into the minds of the church leaders and members, with the result of a serious impairment in spiritual discernment in the whole denomination.

1. "We must not judge!"
Marioka and I had been appointed small group (or "cell-groep") leaders in our church. In the first three or four meetings it happened somewhere in the discussion after I had said something that sounded controversial, that one older brother would shout: "You are judging! You are judging, Aize!" If I would try to explain my statement, he would stop me abruptly, by repeating this behavior. After the first meeting, when this happened again, I would reply by saying: "So, is that your judgment of what I am doing?" or "Are you judging me for saying this?" (It did not help. Only after I had invited him for a coffee and explained him who I am was this problem resolved.)
Also, when I was an elder, the chairman of the self-appointed "spiritual management council" told me I was judging. In none of these cases where I was accused of judging was I judging in the sense of rashly condemning somebody personally or declaring that he was not a Christian. No, the 'judging' that was opposed in this way was the expression of spiritual discernment, to distinguish between what is according to the Scriptures and what is not.
As Don Carson so clearly describes in his book "The Intolerance of Tolerance", Tolerance has become the highest virtue, and it no longer means allowing other people to express their personal opinion, but that we may not criticize or oppose the expression of an opinion that deviates from the popular concensus. 
The obvious (?) consequence of this attitude is that the church leaders may no longer discern between good and evil in doctrine or in life. Paul writes to the Ephesians (read: "The Holy Spirit speaks to the church of all times and places) that we must stand firm against the schemes of the devil and his evil spirits. If the church adopts as motto "We may not judge" in the meaning as described above, it capitulates to Satan by taking off the armour of God.

2. "The Bible is a difficult book."
When I started to write critical material about the current tolerance towards the "new hermenutic" (read the post: Shelob's Web), few people replied. I was thankful for the openness of the pastor's wife, however, when she expressed her concern about a growing separation in our ways of thinking. Her response was: "But, Aize, the Bible is a very difficult book!" 
At the surface this, too, may look like an innocent remark. Christians, even Christians who truly seek to submit to the Word of God, do not agree on every aspect of the biblical teaching. Yet, diligent study and comparing passages do result in a great concensus among the church of all times and places. In the past we have too readily assumed that the infallibility of Scripture could be transposed to our presumed infallibility to our church's understanding of the Scriptures. But now, in step with the paradigm shift in western thinking, many have succumbed to relativism. In spiritual terms this is expressed along these lines: "X says he is a Christian. So, we should respect him as a Christian and celebrate that fact, rather than discern if X's views and actions line up with the apostolic teaching." and "On this partuclar passage we find different interpretations among the pastors in our churches. Therefore, we must humbly accept that the passage is unclear and tolerate the different views existing."
Don Carson points out (with reference to an article by Michael J. Ovey) that Satan has used this scheme already for centuries. Of course there are issues on which we must admit "I don't understand it", but when we insist "This is unclear" it quickly takes on the meaning "Nobody can understand this." Once that virus takes hold, it effectively labels anybody who does claim to understand it as a bigot and if it is applied to a biblical passage, it eliminates the biblical authority.

3 The Final Act
To see the biblical story as an unfolding drama has been a helpful metaphor. It reminds us that throughout and behind the books of the Bible there is one story. It is the story of creation, fall, and redemption. Tom Wright wrote about it, and then Goheen and Bartholomew expanded on this metaphor by suggesting we are part of the final act; we have the task to embody God's Kingdom here and now.
But in some circles this was further modified to suggest that the current age is significantly different than the age of Peter and Paul. What these apostles thought and wrote in their times gives us some insight into the intentions of God, but it is up to us to see what and how we can or should use from their writings for the church today.
Imagine, we find a formerly unkown Shakesperean drama. It was never finished; the last act is missing. It is our task to write the final act. The author is dead (!), but he has left us with the first five acts, and it is up to us to use this material to construct the final act.
At this stage we have opened the door to the new hermeneutic. The apostolic teaching is no longer normative, because the apostles were mere men, trying to make sense of God's will in the context of their culture.

The Bible can be seen as a Tom-Tom. If we rely on it, we will at times get lost or stuck in a dead-end road. We must face the reality that the cultural landscape today is different from what it was in Bible times. We cannot rely on it for daily life; we must carefully discern its applcability for the new age. (article in a regional church paper, by a GKv pastor)

4 "God would never do that!"
Around the time that the GKv synod was discussing the issue of "women in office", I overheard a colleague at our Reformed school: "I cannot imagine that God would care if there's a man in the pulpit or a woman!" I resisted the temptation of challenging her, but I wondered. Is your imagination based on knowledge of God? How well do you know the will of God? Is this knowledge rooted in a rigorous study of the Bible? If this "idea" of the will of God is not derived from such a study, then where does it come from? From other people or from your personal preference or from other spirits that whisper into your ears at night?

I have a friend who did a fairly extensive study in a GKv religion in education program. He told me he was beginning to doubt how much of the Bible is the Word of God. "Do you know how cruel and horrific it is to stone somebody?", he asked me. I had no experience and I had not read about the experiences of others. Well, my friend had come to realize how terrible it was to die such a death. And, when he noticed how often the Old Testament prescribed it as a punishment for sin, he was apalled. "God would never do that!" 
I concluded that my friend could not conceive of a sin so terrible that would warrant such a punishment. Was it possible that he did not know God as an just and angry God, Who would get furious if one of his creatures would willingly set out to destroy something beautiful which He had just made? Is it not God's fury about such sins that brought Him to sacrifice Himself in his Son to the horrible punisment of crucifixion?
Upon further questioning, it turned out that he saw God as the image of anybody, based on his own feelings, experiences, and thoughts. In the end, the Bible had little to do with it.

5 "We know more than Paul."
During our stay in Holland, this slogan became increasingly popular. A theology professor at the GKv seminary was instrumental in its propagation. I paraphrase two examples.
A recent scientific study shows that drinking wine causes cancer. Paul suggests to Timothy that he ought to drink a little wine. If Paul had known what we know, he would not have given that advice. So, we'd better be careful in how we apply the recommendations othe apostles.
The Bible may call homosexual living (where a man lies with another man) "an abomination", but current research has helped us to understand the true nature of homosexuality. If Paul had lived today among us, he would have agreed that there are good and beautiful ways in which two people can live in a homesexual relationship! We must show the love of God and embrace such people too!

Of course there are areas in life on which we may know more today than Paul would have known about two thousand years ago. Yet, if that becomes our slogan, we treat the Bible as any historical document, written by people with their own shortcomings and biases. We no longer see it as the infallible Word of God. We no longer accept the fact that God, through His Spirit, made sure that the apostles wrote the things that He wanted to convey to the church of all times and places. 

Men, like Melle Oosterhuis, chairman of the recent GKv Synod get very sad or angry when people state that they no longer submit to the authority of Scripture. In their view, the church throughout the ages has always interpreted the Bible in the way they understood it in their time and culture. They claim that nothing changed, except that we are now conscious of our own biases.

Time will tell. Those who truly follow Christ will grow in godliness. Those who claim to follow Christ yet interpret His Word in ways compatible with the insights and agendas of the godless world they live in, they will continue to drift away from God's Word and godly living.

to be continued

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

God's Design for the Christian Family

Please read Ephesians 5:22-33.

Over the last two years I used this passage three times in a message to a Christian audience in The Netherlands. It seemed to me that this passage is not very familiar by many, not just because less Christians spend significant time in studying the Word but also because Pauls exposition on God's design for the Christian family is no longer compatible with the modern way of thinking about men and women. The third time I did this message, it was addressed to the Christian cell group for which my wife and I were appointed leaders. One young woman, a leader in the church, was clearly upset. There are so many other passages on men and women, why had I chosen this one? It seemed pretty obvious that Paul's teaching, in its natural reading, did not jive well with her own perception on how things ought to be- also in the church of Christ. During the rest of the meeting, we felt a growing animosity towards our leadership. Over time I came to realize that this was just another example of the intolerance of modern tolerance. (more about this in a later post)

What is God's design for the Christian family according to the passage in Paul's letter to the Ephesians?

We all, as Christ's disciples, are urged to follow the apostles as our models. When men like Paul, Timothy, and James realized what God, in Christ, had done for them (in His sacrificial love, demonstrated on the cross), they volunteered to be his slaves. When we begin to discern what Jesus has done for us, we too, will voluntarily surrender all of our ambitions, hopes, and plans into his hands!

God, in Jesus, loves his people (the followers of all times) so much that he sacrificed his status, his glory, and his life in order to build them up as his shining Church, reflecting his glory in a darkened world. (Clearly, the biblical view of 'true love' is not self-seeking but self-sacrificing!)
The Christian husband is to love his wife in the same way: not pushing his own will, his own desires or pleasures, but willing to give up even his own status, glory, and his life in order to build up his wife as a godly woman, liberated and empowered to show God's glory.

Just as the Christian husband is called to demonstrate the love of Christ to his wife, so she is called to demonstrate her voluntary submission to her husband, because behind him and in him she recognizes her loving Savior, Jesus Christ.
Throughout the centuries Christians have seen this as God's beautiful design. When the Church, the Christian husbands and their wives, are determined to live in accordance with His design, we will see harmony and love as the blessings of God.

Submission to what, to whom?

When the church becomes more informed and affected by the secular world than by God's Word, it will lose the sense of awe for and beauty in God's design. Focusing on the effects of human selfishness in abuse (for instance) of husbands inflicted on their wives, they grow to prefer the feministic egalitarian design as the best solution for the problem. And so, the form for Christian marriage must be altered to fit the changing times. Voluntary submission must be scrapped as this is considered a shameful remant of or male-dominated (and hence, woman-suppressing) past.

If, however, the church seeks to be immersed in God's Word as it is brought to us by His Spirit in the letter of Paul (not: the Bible as it comes to us through human authors, skewed in their perceptions by their primitive cultural context), then it would continue to uphold and work out God's beautiful design.
If male-to-female abuse is found in the church, then men must be urged to follow Christ in His self-sacrificing love towards His Bride. And if the form for Christian marriage does not sufficiently emphasize this mandate for the males or the church does not dare to discipline those who refuse to follow Christ in his love, then the church needs reformation, not the abolition of the form for Christian marriage.

The modern church prides itself in becoming more godly and more loving to women, yet it sets itself up for disaster. Having despised God's instruction, unless there will be a reformation and revival, there will be growing darkness until finally Jesus removes the Light.
How long will it take before these churches too will dismiss the Great Commission and abandon the belief that salvation can only be found by true faith in Jesus Christ?

Friday, July 14, 2017

Culture Shock, continued

A while ago a brother in our church suggested that "Women in Office" was a real "hobby horse" for me. He came to this conclusion after I had published a few articles on our church's Facebook page.
I had done so in response to two developments. First, the GKv churches were meeting at their regular synod, and this time there seemed to be an urgent push in the church community to 'legalize women in office'. Reading the Nederlands Daglad and listening to people around me I was convinced that this decision would indeed be made. Second, while our pastor can be characterised as "evangelical reformed" and loves to learn from John Piper and Timothy Keller, yet het held a 'teaching sermon' in which he explained the report on "Serving Together as Man and Woman" (written by a study group to advise the Synod on this issue) without any pastoral warning or guidance. Yet, I discovered -to my surprise and horror- that this report follows the same rationale as Bill Webb does in his progressive redemptive hermeneutic. (see: post Shelob's Web: August, 2014)

Meanwhile, fairly recently I had learned that at 'my seminary' and in the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist churches the teachings of Bill Webb have been rejected. Wayne Grudem, for instance, has written a fairly thorough critique of Webb's "Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals".
On the other hand, however, in the churches where I grew up in Holland, many or most now embrace the kind of hermeneutics of Bill Webb proposes. Ironically, they used to consider themselves 'the true church' with 'the pure doctrine', while they considered Baptist churches unworthy of the label "Church of Christ". Yet, at this time it seems to me that Baptist leaders like D.A. Carson and John Piper are now closer to the Truth than most Reformed churches and their leaders, at least here in The Netherlands.

So, what is my position on "women in office' and how and why is it different from others in 'our churches' here?
Since most people tend to think that there are only two answers possible, they will automatically try to peg me in either hole. So, before I answer the question, I usually describe the other options before us.  Please note that many nuances exist and variations exist within each of these viewpoints.

1 the traditional position
In several passages, Paul clearly argues that women must be silent in the meetings. Even if we cannot understand his rationale or have a tendency to object from our cultural perspective, we are called to obey the Word of God and the apostolic teaching.
Sure, women were prophesying in the early church, but we don't have this kind of prophesying anymore. Perhaps women were allowed to be deacons, but many older people would object, to this and we are to keep the peace. Besides, this could lead us onto a slippery slope, whereby opening up one office might soon lead to opening up all offices. Better safe than sorry.

My response: Over against the "women must be silent" in the meetings we can also find passages where women were encouraged to speak in the meetings, and they were applauded for their leadership functions. If we bar women from the office of deacon without clear instructions from Scripture to do so, then we are not living by God's Word but by tradition and culture. We do not respect our women and the gifts God gives in and through them. Such practices do not build up but weaken the church.

2 the egalitarian position
A century ago the women in our culture were not treated with the same respect as men. In civil elections, for instance, women were not allowed to participate. Especially after WWII feminism fought for liberty and equality, and slowly but surely many situations of systemic injustice were removed.
Although the Church of Christ ought to defend justice in the public realm, in reality they often lag behind the surrounding culture. Today, most churches are ashamed of their chauvinistic past and seek to undo the mistakes of the past.
If women finally get their fair place and position in society, why should we not do the right thing and do the same in the churches? If we read the Bible from this perspective, it becomes clear that there is a movement after the Fall from inequality and injustice to justice and equality. We are called to continue in faithfulness to this storyline and do the right thing for our women.
If there are a few passages where Paul would call women to be silent, we must look for good reasons for him to do so. In Corinth, for instance, there were special problems with domineering women. Therefore, Paul's instruction there was specifically directed to that situation. Besides, Paul was careful in his day and age not to run ahead and enforce changes the congregations were not ready for.

My response: In the writing of most proponents it is clear that they are searching for scriptural approval, or at least leaway, for what they -informed by the surrounding secular culture- deem to be the right tyhing for God's Word to say. Just like the traditionalists, ultimately they let culture and tradition determine what is right of wrong for them to do. The Bible passages that support their conclusions are then highlighted, the others, apparently opposite, are then relativized. Now Synod has decided all offices should be open, many people again argue that we ought to maintain the (new) status quo in order to maintain the peace.

3 the relativistic position
Some people cannot understand me. In China we could worship together with Catholis, Pentecostals, and Baptists. Now we are back in Holland, we make issue about "such trivial matters" as women in office. Many preople argue that, really, we should have no separate denominations: Do not all Christians share in the same faith and baptism? Are all these schisms not an abomiation for the Truth? Look, even in our churches there are many people sincerely trying to understand God's Word and to live by it. And they come to all kinds of interpretations and applications. So, God's Word is not clear at all. We must not be so proud as in the past, and we must stop fighting for our viewpoint as if that were the only valid one. Let's live in harmonious love together and stop fighting!

My response: We must indeed watch out not to judge others or other churches too easily as 'unbeliever' or 'false church'. We must be prepared to listen before we speak, to evaluate our views in the light of Scripture, also from other perspectives. We must always try to maintain a balance between apparently contradicting passages in Scripture. Yet, it seems that many people and leaders here have moved into a view of relativism. Although in Paul's letters (for instance to Timothy) and Jesus' letters (to 'the seven churches') warn us all the time against false doctrines, this concern seems of little importance for the modern church today. Satan will make use of his opportunities that readily come available today!

4 the complementarian position
Most orthodox scholars today agree that in the first letter to Corinth (chapter 14) Paul tells women (not just certain women!) to be silent when it comes to evaluate what has been said to the (male or female) speakers in the church meetings. In his letter to Timothy Paul warns that women are not to speak authoritatively. To summarize: the final authority and responsibility for the teaching must be with the elders or bishops, who ought to be ordained men. We must ensure that all other roles in the church are readily available to women as to men.
In our modern culture people cannot understand that men and women are equally valuable before God while at the same time they have different roles to play. They also think it sounds terrible that a woman are called to follow, serve, and obey her husband. Yet, they fail to see that the husband is called to love his wife sacrificially, like Christ loved his church when he gave up his life for her! if a godly man will sacrifice everything for his wife, he cannot and will not enforce his will on her against her will. Yet, if she experiences his real, self-sacrificing love in this way, she will love to serve him and to follow him! This must not surprise us: Paul and James call thenselves slaves of Jesus, not because their Lord is a cruel slavedriver, but because they have understood and appreciated his amazing grace. They trust him so much, that -in loving thankfulness- they voluntarily become his slaves!

This view, in my opinion, is the only one that seeks to do justice to passages on both sides of the spectrum: those passages that seem to say: 'Women may speak and lead in public, just like men.' and others that seem to say: 'Women must be silent, while men may speak.' Also, it avoids the problems of traditionalism and egalitarianism that drives people to force their personal preferences on their exegesis and/or hermeneutics. In this way, it also avoids ineffectivity in missions, as Newbigin and Keller would say, "Traditional churches do not listen to, dialog with, or understand those outside the faith. Yet, mainstream churches, in their efforts to accomdate secular culture, have lost the unique message of the Gospel, which is both inviting and confronting."

Of course my description of the views had to be short. The complementarian view has been promoted by D.A. Carson, Tim and Kathy Keller, and John Piper. These are the leaders of The Gospel Coalition. To gain a better understanding, and I hope appreciation of this view, I encourage you to read some of these publications:

Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womenhood

What's the Difference?

50 Questions and Answers

Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles

The Gospel Coalition on Complentarity: search their website, using as search term: complementarity

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Culture Shock

It was almost two years ago that we (temporarily, at least) remigrated to the Netherlands. We left as young family with two little children in 1983, and now we're back again... even in my home town.

In the meantime we have learned by experience a number of essential things.
First, the global church of Christ is much wider than one particular denomination, and there is not one denomination which can lay claim on the perfect truth. Therefore, I have not apriori rejected or condemned Christians from other denominations; rather I have learned from them.
Second, in this process I learned to look at biblical teachings and denominational doctrines from multiple perspectives. This is how I could also identify wrong teachings in "our" churches in Canada.
However, in this process I also discovered some serious abberations from the biblical truth in other churches and cultures. (In other words, I have not drifted from an ecclesiastical ethnocentrism to a doctrinal relativism.)
In these blog posts I have discussed a number of these dangerous movements and trends, such as: a shift in hermeneutical methods whereby our cultural mindset of today is used as a governing template for reading and applying the Scripture (Shelob's Web: August 20, 2014) and for instance: how Satan manages to infiltrate the evangelical churches with New Age beliefs and practices. (The Last Battle, and Beauty and the Beast: January, 2015).
In China we worked well with Christians from Jewish, Roman Catholic, Baptist and Pentecostal backgrounds and not because we watered down the truth; in fact in my preaching and teaching I always tried to learn from them and to respectfully show the differences and explain why some of these really mattered.

After eight years of service there, we had a real sense that God wanted us to wrap up our work in China and to move to The Netherlands. My parents had experienced some medical crises and my mother was beginning to struggle with dementia, which in turn made life for my father rather stressful. This sense of calling was further confirmed in events such as government intervention with our (officially illegal) ministry and the fact that I was offered a job (even though I had no residence or workpermit yet) in a town close to the place my parents lived. The job was at a "Christian" school, but outside the fact that I had a few sincerely Christian colleagues, there was nothing visibly Christian about it. The 'devotional material ' we were to use was clearly humanistic, pluralistic, and at times vaguely spiritual. The Gospel (that is: the reality of our sinfulness and the only redemption through faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ) was carefully cut out from the religious messages which tried to ensure that (the teachings of) all religions would be equally respected.

For various (mysterious) reasons my contract was not renewed, so I had to look for another job. In the meantime we had felt led to join a GKv (Liberated Reformed Church) with evangelical tendencies. The new pastor was a 'follower' of John Piper and Tim Keller, so we were very hopeful that this was indeed the place for us to be.
Well, as it happened, the Reformed Junior High School in my home town (where my father had been one of the first two teachers when it was instituted) had a vacancy in my subject areas that year, so I found a new job, much closer to home. An (official) condition for employment was that I'd be a member of a GKv church, but that was no problem anymore. I am now finishing up my first year at this school, and I have enjoyed a very good year. I am looking forward to another good year with wonderful colleagues and students!

Now, as we started to get absorbed into the GKv community and culture, we began to experience a 'culture shock'. I will share two events here, and in the next post I will address a third issue.

1 Undoing the Reformation
2 No Need for Missions
3 From Traditionalism to Feminism and Postmodernity

1 Undoing the Reformation
The same week that I was to start my teaching job at the Reformed Junior High School I also had a start a seven-week track of daily (5 times/week) radiation sessions to combat the prostate cancer which had been found in me. As a result I had to miss a multi-day spiritual retreat with the staff. The school leaders had registered this retreat with a Roman Catholic monastry (Dominican monastery at Huissen).
At first I was not too overly apprehensive. We had come to know evangelical Christians from a RC background, and we had found that with them we had a common base of faith on which we could work well together. Note that we never shunned the discussion about important differences. (Report from China: the catholic connection: July, 2015)
When I got to read more detailed information about the place and the program some alarmbells started to go off.
First, the monastery and chapel are dedicated to Maria, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary. In China we had made it a point not to tour the pagan temples. But, was this not another temple, dedicated to another non-god? Okay, it would not have stopped me from joining the colleagues, but I became somewhat reluctant.
Second, we would be invited to join the local monks at the Eucharist. Now, this became more serious. I had to be "Reformed", and in the "Reformed confessions" it states that the Popish Mass is an accursed idolatry. In the past I did object to such strong, condemning language, but in China I learned to draw a clear line between Worship of the Living God and Idolatry. So, as I sat down with a cup of coffee in the staffroom, I challenged my beloved colleagues, "Who will participate in the accursed idolatry of the Popish Mass?" Nobody had discussed this; the leadership thought it was a good thing, and they assumed we would readily agree to it. Well, most of them saw no problem. I asked them, "Do they not bow before the 'bread' and worship it as if it were their God?" The response was, "Well, we don't have to agree on all the aspects of their doctrine; it would still be wonderful to celebrate the union of our faith!" I was not impressed. When I brought up this concern with the leadership, they responded: "Why, Roman Catholics are Christians, too! Is it not wonderful to celebrate our union in Christ?
Third, as part of the program there was a workshop on meditation, as I found out later. I questioned several colleagues about this: "What kind of meditation was it? Was it meditating on the Word of God? Or was it emptying our minds to become receptive for spiritual oneness?" They agreed that it had nothing to do with the Bible. Now I got very concerned. The Bible urges us to put on God's full armor in the battle against the forces of darkness, and our Christian leaders tell us to shed all armor to open up to whatever spirits? Anybody, who -like Paul- takes the raging spiritual battle very serious would freak out about such developments in the church!
This year is the 500 year anniversary of Luther's protest against the corruption in the Roman (Catholic) Church(es). The Nederlands Dagblad newspaper is still read by many GKv members as it used to be a leader in the doctrine of the church. Today the paper sees little reason for celebrating the Reformation. According to many contributions, we must no longer see the Reformation as God's way of preserving the truth among a righteous remnant; rather, it was an unholy breaking-up of what God had put together!

2 No Need for Mission
Since the day that we met two Chinese women at the (GKv) church have we not only joined that church but we have also been active in assisting those who seek to settle in this land as refugees. A number of programs were in place already, some of which are organized by an interdenominational team of women. One of their programs is to assist (annabe) refugee women in the learning of the Dutch language. Marioka (my wife) was quite involved with this and other programs.
A few months ago she asked me (several times, I must admit) if I could not start such a program for the men. One of my colleagues at school had also shown interest in helping out. Since we had done similar courses for ESL (English as a second language) in Canada and China, I thought, "Big deal! Let's go!"
We already knew a group of men, who received biweekly Bible instruction at another GKv church in town, and they were quite interested in language help. So, we had teachers and students, but we still needed a building. The church building (of the other GKv congregation) seemed to be a natural, but the person-in-charge insisted we do this through the proper channels so that the church would not have to pay for extra heating costs and such. Apparently, an interdenominational fund existed to which various churches donated to share the expenses. Well, I was not used to such an overly structured way of helping others. First I contemplated bearing the cost myself and then deducting it from my monthly church contribution. But another option was suggested. There was a PKN church (building) nearby, and they had very good facilities for this work. Besides, they already worked closely together with the GKv church in search of greater unity. So, I approached their pastor and another elder. A few weeks later, I received a reply, asking, "Who are you? and, With what organization do you work?" I replied something like, "We are born-again believers, who seek to show the love of Christ in helping the stranger and the sojourner among us. We need no organization to do the will of God." A couple of weeks later I received a letter of response. There were two practical concerns, especially about the income of their caretaker and the supervision of their facilities during our presence. But, these were followed by a policy-objection. "Church council does not support Bible study for non-Christians. Especially Muslems experience threats and exlusion when they associate with Christians. Therefore it is not right to isolate such people from their own people and faith as their future is already one of uncertainty."
Wow! This response at least suggests that these church leaders do not think they ought to present the Gospel to Muslems, and that their troubles here should be of greater concern than the judgment of God that might well await them later, and that our greatest expression of love is not to teach them about salvation through the sacrifice of Christ. To me this suggests that they fail to see or accept the essence of the Gospel! And 'our' church sees no obstacle to work on closer unity with them!? Scary!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The End of Pillarization

Most middle-aged Dutch people are somewhat ashamed of the post-war years (fifties and sixties) when Dutch society was strictly compartmentalized. The identity of Dutch citizens was marked by the “pillars” to which they belonged, and the majority of the association and commitment to such a pillar was still based on choices of parents and grandparents. The major pillars were Reformed, Roman Catholic, Socialist/communist, and Liberal. The Reformed pillar was actually divided up in several sub-pillars, which were also quite separated from each other. Typically, people within each pillar had their own political parties, broadcast stations, societies, schools and universities, hospitals, etc. So, Catholic folk associated with other Catholics, shared Catholic viewpoints, maintained Catholic traditions and  propagated Catholic beliefs, traditions, and habits through the generations.

This pattern of pillarization, or strict compartmentalization of society, is mostly broken down today. It is far less predictable which newspapers people will read, TV programs they watch, or political parties they vote for. There is far less group-commitment and far more emphasis on the virtue of personal freedom of choice. How did that change?

First, it became much more likely that people learned more about “other folk” from other pillars, countries, and cultures. access to diverse TV programs, the immigration of Moslems, the increase of holidays abroad, and the higher levels of education contributed to a much broader spectrum of exposure. Typically, when we get more exposure to a greater variety of cultures, we tend to become less chauvinistic about our customs and beliefs and more open to other ideas and viewpoints.
In the geographic sector there was a shift from an agricultural to an industrial, and then to a service sector dominated economy. These shifts generally came with a centralization of jobs and a net population migration to urban areas and cities. In these areas people found a greater diversity of thoughts and ideas and furthermore a decrease in community-living and peer-pressure.

These shifts certainly had an impact on trends in religious adherence. The character of churches changed dramatically, and most of them became less dogmatic, less confessional, less strict in teaching and in discipline. Especially in the more urban areas church attendance, membership, commitment, and participation dropped dramatically. Part of this is good, I believe. Traditional church with a strong peer pressure tend to produce man-pleasers and people who follow the rules to be accepted by their social group- and those are not marks of Christians. Typically, when the majority suddenly switches thoughts about what is acceptable or appropriate, or find out that many people just followed the party-line, the character of the group can quickly and dramatically change. 

When we visited an international church plantin Beijing, a young fellow said he was impressed by the contribution of the Netherlands to the church of God. When I looked puzzled, he referred to the Synod of Dordrecht, held in 1618, 1619. I told him that things had changed a lot over four hundred years. Things have changed, especially during the last fifty years! After 32 years we live here again, and it’s quite a different place! The church is under attack and many don’t seem to notice it.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Back to the Future... Living in The Netherlands

After eight years in China, about which I have just entered a relatively small number of posts, we moved in the summer of 2015 to The Netherlands.
The first reason was that we felt God sent us there for a number of years to support my aging parents.
That is also the reason for us settling in my hometown, Drachten.
Drachten is a relatively new town (established after 1640, when under the direction of one of my ancestors, Mr. Bolleman dug a canal to facilitate the digging of peat in the area. Drachten is a significant centre of Christianity. While there are about 45,000 residents, we find quite a few, relatively large churches of Reformed background and "De Bethel", a Free Baptist megachurch.

I was blessed to get a teaching job in the area, even when we still lived in China. That was at a "Christian" school in a nearby town. Since I was not rehired for a second year, I had to find another job, which I got at a Christian school in Drachten, which originally was established as a parentally organized school for Reformed Christians (Liberated).

I have started a website, to share my theological views and concerns in the Dutch language. I also translated Stephen Westerholm's "Justification Reconsidered", and later I found a Christian publisher willing to publish this book in the Dutch language.

If I have the time I hope to share some of our experiences of living in the old country, where church and society have changed so much. Yet, we also have changed, and so -it seems- we have a somewhat different perspective on the current developments as those around us. What's new?

Drachten, May 2017