Thomas Purifoy, writer, director, and producer of the recent feature film, “Is Genesis History?” discusses the current state of the Bible and creation debate with Kuyperian contributor Luke Welch. We discuss the difference in asking the question from a science framework, and from a historical framework. Purifoy answers questions about why the way you read the Bible about this matters, and about what directions the current church is headed. The interview is full of historical and scientific highlights.
Thomas Purifoy, writer, director, and producer of the recent feature film, “Is Genesis History?” discusses the current state of the Bible and creation debate with Kuyperian contributor Luke Welch. We discuss the difference in asking the question from a science framework, and from a history framework. Purifoy answers questions about why the way you read the Bible about this matters, and about what directions the current church is headed. The interview is full of historical and scientific highlights.
Thomas Purifoy has set out to reframe a debate.
The maker of the documentary style film, “Is Genesis History?” is doing his part to provoke a public conversation about science and the Bible, and he wants to change the main question from being about science, to being about history.
The Film and the Interview
“Is Genesis History?” came to theaters in February – and in June, it has come to Netflix. You can find it on Amazon video as well. The recent video release of the film prompted me to call Thomas, who is an old friend, and discuss the film in an interview for Kuyperian Commentary – that interview will be the content of the podcast here on Wednesday.
An Evolution in Theological Thought
When Thomas and I spoke, he and I shared our common concern over what he called, “the incursion of evolutionary thought” into the current stream of evangelical theological (more…)
The Bible doesn’t teach us that the Holy Spirit announces his presence by an internal feeling that he is there.
When you are on a tourist vacation in a foreign country, you will find yourself constantly checking wherever you have hidden your wallet. You are making sure it is still there. Without it, you will be in great trouble. It carries your identity and your power.
One sad way to live the Christian life is to labor with constant checking that the Holy Spirit is still there, to worry regularly about verifying salvation. This is a very common condition. But it doesn’t need to be.
There are multiple passages that we can misread to lead us into slavery to fear about our salvation. Since we face Pentecost this Sunday, let’s look at a misreading of a verse dealing with the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit’s Presence
In Romans 8, Paul says that true believers have the Holy Spirit, and false believers don’t. Do you have the Holy Spirit? How do you know? What if you can’t feel the presence of the Holy Spirit? If you can’t feel the Spirit, are you not a Christian? (more…)
An Intellectual Fence?
Does scripture allow us to fence the table of the Lord from covenant children on the basis of an ability to articulate propositional doctrine? Can I keep my baptized son from the meal because he cannot explain the intricacies of substitutionary atonement? No. For while communion may represent a whole package of difficult theological truths that could take a lifetime to understand, what is necessary for participation…every three year old covenant member should be assumed to possess.
Why do I say this? Let’s look at a passage of scripture that gives God’s call to church ministry starting at age three.
Three Year Old Levites
2 Chronicles 31 calls for Levites to begin holy work at the Lord’s house at the age of three:
11 Then Hezekiah commanded them to prepare chambers in the house of the Lord, and they prepared them. 12 And they faithfully brought in the contributions, the tithes, and the dedicated things. … [Certain men] were faithfully assisting him in the cities of the priests, to distribute the portions to their brothers, old and young alike, by divisions, 16 except those enrolled by genealogy, males from three years old and upward—all who entered the house of the Lord as the duty of each day required—for their service according to their offices, by their divisions. (2 Chronicles 31.11-16)
God expected Levites who worked in the house of the Lord do their work beginning right after they were weaned (age three). How does this compare to how we treat the children already marked out by God’s covenant in baptism, today? Do we assume them to be automatically capable for faithful ministry to the Lord? We should.
Baptism is the right fence, and we have already rightly brought our covenant children inside. But where some push for an intellectual fence, usually around twelve, our passage in 2 Chronicles 31 pushes us back out of the realm of making intellect a credible fence. It calls us back to the scriptural action of charitable presumption for the young in the Lord.
Some want to bar children from the table until they can articulate their faith in the Lord in the right fashion, to the satisfaction of the elders. I have known of a child in one such church who was well trained by his parents in the truths of the faith. When he was interviewed by the elders, they thought his answers were too good – he was actually repeating the catechetical answers.
But to these guardians of the table, an accurate answer indicated that the answers were not genuine, because the child did not come up with them in his own child-like words. They failed to pass the child into the communing community within the larger number of the baptized in that church.
The child had been too diligent at learning according to the faith of his parents. Too ready to obey. This resulted in a flawless test, which, in their eyes could only indicate that the child’s obedience was practiced and not genuine. Did they not see this as fruit of faithfulness in that home?
But that test is nowhere found before the calling of young Hebrew covenant members to holy work for the Lord.
We Know Which Jesus
The prime worry of the people who hold out for crystaline doctrinal explanations is that the child may not have true faith, and that they won’t understand Jesus correctly before coming to the meal. They fear that somehow this defies warnings in 1 Corinthians 11.
Let’s imagine a child of our own church, baptized, and as usual, he is giving no troubling evidence that he is worshiping the wrong Jesus. He is just a child raised in our Trinitarian church. Should we restrict him from the table because we can’t know whether he is orthodox in his heart?
Should we just accept every claim to faith we hear? How do we know the child isn’t full of heresy?
There is an answer, and we can see it by comparing the children of our church to a man who wants to join our local body on the first day he visits. You would need to verify who this man is… what does he truly worship? Is he part of the Church?
Now of course, we should be able to reserve a right to judge when any random adult says “I love Jesus, let me join your church!” In that case, we still need to take pause to make certain he is talking about our Jesus, and not the Mormon one, or the Jehovah’s Witness one, because we do not know where this man is coming from. We need to see that he wishes to worship the Triune God of the historic (apostolic) church.
But the key point is knowledge of where a person comes from. For on the other hand, when a tiny baptized saint, and member of a household in our church says, “I love Jesus,” we must already be assured that they are loving the Jesus of that orthodox house.
In fact, if it is a child of our own church, let us act out of certainty that they could not under normal circumstances be referring to any Jesus other than our own Jesus. The child knows only the Jesus he is given in your body of believers. Are your church’s elders orthodox in preaching, and in guiding the child’s parents? Then be assured he is asking for your own orthodox Jesus.
If we question the heart intention of a child of our own church, we must likewise question his parent’s grown up orthodoxy, and even our own preaching. In such a case we would similarly be driven to absurdly question whether “I love Grand-Mom,” means what he thinks it means. But we know it is fully possible for a child to love Grand-Mom, and to mean it, even after rote learning of this phrase on the road right before entering Grand-Mom’s house at Thanksgiving. We would question an outsider, an insurance salesman who said, “Hey, I love grand-mom too!” But we don’t need to question our children, to accept their love as genuine though it has little intellectual formation.
The insurance salesman may indeed love Grand-Mom, but we should test it. We owe him no charitable presumption of love for her. Likewise, it world be absurd not to charitably presume our kids to love Grand-Mom.
We know which Jesus a baptized catechumen is referring to, no matter how young that disciple is. The baptism is of that church and through those parents. So that baptism implies the faith of that church is indeed the faith the child is attached to. And not merely sociologically, but also theologically…spiritually.
Of course this whole thing is an unnecessary exercise, because my point is not that I think we need a verbal profession before opening the Lord’s table to a young baptized eater. I believe the Bible tells us plainly that if a person is baptized and is an eater, then he or she should eat the common meal that is owned by all the baptized. (1 Cor 10 – one body, one loaf). We accept the normativity of faith in the womb (Ps 22, Ps 71, Ps 8).
Rather, my main point is that even if we were to ask for such a confession of verbally expressed faith before allowing the child to the food of the Lord’s house, we would have to work within the restrictions of scripture. And the Scripture will not let us ask for a test that is beyond the complete capability of a three year old. If he cannot pass our session’s inquiry, then we are defying the pattern set in scripture. Three-year-olds have holy work to do for the Lord.<>
How should we counsel believers who are needing to come out of deep sin? We should treat them as if “God in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.” That is, with believers, we should believe them to be believers as we seek to shed light on their disobedience. Of course, more complicated scenarios arise when a hard heart and rebellion are revealed as unyielding to gracious pastoral help; but here, I am seeking to address the simple situation of confronting a sin for the first time. Paul teaches us about this.
If you read Paul’s handling of the sins of Corinth, according to 2 Corinthians, you will find these kinds of encouragements growing out of the text:
– Confront sin with love, even if the confrontation will be painful. (2 Cor 2.4)
– Remind them that God has done a good work in them already (2 Cor 7.1)
– Do not regret the pain that happens in the loving truth of the process. That is, don’t avoid the process out of fear of the pain. (2 Cor 7.10)
– As they repent, and after they repent. show them that this very repentance is a vision of God’s powerful work in their lives, one that gives hope. (2 Cor 7.12)
– Rejoice with them in their repentance. (2 Cor 7.7,9,13,16)
– Expect that bringing scripture and church ministry to bear against sin will sniff out the life or death of the one confronted (2 Cor 2.14-16)
This all comes out of Paul’s interaction with the Corinthian church, a ministry that was established well, where the people were full of faith and knowledge and zeal. They had been eager to help in the support of other churches, and had responded well to the word and wonders of the apostles the first time around.
And yet, in Paul’s absence, they had some committing acts of sexual immorality, and so he had written them with stern words about the truth concerning their error.
For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.
10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. 12 So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. 13 Therefore we are comforted.
(2 Corinthians 7.8-13)
Show Them Their Own Salvation – Show Them The Spirit at Work
I find it fascinating that Paul’s confrontation was given in order to reveal to the Corinthians their own continuing earnestness for the apostles. This means that he knows they will repent and end up seeing just how much love they do have for the word of God and the New Covenant ministry coming from the hands of the apostles.
This means further that when they are in deep sin, he confronts them with the confidence that they are honest-to-goodness Christians who are caught in sin. So he goes into the ministry of confrontation with all hope that they can indeed recover to repentance.
In fact let us have hope in the ministry of reconciliation because as Paul says,
“…Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere,” (2 Cor 2.14). We are not merely treating men with some habitual benefit of the doubt, granted because it has good psychological effects. We are covenantally bound to treat a baptized man like a clean man. Paul uses the same exact kind of exhortation all through Romans 6.
If you are baptized, he says, you are clean, and resurrected – so since you are a resurrected man, you must consider yourself as dead to sin and alive to Christ. He adds, since you are are alive, don’t act dead!
Call Them to Be Who They Are
We are to allow ourselves to have enough hope and confidence in God’s Spirit’s power, and faith in his covenantal promises that we are able to see sinning Christians as Christians first, and to call them to be who they already are.<>
Is there a simple way to talk about child bearing that is robust enough to move the church in the biblical direction of “fruitfulness,” but which also takes into account the deeply sensitive areas of life that hide inside the soul of each couple in our body? I believe there is. I want to direct any curious readers to glance at the end of the post; that is where my 2 suggested rules are found.
Between Scylla and Charybdis
What is really being looked for is the right path between the one error of legalism, and the other error of antinomianism. Legalism is making up rules that God has not made. Antinomianism is pretending he hasn’t spoken when he has indeed. And viewing the question about promoting fruitfulness in the church through this filter helps us to come to some simple but powerful answers.
Because the Bible really does send us the message of wishing for many children in the church, but the life of the church really does contain many exceptional situations that would give us pause from each man pressing his neighbor and his brother with inquisition over why they have less children than he has in mind as godly, therefore we need to take into account what God has said and what he hasn’t.
What the Bible Does Say
Let’s quickly get the sense of pleasure the Lord has poured into his words about the expansion of Christian families:
Humanity, back when humanity as a whole was also the church as a whole, was told explicitly this commission:
“And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…”” (Genesis 1.28)
We do have it on good authority (from the wisdom of Solomon) that God blesses families that seek to expand with childbirth:
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!” (Ps 127.3-5)
We do hear a general expectation that faithfulness is turned by God into growing families:
“1 Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
who walks in his ways!…
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
4 Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the Lord.” (Ps 128.1-4)
So it isn’t imaginary. But we must also keep in mind what the Bible doesn’t say, and what it does say about difficulties in this process.
What the Bible Doesn’t Say
- The Bible doesn’t tell us an ideal number of children.
- The Bible doesn’t forbid birth control, per se.
I am not giving verse references for these, since the Bible doesn’t command them. But we should take note.
What Else the Bible Says
Here is some other significant information to making a pastorally wise decision about how the topic is handled in church.
Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Samson’s mother (the wife of Manoah), Hannah, and Elizabeth all had something in common: They were godly and barren at the same time.
So the Bible’s generalized blessing about bearing fruit is not a categorical assertion that godliness begets large families. The Author (God) of the text is quite aware that women endure the pain of singleness, the pain of barrenness, and also in many of these cases the stigma and shame that comes with it. The Bible does not cast any shame from the Lord over these women who have been made to go without, rather it is the Lord’s compassion that hearkens to them in their prayers, and the prayers of their loving husbands.
- Gen 16.17 The Lord blessed Sarah.
- Gen 25.21 The Lord granted Isaac’s prayer for his wife.
- Gen 30.22 The Lord remembered Rachel, and God listened to her.
- Judges 13.3 The Angel of the Lord appeared to the wife of Manoah and spoke to her.
- 1 Sam 1.19 The Lord remembered Hannah.
- Luke 1.13 An angel appeared to Zechariah, and told him his prayer for Elizabeth had been heard.
But God Doesn’t Always Grant These Requests
Similar to Hannah who spent time at the temple asking to have a child, we hear about a prophetess in Jesus day, a woman named Anna (which is exactly the same name as Hannah), who had been married only seven years before she was widowed, and then had lived to eighty-four years old still unmarried. She was devoted to temple life, and the Lord heard her prayers as well, but the answer of provision had been to give her the temple, and the answer of new children for her had been to let her live to see the dedication of baby Jesus, come to save his people from their sins.
So What Overall Have We Found About God’s Word and Childbearing?
- God does want to expand his image and glory in the world through the fruitfulness of children coming out of Godly marriages.
- We can expect this to be a normative quality to the life of faithful churches, but this is far from saying it will happen to all godly church members.
- We can know along with scripture that many difficulties and challenges lie beneath the public surface of marriages in our midst.
THE REALLY NEEDED CAUTION
I think one more very efficient wise word is to be added in before we make a simple conclusion. Similar to the question in Romans of eating meat purchased in idol temples, the above findings would make us want to want the church to have fruitfulness, but might also make us cautious about messing with the conscience or the private motivations of other church members. So here is that biblical wise word to individual Christians:
“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls,” (Romans 14.4).
My conclusion in two rules (yes rules):
Rule #1: The church must love fruitfulness.
The church as a whole should have a public attitude of desiring children, of loving and encouraging children, of not speaking negatively of childbearing, and not complaining about their presence in worship. It must be okay in worship to preach about multiplication. It must be okay in conversation to rejoice that someone is pregnant. It must be okay to rejoice with adoptions. This will challenge many, many couples to open themselves to God’s blessing. Mere inconvenience or a preference for the good life is always trumped by the prime directive in Genesis 1.28 given for the glory of God. This is good for all of us.
Rule #2: The individual must not judge his neighbor about fruitfulness.
The church should preach that we need to let people be free to have their ups and downs without being hounded by nagging do-gooders trying to stir up the fertility in the next pew. This doesn’t mean a good friend could not encourage a person he is close to about biblical fruitfulness. We are free to confront a brother about a truly known sin, but in this area it requires being privy to a lot of information that average pew neighbors don’t have about each other. We might run into a rare time to put a finger on Genesis 1.28, but we cannot go home with simple ideas about how other members are faithful or not in the private of their lives, just because they look more like Jacob and Rachel than like Jacob and Leah.
Remember that people in your church have gone through much without sharing it all publicly, and many have lived much life before joining your flock. Men have had testicular cancers. Women have been damaged by abortions. People have surgeries, and medicines, and sometimes deep psychological problems they only barely keep at bay, problems which may even have come from receiving abuse as a child.
Rule 1 guards against antinomianism. God has spoken. Children are an inheritance and a reward.
Rule 2 guards against legalism. God is judge. Children shouldn’t be a whip for casual use on other Christians.
If God is indeed the one who opens the womb, then pray to him that he be the one to pour out multiplication on the images of God in the garden of your church. And pray that God would give us all self-control in the way we speak, and wisdom in seeing the serious needs of all the families and couples in our midst.
The straightest, safest path is never denying what God has said, and never demanding what God has not.<>