“Is it a sin to kiss?”
I was as surprised at the question as you are. Asking it was a young woman, a high school senior, in a meeting with a dozen other students and myself in an informal question and answer session after I spoke at a high school in Florida a few weeks ago.
“Why do you ask?” “My parents have told me I may not kiss a boy until I’m engaged,” she said. I then asked the other kids if any of their parents have made a similar rule. None had.
So, I turned back to the girl and said, “Then for you to kiss is a sin, but it’s not for the rest of you.” They were as shocked as the girl at my answer.
“Let me be very clear,” I said to them. “I’m not aware of any teaching in the Bible that declares kissing a sin. It may be unwise, but it’s not a sin – except. And, here’s the exception; God has established certain authority structures on earth to rule on his behalf and to bring order to our lives. The first to be established was the family, specifically your parents. God made clear in the Ten Commandments, “Honor your father and mother” Deut. 5:16a. That means more than simply respecting them. It’s an acknowledgement of their authority over you whether you like it or not.
God has given your parents the authority to set rules and boundaries for their children as long as they don’t violate any other teaching of scripture because the Bible is the ultimate authority for all Christians. That’s why if your parents’ say you may not, or you must, for you not to obey them is probably a sin for you, until you’ve left your parent’s home permanently. However, the check and balance God put in place is that someday your parents will have to answer before God for the decisions they made, but until then they have authority over you. Just check out Ephesians 6:1-3 if you don’t believe me.” (And one kid looking for a loophole did!)
The Authority of the Church
The church too has authority. A few years ago I took some college age boys and the youth pastor of my church to Europe. At our first meal, the youth pastor asked if I was going to have wine with my meal. He asked because our church back then prohibited elders (and I was one at that time) and staff from drinking alcohol. I told the youth pastor that I couldn’t have wine. He was incredulous! “We’re in Paris – why not?” Do you believe it’s a sin to drink?” he asked. “No, I don’t,” I said. “It’s not prohibited in scripture, unless you drink too much, but you and I are under the authority of the church so for us it actually would be a sin to drink. Next year, when I’m no longer an elder, if I have a glass of wine, it may be unwise, but it won’t be a sin.”
“That feels like legalism,” he said. I disagreed. “In all fairness, I believe the establishment of the church policy set decades ago was legalistic. Nevertheless, until it’s changed you and I voluntarily agreed to submit to the authority of the church and with that authority came the responsibility to obey the rules of our church whether we like them or not. So, our obeying them isn’t legalism – it’s obedience and I think God expects that and honors it.”
There’s a reason I shared this story with these students. I wanted them to understand that all believers, even older adults like me, live under the authority of God, the Bible and the local church they attend. I don’t always like that authority and when I grew up I thought my parents had some stupid rules, like these students do now. I broke a lot of their rules, but now I realize that most of the time they truly had my best interest at heart. And so does God. (Perhaps at a later date, I’ll also blog on the authority of governments and older adults in our lives.)
Is French kissing a sin?
“Then is French kissing a sin?” was the second question these budding Pharisees asked. (Don’t laugh! All of us are constantly probing the outer boundaries of sin.) So I asked, “Has any parent prohibited you from French kissing except obviously the girl whose parents had a kissing ban?” “No”, was their reply. “Then it’s not a sin either, but it’s probably very unwise.” Here’s the second point I was trying to make to these students.
All sin is unwise, but not all unwise choices are sin.
“Let me ask you a follow-up question. Have any of you French kissed and both of you were content to leave it at that – neither of you were tempted to go any further sexually?” Their eyes suddenly found somewhere else to look. I had their answer. “That’s the problem”, I said.
“As young adults it’s time you began establishing your own boundaries. When you were kids, your parents established them for you, but now you’re at an age when you’re going to have to make moral choices on a lot more things than those the Bible says are right or wrong.” Here’s the question you’ll need to begin asking more. “Is this wise to do?” You have Christian freedom to do many things, but not every choice is wise. I once knew a pastor whose family had a history of alcoholism who decided the only way he could be sure he’d never have the same problem was to never drink. He wasn’t being legalistic. He was being wise.
We then spent the balance of our time talking about the value of making pre-decisions and setting wise boundaries. It’s chapter four in The 10 Second Rule, book. I’ve also written Personal Boundaries for Men, which is a free download on the RESOURCES page of this website.
I’d suggest this week having a discussion with your children or grandchildren about authority, sin, wisdom, pre-decisions and boundaries. I’ve found that even if they don’t like your rules or those of their parents or the church, framing it as a wisdom issue changes how they think about moral decisions. While many students, even Christians resist moral absolutes, I’ve found that almost nobody wants to make stupid or unwise choices.
When the angel told John the Baptist’s father of Elizabeth’s pregnancy he said that John would, “Turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of righteousness.” Luke 1:17b Go beyond simply teaching them right from wrong, but get to the “why” of right and wrong – the wisdom of righteousness. If you do, they’ll have more respect for both you and for God.
If you’re a parent of teens, you’ll learn a lot from this interview of why teens leave the faith and what can be done about it. http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=37424
Question: “Can you think of some rules you grew up with that may not be sin, according to the Bible, but were probably wise choices for your parents to make?”
NEXT WEEK: What it means to be an elder of the city.
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Is there a simple way to teach a biblical worldview to my high school age and younger kids – a biblical worldview for dummies?
“Yes”, is the short answer I gave to the father asking me the question. But, let me reduce it to writing for you so you can read it to your children – better yet, study it and tell it to your children.
So, I sent him the following…
The Storyline of the Bible
Have you ever noticed that almost all the great stories follow the same story line?
Once upon a time, things were good and then something awful happens when someone, or something evil destroys the good life people once had. A hero then rises up, risks or sacrifices his or her own life, destroys the villain, rescues the situation, sets things right again, good triumphing over evil and they all live happily ever after. Think about it! From childhood fairy tales, like Little Red Riding Hood, to The Shawshank Redemption, Braveheart, LeMiserables, Titanic, Star Wars, Gladiator and Lord of the Rings, this story line holds. Why do you think this is so?
It’s because all these stories borrow their power from the Grand Story woven into the fabric of our being. It’s part of our spiritual DNA! We were created in the image of God and every person no matter how far they’ve wandered from God knows that something is terribly wrong with this world. We’re frightened and we long for someone or something to rescue us and make things right again. We even dream of being heroes ourselves, rescuing others from injustice and evil.
This is the story line which runs through the Bible from beginning to end and it’s the story line of a biblical worldview. I’m thankful to John Eldridge in his wonderful book, The Epic, for introducing me to these illustrations of how to think of the story of God.
Organizing the Story
A good working definition of a biblical worldview is this – truth from God’s perspective. Years ago, some very gifted theologians and teachers identified the primary themes – truths of the Bible and put them into five words or phrases that have helped the Christian community organize their thinking about the truths of scripture. They are:
It’s helpful to think of the core elements of a biblical worldview much like the core elements of other disciplines. Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are the core elements of mathematics. They are the foundation of all mathematics – of a mathematical worldview. Likewise, the Ten Commandments are the core element of a God-centered, moral worldview.
The core elements of a biblical worldview serve us much like an iPod does. The genius of Apple is that they’ve not only made it possible for you to store thousands of songs, but they made it simple for you to access those songs by genre’, artist, album, etc. That’s exactly what understanding the core elements will do for you as a believer. They will help you organize how you think about God and how you fit into his plan for this life and for all eternity. Without them, it’s like trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together, without having the picture on the box cover.
The Core Elements of a Biblical Worldview
God – The God of the Bible is:
The Sovereign God – The triune God, (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is the eternal, just, all-knowing, ultimate ruler of everything and the first cause of all good things. We belong to him and therefore we have a responsibility to subordinate ourselves to him and his will for our lives.
A Loving God – God cares deeply for all of his creation, but especially for humans whom he created in his image and for whom he eventually sacrificed his own Son.
CREATION – God created everything perfect, out of nothing to fulfill his purposes, for his glory.
The Physical World – God created physical matter, the universe, plants, animals, eco-systems, humans and the natural laws to make them all work in harmony and he still cares deeply for, and rules over his world.
The Non-Physical World – He also created the world of moral laws, love, virtue, rational thought, meaningful work and art/design, which he gave uniquely to humans and angels, but which pre-existed the creation of this world.
THE FALL – When Adam and Eve disobeyed God it set off a chain reaction with these results:
Humans were Corrupted – All people became seriously spiritually and morally flawed and estranged from God and sin pollutes every relationship, our families, our economic systems, and every aspect of society and life on earth.
Nature was Corrupted – Even our physical bodies and the world of plants, animals and nature itself was affected, resulting in death, disease, natural disasters, etc.
REDEMPTION – To redeem something is to purchase back, liberate, or ransom someone or something one loves or values. God wants all things corrupted by the fall, to be made right again, to fulfill the purposes he intended for his world, including:
Spiritual Redemption – God, the Father, has chosen to redeem, or rescue those who have faith in his son, Jesus Christ, from the power of sin to become his spiritual children again.
Redeeming God’s World – Those who have been redeemed have been given the mission of loving God, one another, virtuous living, holiness and social and economic justice by being impersonators of Jesus and caring for everything and everyone he cares about.
THE KINGDOM – The Kingdom of God is the sphere of God’s sovereignty. It is present wherever and whenever the will of God is done – on earth or in heaven.
The Present Kingdom – Presently God chooses to carry out his redemptive work, through Jesus Christ and his Church, by giving believers “sub-kingdoms” on earth, which are the people and resources, entrusted to our care, over which we have authority or influence. (See my January 16 and 23, 2012 blog on The Family Business.)
The Future Kingdom – Jesus will return someday to fully redeem all things and personally rule over his kingdom. There will be a judgment for all mankind. The faithful will receive their rewards and live and work with Jesus forever and those who were not will be separated from God for all eternity.
1. Memorize, and have your children or grandchildren memorize all the five core elements (just the short one or two word phrases – God, Creation, The Fall, Redemption, and The Kingdom). Practice them until you can say them in your sleep.
2. Take some time to explain the two aspects of each of the core elements in your own words, using your own illustrations. If you’d like to have my teaching notes I used with my own grandchildren, email me at email@example.com and simply request “Teaching Notes” and I’ll email them to you for free.
3. On this website, under RESOURCES, you can view or download for free God’s Story, my attempt to summarize the Bible in a few pages. Read it to your children and see if they can spot the core elements in the story.
4. The next time you watch a movie together have your kids watch for these themes and talk about it afterward.
My Questions: Are there other ways you’ve taught, or have been taught a biblical worldview?
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Last week I introduced the term “ant language”. If you accept my premise and explanation it will allow you to identify and faithfully hold to the core beliefs of the Christian faith which we’ll get to in this blog and enable you to articulate them to your children. It also helps explain why serious Christians who love God and have a high view of scriptures can disagree on so many doctrinal and faith practice issues.
The vast majority of Christians have believed certain core doctrines for 2,000 years, like the deity, life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Those beliefs must be held by every individual who claims to be a Christian. But who can honestly say that they truly understand the deeper mysteries of the doctrine of atonement, all the implications the resurrection for believers today, what goes on spiritually when a person is born again, baptized or when we’re taking communion?
Younger people see debates on these issues of theology where good Christians differ, not only as energy leaks, but the attitude and arrogance of the debaters themselves as sinful. It doesn’t shore up their faith. They want to run for the door. And they are. I think we can do something about that.
The Bible – our only reliable source for truth from God’s perspective.
Here’s my position on the Bible. I personally believe every story in the Bible is true. Adam and Eve, Noah, Job, Jonah, the Israelites, the parting of the Red Sea, God speaking from the mountain – all of it. Other Christians don’t. Have I had my doubts occasionally? Sure. But here’s the problem with cherry picking, the parts of the Bible we choose to believe. How in the world would I decide, which stories are metaphors and which actually happened? How could I possibly have enough faith in a book to have it be the blueprint for my life if I thought it was full of errors, or filled with Asops Fables type stories which aren’t actually true, but teach truth? If Adam and Eve is just a story, then maybe the resurrection story, is just a story.
I once had a calculator that started to make mistakes. I never was able to determine exactly which number, or function was the problem, so I threw it out. I needed to be able to trust my calculator 100% of the time. The same is true of the Bible. If I didn’t trust it completely, when a tough decision or problem came along I’d probably be tempted to cherry pick it for the truths that were convenient for me. There are a lot of things I wish God had never said – lots of inconvenient truth.
I can’t imagine standing before God someday and having him shake His head, disappointed “Oh, Clare, I just can’t believe that you believed every story and teaching in the Bible was true. I mean, come on! You lived in the 21st century for heaven’s sake – you’re a smart guy! I told those stories for simple desert dwellers to teach them truth. I thought you could figure that out. Well, the important thing is that you got Jesus and salvation right – so come on in.”
So, I believe it all, even if I don’t understand it all. Call me naïve’, but I just don’t trust myself to edit God.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” II Timothy 3:16-17
The Most Important Things
A few years ago, in response to what some have called, the “emergent church”, I asked groups of men and women to take a few weeks and write down their answers to this question: What truths have all Christians since the early church believed, and will still be true 2,000 years from now, for people to consider themselves true Christians? The goal was not to identify all biblical truth – but only the core beliefs of Christianity.
In preparation I gave them the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. While admittedly the Apostles Creed has been edited over the centuries, these two documents are two of the earliest and most important doctrinal statements of the early church.
View them by clicking here: http://www.crchurches.net/resources/creeds/ApostlesCreed.html and http://www.crchurches.net/resources/creeds/NiceneCreed.html
By the way, the groups doing this exercise were diverse – young and old, new followers of Jesus and life-long Christians, minorities, members of emergent and traditional churches. The following is a summary of what they collectively came up with as the most important doctrines of Christianity. (It’s worth nothing that younger people lobbied to include a number of “how Christians should live” statements in this list.)
Note: In all fairness, the early church didn’t always have the whole New Testament. However, they believed the writings of the apostles were inspired and were of God, long before their formal adoption into the canon of scripture.
I think they did a pretty good job! As I’ve said, there’s a lot more truth in the Bible than these truths. Many that I would defend vigorously – but few I would die for. I’ll embrace anyone who truly loves God, loves others and actually lives by these core truths, as my brothers and sisters in Christ, even if I occasionally wince when I hear them articulate what I believe is some really bad theology (as they probably do when they heard it from me as well!).
It’s Your Turn
Try doing this exercise yourself and then with your own family. It’s been my experience that when young Christians do this, they begin to “own” them as their personal beliefs and have far more confidence in the core doctrines so dear to all true believers. As a result, they’re far less likely to be blown by “every wind of doctrine” the next hip pastor or blogger comes up with. If we want our children to whole-heartedly embrace Jesus and the gospel that he lived and taught we’re going to have to be a lot more honest about what we really don’t know with certainty and be twice as passionate and committed to living out what all true Christians have always held dear.
“Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” II Timothy 3:3-4
Question: Are there any absolutely essential, core doctrines these groups or I have missed that a person must both believe and live out with passion to be called a true Christian?
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“When two denominations, or theologians who love God deeply and both have a high view of scripture, disagree on a doctrinal issue, the problem may be ant language.”
When I gave this answer, I was responding to a series of questions fired at me by a small group of college and post-college students I was leading through Europe, teaching the history of Christianity and biblical worldviews. We were sitting in a sidewalk café in Geneva, Switzerland, discussing Calvinism, in John Calvin’s town.
Here’s what they wanted to know; “Why is it that people who claim to love God and read the same Bible as the next person, can come to polar opposite conclusions on so many issues? That drives us younger Christians nuts. Why give your life and energy to fighting each other over theological issues instead of just loving people and introducing people to Jesus? That’s one reason kids our age are simply walking away from the church.”
If you’re interested in dialoguing with your children or grandchildren about these questions yourself, you might find the next few weeks’ blogs helpful.
I told them of a conversation I once had with a woman named Becky. Over a cup of coffee, she told me her own faith journey story.
“Neither my husband, or I were Christians, but a friend had been trying to tell me about Jesus. One day I was sunning myself in my backyard and found myself watching a colony of ants. To pass the time, I asked myself, “I wonder if these ants have any idea that there is a whole world of people, buildings, airplanes, and other activity all around them.”
Simply for her own amusement, she kept asking questions. “Can they actually see me? Even now, are they warning their friends to watch out for “the human”? Do they even have a word for human? Or is their eyesight so limited that they only sense something is out there because my shadow passes over them?”
Mentally, Becky began exploring ways she could somehow communicate this information about her world, to the ant world. She came to the conclusion that there was only one way it could be done – she’d have to become an ant and speak to them in “ant language”. Almost immediately, she burst into tears, as it dawned on her for the first time who Jesus was and why he had to become a human.
This isn’t an unusual story. I’ve heard similar stories of people coming to faith imagining how they might communicate with animals and making the link to Jesus. But, even if Becky could have become an ant and had learned ant language, I think she’d still have had a problem.
My guess is that ants have a limited vocabulary, a limited capacity to understand and limited vision. They’ve never actually seen the things Becky would be trying to describe to them. So, how would she explain, for example what a building was in terms they might understand? “Well, a building is like one of your ant mounds, where humans live and work, but taller and more complicated with light even in the interior.” That’s probably about as good as she could do given their limited vision, language and mental capacity – their ant worldview. But, the truth is these ants still wouldn’t really understand what a building is, even though they might now think they did.
From a human perspective, it would be like trying to describe Switzerland to a blind man. You could use all the correct words, take them for a walk up a mountain to feel the grade change, put their hand in snow and describe the beauty of snowcapped mountains to them. Even if they could regurgitate back to you correctly everything you’ve told them, nobody would think a blind person really understood what Switzerland looks like!
I think God has a similar “problem”.
How does the Son of God, the creator of the universe explain to humans, things they’ve never seen or experienced – things for which there may be no human words? For Jesus, trying to describe the current and future kingdom of God must have been like trying to describe Switzerland to a blind man. In fact, he repeatedly used phrases like, “the kingdom of God is like”… and, “the kingdom of heaven can be compared to…” I believe that’s why Jesus, attempting to express some of the deeper mysteries of God used so many parables, expressing them in our “ant language”.
Paul admitted as much when he said, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (I Corinthians 13:11-12) Someday, when we see Jesus face-to-face we will know fully – but not in this life.
It could also be that God simply has chosen not to explain some aspects about himself or the “back story”, the rationale for why he does what he does because it isn’t necessary for us to know. It’s only our need to figure God out that compels us to endlessly question “why?” Theology is man’s best attempt to explain biblical truth – useful but probably not always entirely accurate. Personally, I’ve found God difficult to organize.
The Holy Spirit teaches us.
Having said that, I want to make it clear that because we are created in the image of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit believers have all the mental and spiritual capacity to understand all they need to live lives that please God and live in harmony with one another. “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” I Corinthians 2:12-13
Because of the Holy Spirit we can understand mysteries others cannot – but we don’t know everything that God knows. And, that’s ok. Jesus said all he requires of us is to have the faith of children and trust and obey that which we can’t fully understand.
So, occasionally when I’m teaching what I believe the Bible is saying on a subject such as, why God allows suffering and someone else who has also seriously studied scripture, comes up with a completely different explanation and we both can’t possibly be right – I’ll often say, “Maybe this is an ant language problem.” Meaning, perhaps one or both of us lack a complete understanding on this issue. We can agree to disagree and still embrace each other as brothers in Christ. N.T. Wright nails the issue on the head in this quote;
“Most heirs of the Reformation, including evangelicals, take it for granted that we are to give scripture the primary place and that everything else has to be lined up in relation to scripture. But, I find two things which cause me some concern. First, we imagine that we are “reading the text straight,” and that if somebody disagrees with us it must be because they, unlike ourselves, are secretly using “presuppositions”. This is simply naïve, and actually astonishingly arrogant and dangerous.
It fuels the second point, which is that evangelicals often use the phrase “authority of Scripture” when they mean the authority of evangelical, or Protestant theology, since the assumption is made that we (evangelicals or Protestants) are the ones who know and believe what the Bible is saying. If we are not careful, the phrase “authority of scripture” can, by such routes, come to mean simply, “the authority of the evangelical tradition, as opposed to Catholic or rationalist ones.”1
The Bible is true – but there’s not always unity on its interpretation.
I believe the Bible is absolutely true – every word of it! But, particularly with young people, in disputable matters, rather than declaring dogmatically, “the Bible says…”, I’ll often put it in these terms, “respected, godly theologians have put forward “X” and “Y” explanations for this teaching in scripture. I favor “X” for these reasons…” This approach allows me to teach what I believe the Bible says, but exposes them to other interpretations put forth by serious biblical scholars. It changes the tone of the discussion from arrogance to openness without sacrificing historic orthodoxy.
I know exactly what you’re thinking right now.
If you’re under 40, you’re delighted. “Yes!” you say, “Finally, someone will admit they don’t have all the answers.” You’re content with leaving some of the mysteries to God and the debates over election and freewill, and infant, or believer’s baptism to others. You don’t need to know “why?” to everything. You’re comfortable with ambiguity in these areas. Even if you have an opinion, you’d never break fellowship with another person who you believe is a fellow follower of Jesus over honest differences on debatable issues.
However, if you’re from another generation raised on the red meat of doctrine all you can see before you is the slippery slope of liberalism and you’re wondering why you bothered to read this blog. You’re thinking to yourself, “A simple reading of the Bible tells me all I need to know about…”, then just name about any doctrine you can think of.
Here’s an example; I believe in the Trinity, one of the most foundational doctrines of Christianity. But ask 1,000 theologians to explain the Trinity and you’ll get 1,000 slightly different answers- ant language. That doesn’t mean every answer is equally accurate, or inaccurate. Some are surely closer to the truth but all probably fall short of being completely true.
Don’t worry, next week I think you’ll feel better about my orthodoxy, if you’re feeling queasy. And, I’ll give you an exercise you can do with your teenage children and young adults to help them identify the core doctrines that Christians have believed for 2,000 years and must believe 2,000 years from now if they hope to call themselves Christians. My goal is to help you, help them to get steel in their spine for the doctrines that truly define Christianity – the framework for an authentic biblical worldview.
My Question: Are there ant language issues, things in scripture that you once believed for which you now have a different understanding?
1 Edited from, How Can the Bible be Authoritative, N.T. Wright. Vox Evangelica, 1991, 21.
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