My brother Nathan just posted the results of his research into the origins of Christmas. Whatever your beliefs about celebrating Christmas, I highly recommend that you check out his article!
For years I have heard various arguments for and against celebrating Christmas. I finally decided to take an objective look at both sides, do my own research, and find out what is truth. I found that there are a number of myths about Christmas being perpetuated by, I presume, people with good intentions. Here are a number of the more popular ones and what I have learned about them in my studies.
I read your article about modesty, entitled “What Should I Wear?” I want to commend you for your passion and desire to serve the Lord.
However, I want to share with you some things that God has been teaching me about modesty. I was once just like you (okay, okay, I was once you), and I was passionate about telling women to be more modest. I had made a commitment not to look at immodestly dressed women, and I wanted to reduce the number of women that I couldn’t look at. In the summertime, especially, there were many women who revealed too much skin for me to look at: tank tops, shorts, low-cut tops, sun dresses, swimsuits, etc.
Jesus says that a man who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in his heart. I don’t want to be guilty of mental adultery. I believed that if I looked too long at a woman who was wearing something like what I mentioned above (immodest clothing), I would lust, and I needed to look quickly away if I saw a woman dressed that way. Sometimes I would have to talk to one of these women, so I would either focus in on the woman’s face or look somewhere else to avoid my eyes shifting to any forbidden areas, because that would be lust or the next thing to it.
In recent years, God has been teaching me about these things. I have realized that I was wrong. I took down that article that you wrote, because it was teaching things that God didn’t want me to teach. In His grace, God has been showing me that the things you wrote do not work, and are false.
So now I’d like to share with you some things that I wish someone would have told me when I was your age.
The Concept of Modesty is a Farce
Teaching about “Biblical modesty” centers around one word in the entire Bible: “modest”, in 1 Timothy 2:9: “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array…” From that one word, I made all sorts of conclusions about what a woman should or shouldn’t wear.
But when I investigated it in Strong’s Dictionary, I discovered that the Greek word doesn’t mean “modest” as we think of it in relation to clothing, but “orderly” or “decorous”. It is not referring to how much of the body is exposed.
This is the only verse in the Bible where God commands women to dress in “modest” apparel. As I just mentioned, that word “modest” is a mistranslation, at least in modern-day English. (It could, after all, have meant exactly the right thing 400 years ago.)
This verse is the only basis for requiring women to dress modestly or to cover a certain amount of their body. But the farthest you can take it is that women should be modest-minded (“shamefaced and sober”), and wear orderly clothing that is appropriate to the situation they are in. There is no basis for saying “This is modest” and “This is not”, or for condemning women for wearing certain types of clothing.
In other words, there is only one verse in the entire Bible that commands “modesty”, but that command does not actually exist. There is actually no Biblical command to dress modestly.
God Has Not Said that We Must Cover Certain Parts of the Body
It took me a long time to come to grips with this fact: God has not commanded that any part of the body must be kept covered!
Of course this doesn’t mean that God wants us to walk around naked. What it means is that there is no Biblical basis for commanding women to cover certain parts of their body. I have not found any Scripture, for example, that says that women must never show their shoulders or upper arms. Biblically, then, we can’t tell women who wear sleeveless shirts that they are sinning.
I know that you will react in disgust to this, Joel, but God never even commanded women to cover their breasts. While I would not recommend that women go around topless, we cannot say that every woman who has a little cleavage showing is a sinner, because there is no specific command that she is breaking.
God Does Not Want Us to Judge Others by the Outside
When I was your age, I judged women by their clothing. Those who wore modest dresses and skirts were Godly women or at least better than the society around them. Those who wore tight, revealing clothing were wicked mental prostitutes. I knew that they were dressing that way because they wanted me to lust after them, which was disgusting.
In John 7:24, Jesus said, “Don’t judge according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” He does not want us to judge someone based on how they look, but what is in their heart. He was speaking to people who were rejecting Him because they didn’t like the looks of His ministry, but failed to grasp His divine heart.
Recently, God has been pounding into me that I must not use someone’s external appearance to judge their spirituality. Since He has not commanded that any specific part of the body must be covered, I cannot condemn anyone for revealing anything. I know that some women probably do dress to get men to lust after them, but I know that not every woman in tank top and shorts is a slut. Furthermore, God has not commanded me to stay away from immodest women. It’s my job to preach the Gospel to every creature, regardless of what they are or are not wearing.
God Has Not Said that Women Cause Men to Lust after Them
One misconception is that an immodest woman will cause men to lust after her. Joel, you perpetuated this kind of mindset when you wrote, “I would submit that since it is adultery for a man to lust after a woman, any woman who wears revealing or suggestive attire is a mental prostitute, whether she intends it or not.” This is so wrong. This is putting false blame and guilt upon the guiltless woman who just wanted to stay cool in 95 degree heat.
Women do not cause men to lust after them by revealing skin. They may tempt men to lust, but God has never said that women can cause men to lust after them by revealing their bodies. This is huge. If a woman can cause (force) a man to lust after her, it means two things:
The man is not responsible for lusting—he couldn’t possibly help himself.
It is possible for a woman, by the way she dresses, to force a man to commit adultery with her, even if she is a Godly woman who would never commit adultery.
I am disgusted, now, by the guilt trips that people place upon Godly, pure-hearted women, telling them that if they dress a certain way, they will cause men to lust after them. God never said that. He only told the men that if they look upon a woman to lust after her, they have already committed adultery in their hearts. He said nothing at all about what that woman might be wearing.
Many people (including myself) have stated confidently that certain styles of dress “tempt men to lust” or “stumble”. I have seen a couple modesty surveys, and the only thing you can say with confidence is that different men are different. Some men struggle more than others, and some men have no problem with styles of dress that you would find highly immodest. I do not find “immodest” women nearly as tempting to the eye as I did at your age.
You might say that a woman should dress to keep her weaker brothers from lusting after her. But how far should she go? Must she wear a sheet hanging down to the ground, ghost-style, so that no one can see her form and lust after her? You would never promote such a thing, yet some men will lust after women who are dressed very conservatively.
Oh, that God’s people would stop condemning guiltless women who have no evil intentions in their dress!
God’s Point is that Women Need to Adorn the Inside
In both 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and 1 Peter 3:1-6, God’s real point to the women is not to give them a list of do’s and don’ts about the way they dress. His real point is this: “Your true beauty comes from the inside and results in changed behavior. Adorn the inside instead of the outside.”
If a woman truly is dressing to tempt men to lust after her, she needs a heart change, not a clothing change. Then she will stop trying to seduce men. At that point, what she wears is between her and God. He is the One who will guide her in what to wear. If, as a daughter of God, she is led by the Holy Spirit, He will guide her in how to dress to glorify Him and advance His kingdom. It may not be the way that some people think she should dress, but if God is pleased with her, that is all that matters.
This really needs to be the bottom line for both men and women, in everything they do: “Is God pleased with me?” Nothing else matters.
Modesty Isn’t Working
Joel, your dad, who taught you modesty for years, is now working on a book that greatly expands on what I’m sharing with you here. It’s currently over 500 pages of evidence that shows that, if anything, modesty rules increase sexual sin, instead of decreasing it. He’s been working on it for five years, and he hopes to publish it soon. We still have some work to do on it, including recording a music CD to go with the book. It’s called The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment.
I can’t summarize the book in this article, but rest assured, if you want more evidence that what I’m saying is true, it will be there.
Joel, I wish that someone had written this letter to me when I was your age. Unfortunately, I can’t rewind ten years and deliver this to my 17-year-old self. So I’m sharing it on my blog in hopes that I can help someone else like you who believes in modesty.
Last week, I wrote probably the most controversial thing I’ve ever written. I told the story of visiting a church, and realizing that the pastor was preaching a dead sermon. I said that he was a zombie—a walking dead man—and that his church was a zombie church. I also called Paul Emerson, a prominent preacher in the moderately-conservative Mennonite church, a zombie.
And now, I would like to tell all those who were offended by that post: I’m sorry.
I’m sorry that I couldn’t share God’s words without offending you.
However, not in the least am I sorry that I called anyone a zombie.
The Problem in the Church Today
We have a problem today. If someone gets up and shares something that God has given them—a function that the Bible calls prophecy—and it doesn’t fit with what people want to believe, they shoot it down and ignore it.
I had people tell me that I shouldn’t talk about church leadership that way.
I had people question my ability to hear God’s voice.
I had people who didn’t think I knew what I was talking about.
I have been a Christian for over 20 years. I have seen a lot of things go on within the church in those 20+ years. Folks, the American church is dead.
You ask me: is my church dead? Worse yet, am I dead? Am I one of those zombies that you’re talking about?
I will put it bluntly. If you don’t know whether you are alive or dead, or if you don’t know whether your church is alive or dead, the answer is probably yes, you or your church are a zombie, or at least on the way to being dead unless you or your church make some changes.
Few people question if they are physically alive. The answer is obvious. You know if you are alive. You are walking around, breathing, carrying on conversations.
However, we do have a problem. There are many churches and people who think they are alive, but are not. They are the walking dead. They are zombies. And that’s where prophecy comes in.
Follow after love, and earnestly desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. (1 Corinthians 14:1)
But if all prophesy, and someone unbelieving or unlearned comes in, he is reproved by all, and he is judged by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed. So he will fall down on his face and worship God, declaring that God is among you indeed. (1 Corinthians 14:24-25)
But he who prophesies speaks to men for their edification, exhortation, and consolation. (1 Corinthians 14:3)
When God wants to talk to someone, He will generally do it one of two ways. Either He will speak directly to that person, or He will send a prophet. He gives His words to the prophet, and sends the prophet to whoever needs to hear from Him.
This is exactly what God did with the Apostle John in Revelation 3. The church in the city of Sardis was dead. They were a zombie church, appearing to be alive, but actually dead. So Jesus wrote them a letter by the hand of His servant John, and sent it to them:
And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write: These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars:
I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.
Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 3:1-6)
I don’t know what happened when the church of Sardis received their letter. Can you imagine getting a letter from Jesus, telling you that your church was dead? I hope that they took heed and repented.
Likewise, today, God is still speaking through His prophets. He is sending His prophets to the dead church, telling them to repent. The door of repentance is still open, folks! This isn’t the end! On the contrary, if people will take heed to the prophets and repent, it will be the beginning of new life!
But many people are telling the prophets to shut up.
Hearing from God
One problem we have is that there are many false prophets in the world, and many people who have not heard from God, yet claim that they have. Therefore, many people are skeptical of those who claim to have heard God’s voice and received a message from Him.
Just because there are some false prophets, should we throw out all prophecy? No way! How absurd! Instead, we each need to be hearing God’s voice so that we can recognize when someone is a false prophet. Wait. Everybody needs to hear God’s voice?
Yes. Jesus said:
“Most certainly I tell you, he who hears my word, and believes him who sent me, has eternal life, and doesn’t come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. Most certainly, I tell you, the hour comes, and now is, when the dead will hear the Son of God’s voice; and those who hear will live.” (John 5:24-25)
This does not mean that we hear Jesus’ word one time and come to life. We have to believe on God, not just once, but our entire Christian life. Likewise, “hears”, in the Greek, is in the present, active tense, indicating that it should be ongoing.
The Jews therefore came around him and said to him, “How long will you hold us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you don’t believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name, these testify about me. But you don’t believe, because you are not of my sheep, as I told you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:24-27)
When Jesus speaks, His sheep recognize His voice and follow Him. They believe Him because they recognize His voice.
From Genesis to Revelation, we have record of God speaking to people and leading them, over and over again. Why would we think that He has stopped, or that the Bible is the only guide we need in life? Make no mistake: the Bible is God’s Word, wholly inspired by Him. It is infallible and inerrant. We can totally trust whatever we find in it.
But the Bible doesn’t tell you who to marry. Yet, marriage is a decision that can affect the course of history—literally. Imagine if George Washington’s dad had married someone else. Or if Adolph Hitler’s mom had married someone else. If it’s such an important decision, why would we rely on our own feelings and desires? I would sure like some help from the One who knows the future!
Will we make mistakes sometimes? Sure. Will we think that God is speaking when He is not, or miss His leading when He does speak? Sure. I have experienced these things myself. But that is okay! That is part of the learning process! All it means is that we need to continue asking God to teach us to know His voice.
But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God. Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual things. (1 Corinthians 2:12-13)
God wants us to teach by His Spirit, in the words that He teaches us to say. He does not want us to use human wisdom to teach others. That is fleshly and does not profit. As Jesus said:
It is the spirit who gives life. The flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and are life. (John 6:63)
An academic sermon is a fleshly, carnal sermon. It comes not from the spirit, but from the flesh. It is based on the fleshly wisdom of men instead of the spiritual wisdom of God. The words of the flesh do not profit us. The spiritual words of Jesus give life. Therefore, if we want to speak life-giving words to others, they must be the words of Jesus, not our own.
Now the natural man doesn’t receive the things of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to him, and he can’t know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual discerns all things, and he himself is judged by no one. (1 Corinthians 2:14-15)
Zombie preachers and teachers have told everyone that the only way to judge a message is academically. Don’t go by feelings or impressions. If you can’t find anything wrong with the message academically, then there’s nothing wrong with it.
However, God says that the things of His Spirit are spiritually discerned. We have to be guided by the Holy Spirit in our judgment of a message. A spiritual man discerns spiritually whether or not a message is coming from God.
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone thinks that he is wise among you in this world, let him become a fool, that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He has taken the wise in their craftiness.” And again, “The Lord knows the reasoning of the wise, that it is worthless.” Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come. All are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:18-23)
This passage further explains why a zombie sermon is not only problematic, but disobedience to God. God tells us that this world’s wisdom is foolishness with Him, and that a worldly-wise person needs to become a fool so that he may become wise before God. A person can be highly educated, but lack God’s wisdom.
In case you didn’t know, besides being a former pastor at Calvary Mennonite Fellowship near Harrisonburg, VA, Paul Emerson is also the former moderator of Biblical Mennonite Alliance (BMA), a group of Mennonite churches that I used to be part of. He currently is Principal at Elnora Bible Institute, the Bible school of BMA, as well as the editor of The Sword and Trumpet and The FCM Informer (the newsletter of the Fellowship of Concerned Mennonites, of which he is also the Executive Director).
And I believe that God led me to write these words in the previous article: “Folks, I’m not going to ‘pretty it up’: Paul Emerson is a zombie preacher.”
How dare I say that!?
Over the last 15+ years, I have listened to Paul Emerson speak. I have read his writings in the Biblical Mennonite Alliance Newsletter. I have read the publications that he has edited. And I have been disturbed. Just yesterday, I read yet another article that he wrote, and I’m even more disturbed. You will read part of it later.
I want to state that what Joel stated about Paul Emerson is true. I have known Mr. Emerson for many years.
George Brunk I handed his mantle and the editorship of the Sword and Trumpet to his son George Brunk II. George Brunk II handed his mantle to Paul Emerson – the pastorate at Calvary Mennonite, the editorship of the Sword and Trumpet, and leadership in the Fellowship of Concerned Mennonites.
The false teachings and false gospel of these men have negatively impacted the lives of tens of thousands of people. The failures and errors of their teachings are greater and broader in scope than what you have any idea is happening. Sin is running rampant in secret in pious “godly” Mennonite homes, even in the lives of men of renown in the church…
God has been revealing these things to me and I have been in shock that these things are true and that Mennonites are doing them. I will be sharing with you what God has been revealing to me in my book that hopefully will be coming out later this year titled – The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment.
As an example of the sin that Dad is referring to, I bring up another piece of evidence: a survey from a Mennonite blog called Radi-Call.
In 2015, Radi-Call ran a survey about media usage, targeting young, conservative Anabaptist people. It was a voluntary online survey, taken by about 250 young people, pretty well evenly split between men and women. 56% were from BMA Mennonite churches.
Here are the results about porn usage:
Folks, this is the fruit of the teaching of Emerson and others like him. It isn’t working! To help you visualize these results, take a look at this picture from the Mennonite Shenandoah Christian Music Camp in Ohio, 2016.
It’s sobering to realize that of the 46 men you see in this picture, only 12 of them, statistically, have never been involved in habitual porn usage. It doesn’t mean that they don’t pick up porn once in a while or struggle with lust. It just means that they have not had a habitual problem. In fact, the true numbers are probably even worse, because this was a voluntary Web survey, not a random-sample phone survey. It’s amazing, in fact, that 74% percent of men were willing to admit that they had, or had had, a porn problem, including 4% who admitted to using porn that day!
Can we blame Paul Emerson for the porn usage of young men in a Mennonite conference that he helped to found, and headed up for 10 years? While he may not be directly responsible, it shows that his philosophies, doctrines, and principles have not helped give young men the victory over porn.
In order to properly practice Biblical nonconformity, it is probably best to imagine the putting on of a pair of eye glasses that filter everything through the Biblical Anabaptist perspective. This thought may aggravate some who are attempting to free themselves from what they call Anabaptist slavery. These are they who desire credibility within the larger evangelical community. The true disciple of Christ is exclusively desiring credibility with the Lord. Nothing else really matters. If, as we believe, Anabaptism is the correct perspective from which to see the world, said eye glasses are in order…
In direct proportion to the loss of practical nonconformity, the whole testimony of Anabaptism will be lost.
This is how error is perpetuated. Jesus has never called us to view the world through an Anabaptist lens! Instead, we are to be led by God in our interaction with the world.
Especially if you are an Anabaptist, this may seem like a small difference. But here’s the thing: even if the Anabaptist perspective is 100% correct, we must not seek to view the world from an Anabaptist perspective! Why? Because then, instead of following Jesus, we are following Anabaptism. In order to follow Jesus, we must listen to Him, not follow Anabaptism or any other denomination, group, or teacher:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)
Friends, the quote above from the Sword and Trumpet is the path to spiritual death and zombie-hood.
Jesus Speaks to the Zombie Churches Today
At the beginning, we read Jesus’ words to a zombie church. Let’s go back and review them for the answer of “So what do we do?”:
Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee…
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 3:2-3, 6)
That may sound like an obvious choice for a Christian on a Sunday morning, but I usually worship at home with my family. This Sunday, however, God led me to attend church elsewhere. I settled on Parkway Community Church in Frederick, MD, a church I had driven past many times, but never attended.
The people were friendly. The singing consisted mostly of hymns and Gospel songs instead of fluff-and-nonsense praise and worship songs, accompanied by piano, keyboard and drums. The pastor led the singing, since both the song leader and assistant song leader were on vacation. Then, after prayer-and-praise time, and taking up the collection, it was time for the sermon.
This reporter has been in many churches and heard many sermons over the years. The sermon today was like many that I have heard before. The pastor preached on Matthew 11:25-30:
At that time, Jesus answered, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in your sight. All things have been delivered to me by my Father. No one knows the Son, except the Father; neither does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and he to whom the Son desires to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25-30)
As the pastor, Dr. Howard Zurley, preached his sermon, I felt as though something was wrong. But I couldn’t pinpoint it. For the most part, everything he said was accurate. Indeed, Jesus reaches out to those who labor and are heavily burdened. Indeed, Jesus gives us rest. Indeed, Jesus’ yoke is lighter than the yoke of bondage to sin, and those who wear it receive the reward of Heaven. Indeed, too, Jesus has told us to “Stand firm therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and don’t be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1)
It was accurate—nothing that I could say was heresy or falsehood. And yet, the pastor seemed to be going on and on without really saying anything.
And then God showed me the answer: the pastor understood the Bible academically, and was preaching a message that was Biblical, yet he was not guided by God. To put it succinctly, the pastor knew about Jesus, but he didn’t know Jesus. He had years of Bible knowledge and could put one verse with another to form a sound message. But he didn’t really understand the yoke of Christ that he was preaching about.
As I left the church, I felt grieved in my spirit. To be honest, it wasn’t as though this was the first time I had experienced such a message. But this time, God had showed me His perspective and crystallized my understanding in a new way.
At the beginning of the sermon, a man from the congregation read the pastor’s text. But he started with verse 24 instead verse 25: “But I tell you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, on the Day of Judgment, than for you.” He stopped, confused, realizing that this was not what the pastor would be preaching about that day.
That was not a mistake. That was God’s message to the congregation today. I know because He told me so. The pastor should have been calling his congregation to repentance before Jesus Christ.
Sadly, I don’t believe there is hope for this church. I do believe that there are sincere believers in Christ who attend there, who will not be part of the harsh judgment prophesied this morning. But they are not part of a living church. They are part of a zombie church—a church led and attended by the walking dead.
Zombie Christians don’t realize that they’re dead. Like Lazarus, they have been unwrapped and set free. Unlike Lazarus, they have not been raised to life. Or maybe they have died again, yet haven’t been buried. They are walking around, going to church, playing Christian music on the radio, slapping Christian fish symbols on the back of their cars, even going to seminary and getting Doctor of Divinity degrees, but they do not have the life of Christ living within them.
Their sermons are more or less Biblically accurate, yet an atheist could preach them, with about the same impact—because the sermon does not require a personal relationship with Christ. It is not the result of walking with Christ and learning from Him, but the result of academic study of the Word. They take the living words of Jesus and turn them into a dead sermon.
I wish that this was an isolated case. It is not. As I drove home, I realized that Sunday, in America, is not a happy day for God. Certainly, there are living churches and living Christians in whom God rejoices and is glorified. But America is filled with zombie Christians and zombie churches, who preach empty messages and sing empty songs, and grieve the heart of the One who they think that they know.
I had a similar experience listening to Paul Emerson preach at Calvary Mennonite Fellowship in Virginia. At the time, I didn’t realize everything that I do now, but I sensed that something was wrong. The message was dead. Everything he said was true and good, yet it lacked the power of the Spirit of God. Now I understand. Folks, I’m not going to “pretty it up”: Paul Emerson is a zombie preacher.
It brings me no joy to share this message with you. I was planning to conclude the series on the love of God, but He led me to interrupt it with this report. I wish that I could offer hope and change. And as long as there is physical life, the door is still open for repentance. Some will repent. But many, just as in the days of Jesus’ time on earth, will see God’s mighty works, but fail to yield themselves to Him.
“You, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, you will go down to Hades. For if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in you, it would have remained until today. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, on the day of judgment, than for you.” (Matthew 11:23-24)
I use the term “conservative” or “conservatism” a fair amount on this blog. But what do I mean by that? I’d like to define those terms in this post–and offer some food for thought along the way.
Not all conservatives fit every characteristic below. Indeed, conservatives can vary quite a bit in what they believe. In addition, I’m focusing on theological conservatism, not political conservatism (although the two tend to overlap). Also, this is not necessarily exhaustive.
belief in the value of established and traditional practices in politics and society
dislike of change or new ideas in a particular area
2. Preserve the Past and Don’t Change
This is essentially the dictionary definition of conservatism. After all, the word “conservatism” comes from the word “conserve”, meaning to preserve what we already have. The Amish are an exaggerated example of conservatism. It’s been over 100 years since the introduction of the automobile, electricity and telephones, but they still live a somewhat 1800’s lifestyle. I say “somewhat” because they end up compromising with the 21st century by allowing things like cell phones and generators.
The rest of the conservative Anabaptist church has the same mindset as the Amish, but to a lesser degree. For example, moderately conservative Mennonites, such as the church that I came from, live in many ways like the rest of society, but still hold the belief that pants are men’s clothing, even though women have worn pants for decades. More conservative Mennonites, such as those who run Christian Light Publications and Rod & Staff Publishers, wear clothing styled after 1800’s apparel.
This behavior is based on another part of the conservative mindset:
3. Look to the Past to Guide the Future; or, We Cannot Improve Upon the Past; or, Somebody in the Past Has Already “Arrived” and We Need to Follow Them
Virtually all conservatives, both political and theological, believe that the past was better, more righteous, more holy, or more spiritual than today. They repeatedly urge a return to the principles of those who they look up to. For the politically conservative, this is the Founding Fathers of America. For the conservative Mennonites, this is the Anabaptists. For still others, this may be the early Christians. For some people, it’s the 1950’s.
4. Scripture Alone is Not Sufficient
Most conservative Christians would react hotly to this point. It may seem inaccurate. Conservatives believe that it’s important to follow God (very good!). But what if we aren’t sure how to obey God? The conservatives step in and define what God has not defined. For example, let’s take 1 Timothy 2:9:
In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel…
Great! God said it, and we’re going to follow it. But what is “modest” apparel? What if, in my church, Sister Mary decides that she will only wear long sleeves, Sister Ruth decides that she will wear short sleeves in the summer, and Sister Judy decides that sleeveless tops are all right?
Well, we have the church to help guide this decision. So we’ll…
5. Make Extra Rules
The church will get together and hash out the question of sleeve length. A guideline will be developed of what “modest” means in our church, in regards to sleeve length. So let’s say that we decide that short sleeves are permissible, but sleeveless outfits are not. The guideline is included in the church’s rules of conduct.
Esther becomes a Christian and is baptized. When she is baptized, she also becomes a member of the church. As part of her membership, she pledges to God that she will keep the rules of the church as long as she is a member.
In order to please God, she goes through her closet and throws out all of her sleeveless blouses. This is not something that God’s Word told her to do. It was something added on by the church. However, she ends up believing that a woman who wears a sleeveless top is immodest.
6. Disdain Those Who Disagree
Since sleeveless outfits are immodest, any woman who wears one is disobeying God. She is worldly and ungodly. We can be thankful that we are not like her.
As a man in this hypothetical church, I will teach my children that sleeveless tops are immodest, and that my boys should not look at women who are immodest. If a woman visits our church in a sleeveless dress, we will treat her politely and courteously, but we will wish she would dress more modestly, and we may question her relationship with God. How can she be in a good relationship with God while disobeying His command to dress modestly?
Obviously, some people are much more accepting of those who are different. Still, the “higher standards” tempt conservatives to look down on those who don’t abide by the higher standards.
7. Force, Fear, and Intimidation
In his excellent sermon, “The Fear of Man“, Del Fehsenfeld Jr. says that fundamentalists rule by “force, fear, and intimidation”. This is true of conservatism in general.
In the case of the hypothetical church I just mentioned, Esther will be taught that, since she has pledged to God to obey the church’s rules, it is a sin to break any of those rules. This adds fear to the situation, a fear of God’s punishment should she wear a sleeveless top.
What about the gray areas? Can she wear a sleeveless nightie? If she goes swimming in her backyard pool, can she wear a sleeveless garment? Will God punish her for breaking the church’s rules in private?
Since God’s Word is not the final authority, what if she is disobeying God by doing some action that God has not specifically prohibited, but someone has discouraged? More fear.
If Esther is found wearing sleeveless tops in violation of the church’s rules, various forms of force and intimidation (ministerial visits and “admonitions”) will be used to attempt to bring her back into line. If she refuses to stop wearing sleeveless garments, she may very well be excommunicated from the church.
Is my scenario far-fetched? No. Trudy Metzger, in her must-read book Between 2 Gods, tells how she was excommunicated from a Mennonite church for watching TV in the homes of elderly friends and listening to music with instruments.
8. How You Look is Important
This is most apparent in the conservative Mennonite church, with its distinctive dress protocols. However, it doesn’t stop with Mennonites. When I was in Bill Gothard’s ATI homeschool program, looks were supremely important. There were plenty of dress codes, and Gothard made much ado over the need for “bright eyes” and “bright countenances”. He ran stories in the newsletter about how officials would come from other countries and express their delight at the bright countenances of the ATI young people they met. Then they would say, “Please help us bring this to our country!” (At least that’s what Gothard reported.)
This characteristic may not manifest itself in actual outward appearance and dress standards, but a mindset of…
9.Concern About What Others Will Think
“Others” may be people inside or outside of the conservative group in question. For our hypothetical Sister Esther, her concern may be “What will the other people in my church think if they see me in a sleeveless outfit?” Or it may be, “What will people at Walmart think of me if they see me with my Mennonite headcovering and a sleeveless outfit?”
This is the Fear of Man that Del Fehsenfeld preaches against in the video I linked above. I encourage you to watch it if you have not. (My dad has called “The Fear of Man” one of the most powerful sermons he’s ever heard.)
A conservative person may also fear what others will think if they find out that some sort of sinful behavior has been going on in their church. They will be tempted to sweep the problem under the rug and not properly deal with it or expose it, because it would be embarrassing if those outside the church found out about it.
This article has primarily looked at conservatism from a Mennonite perspective, since that’s an angle with which I am familiar. Those with other backgrounds, such as fundamentalist Baptist, will probably find many ways that it fits their own experience. You’re welcome to chime in with your perspective.
Is this article a definition of conservatism, or an attack on conservatism? In the final analysis, an honest observer will have to admit that it does indeed describe conservatism. Some conservative groups will be different in certain ways. Conservative Baptists, for example, don’t dress in 1800’s style clothing. However, I believe that it more or less describes most conservatives.
The effects of conservatism are far-reaching. I simply don’t have time to address them all here. My dad’s book, The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment, is currently around 400 pages, and you will be shocked at what he has uncovered within conservatism. Stay tuned!
One day, I asked God why He gave the Law and waited so long to send Jesus. All of a sudden, I realized something that I had not thought of before.
The Bible says that God sent Jesus “in the fullness of time”—when the time was right for Jesus to come. Part of that timing was that Jesus had to come at a time when the Jews would sacrifice their perfect Sacrificial Lamb—Jesus. It had to be a time when the people were so hard-hearted that God could come to Earth and do enough miracles to prove that He was God, and yet the Jews would kill Him.
Sodom and Gomorrah were so wicked that God destroyed them with heavenly fire. They even tried to rape the angels that visited their city. Surely they would have been wicked enough to kill Jesus?
Nope! Jesus said, “And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee” (Matthew 11:23-24). In other words, despite Sodom’s wickedness, even they would have repented if Jesus had come to them and worked the miracles that He did in Israel.
Given that God also did not send Jesus during the time before the exile to Babylon, we can assume that rebellious, idol-worshiping Israel would have repented if Jesus had come then. After all, Manasseh, one of the most wicked kings that Judah ever had, repented when he was exiled to Babylon. And Godly kings like Hezekiah and Josiah led revivals in Judah.
So who was so hard-hearted that they killed Jesus? The conservative, traditionalist Pharisees. The ones who were determined not to worship idols. The ones who were so zealous about obeying God that they made extra rules to make sure that people didn’t disobey God. They were the ones who were so anti-God that they killed Him. They were the ones who were so set in their traditions that they didn’t recognize God when He stood directly in front of them. In fact, they were so convinced that they were following God that they had the arrogance to rebuke Him for disobeying their laws.
What can we learn from the Pharisees? It is more harmful to add to God’s Word than to disobey it. And, adding to God’s Word and making our own rules can result in hating God and being against Him.
That is a very strong statement, and it is exactly opposite of the way I was raised. Nonetheless, that is what we would gather from investigating God’s timing.
We can also learn that just because a person has a desire to follow Jesus, they are not necessarily following Him or even a child of His. The Pharisees were very zealous about following God. That is why they made all their rules and held people to them. Yet Jesus called them “serpents” and a “generation of vipers” (Matthew 23:33).
Conservatives have told us that “erring on the side of caution” means that you stay as far away from liberalism as possible. The analogy has been used of staying as far away from the cliff of liberalism as possible. The truth is that conservatism is also a cliff, and is a more dangerous cliff than liberalism. It seems that “erring on the side of caution” means that you err on the side of liberalism rather than conservatism.
Actually, we should not err on the side of either liberalism or conservatism–disobedience or adding commands. God wants us to follow Him and not turn to the right or the left. The point is that we need to discern what His will truly is and follow it, not “err on the side of caution” or do extra things to make sure that we’re obeying Him. Those extra rules could actually cause us to reject Jesus.
Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth. (Titus 1:14)
In Part 1 of “The Voice of Papa is the Voice of God”, I addressed the “chain of command” that God has laid out in His Word, placing the wife in submission to her husband. Today, many people have rejected the idea that wives must submit to their husbands. The very term “submission” has been made a dirty word, and any man who promotes it is deemed a “misogynist” (woman-hater) and chauvinist. However, this does not negate the truth of God’s Word, which clearly teaches, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.” (Ephesians 5:22-23)
But does submission denigrate the one who submits? The Bible gives an emphatic “No!” to this question. People have ignored the fact that Jesus is also under submission to His Father.
But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. (1 Corinthians 11:3)
Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. (John 5:19)
I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me. (John 5:30)
I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. (John 9:4)
Did Jesus’ submission denigrate Him? On the contrary, it exalted Him:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
Nor did it affect His position as God.
I and my Father are one. (John 10:30)
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. (1 John 5:7)
Jesus submitted to God the Father because someone has to be in charge. The Father was first-in-command, and Jesus was second-in-command. It provided order in their relationship. But it did not mean that Jesus was a second-class god.
In the Home
Similarly, God has also ordained that, in the marriage relationship, the wife is to submit to her husband. In other words, the husband is first-in-command, and the wife is second-in-command. This is not denigrating to the wife. It is a means of keeping order in the family and the house. Quite frankly, it also gives extra responsibility to the husband, because God has placed him in charge, and he must guide his house properly.
In Galatians 3:28, God assures us that He does not look on women as second-class citizens of His Kingdom:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
No woman is forced to submit to a man, under God’s plan. She is free to remain single and run her own house. But if she wants to get married, she has to take her place as second-in-command.
In every marriage, there will be times when a decision must be made, and the husband and wife disagree on what is best. If no one is truly in charge, who makes the decision? If nobody can say, “THIS is what we are going to do”, the family will be paralyzed by indecision. If the parents do not agree on the standards for their home, the children can pit the parents against each other and add to the confusion. That is why God wants someone to have the final word—the husband. And that final word is not “Yes, dear”!
Part of the reason that submission has gotten such a bad rap is that it has been badly abused. Women in abusive situations have been told to stay with their husbands and submit to them. When I was growing up, my impression of what I heard from the Mennonite and homeschool cultures around me was that if the woman did her part and submitted, everything would be fine in her marriage. That is not true. I am not aware of any passage that says that. God does tell us:
Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation [conduct] of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. (1 Peter 3:1-2)
Note that God said that the unsaved husband may be saved by the conduct of the wife. It is not a guarantee.
The truth is that while one person’s efforts can go a long way towards making a better relationship, it takes the cooperation of both spouses to achieve a marriage that truly exemplifies the relationship of Christ and the Church. If you read over Ephesians 5:22-33 (the passage discussing the marriage relationship), you’ll find that there are four verses that speak to the wife and nine verses that speak to the husband. Is that an indication of who needs to put in the most effort?
The husband who requests his wife’s submission had better make sure that he loves her as Christ loved the church. Men, if you demand submission without doing your part, you may as well kiss your marriage—and your relationship with Christ—goodbye. God cares about your wife very much, and threatens to hinder your prayers if you do not treat her with proper care.
Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)
The truth is that God has not merely called wives to submit to their husbands, without placing any checks-and-balances on the husband. God has called the husband to love his wife with sacrificial love, treating her as his own flesh, and seeing that her needs are met. This sounds like the recipe for a happy, successful, lifelong marriage, between two people who work as a team, led by the husband.
What Submission is Not
Treating the husband as God
Expecting the husband to be God to his wife
Being a yes-woman or puppet
Shutting up and not sharing concerns, feelings, cautions, or ideas
Believing that the husband is always right
Accepting everything the husband says without question or reservation
The Failed Promises of Equality
Today, the idea of “marriage equality” is prevalent in our culture. Many people believe that marriage should be run on a 50/50 principle, with responsibilities and authority split equally between both spouses. Childbearing is the most obvious violator of this idea of equality: men are physically incapable of being pregnant, nor can they breastfeed a baby.
In a marriage, the authority structure has to tip one way or another, sooner or later. Otherwise, if the husband and wife disagree, they can’t come to any decision. My observation is that in “50/50” marriages, it ends up tipping in the wife’s direction.
Is this really what women want, though? In a recent Huffington Post article, Randi Gunther, a secular psychologist, talks about what she is seeing in these 50/50 relationships.
Fifty percent of marriages are still ending in divorce, and women continue to be the gender that initiates those endings. In the past, their reasons for leaving most often had to do with infidelity, neglect, or abuse. Now they’re dumping men who are faithful, attentive, and respectful, the very men they said they have always wanted. Why would women who have accomplished the female dream suddenly not be satisfied with it?…
…things started to go awry. Perhaps these androgynous couples over-valued adopting the same behaviors in their relationship. Maybe the men got too nice and the women a little too challenging. Oddly, the androgynous [“man-woman”] men seemed to like their new-found emotional availability, while the women began to feel more unfulfilled. Her “perfect” partner, in the process of reclaiming his full emotional expressiveness, somehow ended up paying an unfair price; he was no longer able to command the hierarchical respect from her that was once his inalienable right.
How can a man be a caretaker and a warrior at the same time? How can he serve his woman’s need for a partner who is vulnerable, open, and intimate, while donning armor to fight the dangers that threaten his family and place in the world? How can he stand up and be a man amongst men, loyal to the hunting band that covers his back, while taking the night feeding, while not appearing less than a man? Did he blend his male energy with his female side, or did he learn to be more like a female at the price of his innate masculinity?
The women I have treated who have left their husbands for more “masculine” men believed that their new relationships would be able to both excite and nurture them. Sadly, that has not always happened.
The bottom line? God is the creator of humans. The Bible is His “owner’s manual” on how to make human life work best. We need to follow His instructions if we want happy, stable lives, regardless of what society says.
But What If He’s Abusive?
Thankfully, in our relationship with God, there is never abuse. However, in the husband/wife relationship, there can be abuse and mistreatment. How much should a woman submit to an abusive husband?
One thing I want to make absolutely clear: there is no Scriptural basis to say that all marriage problems are the result of an unsubmissive wife. It is entirely possible for a wife to be submissive in every way, and yet be unable to get along with her abusive, unloving husband.
Nowhere—even in the story of Sarah and Abraham—did God ever give the husband the power to circumvent His commands and require his wife to disobey God. It’s important to note that when Abraham asked Sarah to say that she was his sister, it was a half-truth—she was his half-sister—and the Law had not yet been given. Today, God has clearly commanded, “Lie not one to another” (Colossians 3:9a). In addition, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29b).
In 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, God gives the wife an “out” if she is in an abusive situation:
And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
An abused wife has the permission of God to leave her husband, not for the purpose of divorce and remarriage, but for her protection. She also has the right, in the United States and many other countries, to report physical and sexual abuse to the police.
The church needs to support women who leave abusive husbands, and not turn a blind eye to the husbands’ sins, or treat the wives like scum, or give them “You should have submitted better” guilt trips. I’m sure there are some cases where the wife’s lack of submission fuels her husband’s anger and abuse. But that does not, in any way, excuse him or reduce his responsibility for his own sin. God did not say, “Love your wife as long as she is submissive.” Instead, He calls men to love their wives like Jesus, Who loved us and died for us when we were still sinners.
The church needs to be a safe place where abuse is not tolerated and is not swept quickly under the rug with “forgiveness” and ignored. The church, as the holy Bride of Christ, should be the least hospitable place for those who rebel against God’s commands and abuse their families.
Submitting to Jesus
Both the husband and wife are to submit to Jesus. Is this Jesus’ way of putting us under His thumb and using us for everything He can get out of us? No! Jesus has a wonderful promise for us:
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (John 14:23)
Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. (John 17:20-23)
When we follow Jesus and submit to His Lordship, He and His Father come and dwell with us. In the process, we become one with God. That is stupendously amazing—to be one with the Creator of the Universe! Wow!
In short, submission, in God’s kingdom, does not make those submitting inferior in any way. It is a means of providing order in leadership. Everybody, including men, submits to someone. Jesus submits to His Father. Men and unmarried women submit to Jesus. Wives submit to their husbands. Children submit to their parents. And when all that is in line, we find ourselves following the Perfect King of the Universe, who, interestingly enough, is not merely reigning on a high-and-holy throne, but is actually dwelling within each one of us. What a treasure!