The Radical Family (Colossians 3:18-21)

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The World magazine website, worldmag.com, recently published an article about the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (PCUSA), which recently voted in favour of homosexual clergy.

Leaders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted Thursday to allow non-celibate homosexuals in committed relationships to serve as pastors, approving the first of two policy changes that could make their church one of the most gay-friendly major Christian denominations in the United States. The vote, however, isn’t a final stamp of approval for the PCUSA or its more than 2 million members.

Delegates voted during the church’s General Assembly in Minneapolis, with 53 percent approving the more liberal policy on gay pastors. A separate vote is expected later Thursday on whether to change the church’s definition of marriage from between “a man and a woman” to between “two people.”

To be eligible under current PCUSA policy, candidates for pastors, deacons, and elders must be either married or celibate. The new policy would strike references to sexuality altogether in favor of candidates committed to “joyful submission to worship of Christ.”

The changes, however, must be approved by a majority of the church’s 173 U.S. presbyteries. The assembly voted two years ago to liberalize its policy on allowing homosexuals to serve as pastors, but it died last year when 94 of the presbyteries voted against it.

“There are still big steps ahead, but I’m feeling better about this than I ever have before,” the Rev. Ray Bagnuolo, the openly gay pastor of Janhus Presbyterian Church in New York City, said ahead of the clergy vote.

Some conservative-minded PCUSA members have tried to rally opposition to the changes.

“Blurring or obscuring the clear teaching of God’s Word in order to keep in step with secular laws and changing personal morals only confuses our witness and causes innumerable problems for the future,” Presbyterians for Renewal, a group opposed to the changes, wrote on its website.

“For the Presbyterian Church to stay current and enter the next generation, they really need to let go of this debate,” said the Rev. Cindi Love, executive director of SoulForce, a gay Christian group.

A separate measure, which would also require regional ratification, would remove the threat of punishment for clergy who perform same-sex marriages in states that allow it.

Of course, this is a move that has been coming for many a year. Long before homosexuality became an acceptable lifestyle in the PCUSA, the PCUSA laid the foundation for it. Decades ago this particular denomination rejected Scripture as its final authority for faith and practice. Long ago it rejected the truth of the inspiration of the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit. Long ago this denomination abandoned the Christian faith. Long ago this denomination rejected the supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Some 30 years ago this particular denomination began to debate whether homosexuality should be deemed a sin. From there it was all downhill. Each succeeding synod chose to debate that which was clearly settled in the Word of God.

And when you begin to debate the authority of God, as mediated through Christ in His Word, then the battle has already been lost. The war is over even before it has begun. The white flags of surrender have already been raised.

Leaving aside the PCUSA, I want to make the observation that, as goes the church so goes the home and so goes society. If you are angry at the moral shape of South Africa then look no further than the church for someone to flog. The government is an easy target, but it usually the wrong one. I once heard a preacher at a conference say, “The problem with the world is the church.” The sooner we take responsibility, the sooner we can repent and reform; and by God’s grace we may even see revival.

The London Daily once published an article inviting a response from its readers to the question, what is wrong with the world? A one line response was published the following week: “Dear Sirs: I am.” It was signed “G. K. Chesterton.” Perhaps as we ask, what is wrong with the family? the answer on our lips should be, “Dear Sirs: We are.” (Signed, the church.)

But all is not doom and gloom for we should take comfort in the truth that those entrusted with the covenantal responsibility to live for Christ will impact a culture for good—eventually. Christian economist Gary North has written a commentary on the case laws of Exodus entitled, Tools of Dominion. North understands—as we should—that when the church returns to obedience to the bare Word of God, she will then be able to take dominion for the glory of Christ in this world.

South Africa is no exception to this malady. This country has had the unique blessing of having much good by way of Christian heritage. But sadly, the church here has largely abandoned the faith in place of political power, political correctness, secular humanism and a wrongheaded (though legitimate) pursuit of social justice. But with all of this has come the decline of the family and the moral disintegration of society.

Under the homelands policy in South Africa’s past, “Christian” leaders effectively removed fathers from homes, which has resulted today in a complete breakdown in authority in the home and therefore in society.

The homelands policy, of course, affected most black South Africa, but this problem is not unique to that ethnic group. White segments of society suffer largely from the same familial and sociological chaos. For as long as I have lived in South Africa there has been debate about whether English or Afrikaans schools have better discipline. The truth is, both had major discipline problems!

Whatever one’s ethnic heritage, the evidence is there for all to see that there is little respect for authority and this is largely because the homes do not understand it. And many of these homes have a church affiliation.

Yes, some homes have a semblance of authority as they are ruled with an iron fist, but is this a demonstration of biblical authority? Hardly! Rather it is a demonstration of insecurity reacting with raw force rather than by righteous faith.

This issue of authority is a prickly one in our Western-influenced society. In fact it is not seen as even polite to make any mention of authority. There is an underlying suspicion of authority in many segments in the west. Authority is understood to have a sinister agenda. Those who are willing to exercise authority are often labelled “megalomaniacs.” And, yes, such attitudes of contempt towards authority have even made their appearance in the church. (Consider, for example, so-called Evangelical Feminism, which is a direct attack on biblical authority.)

People seem to think that the opposite of authority is liberty. In fact, the opposite of authority is anarchy. Just look around at the world! In fact, when God created the world it took the voice of His authoritative Word to give order to what was in chaos. Chaos can only become cosmos through the authority of God’s Word.

“Give me liberty or give me death” has been the motto of many. But the cry of the biblically-instructed believer is, “Give me authority or give me death.” The biblically-instructed believer understands that true freedom can only be enjoyed when there are parameters.

I say all of this as a prelude to a series on the family. Without a bedrock understanding of biblical authority, the church will fail in helping the family to be what it is to be for Christ. But when the church, under the authority of Christ, brings His authority to bear on its membership then the effects will be felt in the home.

Consider briefly the following account from Mark’s Gospel.

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea. The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marvelled.

(Mark 5:1-20)

This man wanted to leave everything behind in order to follow Christ, but Christ had another assignment for him. He wanted him to go back home and live a radical life. In reality, that radical life was simply a return to basics, but even the basics of Christianity were radical in that society (as they are in ours). Now that this man was right with God, he was to prove it by doing the fundamental things, like being a productive member of his family. He was to fulfil his responsibilities in the home. In so doing, he would be testifying to the difference that Christ had made in his life.

The point to be seen is that radical living in the home—radical family life—has the potential to be revolutionary in society at large.

The word “radical” is derived from the Latin radix, which means “root.” We sometimes confuse the term “revolutionary” with “radical,” but these concepts are often poles apart. To be revolutionary is to overthrow existing structures. Whilst this is sometimes the fruit of being radical, true radical living means that there has been a return to foundations. In the context in which I am using the term, I mean the foundations of revealed truth, God’s inerrant Word.

The church must return to first principles if we will be properly revolutionary. If we do not become radical we will not see a biblical revolution. As I have sought to demonstrate elsewhere, the book of Revelation is the Lord calling for the church to have a revolutionary impact through the church constantly reforming to the radical truth of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This is a foundational truth, and one which without the church will never have a meaningful and long-lasting impact on the world for the glory of God. We need to be radical, reforming before will be properly revolutionary.

Let me get to the point: The church must get it right when it comes to understanding and submitting to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. Such a radical worldview is absolutely vital for God-honouring living in the home. This radical worldview will make for radical living in the home. And be certain that biblical living in the home—at least at this point in history—is extremely rare, vehemently resisted, and revolutionary in its effect because it is righteously radical.

In this study I simply want to introduce this series on the radical family by highlighting four foundational truths, rooted in Colossians, that are must find root in our lives if we will live radically in the family for the glory of God. And, yes, it is the church’s responsibility to teach this.

The Supremacy of Jesus Christ

This letter to the church at Colossae is fundamentally about the supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Paul’s day this was a radical concept, and it continues to be today. After all, particularly in a very legally, morally and religiously pluralistic society, claims to being “supreme” are disgusting concepts. A lord may be fine, but postmodern man wants nothing of the Lord!

There must be a proper view of and passion for Jesus Christ if we will take Him seriously in our homes. In fact, apart from a firm conviction “at the centre” regarding Jesus Christ we will not have the moral power to live radically as a family. This is obvious from Paul’s exhortations to radical family life. Briefly survey, for example, Ephesians 5:22-6:4 and see how often he brings Christ into his exhortations: “as to the Lord,” “as Christ loved the church,” “in the Lord,” “of the Lord,” etc.

Apart from a proper adoration and appreciation of the Person and work of Jesus Christ we will have no proper—that is, no transcendent—motivation to structure our homes radically. We will become the practitioners of pragmatic family life. By this approach, we may keep our daughters sexually pure and our sons drug-free, but will we see them loving Christ? William Hendriksen was correct when he wrote, “Christianity, as proclaimed by Paul, etc., supplied the power to carry out the commands . . . that power being the grace of God. . . . All other moral philosophies, the very best of them, are trains lacking engines!”

The Lord Jesus exhorts His disciples to take up their cross and to follow Him. We are called to obey Him and this will mean that we will live counterculturally—and radically so.

To have a biblically ordered (because Christ-commanded) family will require you to swim upstream. It will therefore demand that you face criticisms, misunderstandings, outright misrepresentations and even social ostracism. How then will you respond to the temptation to the fear of man? I trust by a greater fear: the fear of God in Christ (cf. Colossians 3:22-24).

If the believer meditates upon Colossians 1:15-18, which describes in some detail the supremacy of Christ, then it becomes much easier to radically live out God’s mandate concerning home life. In so doing, wives will find submission to their husbands more doable; husbands will more easily love their wives in a selfless way—even to the point of being crucified!; children will see obedience to their children as an act of worship; and fathers will understand discipline to be an opportunity for discipleship.

Mothers who meditate on the supremacy of Christ will be glad to stay at home with their children rather than pursuing a career, because she will understand this as Christ’s command rather than her choice.

Husbands consumed with the supremacy of Christ will be more motivated to leading their wives and their homes. They will take seriously the responsibility to be decision makers because of a trust in Christ who is supreme. They will treat their wives with respect. As A. T. Robertson commented, “It is useless to call your wife ‘honey’ if you act like vinegar toward her.”

Fathers who understand the supremacy of Christ will be committed to teaching their children the Word because they are passionate that their children know Him. They will give leadership in the romantic interests of their children because of a concern to have Christ-centred homes. They will trust Christ enough to say no when necessary. They will not be ashamed to give their single daughters protection and guidance according the biblical expectation, even though it seems so old fashioned.

The supremacy of Christ will guide a couple’s decision when contemplating moving beyond the social norm of having no more than 2.489 children! It will lead to radical and yet confident decisions regarding the education of children. It will motivate you—“Heaven forbid!” cries the secularist—to shelter your child from evil influences; even the evil influences of the children of your friends; even from family members!

Parents who take seriously the supremacy of Christ will actually take responsibility for their children because they will recognise that Christ holds them accountable. They will quit making excuses, will take responsibility, and expectantly wait upon the Lord for the salvation of their children.

Yes, this is the radical, because biblical family.

The Submission to Jesus Christ

Of course, all of the above is predicated upon this point. To the degree that we are convinced of the supremacy of Jesus Christ, to such a degree we will submit to Christ and thus do the above. Robertson observed, “Our dealings with others is the final proof of our real connection with Christ.” And I would emphasise that this shows up in our homes. Do we recognise and respond with humility to the Lordship of Christ?

Curtis Vaughan has written, “Submission is an attitude that recognizes the rights of authority.” And Jesus has all authority.

We need to spend some time on this point for there is much confusion today (and most of it is well-orchestrated and deliberately devilish misrepresentation) of submission. We would do well to note that the word “submit” means “to put under,” not “to put down.” It was a military term which meant “to rank under.” Submission is necessary for order. And order is necessary for fruitfulness.

Humanity is the epitome of creation. Yet we rank under the Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15-16). This is not a put down, but rather the recognition of reality. No one can exercise authority effectively apart from submission (cf. Matthew 8:5-13). Power is one thing, authority can be quite another.

Jesus Christ Himself was submissive. He submitted to His Father. During His boyhood years He submitted to His earthly parents. He submitted to legitimate authority structures throughout His life. And this is one reason that He can tell us what to do. Hendriksen has observed, “Christianity, as originating in Christ, supplied the only true pattern for God-glorifying conduct on the part of the very groups here discussed.”

If the husband does not come to grips with the fact that he is under authority then he will make a rotten leader—and probably a destructive one at that! Vaughan writes, “The emphasis of the whole passage is on duties, not rights. . . . The duties are reciprocal—that is, not all the rights are on one side and all the duties on the other.”

If the wife does not come to humble recognition that she is under authority then she will reel at every turn when it comes to submitting to a fallen husband. John MacArthur has commented on this, “The wife’s submission takes place in the context of a loving relationship.” It is in this sense in which there is room for the principle of mutual submission.

The same principle applies to parents and children. Parents who do not recognise the authority of Christ will be little more than tyrants to their children. Similarly, children who neglect Christ’s authority will be little tyrants to their parents! In every sphere, submission to Christ’s authority must precede God-glorifying family life.

The Scriptures of Jesus Christ

We are getting down to brass tacks, as they say. This is where it gets very practical. The supremacy of Christ is revealed to us through His Word. And we know what things we are to submit to by this same revelation. You could say that the Bible reveals the Lord’s deity and man’s duty—and in that order.

Radical living requires a standard that lies outside of ourselves. It requires an acknowledgment that we don’t have all the answers. It requires the confession that the best of men are in the end men at best, and thus no matter how well-meaning we are, we are fallible. This then leads to the confession that God’s Word is our final authority for faith and practice. This in turn enables us to actually submit to Scripture as the final authority for how we live within the family.

There is far too much debate today about roles and rules, as defined by God. The fact is, whilst family life is not easy, it is neither terribly complex. It is a matter of submitting to Christ’s Word and living accordingly.

Bryan Chappell tells the terrible story of a woman who was addicted to gambling and thereby put her family’s financial security at great risk.

She steals from her family. From the outside they appear to have an ideal home. The house is beautiful, the couple is attractive, and the kids are sweet. Inside things are far from ideal—the wife has a gambling addiction. She has been to counselors, clinics, and pastors. Nothing helps. Periodically she breaks into her own family’s bank accounts (or pawns family valuables) and gambles away the money.

Her actions have put her family on the edge of bankruptcy time and time again. The debts cannot be covered even by her husband’s executive salary. The financial damage done to the family will take half a lifetime to repair. But the worst damage is not financial, it is relational. It is impossible to measure the pain of your own spouse stealing from you, destroying your family’s security, and lying about it for months on end.

Chappell once asked this young man why he did not end the nightmare of a marriage he was in. His reply was simple, yet moving: “My children need her. But more than that, they need to know their Lord. How can they know of a Father in heaven who forgives them if their father on earth will not forgive their own mother? How can my wife know the love of God if the spiritual leaders in this home will not love her despite her faults.”

Yes, the Bible is a very radical book!

The Saints of Jesus Christ

As I have mentioned on several occasions previously, this letter assumes covenantal church life. It is written to a body of believers who are to be committed to helping one another to grow in Christ. Yes, it is a radical concept, but the church heals itself.

The local church is composed of members who are expected to submit to one another (see Ephesians 5:21) as a pattern to be followed in every other relational sphere. That is why it is so important that the local church emphasises the radical teaching of God’s authority, His law and order. If there is rebellion here then there will probably be rebellion everywhere.

Let me make a very important point and application: If you will have properly radical respect and application of authority in the home then you will need to have the same in the local church. God has given to us an authority structure in the church and this is to be respected and obeyed. I think with particular reference of the matter of the eldership. A biblical eldership is to equip the church to have a radical home.

Elders are instructed by God to have families that exemplify godliness. According to 1 Timothy 3:1-7, the elder “must manage his own household well.” He must be skilled in “keeping his children submissive.” (According to Titus 1:6, his children must be believers.) He must be entirely devoted to his wife, so that he is generally considered “the husband of one wife”—a one-woman-man.

On reason that elders are held to such a high standard is because it is their assignment to lead the church in radical family life. Elders are not perfect, but godly elders are committed to helping families in the church lead lives glorifying to God. If you rebel against those whom God has put over you (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:17) then you will have a difficult time exercising legitimate and effective authority in your own home.

Please take this in the spirit in which it is given: God has given to the local church those who are equipped and who are being equipped continually to lead, feed and to give heed to the flock. Your pastors should be experts in radical family living! (If they are not, then I recommend that you find a church where they are.) Most people want experts to treat their body when it is sick. How much more important is your soul and the souls of your family?

Nearly a century ago Robertson observed, “The neglect of these vital practical matters [radical family living] by ministers whose main interest was theological or ecclesiastical made the way for William Booth’s Salvation Army and for the rescue missions in our large cities.”

His point was that a morally collapsing society was the responsibility of a church that had departed from Scripture as her final authority. And this no doubt was because of a loss of the biblical vision of the supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ. And yet the expectation of transformed homes is a thoroughly biblical expectation.

The principle of creation remains: We reproduce after our own kind. Rebels produce rebels. And radicals propagate radicals. Let us be radical and have radical families to the glory of God in Christ.