Convictions: Command vs Application
In the last two years or so, I’ve thought often about convictions, particularly the way they play out in conservative circles. I was raised with a lot of books and CDs from "ultra-conservative" circles and benefited from them. However, I often accepted the rationales given for their values without question, and there was definitely a time when I was lock-step with most of their teachings. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I began wondering at some of what they said, so that I started studying to make sure that my thoughts were biblical and not just things that “sounded right” to me.
As a continuation of those thought processes, I re-read some of the books we own dealing with homeschooling, birth control, emotional purity, etc. I really started thinking about phrases being used and where they come from. Is guarding your heart really a biblical concept? Are we really supposed to “give our hearts to our fathers?” How “wrong” is youth group? How absolute is homeschooling? And what should a daughter do with her time? In the end, my convictions remained the same in their basic outworking, but my explanations for them changed. This was mostly due to one thing I kept seeing again and again as a pitfall in these circles: It seems that the clear commands of the Bible, such as parents discipling their children (Ephesians 6, Deuteronomy 6), are often blown out of proportion. Instead of acknowledging the freedom we have to apply such commands in different ways, the application itself becomes a further command: you must homeschool. This also happens in areas such as modesty, courtship, birth control, youth group, and women working outside the home.
I firmly believe that the Bible speaks to each of these issues. It is usually very easy to see exactly what God desires: you shall not steal. You shall not commit adultery. Children, obey your parents. Flee sexual immorality. Parents, teach your children the ways of the Lord. However, as proved by the varied ways Bible-believing Christians apply the commands of scripture, it is clear that the simple commands of the Bible are not so simple to apply. The way a brief command interacts with culture is complicated. Sometimes, people use that to ignore commands of God, sweeping everything off of the table and saying nothing of those commands, refusing to consider the differences between our culture and what the Bible says. Other times, they make the commands to mean more than they are (as in the previous example of “bring [your children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord” becoming “homeschooling is the only form of education for the Christian family”).
There are many times when we have more freedom than some allow in the application of His commands. Things like homeschooling may be the wisest and most practical way to obey Him, but homeschooling is not the only way, nor is it a command from the Bible. It may be a right thing to do, but I believe it is the application of a law of God, not the law itself. I hope in the following posts to show examples of how this plays out in various issues. I hope by these examples to demonstrate that these things are important, but also delicate and require grace in the way we live them out.
There is a clear command in Ephesians 6 for parents to raise their children in the Lord. Many take this to mean that the only form of education is homeschooling. This is supported by Deuteronomy 6, where parents are told to speak to their children of God’s laws when you rise up, when you lie down, when you walk by the way, etc. Homeschooling certainly makes obeying those commands easier, especially with younger children who don’t yet have the discernment to sort right from wrong in a secular teaching environment.
But I have seen families who homeschool neglect the spiritual teaching and even more, spiritual care of their children, and I have seen families who do not homeschool excel in raising their children in the Lord. Those families had to work extra-hard to disciple their children, but they most certainly did not neglect God’s commands in sending their children to private or public schools. Successes and failures aside, what really matters is not what worked for someone but what God says.
My understanding of those two commands (Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6) is that the place of education isn’t as important as the interaction between parents and children at home. Discipling your children and homeschooling are not synonymous. Neither is simply doing family worship at the end of a school day, whether that day was at or away from home. It is teaching your children when you rise up (but you can be getting ready for school or studies at home), when you lie down, and when you walk by the way (whether that’s the car to and from school or up and down the stairs of your house).
We see homeschooling as the easiest and most practical way of doing that and so have chosen to homeschool, but believe making that the only valid option for Christians is beyond the teaching of scripture.
Post-high school education is often hotly debated. This is an area that I don’t believe there are commands in the Bible that directly apply. However, there is teaching on the company you keep, making wise choices, and the calling of God.
We don’t see college as the only or even best route, but one of many. What is most important is receiving what you need to fulfill any calling or passion God has given you – that might mean internship, trade school, online courses, college, or simply reading and studying this and that on your own. This goes for daughters AND sons. The aforementioned callings and passions should be shaped and checked by scripture (for example, only men are to be leaders in the church, so if a daughter aspires to that she must re-think her desires). First one must study the Bible to determine what a Christian is to do and be, and then what a man or a woman is to do and be, and finally what they personally should do and be with the giftings God has given them. From there one can determine what the wisest route is – and that is never sitting idly at home!
Because of the above, I don’t believe a daughter must stay at home, but I do believe that after careful study of biblical commands to women, it would likely be the wisest route in order to prepare for the future. I do not see a career as being the norm for a woman; see “women working” below.
As with education, the clear command of scripture is for parents to raise their children in the Lord.
Does this mean others can’t be involved? No. But others should not take the place of parents in any way. There are definitely times when peers can gather and do peer stuff. Is it always wise? No. But should it be banned across the board or generalized as dividing the church into age-based factions? I don’t think so.
“Older women… are to train the younger women to be… working at home.” Titus 2:3-5. (Other translations say “keepers of the home.” Strong’s concordance suggests that the Greek best translates into the idea of housekeeper.)
The understanding of this command does depend some on the variance in translations, as noted above. Because of that, some read this passage and believe that women may only work in and from the home. Others apply that only to a wife. And still others see the application as the keeping of the home being the woman’s first and primary duty, but once that is done she is free to work outside the home. Because of Proverbs 31, there is rarely any dispute over whether or not a woman may work from the home. The issue is not a woman generating income.
I tend to side with the latter two opinions, thus concluding that daughters have more freedom in this area (though living at home would perhaps be wisest, and if at home, any family duties must be fulfilled), and that there are times it is permissible for a wife to work outside the home.
Our view is that if a woman can still manage the home (which pre-baby could easily have been as little as 15 minutes of chores and an hour of cooking a day), working is not an issue (it should also be noted, however, that working from home can cause as much if not more of a distraction from wifely duties than working outside!). This means that it would most likely only be part time and not full-time or a long-term career. However, that doesn’t mean it’s the wisest use of her time.
Before we got married, Ezra and I decided that we were okay with me working part-time pre-kids if I wanted to. But his job is plenty to support us and we decided my time would be better used in other ways - like volunteering at the pregnancy center, writing, visiting people from church, etc. Not that it was wrong for me to work, but we saw that the better use of my time would be in these other ways that were more along the lines of how the women who were applauded in scripture spent their time. Also, just because you “can” do both on paper doesn’t mean it will play out that way. As a couple, you must consider what it really means to be a keeper at home, versus simply making dinner at the end of a long day.
I wrote about this more in 2012, and you can read that here.
I understand and have respect for more conservative views, especially considering the variance in the translation of the passage, but do not see it as an across-the-board rule.
The Bible does not say anything about birth control specifically, however, it does speak about how we should view children, the sovereignty of God, the sanctity of life, and also to issues of sin in our hearts. Some look at these teachings and conclude that using birth control is always sin, implying that if you don’t take “as many as God gives you,” then you’re not really seeing children as a blessing. Others believe we have freedom to use whatever birth control we choose as long as we still view children as a blessing. In the middle are people who would use only some forms of birth control, or only at certain times.
This is a complex issue that is often emotionally charged, personal, and has many facets.
First, there is our mindset towards children. The Bible is clear that children are a blessing, can bring their parents great joy, and are like arrows in the hand of a warrior – “tools” for engaging our culture.
Second, there is the sovereignty of God. God is in control of every area of our lives – which combined with point one say to me that the number and timing of children isn’t something for me to regulate. This is even more clear to me as I think about the timing of S’s conception and birth – with circumstances that were better than we would have chosen, but also ones we would not have chosen – yet still showing how God’s way is so much better than ours. To say “it’s just science” is to deny God’s hand in every day details of our lives, including the science of things like the rising and setting of the sun. It does not feel right to me to try to take control of that, nor does it ever seem to me like there is a “good time” to have a baby – babies are always work and life is always kind of crazy.
Third, there is the sanctity of life. This applies to specific forms of birth control that can be considered abortifacients, and that therefore I believe are wrong for Christians to use. If after points 1, 2, and 4 are prayerfully considered a couple still chooses to delay or prevent children, there are other options to choose from that do not compromise life, some that could even be considered God’s design (ecological breastfeeding, Hosea 1:8). However, I think in most circumstances, after said prayerful consideration, the use of birth control will be excluded.
And fourth, there is sin in our own hearts. Ask yourself: why do I want to use birth control? It’s easy to want to wait for a better time, or a longer gap (side note: I do believe God can and does give us more than we can handle – but never more than HE can handle!), or to want to be done so you can focus on other things. Those are often complex and deep concerns that often belong to the couple (and sometimes their mentors) alone, but whenever steps are taken to prevent children we must check our hearts for sin, particularly selfishness. Selfishness can also show up in our ideals for what we want our children to have. Love is not measured by what things we can give them or activities they can do.
Within that framework, I know people who have chosen to use legitimate forms of birth control, particularly for health reasons (and I know people who have chosen to still forgo any birth control despite health risks – and both decisions were reached with much prayer), or in seasons of particular trial. Whatever the reasons, though, we must always check ourselves to make sure it’s not simply selfishness that leads our decision.
Whichever side we fall on, the decision seems to come from more general texts (Children are a blessing and God is sovereign) that combined with wisdom are lived out a certain way (If the above statements are true, are we really in a place to seek to prevent kids?).
But what clicked the other day was also that the way some people reply to pregnancy announcements (or ask if you are pregnant yet), implies that we really hope you are because it's the best thing that can happen in/because of your marriage. I don't mean by being annoyed at this that children aren't a great blessing or that having them isn't good for your marriage (the past months have been very good for our marriage, especially communication, and I think a fair amount of that is due ways we've grown because of S). But marriage is about WAY more than having children, and there are other blessings God gives as well.>
“Emotional purity” is a term often found alongside discussions of guarding your heart. It takes the clear commands of the Bible for physical purity a few steps farther. This isn’t necessarily wrong, especially as Jesus Himself said that lusting after a woman is the same sin as adultery.
However, as brought up in the Botkin’s “It’s (Not That) Complicated” the term emotional purity is one we’ve made up instead of calling things sin.
Lusting after a man or a woman isn’t wrong primarily because of your or their future spouse, as emotional purity proponents often make it to be. It’s about dishonoring God, specifically in His design for marriage, just like physical purity is. From what I have studied, the ideas behind emotional purity are wisdom and application of principles of sin and selfishness more than scripture pointing to a need to be emotionally pure.
There are a lot of other terms that are thrown around, like talking about “giving away pieces of your heart.” The more I think about that term, the sillier it seems. We don’t lose parts of our heart or give sections of it to this person or that person. We do, however, form attachments, and sometimes those attachments are hard to break and can cause difficulties and pain.
But the biggest problem with purity is that often we become so focused on being “pure” and careful with our thoughts and actions that our attention is on that and not on God and loving one another. Being pure is not a biblical focus of our relationships, especially when all we can think about is not thinking about that girl or whether or not what we did could have come across as flirtatious. There’s a time for those thoughts. They just shouldn’t be the focus. The focus should be the commands God has given to serve, encourage, and love one another.
And yes, I did just say love one another. The commands of God to love one another aren’t just girl-girl and guy-guy. They’re for all believers. That doesn’t mean you can excuse applying them to dashing Johnny and not to the elderly woman or little boy. It means you help and share your life with all of them, though it will look different for them all. Loving the opposite gender may sometimes mean holding back and not saying or doing certain things to help them keep Christ the focus. But there are also times and places to share something more personal to encourage someone, even of the opposite gender. In fact, most of the time, we can and should engage in conversation that builds up with everyone – not avoiding the opposite gender but interacting with them to encourage and build them up. This will probably look different in same-gender company than in mixed, however, mostly because it’s hard to know another person’s heart and when too much time together may becoming a distraction for either guy or girl.
One final term before we move onto courtship: guard your heart. I saved this for last, because I do believe it to be a biblical phrase. However, we often apply it just to male/female relationships and not to all of life! When “guard your heart” is used in Proverbs, it’s not “guard your heart when around women,” but “guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.” All of our affections need guarding and checking to bring them in line with honoring God! Our hearts stray to think too highly of hobbies, jobs, possessions, and, yes, the handsome new genius at church.
Courtship is another term that gets thrown around a lot, often without clear definition, although most people have some idea in their mind of what it is. To some, courtship is practically arranged marriage. To others, it is a phase that assumes you will get married unless something comes up (almost a pre-engagement). To others it is a time of seeking God and the counsel of others to determine whether or not you should marry.
We see courtship as a way to consider the possibility of marriage in a way that keeps the focus on God and not on romance. We also think that Proverbs stresses the importance of having wise counsel, and so our parents, other older adults, and friends who knew us well were involved in our relationship. We did not assume we were going to get married but knew it was a possibility if after months of talking and praying it seemed wise and desirable. One person described the pre-marriage relationship as “more than friends, less than lovers.”
Courtship is not seeking a sign from God, but weighing character and godliness, equal yoking, and confirming interest. Emotions DO play a part! In all of life, emotions should not control us but they should not be totally disregarded, either! There may or may not be any physical contact. We chose not to have any but that doesn’t mean it’s not “courtship” if there is physical contact.
Courtship does not mean there will be no heart break. The goal isn’t no pain or that we’ll have the best marriage, but to live in a way that brings God glory. The success of a courtship isn’t measured by marriage, but by a conclusion of whether or not marriage is wise being reached in a godly way.
We don’t see it as the only way to do godly guy-girl relationships. It was the best course for us, and a course we felt was built on biblical wisdom. But we believe that someone else can take that same wisdom of having counselors, honoring one another, and taking marriage seriously and apply it differently and still be totally honoring to God.
However, there are areas that the ultra-conservatives get right and our culture just has an issue with. This shouldn’t be a surprise to us when we’re following Christ. We will stand out, and people won’t understand what we do or why we do it, no matter how much we explain it. But that said, we shouldn’t be different for the sake of being different, but because we’re obeying God.
An example of Christians “just being different” from our culture is that our culture says that believing/thinking same way as your parents is immature or that you’ve been brainwashed. But Proverbs makes it clear that listening to your parents is wise! Likewise, giving your heart to your father is a concept that is often used in Proverbs, but it’s not just for daughters – Solomon often wrote “my son, give me your heart!” Exactly what that means and looks like is not so clear, but I see it as a child going to his parents to share what’s on his mind and seek and accept their counsel.
Serving others is a similar area. The idea of giving your life for someone else’s is scoffed at by our culture, but lauded in the Bible. I often hear people criticizing older daughters of large families for being stuck as a maid, etc. and while I think families should be careful to make sure their children are free to pursue their callings and interests, as Christians we can see the worth of laying one’s life down for others, exemplified by Christ, who we are to be like.
In conclusion, the Bible speaks to how we should live in every area of life. Sometimes this is in the form of very specific commands, but other times in more general teaching that we have freedom to apply in different ways as we interact with the world around us. When we take a general teaching (parents discipling their children) and turn it into a specific command beyond that (Christians must homeschool), it often leads to legalism and a lack of grace for others. Understanding this changes how we apply God’s word to our own lives, how we explain our convictions to others, and how we live in community with people who disagree.
Ultimately, however, it should be our goal to glorify God in how we live as we rest in our justification through Christ. While our lives will look different from the world around us, we should strive to be known not for being “that big homeschooling family,” but for Christ.
For further, and in many ways more important, thoughts on this subject, read Ezra’s post from last year here.