What Reformation Looked Like in the OT Church: Family Heads and Officers

Posted by R. Fowler White

Since we’ve just completed our 2020 remembrance of Reformation Day, it’s timely to reflect on what reformation looked like when it came to the OT church in Nehemiah’s and Ezra’s day. Having looked at reformation’s effect on the people as a whole in Nehemiah 8, we should also consider its effect on family heads and church officers. Here we’re focused on those who were husbands and fathers, chief stewards of households (including stewards of God’s church), required to be holy as He is holy and to expend themselves for the good of those in their charge and care. So, when reformation came to the OT church, what was the evidence and fruit of its impact on family heads and officers?

Look first at two observations about family heads. The text tells us that they took the initiative to seek out the teaching ministry available to them. According to 8:13, these chief stewards came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law. Public worship in congregation had reemerged as a non-negotiable (8:1-12). Yet public worship was only the beginning of their stewardship of their families’ discipleship. We’re told here that these family heads sought opportunities to be taught in addition to public gatherings for worship. The family heads were also obedient to what they were taught. As narrated in 8:14-18, they did what they had found written in the Law that the LORD had commanded. Note that, when they were directed to celebrate the Festival of Booths, they went out and built those booths and lived in them, each on their roofs and in their courts (8:16). We underestimate the significance of this activity unless we recognize that these family heads took the knowledge of Scripture that they had gained and spread it throughout the families in their clans. We may even say that Neh 8:14-18 is a picture of Deut 6:6-8 being lived out as a key means to and fruit of reformation among them: whether sitting, walking, lying down, or getting up, families rehearsed among themselves what God required of them.[i]

Consider also what church officers did when reformation came to the OT church. We remind ourselves that the priests and the Levites, along with Ezra and Nehemiah, were models of what the people should become, namely, a holy nation of priests. So, what happened among OT church officers when reformation took place? In general, the officers applied their abilities to the congregation’s need for teaching. We read how Ezra, Nehemiah, and the 13 Levites who stood on the podium with Ezra helped the people to understand the Law. In addition, those officers kept watch over the congregation’s response to the teaching ministry. Notice two details in Nehemiah 8. First, the officers discipled the congregation to do what God required. In 8:9, we read of how Nehemiah … and Ezra … and the Levites [spoke] to all the people. In 8:13, we’re told that the priests and the Levites were with the family heads, and together they all came to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law. In other words, the officers came alongside the family heads for Bible study. Second, the officers consoled the people in their repentance. When reformation came to the people, they trembled at God’s warnings, suffered deep sorrow for their sins, and determined to turn away from their sins—and the officers knew all this. Seeing the people’s repentance, the officers spoke “words of assurance of pardon” to them (8:10-11): Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. And so the Levites calmed all the people (8:11). They reminded the people of the truth expressed in Neh 9:17, You are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.

When reformation came to the OT church, family heads took the lead to seek out teaching, and they were obedient to what they were taught. Church officers applied their abilities to the congregation’s need for teaching, discipling them to do what God required and keeping watch over their response to that teaching. In this light, we have to ask ourselves, has reformation come to our congregations? We who have entered publicly into solemn covenant with God and His church have testified that God has begun a good work of reformation in us. As we read the story of Nehemiah and Ezra, we’re again constrained to ask if we, as officers, family heads, and members of God’s church, see evidence and fruit of His reforming work in us and among us. In the days of Nehemiah and Ezra, the OT church saw that evidence and fruit. Do we?

[i][i] D. Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah (Tyndale OT Commentaries, 1979), 108.

The Introduction to Aimee Byrd’s Recent Book

Fowler and I decided that we needed to address in depth the contents of Aimee Byrd’s recent book Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. We are both aware of several of the other critiques on offer. Some of them are on target, some of them have problems, and none of them are able to go into the kind of depth we intend. We are also aware of the Genevan Commons situation. Fowler and I both repudiate the personalized comments on that website concerning Aimee Byrd, though it also appears that innocent people have been smeared by some of the “discernment blogs.” We have no intention of wading into that brouhaha, only to note that it happened, and that we are aware of it. Our critique of the book will keep personalities completely out of the equation. Aimee Byrd wrote a theological book for laypeople. It is on that level that our critique will rest. Also, it should be firmly kept in mind that Fowler and I both reject the position of some theologians who argue for female submission on the basis of the heretical assertion that the second person of the Trinity is eternally subordinate to the first. These caveats seem necessary due to the unusual situation in which this book has come to publication and been received. That being said, our critiques will differ from each other. Mine will be more comprehensive and detailed. As such, it will not be synthetic. Some criticisms will therefore seem out of proportion to the totality of what Byrd is trying to accomplish. That is only because some issues will take longer to untangle than others. Those that do take longer may not be as central to Byrd’s argument. Fowler wants to address selected issues in a more synthetic direction. It should not be assumed that he and I agree on every point.

The introduction explains the metaphor of the yellow wallpaper. Based on a short story by Charlotte Gilman, Byrd uses the metaphor to mean a layer of blindness in church culture due to traditional patriarchal structures (17). What she wants to do in this book is to alert readers to the existence of this wallpaper, and then encourage people to do something about it (19). To put it more clearly, she believes that cultural stereotypes of how men and women should act are the wallpaper (21).

One of her aims, though by no means the only one, is to dismantle the problematic elements of the book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the volume edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem (hence the title of Byrd’s book). As we will see, a large impetus for Byrd’s critiques comes from the 2016 controversy on the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS, abbr.).

Another of her main aims is to promote communal fellowship in the church, which she believes has been hampered by the yellow wallpaper. This communion is also hampered by an individualism (27) that works against both Byrd’s vision and against the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW, the organization that promoted and published the above mentioned book). Byrd believes that a narrow focus on the issues CBMW raises has resulted in a corresponding lack of concern for Christlikeness (26). What Byrd hopes to accomplish is a recovery of the beauty of the church (28).

This is a somewhat brief summary of where Byrd is going in the introduction. What follows is evaluation. As has been mentioned, I agree with Byrd that ESS is heresy. I can also agree, in principle, that an overly narrow focus on one issue can certainly make higher priorities fuzzy. I further agree wholeheartedly that “Men and women are not androgynous. Gender is not fluid” (19). I agree that individualism has run amok in America, such that people are afraid to commit to the church at all. This is definitely an obstacle to fellowship in the body of Christ. I further agree with some of her critiques of CBMW’s volume. Indeed, if complementarianism be defined by ESS and by the particulars Piper lays out, I would not be one. However, there are several places in the introduction where I must register dissent. A minor issue is her assertion that the ancient Greeks are the basis for supposing women’s brains to be inferior to men’s brains. She offers no sources for this claim. She might very well be correct in this assertion. However, it should be argued and sourced, given the importance of the claim.

Secondly, she asserts, in connection with Gilman’s short story, “Since women weren’t even given the right to vote until 1920, poor Charlotte Perkins Gilman didn’t have much of a voice when it came to her own diagnosis and treatment” (14-15). The suffrage of women (and men!) is far more complicated than certain narratives suppose. Wyoming gave the right to vote to women in 1869, Utah in 1870, Colorado in 1893, Idaho in 1896, and all the Western states had women’s suffrage before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. Furthermore, poor white men did not have the vote, in some cases, until well after 1920. The reader assumes that Byrd is using the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to assert that someone like Gilman would not have had the ability or the right to say anything about her own medical treatment. It is difficult to see a connection, however, between suffrage and medical treatment. It would need, at least, to be argued rather than asserted. Is Byrd implying that women had no voice whatsoever in America before 1920? To broaden the point, Byrd seems to be appropriating a reading of history that is debatable without any acknowledgement that it is debatable.

Thirdly, in Byrd’s summary of the story of the yellow wallpaper, it becomes clear that motherhood is seen as a lesser profession (15-16). When combined with what Byrd says on page 17, what emerges is that if a woman wants to go to work, but is “forced” into the lesser profession of motherhood, then she is being oppressed by the “traditional patriarchal structures” (17). Viewing motherhood as a lesser profession is a tenet of feminism, not something the Bible teaches. The Bible praises motherhood in many places, not least in the fifth commandment.

Fourthly, Byrd notes the story’s critique of John’s treatment of Jane, treating her “more like a fragile child than his wife” (17). No doubt that is how the story runs. I want to bring up a point about feminism here, which also treats women as fragile, though in different ways. Feminism tends to assert that feminists should never have to endure any patriarchal behavior from anyone, and that they should never have to be offended by anyone. Doesn’t that treat women as fragile? I am not saying that Byrd believes this tenet of feminism. I am merely complementing (pun intended) Byrd’s observation about treating women as fragile with a parallel observation that feminism treats women as fragile in some ways, too. The feminist fragility is much more invisible today than the fragility Byrd descries. A book cannot address everything. But, as we will see, the blind spots of feminism(s) are not things that Byrd sees in the book. I am not calling Byrd a feminist. She doesn’t in the book. Feminists themselves have a huge variety of opinions on many things, such that the label is not particularly helpful anymore.

Fifthly, and as something we will see several times in the book, Byrd speaks of cultural stereotypes as if patriarchal ones are the only stereotypes in play, and that they are still somehow all-controlling. She says, “Like John and Jane, we want to do what is right but often get sucked into cultural stereotypes that confine us without our even noticing it” (18). The stereotypes she has in mind are undoubtedly the often-bashed 1950’s stereotypes about a woman’s place and a man’s place. However, the question that can quite legitimately be raised at this point is this: what about the feminist stereotypes for what a woman ought to be? Throughout the book, in my opinion, Byrd over-estimates the power of the 1950’s stereotypes and under-estimates the power of feminist stereotypes. I think, in fact, that it is quite impossible to engage in 1950’s stereotypical behavior in such an invisible fashion as Byrd describes. It would be swimming against the grain of approximately 99% of today’s culture. If anyone is going to behave like a 1950’s family, they are going to stick out like a very sore thumb.

Sixthly, when she quotes John Piper’s definition of femininity, she summarizes it in this way, “These definitions appear to say that all men lead all women” (22). Is this summary something that Piper would agree is a fair summary of his position? This is unlikely, given what Piper says on page 50 of the same article: “But she will affirm and receive and nurture the strength and leadership of men in some form in all her relationships with men. This is true even though she may find herself in roles that put some men in a subordinate role to her” (50). He then lists twelve possible occupations that could have such relationships, where indeed, a woman would be leading a man. Whether Piper is correct in his analysis (50-51 of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) of these relationships is beside the point. The point is I doubt Piper would think Byrd accurately summarized his position. On the rest of Byrd’s page, she only references the “yellow wallpaper” examples, without acknowledging the qualifications inherent in the very definition Piper offers, and in the rest of Piper’s article. The qualifications in the definition itself are revealing: the word “worthy” needs to be emphasized, as does the phrase “in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.” The former qualification is the more important one, as it cuts out all possible feminine submission to unworthy men. This word alone makes Byrd’s summary a distortion. The second qualifier recognizes that being feminine is going to look quite different in different relationships, including those in which women may wind up being the leader. Therefore, I conclude that Byrd’s summary is a distortion of Piper’s position, not what Piper believes.

Seventhly and lastly, she asserts that aiming for biblical manhood and womanhood in the method CBMW advocates misses “the bigger picture of Christlikeness to which we are called” (26). She almost seems to be asserting that CBMW’s viewpoint on manhood and womanhood actually prevents people from being Christlike. She does not use any qualifier here like “may” or “could.” She asserts that it simply does. I doubt CBMW would agree. CBMW would argue that the biblical descriptions of womanhood and manhood are ways to pursue Christlikeness (and I would add that some of their authors accomplish this better than others). If Byrd is correct in her assessment, then no one in the history of the church who had any view of manhood and womanhood similar to CBMW’s would be Christlike at all. Is Byrd really willing to disenfranchise such a huge number of Christians of the past? This would be a sectarian position. I doubt Byrd had this problem in mind when she wrote that assertion. However, it is a legitimate question to raise.

I will conclude with this question: did Byrd give the manuscript of this book to anyone who fundamentally disagrees with her positions? She says, for example, that the book “isn’t a man-bashing book” (19). Undoubtedly Byrd thinks, from her perspective, that the book doesn’t bash men, nor does she intend to. Readers can believe that she means what she says. However, did she also run this book by someone who might see things in ways she doesn’t, such that unintentional bashing of men could also be averted? It does not seem so.

Recent P&R Books I Have Received

I have received a number of books from P&R for review purposes, and I’d like to say a few words about them. The Bavinck biography deserves its own post, so I will wait on that one a tad.

Almost deserving of its own post also is the Festschrift for Al Groves. I loved him dearly. He was one of those people who gets his way into your heart and won’t let go. However, it was often almost unconsciously done. I was far more affected by his death than I thought I would be. I was very happy to see a volume come out in memory of him. His contributions to scholarship are also more on the hidden side. He was a wizard with computers, and was a clearing house for information on the new critical edition of the Hebrew Bible (the Biblia Hebraica Quinta). So, I commend this series of essays, written by colleagues and students who loved him.

Most of these sermons are available in other formats (although some are occasional sermons for Easter). However, it is very nice to have them all together in one place on one topic, especially if you are trying to find help on the resurrection for your sermons. Anything Boice writes is worth reading.

This book has a very intriguing message. By our beliefs and by our actions, we often treat Jesus as less than He is. The picture on the front is a dog-tag with the title of the book on it, a very clever idea. And the writing itself is also clever. Consider the title of the chapter “Yawning in the Presence of a Mighty God,” a chapter on complacency in worship. This is a book to give to Christians who have grown up in the Christian world, since they are the ones most susceptible to this kind of sin. Prepare to be shocked again by how big our God is.

The cross of Christ is always the most astounding thing about the Christian faith. Rather than sentimentalize it, we should revel in its sheer “foolishness.” For the “foolishness” of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. We should not marvel that God is just. We should instead marvel that God is merciful, even to worms like us.

There are several good books on parenting that have come out recently. This book re-orients our parenting back to the central truths of the Gospel. This book reminds us that, instead of being overwhelmed at the enormity of the task (which is very easy to do!), we should overwhelmed by the centrality of the Gospel. If we do that, we will have all the resources of God’s grace to combat the forces of evil that seek to undermine the family.

The focus of this book is different, in that it looks at all the different stages of growth, and analyzes how parents can address the heart issues of their children. This book is heavily dependent (healthily so, in my opinion!) on the book by Tedd Tripp. Highly recommended for those seeking help on a particular stage of childhood development. There is an especially good chapter on the situation of children who rebel in major ways “When Things Don’t Go As Planned.”

Picking up where the previous book left off, what about parents of adults? To date, I have rarely, if ever, seen a complete book devoted to the parents of adults, and how to handle adult offspring. That’s where this book comes in very handy, indeed. I would also strongly recommend it to pastors who don’t have adult children, but need to have some help in counseling parents of adults. I love the title: “You Never Stop Being a Parent.” All too often, parents of adults simply let go entirely. Obviously the relationship is different, but how can parents of adults help without interfering? This book helps us navigate these difficult waters.

A book sorely needed today is one that seeks to expose and counteract our modern age’s obsession with materialism and greed. It is worth clicking through to look at the cover, which is a not-so-subtle reference to the glass empty or glass full, a matter of Gospel perspective. Barcley relies heavily on the definitive Puritan treatment of the subject, as he should. In fact, you can think of this book as an update of Burroughs.

The entire series “Basics of the Faith” are good things to have on your church book table to hand out to people. The one I received was the little booklet on belief in God. In our day, where the new atheism is gaining quite a militant public hearing, we need all the help we can get on this, and not just for pastors, but also the people in the pew need to hear why these views are wrong.

Lastly, but not least, this book on eschatology does such a wonderful job of bringing the subject into the realm of the practical. The volume is solidly Amillenial, and argues for a present understanding of “these last days.” For pastors, I would particularly direct them to Richard Phillips’s essay on counseling those who are about to die, and the bereaved. But all the essays are important and needed, particularly since pastoral treatments of eschatology seem to be a bit rare. If there are any out there who do not believe that eschatology can be practical, then read this book. You will revise your opinion, I assure you.

Joel Beeke’s Address

The title of his address is “Parenting By God’s Promises.”

The premise of his book is that God is a God of grace. The covenant of grace is the bedrock of parenting. We parent based on the covenant. He doesn’t want to presume regeneration, nor does he want to ignore the covenantal promises. He argues that if we refuse to say to our children that they need to repent and believe, then we will create little Pharisees.

After laying the covenantal foundation of parenting, he gets into the how, which is written under the rubric of prophetic, priestly, and kingly tasks. Finally, he looks at some of the major problems. In this address, he wants to focus on four areas.

These foundational covenantal truths are the first issue. Parents need to believe that the covenantal structure of the promises is the reason why we will believe in God’s grace. The only perfect parents are those who don’t have kids yet. We should bring up our children “seamlessly,” which means that all the major influences will work together to bring up our children in the nurture of the Lord.

Secondly, we should use this rubric of prophet, priest, and king in the home. Of course, these offices have an echo in our lives in general. However, it is also true in our parenting. The prophetic task means that we should seek out opportunities for teaching. Family worship is vitally important to this. As priests, we are to be intercessors for our children. We should pray for them in our family worship. As kings, we have to fight against Satan and sin in this life. As parents, we help our children to discern God’s will. We discipline them, and guide them in their spiritual and temporal lives.

The third thing is that we must ourselves be models for living out the Gospel. Proper child-rearing is as much caught as taught. We have got to live what we teach them. A parent has to be a transcript of their teaching. We must love our children as Christ loves us. We should never fail to let our children know that we love them. We should not be shocked when our children sin. We sin, after all. We must ourselves grow in sanctification. The Gospel must inform and shape the way we deal with problems in the home. None of our children will ever treat us half as badly as we have treated our Lord Jesus Christ. We should therefore make sure that our interaction with our children should be largely positive.

Fourthly, we must recognize the times and seasons of the Christian life. How can we teach our children about the changes that will come into their lives before those changes occur?

Feminism and the Church

The fifth tooth of the wolf is feminism. This post will be very politically incorrect, I realize, but it must be said. The other caveat I would issue here is that the church, in reacting against feminism, should not denigrate the gifts God has given to women, and should be actively looking for ways in which women can use their gifts in proper settings. Sometimes it seems as if the attitude towards women in conservative churches is more focused on what women cannot do, as opposed to encouraging women to do what they should do.

One other caveat should be given here, and that is that not all forms of feminism are the same. Not all feminists, for instance, would agree with every point of Sittema’s description. There is definitely a range of opinions on these matters. All these caveats aside, there is no doubt that the feminism Sittema describes is very dangerous to the church.

Here are the points that Sittema summarizes from James Dobson’s analysis of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. In other words, this appears to be fairly mainline feminism. For those of us used to kinder, gentler forms of feminism, this may come as something of a shock. But this is their agenda: 1. Marriage is the enemy for women, since men are by definition oppressors. 2. The family is to blame for violence suffered by women. 3. The sex of a baby is something imposed on them from birth, and is not biological (i.e., it is entirely a social construct, and is therefore oppressive). 4. The language of “wife, husband, son, daughter, sister, brother,” etc. must be changed to “parent, spouse, child, and sibling.” 5. The government needs to mandate that household responsibilities be divided 50/50, and so must the military also. 6. Abortion is a mandated right for all women. 7. The homosexual agenda walks hand in hand with feminism in its redefinition of traditional roles and sex. 8. All patriarchal religions must be oppressed. 9. The Bible is not authoritative when it oppresses women by forbidding teaching roles to them over men. If the Bible does not speak to modern women’s experience, then it has no authority there. 10. Traditional Christian doctrines need to be redefined, including the doctrine of man, God, sin, redemption, and Christology, to be more favorable to women.

One can quickly see, first of all, that what many of us would regard as “radical” feminism is actually more mainstream. This is what the world council on feminism has said.

Second of all, one can see that if feminism has its way, then the Bible’s authority will be completely undermined. I have seen two approaches to the Bible in feminism. The first approach is to deny the Bible’s authority. This is actually the more honest approach. The other approach (especially with passages such as 1 Timothy 2) is to “interpret” the passage to make it mean pretty much the opposite of what it actually says. This is done by the so-called “evangelical feminists,” who still want to cling to the authority of the Bible. As Ligon Duncan said, if one can make “I do not permit a women to teach or have authority over a man” to mean “I do permit a women to teach or have authority over a man,” then one can make the Bible say absolutely anything.

Sittema suggests four ways of fighting feminism in the church: 1. Teach the Biblical model of gender relationships. 2. Don’t over-react. We must remember that there are a range of views. Just because someone might say something like one of the above 10 points doesn’t mean that they believe all of them. 3. Use women and their gifts in the church. He quotes the memorable dictum “cults are the unpaid debts of the church.” If the church were to encourage women to use their gifts to the best of their ability, and in the right setting, then feminism would not have much room to make inroads into our churches. 4. Honor marriage, family, and motherhood within the church. Show the church how much the Bible praises these things, and what a high calling these are for women. I would add 5. Be sympathetic towards women who really have been abused by men. This should never be tolerated, even though our definitions of “abuse” will be different from the feminists’ definition. We would not regard keeping men as elders and deacons in the church as a form of abusing women, for instance. But verbal and physical abuse of women does happen, and we should never become soft on such abuse just because we’re reacting against feminism.

Introducing Arianwyn Sylvie Keister

Born at 6:23 PM, weighing 8lb 1oz, 20 1/2 inches. Mother and baby are both doing well so far.

Long-lost Screwtape Letter Concerning Youth

Some Old Family Photos

I was able to use my Nikon to take pics of old photos. They turned out rather well, and made them so much easier to manipulate.

My Grandfather, James E. Keister (1914-2010)

My grandfather was a great man. He was born July 11, 1914, and died January 4, 2010, at the age of 95.

He worked for GE for 41 years. He was an electrical engineer, and was on the ground floor in the development of transistors (TV in its infancy), radar (particularly counter-radar, instrumental in the Normandy invasion), and the Apollo space projects. He was quite literally a rocket scientist, among many other things. He could make wooden grandfather clocks, making his own jig for each spoke of the gears inside. He turned wood on his lathe, and could fix most electrical or mechanical problems with things.

Grandpa was a very kind man, as well. He was absolutely devoted to his wife, Ila, who is now 97. He took very seriously the statement in Proverbs 13:22 that a wise man provides an inheritance for his children’s children, something for which I will personally be very thankful. The evidence points strongly in the direction of his being a believer in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Two stories I would like to share that illustrate his character. Firstly, we were putting insulation in my parents’ garage. I was probably about 15 years old at the time. The insulation was for the ceiling. Since the roof slanted down, we had to chamfer the edges. That’s what he said we had to do. I didn’t know what the word “chamfer” meant, so I asked him. He said, with an absolutely straight face, “It’s REALLY scientific.” He then proceeded to tear away the insulation at quite a rapid rate with his hand in an anything BUT scientific fashion.

Secondly, when we were living in Texas, Grandpa and Gram came for a visit. We had this puzzle that was a sphere with lines of beads on it. Grandpa was entirely engrossed in seeking the solution to this puzzle. He was sitting on our couch in the living room. Gram had found our tricycle, in the meanwhile. This tricycle is unique, in that it has a storage platform behind the seat. This actually allows an adult to sit on the storage platform and pedal one’s way around quite happily. Of course, when Gram started wheeling around on our linoleum, we were absolutely cracking up. Here is Gram, in her seventies at the time, and about 5 feet tall (or short!) pedaling around in this tricycle on our linoleum floor. Our living room, however, was carpeted. So, when Gram decided to into the living room, she found it much more difficult to pedal her way around. Grandpa, of course, was completely oblivious to all the laughter, being utterly engrossed in this puzzle. Then Gram actually ran over Grandpa’s foot with the tricycle! Did Grandpa notice? Of course not. He was too engrossed in this puzzle. However, we thought of a way to distract Grandpa from his puzzle. Mom made coffee, and said, in quite an ordinary, or even softer than normal voice, “Coffee’s ready.” Grandpa immediately jumped up and said, “Coffee?” Grandpa was, perhaps, the original engineer, with the ability to block out all other issues, and focus with blinding single-mindedness, on this single issue. There was no gradation in importance of simultaneous projects with Grandpa. It was all or nothing.

I shall miss him greatly.I had the honor of preaching the funeral sermon at the service. I have posted it below.

“Grandchildren or Children?”

Proverbs 13:22

Funeral Sermon for James E. Keister


God doesn’t have grandchildren. What do we mean by that? It means that no one can see God by being a child of a believer, or a grandchild of a believer. One must be an immediate child of God. For us humans, of course, there are many things that can pass down from one generation to another. Grandpa was very interested in these kinds of things. Hence his abiding interest in genealogy, and his abiding interest in this verse of Proverbs. I am sure that every one of his children and grandchildren will always be grateful that Grandpa thought it the better part of wisdom to save money for his children and grandchildren. I know I will be. What I’d like for us to do is to compare human fathers and grandfathers with our Heavenly Father, and the relationships that go along with that. This will not be to put Grandpa down, but rather to use our relationship with Grandpa to help us think about our relationship with God. To do that, we need to remember our history, seeing the problems with humanity, and then think about the solution.

We read from Genesis 3. That story tells us how humanity fell into sin. Adam was the son of God. Luke tells us that in his genealogy of Jesus. Adam was made in the likeness of God, in the image of God. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, that image was distorted. The relationship changed. Adam and Eve were disinherited. God disowned them in judgment. He pronounced judgment on them. But notice God’s grace even in the midst of judgment. For He did not execute them immediately. Yes, their souls were dead, but God made a promise to them, and as soon as Adam and Eve believed that promise, they were resurrected in their souls to eternal life. We can call this promise the beginning of the Gospel promise. A seed born from the woman would crush the serpent’s head, while being stricken in the heel in the process. Notice that this promise has to do with someone born of the line of Adam and Eve. This is crucial, since Adam was the head of the human race. There needed to be a new head of the human race who could fix what Adam broke. And he would come from the genealogy of Adam and Eve. The Bible is just as interested in genealogy as Grandpa was. Genesis 5 has a genealogy in it that is very interesting, because the chorus is “and he died, and he died, and he died.” But Enoch, the seventh from Adam, does not die. There is a clue there that death is not the end of the story for humanity.

All through the Old Testament, believers had faith in the promises of God that God would eventually provide the answer to sin and death. The chosen line was in danger countless times throughout the OT, but yet God always kept that seed alive. Abraham believed that God could raise his son from the dead, and that is why Abraham could do what God asked of him. As Hebrews says, figuratively speaking, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead. Job believed that his Redeemer lived, and that he, Job himself, would see this Redeemer with his own eyes. David also knew that his God would not leave his soul in hell, but would raise him from the dust of death to new life. Ezekiel was shown a valley of dry bones. He didn’t know if those bones could live, but he knew that God knew, and he also knew that if those bones could live, it would be because God would make them alive. And that is exactly what happened.

In the New Testament, we see that God kept His promise, made all the way back in Genesis 3. Jesus is the seed of the woman come to crush the head of the serpent. In the process, the serpent struck His heel, actually killing Him. But why did Jesus come to die? Why was it necessary? Well, God doesn’t play favorites. God is just, even though He is also merciful. All humanity was under condemnation. Paul says this over and over in Romans 1-3. Actually, strict justice would have required God to punish Adam immediately. The only reason God didn’t do that was because of the promise that Jesus would eventually come. That promise is reason why there is any history at all. God could have snuffed out Adam’s life immediately after the sin. But God did not do that, because He is also merciful. But how can God be merciful and just at the same time? Sin has to be punished. As Proverbs also says, cursed is a judge who judges a guilty person as if he was innocent. That is a travesty of justice. So how can God judge sinners to be innocent? Only if there is a Mediator to come in between God and man to take the punishment upon Himself. Jesus comes in between the wrath of God and sinful humanity, and takes the guilt upon Himself. So sin is punished in the person and work of Jesus Christ, while those who believe that Jesus did that for them will receive the pronouncement of innocence. But we might still ask how this can happen. It happens through imputation. Imputation is a long word that simply means that God reckons something as having happened, when it didn’t actually happen. We use this kind of idea all the time, actually. If two people are at a restaurant and they are supposed to go Dutch, but one of them accidentally forgot his wallet at home, the other person can pay the bill, and it is as if both had gone Dutch, even though that isn’t what happened. In the case of sin, our sin and guilt is reckoned as if Jesus had done it, even though he hadn’t done anything wrong. And then what Christ did throughout His life, which amounted to perfect obedience, is reckoned to the believer, as if the believer had done it, even though the believer has done nothing of the sort. So, our guilt is reckoned to Christ, and His righteousness is reckoned to us. This is usually referred to as double imputation.

If this double imputation is how we are reckoned to be innocent, then why can that happen? It happens because when we trust in Jesus Christ, we are united to Him in faith. It is a marriage of our souls to God. Just as (at least the average) marriage means that whatever debt might have been owed by one spouse now becomes the debt of the other, and whatever assets the one spouse had before marriage usually become the assets of both of them after marriage. When we become united to Christ, we become married to Christ. He is the bridegroom, and all believers are part of the bride of Christ. He takes on the debt of our sin, while giving to us all the assets of His righteousness. This marvelous exchange, by the way, is called justification by faith alone.

This whole coming to faith thing is described in the Bible as being born again, in John 3. After all, if we are going to be God’s children, we have to be born into that relationship. This is why God doesn’t have grandchildren. We need to be born of water and of the spirit, as Jesus tells us in John. This new birth is elsewhere called the resurrection of the soul. The resurrected soul can never die.

The death of a loved one should make us think about our own deaths. We are mortal. The real question is this: will we die two deaths, or only one? For those who trust in Christ, their bodies will die, but their souls will remain alive forevermore. And we also have the promise of the new heavens and the new earth, where we will have new bodies that will never die again. So the believer has only one death, and two resurrections. For his soul is resurrected in this life, and his body will be resurrected on the last day. Unbelievers have just the reverse. Their souls are already eternally dead. Their bodies will die. At the last day, their bodies will be resurrected, but only to eternal condemnation. If this sounds harsh, we must remember that it only sounds harsh if we assume that there is nothing wrong with humanity. But if we believe what the Bible says, that all humanity is in rebellion against God, then eternal condemnation is only pure justice. God is not a homicidal maniac.

So the question for all of us is this: do we believe in Jesus Christ, or not? Is he Lord and Savior of our lives? If He is, then we have eternal hope and comfort. Grandpa was asked before he died whether he believed in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior or not. He said that he did. We therefore have high hopes that we will see him again, if we also trust in Jesus. For then, we with Grandpa will experience the resurrection to eternal life. If that is so, then this is a separation only for a season, and not a permanent situation. And this is of enormous comfort to those of us whom Grandpa has left behind. Yes, it is true to say that Grandpa is in a better place. That’s wonderful for him. But it is not the most comforting thing for us who are left behind. The most comforting thing to know is that all of us who believe in Jesus will be reunited with him once again. We will see Grandpa again, talk to him again, hug him again, touch him again. That very physical ache that we all have of missing him will be no more one day. For God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and sorrow will be no more.

It is also helpful to say a word about grief at this point. It is never very helpful to deny grief, or seek to bury it deep down. Grief has a way of making itself felt no matter what we might try to do to stifle it. The way is always straight through grief, never around it, or away from it. Remember what Paul said in 1 Thessalonians to those who were grieving. We grieve, yes. Jesus Himself wept at the death of his friend Lazarus, and He was just going to raise Lazarus from the dead, and He still wept! Death is not a natural thing in this world. Death only came into this world through sin. Death is therefore an intruder, and it is right to grieve over all the effects of death in the world. Death is not the way things are supposed to be. But our grief is a tempered grief. It is lined with the comfort of the resurrection, which is not only God’s answer to death, but it is also God’s answer to the problem of evil in this world. It is full of the hope of the new heavens and the new earth. And so our grief is not like that of the unbeliever, who has no hope.

If there is one thing that Grandpa would like to say to us right now, it is this: turn your life over to Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father, except through Him. Grandpa would have loved to give us all faith and eternal life. But Grandpa can’t do that. As capable as he was of doing so many things in life, he cannot give us faith. Only our heavenly Father can give us that. Grandpa gave us a good physical inheritance. God gives us the eternal inheritance of the new heavens and the new earth. Grandpa was wise. God is all-wise. And, unlike Grandpa, God only has children, not grandchildren. Won’t you be one of His children today?

On Birthdays

Calvin has some interesting thoughts on birthdays in his commentary on the synoptic Gospels, volume 2, page 225:

The ancient custom of observing a birth-day every year as an occasion of joy cannot in itself be disapproved; for that day, as often as it returns, reminds each of us to give thanks to God, who brought us into this world, and has permitted us, in his kindness, to spend many years in it; next, to bring to our recollection how improperly and uselessly the time which God granted to us has been permitted to pass away; and, lastly, that we ought to commit ourselves to the protection of the same God for the remainder of our life.

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