UNDERSTANDING ASSURANCE by Joel Beeke

The church today is crippled with a comparative absence of strong and full assurance and, perhaps worst of all, most of us are scarcely aware of it. We live in a day of minimal, not maximal, assurance. How do we know this? Assurance is known by its fruits: a close life of fellowship with God; a tender, filial relationship with God; a thirsting after God and spiritual exercises that extol him.

Assurance is not a self-given, but a Spirit-applied certainty which moves the believer Godward through Christ. Assurance is the opposite of self-satisfaction and secularization. Assurance is God-centered; it evidences godliness, while not relying on personal righteousness or service for justification. Wherever assurance is vibrant, a concern for God’s honor is present. Mission-mindedness prevails. Assured believers view heaven as their home and long for the second advent of Christ and their translation to glory (2 Tim. 4:6–8).

Compared to the Reformers and post-Reformers, the church is seriously impoverished in her spiritual exercises. The desire to enjoy fellowship with God, the sense of the reality of heaven, and the relish for God’s glory, appear to fall short of a former day. Whenever the church’s emphasis on earthly good dominates the conviction that she is travelling through the world on her way to God and glory, assurance is at a low ebb (Heb. 11).

Second, assurance of faith is sorely needed today since it is inseparable from genuine revival and conviction of sin. Revival is sorely needed in our day and we ought not to forget that every true revival has been connected with the recovery of assuring faith. How true this was, for example, of Martin Luther. Read Luther on Galatians. Did he not burn with indignation for the way the church left people in uncertainty about salvation? Luther teemed with the assurance that flows out of the gospel. Search his writings nearly five hundred years later and you still feel the power of what he is saying. In Luther’s day there was a great recovery of assurance.

There is, of course, another reason why assurance revives in times of awakening. The first precursor and forerunner of every revival is conviction of sin; sinners become bowed down with the burden of need and guilt. When guilt is a conscious experience, the most precious thing in the world is to be persuaded of forgiveness in Christ. That is why assurance is always brought back to the foreground in the face of real soul-need.

Third, strong assurance is necessary for us in these days of great secularization and controversy. The gospel has always been difficult to live out in the world. But there are times and seasons when gospel-opposition is especially intense. We are surely living in such a time. We are living in a bruising time. We are called to be lights on the hill in the thick of spiritual battle, while the devil is spearheading apostasy on all sides. Through satanic impulse, the world has not only taken over colleges and universities, but is also invading the church. If revival is to dawn, it will almost certainly involve young people – particularly college and university students, as the history of revivals affirms. Let us pray earnestly for revival through the power of Spirit worked assurance in our hearts.

Fourth, we live in a day when the doctrine of assurance is sorely needed because doctrine itself is largely despised. Few understand Martin Luther’s assertion: ‘Doctrine is heaven’. Assurance is the nerve center of doctrine put in ‘use’, as the Puritans would say. Assurance affiliates with the work of the Spirit in relation to the doctrines of faith, repentance, justification, sanctification, conversion, adoption, sealing, perseverance, anointing, witnessing, obedience, sin, grace, atonement and union with Christ. Assurance is inseparable from the marks and steps of grace. It touches on the issue of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, is intimately connected with Holy Scripture, and flows out of election, the promises of God and the covenant of grace. It is fortified by preaching, the sacraments and prayer. Assurance is broadsweeping in scope, profound in depth and glorious in height. As Dr Clair Davis of Westminster Theological Seminary has said, ‘You could almost write a systematic theology under the theme and framework of assurance’.

The contemporary church is undergoing a crisis of confidence and authority and therefore of assurance. A renewal of assurance is sorely needed. If such assurance were more widely experienced, the church’s vitality would be renewed and she would live more zealously for the kingdom of Christ in all spheres of life.

Finally, our difficulties are compounded in our culture by the powerful emphasis on ‘feeling’. ‘How we feel’ takes predominance over ‘how we believe’. This spirit has infiltrated the church also, which for the most part is bowing before the shrine of human feeling rather than before the living God. This spirit is most notable in what we call ‘the charismatic or pentecostal movement’ which appeals to emotion in protest against a formal, lifeless Christianity. We profit little by reacting against the charismatic movement without understanding why it has such a worldwide appeal. Its appeal is related to the lack of genuine assurance of faith which manifests itself in godly living.

We have a special responsibility in this regard to show a better way. Happily, we do not have to start from scratch. Our scriptural, Reformed, experimental faith properly marries head- and heart-knowledge, faith and feeling. It is well-known that numerous post-Reformation orthodox theologians and Puritan pastors wrestled in their preaching and writing with ascertaining the precise relationship of the Christian’s personal assurance of salvation and his saving faith. Their labor for theological precision in this area gave rise to a fine-tuned technical vocabulary which included such distinctions as assurance of faith and assurance of sense; the direct (actus directus) and reflexive (actus reflectus) acts of faith; the practical (syllogismus practicus) and mystical (syllogismus mysticus) syllogisms; the principle (habitus) and acts (actus) of faith; and the being and well-being of faith. Such terminology was used to elaborate upon addressing assurance with regard to its possibilities, kinds, degrees, foundations, experiences, means, obstacles and fruits.

The Puritan doctrine of assurance was formally codified by the Westminster Assembly in chapter 18 of the WCF. This chapter contains four sections: 18.1 addresses the possibility of assurance; 18.2 the foundation of assurance; 18.3 the cultivation of assurance; 18.4 the renewal of assurance. For our purposes, we will limit ourselves to a consideration of 18.2, which contains the pith of the WCF’s statement on assurance.

EARLY PURITAN THOUGHT

It will be of profit to have a summary of Puritan thought on assurance up to the 1640s. At least twenty-five members of the Assembly had written treatises pertinent to the doctrines of faith and assurance prior to the Assembly’s convening. By the 1640s English Puritan thought, notwithstanding various emphases, was nearly unanimous on several distinctives with respect to assurance.

First, the Puritans taught that saving faith and developed assurance must be distinguished. Though saving faith inherently contains trust and assurance by definition (as there is no doubt in faith and its exercises), full assurance of personal salvation must be regarded as a fruit of faith rather than of faith’s essence.

Since the Puritans did not deny that there was some assurance in every exercise of faith, they could speak at times of all believers possessing assurance. More commonly, however, by assurance they intended mature, self-conscious faith that is full-grown. In this sense, assurance is not of the essence of faith, but of the ‘cream of faith’.

This dual use of the term assurance helps to explain why the Puritans can state simultaneously that ‘assurance is not of the essence of a Christian’ and yet it is organically of the essence of faith. R. M. Hawkes rightly notes, ‘While the Puritans distinguish full assurance from the initial trust of faith, they will not allow a division between the two, for full assurance grows out of an assurance implicit in the first act of faith’. Hence they can speak of assurance growing out of faith as well as of faith growing into assurance. Typical is Thomas Brooks’ assertion, ‘Faith, in time, will of its own accord raise and advance itself to assurance’.

This distinction between faith and assurance had profound doctrinal and pastoral implications for the Puritans. To make justification dependent upon assurance would compel the believer to rely upon his own subjective condition rather than on the sufficiency of a triune God in the order of redemption. Such reliance is not only unsound doctrine, but also bears adverse pastoral effects. God does not require full and perfect faith, but sincere and ‘unfeigned’ faith. Fulfillment of God’s promises depends on the matter received, Christ’s righteousness, and not upon the degree of assurance exercised in the receiving. If salvation depended on the full assurance of faith, John Downame observes, many would despair for then ‘the palsied hand of faith should not receive Christ’. Happily, salvation’s sureness does not rest on the believer’s sureness of his salvation, for ‘believers do not have the same assurance of grace and favour of God, nor do the same ones have it at all times’. Pastorally, it is critical to maintain that justifying faith and the experience of doubt often coexist.

Second, the Puritans teach that though personal assurance must never be divorced from a Trinitarian framework, its realization within the believer may be ascribed especially to the economical work of the Holy Spirit:

(1) through an application of God’s promises in Christ which the believer appropriates by faith,

(2) through a reflex act of faith inseparable from the so-called syllogisms discussed below, and

(3) through the Spirit’s direct witness by the Word to the believer’s conscience that Christ is his Savior and has forgiven his sins. Thus, the Spirit enables the believer to reach assurance in varying degrees through a variety of means. Without the Holy Spirit, there can be no authentic assurance.

Third, Puritans assert that this assuring, sealing work of the Spirit is based upon the sure covenant of grace and the saving work of Christ, which in turn is grounded in God’s sovereign good pleasure and love in eternal election. Assurance flows out of the objective certainty that God cannot and will not disinherit his adopted children. His covenant cannot be broken or annulled, for it is ‘fixed’ in his eternal decree and promises.

Consequently, the believer may plead for the fulfilment of the covenant on the ground that God is obliged to act in accord with his covenant promises. Many Puritans gave the same basic advice for obtaining forgiveness of sins, sanctification, deliverance in afflictions and virtually every spiritual need: ‘Plead the covenant hard with God . . . Go to God now, and tell him it is a part of his covenant to deliver thee, and . . . take no denyall, though the Lord may deferre long, yet he will doe it, he cannot chuse; for it is part of his covenant . . . and he cannot be a Covenant-breaker’. On occasion, they even spoke of ‘suing God for grace’. ‘The more we urge him with his covenant’, Robert Harris wrote, ‘and hold him to it, the better he likes it and the sooner he inclines to us’.

Perry Miller emphasizes this dimension of Puritan thinking: ‘The end of the Covenant of Grace is to give security to the transactions between God and men, for by binding God to the terms, it binds him to save those who make good the terms’.

Miller, however, tends to exaggerate the covenant in Puritan thought as if it weakened or even usurped divine predestination. In fact, election and covenant ride in tandem, reinforcing each other.

Puritan covenant theology offered troubled saints a double source of assurance. It allowed them to plead the covenant with God, importuning him to fulfill his part of the bargain by performing what he had promised; and it encouraged them to seek comfort in the sufficiency of prevenient grace and in the immutability of God’s will in election, which underlay the covenant itself and their own participation in it.

God’s absolute promises in election and covenant are solid pillars for increasing weak faith. They help to convince the believer that even if the exercise or acts of faith are lacking at a given moment, the principle or ‘habit’ of faith ‘cannot be utterly lost’, for faith’s roots lie in the electing, covenantal God. Consequently, not even sin can break the covenant from God’s side.

From the believer’s side, however, there is in Puritan thought also a conditional dimension of the covenant which plays a critical role in assurance. ‘The absolute promises are laid before us as the foundation of our salvation . . . and the conditional as the foundation of our assurance’. The conditional promises are inseparable from the believer’s daily renewal of the covenant by means of prayer, meditation and worship. Particularly the sacraments serve as important seasons for covenant-renewal. ‘To gather up assurance from the conditions of the covenant’, wrote Thomas Blake, ‘is the highest pitch of Christianity’.

Fourth, though assurance is not perfect in this life in degree, being subject to doubt and trial, it must never be regarded lightly, but ought to be diligently sought after through the means of grace. Assurance so gleaned may be considered well-grounded, however, only when it is regarded as a sovereign gift of God and when it evidences the fruits of a new heart and life. These fruits include humiliation, self-denial, ‘reverent feare’ for God’s will, eagerness to serve and please the Lord, a ‘sincere’ love for God and the saints, an intense cleaving to Christ, peace and joy in receiving the Spirit’s benefits, and good works.

For the Puritans, the principle or ‘habit’ of faith is never the whole of faith. A consistently inactive faith is false faith, as John Preston affirms:

A woman many times thinkes she is with childe, but if she finde no motion or stirring, it is an arguement she was deceived: So, when a man thinkes he hath faith in his heart, but yet he finds no life, no motion, no stirring, there is no work proceeding from his faith, it is an argument he was mistaken, hee was deceived in it: for if it be a right faith, it will worke, there will be life and motion in it.
Though the Puritans deny works-righteousness on the one hand against the ‘legalist’, they also reject the notion of assurance which rests on formal, lifeless doctrine against the cold ‘professor’ of Christianity. Works can never merit salvation but are necessary as fruits of salvation out of grateful obedience and in dependence upon God.

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This article first appeared in the May 1996 edition of the Banner of Truth magazine. Dr. Joel Beeke is President and Professor of Systematic Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI.

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REFORMATION WOMEN: Marguerite de Navarre

Reformation Women: Marguerite de Navarre
by Rebecca VanDoodewaard

The first princess to become Reformed was Marguerite de Navarre.1 French Reformed Christians owed her much—without her influence and protection, the French Reformed church would have been crushed before it was even formed.

She was born on April 2, 1492, at Angoulême. Her brother Francois was in line for the French throne; Marguerite shared his education, studying languages, philosophy, history, literature, and theology.2 At seventeen, in 1509, she married Charles, Duke of Alençon. The marriage was politically convenient and produced no children. It seems that during this time, evangelical preaching and discussions with others brought Marguerite to saving faith.3

Francois and Marguerite were unusually close siblings. As he took up the French crown in 1515, Francois had deep respect for his sister: “My sister Marguerite is the only woman I ever knew who had every virtue and every grace without any admixture of vice.”4 Francois’ wife was chronically ill, so Marguerite often functioned ceremonially and socially as queen. So, in the Roman Catholic court, Marguerite was able to speak of Christ. As she used her position to spread and protect Protestantism, she hoped that Francois would become the Reformation’s political defender.

WORK OF INTERCESSION

Early on in his rule, however, Francois began to see Protestantism as dangerous; individuals who pushed for reform were targeted. Once, when Marguerite was away from Paris, a friend of hers was arrested. When she returned to the city and heard of it, she begged her brother for his release; Francois granted it.

Marot, her Protestant valet, was arrested, but Marguerite soon had him freed, too. If she had not, the French church would have lost his translation of the Psalms, which it sang for centuries.

Berquin, one of the most learned French nobles, was arrested in 1523 for his evangelical ideas, but he was eventually released through Marguerite’s influence. Two years later, he was again arrested and interrogated. He expected to be burned at the stake; Marguerite again gained liberty for him. But in 1529, Berquin was arrested and imprisoned a third time for his faith. Marguerite again used all her efforts to have him released, but Francois could only be pushed so far on an issue that was so public. To Marguerite’s great sorrow, Berquin was martyred on April 22, 1529.

Grieved but still seeking to bring gospel truth to her nation, Marguerite tried to bring back Reformers who had fled from France. She went to her brother, who allowed them to return for a time. Marguerite showed herself unafraid of persecution and association with the persecuted.

Marguerite also had diplomatic ability, which Francois had cause to admire. In February 1525, Charles V captured Francois in battle and took him as a prisoner back to Spain. Marguerite traveled there and cared for her brother until his release, which she negotiated.5

SECOND MARRIAGE

The same battle that left Francois a prisoner left Marguerite a widow, for the Duke of Alençon had been killed in action as well. Later that year, she married the king of Navarre, Henri d’Albret. The wedding was splendid; the marriage was not. Leaving Paris for her new capital, Nerac, she left Francois to rule alone. The marriage gave Marguerite two children, one of whom died as a baby. Her mind turned heavenward to contemplate a better marriage, and she wrote:

Lord, when shall come that festal day

So ardently desired

That I shall by love upraised

And seated at thy side,

The rapture of this nuptial joy

Denudes me quite.6

Her husband’s kingdom was untouched by Reformation doctrine. Marguerite began spreading it by her example. The Roman Catholic Henri was not pleased with this, and eventually things came to a head.

Marguerite usually had private, evangelical services in her apartments. One day they celebrated the Lord’s Supper in an underground hall in the palace.

Though it was done secretly, news of it reached the king, who had been out hunting and was very much annoyed by “the fastings in the cellar.” He went to her rooms. The minister and others were warned, and they escaped, leaving Marguerite alone with her servants. Flush with anger over her theological positions and lack of submission, Henri struck her in the face, saying, “Madame, you know too much.” Marguerite reported the incident to her brother. Ever the protective sibling, Francois set out for Navarre, threatening war. Henri was terrified. He begged his wife to forgive him, and he was so penitent that he promised to allow Reformed worship and to read about Reformed doctrine himself. Francois returned to Paris, and Henri kept his bargain.

PERSECUTION

But love for a sister did not change Francois’ strengthening religious position. A visit to Madrid had a lasting effect; on his return, he banned Protestant books and socially cut off any Reformed people from court.

Marguerite’s daughter, Jeanne, had been born in France in 1528. In 1530, Francois took the child away to raise her as a French princess—a Roman Catholic—away from her mother’s Reformed ideas. So her only living child was taken away because she was Protestant. Marguerite paid a high price for her public faith, perhaps the highest price a mother can pay. Still, she did not allow this grief to end her service to the French Reformed.

Marguerite’s writing demonstrates an understanding of and love for biblical doctrine as well as a determination to show women engaged in contemporary intellectual discussions.

In 1531, she became Protestantism’s first published female poet.7 Marguerite’s writing demonstrates an understanding of and love for biblical doctrine as well as “a determination to show women engaged in contemporary intellectual discussions.”8 An underdeveloped theology shows in her treatment of Mary, but there is also evidence in her writings of a clear understanding that salvation is through Christ alone: “And what is more, I see that none other than Jesus Christ is my plaintiff. . . . He has made himself / Our advocate before God, offering up virtues of such worth / That my debt is more than paid.”9 Her poems show familiarity with Scripture’s themes and passages: “Encased in lambskin is the sacred Word / Embossed with markings of a deep blood red, Sealed with seven seals may now be heard / By those who find that law and grace are wed.”10 When the second edition came out in 1533, the faculty of theology at Sorbonne condemned the volume as “Lutheran.”11 This made things dangerous for her. Undeterred, Marguerite continued writing. Though her brother made the faculty retract their censure, this on-record commitment to Protestantism seems to have put a divide between brother and sister that slowly widened.

The next year, Francois ordered the execution of all “heretics.”12 When Marguerite found she could no longer use her influence to advance Protestantism, she worked to protect it. During the persecutions, whenever Marguerite was in Paris, her brother would not allow any Protestants to be martyred out of respect for his sister. But Marguerite’s pleadings for others no longer softened Francois, who grew more rigidly Roman Catholic.13 Persecution of the French Reformed spread through the country. God had prepared Navarre to be a refuge, and Protestant clergy, nobles, and commoners crossed the border.

Marguerite invited leading Huguenots to her palace at Nerac. At her table, they discussed passages of Scripture and doctrine, with the queen as a delighted listener. John Calvin and other Reformers found safety there as well.14

LATER YEARS

Like so many Reformed noblewomen of the time, Marguerite corresponded with Calvin. Though she trusted in Christ alone for her salvation and suffered for her belief, Marguerite remained in need of solid teaching.

In 1547, Francois died. Marguerite’s grief was deep: “At this season of his cruel death, / Lord, I await your favour that I might hear good news.”15

Marguerite continued her quiet work of reform and protection until she died. Years before, she had written: “O my God, that death is fair / That takes me from this fetid air. / By death I’m victor in the race. / By death I look upon Thy face. / By death I am to Thee conformed.”16 She died on December 21, 1549, rejoicing in hope, and calling on Jesus to save her.

She understood that her work was just a beginning: “God, I am assured, will carry forward the work He has permitted me to commence, and my place will be more than filled by my daughter, who has the energy and moral courage, in which, I fear, I have been deficient.”17 She had laid a foundation on which her daughter could build.

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NOTES;

Navarre was a small kingdom in the western Pyrenees Mountains. ↩︎
Carol Thysell, The Pleasure of Discernment: Marguerite de Navarre as Theologian (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2000), 6. ↩︎
Bishop Briconnet, a mystic, had great influence on Marguerite’s theology. ↩︎
Quoted in James I. Good, Famous Women of the Reformed Church (1901; repr., Birmingham, Ala.: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2007), 60. ↩︎
Thysell, 7. ↩︎
In Roland Bainton, Women of the Reformation in France and England (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 37. ↩︎
Marguerite de Navarre, Selected Writings, ed. and trans. Rouben Cholakian and Mary Skemp (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 73. ↩︎
Susan Broomhall, Women and Religion in Sixteenth-Century France (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006), 79. ↩
Marguerite de Navarre, “Mirror of the Sinful Soul” in Writings, 91, 135. ↩︎
Marguerite de Navarre, “The Primacy of Scripture” in Bainton, France and England, 21. ↩︎
Thysell, 3. Early in the Reformation, Roman Catholics often used the term Lutheran to describe all Protestants. ↩︎
Thysell, 8. It was this decree that made John Calvin decide to leave France. ↩︎
Bainton, France and England, 29. ↩︎
Thysell, 3. ↩︎
Marguerite de Navarre, “Song” in Writings, 295. ↩︎
Marguerite de Navarre in Bainton, France and England, 26. ↩︎
Quoted in Good, 69. ↩︎

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Rebecca VanDoodewaard is an author and mother. She is author of Uprooted: A Guide for Homesick Christians and Reformation Women: Sixteenth-Century Figures Who Shaped Christianity’s Rebirth.

HOW SOUTHERN BAPTISTS TRAINED MORE DISASTER RELIEF VOLUNTEERS THAN THE RED CROSS

How Southern Baptists Trained More Disaster Relief Volunteers than the Red Cross
NOVEMBER 17, 2017 | SARAH EEKHOFF ZYLSTRA

The Southern Baptist North American Mission Board (NAMB) almost missed them. And it would’ve been a big miss.

Mike McDaniel is an electrician and handyman who specializes in restoring power after natural disasters. He’s seen the wreckage of nine hurricanes, including Hurricanes Andrew (“the worst”) and Katrina.

His wife, Linda, occasionally visits him on the job. Her father was a construction contractor; she’s helped to flip many a house.

And for years, the two of them have wanted to volunteer to help after disasters.

The McDaniels attend a Baptist church, and Linda would go online to look up the North American Mission Board’s disaster relief efforts.

“They said you had to be trained,” she said. But training was offered only a few times a year, and not always locally. So the couple always passed.

But this summer, NAMB waived the training requirement, experimenting to see if it would lift the falling Southern Baptist volunteer base.

“It seemed to be a big success,” Mike said. “There were twice as many blue shirts (worn by untrained volunteers) as yellow shirts (worn by trained volunteers).”

The Southern Baptist Convention’s disaster response is so massive it financially trails only the Red Cross and the Salvation Army—and has more trained disaster relief volunteers than either one.

Mike and Linda pulled into Vidor, Texas, several weeks ago, surprised to see the lingering mess. “I expected to find more done,” Mike said. “I didn’t expect to see the devastation I saw.”

The couple pitched right in, tearing out flooring, assessing damage, making repairs, and getting one family connected with a shower, laundry, and a hot meal.

“What broke me was that in most of the cases when I would hand people a Bible, they would start crying,” Linda said. “They had lost their Bibles—some of them it was their grandma’s Bible, or their childhood Bible. There were no stores anywhere around to buy one.”

The two loved the work. In fact, at the end of the week, Mikesent Linda home with their church team and stayed on. (Though he declined NAMB’s request that he stay through December.)

As soon as they got home, Mike and Linda looked up the training courses again. “We’re both going to do the training,” Linda said. So next time, they won’t have to wait: “When there’s a disaster, [NAMB] will call you up.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer Neal Allison takes debris out of a home that was inundated with six feet of water from Hurricane Harvey. (Photo by Carmen Sisson)
Southern Baptists already have 65,000 trained volunteers; the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) disaster response is so massive it financially trails only the Red Cross and the Salvation Army—and has more trained disaster relief volunteers than either one. In September, President Trump acknowledged each of “the big three” for their Harvey response.

Receiving presidential praise was a big moment in a big year for SBC disaster relief, which also celebrated its 50th anniversary and spent 500,000 hours tackling one of the worst natural disasters in American history.

But changing the volunteer structure will easily have the biggest long-range effect.

“We jumped in the deep end not knowing if we could swim,” said David Melber, who heads up the SBC’s disaster-relief efforts. The new system has some bugs in it, and has caused some anxiety, he said.

But responses have been positive enough for him to say that “without question, it’s going to work.”

NAMB president Kevin Ezell is confident, too: “This is like getting in on the first floor of Mary Kay. It’s time to buy stock.”

BEGINNING WITH BEULAH

For the first 40 years, the SBC’s disaster-relief annual reports can be summarized as “grew this year” and “grew enormously this year.”

The seeds were planted in 1967, with another Texas hurricane—Beulah, which spun off 115 tornadoes and killed almost 60 people. When it was over, a group of Baptist men were aghast at the wreckage.

“In a nutshell, some guys said, ‘We have to do something. People are hurting and in need,’” Melber said. “And that’s what started this whole movement.”

The group of men gathered up some ingredients and portable camp stoves, and headed to southern Texas.

Volunteers prepare to distribute food to thousands of families in Louisiana after floods in 2016. (Photo by Mike Dunn)
It wasn’t the first time Southern Baptists had thought to help out. In 1966, the Home Mission Board set aside $50,000 for pastors, missionaries, and churches hit by natural disasters. But the Texas men expanded the scope, offering immediate meals to anyone affected.

They kept at it, four years later receiving $25,000 from a state mission offering, which they promptly spent on a used 18-wheeler. They converted it into a feeding unit, and used it to dish up 2,500 meals the next year after a flash flood in central Texas.

Other states followed their example—four more started their own disaster-relief efforts by 1976; another nine joined by 1988.

The grassroots growth could perhaps only have happened in the SBC. The Southern Baptist structure—decentralized authority and autonomous churches—works especially well for disaster relief. One of the lessons from FEMA’s mishandling of Katrina was “to distribute power out to the periphery as much as possible,” said Atul Gawande, author of The Checklist Manifesto. Those best able to respond quickly and effectively are nearly always on the ground and authorized to make decisions.

The grassroots growth could perhaps only have happened in the SBC.

So the Southern Baptists, with their state-convention-owned trailers and loosely organized chain of command, were ideally set up to respond to hundreds of local tornadoes and floods, an earthquake in Nicaragua (their first international response) in 1973, and a hurricane in Honduras in 1974.

North Carolina Disaster Relief serve responders to the Pentagon in the days after 9-11. Following the terrorist attacks, Southern Baptists stayed in New York City for three years.

“Back then, people would throw a chainsaw in the back of a pickup truck and take off for the coast—totally untrained, not knowing what to do but willing to help someone,” former disaster relief director Cliff Satterwhite told the Baptist Press in 2009. “Today, we wouldn’t think of a chainsaw team going out without hardhats, chaps, and goggles. No one wore that stuff back then. We were flying by the seat of our pants during [Hurricane] Hugo. A lot of [disaster relief] work was unofficial.”

In 1984, the unofficial effort was large enough to require national coordination by the SBC’s men’s ministry. The Brotherhood Convention organized the activity for disasters needing a multiple-state response and also positioned the SBC to begin partnerships with national organizations—including both the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

GROWTH IN SPURTS

Disaster-relief efforts measure time by disasters: If you ask NAMB for a history of theirs, they’ll give you a bullet list of bombings, hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes. Growth in finances and volunteers doesn’t rise slowly and steadily, but in surges after regional or national tragedies.

For example, Hugo catapulted South Carolina’s state response team into existence. Over the next 20 years, the state went from zero to 6,800 volunteers. At the same time, they gained 129 “units,” which is what NAMB calls the trailers or trucks outfitted for a specific purpose—in addition to kitchens, some house rows of showers, washing machines, childcare areas, or cubicles with electricity and satellite phones for communication.

Missouri Baptists pitched in after Hurricane Hugo in 1989. (Photo by John Swain)
Nationally, volunteer numbers also shot up after Hugo, then again three years later after Hurricane Andrew. Southern Baptists came “by the hundreds and multiplied hundreds every weekend,” said Cecil Seagle, director of the Brotherhood Commission for the Florida Baptist Convention, in 1993.

Disasters “bring attention the need, and people want to do something,” NAMB spokesperson Mike Ebert said. By 1997, the SBC had more than 13,700 volunteers. By 2000, it had nearly 21,000. By 2004, it was up to about 31,000.

Then Hurricane Katrina pounded into Mississippi, and blew previous volunteer efforts—even September 11—out of the water.

Over seven months, 21,000 volunteers served 14.6 million meals in New Orleans (up from 2 million in 2001 and 3.5 million in 2005) and spent 1.5 million hours caring for 7,800 children, mudding out 17,000 buildings, and doing 27,800 loads of laundry. They purified 21,600 gallons of water and sent more than 3,000 ham radio messages.

The enormous effort raised the Southern Baptist profile even higher, marking them a sought-after partner and a model for others. (Jim Burton, NAMB’s then-director of volunteer organization, was asked to write a project-management textbook chapter on Southern Baptist disaster planning and logistics.)

In the months after Katrina, 25,000 new volunteers were trained, nearly doubling the volunteer base of 31,000 from the year before.

Food, clothing, and supplies in the parking lot of First Baptist Church in Slidell, La., after Hurricane Katrina. (Photo by Norm Miller)

THE BIG THREE

Partnerships with the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) were also growing. The four saw each other again and again after floods, fires, and storms. Each time they met, the organizations refined their roles a little more.

These days, “the Red Cross does not prepare meals,” Ebert said. “Every hot meal they serve in a disaster setting in the United States is prepared by Southern Baptists.” The Red Cross or FEMA buys the food, the Southern Baptists prepare it, and the Red Cross serves it from shelters or delivers it to neighborhoods. (The system works “beautifully,” Ebert said.)

Every hot meal [the Red Cross] serve[s] in a disaster setting in the United States is prepared by Southern Baptists.

And when FEMA assesses a neighborhood for damage, it hands the list of addresses and needs over to the SBC and the Red Cross, who split it up.

That way, “there’s not a lot of overlap,” Ebert said. The Red Cross primarily provides emergency medical care, sets up temporary shelters, hands out meals, and occasionally offers financial help. The Southern Baptists cook the meals, help with cleanup and repairs, provide water and showers, and offer trained childcare.

“We could not fulfill our mission without the Southern Baptists,” Red Cross president Gail McGovern told Southern Baptists in a 2014 promotional video. “And more importantly, the people we’re serving couldn’t get through this without you.”

DROPPING NUMBERS

Post-Katrina was a high point in SBC disaster relief. In four years, the number of volunteers just about tripled—from 31,000 in 2004 to 90,000 in 2008. The number of response units jumped from 586 in 2004 to 2,000 in 2008.

And then the numbers started falling; NAMB saw a drop of30,000 in trained volunteers over the next five years.

Over roughly the same time period, the SBC lost more than a million members (from 16.3 million in 2003 to 15.2 million in 2016), including almost 78,000 in 2016 alone.

But Ebert doesn’t think the drop in volunteers is linked with the drop in overall membership—after all, there are still more than 15 million Southern Baptists. Rather, he points to the lack of really big events—the size of Andrew or Katrina—that draw attention to volunteering.

After a tornado in Alabama, Texas volunteer John Tilley takes down broken branches that were threatening a house roof. (Photo by John Swain)
Another issue is generational. “Most of our active volunteers are older,” he said. It makes sense—their schedules are a lot more flexible than younger people tied down by school, work, or young children.

But “as that generation transitions, the younger generations don’t seem to be showing as much interest in traditional [disaster relief] training,” he said.

It’s not that Millennials don’t want to volunteer. Among those under 35 who gave to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability’s charities in 2016, 29 percent also looked for volunteer opportunities, compared to 20 percent of those over 35.

But they’re also far more likely (45 percent) than Baby Boomers (28 percent) or even Gen-Xers (37 percent) to say their generosity is “always” or “often” spur of the moment.

So one of NAMB’s tasks is to make disaster-relief volunteerism accessible more quickly—in essence, to recall those seat-of-the-pants, chainsaw-in-a-pickup days (although this time with safety goggles).

SEND RELIEF

When Southern Baptists formalized disaster training in the early ’90s, people were able to get certified in areas such as running the kitchens, offering childcare, or working heavier equipment. That pre-training meant that when disaster struck, an army of volunteers already knew what to do.

But requiring pre-certification also meant that people like Mike and Linda McDaniel couldn’t participate—at least not immediately, when disasters are on the news and interest levels are highest.

NAMB president Kevin Ezell saw this problem a few years ago, when he was walking through tornado wreckage in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and spotted a bunch of students hard at work.

“I went over to thank them,” he said. He found out they were from a Southern Baptist congregation in Florida but were volunteering through Samaritan’s Purse because it didn’t require pre-certification.

Ezell came back determined to tap into the market of willing but untrained workers. And this summer Send Relief—the brand-new home to all of the SBC’s mercy ministries—rolled out a system to do it.

Mickey Caison (right) retired in August after 23 years of working with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. Kevin Ezell (left) is the president of NAMB. The red boxes are portable food containers called cambros. (Photo by John Swain)

UNTRAINED VOLUNTEERS

Send Relief’s first storm was a doozy. Harvey hit Texas three times, at one point putting more than one-third of Houston underwater. Almost 40 people were killed, and damage estimates are as high as $180 billion.

Then, nine days after Harvey’s last flash floods, Hurricane Irma blew through Florida. Ten days after she settled down to 110 mph winds, Hurricane Maria spent 30 hours razing Puerto Rico.

Send Relief offered immediate volunteer sign-ups online, getting people on the calendar as fast as possible—they have people signed up through November and over Christmas.

Instead of hours of training, Send Relief played eight-minute safety videos and gave quick on-the-spot instruction. (Though Linda did notice the college students got a little longer orientation.) Seasoned volunteers in yellow shirts showed the new volunteers what to do. New volunteers weren’t always ready to run the kitchen equipment or the chainsaws, but not much education is needed for pulling out carpet or digging out debris.

North Carolina volunteers work into the night to set up a feeding unit after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. (Photo by John Swain)
“Back when we were doing it strictly [with trained volunteers], you may have 40 to 50 people” a week, said Bill Johnson, who has volunteered so often he now helps coordinate on-site efforts. “Early during the response phase we were getting 250 to 300 volunteers per week; at this stage in the recovery, we are averaging somewhere between 70 and 150 per week.”

That multiplies the teams, he said. “We are able to touch so many more people so quickly.” (Between 300 and 500 college students are scheduled the week of Thanksgiving.)

Shifting the demographic from those older than 60 (which make up more than a third of pre-certified volunteers, according to a survey of seven state conventions) to those younger than 30 (less than 3 percent) is also important when so much of the labor is physical, Johnson said. As the older people pass on their expertise, younger muscles make quick work.

ON MISSION

Opening up to untrained volunteers also positions Send Relief to accept non-SBC, or even non-Christian, volunteers.

“When people think of a Southern Baptist church, they may think of something a little moldy, a little stuffy,” Ezell said. Inviting non-Christians to volunteer gives them an up-close experience with the SBC’s compassion work at the same time it gets more help to a hurting community.

The ultimate goal is to “reach people,” whether that be disaster victims or volunteers, he said.

Inviting non-Christians to volunteer gives them an up-close experience with the SBC’s compassion work at the same time it gets more help to a hurting community.

That’s what SBC president Steve Gaines would describe as living “on mission,” his catchphrase for calling the denomination to refocus on evangelism.

NAMB uses the same language to explain its reorganization into two branches: Send Relief and the church-planting Send Network. (The reorganized refocus seems to be working. Internal surveys show more Southern Baptists know what NAMB does, and this year’s Annie Armstrong Easter Offering—which makes up about half of NAMB’s budget—was the highest in history.)

Two volunteers share the gospel with a homeowner in Oklahoma who survived a tornado. (Photo by John Swain)
“When I pastored, I couldn’t tell you what NAMB did,” Ezell said. “Now our goal is for our people to know—NAMB does Send Network and Send Relief, and all of that is evangelism.”

This fall, while they were cooking meals, tearing out carpet, and removing soggy sheetrock, disaster relief volunteers presented the gospel more than 2,500 times. They heard more than 400 professions of faith.

“The worst thing I’ve seen anywhere is people that are hurting that don’t know Christ,” Johnson said. “When you can bring love and hope to them and tell them the good news of the gospel–it’s just awesome.”

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Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra is senior writer for The Gospel Coalition and contributing editor at Christianity Today. She earned her master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

7 WAYS TO PREPARE YOUR CHURCH AGAINST VIOLENCE

7 Ways to Prepare Your Church Against Violence
NOVEMBER 8, 2017 

A homeless man you’ve never seen before visits your church, stands in the back behind everyone who is sitting down, and begins eating a piece of chicken on a switchblade knife.

How would your congregation respond?

That’s a situation a church plant in Virginia faced several years ago. When the elders approached the man they discovered he knew someone in the church, and that person was able to help them ask the visitor to put away the weapon.

Fortunately, the knife-wielding man had no intention of harming anyone. But that wasn’t known—and couldn’t have been known—until the church leaders confronted the stranger, putting their own lives in potential danger.

Over the past few years, church shootings like the one this week in Texas have captured our attention. But mass shootings in a church are extremely rare events. The actual threats of violence your church is likely to face are more likely to be similar to the scenario in Virginia—a situation that is unexpected, unusual, and for which the appropriate response is unclear.

How then can we prepare for the range of potential violence we may encounter on Sunday mornings?

While there are excellent resources and organizations that can help you develop formal and specific plans, here are seven general actions to prepare your church:

1. Communicate to your congregation.

As much as possible, and consistent with the leadership and decision-making structure of your church, you should solicit the input of your congregation before making a formal security plan. This is especially necessary for pastors and leaders who may be serving in cultures or regions whose perspective may differ from their own. For example, elders carrying concealed pistols during church services may be culturally accepted in rural Texas but may cause a scandal in a suburban California congregation.

Once the church agrees on what security measures are acceptable, that information needs to be regularly disseminated (i.e., at least annually) to the entire congregation. Simply being aware that the church has a plan of action can help alleviate the worry and concerns of members.

2. Be realistic about your security context.

Threats to churches vary in kind, degree, and probability. Your church needs to be honest about the most likely threats of violence you may face in your particular context, and the most appropriate actions to protect against them.

Some threats, such as mass shootings, are a low-probability event for all congregations. Others will be based on the location of the church. For instance, a medium-sized church located in a high-crime area of a city will face different challenges than a small church in a low-crime rural setting. Hiring an off-duty police officer to patrol the lobby during morning services may be a prudent measure for the former while being costly and unnecessary for the latter. While the rural church shouldn’t overreact by implementing expensive security measures, the city church should not ignore the real dangers they may encounter.

3. Think outside the church door.

While the main priority of church leaders must be to focus on the safety of the congregation while in the church building, we should consider how we could protect members outside the church doors.

As Duke Kwon, pastor of a church in Washington, D.C., recently noted on Twitter, “Here in DC, our members have a much higher chance of getting shot while walking to church than while worshipping.” To reduce such risks we can implement programs that protect people as they come to and from the church, such as having pickup and drop-off van service or providing volunteers to walk them home. Larger churches may also need to have patrols of the parking lots to ensure the safety of all churchgoers as they enter and leave church services.

4. Understand the singular threat of domestic violence.

The one threat every church should expect and prepare for is spillover of domestic violence into the church. Over the past 50 years, the targeting of a family member or intimate partners has been the motive in almost 20 percent of church shootings. And while statistics are not kept on the prevalence of such acts, violence that starts in the home is likely to be one of the most prevalent types of violent attacks encountered in church buildings.

Church leaders should be aware of which members of the congregation are vulnerable to violence in the home. Not only should we be helping to find a solution to the problem in the home, we also need to prepare for how we can protect such members when they are at church.

In taking such precautions, we must be careful to respect the privacy of the abused. We don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to their plight. But we also should make it clear to them that they should be able to feel safe and free from threat when they are on church grounds.

5. Identify and prepare the guardians.

Every church should identify and prepare members who are expressly willing to rescue the weak and the needy and deliver them from the hand of the wicked (Psalm 82:4). These should be volunteers willing and able to lay down their lives to protect their brothers and sisters in Christ (John 15:13).

Once identified, they need to understand how they will be expected to prepare and respond when threats of violence arise. Their regular duties may be as simple as having them regularly sit in pews close to the doors during church services or to be the one to dial 911 in an emergency. Whatever their roles they should each also be aware that they may be called upon to sacrifice themselves in order to buy a few minutes for others to get to safety.

These “guardians” don’t need to be police officer or former SEAL team veterans. They don’t need to be the biggest and bravest in the congregation. All they need is the conviction that they will do whatever is in their power to protect the church from violence.

6. Protect the children.

The self-identified guardians have the responsibility to protect the congregation. But the congregation should be aware that their primary security responsibility should be to protect the children.

Every safety measure taken should be measured against this standard. Every security policy should start with this goal. In every step you take to protect your church from violence, the primary concern must be to protect the children.

7. Prepare against anxiety and hardheartedness.

We live in a fallen world where violence can erupt at a moment’s notice. We are not immune to such threats even when we gather to worship our Creator. Because of this reality, churches must be prepared.

We also live in a world under God’s providential control. We must be cautious, but not fearful. We can’t shut our doors to those who need to hear the gospel because of our anxiety about violence. As Paul tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

We should prepare our congregations to be ready for whatever threats of violence we may face. Yet we must also be ready to sacrifice everything—including our security and our lives—for the sake of the gospel. We can make our churches “hard targets,” but we must do so with soft hearts.

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Joe Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition, the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible, and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. He serves as an elder at Grace Hill Church in Herndon, Virginia. 

THE CURRENT STATE OF EVANGELICALISM AND ALL THAT BLAH, BLAH, BLAH

By Tim Challies; INFORMING THE REFORMING

November 14, 2017 

I have grown accustomed to hearing about the horrific state of evangelicalism in the United States of America. The 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation has seemed to add some new fuel to that fire, a fresh opportunity to bemoan the sorry state of the church today. It has apparently become almost a pastime among conservative Christians—and perhaps especially Calvinistic Christians—to lament what the church is, rather than what she ought to be.

I’ve come to think y’all are being a little too hard on yourselves. Over the past number of years I’ve had the opportunity to travel far and wide. I’ve journeyed to many countries across most of the continents. And almost everywhere I’ve been I have found myself challenged and encouraged by American Christians. Is American evangelicalism perfect? Of course not. Is she honoring God and carrying out his mission? I’ve seen that she is.

I have journeyed to Scotland to see work being done there to return the light of the gospel to what was once one of world’s foremost sending nations. Do you know what I found there? I found American people who moved far from home to bring hope to hopeless places. I found churches and pastors that are surviving and thriving in large part because of partnerships with American believers. I saw ministries staffed and run by Scots, but funded in large part by Americans. The work I saw there simply wouldn’t exist or be as successful without the generosity and involvement of American Christians.

Another recent trip took me to Rome where I went on a tour of the city with an American who had moved to Rome to find a job that would allow him to reach children and their families. I met other missionaries who decades ago had picked up and left their own country to dedicate their lives to a foreign one. I met American families vacationing in Rome, not just to tour the city, but to visit there to build connections through which they could serve and minister.

In Germany I was asked to lead a retreat for pastors who shepherd international churches. The majority of those pastors were American. They had traveled to nations across Europe to heed the Great Commission, and there they had experienced the joy of sharing the gospel and seeing people respond to it.

I was once standing by the luggage carousel in the airport in New Delhi, India, when two men recognized me and began to chat. They told me they had flown in from America, as they did at least once each year, to teach and train pastors in this gospel-impoverished nation. As I was shown around by a local pastor (who had been invited to America, trained there at one of its finest seminaries, given the opportunity to complete an internship at one of its strongest churches, given financial support, then sent back to his home country to pastor a church) I came across a training and education facility that was run clandestinely by Compassion International with most of the children sponsored by American families. I toured local churches and local ministries whose pastors and leaders were completely and joyfully dependent upon the support of American individuals and congregations.

Many times I’ve been in touch with ministries and churches in closed countries in Africa and Asia and almost every time found they were founded, headed, staffed, or at least supported by Americans. Invariably, they would not exist, or would struggle to exist, without American believers praying, sending, going, and giving.

Even in Canada I’m often contacted by American believers who are eager to learn if there is a need for their gifts, their passions, and their talents here in the great white north. I’ve seen churches dispatch pastors, planters, mission teams, and funds to this nation. At least two strong, thriving churches in this area are pastored by Americans who came here to learn a new culture and serve a foreign country.

As an individual I’ve been repeatedly blessed and encouraged by American generosity. Even in this unusual little ministry I carry on, it is hard to imagine it succeeding without my friends and supporters from our great neighbor to the south.

What’s the state of Evangelicalism in the United States of America? Imperfect, of course, but concerned, involved, generous, and kind. Perhaps the 500th anniversary of the Reformation should cause Americans to reflect on some of the evidences of God’s grace they display, then to return all thanks and praise to him.

11

CONFLICT, COMFORT AND THE CROSS

Conflict, Comfort and the Cross
POSTED BY ADAM PARKER; REFORMATION 21

Last week, a gunman entered First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and killed 26 people, wounding 20 others. The massacre was brutal and left what will surely be scars on all of those who survived, many of whom were young children. Usually there is some sort of grieving period that decorum allows in the aftermath of such events, but as civilization abandons any pretense at care or compassion that grieving period is quickly disappearing.

One of the nastiest things about the internet is that it allows angry and grieving people to abstract the people they are writing about from reality. People are able to speak freely even when they know what they have to say is cruel or even evil. It should be no secret in the Christian community that the world thinks that we’re foolish. We acknowledge it, but sometimes we see it in ugly ways.

Perhaps the most despicable reactions came from Actor Michael McKean, who mocked the dead on Twitter and attacked those who encouraged prayer for the people in the church: “They had the prayers shot right out of them. Maybe try something else.” Wil Wheaton attacked one politician who expressed sympathy and prayers for those who had lost so much: “If prayers did anything, they’d still be alive.”

I do not wish to judge these men as human beings. I don’t know them in their everyday lives. I don’t know what they’ve been through or what they’ve seen, but someone who understands the cross would never say these sorts of things. These are the responses of people who do not understand the cross.

The mockery of the unbelieving world assumes a few significant things. It assumes that God would never permit his people to die. It assumes that suffering isn’t part of God’s plan. It assumes that if prayer “worked” then God’s people would just keep on living. And most fundamentally it assumes that God builds his church on power and strength. There’s an entire worldview of assumptions that have to be true if their mockery could have any basis, but of course all of these assumptions miss the cross.

The cross was the ultimate and willing display of weakness. When many think of the cross they think, perhaps of an identifying marker, a beautiful piece of jewelry, or some elaborate symbol. But the cross was horrible, ugly, and nonsensical. It was a weapon of death, akin to the rack or the guillotine. At the core of the Christian religion is the conviction that death is the road to life and weakness is the road to strength. That’s totally upside down from the rest of the world.

Paul says that “the world did not know God through wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:21). What he means is that if you were trying to dream up a way to rescue people from hell, the conclusion that reason would take you to is a show of power, a demonstration of strength. This is why the religious leaders mocked Jesus as he died: “Let him come down from the cross, and [then] we will believe in him.” And in a sense that mockery is echoed in the sentiments of men like Wheaton and McKean. The cross is foolish to these men (1 Cor. 1:18-25). What else would we expect?

You see, the mockers also don’t understand that Christians are called by Christ himself to carry the cross, too. If McKean, Wheaton, and their tribe don’t understand the cross, then they certainly won’t get what Christians are called to carry. What the saints at First Baptist Church were called to carry last week. Jesus spent a huge quantity of his earthly ministry preparing his disciples to suffer and carry the cross.

I do fear, however, that as Christians, we also forget these truths. How often do we prize earthly power, success, cultural authority, and the respect of those outside of the church? Prizing these things is a sign that we’ve learned to think like the world, too.

Sometimes I fear that as Christians we are far too easily embarrassed by the opinions of the watching world. The base ideas about Christ that the world works with assume the narrative of power and strength. The truth we need to remember is quite the opposite.

The truth that suffering and loss is intrinsic to the Christian religion and to our own lives as believers means that church shootings, religious persecution, and difficulty shouldn’t be the exception for Christians. We should understand comfort and ease to be the real exceptions.

POSTED NOVEMBER 13, 2017 @ 1:21 PM BY ADAM PARKER

DON’T LEAVE YOUR HUSBAND FOR HER (Letter to a Would Be Adulteress) by Rosaria Butterfield

Dear friend,

I’m grateful that you trusted me with your secret.

Sitting across from me at the kitchen table this afternoon, you poured out your heart. When you married your high school sweetheart at 19, you never once suspected you would be in this place. Now, at 39, after twenty years of marriage, you call yourself gay.

In tears, you tell me that you have “come out,” and that you’re not looking back. You haven’t had an affair. Yet. But there is this woman you met at the gym. You work out with her every morning, and you text with her throughout the day.

Even though you are a covenant member of a faithful church, sit under solid preaching, and put up a good front for the children, you have been inwardly despising your husband for some time now. Hearing him read the Bible makes you cringe. You haven’t been intimate with him for over a year now. You tell me you can’t bear it.

Is Gay Good?

You tell me that leaving your husband for a woman is not an act of unfaithfulness. You tell me that you are being faithful to who you really are, and who you have always really been. At my kitchen table, you open up a book from a “gay Christian” and read this aloud: “The root of my same-sex attraction is a genuine good: it is my longing for deep friendship.” You tell me, “I am a gay Christian, and I have just discovered my authentic self.”

As you read this book, you see yourself as if looking in a mirror. You are held captive in its reflection.

“The good news is this: your feelings aren’t your God. Your God is your God.” Tweet Share on Facebook
Yes, you and I are both looking in a mirror when we read his words. But it is not the faithful mirror of God’s word. Rather, it is a carnival mirror. And the reflection that we become as we see ourselves in it is warped, twisted, mangled by this modern shaping of personhood through intersectionality of sexual and social categories — what this author calls “the nuance of sexual identity.” You will find a road to travel in that mirror. It is a pathway to hell.

Carnival Mirror

You presume that because we share the same pattern of brokenness and sin, that I embrace the new vocabulary of this carnival mirror. You ask me, “How have you made your mixed-orientation marriage work?” You speak the language of the Neo-orthodoxy of our day.

A mixed-orientation marriage combines one spouse who “is” gay and the other who “is” straight. This new language for sexuality and humanity has become our post-Christian world’s reigning (and godless) logic. Gay may be how someone feels, but it can never be who someone inherently is. Because all human beings are made in God’s image, we are called to reflect God’s image in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. We are a Genesis 1:27 people, born male or female with a soul that will last forever, and a body that will either be glorified in the New Jerusalem or suffer unspeakable anguish in hell.

Being born male or female comes with ethical and moral responsibilities, blessings, and constraints — by God’s design and for the purpose of image-bearing. Because creation is an identity issue, my feelings — no matter how deep, abiding, or original to my conscience — are not my identity or descriptive of what kind of Christian I am.

No, friend. I am not in a mixed-orientation marriage and neither are you. This false category banks on modernism’s magnetism to personal pain as proof of purpose. Like Frankenstein’s creature, modernity’s identity is piecemealed from the unconverted woman that you once were. But gospel identity calls us to the future. Jesus always leads from the front of the line. If you are in Christ — and I believe that you are — then you are a new woman. You have a Galatians 2:20 identity. If you are in Christ, then you are in the process of being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14). You truly are who you will become when you are glorified one day.

Twenty Years for Ten Seconds

Your personal feelings do not cancel twenty years of covenant marriage and three children.

Continuing down this path is like stopping in the middle of a six-lane highway moving at 70 miles per hour, unloading the van and the kids and the dog and the picnic basket, spreading out the quilt that you helped your Grandma stitch, scooping heaping servings of your best Crockpot chicken and dumplings into bowls, lovingly passing bowls of steaming goodness around to each family member, and gazing for the last time at the life you prayed for, sacrificed for, and welcomed.

Before you can put your hand to your mouth, your whole family will be crushed by the weight of this sin. Perhaps you have time to behold your ghastly reflection in the oncoming truck’s metal grille as it bears down on you, where the agonized faces of your children tell all. The process of destroying your marriage, and all of the hopes and dreams it holds, will take about ten seconds.

Because that is how adultery works.

Three Ways Forward

So, friend, I am glad that you came to my kitchen today. Because today is the day the Lord has set apart for you to face reality.

First, repent of your sinful beliefs. And not only for the actual sins that stem from them. Calling same-sex attraction “a genuine good,” or declaring it a “gift” from God which you think has a root in the desire for something godly, is an example of a sinful belief. It denies that all sin — including the sin of homosexual lust, desire, and identity — entered the world with Adam’s fall.

The gospel’s power to save gives you the power to live in joy as a faithful wife to your godly husband. Repenting of our sinful beliefs clarifies our responsibilities and our purpose.

“Your marriage is no arbitrary accident; God called you to it as part of his perfect providence.” Tweet Share on Facebook
Second, embrace the calling that God has given to you to be your husband’s wife. Your marriage is no arbitrary accident; God called you to it in his perfect providence. And God’s providence is your protection.

Your lot has fallen in pleasant places (Psalm 16:6). Pray for eyes to see this. Recommit yourself to one-flesh love with your husband. Pray together that your hearts would be knit together through Christ. Make time to talk honestly with your husband about how your body works. Show him. Make time to preserve your marriage bed as a place of joy and comfort and pleasure. Have sexual intercourse often. This is God’s medicine for a healthy marriage. One-fleshness is certainly more than sex, but it is not less than sex. Your husband is not your roommate. Treating him as such is sin.

Third, respect your husband. Learn from him during family devotions. Encourage him to lead. Do this whether you feel like it or not. If you commit to prayerfully encourage your husband to lead, he will grow into his role as you grow into yours. Maybe you feel like you are a better leader, and a more successful head. The good news is this: your feelings aren’t your God. Your God is your God.

What Adultery Says About God

You stand at the edge of the cliff, friend. By the day’s end, you may fall into this woman’s embrace. If you do, it speaks not to your “love” for this woman, or to hers for you, or to your personal integrity in coming out as gay. No, friend. Adultery reveals disdain for your God. If your Christian best is only offering the obedience that the flesh allows, you trample on the blood of your Savior.

By the day’s end, you may repent of the sinful beliefs that remain a churning, burning pot of toil and trouble. This speaks to your humble obedience to your God. This reveals heroic faith, fueled by sovereign grace, willing to walk through the hardships and embrace the husband God has chosen for you.

Friend, this is more about God than it is about you. It always is. May God give you heroic faith, and may you rest on his perfect plan for you.

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Rosaria Champagne Butterfield is a former tenured professor of English at Syracuse University. After her conversion to Christianity in 1999, she developed a ministry to college students. She has taught and ministered at Geneva College, is a full-time mother and pastor’s wife, and is author of Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (2012) and Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ (2015).