Practical Theology: Marital Hostages

A buddy of mine, Oswald, married a terrible woman many years ago.  Oswald was young and dumb and probably lacked chest hair, so he wasn’t the greatest find, either.  Over the last 20 years, Oswald has tired of her antics, her verbal abuse of the children, her affairs.  He walked out about 18 months ago and other than periodic visits to the child, he’s been out of her life.

In the last 8 months, Oswald has found a God-sized hole in his heart and has successfully filled that void.  He drops by the house once or twice a week for coffee and sugar-free pastries (he’s diabetic).  Recently, he decided to whine to me.

“Had another meeting with the wife and her lawyer.  I don’t understand – she won’t give me the divorce.  Demands that I pay off her debts so that she can afford to raise our 14-year old.  What more does she want?  I let that adulteress have the house and the land.  I gave her my dog for security, though she promptly starved it to death and dumped his body in the street.  I did not dispute custody, or money, or lay out her dalliances with her boy toys.  I pay for the kids’ schooling and clothes and medical care.  I just want to be done with her.”

See, the problem is that Oswald did his spiritual homework.  He knows he is free to divorce her due to her sexual sins.  As well, he knows that since he is divorcing her for proper cause, he’ll eventually have the right to pursue another woman to keep him company.  The only hang-up is his wife’s refusal to sign the papers.

He went on….

“Here in Ecuador, if she won’t give me an uncontested divorce, then I have to wait three years for the judge to order the divorce despite her refusal to sign.  That means that because she couldn’t avoid playing the field, romantically speaking, I don’t have the right to be free.  I have to wait three years, right?  Didn’t the Bible say all I needed was some certificate of divorce?  Somewhere in Matthew?  Well, here in Ecuador we don’t have that. We have angry wives holding their departing spouses hostage over money and jealousy.”

So….what do I tell Oswald?  Do I tell him that the Bible leaves it up to culture to define the process for divorce and he just gets to suck it up?  Can I justify telling him to date who he wants since the papers have been filed and they are proof of his intent to divorce her?  Do I tell him to create a certificate of the divorce like the earliest believers would likely have done?

Anyone with a great answer?



Conflict and Me

Well, they’ve done it again.

One more time, a body of Baptists has gone and done something I disagree with. In fact, they’ve done something that qualifies as downright foolish. One could easily question the ethics of their actions, the righteousness of their thought processes, and perhaps doubt the salvation of the people involved.

Who has done what now?

Oh, any number of things: Brewton-Parker College hired somebody. Louisiana College fired somebody. Southern Seminary didn’t fire anybody, Southwestern Seminary did. The KBC voted for this and the Florida Convention did not vote on it at all. And don’t get me started on the behavior of various evangelical rock star pastors–or the existence thereof in the first place! Why, I could source a blog post a day with the mistreatment of Calvinists, the mistreatment by Calvinists, and the foolishness of the allegedly “Great Ones” of our denomination. And then I could fill in the weekends with the dumb things done by those of us in the small time.

So why don’t I? Surely I should say something, shouldn’t I?

There are times, certainly, when silence is sinful. If we remain silent in the face of abuse of innocent people, then we are complicit in that abuse. If we allow people to be defrauded when we can put a stop to it, then we are complicit in that fraud. If we sit idly by and allow heresy to root, sprout, bloom, and reproduce, then we are complicit in its spread. True, we may not be legally responsible. I honestly do not care if we are or are not in these cases. We are morally responsible and that is of far greater consequence.  (Please note–I’m not saying you’re not legally responsible to report certain things to the police–if you are, then you absolutely better do so.)

Why, then, am I not burning up the webs with critiques and criticisms of the latest controversy? Here are the reasons:

1. Biblical Optometry: Remove the plank from my own eye first, and then go after the speck in my brother’s. (Matthew 7) My first question before criticizing someone is this: Do I continue to do the same thing? Am I standing behind a pulpit because of a deceptive resume? I’m not talking about the gracious people who are my references who told the church I was a good guy–they’re responsible for that. I am talking about the question of hypocrisy: do I intentionally do that which I want to criticize another person for doing?

If so, then perhaps my mouth should stay shut and my fingers tied about how someone else is doing it, too.

2. Personal Ignorance: I usually know half of the story, and it is ill-advised to over-pursue a case based on one side. (Proverbs 18:17, especially) Do I have all the facts? I honestly do not. This does not mean I do not trust other people to have gathered the facts and accurately report them: I see the concerned reports regarding Vision Forum and the complete meltdown of the leadership there. I have not investigated it, but I trust the people speaking about the issue. It is better to allow someone who is more aware of the facts to address a matter. In that case, for example, the only thing I knew about Doug Phillips and his view of the family was that a friend of mine had talked about starting to follow that method, then they left it. My wife already had plans for how she wanted to teach our children, the programs that had prepared her for college (where she had a better GPA than I did), and I did not question her choice. I still don’t.

If I do not know the facts well, it is better to avoid pontificating at length on an issue–note your concern and then provide links to someone who has the facts.

3. An Assumption of Repentance: This connects to personal ignorance: if an individual flamed out of public visibility ten years ago, and now reappears, before I throw his old sin back at him, it would be wise to consider the possibility of repentance. I have had friends who left ministry roles due to marital issues, addictions, or other personal problems. Yet I would not be fair if the moment I saw those names listed under “Ministerial Moves” in the Baptist paper to let forth a laundry list of sins that God Himself has removed (Psalm 103). This does not apply to those items which are disqualifying: if a man used his pastoral office to abuse children, there is no statute of limitations on his disqualification. He may be forgiven by God without being requalified for office. But if a former friend has walked through the wilderness and now returns, give him the benefit of the doubt.

If I am not willing to rebuild the relationship, then my accusations should stay where my knowledge is from: the past.

4. Closer Threats Abound: I am well aware of the Martin Luther King, Jr., quote that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I will, however, tell you this:  Southern Baptists in the 80s were right to be more concerned about liberal Baptists than liberal Episcopalians. If I am skipping over a threat to effective Baptist ministry or Christian witness in arm’s reach, I should not spend great effort going after one farther away. I said in the comment stream on one of these posts that it’s far easier to go after Caner or Driscoll or Mahaney because there is no downside for me. All three of these, for example, I could blog about every day and all I would suffer is an eventual drop in blog readership. And I would have no effect, at all, on their continued freedom to do as they please.

Meanwhile, nearer to me, there are threats to the effectiveness of the church. There are racists, crooks, financial frauds, all filling pulpits of various denominations. Do I pursue those with the same vehemence I pursue my online foes? If I am hesitant to engage when it comes at a personal cost, then lobbing online bombs at a distant target is not a courageous stand for the truth. It’s a cowardly avoidance of my duty. The wolves that threaten my flock are closer at hand than Driscoll, Mahaney, or Caner, though I will keep a wanted poster up in the office in case they come ’round these here parts.

If I find myself being “discreet” with my friends and “passionate for light” with everyone else, then I am not rightly engaging in the situation.

5. Response Exhaustion: This ties with the closer threats abound issue above. If I expend, and demand my congregation expend, a great deal of energy over a distant threat that ultimately we can do nothing about, then what do we have left for a near threat? If they book Mark Driscoll for our local association meeting, then there’s a close thing we can deal with. We can readily put a stop to it–or at least greatly impact the event and reduce the attendance and involvement. Yet if I spend all of my time shouting “Wolf” and then telling folks, “You’ve never seen him, heard of him, and he’s not around here, but way over there, in the mountains, there’s a wolf!” then what does the assumption become? That my warnings are of no consequence.

There’s also an aspect here where we need to be proactive more than we are. The Great Commission says to “make disciples” and “teach them to obey everything I (Jesus) commanded you.” When we use all our energy responding to threats far away, we are not making disciples that are more wolf-resistant.


In all of this, I do not wish that we would become complacent. We need to be aware of and respond to things appropriately, but understand that there are reasons why not everyone champions your cause. It is not always that we are cowed into submission by the great cover-up machine. It is not that I do not care what happens to people. It is that I have people closer in, a congregation that I am personally responsible for, that I am extremely zealous for. And I am less concerned for a specific personality or two than for the overall machinations that make them–the names change with the decades.

Contend where you must, but focus your efforts where they do the most good for the Kingdom of God.



A Christmas Poem: “The Promised One of Old Is Finally Here”

“The Promised One of Old Is Finally Here”

by Ben Simpson


Welcome one and welcome all!
Gather round, sit down, and hear
Of the baby born in a manger stall,
Who conquered death, sin, and fear.

It’s a story ancient old,
But some still fail to know it.
So I bring it bold
This morning afresh as a preacher poet.

The beginning of that babe was not the beginning.
The story actually began long, long before
When our first father Adam in the Garden introduced sinning
And God in mercy pushed them out and closed the door.

But in grace before that,
He promised a child, meek in mind
Yet determined to crush the old serpent’s head flat
And eradicate sin of each and every kind.

You see, from Adam would multiply a fallen race of humanity
Such that each would be born condemned for eternity
For what Adam did as our representing entity
And for then piling on our own sin seemingly into infinity.

Adam’s curse was quite clear:
The ground he worked would yield thistle and thorn,
Toiling until his death; Eve within a year
Would have pain as babies are born.

And sin in this world began to grow.
With pain Eve had one son, then two,
And as they grew, one brother killed the other bro.
All of this was only the start of man’s coup.

Population increased, but so did wickedness
Until God finally had His fill.
His plan of judgment was quite precipitous;
Every man would wish he had a gill.

But even here one man found favor with God.
Noah and his family and two animals of each kind
Were to enter the ark, safe from the flooding sod
As forty days of water God did unbind.

Oh but what of this one promised to kill Satan and sin?
He was still coming and would be the Son who’s obedient again and again;
He’d be the brother who would never pierce your skin;
He’d be the boat that would protect you within.

The story of the coming of the babe in the manger continued on.
God called a man from the city of Ur
Named Abram for a while but Abraham from then on.
A great covenant upon him did God confer.

“A great nation of you I will make indeed
And a great name and land will be yours.
Through a great one coming who is you seed,
I will bless the world with the cure of cures.”

This covenant was passed from father to son.
Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat twins–
First Esau then Jacob who wrestled terribly within their mothers oven–
And it was prophesied the older would serve the younger of kin.

Therefore, it was to Jacob whom the covenant passed;
The Lord renamed him Israel, and he had twelve sons.
My goodness that nation grew fast!
These twelve sons became twelve tribes with people in tons!

But, a drought pushed them in to the foreign land
Of Egypt where Israel’s son Joseph had become rather grand.
However before long Joseph was a forgotten hand,
And Israel became slaves to pharaoh’s command.

But God raised up a deliver there along the Nile–
Moses whom He called into service through a burning bush.
Pharaoh’s resolve would be broken in just a while,
And after ten plagues he sent them out with a rush.

And so out of Egypt God’s people went heading east
With miracles along the way–
Like the sea parting, heaven raining down a feast,
And many more than here I can say.

And as they traveled, God spoke to and through Moses
And delivered ten commandments in stone,
But at them soon Israel would wrinkle their noses,
And long to sit under pharaoh’s throne.

Nevertheless, Israel God faithfully led,
Marching eastward toward the Promised Land.
Near the end of the journey it was announced, “Moses is dead!”
And a successor named Joshua lead them across Jordan’s sand.

“But, what of the babe?  Where is He?  Where is he?!”
Slowly but surely God’s plan came to be.
So, be patient, my friend, and you soon shall see
The birth of the One sent to set you free!

As time passed, the people began to cry for a king
In the likeness of the pagan nations ’round,
And since God was their king, it was no small thing
To have a fallen mortal crowned.

So, God gave them what they wanted in a man named Saul,
From the tribe of Benjamin, tall, handsome, and strong.
God did this to Israel as a lesson; see, Saul’s love for God was small,
And as a few years passed it was clear Saul was all wrong.

But, God had in mind a king who’d love Him with all of his heart.
You see, God doesn’t see man the way man sees man.
We look at the outside while He looks within from the start;
And so Saul’s replacement was found in Judah’s clan.

The boy’s name was David, a shepherd of the field,
Full of faith, love, integrity, and reliance upon the Lord.
To the leadership of God, David was quick to yield,
And upon him a great portion of the Spirit was poured.

King David was a valiant warrior, and God he did love
So much he wanted to build a house for the Lord above,
But God said, “My son, a house is not what I’m in need of.
Instead I’ll build you a house, my strong beloved.”

So, God cut a covenant with David that day
To forever have one of his sons sit on Israel’s throne.
The house and kingdom of David would never sway,
And the sons of David God would never disown.

But, as David went the way of man to the grave,
Things degraded terribly by the next generation.
First King Solomon’s foreign wives led him to idol crave;
Then King Rehoboam split up the nation.

Now there were two kingdoms–one south, one north,
And as you know a house divided will not stand.
Add to this that wicked kings were continually put forth;
Israel and Judah were indeed a troubled land.

Those under the king were not much better.
They loved false gods like Asherah and Baal.
And so, God like a father who disciplines with leather
Within a few hundred years ordained the kingdoms to fail.

In their hearts the people longed for a David-like king,
One who would not depart from God, to God he would cling.
The Messiah, as He was called, would certainly bring
Peace, prosperity, protection like a mother hen’s wing.

God’s prophets foretold of this coming Prince.
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Micah, Malachi
Told about the coming Anointed One, and since
They spoke directly from God, you know it wasn’t a lie.

“He’ll be born of virgin in Bethlehem,” they told,
“And set on the throne of David his dad.
The government will be upon His shoulders rolled
With wisdom, righteousness, and justice He will be clad.

“His name will be Eternal Father, Prince of Peace,
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God.
His peace and government will always increase,
And He’ll hold in his hand an iron rod.

“For God His Father, He’ll be perfectly zealous,
Never turning to the left or to the right.
He’ll bring good news to all the ladies and fellas;
Death and darkness, He’ll divinely put to flight.”

The people had waited through all these years,
Had longed, groaned, moaned, and cried many tears,
Had faced tragedy, tribulation, and stinging jeers,
But He’s here.  Finally here!  Get ready for the cheers!!

In about the year 6 or 5 BC,
An angel of the Lord visited the virgin Mary.
“Favored of God, you will soon be with Child
He’ll be the true Son of God so meek and mild.”

She said, “But I am a virgin.  How can this be?
He said, “The power of the Most High will overshadow thee.
Call His name Jesus for He’ll save you all from sin
He’ll be the King of Kings that ever have been.”

“God is giving Him the throne of His father David.
You’ll bring forth an amazingly, marvelous kid!
You see, with God nothing is impossible!!”
Needless to say, Mary’s heart was full.

Nine months later, Mary and her new husband Joseph
Traveled down to Bethlehem with lots of love.
They had to go down because of Caesar’s decree.
How many people in his empire he wanted to see.

The journey from Nazareth was rather rough,
But nevertheless Mary was tough
And as they traveled be sure that anxiety traveled too
Because at any moment her baby due.

As they came into town, they wanted see
If there was an inn with any vacancy,
But Bethlehem was packed, and the inn was full.
The only vacancy was out back in the stable.

They gladly took it because they weren’t conceited,
And while they were there, Mary days were completed.
She brought forth a Baby, wrapped Him in swaddling clothes.
Whether or not it was silent, only God knows.

And God sent forth His angelic choir to go and proclaim
To shepherds nearby, singing of Jesus’ fame
They sang, “Glory to God in the highest!” then
“Peace on earth God will to men!”

They said, “You’ll find a Baby laid in a manger,
And to your hearts He’ll be a glorious stranger.”
And straight away they went to see of what they had heard.
Because of the great news their hearts had been stirred.

And Magi came from the east.  How many we’re not told,
But they brought three gifts:  frankincense, myrrh, and gold.
They followed the bright star which God gave as a sign;
It was the brightest that you’ve ever seen shine.

Friends, this is the Babe, the long-awaited One,
The savior, the king, God’s only-begotten Son.
He came to save us from our sin and rebellion
And to keep us from becoming an eternal hellion.

The promise is this to all who will receive:
Turn from your sin and on Jesus believe;
To those that do, Heaven’s gates open wide,
And you’ll spend eternity at the Father’s side.

This Christmas, this Christmas, rejoice with me
As we celebrate the birth of God’s special baby
Who grew up to crush the serpent’s head
By dying on the cross and rising from the dead!

This Christmas, this Christmas, won’t you accept
The good news that God his promise He’s kept:
He has blessed the world through Abraham’s seed.
Jesus Christ is He, the Messiah indeed!

~Ben Simpson  :  @JBenSimpson  :  :  West Main Baptist Church