In the New Testament, obedience is a good word. Also in the New Testament, works is not, unless it is modified with a word like good. We are called to good works (Titus 2:7), but we are not saved by works (Eph. 2:8-9).
By way of contrast, sinners do not obey the truth (Rom. 2:8). The Lord is the author of eternal salvation for all who obey Him (Heb. 5:9). All nations are summoned to the obedience of faith (Rom. 1:5). Obedience is unto righteousness (Rom. 6:16). Every thought is to be brought to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32). And of course, obedience is an evil thing when it is rendered to the wrong master (Rom. 6:12), which should be obvious enough. But the bottom line is that simple words obey and obedience should not set off alarm bells for people who read their Bibles.
But there are many professing Christians today who are functional antinomians, and any talk of obedience as a good and necessary thing in the Christian life sets them off. They start yammering about grace, as though grace were nothing more than a gelatinous pudding, and they declare that they are teachers of the Westminster Confession; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm (1 Tim. 1:7).
Where does this matter? It actually matters everywhere. Such functional antinomianism is pervasive in the church today, and we see the deleterious effects of it on the personal level (pastors with a private porn stash) and we see it at the public, corporate level (a bunch of the recent doings in the SBC and the PCA). And I want to address all of that.
What Biblical Authority Means
There are two aspects to the issue of biblical authority. The first is to subscribe to the right doctrine of it. Do you confess that the Bible is the Word of God, that it is authoritative, that it is infallible, that it is the breath of a holy God? The second is the issue of actual obedience—to conform your practice to the teaching of Scripture, instead of doing it the other way—that other way being to conform the exegesis to the preferred outcomes. But in order to have a right relationship to biblical authority, it is necessary to be actually obedient to it. We must do what Jesus says to do—which is quite a distinct thing from affirming the idea that people ought to do what Jesus says, and provided it lines up with our traditions, we will perhaps attempt it.
So, back to that pastor with the porn stash. It does not matter what he says about it in the pulpit, he obviously does not believe in biblical authority. But the identical thing goes for corporate bodies like the PCA and to SBC. If the Southern Baptists wind up with women in the pulpit, it doesn’t matter that they have a resolution saying that they affirm biblical authority. They don’t. If the PCA makes allowance for these innovative but ungodly Revoice carve-outs for lust, it doesn’t matter that the Westminster Confession is sound on biblical authority. The current disobedience renders all of that null and void. It doesn’t matter that the Presbyterians of three and half centuries ago lived by it, and wrote down what they lived.
This kind of leprous process can advance at a rapid pace because when you are in the habit of hearing good teaching without putting that good teaching into practice in your life, Scripture teaches that the result is ungodly self-deception. “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (Jas. 1:22).
Setting someone straight who has been deceived by a third party can be hard enough. But getting everything untangled when the deceiver and the deceived are the same person, or the same denomination, or the same institution, or the same network of good old boys . . . that one is a real bear.
Like Ordinary Men . . .
Christians are supposed to be modeling, and growing up into, a new way of being human in Christ. With regard to mundane things like food and dress, we are supposed to fit in—as in, we are not to be outlandish. Our women are to wear respectable clothes, in other words (1 Tim. 2:9). Our lives are to be godly and dignified (1 Tim. 2:2). But when it comes to our outlook, our worldview, our assumptions, our ethics, our controversies, our view of where the center is, we are not supposed to fit in at all. We are supposed to be separated and holy (2 Cor. 6:17). We were not supposed to become what evangelicals in North America have largely become, which is a pretty sizeable clatch of me-tooers.
“For with jealousy and quarrels in your midst, are you not worldly, are you not behaving like ordinary men?”
1 Cor. 3:3 (Moffatt)
Like ordinary men. Living as though Jesus did not in fact die and rise, making all things new. We want racial reconciliation on the same basis as the unbelievers do. We want to pull down embarrassing web sites like we were a two-year-old caught with the cookie jar. We want to strike out decisively on the road to justice before we even know which road it is. If the world has women CEOs, we want women in the pulpit. We live among a litigious people, and so we resort to the courts of the unbelievers promptly. And if someone points out how radically at odds this is with the teaching of the Scriptures, just call him an out-of-touch wordsmith.
We live, act, argue, sue, and teach as though Jesus has not spoken an authoritative word that outranks any noxious fume the world can produce.
And the issue is not racial reconciliation. Every faithful Christian wants that. The issue is that not everything called racial reconciliation is racial reconciliation. We are to loathe and despise any reconciliation that is based on anything other than the shed blood of Christ, and the free grace and forgiveness that flows from it. Cultural Marxism did not die for anybody, and the carcass of social justice is still rotting in its grave where it belongs. We are not ordinary men.
The issue is not whether Southern should pull from publication a series of statements that were embarrassing to the seminary. Of course they should. But any action like that should be accompanied by an apology, and an acknowledgement that many of the concerned critics have been right about their concerns. They should not try to hide the stinking obvious, the way ordinary men do.
The issue is not whether we want justice for victims of predators in the church. Of course we do. The issue is whether we will define that justice by biblical standards or by alien standards. When sexual abuse is confessed or proven in open court, the offenders should be punished, and the victims should be recompensed generously. C.J. Mahaney and Matt Chandler should both be treated with respect and allowed to give their account, and not just one of them. And Rachael Denhollander should not contribute to a book that overthrows the sacrosanct principle that the trial should precede the sentencing. We are not ordinary men.
The issue is not whether women have gifts and graces that should be utilized by the church. Of course they should, just like in the Bible. But when we are accommodating ourselves to the feminist regime outside the church, nonchalantly walking along in that copycat way of ours, wanting women in the pulpit because we have seen too many of those high-powered and deadly women assassins in the movies, we have watched all that propaganda, mouths agape, just like ordinary men.
The issue is not whether anybody thinks that lawsuits between Christians are fun. The issue is whether we think they are even lawful. When we approach the bench, and the apostle told us not to, we are approaching the bench as ordinary men.
And here’s one that jumped out at me in the latest round of Twitter reactions to a bunch of this stuff. The issue is not whether Wilson is a wordsmith. The issue is whether or not what I am saying is right—as in, correct. Is it true? Who cares if I could use words like verisimilitude if I wanted? I am not some Gandalf of grammar, and the stuff I am writing is either right or wrong. If it is wrong, then show me where. If it is right, then let us shake hands and be done.
So let us never forget the nature of true biblical authority. We need to reckon with the fact that the authority of the Bible is primarily recognized by believers in their lives, and not in their resolutions or statements of faith—as important as such resolutions and statements may be. The true measure of biblical authority is a function of obedience, doing what the Bible says to do, the way the Bible says to do it. Not doing so is going to seem fairly innocent at first, and it might even seem preeminently reasonable. But the end of that road is always hard and bitter. Biblical authority means that we do not lean on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5).
“For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king”
1 Sam. 15:23 (KJB)
But why is rebellion against plain instructions said to be like witchcraft, or sorcery? When we listen to those little voices that urge us to do what all the cool kids are doing, why is that like sorcery? Seems a little harsh.
Consider two basic realities of Christian living and decision making—the blessings that come from obedience and the obedience itself. These are joined together in Christ and only in Christ. The temptation to separate them (by various means, whether incantations or cheat codes) is always the attempt somehow to obtain the blessings of obedience without the obedience itself.
The name of this sin is—right down at the foundation—sorcery.
People who want to be blessed as though they had obeyed are people who are hungry for a quick fix, and sorcery is always eager to promise a quick fix. Just say this. Use this formula, use this spell. Here’s the short cut. When the Lord was tempted to bow down and worship the devil, the bait in that temptation was all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. Those were the kingdoms that Jesus had come to conquer by his death on the cross, and the devil was offering Him a short cut. You can just have the kingdoms, no pain, no cross, if you just bow down and worship me. He was being tempted with the (supposed) consequences of obedience without the obedience.
Do you want the blessings of living in a just society without actually obeying God’s standards for adjudicating justice? Call the witchdoctor and have him throw some chicken bones in the air. That might do it. Do you want a society where women are highly respected, but all the motels on your road trips still have porn channels? Have a shaman in a flowing robe, the kind with crescent moons and stars on it, come out with his wand and fix everything for you.
When we disregard the Word of the Lord, and everything starts to go in the wrong direction, which it will, the temptation will be, at that time, to throw a Hail Mary pass.
We should say one more thing about quick-fix sorcery. It lies.
And one more thing after that. Ordinary men believe the lies.