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Why Fathers are important in the church

One of the ways the New Testament envisages the church is as a family. Jesus famously sets the pattern for this in Mark 3:

‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle round him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’

Mark 3:33-35

On Friend Zone, I’ve often talked about the way the church is supposed to be family. One thing which I’ve begun to realise, however, is that the church isn’t supposed to be like a family: I think the family is a picture of the church. In short, the church is the ‘real deal’ – the family is only the shadow. The family is supposed to give a little picture of what the church is like.

I will develop this line of thought further at a future date. But today I just want to focus on one aspect – that of fatherhood. A year ago I wrote an article, Mummy’s boys and daddy’s girls do better. As I’ve been thinking about it over the last few months, I’ve come to believe it’s actually vitally important.

One of the things which is hugely valuable as a child is knowing the love of both parents – the security of having a loving mother and father. As I wrote last year, the opposite-sex relationship is actually very important, as it helps begin to understand the opposite sex and how to relate to them.

Now, consider what happens in a society where fathers are often absent. What would that do to children – especially girls growing up without their fathers? A common consequence of absent fathers for girls is sexual activity at a young age. Why should this be the case? I think it’s because we all crave love, and young women who’ve been raised without dads crave male affection – and think the only way they can get that is through a sexual relationship. In a world where love between men and women is primarily seen as sexual, then what other option do they have?

This is where the church needs to step up. Men in the church have a huge opportunity now to love these women, women who perhaps have never known a man’s love in a non-sexual way. What fatherless young people are crying out for is men who can step up and show them what real love looks like. Self-sacrificial, genuine, love.

The problem is, this is never going to happen in a church culture which is too afraid of men and women spending time together out of fear. We in the church need to learn to fight with the weapons of the Spirit, not the weapons of the flesh. If we can learn to walk in step with the Spirit, I feel we have a chance of showing the world a better way – telling ‘A Better Story’. If we continue to pursue Pharisaical godliness, people are going to keep on being hurt.

Lessons from The Weight of Glory

Recently I came across a quote from C.S. Lewis’ famous sermon, The Weight of Glory. Although I knew a couple of quotes from the sermon, I hadn’t really read and digested the actual message. (You can read a synopsis here).

I thought it was fascinating, especially given how what Lewis says relates to things going on in the church the best part of a century later. He opens the sermon like this, and I think it’s worth quoting in full:

If you asked twenty good men to-day what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. …

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

The first thing I found fascinating was Lewis’ observation that we’ve substituted a negative for a positive – i.e., ‘unselfishness’ has been put in the place of ‘love’. It’s interesting that even back as far as the 1940s, this was happening: Christians were thinking about avoiding sin instead of positively loving others. I find it fascinating how this still applies across the church 80 years later – the Christian life is often portrayed in negative terms (avoidance of sin) rather than positive ones (loving God and loving others). This has been a hugely significant shift which seems to have almost happened without anyone really noticing. However, we’ve talked about all this before (most recently in my post about True Spirituality).

The second thing I found fascinating is Lewis’ talk of desire. We often talk about the Christian life as if it’s trying to avoid anything good in life! The old joke goes, “anything enjoyable in life is illegal, immoral or fattening”.

This seems to be a long way from the way that the Bible talks about the Christian life. For example, these words from Psalm 34:

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Psalm 34:8-10

Here, Psalm 34 encourages us to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ – that to take refuge in him is to be blessed. In other words, we find in God more than we find elsewhere. We find in the Lord a generosity and abundance which cannot be found outside him.

So how does this apply to Friend Zone?

The message that young people often get from the world is that they will be most happy when their lustful desires are fulfilled. In other words – true happiness is sexual fulfilment. Of course, this is an empty promise – but people believe it nonetheless.

Imagine a young person who believes this. Then imagine them being told that the path to life is actually to deny themselves and give up on the dream of sexual fulfilment – although they’ll get eternal life at the end. Does that sound like the kind of deal they would go for? I don’t think so. Not many, anyway.

On the other hand, imagine that same young person being told that there was something even better than sexual fulfilment – and that was knowing, serving and obeying the living God – “whose service is perfect freedom” (as the Book of Common Prayer puts it).

This is fundamental thing: ultimately I don’t think it works to tell people that they need to simply keep a lid on their desires. “Just bottle it up and you’ll be fine.” It makes the Christian life sound like simply an exercise in self-denial. Of course, self-denial is part of the Christian life, but – as Lewis pointed out – that isn’t the goal.

I think, by contrast, we should be proclaiming the message – and, indeed showing the world – that following Jesus actually leads to a greater and deeper fulfilment of our desires. Another Psalm says: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

In other words, serving the Lord isn’t a life of drudgery or simply straining to keep a lid on our desires. Rather, God is able to so transform our desires that he can fulfill us in ways it’s hard to imagine.

This is why I think Friend Zone is important. Friend Zone is saying – friendship is good. In fact, friendship is something so good it’s worth forsaking a sexual relationship for – because friendship is a beautiful and wonderful thing in its own right. Whereas the world might say – the only relationship with a member of the opposite sex worth having is a sexual / romantic one – here we say there is something better.

And that is a message worth proclaiming.

Male and Female and the image of God

In our church, we have just started a short series on Genesis 1-3. I preached last week on Genesis 1:1-24, and as I was preparing it struck me once again how important it is to understand these foundational texts.

In the sermon last Sunday, we were looking at the next passage, which contained these words:

26 Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’

Genesis 1:26-28

As I was listening to the sermon, what really hit me is the emphasis on ‘male and female’: it doesn’t simply say that God made people, in the generic sense, but he made them male and female. All throughout Genesis 1 God separates – he separates the land and sea, land and sky, day and night – and male and female. Two complementary things which are designed to work together in harmony.

In the case of male and female, this is all part of mankind’s dominion over creation (v26). And v28 goes on to say that an important part of that is to ‘be fruitful and increase in number’ – clearly a reference to procreation (and therefore marriage).

What struck me this time, however, is the universal nature of this division in humanity. Sometimes I think this passage is referred to as if it only applies to marriage: men and women are to come together in marriage, but not in other ways. But I don’t think this does justice to the scope of what is in view here. I don’t think Genesis 1 envisions men and women ruling over creation, only coming together in marriage to procreate. Marriage and procreation is very important, even foundational – but it is not exclusive.

Mankind is designed to rule over creation, to be God’s image bearers over the earth. If men and women are designed to complement one another, then that ‘complementarity’ should be expressed at every level – not simply within marriage, but all over the place.

Let me try to ground this with one or two examples. You often hear of ministries which are run by a husband and wife together. How often do you hear of things which are run by two friends – a man and a woman? I’m sure it happens, but I don’t think it happens much. I am currently helping to run a baby and toddler group with a female friend, and it seems to be working out pretty well so far. Perhaps the idea of running things as friends could be explored further.

It seems to me that our vision of masculinity and femininity, and how we relate as men and women, has been so clouded by sex for so long that it’s hard to think in another way. But the more I think about it, the more I think there is to think about!

Please comment below and let me know if you have any other ideas.

Responding to #MeToo in the church

The other day I watched a video debate between Natalie Collins and Phil Moore – an egalitarian and complementarian respectively. They were talking about the #MeToo movement and how the church should respond to it. I thought it was a really worthwhile video – both engaged well and made some good points (although it should come as no surprise that I’m with Phil Moore and thought him to be more persuasive).

It made me think once again that #MeToo is really a problem with self-control – sexual harassment is giving in to wrong desires. The solution to this is not a simplistic “men need to pull their socks up”, but rather the gospel in its fullness: that is, as the Spirit bears fruit in our lives we can overcome lustful feelings and instead love one another as God intended. This is what Friend Zone is about.

Do have a watch of the video and I hope you enjoy it!

Review: Drew Hunter “Made for Friendship”

I’ve just finished reading Made for Friendship by Drew Hunter. It is subtitled “The relationship that halves our sorrows and doubles our joys”.

I found it a really helpful book about the benefits of friendship – in particular, I appreciated Drew’s assessment that many people today do not really have deep friendships. In fact, the concept of ‘friendship’ itself has been devalued.

His contention is that we need to see friendship as the truly valuable thing that God made it to be – perhaps most significantly, Jesus himself called us his friends (John 15:13-15). Perhaps Christians do not appreciate what it means to be friends with God because the whole concept of friendship has become devalued:

The thought of friendship with God rings hollow today because we’ve already hollowed out the idea of friendship in general. How highly (or lowly) we esteem friendship with God will correlate with how highly (or lowly) we esteem friendship in general – and that is currently at a low point. (Page 26)

It is no small thing to be called a friend of God, and our experience of friendship with him should flow out into our friendship with others. However, because of this ‘hollowing out’ of friendship we do not see it as highly as we ought. Drew goes on:

Most of what we call friendship is little more than acquaintanceship. But acquaintanceship is to friendship what snorkeling is to deep-sea diving. Snorkeling is fine, but skimming along the surface isn’t exploring the deep. We often float on the surface of our conversations, sharing little more than the most general details of our lives. We note our plans for the day, share a few interesting (or uninteresting) details about our week, offer a few sports or political opinions. But we don’t share the climate of our souls. We don’t share our struggles with sin. We don’t share our experiences of spiritual renewal or admit that we’re sitting in a season of darkness. No one knows when our soul feels spiritually chilly. Nor are most of us adept at drawing out others in these ways.

I’m sure I am not alone in finding that these words hit the mark. In the church today, so much of the time it seems that we ‘skim the surface’ of relationships. The church has lost its vocation to be a family – we prefer superficial relationships which don’t demand too much. By contrast, God calls us to deep relationships with each other, not least because that is simply how we are made – made for friendship. We cannot fulfill our purpose as human beings without those kind of relationships!

We are living in a time when loneliness is on the rise, people are being driven apart for all sorts of reasons, and technology encourages a superficial approach to friendship. Now, more than ever, we need to understand the depths of friendship and companionship we are called to.

In the rest of the book Drew makes some helpful comments about friendship – particularly highlights for me were the last sections on cultivating friendship and a Biblical theology of friendship. In particular, I’d never thought about friendship in the way outlined in the final chapter – through the lens of our friendship with God. This is a valuable book about friendship and I would recommend it to anyone.

However, from the perspective of Friend Zone, I would say one thing – there was nothing really about friendship between the sexes (or between members of the same sex where they experience same-sex attraction). This is a good general book about friendship, but I think there is much more to say – and I would recommend reading this book in companion with others to flesh out what friendship means.

Site update: One thing which reading the book did make me realise is that I needed to be a bit more explicit in explaining why Friend Zone is about male-female friendship, rather than simply friendship in general – hence I created this page.

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