Are We Eating “Processed Religion”?

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That’s a good point, isn’t it, TD?

Yet, that seems to be something we are fighting each other about.  “TD is too intense, too long, too deep” et al are the cries of those who want TD studies to be lighter, simpler, and more bite-sized for easier consumption. But is that really what God wants from us? Is that what’s going to help get you through high school growing spiritually stronger each year? This is something we all at TD, both students and leaders alike, need to consider and pray through, and then act upon. I believe the following article brings some insight into the discussion. – Arthur

Some years ago, after watching a documentary that extols the virtues of juicing, I experimented with doing a juice fast. I started buying produce by the bushel and tried all sorts of juice recipes. My kitchen hummed with the sound of my juicer or my trusty Ninja blender.

It was fun for a while—a short while. The process was messy and time consuming, and cleaning the juicer was a pain. So I started buying bottled juice instead, but that was boring and expensive. I gave up before long.

One of the reasons I undertook the experiment had to do with taste. I’ve always been a picky eater, and I began to suspect that part of the reason for this had to do with what I had done to my ability to taste. I had subsisted for so long on processed, artificial food that I could not taste or appreciate more subtle (and natural) flavors. I had burned out my taste buds. So, I wanted to take some time when I was ingesting only natural foods in hopes that I could learn to appreciate real flavors.

Sometimes, when I survey the state of American Christianity, I am reminded of this reason for my juice fast. Many Christians are feeding themselves with the spiritual equivalent of processed food. It is processed religion: light shows and rock bands in place of reverent worship, self-help books masquerading as edification, and self-focused comedy shows presented as sermons.

Processed religion is often attractive. But it has been heavily refined in order to be highly palatable, so it provides only a short-term boost without much lasting nutrition. Like a sugar rush, it carries you on for a while, but it cannot sustain you over the long term. Even the best of it is spiritual milk, but we are called to move on to spiritual meat (1 Cor. 3:1–2; Heb. 5:12–14).

As I had burned out my taste buds on processed food, I fear that we are at risk of burning out our spiritual taste buds when we subsist on processed religion. We are called to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8), to “come to the waters,” and to “eat” (Isa. 55:1). But the flavors of biblical religion can be subtle, and they take time to appreciate. A quiet time of prayer, the solemnity of the Lord’s Supper, the gravity of a well-crafted, biblical sermon—these are the things that nourish our souls.

God has prescribed in His Word the things that will satisfy our spirits, because He knows better than we do what is good for us. He has provided for us the ordinary means of grace—the Word, the sacraments, and prayer—as the simple, methodical, steady diet that will allow us to grow in grace over time. When we come and eat and drink of the deep, fulfilling richness of God’s means of grace, we will be satisfied

When we concentrate on the God-ordained means of our spiritual nourishment, we can grow to appreciate them as the genuine food that they are, and we will want nothing else. And unlike my juice fast, they—and God—will not disappoint us.

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The Gospel in Asia

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Hey TD,

In light of TD’ers heading to love and serve orphaned children, typical children, and college students in China and Taiwan this summer in Jesus’ Name, I’d like for us to pray for these trips and get an overview of what God is doing in Asia.

I read the following article a few weeks ago in Tabletalk magazine and would like to share it with you.  Pray about it and ask the Lord what He wants you to do in response.  Your response can come in many forms, big and small.  But there should be some response of some sort, even if it’s to pray. – Arthur

The Gospel in Asia

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The advance of the gospel in Asia over the last century has been extraordinary. Christian churches are growing and thriving in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and of course South Korea, which boasts some of the largest churches in the entire world. Yet the gospel is also taking root in countries where we might not expect it to. For example, a movement of Reformed churches is growing in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. Moreover, the exponential growth of the house church movement in China is remarkable considering that the Communist government places strict restrictions on the activities of Christian churches. Clearly, the work of the gospel in Asia is something we rejoice over, continue to pray for, and look for opportunities to support.

PLANTING THE SEEDS

The roots of the modern evangelical movement are often traced back to the First and Second Great Awakenings in North America. These revivals have a mixed legacy, but we can be thankful for their emphasis on conversion and evangelism, which sparked a global missionary movement that ultimately marked the nineteenth century as the great century of Protestant mission work. Protestant missionaries traveled to Africa, South America, and Asia spreading the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. While we cannot ignore or fully disentangle the Protestant mission movement from the often-brutal historical context of Western imperialism, which led to many European countries’ annexing territories around the world and the subjection of indigenous people groups, missionaries did plant the seeds of the gospel throughout the world—including Asia.

A good example of planting seeds was the missionary work of Robert Morrison, who was sent by the London Mission Society to China in 1807. He was one of the first to translate the Bible into Chinese and bring the gospel to southern China. James Hudson Taylor followed Morrison, arriving in China in 1853. Taylor founded the China Inland Mission, with a focus on reaching the interior of China, away from the more popular and lucrative port cities. Unique for his time, Taylor and his colleagues chose to dress and eat like the local Chinese as a way of identifying more closely with those to whom they were trying to minister. The work of Morrison and Taylor introduced the gospel to China, and their legacy lives on today.

Another example of gospel seeds being planted in Asia and bearing amazing fruit occurred in Korea, where the first Protestant missionaries arrived in the nineteenth century. Protestantism grew during the early twentieth century with the famous revival (1907–10) in the northern city of Pyongyang. As a result of the revival, Christianity was firmly established and would play a crucial role during the period of Japanese colonial rule. Christianity served as a point of resistance against Japanese occupation, and especially against the imposition of Shintoism. After Korea gained independence, Protestant Christianity continued to grow, and today South Korea’s population has the highest percentage of Christians in East Asia.

THE GOSPEL IN ASIA TODAY

Asia is a vast region, and each country has a distinct story about the gospel’s spread. No country is the same, but the Holy Spirit is working to bring the same gospel to each country. Here are three examples that will give us a glimpse into the work of the gospel in Asia today.

THE GOSPEL IN KOREA

After the Korean War, South Korea continued to see tremendous growth in churches and ministries. The fervency for evangelism and discipleship gripped Korean Christians, resulting in tremendous growth for the church in Korea. The numbers today are astounding. The largest church in the world is the Yoido Full Gospel Church, with more than three hundred thousand congregants. Yoido Church is a Pentecostal church, but many Korean Presbyterian churches have membership numbers in the tens of thousands. The Hapdong denomination which is a conservative Reformed Presbyterian denomination similar to the Presbyterian Church in America, has a membership of more than three million. In comparison, in 2015 the PCA reported a total membership of slightly more than 370,000. The largest Presbyterian church in the Hapdong denomination has a membership of more than 75,000.

The astounding growth of the church in South Korea has led to estimations that Christians make up nearly 29 percent of the population. This is one of the highest percentages of Christians in any country besides the United States. But the Korean church is not content to see the gospel impact only their country. Korean missionaries are now going out to the entire world in the same way their nineteenth-century Western predecessors did. Korea is often listed as the nation sending the second-highest number of missionaries, with the United States still sending the most missionaries of any country in the world.

THE GOSPEL IN CHINA

It is notoriously difficult to assess the growth and state of the church in China. In 1949, when the Communists defeated the Nationalists for control of the country, it is estimated that there were five hundred thousand Christians. With the Communist government’s restrictions on religion, many Christians gathered together in unregistered churches, avoiding public activities and gatherings that would draw scrutiny from officials. Yet all accounts point to the fact that the church in China, even under these hostile circumstances, grew and continues to grow. Chinese Christians are not deterred in their desire to spread the gospel even in the face of severe government opposition. Many scholars estimate that there are close to sixty million Christians in China. One scholar projects the growth to reach two hundred million by 2035. In comparison, there are 159 million Christians in the United States, and that number has been declining each year in recent decades. Consequently, China could eclipse the United States in total number of Christians in the next two decades. If the growth in China continues, Communist China will have one of the largest Christian populations in the entire world. The potential for the Chinese church is great. Not only is there an enormous opportunity for evangelism and church planting in China, but also for missionaries to be sent from China, especially to regions such as the Middle East where it may be more difficult for Westerners to gain entry.

THE GOSPEL IN INDONESIA

One last example is found in Indonesia. The country comprises a series of islands and is the largest Muslim country in the world. In the midst of this Islamic stronghold, the evangelist Stephen Tong started a growing Reformed evangelical church movement. Tong’s church in the capital city of Jakarta averages four thousand attendees each week. He has also founded a seminary and a Christian school, and he has planted multiple churches throughout Indonesia. Tong holds gospel rallies throughout Indonesia, where he preaches to thousands in stadiums and other open-air settings.

As his ministry has grown, Tong’s impact has extended beyond Indonesia to other Asian countries. He has established a regular preaching tour every week to Singapore; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Hong Kong; and Taipei, Taiwan; in addition to his Sunday preaching in Jakarta. Recordings of many of his sermons and lectures have circulated throughout the Chinese-speaking communities, earning him the reputation as one of the most influential preachers in Asia. Tong is likewise committed to Reformed theology and has introduced many in Asia to this rich biblical tradition.

THE GOSPEL MOVING FORWARD

The gospel is moving forward in Asia in unprecedented ways. Borrowing the words of Jonathan Edwards, who ministered during the First Great Awakening, this too is the “surprising work of God.” The gospel seeds that were planted more than two centuries ago have produced great spiritual fruit. What can we as Christians in the West do to support this movement of the gospel? Let me close by making a few suggestions.

1. Pray for the work of the gospel in Asia. 
Many brothers and sisters are serving in countries where there are enormous challenges and significant dangers.

2. Participate by reaching out to and sharing the gospel with foreign students and workers in your community from Asia
In this age of globalization, there are many students and workers from Asia coming to the United States for short periods of time. As they hear and receive the gospel in America, they will return to their home countries with the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.

3. Finally, if you have the opportunity, go and travel to Asia and see for yourself what the Lord is doing
Contact missionaries and churches and ask what their needs are and how you can go and help. I am certain it will be a life-changing experience.

© Tabletalk magazine

Dr. Jeffrey K. Jue is provost, executive vice president, and Stephen Tong Chair of Reformed Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is a teaching elder in the PCA.

Supernatural Friendship

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Hey TD!

With so much formerly-unquestioned institutions, definitions, relationships, etc. being redefined and made hazy in our culture today (i.e. marriage, gender, sexuality, etc.), the idea of true friendship hasn’t been immune; and neither has Christian friendship.  As with everything else, we need to go back to God, the Author of friendship, for the right and proper idea and intention for friendship.

I read a great article on Christ-driven friendship this morning in Tabletalk magazine by Ryan Townsend (Executive Director of 9Marks in Washington D.C.) and thought that it would be good for the rest of you to read and consider for yourselves and for God’s honor. – Arthur

Supernatural Friendship

by Ryan Townsend

One of my favorite songs in high school was U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

It captured my youthful angst and dissatisfaction in this world and its friendships. Now, I had a great childhood, and I’ve always been a happy extrovert. But I wasn’t raised in a Christian home, and never experienced the full joy of Christian fellowship until I found Jesus—in a local, evangelical church on Capitol Hill, when I was twenty-three years old. God used friendships in this church to bring me to Christ (Matt. 5:16). Then, the Lord used (and is using) these relationships to help me grow in Christ (Col. 1:28). This has been the greatest existential joy I’ve experienced here on earth (Ps. 34:8). It makes my heart long for heaven, where we will have unending, joy-filled fellowship with God and all believers (Rev. 21:3). So, friendship is deeply important for the Christian life and ministry. And the church is foundational in all this. Here are three reasons why.

Blood-Bought Fellowship

The Apostle John tells us, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). This verse captures the relationship between the gospel, the church, and friendship. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from our sins, and we have genuine, joy-filled fellowship with God and with one another—if we walk in the light, that is; if we repent of our sins and believe in Jesus. This means that the church is a blood-bought community that grounds us in real relationship—with our Creator and with one another. It gives us real friendships that are unlike any other.

Biblical friendship, then, is a committed love that unites us in fellowship and allows us to finish the race and fight for faith together, through Christ who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). And a local church is the gospel setting in which these friendships take place and allow God’s love to reverberate into the world. The church is the community where we serve King Jesus and learn to walk in a manner worthy of Christ—together, with friends. This community thereby allows us to encourage and exhort one another in the faith through the friendships it creates.

Encouragement and Exhortation

During high school, I visited England. We were driving one afternoon in the country, and I remember seeing a flock of sheep for the first time in my life, stumbling down the road right in front of us. I had never seen sheep so closely before. I thought sheep were white, but they’re not. Up close, they’re dirty—and messy and stupid. Some were falling into the ditch by the roadside; some were going the wrong way and biting at each other. But after ten minutes or so, with the help of the shepherds and the sheepdogs, they all made it home safely to the sheepfold.

In the same way, stronger and weaker Christians need one another—for love, discipleship, and encouragement. You see, we’re often like those sheep. We snap at one another and are easily swayed off the path. We fall into ditches and go the wrong way, but, by God’s grace, by being together in a flock, we can make it down the road.

This means we’re better stuck in the middle of the flock, even if it inconveniences our lives now. Why? If you know your own heart well, you know that it is actually more dangerous to be alone or on the edge of the flock because we’re prone to wander. Older men and women in the faith are commanded by Paul to disciple and encourage younger Christians (Titus 2). Younger Christians are also called to care for and love older Christians. That means that in the church, there is no such thing as an individualistic Christian. God has bound us together as one body in Christ and commanded us to care for one another (Heb. 10:24–25).

By joining a local church, stronger and weaker Christians make their love for Christ definite by loving others in a committed fashion. These friendships become the instrument that enables us to:

Encouragement is a powerful antidote to unbelief. And friendships are a great gift of God that bring us together in covenant love.

By God’s grace, they enable us to carry out the countless “one another” commands and make disciples who image His holy, pure, unified, and loving wisdom (Eph. 3:10). This brings us to the third reason why friendships are important to the Christian life.

A Display of God’s Glory

When Christians covenant together in genuine fellowship, these friendships image God well and put His character on display as the gospel unites people across great barriers amid great diversity.

In his book Love in Hard Places, D.A. Carson tells us:

Ideally . . . the church itself is not made up of natural “friends.” It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common ancestry, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. . . . In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.

We sacrifice our comforts, preferences, resources, time, and habits to help foster unity in diversity, and serve as a picture of supernatural, God-glorifying friendships that image God in our communities, commend the gospel, and bring joyful satisfaction and blessing in our own lives.

So, ultimately, friendships are important for the Christian life and ministry because they create a supernatural, compelling community that displays and protects the gospel, transforms lives and communities, and shines as a beacon of hope in a dark world. This is God’s plan for the local church (Eph. 2:13–3:21), and He carries it out for our good and His glory.

© Tabletalk magazine. For permissions, please see our Copyright Policy

Ryan Townsend is executive director of 9Marks in Washington, D.C.

When “Honoring” God’s Word Doesn’t

Hey TD,

Have you ever been so desirous to honor God and keep His Word that you actually break His Word in doing so?  I have.  And I’ve had it done to me.  And neither have been right, nor felt right (though the latter feels much worse initially, the former arrives in due time).

Here’s a reading from Tabletalk magazine that speaks to this propensity of ours.  Learn and apply.  You’ll be thankful you did (and so will your family and friends!):

Making Void the Word of God

He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, is to [a]be put to death’; 11 but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, [b]given to God),’ 12 you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; 13 thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.” Mark 7:9-13

Zeal without knowledge puts one in great spiritual danger, and we see this demonstrated in Jesus’ clashes with the Pharisees and scribes regarding their extrabiblical traditions.  No one could question the zeal of these sects to keep God’s law. So concerned were they to make sure they did not violate the Lord’s commandments that they developed what they called a “fence around the law” consisting of various regulations designed to help ensure that the Mosaic law was obeyed.  They reasoned that people would certainly be innocent of transgression by observing those extra regulations.  Judaism’s system of kosher laws is a classic example. (Modern Judaism is based more on the traditions of the rabbis than on the Old Testament) Exodus 23:19; 34:26; and Deuteronomy 14:21 all say, “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.”  Over time, the kosher law that milk and meat products should not be eaten together developed out of a desire to keep the commandments of these passages.  After all, if one never puts meat and milk together, one will certainly never boil a young animal in its mother’s milk, even accidentally.

That extra rule is legalistic enough, but even worse are rules that end up causing direct transgression of the commandments. Legalism is a problem because misplaced zeal for the law can lead one to violate the law without even realizing it. One tradition of the Pharisees, the Corban rule to which Jesus refers in today’s passage, took a good thing—giving gifts to the temple—and turned it into a means by which God’s law was broken. One commentator likens the Corban rule to the modern practice of deferred giving, which allows individuals to deed property and other gifts to another at death while retaining control over the gift in the meantime. Under the Corban rule, Jews could pledge something to the temple and have it pass into the temple’s possession at their death, but while the givers lived, they stewarded the property and lived off its proceeds.

In itself, such a rule was not evil and in fact could be a good thing. The problem was that the Pharisees and scribes were allowing people to use the Corban rule to escape their obligations to other parts of the law. According to the Corban rule, men and women who made gifts to the temple in such a way were free from having to support their elderly parents. This broke God’s command to honor our fathers and mothers (Mark 7:9–13).

Coram Deo

Matthew Henry comments that “it is the mischief of impositions, that too often they who are zealous for them, have little zeal for the essential duties of religion, but can contentedly see them laid aside.” Like the Pharisees, we can be obsessed with good but optional things (giving extra gifts to the temple) in a way that makes us break God’s law. Let us have zeal for God’s law, but let us not let it develop into legalism that makes us break it.

Passages for Further Study

Exodus 20:12
Proverbs 23:22
Matthew 15:1–9
Ephesians 6:1–3

– Reproduced from Tabletalk magazine, May, 2016 Issue, “John 3:16,” May 16, 2016 devotion, “Making Void The Word of God.”

Sexuality and the Christian Faith: A Google Hangout with Rosaria Butterfield Tomorrow at Noon

Hey TD!

In preparation for the TD year ahead, if any of you happen to be available at noon on Friday, this live Google Hangout with Dr. Rosaria Butterfield (hosted by Ligonier Ministries) will be very helpful for you as she will discuss sexuality, our culture’s objection to biblical morality, and what it looks like for Christians to speak the truth in love. You can watch it live above:

Courtesy of our friends at Tabletalk magazine, here is a very honest and riveting interview with this former atheist lesbian academic, who sought to protect society from the dangers and illogic of Christianity:

An Unlikely Convert: An Interview with Rosaria Butterfield

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Tabletalk: Your book is titled The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. Could you explain some of your “secret thoughts,” and why you were an “unlikely convert”?

Rosaria Butterfield: I considered myself an atheist, having rejected my Catholic childhood and what I perceived to be the superstitions and illogic of the historic Christian faith. I found Christians to be difficult, sour, fearful, and intellectually unengaged people. In addition, since the age of twenty-eight, I had lived in monogamous lesbian relationships and politically supported LGBTcauses. I coauthored Syracuse University’s first successful domestic partnership policy while working there as a professor of English and women’s studies. I was terrified to aliate on any level with a worldview that called me, my life, my community, my scholarly interest, and my relationship sin. Add to this that I was working on a book “exposing” the religious right from a lesbian feminist point of view. I approached the Bible with an agenda to tear it down because I firmly believed that it was threatening, dangerous, and irrational.

But when I came to Christ, I experienced what nineteenth-century Scottish theologian Thomas Chalmers called “the expulsive power of a new affection.” At the time of my conversion, my lesbian identity and feelings did not vanish. As my union with Christ grew, the sanctification that it birthed put a wedge between my old self and my new one. In time, this contradiction exploded, and I was able to claim identity in Christ alone.

TT: How has your story been received by Christians?

RB: The protagonist of Secret Thoughts is Pastor Ken Smith, who modeled to me organic Christian hospitality and the life-sustaining action of neighboring. Christian readers have responded to Ken’s example and have been encouraged by it.

TT: How has your conversion to Christianity been received by your former colleagues?

RB: At the time of my conversion, my colleagues and students treated me with suspicion and confusion. Understandably, many friends felt betrayed, exposed, and criticized by my conversion and the changes in heart, life, and writing that this produced. When a person comes to Christ and repents of sin, this turning around makes enemies out of former allies. And while this aftershock eventually led to Bible studies and many opportunities to share the gospel, it also destroyed friendships and allegiances. The exclusivity of Christ has rugged consequences.

TT: How do you respond to someone who says that one can continue to live a homosexual lifestyle and yet also be a Christian?

RB: First, I always start by asking for clarification about what she means by “Christian,” often requesting that she share her testimony (and offering to share mine as well). She may tell me that she is a Christian because she believes in Jesus and said the sinner’s prayer at a certain moment in her childhood. She also may tell me that she has a “high view” of Scripture and believes that the historic Christian church has misrepresented the issue of homosexuality. As I listen, I pray for the Lord to give me not only the words to say, but a transparent kindness that can uphold the weight of these words. I say I am glad that she believes in Jesus, but I share that the Bible calls for more than that, as even the trembling demons believe in Jesus. The Bible defines a Christian in a fuller way, including an understanding that:

(1) God set me apart from before the foundations of the world.

(2) The Holy Spirit removed my heart of stone and replaced it with a heart of flesh, leaving me with justifying faith.

(3) Jesus Christ infuses sanctifying grace through His hard-wrought love and blood.

(4) Repentance and belief go together, as both are gifts of God and fruit of Christian living. Without repentance there is no salvation.

Sometimes at this point in the conversation, she will ask me where she might meet this Jesus, because this is a different Jesus than the one that she knows. We open the Bible together, and I invite her to my house for dinner and church. Alternatively, if she tells me that she just interprets the Bible differently than I do, I then discuss how Jesus is inseparable from the Bible, and how the Bible is a unified revelation of God, fully true, inspired, and inerrant. At some point, if God allows, I suggest that we start reading the Bible together, reading systematically and not topically.

As you can see, I do not ask my questioner about why she identifies as lesbian or what this means to her, or when she first felt like a lesbian or had her first sexual experience. It is not that I don’t care, but if I start with her, I start in the wrong place. Instead, I start with the triune God, and call out the soul-orientation of any person with whom I speak.

TT: What is the biggest misconception that evangelicals have about those who are a part of the “homosexual community”?

RB: Reformed Christians know that God’s elect people are everywhere, but one big misconception evangelicals have is the wholesale writing off of all people who identify as gay as God-hating reprobates. Another misconception is that a person’s homosexuality is the biggest and most life-defining sin of her life. When Ken Smith, the pastor the Lord used in my conversion, first met me, he knew that being a lesbian was not my biggest sin. My biggest sin was that I was an unbeliever.

TT: What counsel would you give to Christians as they attempt to preach the gospel to those who experience same-sex attraction?

RB: First, we need to apologize for “gay jokes” that we said or condoned in silence.

Next, we must: (1) counsel people who have repented from homosexual sexual pasts and feel called to heterosexual marriage; (2) encourage people who live daily with unwanted homosexual desires and feel called through justifying faith to celibacy, helping these brothers and sisters to resist temptation, secure accountability, and rely on the Word and on the fellowship of the saints to renew minds and affections; (3) lift the unearned burden of guilt off of the parents of children who identity as gay or lesbian; and (4) create meaningful community from within the membership of the church. To offer intentional commitment to members who are lonely and isolated, the church must demonstrate in everyday ways how we care for each other from cradle to grave. In the LGBTcommunity in the 1990s, I learned the power of accompanied suffering, of standing together in grief as we faced the AIDS virus. The hospitality gifts I use today as a pastor’s wife, I honed in myLGBT community.

Pastorally, the Westminster Standards give us much wisdom about sanctification and offer helpful correctives to the unbiblical teachings of our day. It is important to tell people who struggle with sexual sin that their struggle is not proof that God is not working sanctification in them, because God knows that sanctification is both imperfect and incomplete in this lifetime. For the church to lovingly counsel those who experience unwanted homosexual desire, she must steer clear of parachurch ministries that hold to a false understanding of sanctification (that it is complete in this lifetime) or an over-actualized eschatology (that God wants you to experience perfection this side of the second coming). The Reformed church is much more competent to counsel because of the systematic theology that informs our understanding of law and grace.

TT: What three things would you tell a Christian young person who is experiencing same-sex attraction and is tempted to selfidentify as a homosexual?

RB: (1) Don’t embrace labels that God doesn’t use. God does not rank-order His beloved sons and daughters. If you are a believer, then your identity is in Christ and Christ alone. MemorizeColossians 3:1–4, remembering that “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (v. 3). Meditate on what it means to take refuge in Christ. And remember that union with Christ and the communion of the saints go together, so don’t isolate.

(2) As you practice the ordinary means of grace—Bible reading, psalm singing, taking the sacraments—do so with the communion of the saints. Don’t isolate. Be a fully present member of your church. If you struggle with unwanted homosexual desires, tell your pastor, elders, and friends so that they know how to pray for you and love you. But don’t think that the fact of these feelings makes you a dangerous person. A dangerous person is someone who either does not know what sin pattern percolates within him or foolishly believes that if he hides it, he is controlling it.

(3) Know your enemy. Unwanted homosexual desire is not the unforgivable sin. It is a vestige of the fall, and as such, is a vestige of original sin, the ultimate “pre-existing” condition. Daily, I ask the Lord: Lord, how has my original sin distorted me, how is my indwelling sin manipulating me, and how is Satan enlisting me? Your temptation pattern does not define you, but you must be armed for the battle, knowing that victory is promised, in God’s timing, incomplete but powerful here on earth, and complete and full in eternity.


Dr. Rosaria Butterfield is a pastor’s wife, full-time mother, and speaker. She is author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, a book detailing the experiences of her journey to Christianity. A former tenured professor of English at Syracuse University, Dr. Butterfield started a college ministry upon her conversion to Christianity in 1999. Dr. Butterfield is a member of First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Durham, N.C., where her husband, Rev. Kent Butterfield, serves as senior pastor.

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Christians and Homosexuality

Hey TD!

One of the topics most asked about during T&T Night was the issue of homosexuality.  It is clear that many of you are wrestling with how to think about it, converse with others about it, etc.  I read this interview last week in Tabletalk magazine with a former homosexual academic that was helpful.  It’s not THE answer to everything, but it is thoughtful, tasteful, and understanding.  I hope it will be useful for you. – Arthur

An Unlikely Convert: An Interview with Rosaria Butterfield

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Tabletalk: Your book is titled The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. Could you explain some of your “secret thoughts,” and why you were an “unlikely convert”?

Rosaria Butterfield: I considered myself an atheist, having rejected my Catholic childhood and what I perceived to be the superstitions and illogic of the historic Christian faith. I found Christians to be difficult, sour, fearful, and intellectually unengaged people. In addition, since the age of twenty-eight, I had lived in monogamous lesbian relationships and politically supported LGBTcauses. I coauthored Syracuse University’s first successful domestic partnership policy while working there as a professor of English and women’s studies. I was terrified to aliate on any level with a worldview that called me, my life, my community, my scholarly interest, and my relationship sin. Add to this that I was working on a book “exposing” the religious right from a lesbian feminist point of view. I approached the Bible with an agenda to tear it down because I firmly believed that it was threatening, dangerous, and irrational.

But when I came to Christ, I experienced what nineteenth-century Scottish theologian Thomas Chalmers called “the expulsive power of a new affection.” At the time of my conversion, my lesbian identity and feelings did not vanish. As my union with Christ grew, the sanctification that it birthed put a wedge between my old self and my new one. In time, this contradiction exploded, and I was able to claim identity in Christ alone.

TT: How has your story been received by Christians?

RB: The protagonist of Secret Thoughts is Pastor Ken Smith, who modeled to me organic Christian hospitality and the life-sustaining action of neighboring. Christian readers have responded to Ken’s example and have been encouraged by it.

TT: How has your conversion to Christianity been received by your former colleagues?

RB: At the time of my conversion, my colleagues and students treated me with suspicion and confusion. Understandably, many friends felt betrayed, exposed, and criticized by my conversion and the changes in heart, life, and writing that this produced. When a person comes to Christ and repents of sin, this turning around makes enemies out of former allies. And while this aftershock eventually led to Bible studies and many opportunities to share the gospel, it also destroyed friendships and allegiances. The exclusivity of Christ has rugged consequences.

TT: How do you respond to someone who says that one can continue to live a homosexual lifestyle and yet also be a Christian?

RB: First, I always start by asking for clarification about what she means by “Christian,” often requesting that she share her testimony (and offering to share mine as well). She may tell me that she is a Christian because she believes in Jesus and said the sinner’s prayer at a certain moment in her childhood. She also may tell me that she has a “high view” of Scripture and believes that the historic Christian church has misrepresented the issue of homosexuality. As I listen, I pray for the Lord to give me not only the words to say, but a transparent kindness that can uphold the weight of these words. I say I am glad that she believes in Jesus, but I share that the Bible calls for more than that, as even the trembling demons believe in Jesus. The Bible defines a Christian in a fuller way, including an understanding that:

(1) God set me apart from before the foundations of the world.

(2) The Holy Spirit removed my heart of stone and replaced it with a heart of flesh, leaving me with justifying faith.

(3) Jesus Christ infuses sanctifying grace through His hard-wrought love and blood.

(4) Repentance and belief go together, as both are gifts of God and fruit of Christian living. Without repentance there is no salvation.

Sometimes at this point in the conversation, she will ask me where she might meet this Jesus, because this is a different Jesus than the one that she knows. We open the Bible together, and I invite her to my house for dinner and church. Alternatively, if she tells me that she just interprets the Bible differently than I do, I then discuss how Jesus is inseparable from the Bible, and how the Bible is a unified revelation of God, fully true, inspired, and inerrant. At some point, if God allows, I suggest that we start reading the Bible together, reading systematically and not topically.

As you can see, I do not ask my questioner about why she identifies as lesbian or what this means to her, or when she first felt like a lesbian or had her first sexual experience. It is not that I don’t care, but if I start with her, I start in the wrong place. Instead, I start with the triune God, and call out the soul-orientation of any person with whom I speak.

TT: What is the biggest misconception that evangelicals have about those who are a part of the “homosexual community”?

RB: Reformed Christians know that God’s elect people are everywhere, but one big misconception evangelicals have is the wholesale writing off of all people who identify as gay as God-hating reprobates. Another misconception is that a person’s homosexuality is the biggest and most life-defining sin of her life. When Ken Smith, the pastor the Lord used in my conversion, first met me, he knew that being a lesbian was not my biggest sin. My biggest sin was that I was an unbeliever.

TT: What counsel would you give to Christians as they attempt to preach the gospel to those who experience same-sex attraction?

RB: First, we need to apologize for “gay jokes” that we said or condoned in silence.

Next, we must: (1) counsel people who have repented from homosexual sexual pasts and feel called to heterosexual marriage; (2) encourage people who live daily with unwanted homosexual desires and feel called through justifying faith to celibacy, helping these brothers and sisters to resist temptation, secure accountability, and rely on the Word and on the fellowship of the saints to renew minds and affections; (3) lift the unearned burden of guilt off of the parents of children who identity as gay or lesbian; and (4) create meaningful community from within the membership of the church. To offer intentional commitment to members who are lonely and isolated, the church must demonstrate in everyday ways how we care for each other from cradle to grave. In the LGBTcommunity in the 1990s, I learned the power of accompanied suffering, of standing together in grief as we faced the AIDS virus. The hospitality gifts I use today as a pastor’s wife, I honed in myLGBT community.

Pastorally, the Westminster Standards give us much wisdom about sanctification and offer helpful correctives to the unbiblical teachings of our day. It is important to tell people who struggle with sexual sin that their struggle is not proof that God is not working sanctification in them, because God knows that sanctification is both imperfect and incomplete in this lifetime. For the church to lovingly counsel those who experience unwanted homosexual desire, she must steer clear of parachurch ministries that hold to a false understanding of sanctification (that it is complete in this lifetime) or an over-actualized eschatology (that God wants you to experience perfection this side of the second coming). The Reformed church is much more competent to counsel because of the systematic theology that informs our understanding of law and grace.

TT: What three things would you tell a Christian young person who is experiencing same-sex attraction and is tempted to selfidentify as a homosexual?

RB: (1) Don’t embrace labels that God doesn’t use. God does not rank-order His beloved sons and daughters. If you are a believer, then your identity is in Christ and Christ alone. MemorizeColossians 3:1–4, remembering that “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (v. 3). Meditate on what it means to take refuge in Christ. And remember that union with Christ and the communion of the saints go together, so don’t isolate.

(2) As you practice the ordinary means of grace—Bible reading, psalm singing, taking the sacraments—do so with the communion of the saints. Don’t isolate. Be a fully present member of your church. If you struggle with unwanted homosexual desires, tell your pastor, elders, and friends so that they know how to pray for you and love you. But don’t think that the fact of these feelings makes you a dangerous person. A dangerous person is someone who either does not know what sin pattern percolates within him or foolishly believes that if he hides it, he is controlling it.

(3) Know your enemy. Unwanted homosexual desire is not the unforgivable sin. It is a vestige of the fall, and as such, is a vestige of original sin, the ultimate “pre-existing” condition. Daily, I ask the Lord: Lord, how has my original sin distorted me, how is my indwelling sin manipulating me, and how is Satan enlisting me? Your temptation pattern does not define you, but you must be armed for the battle, knowing that victory is promised, in God’s timing, incomplete but powerful here on earth, and complete and full in eternity.


Dr. Rosaria Butterfield is a pastor’s wife, full-time mother, and speaker. She is author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, a book detailing the experiences of her journey to Christianity. A former tenured professor of English at Syracuse University, Dr. Butterfield started a college ministry upon her conversion to Christianity in 1999. Dr. Butterfield is a member of First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Durham, N.C., where her husband, Rev. Kent Butterfield, serves as senior pastor.

How Do You Handle Shame?

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Hey TD!

With most of you growing up in Chinese (or Asian) households within Chinese communities, most of you are well aware of the “shame based culture” that exists that is not able to deal well with shame.  We deny our shame, hide it, run from it, acknowledge it; but rarely do we actually deal with it … honestly … before God and man.  Unfortunately, shame isn’t often handled much better within the Chinese church.  Even though we are Christian, there is a LOT of our culture that often has to be sifted through first.  I think many of you know what I mean.

Sandra and I have been having meaningful, thought provoking discussions this week about shame, prompted by beginning to read the April, 2015 edition of Tabletalk magazine, the theme of which is, “Shame.”

I believe you all received a copy of this April edition when RC Sproul, Jr. and Chris Larson came to speak to us.  If you didn’t get one, make sure to let me know and I’ll give you a free copy at TD.

I would HIGHLY encourage you all to begin reading through the articles and working them out in your own souls, discussing them with trusted friends and counselors.  If you do, I believe you can begin to turn the tide on unhealthy views and uses of shame, allow God to walk you though it, and begin a new healthy direction in your future, and possibly your future family’s.   – Arthur