Several days ago, I decided that it was my duty as a pastor to respond to the Ashely Madison scandal. I have prayed, reflected, written, edited, rewritten, and I have started over and over. I have read the responses of spouses of those who were named on “the list” as well as others who seemed to be hate and shame mongers. I have read the posts of pastors as well. According to the current repertoire of responses, there are several different perspectives concerning the exact nature of the problem of Ashely Madison. Some have come to the defense of the people named on the list by proclaiming, “I am Ashely Madison.” Others have announced, “I am not Ashley Madison.” I read a post this morning that suggested that the problem was simply sin and its deception. On the other side of the coin, there are some writers who have chosen to focus less on the sin of adultery and focus heavily on forgiveness and restoration.
Let me say this in response to all of the responses….
We are missing the most important thing in all of this. Ashley Madison and its “victims” are but a drop of water in a sea of a much larger issue. We are focusing on the trees while the real problem runs freely around the forest.
My initial intention was to write one article to address the AM scandal, but as the Holy Spirit has opened my eyes to the “big picture,” I have come to realize that the content is simply too much for one post or article. Therefore, I will respond over the course of several articles. I’m not sure how many or how long it will take, but this is too important to the Body of Christ for anything but a careful and complete examination of all of the issues or symptoms (the Ashely Madison issue being but one) of or relating to the root of the problem.
But before we dive headlong into the issues…….
I believe a short story – a true story from one of my past ministries – will serve as both an illustration and a context for the rest of this discussion, even if it only becomes evident toward the end.
I was serving a medium sized rural Southern Baptist Congregation some years ago when I began to try to find a simple and concise way to communicate the goal, direction, parameters, and the source of empowerment for the local church from a Biblical perspective. I wanted to sum it all up in an easy to remember phrase that I would refer to often while preaching/teaching through the Bible. My hope was that the frequent recitation of this phrase, accompanied by sound Biblical teaching, would serve to drive the truth further into the hearts and minds of the members of the congregation so that the principles and truths behind the phrase would be used by the Holy Spirit to guide us in our worship, our ministry planning, our missions involvement, etc.. Before I give you the phrase, which itself is straight forward and obvious in its meaning, I would tell you that it proved to be quite the struggle to get the lay leadership of the congregation on board with the concept. The problem was that adopting such an approach called for some changes in several different areas of the ministry. The simple process of evaluating what we were doing and why in light of what I referred to as the “Four Guiding Principles for Ministry Planning” created problems that I did not foresee. I did not foresee the problems because I was leading under a very dangerous assumption. I assumed that the lay leadership of the congregation that I was serving possessed a greater level of spiritual maturity than they actually did and that the motives of all who served in leadership positions were pure and guided by the Holy Spirit. More about that a little later…….
Here is the phrase that I developed for the reasons that I have already mentioned above: “Christ Centered, Kingdom Focused, Truth Driven, Spirit Empowered.”
As I write about the problems that the Body of Christ is dealing with, I hope that you will see that those problems, even the scandal involving Christians caught up in the Ashely Madison scandal, are symptomatic of individuals and congregations that have failed to live lives and conduct ministries that are intentionally and intensively Christ centered, Kingdom focused, Truth driven, and Holy Spirit empowered.
Now let’s dig in a little deeper……
The starting point of our discussion will be the Biblical Model of Marriage as the Reflection of the Body of Christ and Her Relationship with Her Lord, Jesus Christ. In the fifth chapter of Ephesians, Paul reminds that Church that God’s design for the marital relationship is reflective of the relationship that He has given to Christ and His church. (Be patient! This will not be a lengthy exposition of Ephesians Chapter 5, but the following is necessary to reveal the foundation of my argument about the root problem and the resulting symptoms.) Let’s take a brief look at the text to which I am referring.
Wives and Husbands
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
According to this text, Paul is referring to the relationship between Christ and the church when he describes the profound “mystery” that is revealed in the marital relationship. If we take Paul’s word as we should, then we must understand that God has given to Christ a bride, the church, made up of all those who by faith in Christ have been justified and entered into a covenant relationship with God through Christ. God has also given the church a husband, Jesus Christ, who is the head of the church as the husband is to be the head of the family in the Biblical model of marriage and the family. Christ’s function in this mysterious relationship is to “sanctify” His bride so that in presenting her to Himself, she will be “holy and without blemish.” The function of the church in this mysterious relationship is to “submit” to the headship of Christ in all things, worship Him as a wife should adore her husband, and hold Christ in high regard as the wife is to honor or respect her husband.
Now for the Big Picture….
It’s the stuff that movies, TV dramas, and soap operas are made of: a love triangle, jealousy, a longing to be adored, a plot to break up a relationship in order to create another…..no, I’m not talking about Ashely Madison or extra-marital affairs, not yet anyway. I’m talking about the archenemy of Jesus Christ and the church. Satan is a real being with real jealousy issues. He wants what God has given to Jesus Christ. Satan wants to be god and he desires to be worshipped and adored as such. He knows he cannot ultimately have what he wants so his strategy has been and will continue to be to cause conflict between the bride and the groom. He wants to break up the “divine union” shared by Christ and the church as reflected in the Biblical model of the marital relationship. I am convinced that this is why there have been so many attacks on the traditional, Biblical institution of marriage. If this sounds overly simplistic to you, it’s probably because the problem itself is very simple. However, the strategy that Satan has used against the church is anything but simple. It’s actually ingenious, in a diabolical way. It’s very complicated and has at least as many layers as an onion. That is why I cannot address the problem in just one article.
So, before I wrap up this “introduction,” I want you get a glimpse of the big picture before we begin to look at the smaller details. Satan is hell-bent on causing as much damage to the Body of Christ as he possibly can. The most recent blow has been the Ashely Madison scandal, but it didn’t start there and it won’t end there. If we respond to the AM scandal by shaming and bullying those who were caught up in it, then we are playing right into Satan’s hand. There is no need for a mindless, heartless, and merciless reaction to this scandal. There is, however, a need for the Body of Christ to reflect the love, mercy, and the grace of God in her response and handling of the issues that come from it. There is no better way for the church to LIVE OUT the kind of mercy and love with which God loved an unlovable people, even while they were still depraved sinners, opposed to God and without hope.
Even so, the church must also take a stand and fight for the health and integrity of the relationship that we have been called into with Christ. Therefore, in the following posts, I will explain how the church has lowered her guard and fallen for the strategies of Satan. I will show you how we got to this point, and like I said before, it’s complicated. It involves how we relate to culture, how we worship, how and why we conduct “church programs” and much more…..much, much more! So please hang in there to the end. It’s important.
My plan for the following posts is to complete at least one per week until I am satisfied with what I have covered and how I have covered it. So, until my next post, I want to leave you with the following words taken from Revelation 2:5….
5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.