I suppose that anyone who is in any kind of a minority, and who faces a significant uphill struggle as a result, questions from time to time why they keep doing whatever it is that makes them that minority. And those of us who are in a minority 1) Simply because we are Christians and 2) Because we are also pursuing biblical church life and 3) Because we are not, unlike most other house church advocates, pragmatists and feminists, ask it too.
And I can definitely confirm that being in such a minority amongst not only unbelievers, but most Christians as well, because of a pursuit to live as comprehensively biblically as possible, is most definitely not easy. Moreover, we seem to be an increasingly dying breed too, and many who once followed this path have long since jumped ship. I don’t mean jumped ship from following the Lord, but certainly from what I am describing here. Believe me, pursuing biblical church life, and therefore finding yourself under fire from both traditional churches and house churches, is a tough gig. And it’s a tough gig that most who have taken a shot at appear to be walking away from. So why keep going? Why keep facing such continuing difficulty and discouragement? Is time to conclude that we’ve backed the wrong horse and that we should just vanish quietly into the night?
Well, no! Most certainly not! At least, not for me and my house; and let me tell you why by drawing what I think is a very powerful biblical parallel.
Picture in your mind living in a society, not that different to Western society today, where marriage has mostly become a thing of the past; A society in which the idea of one man and one women covenanting to live exclusively together until death has become unfashionable and is no longer the norm. As with the similar notion that sexual relationships should only be between people of the opposite sex, which is already becoming obsolete now, marriage is considered both irrelevant and culturally passé. A quaint relic of an outdated tradition now mostly rejected; indeed, considered by many to be even somewhat offensive.
One doesn’t actually need much of an imagination in order to envisage this because society is heading more and more in this very direction with every passing day. Just a generation ago the practise of gay marriage would have been unthinkable, yet in western society it is being increasingly accepted as being as normal as marriage between a man and a woman. Against such a developing cultural backdrop it is not difficult to see how marriage might soon become regarded as the main stumbling block to the perceived equality of sexual relationships in general and, as already with other aspects of the traditional family, become a thing of the past.
Now in such a scenario we can be sure, based on the last 50 years of Christianity in the west in relationship to changing cultural norms regarding sex and gender, that within a generation of marriage becoming obsolete amongst unbelievers, and therefore society at large, the Christian Church would largely follow suit. Even genuine born again Christians would end up conforming to the new societal norm of rejecting marriage, just as they have already conformed to the idea that divorce and remarriage other than for adultery is acceptable, that feminism is good and biblical patriarchy bad, and just as an increasing number of Christians now think that gay sex and gay marriage is fine and dandy after all. They will, in short, not conform to scripture, but to the overall consensus of the society in which they find themselves living.
Christians will, I am sure, mostly maintain that you should only have sexual relations with another Christian, and will favour having a few long term sexual partnerships as opposed to overly many short term ones; and will doubtless want to encourage their fellow Christians who are in such relationships to stay together long enough for any children that result to have a bit of stability, probably at least until they get to college age. But of course it still won’t be marriage, and therefore still won’t be family life as depicted in the Bible. But that won’t matter to Christians then, any more than it matters to them now what scripture teaches regarding divorce and remarriage, the headship of a man over his wife and family, or that church leadership should be male.
Picture now, in this scenario, a young man who comes to know the Lord for the first time, and who therefore starts reading the Bible. He has been told by those who are older in the faith that it is God’s infallible and authoritative Word, and so he dives into it so he can learn how the Lord wants him to live and to understand what His will is for his life. As a new believer he is obviously, by very default, culturally liberal and therefore naturally feministic, pro-gay and trans, with little or no concept of traditional marriage or family life given that it’s not the societal norm in which he has been raised, even amongst Christians. And as he does read more and more of this book that he now accepts to be the God’s Word, he makes some pretty astounding – and alarming – discoveries; chief of which is that it teaches that sexual relationships are only acceptable in the context of lifelong marriage – which of course, hardly anyone believes any more, Christians included. And he scratches his head and starts to think and pray it through, and he begins to realise the enormous ramifications of what he has read.
Initially, of course, he just goes with the Christian flow and assumes that things are as they should be, and that marriage can’t be of any great importance. After all, if it was important to the Lord and what He really wanted, then obviously all the Christians he fellowships with be ardent supporters and practitioners of it, and would be married to their sexual partners. But they aren’t, so hey…what the heck??? Even more important, of course, is the fact that if what scripture teaches about marriage did matter, then all the church leaders he knows of would be teaching it and would be married too. Ministers and Pastors do, after all, know best, don’t they? All good Christians know that!
But in his ongoing reading, praying and thinking, this ‘marriage thing’ that he sees is so clearly taught in scripture just wont go away. The only reason he’s reading the Bible in the first place is because he loves the Lord, and because he understands it to be the only way to know what He wants. His desire is to daily follow Jesus, and the only means of knowing what that means in practical terms is this book that, amongst a lot of other things that have never been part of his thinking, teaches that sex outside of marriage is a sin. And sin, because he wants to follow the Lord so much, is the very thing he wants to be delivered. He wants to be obedient. He wants to be faithful to His newly-found Lord and Saviour, and so he feels he has no choice but to start asking some serious questions. And of course the mistake he makes to raise the questions with other Christians. Even more even more mistakenly, he raises them with church leaders. What he then hits up against confuses and baffles him beyond words.
Most of the believers he knows don’t really think that his questions matter much encourage him to just concentrate on growing in the Lord and attending church faithfully, and not to get hung up over questions of sexual ethics that no one else is asking. It’s not an issue, they assure him, so why worry? That whole marriage thing was then, they maintain, but this is now! Not worth the controversy, they say!
But this new conscience he’s got since coming to know the Lord just won’t let him do that, so he pushes a bit harder; and he challenges his fellow believers more directly to explain to him why scripture would teach marriage if it didn’t actually matter. And if that wasn’t an even bigger mistake than the other mistakes he’s already made, he then makes the biggest mistake of all, and he starts to challenge church leaders equally directly about it. Working on the assumption that the logical thing to do is to go to those who are supposed know best, and who claim to be teaching their congregations what the Bible says, he quickly discovers the massive difference between what church Ministers, Pastors and Priests want their congregations to think the Bible teaches about certain things, and what the Bible actually does teach about them. The cat is now well and truly out of the bag, and our hapless hero is in B-I-G trouble!
Most of the leaders he talks to take the almost de facto approach of just trying to palm him off with the argument that whereas marriage is obviously what the New Testament depicts (most of them aren’t daft enough to try and get away with saying that doesn’t teach marriage), and was indeed the way things were done in the early church, it is merely descriptive and not prescriptive. It was just how they did things back then. It was just down to the culture of the time, they assure him, and was what was best in that particular historical and cultural context. Although the Christian Church certainly hung on to the concept and practice of marriage for generations after that, as it also did with patriarchy and male headship, and the idea that gay sex was wrong, Christians have now, they explain, realised the time had come whereby such things were presenting a stumbling block to unbelievers, and had become a hindrance to the important mission of evangelising and spreading the gospel in such a way that unbelievers can receive and buy into.
But these arguments, even though from the men who are supposed to know best, just don’t hold water for him, and he is becoming more and more aware of the massive divide between what the Bible quite obviously teaches, and how the Christians of his day were actually living. It is as clear as day to him that that scripture doesn’t in any way allow for such things as marriage and sexual ethics, and numerous other things he keeps hitting up against as well, to be merely matters of preference. Quite the contrary, in fact! It is entirely obvious to him that, as opposed to being matters of preference – mere description as opposed to prescription, as he is repeatedly told – scripture actually makes abundantly clear that such things are matters of unequivocal command. Christians, he concludes, may well assume that such things are matters of mere preference, but it is obvious to him that wherever that assumption originated from, it was never anything to do with scripture itself. The argument, so wearyingly deployed against him, that such things in scripture are merely descriptive and not prescriptive is, he concludes, not only irrational and nonsensical, but simply the way in which Christians in general, and church leaders in particular, justify going against anything in God’s Word that doesn’t suit them.
So he comes to a decision; and it is indeed a bold one! Outside of sharing with others what they are missing in scripture, there is nothing he can yet do in practical terms to put into actual practise what is lacking amongst he fellow believers. He is, after all, a single man, and when something requires the participation of another, and marriage, of course, does, then there is little he can at that moment do. But the unequivocal commitment to biblical practise can nevertheless be made, and he decides that, when he does eventually meet someone with whom he wants to mate, and who desires the same with him, he will absolutely insist on following certain biblical criteria, even at the risk of ending up having to remain celibate his whole life.. The list is simple, but profound:
1) She must be female.
2) She must be a Christian.
3) She must believe in marriage as scripture teaches.
4) They will then marry for life, only after which will they have sexual relations.
His course is now set and he knows exactly what the Lord would have him do, regardless of personal cost: to seek to teach and persuade as many other believers as he can that scripture commands lifelong marriage, that sex outside of marriage is a sin, and that any Christians living together should therefore either end any sexual relationship such as they are in, or get married immediately. And of course now the game-changer has happened. Thus far he’s been regarded as merely weird, though a still a definite nuisance, but nothing overly dreadful beyond that. A young man, so everyone is still praying, who might yet grow out of his strange obsession and become more spiritually balanced.
But now it is clear to his fellow believers, and especially church leaders, that he has now become a full-blown troublemaker and a thoroughly bad and divisive influence. By declaring so publicly that scripture teaches marriage he is implying that everyone else is wrong, and of course not just Christians in general, but church leaders too. He is judging them, and must therefore be a divisive and arrogant troublemaker. And our resolute hero can only scratch his head in wonderment at the logic of these (presumably) otherwise sensible brothers, sisters and church leaders who are maintaining that he, by definition, is doing wrong by saying that they are wrong, but who also think that it’s fine and dandy for them to say that he is wrong. He concludes, however, that such irrationality doesn’t merit further consideration!
All is not lost though! He’s pretty much blacklisted now, and Christian leaders are increasingly warning anyone and everyone against him; and he realises more and more that his walk with the Lord is probably going to be a lonely one. He also discovers that the main weapon so relentlessly employed against him by those who don’t want him to be heard on these things is going to be continuous and unending slander and innuendo. No smear, it would appear, or even intentional lie, is off the table when it comes to church leaders silencing anyone teaching that sex outside of marriage is sin, thereby daring to challenge the consensus of Christian mainstream that it is their job, and a pretty well paid one too, to uphold and maintain. His situation is difficult, to say the least, but then the miracle happens. The Lord brings along a Christian girl who also wants to be faithful to the Lord, and who therefore also wants to do what His Word teaches. So quite brazenly and unapologetically they do the unthinkable…they get married!!!
The outcry from other believers is of varying degrees. Most just refuse to accept that what they have done can be considered a proper relationship, let alone a relationship that all sexually active Christians should embrace, whilst others, and especially Christian Ministers, Pastors and Priests, are somewhat more strident in their denunciations. Does this divisive young troublemaker, and now his poor deceived wife, really have the temerity, the sheer gall and arrogance, to refer to this ‘marriage’ of theirs as a biblical relationship? Are they saying, retorts Christian mainstream, that the rest of us aren’t biblical? Are they suggesting that our sexual relationships, just because they are outside of marriage, are unscriptural? Have they not seen how much God blesses these so-called unbiblical relationships? Do they not accept how clearly the Holy Spirit has led the Christian church into such a consensus? Are they so arrogant and self-important so as to claim that they done are right and everyone else wrong? The fat is well and truly in the fire, and our young man and his beloved new wife hunker down for a very long, hard and lonely haul.
But as time goes by, slowly but surely, here and there, both at home and in other nations, a trickle of other believers get to hear this controversial teaching, and realise that marriage is indeed what scripture commands after all. Many of those who do A lot of those do acknowledge that it is indeed what scripture does teach nevertheless disregard it saying it would be too problematic, couldn’t actually work, and would disrupt their Christian lives too much; but some actually go for it and do the unthinkable themselves. And word slowly gets out that more and more Christians are getting married, and are being vocal about the fact that their fellow believers are wrong to just disregard something as absolutely fundamental to the Christian life as man/woman/parental relationships. And Christian mainstream, and especially church leaders, get more and more threatened, offended and angry, and do more and more to try and stamp it out once and for all.
Over the years that follow, however, those Christians who have gotten married start to become increasingly aware of why most other Christians haven’t. There is much joy and happiness, to be sure, but problems arise between themselves and their spouses that, precisely because they are married to each other for life, they can’t just walk away from as they would have done before. “Yep, that’s definitely why most Christians don’t like marriage!” they conclude! “Man, we see it all so clearly now! This marriage lark is tough at times, but it means that, by definition, there’s no getting out of it once you’ve done it. If you’re not married you can just go and find someone else when you hit problems, but not when you’re married! God must be wanting to actually do something in us that can only happen because we don’t do that, and because we can’t just walk away and escape anything we don’t like, or because we get increasingly ticked off at each other. Yeah, we definitely get it! This must be that sanctification process that Christians talk about so much but avoid like the plague!” But tough though it is, and all the more so because of the constant opposition and slander from other Christians, everything seems to be nonetheless as it should be. Not only are they married, they are delighted to be so.
But as yet more years pass something starts to happen that is extremely disappointing. Not only are fewer and fewer Christians getting married, a significant number of those who have are divorcing. Marriages are falling apart, and the word is that it’s because people are finding it just too hard being the same relationship for life. The only answer, they feel, is to go back to Christian mainstream and escape this limitation of being trapped in marriage relationships that curb their freedom so much, and which aren’t making them happy. There was so much about how it was before, they recall, that was thrilling and exciting. You know, the buzz of a fresh sexual relationship with somebody new after the last one has worn thin. You don’t get that if you’re husband and wife, and many of the Christians who have gotten married are now saying that they are just missing how it was before too much.
And having gone from being a ridiculously small minority to being a very small minority, our faithful band of protagonists return to being the ridiculously small minority they originally were as more and more of their fellow believers who married divorce, their marriages having failed. Not only that, but the mainstream churches are veritably cock-a-hoop, welcoming back these believers with failed marriages behind them virtually as returning heroes. In the face of such discouragement, disappointment and pain, the question increasingly arises for those who remain doggedly sticking with their biblical convictions regarding marriage: Why not just give up? Marriage obviously doesn’t work for most Christians because they think it’s too hard and just can’t hack it! And we find it hard too, sometimes, and certainly harder than the easy going lack of commitment and sacrifice in mainstream practise! Are we just flogging a dead horse?
But no sooner is the question is asked than it is also answered: If every Christian marriage in the world fails, declares our (now much older) protagonist and his warrior wife, should even our marriage fail, nothing changes the fact that it is what God’s Word teaches and therefore what He wants. If not one Christian couple in the whole wide world were married, and if every believer walking the face of the earth remained deceived concerning it, it wouldn’t change the simple fact that scripture teaches marriage, and that sexual relationships outside of it are wrong. But as it happens, he adds, we actually love each other and would never stop being husband and wife for any reason anyhow.
You can probably see where I’m going with this: What scripture teaches regarding church life is commanded as equally, and as clearly, as is marriage. It is therefore no more a matter of personal preference than is the Lord’s commands regarding family life, irrespective of the fact that 99.99% of Christians seem to unquestioningly think that it is. I am not putting adherence to biblical commands concerning church life in the same ‘first order’ moral category as that of sexual sin, of course not, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t vitally important or that it doesn’t matter. Scripture is our final authority in all things, and any disobedience is an affront to the Lord and His authority, whether it be concerning His instructions regarding family life or church life.
I am sad beyond words how few biblical churches there appear to be, and it is nothing short of tragic to me that a significant proportion of those I have known about over the years failed and are no longer in existence. There will obviously be things going on of which I am not aware, and that thought thrills me, but the available evidence is that biblically based churches remain exotically rare. But am I discouraged to the point that I am ready to give up? Of course not! And neither should anyone else be! The parallel just drawn with marriage, albeit it hypothetical, is nevertheless a profound one because church is, after all, just family writ large. The church is, according to scripture, the very Bride of Christ. And in the same way that marriage is God’s will, whether anyone believes in it or practises it or not, so too is biblical church life.
I am personally blessed on both counts. I have a wonderful marriage and am part of a biblical church that, although somewhat numerically smaller than when we started off 35 years ago, is still going strong. Whether it, or any other biblical church, ultimately survives, isn’t the point! The point is that we have done, and are doing, what scripture teaches regarding something the vast majority of Christians, however unwittingly, are in disobedience to the lord concerning. Am I disappointed that so few believers are conforming to scripture, and therefore to the Lord’s will on this? Of course! But most of the Old Testament prophets were in a somewhat similar circumstance regarding the deficiencies and disobedience of God’s people they were standing against, and there is nothing biblically unusual about being a lone voice crying in the wilderness.
So why don’t we just give up? Why don’t those of us who are so doggedly pursuing biblical church life, yet finding it so dishearteningly and discouragingly hard, stop flogging such a seemingly dead horse and just admit defeat! Well, the answer to that is because we are disciples of Jesus and therefore committed to doing everything we can in order to live according to His will as revealed in the pages of scripture. However badly I may be doing in my discipleship, and believe me, I do indeed think that I am doing rather badly, I nevertheless want to be obedient to Him. And the only way I can do that is by first ascertaining what He actually wants, and the only way I can do that is by living as comprehensively as I can according to His written Word. It really is very, very simple!
So is it time to just quit this whole biblical church thing and be done with it? My answer is simple: What saith the scriptures?