"Father Hunger" in Leading the Church

Desiring God 2012 Conference for Pastors

God, Manhood & Ministry: Building Men for the Body of Christ

Remember the gospel. Always remember the gospel and remember the good news-ness of the gospel. The gospel is the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the gospel. The gospel is outside of us. The gospel is for us, but it occurs externally to us. It occurs outside of our performance.

We must always remember the gospel because we are always tempted to forget the gospel, especially when we turn to the important task of governing the church, ruling the church, preaching to God’s people, and making decisions. When we get into the hurly-burly of everyday life, when we get into the place where we’re having to be a father to our families and to our congregations and so on, we are always, constantly, unremittingly tempted to forget the gospel.

How is it possible to be a serious Christian and not take your own sin seriously, and not take your own failures seriously? But here’s the task, here’s the problem: how do we take our sin seriously without coming under a rock pile of condemnation? How can we take our sin seriously? How can we face the facts? How can we understand what we have done, how we fall short, without coming under a rock pile of condemnation? The answer is the gospel.

And of course, God greatly used Martin Luther in the recovery of the gospel in the Reformation. But Martin Luther — God bless him, I love Brother Martin — he needed a good editor, I think. He would sometimes say things that were off. I just read something from Luther this last year like that. He said, “You know, you ought to sin a little bit deliberately from time to time just to annoy the devil.” I thought, the scariest thing about that is that I think I know what he meant.

Remember, constantly remember, especially as we go to the practical details that you have a Savior. You have a Savior. And when you take your sin seriously, as some of you are, you feel like the Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress, where you’re carrying this weight around, carrying this burden around. We should carry the weight of our sins around. That might sound surprising as I’ve said, “Remember the gospel”, and now I’m telling you to carry the weight of your sin around. But the gospel means this: you are privileged to carry the weight of your sin around the same way David carried Goliath’s head. The weight of your sin is cut off, and the only weight that you ought to feel is the weight of victory.

Call No Man Father

As we turn to talk about fathers in the church, the very first thing I want to do is reassure your Protestant sensibilities and promise you that I’m not going to come sneaking in here with any secret agenda for promoting honorific titles such as father, padre, papa, or Pope in the church — nothing of the kind, whatever.

But the second thing I would like to do with your Protestant sensibilities is mess their hair up a little bit. When Jesus tells us to “call no man father” (Matthew 23:9), which he most certainly did do, he said a few other things in the same breath. He said that we should not be called ‘Rabbi’ or ‘teacher’ (Matthew 23:8), or even ‘instructor’ (Matthew 23:10). We Protestants don’t even let that slow us down. Our glory is Bible teaching. We have conferences chock-full up with it. We buy plane tickets to go get us some in Minneapolis, let’s say.

My understanding of these words, all three of them — Rabbi, instructor, father — is that Christ is making a point about what we would call (later on, doctrinally) the priesthood of all believers. We need teachers, instructors, and fathers as instruments in the hand of God. Scripture tells us that Christ ascended on high and he gave gifts to men (Ephesians 4:8). Those gifts that he gave to us are good for us, and consequently, we may recognize them. And if we recognize them, we are allowed to have proper names for them. We’re allowed to have scriptural names for them.

Among those gifts were teachers. So, Jesus ascended on high, he gave gifts to men, and one of the things that he gave us was teachers. But why did Jesus give us teachers if he said, “Call no man teacher”? What I think we ought to do, what we must do, is that we must acknowledge there’s only one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5), and we must not allow any father to come between us and God. We must not allow any teacher to come between us and God. No Rabbi and no instructor should come in between.

Windows, Not Murals

The gifts that Jesus gives to the church are to be windows that you look through, not murals that you stare at. Jesus says in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is they that bear witness to me.” He was saying that the Jewish leaders were staring at the Scriptures as though it were a mural painted on a wall, and he said, “It’s a window in the wall through which you ought to be able to see what God is doing on the other side of the window.”

I was just talking to someone in the last few days about my father when I was in junior high school or high school, somewhere back there. He put together a Bible study for kids my age and he was teaching us inductive Bible study. And we would all sit around in a circle and he would ask a question, and we’d all stare at him. And I vividly remember him saying, “The answer is not on my forehead. It’s in the text. What’s the text say?” Now, that’s a teacher who’s not letting himself come in between. It’s a teacher who is pointing you somewhere and it’s not to himself.

So, Jesus gives teachers, Jesus gives instructors, and Jesus gives fathers who don’t get underfoot, who don’t get in the way. So, obviously, when Jesus gave these prohibitions, he clearly had something in mind, but what he did not have in mind is a mindless avoidance of certain words that are used elsewhere in Scripture in a healthy way. So, go ahead, call no man “life coach” or “personal trainer”. That’s all right. But teachers and instructors are given by God.

But the fact that they’re given by God and are a gift of Christ doesn’t mean that it can’t be abused. So, fathers are a gift of God. Fathers are a gift of God in the church. Fathers of the church are a gift of God for the church, but we have to understand it scripturally. And that’s what I want to talk a little bit about this evening.

Fathers in the Church

With this understood, we have to recover a proper understanding of the role of fatherhood in the church. And I don’t just mean your familial fathers, the fathers of the families that come to church. I’m talking about fathers for the church. First Corinthians 4:15–16 says this:

For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.

Notice what Paul says: “I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” So, the father here that Paul is being, the role that he’s playing there, does not interfere with the gospel; it is the instrument by which God brought the gospel to them.

One of the fundamental qualifications given for church leadership in the New Testament is that we must have men who know what it means to be a father. If we continue to ignore the obvious, it gets pretty complicated pretty quickly because we don’t understand how imitation governs the world. Let me say that again. Because we don’t understand how imitation governs the world, we have neglected one of the fundamental realities that we are supposed to imitate. As a result, everything downstream from that goes all to pieces, also.

Returning to the point made in my first talk, remember Paul’s words to Timothy.

He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?

Those two things are analogous. That means, incidentally, when the plumbing breaks at home and you have to break off your sermon prep, or something happens with the kids and you have to deal with that interruption, or something happens in the family, you’re not being taken away from Activity B over to Activity A. You’re being taken from Activity A to Activity A. God is equipping you. He’s training you, he’s teaching you, he’s establishing you, and he’s qualifying you. It’s all part of the same life.

Grace and Peace from God the Father

Now, in 1 Timothy, Paul has extended grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father. He begins the letter of 1 Timothy saying, “Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father” (1 Timothy 1:2). I want to say something just as an aside here, and I think it ties in with the broader scope of what I’m saying.

Have you ever noticed that Paul begins his letters with “grace and peace to you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ”? He does that over and over. He mentions the first two persons of the Trinity. He says, “Grace to you from God, the Father,” or, “Grace and peace to you from God, the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.” In two places, he says, “Grace, mercy, and peace . . .”

Have you ever wondered why he doesn’t mention the Spirit? Why does he mention God, the Father, and God, the Son, but not the Spirit? Why is the Spirit not mentioned? The apostle Paul is robustly trinitarian as we can see elsewhere, but why in these greetings does he say, “Grace and peace to you from God, the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ?” Does he not mention the Spirit? I would maintain, following Jonathan Edwards here, that he does mention the Spirit. The Spirit is the grace and peace. The grace and peace is the Spirit of God. It’s the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ.

And the grace and peace that comes to you, comes to you not in a package, not in a bundle. It’s not an inanimate object. Grace and peace in your life is embodied in a person. It comes to you in a person — the Holy Spirit of God. Grace and peace come to you from God the Father. So, God the Father is the Father of Jesus Christ and is, therefore, in a manner of speaking the Father-in-law of the Christian Church. The Christian Church is the bride of Christ married to Jesus. Jesus has a Father. God the Father, in a manner of speaking, is related to the church that way.

Think of all this another way. When we pray, we should pray in a trinitarian way. We are praying to the Father, in the name of Jesus, in the power of the Spirit. We are praying to the Father. The Father is where we go, the Son is the way we get there, and the Spirit is the power that impels us to go. The Father is the destination, Jesus is the road, and the Holy Spirit is the car.

One of the problems with conservative evangelicalism, broadly speaking, is that we’ve left God the Father to the liberals because, as I mentioned the other night, we think, “They emphasize the fatherhood of God and look what that got them.” So the Father is the forgotten member of the Trinity. We have neglected him, and this is a shame because what happens is that it is the office of the Son to bring us to the Father. It is the office of the Spirit to glorify the Son, and when the Spirit glorifies the Son, the Son brings us to the Father. If we just focus on the Son, the way many evangelicals do, or just focus on the Spirit, the way many charismatics do, we are missing the whole point.

Be Imitators of God

My father likes to tell a story about a time when I was young. I grew up in Annapolis, Maryland, and my folks were friends with Corrie Ten Boom, and they brought her one time to Annapolis to speak. And my father had given Corrie Ten Boom’s book A Prisoner and Yet . . . to a Jewish lady in our neighborhood and this Jewish lady was all whipped up about this book. She thought, “This is wonderful.” And so, she invited Corrie Ten Boom to come and speak at their synagogue, which was an Orthodox synagogue.

So, my dad took Corrie Ten Boom to address the folks of the synagogue. And as he was sitting there listening to her talk to the Jews of the Orthodox synagogue, he thought two things. First, “If she says ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’, one more time, we’re not going to make it out of here.” And second, he said, “She must be full of the Spirit because the Spirit loves to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus, and Jesus brings us to the Father. So, we must travel the road. If the Father is the destination, the Son is the road, and the Spirit is the car, we shouldn’t sit in the car off-road and vroom the engine. We shouldn’t walk back and forth on the road. We should get the car on the road and go to the Father.

The reason we need fathers in the church is because there are lessons that cannot be learned unless we learn them, as our text indicates, by imitation. Children imitate. And when we learn by imitation, the lessons go deeper than when we learn them in any other way. Christians are to imitate God as dearly-loved children. It says in Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” That’s what children do. And it’s not a defect. It’s not a bug in the system. Children imitate their parents because God designed them to do that. It’s how it’s supposed to work.

In our Corinthian passage, in the next verse, Paul told them that this is why he had sent Timothy to them. He was a dearly loved child, Paul says, and he could remind them of Paul’s way of life (1 Corinthians 4:17). We can learn from our spiritual fathers at a distance from other children of theirs or from accounts of their lives and so on.

The Need of Fathers

Churches need fathers to govern them. Churches need fathers to teach them. Again, going back to my first point, these are not fathers who obstruct, not fathers who try to replace, not fathers who compete with the Father; but fathers who model the Father in such a way as to point past them, so that people can say, “I know you’re not talking about you. Thank you for talking though. Thank you for speaking clearly, and thank you for speaking of God, our Father.”

Churches need fathers to govern them, but unfortunately, today’s church appears to show all the signs of being managed by the ecclesiastical equivalent of single moms. Paul requires that the church be governed by road-tested fathers. Do the children mind them? Do they conduct well their household management tasks that the fathers are called to undertake?

And let me say another thing, by way of a parenthetical comment. Your job as a father is not to get your kids to conform to the standard. Your job as a father is to get your kids to love the standard. Get them to love the standard. And what if they don’t love the standard? I would say, well, lower the standard. Lower the standard where you can get them to love it.

Now, I’m not talking about God’s standards. You don’t have the authority to lower any standards of God’s, but there are all sorts of household standards that you can lower to the point where everybody can do it joyfully. Let’s do that. It would be far, far better to do a fraction of what you’re currently doing with everybody in the joy of the Lord than to maintain a high standard and have everybody absolutely out of fellowship by the time you’re done with Saturday activities.

So, love the standard and practice. We all need practice. We need to learn how to do this and God enables us to practice by giving us families. If a man doesn’t know how to be a father in the home, then what on earth makes us think that he could perform the necessary task of being a father in the church? This plainly illustrates, I think, when Paul argues this way, what Paul is after. He is seeking fathers for the church. He is wanting good fathers for the church.

Enshrining Feminine Virtues

It’s going to look, in this talk, like I’m changing the subject. I don’t believe I am. I think I’m going from one point to another. But this explains, I believe, why the controversy over women’s ordination is not going to go away anytime soon. The issue is not the text. The issue is not exegesis. The issue is not what the text says. Because we’ve neglected this critical testing ground and we’ve gone for the graduate student test, instead, we have not surprisingly drifted. Once this drift sets in, it’s not possible to simply arbitrarily stop and say, “Let’s not do this anymore.”

For several centuries, we’ve exalted some very feminine virtues to the highest place in the church, and we have demanded that men conform to those standards. One book I’d commend to you is Ann Douglas’s book [The Feminization of American Culture]. She’s not a believer, not a Christian. I think she’s a feminist scholar. But she details how, in the early 19th Century, we opted and made a certain set of fatal decisions that resulted in where we are now. We have exalted some very feminine virtues to the highest place of the church, and then we’ve demanded that men conform to those standards.

Unfortunately, if those are the standards, if we don’t know what masculine piety looks like anymore and we’ve enshrined feminine piety in the church, and then because of Timothy, we say, “Well, men, you’ve got to be that, you’ve got to do that,” we’re stuck. If those are the standards, then women would do a better job at being women pastors than men do at being women pastors. If we must have women pastors, then women would be better at it, it would seem to me.

I believe honestly that we’re scared by masculine piety. We don’t like it. It’s not very easy to control. It’s unsettling. And so, we’d rather have sweet virtues. We’d rather have feminine virtues in place, and then we ask the men to do that. This is not a universal rule, but I think it’s worth keeping in mind. Liberals sometimes are more to be trusted with what the text of Scripture actually says than our evangelicals. Let me say that again. Liberals are sometimes more to be trusted with what the text actually says than our evangelicals.

This is because evangelicals are stuck with the results of their exegesis. Whatever we say the text is saying, we’ve got to then go do. The liberals can say, “The Apostle Paul taught this. Ho, ho, ho. The Apostle Paul taught this. What does he know?” They can say that they’re liberals. Evangelicals can’t say, “The Apostle Paul taught this. What does he know?” The evangelical has to say, “The Apostle Paul taught this, and therefore, we’ve got to do this.” But sometimes, there are things we don’t want to do, so we have to say, “Time for a Greek word study.”

Plump-Cheeked Parsons

Evangelicals are stuck with Paul’s (inscrutable to us) prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:11–15. It’s not a coincidence, incidentally, that the requirement that bishops be road-tested family men, fathers who rule their household well, is a requirement that immediately follows this prohibition of women in ministry. We have to remember that in the original letter to Timothy, there were no chapter breaks.

And yet because we’ve neglected the qualification that he must be a reliable father, we have patched together some other characteristics that we think would be “nice.” Thus, we have come to demand, essentially, feminine virtues of our ministers, but are stuck with this arbitrary line from the Bible that keeps out the most qualified members of the church, as far as being sweet goes, out. This creates a demand among evangelicals for some exegetical ingenuity.

So, let’s return to the top. We need fathers in the church. We need authority. We need some John Knox Beards. If people balk at that, just tell them it’s a ZZ Top Beard until it’s too late. We need shepherds of the kind like David, who can handle an occasional bear or lion. Real ministers really do need to be tough and we need to remember that the reputation of ministerial milk toaster-y, of ministers as the third sex, is not really all that unfair. I can’t believe I said that here.

Generations of the nicest young men in the church have been urged by the church ladies to consider the ministry. He’s such a sweet boy, and he’s got little red plump cheeks. But constantly having little red plump cheeks and having the church ladies pinch them for lots of years does not constitute a call to the ministry of word and sacrament. Because the ministerial vocation is, in the minds of many, an indoor job with no heavy lifting, it involves no bleeding knuckles and lots of being nice to people, the church has come over time to consider the best candidates for future ministry to be that sweet boy.

We are all aware of the type from real life and from literature. The literary portrayals are sometimes overstated and are sometimes unfair for that reason, but they still work and they work for a reason. That reason is that the caricatures answer to something that most of us have seen in real life. From the psalm singer David in Cooper Stories, to the Reverend Mr. Kinosling in the Penrod Stories, to Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, we who are ministers have the opportunity to see ourselves as the world sees us. We ought to think about it more than we do.

In your average Western, when the work of fighting the Indians heats up, the parson is usually underfoot and useless. Why? Why have we come to the point where nobody thinks, when someone says, “I’m considering a call to the ministry,” or, “I’m considering going to seminary,” or, “I’m considering taking up this calling,” that the pulpit is a place that requires courage to occupy?

Why do we not think that a man has to be courageous to go there and do that? Well, there are a lot of pulpits that do require that. There are a lot of courageous men in a lot of pulpits, but that’s not the public reputation. That’s not what people think of. Ministers are oftentimes coordinators, facilitators, counselors, and back-of-the-hand patters. There’s much, much more involved.

Two Kinds of Authority

So, let’s talk about two kinds of authority. One is the authority of office, which can be obtained in all sorts of ways. Some of them are honest. The other kind of authority is the kind that flows to the person who takes responsibility. I said last night, authority flows to those who take responsibility. This is a spiritual authority, the kind of authority that flowers wherever there’s been a death and a resurrection. These are two kinds of authority. One is the authority of office and the other is the authority of blessing. One is the authority of office and the other is the authority of the fruit from death and resurrection.

Now, every father in the family and in the church has the authority that comes with the office. It’s quite striking that Caiaphas, being a high priest that year, prophesied. He had the authority of office, though he didn’t have the blessing of the Holy Spirit on him. He was a wicked man, but he had the authority of office. So this is why Scripture tells us to honor father and mother and doesn’t put a series of special conditions on it. It does not say that we should honor our father, provided only that he has earned it or deserves it. The authority of office only is an authority that Scripture does recognize and support even when the office holder is not up to the task.

So, what happens is when the Bible says, “Honor your father and mother” (Ephesians 6:2), and, “Children obey your parents” (Ephesians 6:1). Paul doesn’t go into whether your parents were good parents or diligent parents. He says, “Honor your father and mother,” and, “This is a command with a promise” (Ephesians 6:2). So, the authority of office is one that we recognize and honor. We don’t despise it, even while noting that it is not sufficient.

Check in Hand, Money in the Bank

We want Reformation and revival in the church today, and we should, but let me speak to the cultural conditions outside. The restoration of the republic is an absolute impossibility, unless there’s a reformation and revival in the church.

And some of the reasons for that I’m going to get into shortly, but you can just look at that mess outside, look at what’s going on in the pandemonium of our public square, and just write it off. Unless something dramatic happens in the church, what future historians will call “The Third Great Awakening” or something like it, there is no salvation outside. There is no Savior but the Lord Jesus.

The authority of office is like having the right checkbook with you. That is your name in the upper left-hand corner. It is your address, it is your account number. You are the authorized signatory on that account. The other kind of authority, Spirit-given authority, the authority of blessing is like having money in the bank. There’s money-in-the-bank authority and there’s having-the-right-checkbook authority. If a man is bouncing checks left and right, it will do no good for him to complain that he still has checks left.

I’ve seen many fathers, for example, who tried to write a big check that their children would have to clear for them, and they demanded that their children do this because they could prove from the Bible that it was their checkbook. I’ve been in counseling sessions, trying to explain to a hapless father that his account had insufficient funds because he had not made any deposits in it for years, with him trying to explain to me that he had read in one of my books that taught plainly that he, the father, was the owner of the checkbook.

Both of these assertions are quite true, but they are assertions about two completely different things. Yes, that is his checkbook. Yes, he is authorized to sign. Yes, that’s all true. He has the authority of office, but that’s not the same thing as having money in the account.

None of these changes when you move into the realm of the church. If we move it into the realm of the church and begin discussing pastoral authority, we have two kinds of authority. We have the authority of the office and we have the intangible authority that comes with a man who is speaking for God and who is under the blessing of God. People won’t listen to you simply because the book of church order tells them that they have to.

I’m coming from a Reformed and Presbyterian background, so we refer to things like books of church order. I know there are many denominations here that are governed by books of church disorder. But I’m not defending or complaining or anything because frankly, between us, the results of going by either book are pretty much the same. But people won’t listen to you because the constitution says they have to. They won’t listen to you because a bunch of people who loved the pastor before the pastor who was there before you arrived. They really liked him and they wrote down that you ought to listen to the pastor.

Returning to the Worship of the Father

In order to deal with the plague of fatherlessness in the church and elsewhere, we have to return first to the worship of God the Father. The worship of the Father is the engine that drives everything else. The worship of God the Father is what fills up that checkbook. We can’t have the Father without the Son and we can’t have the Son without the Spirit. They all come together.

Not only so, but we can’t have any of them without the preaching of the gospel, without men who stand in front of the people of God and say, “Come, let us go to the Father. That’s where we’re going. That’s what we’re doing.” The culture of absenteeism that we see around us is, therefore, a function of how we worship the Father. The reason we have distant dads, absent dads, and harsh dads has to do with how we worship.

Theologian Henry Van Til taught us that a culture is religion externalized. At the very center of every culture is a cultus, a practice or principle of worship. In a Christian context, think of it as church and kingdom, or church and parish. The cathedral is at the center and the village is all around. At the center of the community, you have the house of worship. Outside that place of formal worship, you have all the activities that men and women pursue during the course of their lives. They ought to pursue all those things in obedience to Christ, of course.

Auto mechanic work and politics and sewing and bringing up children and education — those things don’t happen in the church proper. Those aren’t the ministry of word and sacrament, but the ministry of word and sacrament ought to define and cast the whole situation for us.

So we come to our people as small fathers, tiny fathers, as father replicas, as father images pointing to the Father. And we are given the authority. How shall they hear without a preacher? God in his kindness has made us ministers of his gospel, heralds, as Pastor John was saying earlier, and he’s given us the tremendous privilege of, as Peter says, “Him who speaks, let him speak as one who speaks the very oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). And you think, “How is that possible? How can I, a creature of clay, stand up in front of other people and say, ‘Let us go to God. Let us worship God.’”

Well, because you are given that office and you are given that authority. You don’t want to have the office only and then discredit it. You want to have the office and you want to have the second kind of authority that I’m speaking about.

A Cascade of Relativism

So, when we say to our people, “Come let us go to the Father,” what is the context in which we are saying this? The world outside, the culture outside, is given over to evolutionary assumptions, Darwinian assumptions, and postmodern relativism. And when that happens you get a toxic sexual mix, a gender mix — something that I call pomo-sexuality.

Pomo-sexuality is the belief that everything is ultimately infinitely malleable and I should be able to do whatever I want with the world because there is no God, there is no designer over it, there are no fixed limits, and there are no fixed givens. What does evolution teach us? It teaches us that hydrogen is an odorless, colorless gas with infinite potential. It can turn into sea walruses. It can turn into Lady Di. It can turn into your can of Dr. Pepper. Hydrogen has all sorts of possibilities and there was this little dot, a mathematical point, an almost nothing dot, and one day, it blew up.

It blew up. I don’t know. They had a problem in the reactors. I don’t know what the problem was, but it blew up and here we are. What are you saying when you look at this universe? What are you saying? You’re saying that matter is infinitely malleable. Anything can turn into anything else.

So, if I believe that’s the ultimate reality, why can I not conform my behavior, my attitude, and my sexuality to that reality? Why can’t I turn myself into anything I want? The world sophisticates, the UN, currently has five genders and counting. Don’t expect that number to stay constant.

I was signing up for a new account with an internet giant recently, and when it came to sex, they thoughtfully gave me three options, three boxes to check. They were ‘male’, ‘female’, and ‘other’. Now, I’m not going to say who these people were, but it rhymes with “Foogle”. Their motto rejects being evil, but they’ve allowed themselves some leeway on being confused.

Gender bending is what comes from living in a world full of fallen and sinful desires coupled with certain evolutionary assumptions that allow one the liberty of trying to evolve into some other interesting sexual identity. This is why we now have gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and what used to be called normal. We also have riffs on these — queer and metrosexual, for example. This is a complicated process, kind of like getting a new sport added to the Olympics. And who knows where this interesting process of morphing will end up. I sure don’t.

You Become What You Worship

But believing yourself to live in an endlessly morphing cosmos does not just make this sexual meander possible. For the culture at large, it makes it necessary. Let me say that again. It’s not just possible, if there is no God and if evolution happens and there are no ultimate standards, to wander off this way; it is necessary that you will wander off this way. This is because Scripture lays down an inexorable law: you become like what you worship. You become like what you worship. This is true of the living God and it is true of idols.

Worshipers of the true God become more and more like him. Worshipers of idols become more and more like him. Why are we going to be conformed to the image of Christ when we see him at his coming? We’re going to be conformed to him because we will see him as he is. We will see him and we’re going to become like him. The reason the church is filled with pencil necks is because we have been refusing, in various ways, to worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. We, in the church, are becoming like what we worship.

In Psalm 115, we are told that foolish men make idols that have sightless eyes, deaf ears, dumb mouths, and so forth. “Those who make them,” the psalmist says, “are like unto them” (Psalm 115:8). These are blind gods, deaf gods, and mute gods. Those that make them become blind, deaf, and mute. A man comes to resemble what he worships. We see the same principle working in the other direction as well. “We are being transformed,” the Apostle Paul says, “from one degree of glory to another as we behold the Lord in worship” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

This is what the Apostle Paul is pointing to when he says that we’re being transformed from one degree of glory to another. This is what is happening because of what we are beholding in worship, in 2 Corinthians 3:18. This is not just a cute observation or rickety supposition resting in some rickety way on the top of a couple of verses.

Reverence to Resemblance

GK Beale has done a masterful job in demonstrating that this is actually one of the great themes found throughout Scripture. Beale said this in his book titled, We Become What We Worship. He says:

God has made humans to reflect him, but if they do not commit themselves to him they will not reflect him, but something else in creation.

At the core of our beings, we are imaging creatures. It is not possible to be neutral on this issue. We either reflect the Creator or something in creation. We are built as mirrors. We are built as imaging creatures. We are built as the image of God. And when we fell into sin, that image was fractured and the mirror was pointed in another direction. The mirror was pointed, so that it would reflect something else.

If we are not reflecting the Father, therefore, it is because we are pointed in another direction. Incidentally, before I leave reference to Beale’s wonderful book, We Become What We Worship, if you’re a pastor wanting to minister in this culture at this time and you don’t have that book in your library, that is something that the great puritan John Owen would have called a sin. I believe he would have.

A Postmodern Confession of Faith

So, if we believe that the ultimate reality, the ultimate way things are, is simply evolutionary flux, then that will be our final and ultimate principle. That is our god. Evolution is our god. Change is our god. Everything changes into everything else. That’s the final principle, that’s the ultimate thing. And how can you worship ultimate change and not believe yourself to be authorized to change however you want?

Evolutionary flux has become our god and we will grow into the likeness of that god as much as we can. This is the deep religious motivation behind the troubled identity issues that Michael Jackson, for example, had. But Jackson was nothing more than a parable for our time. He did not treat his race as a defined boundary. He did not even treat his face as a defined boundary. So, if change is our object of worship, then change is what we’re going to become like.

And how can you stop and just arbitrarily draw a line and say, “No, no, no, no. You can’t be transgender. You were born a boy, you have to stay a boy. You were born a girl, you have to stay a girl. You were born this way, you have to stay this way.” No. Where did it come from? Where? How is it possible for people to say, seriously with a straight face, that they need to go reinvent themselves.

What is that? That’s a religious confession. When someone says, “I want to reinvent myself,” that’s like someone saying, “What is the chief end of man?” And they say, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” You say, “Oh, you grew up in a Westminster Confession family or church.” You can tell by the confession. If someone says, “I want to reinvent myself, I want to adopt this persona,” that is a confession of faith. They are confessing how they worship.

Sexual choices are not a matter of taste or of genetics or of mere cultural custom. Sexual expressions are religious expressions. The same thing is true of masculinity and femininity. These are religious confessions. When God created man in his image, male and female, he created them. In the image of God, he created them (Genesis 1:27). Male and female has to do with how God is. We reflect God somehow in this, but our theologians haven’t got that far yet. We’re still pretty immature. We haven’t gotten there. But we know, at the end of all time, that the way we were made at the beginning reflected the way God has eternally been. And he is summoning us to grow up into maturity.

God’s Plan to Glorify Man

That invitation to maturity was given to Adam before he fell and after Adam fell. And when we got ourselves into this fractured mess, God sent another Adam. God was not derailed. God was not put off by our rebellion. He said, “I have not abandoned my plan to glorify man.” And that’s why man is now glorified in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus is a man. He became one of us. We were lower than the angels. And he was of a woman, born under the law. He became one of us so that we could be exalted in him to the highest place. This is the theme of Paul’s writings. We’re in Christ, we’re in the Beloved, we’re in him. We’re co-crucified, co-buried, co-raised, and co-ascended. We are in Jesus Christ. If we are in Jesus Christ, we are in the Second Adam. If we are in the second Adam, we are in the new mankind — the new way, the final way, the ultimate way of being human.

So, sexual choices are not up to us. We’re not worshiping that god. We don’t serve at that altar. We don’t go into that temple. Peter Jones says this:

The pagan gospel preaches that redemption is liberation from the Creator and repudiation of creation’s structures. It offers the liberation of sex from its heterosexual, complimentary essence. The Christian gospel proclaims that redemption is reconciliation with the creator and the honoring of creation’s goodness. This gospel celebrates the goodness of sex within its rightful heterosexual limits.

Jesus Christ did not just reconcile us with God. He reconciled heaven and earth. He reconciled all things. We cannot just be reconciled to God in our own personal heart, in our own personal life. Jesus brought a redemption into the world that was cosmic. The redemption of Jesus Christ encompasses everything.

Slipping Standards or Changing Gods?

Look around at the world. In one way it would be easy, I think, way too easy to simply say that standards have slipped and back when I was a boy, they never would’ve done that. And we would say, “And boy, things are getting bad and there are far too many weirdos allowed out these days.” But this is a phenomenon that is too widespread to be a case of standards slipping. This is not a case of standards slipping.

On the contrary, this is a case of standards changing, or to be more blunt than that, it is a changing of the gods. We are living at a time of crisis when our people are exchanging one God for another, and because they’re exchanging one God for another, and because they are becoming like the god they have adopted, there is nothing, whatever, we can do to arrest that process like passing a law, or getting Congress to defend marriage.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I really believe that legislators and magistrates and people ought to say true things. I think they ought to pass honorable and good laws. But anybody hoping that for the United States Congress to stop this cultural shift by passing a law is just plain delusional. While they’re at it, they ought to pass a law against water flowing downhill. While they’re at it, they ought to say, “Repeal the law of gravity, or at least modify it. Too many people are getting hurt.”

A Law That Cannot be Touched

The law that they have no authority to touch, they cannot reach, is deeply embedded in the way things are: you become like what you worship. And if you don’t like what’s happening around you, if you don’t like what people are becoming, there is only one solution: those people need to worship another God. Those people need to confess Jesus Christ. Those people need the gospel. And only the gospel can save us. How’s it possible for traditionalist Americans to want America to be saved and still reject the Savior? They say, “Let’s save America. Let’s take America back.”

How many of you get mailings that invite you to help take America back? Okay, I’ll say it: “All right, game. I’m game. Where? Where should we take her back? Where should we go? I’ve got a suggestion. Let’s go back to Jesus.” And they say, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no. We can’t go back to Jesus. We need to save America without Jesus.” You’re Christians. Listen to yourselves. Politicians can’t save us. Artists can’t save us. Movie makers can’t save us. Preachers can’t save us. Churches can’t save us. Only Jesus can save us.

And when we turn to Jesus, what does he do? He takes us straight to the Father. He doesn’t do anything else. The Lord Jesus doesn’t do anything else but to bring us to the Father. They said, “Teach us to pray.” He said, “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name . . .’”

The Worship of the Father

So coming back to the center, we should be able to see why the worship of God the Father is central, why it’s so crucial. Without that, we will no longer be able to maintain the understanding of fatherhood that grew and developed over the course of Christendom’s rise and maturation. Do you want traditional fathers, the kind of wonderful father that we had described for us earlier today? Do you want that kind of father? Do you want the kind of father I was privileged, by the grace of God, to have? Do you want fathers like that to be given to this nation?

If you want fathers like that, if you want traditional, intact, balanced, loving disciplinarians, and you want all that and you don’t want God the Father, then you’re just dreaming. You can’t have the idea of fatherhood as sort of an arbitrary western cultural value that we cooked up and thought, “Wasn’t it cool?” We did not. That’s gospel. It’s all gospel.

You cannot remove God and demand that we will still be able to keep his likeness. We become like what we worship. We are mirrors. We reflect what we are pointed at. And we point ourselves, we orient ourselves, in worship when we come to worship God, when we assemble on the Lord’s day. There are different ways, there are different liturgies, there are different practices. In our congregation, we begin worship with me saying the call to worship. I say, “Let us worship the triune God.” And everybody stands up. I’m saying, “Let’s go to heaven.”

You ought to think about the place where you are worshiping as a hall or a sanctuary with a retractable roof. And when you speak those words, “Let us worship the triune God,” you are saying, in effect, “Let us ascend into the heavenly places, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and there, we assemble with all God’s people on this Lord’s day before the throne of God.” This nation is not going to be helped at all unless the Christians in this nation go to heaven once a week with everybody else. And we assemble before the throne of God and we worship the Father.

Like it or not, we are going to take on the likeness of the God that we have replaced God with. Worship the Father, become like him; refuse to worship the Father, become like whatever it is you decided on. In fact, once we’ve removed ourselves from the worship of the Father, it’s not long before we can not even tolerate even the presence of his likeness, even in others, however dimly reflected — if that likeness is the result of their worship and not mere mimicry.

Antipathy of the Ages

Think of Lot. Peter tells us that Lot was a righteous man. And he could have fooled me sometimes. You said he was standing a little bit close to the edge, he was in places he ought not to have been, and his family got mangled in ways that they ought not to have gotten mangled. And the angels came. But he was a righteous man, Peter tells us, and the angels came and the inhabitants of Sodom wanted to rape the angels. Lot had them in his house and was protecting them and offered his daughters instead. That’s hardly Lot’s shining moment. His light was not shining brightly at that moment.

But have you ever noticed in that account the people besieging his house took offense? They said, “Who are you to judge us?” It sounds like Matthew 7:1, “Judge not lest you be judged.” Nonbelievers have special, secret Vacation Bible Schools that they attend. I’m just amazed at some of the verses that non-Christians all seem to know, and “Judge not lest you be judged,” is one of them. Well, the Sodomites knew that. They said, “Who are you to judge us? Who are you to indicate that there might be something possibly wrong with our behavior? Who are you to judge us? Who are you to make us feel bad over the fact that we’re about to rape a couple of angels? How dare you, Lot. You’re guilty of a hate crime, I think.”

That’s not a shining moment for Lot. Lot is not a bright beacon. But even that dim, flickering light said something to them. They could not abide that. Because God has established eternal and everlasting antipathy between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Nothing can be done to erase that. The only thing that can be done is for the seed of the woman to crush the serpent’s head.

C.S. Lewis once famously wrote in The Abolition of Man:

In a sort of ghastly simplicity, we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings, ‘Be fruitful.’”

This passage is quite familiar to many, but I don’t mind citing it again because it really is something that all of us ought to memorize. We cannot refuse the Father and have fathers. We cannot refuse the Father and still keep dads. We cannot have a father unless God in his grace raises up fathers to lead the people of God to the Father. And it’s the self-perpetuating process. The more we look to him, the more we worship him, the more we do these things, the more God is shaping us into his image. And remember that that transformation is something he does for us. We don’t do it for him.

The Heavenly Jerusalem

Unless and until the Father grants a Reformation to the church that brings us all back to a robust worship of him, facing the Father full on — and we can only do that in the name of Jesus, in the power of the Spirit — all our attempts at fixing things will be doomed to futility. We must stop removing the organ and demanding the function. We must stop it.

And so, returning to what I was saying about your worship, you gather, whatever you say at the beginning, “Let’s praise God. Let us open in prayer. Let us worship the triune God,” and the people assemble, the roof retracts, and the Holy Spirit gathers you up and escorts you into the heavenly places. When you come to worship God, you have not come to a mountain that can be touched. You’ve not come to a physical place. You’ve come to the heavenly Zion. You’ve come to the heavenly Jerusalem. You’ve come to the great assembly. You’ve come to an enumerable host of angels.

That’s where you come when you worship God. You come into his presence and you face God the Father in the name of Jesus. And that is one of the things that God does to affect you, affect your family, and affect your congregation.

Besieging the Citadels of Unbelief

I pray frequently. I want unbelievers to be aware of what’s happening, not when Christians sign petitions (go ahead and sign them, that’s all right), and not when they support legislation (go ahead), and not when they vote (go ahead and vote, it’s your civic duty) — but that’s not what I want them to worry about. Do you see that? I don’t want them worrying about how I’m going to vote. I want them to worry about how I worship. That’s what they need to worry about every week.

Paul says that we take every thought captive. We are besieging the citadels of unbelief. Note that we are besieging them; it’s not the other way around. Every week, we have the privilege of gathering around with your local citadel of unbelief, whatever that is, and you’ve got this big battering ram. And every week God says to his people, “Go ahead, take another swing.” And you do it by worshiping.

You worship, and when you worship God the Father, you pick up the battering ram, and you swing it. And then you put it down and you say, “Another week until I get to do that again.” And then you gather with God’s people and you pick it up and you swing it. And I want, at some point in these proceedings, the unbelievers, the high secularists, the people who’ve set themselves against everything that would know God or would come to God, the people who set themselves against the knowledge of God, to hear somebody to say at a cabinet meeting, “What was that? That little distant boom, boom.”

I want them to think, “Every week I get a little nervous. What’s going on?” God’s people are worshiping. And when God’s people worship the Father, he transforms them into the likeness that he built us to be transformed into. That’s the whole point of this project. That’s the whole point of human history. That’s where we’re going. That’s why we’re here.

And so, fathers in the church, come to your people with courage. Ask God for a backbone. Ask God to help you and give you grace and wisdom and courage, so that you can say to one another, “Come. Let us lead our people to the Father of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.” Amen and amen.