Sufficiency Of The Bible And Dating

One of the things we are taught in Christian culture or at least the evangelical/protestant version of it, is that in every area of life we should ask what does the bible say about it?  In other words if I have a question in a certain context, I can look to the bible to find the answer to that question.  This is because not only is the bible inspired, inerrant, and authoritative, it is also sufficient.

This is supposed to work on all moral issues obviously, but the idea here is that it also works for everything else.  The bible is the “road map” that we are to follow. It is God’s instruction to us.  In it is everything we need.  Some will go so far to say that not only is a way to hear God’s voice, but it is the only way.

Now this works pretty well on a lot of moral issues.  It can even work when you think about how we as people are supposed to treat each other.  However, we can sort of start to run into some problems in certain contexts of life.

Now before you all think I’m about to commit heresy here in the blog, let me assure you that I believe the bible as written is indeed inspired and inerrant.  It is also authoritative, although I’ll qualify that in a minute.  Being solely sufficient is a bit tougher to back up and it is for sure not the only way God speaks to us (which the bible itself never claims and in fact itself gives us example after example of that not being true).

The Bible is not God.  We don’t worship a book, we worship who the book points to.

In the context of our subject matter here at the blog, that is singleness in the church today, it does not offer a step by step road map.

Now to be sure, it does give us a lot to work with.  Because it is indeed authoritative, we need to understand that anything that is given as instructional in the bible is authoritative for the single life.  This includes things like sexual immorality, how to treat our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as if we get married how to set that relationship up as well.

But even when it comes to sexual ethics, the bible is more authoritative as a whole than it is a verse by verse instruction manual.  For example, while you can’t find the verse that says premarital sex is wrong (go ahead and look for that verse) you can be sure that it is wrong because of what the bible teaches as a whole about what sex is, what it is created for as well as example after example of how that goes wrong.  In the bible there are only two example of sexual desire being fulfilled.  In marriage as good and outside of marriage as bad. Again the bible as a whole is authoritative.

But in our current Christian culture, we want the verse by verse answers.  This desire comes from a limited rather than an exhaustive view of biblical theology.

When we get trapped in this we run into two big problems in the singleness context (as well as many others).  The first is that who gets to interpret what it says?  In other words one person (pastor, denomination, etc) teaches, using this or that verse, that the biblical truth in the area of singleness says this.  But another person (pastor, denomination, etc) teaches, using this or that verse, that it doesn’t mean this, it actually means that.

No where is this more apparent than in the area of dating.  Is there biblical instruction for dating?  Is the bible alone sufficient for finding a spouse?  The short answer is: it’s complicated.  Here’s a better question: What, if anything, does the bible offer us as singles about singleness, dating and finding a spouse?

So let me try to break it down simply and honestly – again assuming that the bible is inspired, inerrant, and authoritative.

The bible as a whole does tell us at the least the following:

  • Celibacy and marriage are both options for the temporal life.
  • Celibacy and marriage are both pictures of the Kingdom.
  • Sex is created for the context of heterosexual marriage
  • We are all called, regardless of context to sexual purity
  • If I’m not called to celibacy then I should seek marriage – not a bunch of relationships
  • If I get married what the basic parameters, relational dynamics and commitments  should be.  In other words what the covenantal relationship looks like.  What marriage itself is.
  • To some degree what I am looking for in the other person and what person I need to be in the marriage.
  • That we do not have a soulmate or perfect person that God has ordained for us to marry
  • How to in general think of and treat my brothers and sisters in Christ

What the bible as a whole does not tell us is the following:

  • The exact person that I should marry or for that matter that God has predestined a person for me to marry
  • How to get married
  • The step by step process that I need to follow to get married
  • How to attract a potential spouse
  • The proper dating (or courting or whatever) system for me to follow in the pursuit of a spouse
  • What exact role the man and woman play in the process of getting married
  • The exact role that the family, church or community plays in helping people get married

Now there are obviously those who disagree with the second list.  Those people are wrong.  Ha!!  It’s funny but true.  While I can point to both verses as well as the scripture as whole to support the first list, I don’t think anyone can point to scripture as a whole to show me how the second list is wrong.  You’re welcome to try in the comment section.  I have no doubt that one can massage a verse here or there to answer those questions (I’ve seen it done) it’s just not really in the bible any sort of consistent way.

For example you might be able to prove that modern dating is not in the bible but you can’t show that “courting” is THE biblical path to marriage.  You can certainly show that many modern sexual practices are un-bilical but you can’t prove that your plan is THE biblical way find a spouse.

Why does this matter? It matters because we live in the real world right now.  It matters because the bible is indeed inerrant and authoritative in what it does say. When we make it say things that it doesn’t we mess up both our expectations and we cheapen the very inerrancy and authority that we are seeking to preserve and follow.  In other words it confuses the whole concept and creates a bunch of false dichotomies and platitudes.

On the other hand, when we recognize what it does say, and put those things into practice, we then have the freedom, within those parameters, to work in the current temporal context that we find ourselves in.

Men’s Spiritual Leadership And The Bible

One of the most overused, misunderstood, and confusing things in the church is the idea of leadership.  This is especially true when it comes to men in relation to women. It’s my hope today to make that even more confusing.  Just kidding.  Maybe.

Before we get biblical so to speak, let me throw out three simple thoughts on leadership. Being a leader is not super complicated.  It requires really two main things.  First you have to be going somewhere.  Second, someone has to be following you.  Just because you strike out in a direction does not make you a leader.  That just makes you going somewhere, which is great.  But to be a leader means that you actually lead others.

Secondly, it’s also important to note that leadership is not contingent upon being a “good” person.  That would make you a “good” leader in a sense.  But as I’ve mentioned before you can be a bad person and an effective leader.  Hitler had a ton of followers.  As awful as that was it would be ridiculous to say that he was not a leader.

Jesus was of course the greatest leader in history by any definition of the term.  He changed the world order.  As a follower of Jesus our hope is that we can lead people towards Him and His kingdom.  Which brings us to point three – we have to first be a follower of Him in order to lead towards Him.  I want to clarify that before we start looking at leading others because even though we can learn a lot about leadership from looking at Jesus and how He led, if we aren’t actually following Him then really we aren’t going to the right direction to begin with.  And remember, direction matters.

Now all of that seems pretty straight forward.  So why is it that we are all so confused in the context of singleness and marriage?  There are a lot of reasons.

Some of it has to do with the fact that in order to sound more with the times in our culture we have sort of used the word leadership in some places that aren’t necessarily biblical. They sound biblical but they add to the confusion.

One of the places this happens is when we say that the man is the spiritual leader of the household when he is married.

What most people refer to is the scripture in Ephesians 5:22-33.  Paul is giving instruction to the people of Ephesus about life and in this particular part talks about husbands and wives.  He says that the husband is the head of the wife as Christ as the head of the church.  He commands the husbands to love and give themselves up for their wives and wives to submit to and respect their husbands.

Now whole books have been written about this and I have only a few hundred words here so we are going to keep it in the context of our conversation here.

The first thing to note is that this is not conditional.  Just as the vows you take on your wedding day are not conditional.  When you make the vows you don’t say, “I promise to love and cherish and not forsake you if you do these certain things”.  No your promise is unconditional.  Until death.  That’s the vow.  It’s a covenant not a contract. This is similar. Paul doesn’t say, “Husbands love your wife if you feel in love” or “Love your wife if your romantically attracted at the time” or “love your wife if she is nice to you”.  Nor does he say, “Wives submit to your husband when you feel like its a good idea” or “submit to your husband if he’s earned it that day”.  It’s a command for each person regardless of the situation.*

The second thing to note here is that the word leadership isn’t used. The word head is used to name the role, and the instructions to the man (instructions for the head) describe what he is to do.  But nowhere is he called the leader.  It’s not that he doesn’t lead.  As the head, Christ leads the church – by loving it no matter what.  But he does have positional authority.  Leading is a part of the job description, but it’s not the job title.

Now here is where everyone freaks out.  We don’t like that.  So what happens is one of the following:

Some say, “It talks about mutually submitting before that . . . ”  That is just a terrible argument.  You can say, “What was true for Ephesus isn’t true now.” That’s an argument.  I disagree with it.  But that makes some sense and I can respect it.  But pretending Paul doesn’t mean what he says is weak and intellectually dishonest.

Some want to abuse it.  This happens when we give men the role (head) without the instructions (love, give your self up etc).  This is where men can abuse their position.  This has for sure happened throughout history and still happens today.

But most in evangelical culture today want to say essentially, “Men, this is your position, if you do everything right and earn it.  Your wife will let you know when that is.”  I know that’s a little sarcastic.  But this is really does seem to be the message.  Do it all right and then it will all go right.  That last sentence is dangerous on a lot of levels.

We like the term “spiritual leader” because it sounds better than head.  But what we end up telling guys is: If you lead well, you’ll be the head.  What we need to instead say is: you’re the head, so lead well.  When we get this wrong, we basically want men to take on the responsibilities that he has without giving him the role that he should have.  Why would anyone want that?

Once you’re married – from a biblical perspective, you’re the head.  You can either be a good one or a bad one and your wife is not necessarily the grade card on that.

Wow! We just covered a lot of ground not very deeply.  You still might be thinking, “what in the heck does this have to do with me the single man?”  In my next post I’ll give you some thoughts on why how you view this is so important.  For now I’d ask you to think about exactly that.  How do you view all of this?

*I understand that there may be extreme conditions that would be exceptions – such as abuse etc. but we have turned everything into an exception and it isn’t working out well.

Does The Bible Tell Me So?

Here’s a quick bible quiz.  Tell me where it asks someone to become a Christian.  How about this one – where does Jesus say that I should accept Him into my life/heart?  Find for me the “sinner’s prayer.”  Where does it say to go to church?  When did Peter become a Christian?

Should I go on?  You get the point.

As protestants we love to say that the Bible is ultimate authority.  Whether protestant or not, we all agree that it is authoritative.  The problem is that it is not authoritative in the way that we often want it to be to make our point.

What we want are simple clear rules, answers and one liners. No where is this more clear than in the realm of singleness, dating, and marriage.

I remember when I was in my twenties the big push in much of evangelical dating (just typing that phrase is sort of disturbing) was the idea of courting.  Now I don’t really have a problem with courting per se.  But what these folks tried to do is to say that their version of courting was the biblical way to find a spouse.  What I failed to realize at the time is that they had absolutely no biblical backing for this.  As I’ve written before there is not a biblical dating model.

But we want so bad for it to be simple.  We want a tweet sized answer to sexual ethics. #whatcanIgetawaywith #justifymyactions

What’s funny about this is that many on the evangelical right keep arguing bible verses that aren’t clear and others that don’t even exist while many of our more liberal churches are arguing contextual loopholes against those very same “verses”.

For example, one night I was having dinner with some friends and the topic of homosexuality came up.  One gentlemen said, “Jesus said that it was an abomination.”  Uh which verse was that again?  In a different conversation a friend said, “Jesus never addresses homosexual marriage.”  Sort of, except that He does address marriage.

The problem is that when we try to make verses mean something they don’t or insert our Christianese into the bible we set ourselves up to be discredited or worse set someone else up to fall when they later realize it.

But the problem with the other way of looking at the bible – using the context of a particular verse that we don’t like to say it doesn’t mean that or “the bible doesn’t really say. . . ” – is that we end up all over the map

Here’s what I mean.  Sticking with the “hot” homosexual issue, I’ve heard some pastors and leaders say that the bible really doesn’t say explicitly (as in an exact sentence) that a monogamous homosexual relationship is wrong.  They say that whole point is the one on one relationship for a lifetime.  They point to the couple of verses that deal with the homosexual act and say that it wasn’t talking about one of these types of relationships.

The problem with that – and it’s a big one – is that the same could be said of a lot of other things. So I ask the people who believe this are you then ok with:

  • The bible doesn’t say explicitly say that two unmarried people can’t have sex
  • It doesn’t say that two unmarried people can’t live together, have sex together or even have children together – so why even worry about marriage
  • The bible says nothing about viewing pornography, masturbation or reading shady literature.
  • It says nothing about oral sex.
  • It doesn’t say anything about appropriate dating behavior.

So basically by this argument, until I’m married, short of sex with an animal, I’m good to go. You can say that’s a slippery slope argument, except for the fact that we are already there in our culture.

(Whats ironic of course is that neither side seems to follow the very explicit instructions on divorce and remarriage.  Did anyone picket state capitols as almost every state instituted no fault divorce? Do they stand outside divorce courts?  Do they avoid making wedding cakes for two divorced people getting remarried?)

The key to all of this is obvious of course.  No straight reading of the bible by anyone without an agenda could lead you to believe any of the above was acceptable.  And there in lies the key – the bible as a whole is authoritative and it shows us what is right and wrong.  It’s not rocket science most of the time.

The bible does indeed speak to sex and marriage.  From front to back actually.  It always speaks of them together as a good thing or apart as a bad thing.  There is zero exception to this.  Sex has a purpose higher than orgasm.  It’s apparent that it is from God for marriage and all other uses are out of bounds.

What does this have to do with singleness and the church?  Everything.

We are confronted with a culture that has been and is still in a sexual revolution.  Our answer to that can not be picking one liners from scripture and trying to make them say things they don’t.  When we do that, we end up arguing over stuff that we don’t have to. It also can’t be ignoring the whole of scripture so that we can do what we want.  When we do that we take away any authority whatsoever.

The bible does lay out the answers – it’s just not tweet-able.