August 6, 2017
Or, How the Reformation Changed Things for Maternity
Last fall I became very discouraged. I was reading a biography on Martin Luther when I had a watershed realization. Normally that would be a good thing, and it was good. But the discouraging part was that it took me so long in my Christian/theological/pastoral life to have this realization.
When we think about the 16th Century Protestant Reformation we think about biblical doctrine, which is right. There were some, maybe we should even say many, within the Catholic Church who recognized the serious problems within the church and who boldly spoke out about those problems. Erasmus was a reformer, a man with his eyes open to the many sins in the clergy. He wrote numerous books to point out “religious people” issues, including his Praise of Folly in which he runs the bus back and forth over priests like he’s rolling out papal pie crust.
The capital “R” Reformers started a rumpus when they started swinging an axe at the root. They observed the sinful fruit on the limbs, but they believed that it grew out of wrong doctrine.
Protestants reproached the clergy not so much for living badly as for believing badly, for teaching false and dangerous things. (Eugene F. Rice, Jr., The Foundations of Early Modern Europe, 1460-1559)
Luther wasn’t trying to get Catholics to live up to Catholic teachings as much as he was denying Catholic teachings.
So the solas are not extraneous. Doctrine cannot be downplayed in any attempt to explain what the Reformers were doing. And while sola Scriptura was logically necessary for sake of learning biblical doctrine, it was sola fide that became the most significant scythe cutting down the dry grass of error.
We’ve talked about sola fide a lot. Martin Luther upset continents, plural, by preaching sola fide. Whole streams of modern Evangelical churches have a different set of problems because they’ve believed sola fide for so long. We are saved by faith alone. There are no works we can do, no religious quests we can make, no payments sufficient to please God. The Son of God laid down His life and rose again on the third day. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Believe, alone.
Doctrine, theology, propositions, sentences and adjectives (like “sola”) of truth rent the Catholic Church asunder and this was all for the sake of the gospel. We do not have to do anything to earn acceptance from God, and we couldn’t even if we wanted to, which we didn’t. Doctrine, therefore, is our lifeblood. What we believe has consequences.
But this leads to the provocation of my discouragement. I believed that what we believe has consequences, so that we cannot remain knowingly in the Catholic Church, or in any church that teaches salvation by faith plus works. What we believe has consequences, so we must defend the faith once for all delivered to the saints. What we believe has consequences, so we must love the true church which is the pillar and support of truth.
And, as the doctrine of sola fide itself teaches, you do not have to believe in sola fide to be saved, you only have to believe in Christ. As the doctrine of sola fide implies, you are not more biblical or more spiritual or more Christlike if you read the Bible more or have a job in the church. As the doctrine of sola fide implies, you don’t have to be a monk or a missionary to please God, you can be a mom, or any other lawful occupation. We are justified by faith, not by the title on our business card.
The Reformation opened doors for all sorts of work not only to be allowable for men and women but also to be glorifying to God. The doctrine of sola fide is the greatest Reformation wrecking ball to smash the wall of dualism. This is what I’d missed. I don’t think I intended to undermine what I taught about sola fide as I urged others to study the Bible more seriously and even to learn how to teach the Bible, but reduce the extensive triumph of the doctrine is exactly what I did.
When we talk about occupations, we are talking about one’s work, one’s job, and sometimes it involves a paycheck. We’re talking about how one spends his or her time. A synonym is “vocation,” which comes from the Latin word voco meaning, “I call.” During and after the Reformation it was normal to talk about one’s “calling,” though most people today only use it in reference to a full-time ministry position, as in a pastor. But it used to be that everyone had a vocation; God called everyone to a work.
The dignity and appeal and virtue of many vocations were elevated during the Reformation. You did not have to be a monk or a nun, a priest or a cardinal, or some other official position within the church in order to be a faithful Christian. There were not two classes of Christian, even though some could be paid by the church and others not so. But it comes back to sola fide. Because our justification depends on faith alone, we are free to do good works in a variety of occupations that glorify our Father in heaven.
You do not need to be a pastor or a missionary, or married to one, in order to be a significant Christian. Your job is not what earns you God’s favor, though your job is a way to work for God’s honor.
Tonight’s message is to the ladies, with implications for the men. To the men, I would encourage you to take note so that you can learn some humility now before you have to learn it in front of your wife. It will be better this way if you have ears to hear. I myself have had opportunity to be humbled in the study of motherhood, and it has not been only from books.
The world we live in is a funny place, a difficult place, a sinful place. I will assume for now that you at least do not want to identify as something other than a woman. But even with that, our society has very little appreciation for what a woman is, let alone for a woman as wife and mother. Many of you are quite skilled, quite ambitious, and that’s quite a good thing. And also, according to the Bible, there is a great calling that most of you will have to motherhood.
If you desire to have a career other than mellifluus maternus, ([from fluere = flowing and mel = honey: ’flowing honey’]) that is, “sweet motherhood,” then something is missing, either seeing motherhood as a necessity but not sweet, or seeing so many other things as sweet instead of motherhood.
The Reformation, building from the implications of sola fide, has much to encourage mommas. I think a case can be made that each of the five solas provide immediate motivation for a mother’s calling. The solas do not exclusively apply to mom’s, but they do especially apply to mom’s.
This is true for men/husbands/fathers, too, but it is especially significant for women/wives/mothers in light of the dumb (Christian) guys who act like they are doing more important things.
Sola Scriptura means that God’s Word is the ultimate authority. Christians, whatever their gender, whatever their calling, must submit to the Word of God above any other word. God does reveal in the Bible that He has established other sources of authority, i.e., government, elders, husbands and fathers. But none of those sources can claim absolute right to be obeyed. Only Scripture has consummate authority.
Mothers, then, do not have to listen to their husbands alone. Mothers, then, do not have to listen to “church ladies” alone. Mothers, then, do not have to listen to social experts and Oprah and whatever the most recent outrage over gluten and sugar and lack of bike helmets on Facebook. Mothers always get to ask, “What does the Bible say?”
Of course, women who humbly submit to the wisdom of the Word will also listen to other wise women. But they do not have to follow them on social media.
This means that mothers are free to be theologians. Mothers are free to mediate on God’s Word day and night and be like a tree planted beside a stream of living water, whose leaves are always green and who bear fruit in due season. Mothers are free to let the Word of Christ dwell in them richly, teaching and admonishing their children (and others moms) with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Mothers ought to be educated to read, educated to think, educated to understand God’s Word. They do not take a back seat to any man, prophets included, because Scripture alone is the ultimate authority.
Rebekah Merkle ennobles the mother’s work in theology similar to what Paul described for servants in Titus 2:10, adorning doctrine. Take Christmas as an example.
We take one of the most difficult theological truths—the Incarnation—and attempt to show that truth through our celebrations. The men can talk about the Incarnation, church fathers can write important treatises about it, pastors can preach about it, theologians can parse and define it…but we women are the ones who make it taste like something. We make it smell good. How crazy is that? ‘And for my next trick, I will take Athanasius’ De Incarnatione and I will say it with cookies and wrapping paper and cinnamon and marshmallows and colored lights and tablecloths and shopping trips and frantically-last-minute-late-night-Amazon-orders and ham—and I will do it in such a way that my four-year-old will really get it, and it will send roots deep down into his soul where it will anchor his loves and his loyalties and shape his allegiances well into his nineties.’” (Eve in Exile, 175-76)
You must know the Word in order to adorn the doctrine. Be a theologian incarnate.
Before I light these fireworks, we’re saved by faith alone but the faith that saves is not alone. That means that living faith obeys. Those who are saved are filled with the Spirit, and one part of the Spirit’s fruit is self-control. Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 describe the fruitfulness of a woman’s labor, assuming that she is laboring. Laziness is a sin, and one that often leads ladies into other sins, such as gossip and slander and primping.
However, sola fide strikes at the heart of selfish comparison, which is always unhelpful and just the worst. It is not typically the case that a mother reads the Bible and gets convicted about the size of the pile of laundry. She gets convicted because she saw a friend’s Pinterest picture–a friend perhaps not even in a similar household setup–and gets jealous or starts to feel guilty for not having a picture-ready laundry room. Or she starts to feel inadequate because her kids aren’t wearing a certain brand of shoes or skirts, or because they don’t eat enough of the “in” food. Or she’s ashamed that she doesn’t spend enough time reading her Bible every day; she’s feeding and clothing and educating and medicating and transporting souls around all day, so she listens to the Bible on her phone, but for some reason still feels like less.
A Reformed mom, as in, a mom who lives in light of the truths of the Reformation such as sola fide, does not need to become a nun in order to make sacrifices to please the Lord. Instead, she makes sacrifices because she already has the Lord’s pleasure and believes that by following her Lord’s example, as a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, she will bear much fruit (John 12). She dies to bring life to her husband and kids and others because of her justification, not in order to earn it.
Sola gratia means that we are saved by “grace alone.” There is no merit in us, nothing righteous in us that God sees and rewards. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ.
Because grace is undeserved it cannot be claimed by one person more than another, and it certainly cannot be bottlenecked through one profession or procedure. The Roman Catholic doctrine stated that the Church extended grace only through the priest and through the sacraments. One had to go through the church to get forgiveness. But this is not true.
One of the most difficult parts of motherhood is that mothers are around sinners all day. She interacts with little sinners who impatiently and angrily scream because they can’t speak, they are toddler tantrum-throwing sinners who egomaniacally want everything they want, or they are teenage know-it-all sinners who can’t bother to be instructed by someone else. There are other varieties as well. It includes sibling sinners who know the button location to produce instant hissy fit.
What can a mom do in that situation? When she is tired, when she is not done, when she sees the sin and is trying to love the sinner? She has grace! She is being given grace as one of God’s daughters, and she is free to extend that grace to those around her. She can hold the standard with gentle firmness, and she can initiate the process of confession and restoration between members. She does not have to wait for a priest, or her husband, or the rapture.
Wives, and by application mothers, are “co-heirs of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7). Wield grace.
The “first commandment with a promise” for children is that they must “obey their parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1-2). Who is the first example of what obedience looks like that a child should see?
I’m tempted to say that it should be dad, dad who obeys his authorities, i.e., government, employer. But the first visible example will probably be mom.
Paul told wives, “submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). The example is, “as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (5:24). But, this is hard.
The truth of solus Christus means that you are saved by Christ alone and saved for Christ. One of the things Christ has called you to is to provide a great example of submission. Your children learn what submission to their heavenly Father is like by watching you.
When it comes to obeying your husband, remember that you are obeying Christ in doing so. And in obedience, the relationship changes. When Jane and the Director are talking in That Hideous Strength, and she was talking about her “case” of not loving her husband Mark. She thought that maybe there was excuse for their marriage, but the Director said, “you do not fail in obedience through lack of love, but have lost love because you never attempted obedience” (145).
Soli Deo gloria means “to the glory of God alone.” This is why Reformed mothers do what they do: God’s glory, not their own.
Paul told the servants in Colosse to do their work heartily as for the Lord, not for the sake of being seen by men, but for the sake of being seen by God (Colossians 3:22-24). This is true for all who work.
One of my favorite blog posts ever, Rachel Jankovic described a scene when she growing up and listening to a fruit tree outside her bedroom window (“Heavy Branches”).
It is something I love about fruit bearing trees and bushes – that God told them to make something, and they do it enthusiastically. They don’t care about what happens to the fruit. They do not measure their efforts, or fuss when no one appreciates it. (“Heavy Branches”)
It reminds me of the line we sing from “Blessed the Man That Fears Jehovah”:
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
It’s not about having more kids per se, it’s about what you do with those kids and for your family.
There are all sorts of examples of godliness among women in the New Testament. 1 Timothy 5:9-15 describes women who brought up children, showed hospitality, were not idle, did not gossip, and were devoted to every good work.
God does not tell us to necessarily be strategic with our fruit. We do not need to know what will happen to the fruit. Will someone check on it every day, harvest the best to make a pie? (“Heavy Branches”)
There was a sign on Ronald Reagan’s desk: “There is no limit to what a man can accomplish if he doesn’t care who gets the credit.” Soli Deo glori frees women from the bitterness of not being appreciated.
What is your glory. What are you made for? “[Women], as God’s creatures, are designed by him to fulfill a particular role. How many women are out there living frustrated, impossible lives because they are trying to be a can opener when God actually made them to be a knife?” (Merkle, 98).
God is the one who has not gotten tired of making mothers. He has not stopped giving maternal gifts.
Be honorable. Love life. Don’t be bored (as Robert Capon wrote, boredom is the “fertilizing principle of unloveliness”). Learn to eat, to cook, and to exercise. Decapitate a chicken. Balance a checkbook. Listen to music that you think will be around in a hundred years, and some that you think won’t be around but is fun for now. Investigate what wine goes with what food, try some. Throw a party. Be content. You will never be able to raise happy kids if you aren’t. Bear fruit now, wherever you are.
I suspect that most of the ladies here are not enslaved to church dogma, desperate to have the approval of the church. But I do suspect that many are captive to the cultural dogma, and seek justification in the eyes of the society. The doctrines of the Reformation work for this, too! You have reformed roots from which to bear great fruit.