I want to thank Ken DeJong and Geri Klaassens for their thoughtful letters in response to my article in the Beacon Lights, “Augustine on Sex and Marriage.” In that article I pointed to the fact that Augustine (and the Roman Catholic Church to this day) error in their teaching that only when a married couple desires to have children is their sexual relations pleasing in the eyes of God. I argued that sexual relations that express the union of husband and wife as one flesh and symbolize the relationship of Christ and the Church are pleasing to God even when bearing children is not the objective. From this point of view I argued that birth control under certain circumstances is permissible for a Christian husband and wife.
Mr. DeJong and Mrs. Klaassens disagreed with this view. Although their specific arguments differ at points (I hope to take up these specific issues in the next article in this rubric) much of their argument is the same: we should leave the issue of bearing children to God to determine in his sovereignty and not take the matter out of God’s hands and put it into our own hands.
I disagree with this basic point that both letter writers make in that it appears to present a faulty notion of God’s sovereignty and our duty as Christians. Simply put we cannot take the matter out of God’s hands, we cannot put the matter into our own hands. God in his sovereignty controls all things even our sinful actions and the sinful actions of the world. When the unbelieving world commits countless murders through abortion they do not take the matter out of God’s hands. Even these sinful actions are part of God’s divine counsel that He established before the foundation of the world. We often have difficulty understanding this teaching, but it is the plain teaching of scripture. God is sovereign in everything, even in our sinful actions and those of the world.
So the fact of God’s sovereignty (which we must believe with all our hearts and is a great comfort to Christians, Romans 8:28) alone is not a sufficient guide in this matter. God in his sovereignty has given us a different guide for our actions his law and commandments. At a conference I heard one of our ministers put it this way, “Our duty is not determined by God’s sovereignty, counsel, or eternal decrees it is determined by his commands.” If you doubt this for a moment imagine what horrible sins could be deemed permissible if one says, “well I did thus and so because it was part of God’s sovereign plan.” Calvin noted such a tendency in all of us and replied to those who take such a view with the teaching, “let them inquire and learn from Scripture what is pleasing to God so that they may strive toward this under the Spirit’s guidance.” (Institutes, Book 1, Chapter 17, article 3)
So what are God’s commands concerning sex and marriage. The first command we must consider is in Genesis 1 and is literally the first command that God gave, “Be fruitful and multiply.” We must not view the matter of having children indifferently. In our marriages we must want to have children and try to have children. This command teaches us that we should say, “I want to have a child now.” We should actively try to have as many children as we can. This is the simple command of our Heavenly Father and the first words we need to consider whenever we consider sex and marriage.
Does this command, however, mean that we can never refrain from trying to conceive a child in our marriages? At first it might seem so, but if we allow Scripture to teach us on this matter we will see that it is not so. Mr. DeJong asks, “but where in God’s Word is birth control ever supported?” If we examine I Corinthians 7 verse 5 we read, “Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer, . . .” Here the Spirit teaches us an exception to the general rule that in our marriages we must be fruitful and multiply. This passage teaches that a husband and wife may abstain from sexual relations (which certainly is a form of birth control or conception prevention) for a season for the purpose of serving and glorifying God if they both agree. I believe this passage teaches that we may use birth control in our marriages but only for a season and only to glorify God in some other way.
Mr. DeJong in his letter described the difficult decision that he and his wife had to make when they decided not to use birth control. To illustrate my position, I will give an account of the difficult decision that my wife and I have made to use birth control. When my wife was pregnant with our first child, my daughter had a very serious infection while she was still in the womb and was taken by cesarean section a little over 2 months early. She nearly died and we thank God daily for the wonder that she is happy and healthy. My wife’s second pregnancy appeared to proceed without difficulty—my son was born on his due date by cesarean section. However, two weeks later my wife developed a serious infection from which she almost died. In analyzing my wife’s situation several doctors came to the conclusion (as I understand it) that she probably carries bacteria in her body (a variant of the flesh-eating bacteria that you may have heard about) that normally is held in check by her immune system. When she is pregnant, however, her immune system seems to weaken and allows the bacteria to grow and develop. This they feel caused the premature birth of my daughter and caused the severe infection my wife experienced after the birth of my son. Three different doctors have advised that having another child would put my wife and the child in serious jeopardy. The near death of my daughter and then my wife makes this account quite believable.
Given this knowledge we feel it would be wrong to try to have another child. We feel deeply the desire to follow God’s command to be fruitful and multiply. We would dearly love to have another child and we hope that we will find a way for my wife to have another child without the serious risk that appears at this time. However, we believe that to simply wait and see if my wife were to get pregnant—that is to have sexual relations without using birth control—would be to violate the sixth commandment. To use the language of the catechism (Q & A, 105) to allow my wife to become pregnant would be to willfully expose her to danger, which is, of course, a violation of the sixth commandment. From our perspective we must for a season put aside the commandment to be fruitful and multiply in order to serve God in keeping the sixth command not to commit murder. We pray that this season is short and that perhaps a treatment for my wife’s condition will be found. For now we often shed a tear that we are not able to serve God by bringing forth more children, but we firmly believe that we are following the teaching of scripture. This conviction and the knowledge that this too is all part of God’s sovereign plan provides tremendous comfort.
We believe that God is acting sovereignly in our decision to use birth control in our marriage. Calvin put it much better than I ever could (Institutes, Book 1, Chapter 17, article 4) “We are not at all hindered by God’s eternal decrees either from looking ahead for ourselves or from putting all our affairs in order, but always in submission to his will. The reason is obvious. For he who has set the limits to our life has at the same time entrusted to us its care; he has provided means and helps to preserve it; he has also made us to foresee dangers; that they may not overwhelm us unaware, he has offered precautions and remedies. Now it is very clear what our duty is: thus, if the Lord has committed to us the protection of our life, our duty is to protect it; if he offers helps, to use them; if he forewarns us of dangers, not to plunge headlong; if he makes remedies available, not to neglect them.” ❖
Of all the early church fathers, perhaps none has had more influence on Reformed thought than Augustine. Particularly, his refutations of Pelagius’ heretical views on free will formed a sure foundation on which the Reformed doctrine of salvation was built. Yet in his teaching on sex and marriage Augustine made serious errors—or more correctly only understood part of the truth—and these errors have had important consequences as they form the basis of the erroneous teachings of the Roman Catholic Church on sex and marriage. While we should admire much of Augustine teachings, we must reject some of his teachings on sex and marriage and in doing so we must understand how our views differ from the Roman Catholics.
Augustine understood that sex in marriage was not sinful. In this teaching he broke from one of his mentors, Jerome, who taught that all sexual relations were sinful and thus celibacy was the preferred state to which all Christians should aspire. Augustine followed the Bible too closely to agree with such a position. He knew that the Bible esteemed the state of marriage and child-rearing too highly for such a position to be correct. Therefore, Augustine argued, “The union, then, of male and female for the purpose of procreation is the natural good of marriage.” He believed that sex within marriage was good as long as the purpose of sex was bringing forth a child, and he further knew that it was not simply enough to want to have a child, but the married couple must desire to bring forth a child that will be a child of God and serve God. With this thrust of his teaching we must heartily agree. In our marriages we must desire to bring forth covenant children that will serve and honor God.
But from this point on Augustine stumbles. Augustine sees bringing forth children as the only acceptable purpose that allows husband and wife to have sexual relations. This belief led Augustine to teach that when a husband and wife have sex and do not intend to have a child they commit a sin, what Augustine called a venial sin. Further, if a husband and wife have sexual relations in marriage and try to prevent having a child such as when a couple uses birth control then they commit what Augustine called a mortal sin.
Now it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the Roman Catholic churches’ current teachings on mortal and venial sins, but what Augustine meant by this distinction is far different in any event. What Augustine meant is similar to the distinction that is made in our Lord’s Supper form. Some sins are such a break from covenant fellowship with God that the church must implement discipline and the member who commits such sins must be barred from the Lord’s Table—this is what Augustine meant by mortal sins. On the other hand, we also commit sins that “remaineth against our wills in us,” to use the words of our Lord’s Supper form; these sins we must repent from, but they do not bar us from the Table of the Lord—this is what Augustine meant by venial sins.
Thus, Augustine’s belief was that if a husband and wife have sex without trying to conceive a child then they sin. If they have sex simply without thinking of conceiving a child this is a sin that they must repent from but it is not a violation of the seventh commandment. However, if a husband and wife have sex and intend not to bring forth a child then in Augustine’s view they commit adultery. This teaching is still fundamentally the position of the Roman Catholics (although a significant change was made in the 1950’s when it was proclaimed by the Pope that the rhythm method of birth control was not a mortal sin; Augustine would have seen this as adultery as well.)
The reason for Augustine’s error is that he failed to appreciate a second purpose for sexual relations that God has given married couples. God has given husband and wife sex as a wonderful gift not only to bring forth covenant children, although this is surely another important reason that God has included sex in the marital relationship, but also to express the unity that exists between the husband and wife. God gives sex to married couples so that they can express that they are one flesh. This union between husband and wife serves to glorify God in that in binding together as one flesh this union testifies to the unity between Christ and his bride the church.
This important teaching about sex and marriage Augustine was unable to see, and with only part of the truth he was led astray and adopted an unbiblical position. He did not correctly understand the teaching of Hebrew 13:4 where we read, “Marriage in honorable in all, and the bed undefiled.” And he misinterpreted I Corinthians chapter 7 that we explained in the last installment in this series. This chapter teaches that sexual relations between a man and a woman are acceptable in the eyes of God. Augustine however, believed that because this passage teaches that sex in only permitted and not commanded that sexual relations might very well be sinful. Thus, in his rush to sweep away the important implications of this text he failed to appreciate that sexual relations can glorify God in that they bring man and wife together as one flesh.
In practice, Augustine’s position leads to absurdities. If a couple is incapable of having children from Augustine’s point of view then they should try to remain celibate. When couples pass the age of child bearing then they should try to remain chaste. Any sexual relations by these couples would constitute sin. This the Bible does not teach. Married couples can and should have sexual relations as long as these sexual relations glorify God. Now in most marriages sexual relations can glorify God by bring forth children and all who can glorify God in this way should seek to do so. But for those who cannot have children their sexual relations can still glorify God by expressing that they are one flesh and God has made them such.
In a similar way, we must not believe as the Roman Catholics do that any use of birth control is wrong. No Christian husband and wife should use birth control without searching their heart to be certain that they are not using it for the wrong purposes. They must realize that one of the ways that their sexual relations can glorify God is through bringing forth children. Thus, they will want to have as many children as they can. On the other hand, they may realize that for a season, perhaps for the health of the wife or to make it possible to raise the existing children, they may try not to have children. Still their sexual relations can glorify God, because their relations can still express the oneness of flesh in their marriage.
Let us thank God for the wonderful gift of marriage which he gives to many of us, and may we glorify God in our marriages and specifically in our sexual relations in marriage by bringing forth children and by expressing the unity of husband and wife that God has established. ❖
Steve is a member of Grandville Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan.
In Matthew 19:4-6 Jesus teaches us, “he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
As I take over a share of the responsibility for this rubric and plan a new series of articles, I plan to let this teaching guide my analysis. I want to emphasize three things about this passage. First, God made people as man and woman for the purpose that he would join them together into one flesh. This means that marriage is an institution ordained and executed by God. God is sovereign in dating and marriage.
Dating is an anxious time for many young people. I know I thought that no one would ever want to go out with me, but God was in control and brought my wife into my life just at the right time. In these articles I hope to make plain how God’s sovereignty over dating and marriage can be a great comfort to young people during this tumultuous time in their life.
Second, the above passage teaches us that marriage, because it is executed by God, is a lifelong bond that is unbreakable. When a man and a woman join together in marriage, it is God that joins them and only he can separate them. The teaching, “let not man put asunder” it not merely a command, it is an expression of the truth that man cannot undue the work of God. This means that divorce, although allowed by our laws, is not a reality. When people are married they are joined together by God and they will be married until God separates them in death. This means that dating and marriage is a serious business, one that is not to be taken lightly.
Third, this passage teaches us that marriage is about sex or more correctly that sex is about marriage. We must not understand this teaching in a worldly sense: marriage is not about the fulfillment of our sensual pleasures. We must understand our sexuality in a biblical way. Sex is an expression of the bond that God has established between a man and a woman in marriage. It is an expression of intimacy and unity like that seen between Christ and the church. Sex should be a happy, pleasant, and joyful expression of the bond of love between a husband and wife, but this action like all others must be directed to the glory of God. Sex in a Godly marriage, glorifies God in two ways, it expresses the bond which He has established, and it brings covenant children—his heritage—into the world. This teaching clearly forbids sex outside of marriage; sex must not be a part of dating.
With this basic teaching in mind I plan to focus the next few articles in this rubric on the views of dating and marriage held by orthodox theologians. We will examine the teachings of Augustine, Luther, Calvin and others. These men will have much to teach us about dating and marriage, but unlike almost any other area of theology all three of these men erred in their teaching on dating and marriage. Let this serve as a warning to us. If men such as these can depart from the truth in their understanding of dating and marriage, then we can as well. Let us diligently search the Scriptures on this topic and hold fast to the Word of truth we find there.
Steve is a member of Grandville Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan.
In Matthew 24 the disciples asked Jesus how they would know when the end of the world was coming. Jesus responded in verses 5-9 by saying, “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.” Here, Jesus presents the truth that the end times will be marked with trials and tribulations.
When we look for the signs of the times it is relatively easy for us to see some: false doctrine abounds and many are deceived; daily we hear of wars and rumors of war; and earthquakes, hurricanes, and famines are all frequent signs that Christ will come again soon. All these which are beginnings of sorrows are easily recognizable in our times, but what about persecution? Sometimes it seems in our day and age that persecution is a thing of the past. We can attend church freely. We can confess our faith openly. We can even establish our own schools to provide our children covenant instruction. And the laws of the land forbid the state from intruding on any of these activities. When we compare our lot to the saints of the early church or of the reformation, who daily had to face the prospect of torture for these activities, we should thank God for these blessings. Yet we must heed Christ’s words, “then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.” Persecution is not a thing of the past. There is persecution even today, and persecution will become more common as the return of Christ approaches.
Recently, you may have read about a great number of church burnings that have occurred in our country. These fires seem to be more likely to occur in predominantly African-American congregations and some of these fires were clearly set by racists. So in one sense these fires are a sign of the times in that they expose the hatred and rising up of nation against nation that characterizes the end times. This attitude of hatred must be deplored. But in another sense these fires represent another sign of the times, persecution. One aspect of this problem that has received virtually no attention—I read about it in the middle of the religion section in the Grand Rapids Press—is that church burnings are common in all types of congregations. In fact, this article claimed that insurance company statistics show that church buildings are more likely to be set on fire than any other type of building in our country. Clearly, there are forces seeking to destroy the cause of Christ’s kingdom, even in its visible manifestation. Persecution is a part of our society.
All this should not surprise us. Jesus told us this would occur, and we can expect that the level and intensity of this persecution will only increase as his return approaches. But this should not make us faint of heart. After all, Christ teaches in verse 9 above, that we are persecuted for his “name’s sake.” So let us endure persecution knowing that it brings glory and honor to God, and as verse 13 teaches, “he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”
What occupations are appropriate for Christians? What areas of study? The reformers were distinctive in their day in teaching that all occupations, excluding those that required sin, were pleasing in God’s sight. In this issue of the Beacon Lights, we explore a number of occupations that young people should consider as they determine what is God’s calling for their life. We have placed a particular emphasis on occupations that require higher education. We made this emphasis for two reasons. First, we felt that young people may have less knowledge and experience with these occupations. Second, few people currently enter these occupations in our churches and we felt that young people may not understand that these occupations can be appropriate for the Christian.
Some may feel that Christians should be careful not to pick certain fields of study because these fields of study may lead them astray. I know that I have been asked numerous times by well-meaning brothers and sisters, “Why do you want to study psychology? Can a Christian really study that?” In the recent history of the Protestant Reformed Churches there have been a number of people that while pursuing advanced education left our churches, but this in no way should stop us from encouraging our young people from these pursuits. People from all walks of life have left our churches not only those who pursue higher education. If a young person has such a calling for their life, we must encourage them, trusting God to maintain them in their walk and life. We must teach our young people as Calvin says (Institutes 3, XI, 6), “that no task will be so sordid and base, provided you obey your calling in it, that it will not shine and be reckoned very precious in God’s sight.”
But is the pursuit of higher education a reasonable calling for a Christian? In the current day and age there are no colleges or universities that hold fast to the truth in all or perhaps even most respects. Can the Christian learn from the ungodly? The reformers, and Calvin in particular, argued that understanding the knowledge that God has given, even the knowledge given worldly men, is not only a reasonable calling but a duty of the Church. As Calvin writes (Institutes 2 II, 15) “If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn and reproach the Spirit himself. What then? Shall we deny that the truth shone upon the ancient jurists who established civic order and discipline with such great equity? Shall we say that the philosophers were blind in their fine observation and artful description of nature? Shall we say that those men were devoid of understanding who conceived the art of disputation and taught us to speak reasonably? Shall we say that they are insane who developed medicine, devoting their labor to our benefit? What shall we say of all the mathematical sciences? Shall we consider them the ravings of madmen? No, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without great admiration. We marvel at them because we are compelled to recognize how preeminent they are. But shall we count anything praiseworthy or noble without recognizing at the same time that it comes from God?”
While Calvin recognizes that God gives even the reprobate these gifts of knowledge he is not proposing some sort of common grace. Calvin recognizes that these gifts are given to the reprobate for the sake of the Church. He further explains, (Institutes, 2, II, 16), “But if the Lord has willed that we be helped in physics, dialectic, mathematics, and other like disciplines, by the work and ministry of the ungodly, let us use this assistance. For if we neglect God’s gift freely offered in these arts, we ought to suffer just punishment for our sloths.” Calvin’s argument is straightforward. It is evident that God has given some ungodly men the gift of knowledge. This knowledge was given for the edification of the Church and the Church must use this knowledge to glorify God. Calvin’s argument is forceful. The pursuit of higher education, even education from the ungodly, can be an appropriate calling for the Christian. With this thought in mind the current issue of the Beacon Lights is devoted to exploring several professions and fields of study in higher education, with the aim that our young people may be able to discern the path to which God is calling them.
Psychology is a discipline, which more than most, is greatly misunderstood by the average person. Most people come in contact with psychology through the flood of self-help books in bookstores or the ramblings of some therapist when she appears on Oprah. This unfortunately creates a lot of misunderstanding about the nature of psychology. Broadly speaking psychology has always had two broad branches. The clinical branch started by Freud which has aimed to treat people with “mental problems” and the academic branch which grew out of philosophy and which attempts to develop a scientific understanding of people’s thoughts and actions. For a young person who might consider psychology as a potential field of study it is important to understand this division; while psychology considers the treatment of “mental problems” and therapy for these individuals, this is not the sole focus of psychology.
I teach psychology at Hope College, and our students are about evenly divided between those who pursue the clinical branch and those who pursue the academic branch. We actually have slightly more graduates who pursue careers in business and teaching and the like (utilizing the academic branch) than who pursue clinical careers. In a recent survey of our graduates 24% are in business, 18% are in teaching, 18% are in clinical psychology, 7% are in the ministry and the remainder are in a variety of other occupations. Each of these potential careers present challenges and rewards to the Christian. In the current article, I don’t have time to present the challenges and rewards of each of these professions, but I will write briefly about the challenges and opportunities of the clinical branch and the academic branch.
One of the main challenges for Christians studying clinical psychology is that this branch of psychology has had a tendency to follow certain influential men. The field began with a strong following a Sigmund Freud, later Carl Rogers, Albert Ellis, and numerous other men gained status and reputation that influenced many. The difficulty with this approach for the child of God is that these men have all displayed remarkable ungodliness and often open hostility to Christianity. Following these men and their teaching is nearly or completely impossible for the Christian. Fortunately, clinical psychology has gradually moved away from this emphasis of following particular men or particular schools of thinking. It is now quite possible for clinical psychologists to not endorse the views of any particular theorist and to develop views that are consistent with their own beliefs. Yet the arguments and views contrary to God’s Word are something the student of clinical psychology will have to face. The child of God who enters clinical psychology must be strong in the face of these challenges.
Despite the challenges of clinical psychology, the opportunities can be quite appealing to some. Clinical psychologists work hard to help people recover from difficult problems in their lives, depression, abuse, anxiety and the like, and the treatment that clinical psychologists offer quite often provide at least modest relief from these problems. The skills and practice of clinical psychology still has a long way to go, but even at the present clinical psychologists do offer some treatments that can go a long way to helping people recover from certain problems. For the child of God, this means that if they study clinical psychology they can offer these services to those that are in our churches. The child of God will realize that just addressing symptoms of these problems is often not enough, sin will need to be dealt with. However, they can work together with the shepherd of the flock, and provide an important service. Anyone who has had to seek psychological treatment can testify how difficult it is to find a therapist who supports and does not undermine one’s religious beliefs. The child of God who enters clinical psychology can provide this valuable service to the Christian community.
The academic branch provides it’s own unique challenges and opportunities. For the Christian studying academic psychology they will be less likely to face people who are following the teachings of one particular man, yet ideas that challenge and threaten one’s beliefs will be prevalent here as well.
For example, in recent years the theory of evolution has crept from biology into psychology at an ever-increasing rate. The child of God studying academic psychology (or any other field) must be able to discern the truth from the lie. He or she must reject the lie, such as the teaching of evolution, but embrace the truth when it is taught. This means that Christians must be firmly grounded in faith if they are to study academic psychology. They will be presented with many ideas only some of which are truthful and valuable. This challenge is true for a Christian studying any discipline, but it is especially true for the Christian studying academic psychology.
Despite the dangers of academic psychology, it presents some interesting opportunities. Studying academic psychology will often take extra schooling beyond four years of college. To teach at the college level five more years are often required and work in business and other setting often requires two more years of schooling. This schooling takes much time and effort, but usually results in interesting work where people have more freedom in their work that can allow them to spend more time with their families. Christians in these settings are usually able to direct their own work and to engage in activities that do not contradict their religious beliefs. Careers in academic psychology are much like the careers of businessmen and high school teachers that most young people are familiar with. I hope that as young people consider the calling to which God is directing them they realize that a career in psychology is a possibility.
Steve is a member of Grandville Protestant Reformed Church and is a Psychology professor at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.
Has a teacher or a parent ever said to you, “why don’t you just use your common sense,” or have you ever said, “if he would just use his common sense . . .?” In our everyday language we often invoke the notion of common sense. Yet when you use this term have you ever thought about what it really means?
The idea of common sense implies that people have the ability to figure things out, to understand what is going on in a situation, and to discern a proper course of action. After all, the first part of this term is “common” implying that this ability is something that everyone has; it is common to all. The second part of this term is “sense” which suggests that this ability allows people to perceive or understand. Together these two terms imply that all people have a common ability to perceive and understand our world. When one breaks down this concept, it is plain, the idea of common sense is unbiblical, worldly, and dangerous.
The Bible teaches us that we are totally depraved, that all our thoughts are vain and unprofitable. Psalm 94:11 says, “The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.” In Job 5:13-14 we read, “He taketh the wise in their own craftiness: and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong. They meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope in the noonday as in the night.” The Apostle Paul summarizes these passages in I Corinthians 3:19-20 “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.” The Belgic Confession summarizes this teaching by saying when man fell into sin he had “thus become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways, . . . for all the light which is in us is changed to darkness. . . Who can speak of his knowledge, since the natural man receiveth not the spirit of God? In short, who dare suggest any thought, since he knows that we are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves …” Likewise the Canons of Dordt teach us that after the Fall, man has “entailed on himself blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity and perverseness of judgement . . .” This biblical notion stands in striking contrast to the worldly notion of common sense. God teaches us there is no ability in man, certainly no ability that is common to man, to perceive and understand our world. Worldly wisdom tells us that there are some things that everyone just knows. God tells us man knows nothing apart from what He reveals in scripture.
Why do I say this is a worldly concept? This concept shows its worldly character in that it elevates man and claims for man something that belongs to God. In I Corinthian 1:20 we read that “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” When people claim that they have common sense that allows them to perceive and understand the world they make a claim for themselves that God establishes as foolishness. Indeed, social psychology, which I teach, has numerous example of the foolish and self-serving nature of common sense. If you ask people, “Do opposites attract?” they will say, “certainly that is common sense.” However, if you ask them, “Do birds of a feather flock together?” they are equally likely to say that this statement is common sense. Clearly only one of these statements can be true. If you ask a married couple who work together on a task, let’s say washing the windows, how much they each put into the task, both the husband and the wife are likely to claim that they did more than half. And Lake Wobegon, Minnesota isn’t the only place where people believe all the children are above average. Almost all of us when asked how nice or smart we are will say that we are above average. Sinful human nature, time and again, makes the claim that it knows more than it does and that it is better than it is.
Because common sense has this worldly, unbiblical character it is a dangerous concept. We are tempted to try to use our common sense; after all, we put more faith in our ability to perceive things than is justified. I have heard people make the claim that on issues where the Bible does not provide clear mandates then people should rely on common sense. Although at first this may seem to be a reasonable position, on further reflection it can lead one astray. Although the Bible does not give us clear instructions for all the minute details of our lives, for example whether we should eat at a restaurant for dinner or eat at home, it does provide basic principles for all our actions. We must never turn to our own knowledge and perceptions to guide our actions. Our whole life must be an attempt to live according to God’s law. This is true wisdom. As in Proverbs 3:5 God tells us that we must “trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” For the Christian, dependence on common sense is forbidden. We must walk in the God’s way not our own.
The Christian is placed in many different circumstances while on this earth. Some are characterized by hardships and trials, and others are full of joy and peace. How should the Christian respond? Throughout the Bible there are numerous times where God’s people sang in response to their various circumstances. Singing in response to God’s ordering […]
As we examined the first eleven chapters of Genesis last month, we took note of the fact that the book of Genesis is theological, meaning it helps us to grow in our knowledge of God. In addition, we noted that the book of Genesis is historical, meaning that the events chronicled in it are the […]
Who am I? What is my purpose on this earth? Why is everything the way that it is? These are the kinds of questions that often trouble young people as they become more independent from their parents, enter the world of college or career, and make major life decisions such as choosing a spouse, a […]
The book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon to his young adult son. Solomon’s purpose in writing Proverbs was “that the generation to come might know them [God’s wonderful works]…that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:6–7). Throughout the book, Solomon […]
The group of churches that John writes to in this trio of epistles had recently experienced a split because of doctrinal controversy. We do not know the exact content of the error that these false teachers were spreading, but it is apparent from John’s writing that their teaching somehow denied the truth of the incarnation—that […]
This article was originally presented as a speech at a Protestant Reformed mini convention held at Quaker Haven Camp in August 2021. Jael lived during the era of the judges. Deborah the prophetess was the judge who served Israel at the time of Jael. During this time, the Canaanites under the rule of king Jabin […]
Although it’s been a couple of months since we’ve been immersed in news coming from Japan about the 2020/2021 Olympic games, it’s still worth considering how these events are understood in the modern worldview of our country. The “Top Story of the Day” on Monday, August 9 (at least according to my newsfeed), was how […]
One of this year’s “mini conventions” was hosted by Grace and Grandville Protestant Reformed Churches at Quaker Haven Camp. Located just over two hours away in northern Indiana, the camp was a perfect fit for the 120 kids and 15 chaperones who attended. A total of twelve different churches were represented: Byron Center, Faith, First […]
At the point that this edition of Beacon Lights arrives in the homes of our subscribers, most young people in the Protestant Reformed Churches will have been sitting under the catechism instruction of their pastor or elders for more than a month. If our readers are honest, that observation probably comes with a (quiet) sigh […]
The 2021 Tennessee young people’s retreat was held August 9 to 13 by Providence, Hudsonville, Unity, and First (Holland) Protestant Reformed Churches. The retreat took place at Eagle Rock Retreat Center in the city of Tallassee. It was about an eleven-hour drive, give or take a bit due to stops for food and restrooms. Though […]