Monday, February 25, 2013

Does Baucham Embrace Marriage as a Sacrament, or is it Just Another Rhetorical Trick?

I recently read a post at the Cry for Justice blog critiquing a sermon that Voddie Baucham delivered about the “Permanence of Marriage.” The blog explores the theme Pastor Jeff Crippen's book Cry for Justice:  How the evil of domestic abuse hides in your church. It's an excellent place to read if you're dealing with the issue of abuse or if you're trying to understand the behavior of an abuser. I've not yet read the book, because frankly, I find the subject of abuse to be a difficult topic. I begin to read and cannot concentrate because of the difficulty of the subject itself. I have, however, read selections of very good and helpful content on the Cry for Justice blog.

When the sermon came to my attention, I immediately thought of something I'd read in one of Baucham's books a couple of years ago. A reader contacted me and asked me to consider critiquing his book, What He Must Be... If He Wants to Marry My Daughter. It came highly recommended by a source they trusted at the time, and this reader became quite dismayed. They found the principles Baucham promoted and his twisting of Scripture in such an authoritative tone to be so troubling that they claimed that they'd actually begun to question Christianity. I relented and bought a used copy of the book, wondering what content could have been so troubling. I read only a third or so of it and stopped. I found it to be so full of bizarre that I quickly grew weary of it. I contacted the person via email and shared some general ideas about what I'd read before I gave up on the effort.

Looking back on what I read a couple of summers ago, Baucham makes three notably “memorable” points in that first section the book. He boldly claimed that Zilpah and Bilhah were actually Leah's dowery that Laban paid as opposed to the traditional idea that they were “given” as slaves to Leah. (Should we do the same today because it's the Biblical thing to do?). In claiming that all rank and file Christians who do not hold a position of leadership in the church to support his rigid homeschooling centered affinity group that is marketed as the Family Integrated Church under the guise of elder-led church government, Baucham emasculates the Scriptures about the higher standards required of shepherds, deacons, and teachers of their significance, making them applicable to every male Believer. This final “teaching” exemplifies every characteristic of spiritual abuse as defined by Henke's model. I but I was probably floored the most when I read read that Baucham seems to claim that Martin Luther believed that marriage was a sacrament.

I didn't know how to respond publicly at the time because I was surprised to find that a few pages of the same book mentioned me by name. They repeat Baucham's confabulation about me that Don Veinot of the Evangelical Ministries to New Religions noted to be a falsehood when Baucham posted it on his blog in 2008. Ironically, when confronted about his error, Baucham published a revised statement that contained additional and more serious, uncharitable errors. (It no longer appears online, BTW.) But I guess that his book had already gone to press. Between that and the miserable misrepresentations of the Word of God that he makes in defending his “Stay At Home Daughter” thesis, at that point, I declined writing any blog commentary about any of it. Sometimes, I believe that it's prudent to say nothing about some of this kind of material because criticism can be perceived by aberrant groups as a type of religious persecution which feeds self-aggrandizement, something that ironically becomes a twisted type of reward.

No Divorce... EVER.

I believe that the sacrament issue is now worth addressing, in light of the statement that Baucham makes in his “Permanence of Marriage” sermon concerning how Matthew (or perhaps Jesus Himself) lacked sufficient perspicacity to adequately explain what He meant. For a moment, I thought that he might actually “go Bultmann” on the crowd by pointing out repeatedly that the “porneia clause” only appears in Matthew's writings, as though this is some kind of suggestion that Matthew had issues with discernment. Either way, he explains how the Logos did a poor job explaining to humanity what He meant in the God-breathed Gospel. I immediately recalled the passage in his book about marriage itself as a “sanctifying work” as though marriage is a religious rite that confers spiritual benefit. (For a Protestant, I would say that the term “sanctifying” as a modifier for the word “work” should not even be found in the same sentence, let alone for someone who calls them Reformed.) In what some consider to be a cribbing of Elliff's view which contradicts and rules out Jesus' statement about divorce for the cause of porneia (what the context suggests as a broader category of sexual sin that exceeds the act of adultery only), I guess that we should all be glad that Baucham is around to set Christians throughout the ages straight on this matter!

In this post, I wish to assert that viewing marriage as what Baucham describes as a “sanctifying work” has a direct bearing on why one might also believe in the “permanence of marriage,” regardless of adultery, sexual sin, or even domestic abuse.

Though I don't intend to dwell on this book, this sermon, or their specious claims at any length, I would like to note this about the sermon. It contained glib jocularity that would suggest to some that physical abuse is not a somber matter of grave concern to Baucham, though I know that it is troubling if not troublesome to some couples that have left his congregation. I made only a single note about its content as I listened to the sermon: “Homicide? Maybe. Divorce? Never!” Another person just pointed out to me that I'm not the only one to express this same concern (as Jeff Crippen also blogged about it). And to me, the comment certainly seems consistent with other overtly aggressive statements Baucham has made about control.

Baucham's Linguistic Booby Traps and Other Tricks of Logical Fallacy

Having explained this topic in previous posts (HERE and HERE), I wont go into much detail today, save to say that Baucham demonstrates again his great skill of speaking with charismatic authoritative prowess to evade the discernment of his audience. In general, he often says just enough to convey his intended meaning and his “hidden curriculum” through fuzzy logic, unstated assumption, and redefinition of known, traditional terminology in such a way that he can still also deny that he's said anything improper or taken an intended meaning out of context. The issue of marriage as a work that confers holiness or God's favor certainly demonstrates this tactic of the informal logical fallacy of equivocation in particular. Aberrant Christianity frequently makes use of this type of error of logic, one matter of many that James Sire notes in his book, Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways Cults Misread the Bible. Plausible deniability is everything.

What Is a Sacrament?

First, we must clarify what a Protestant, particularly a “Capital R Reformed Protestant” understands about the use of the term “sacrament.” In the most general sense, a sacrament is a religious rite or ceremonial act that is interpreted as a visible, outward sign of God's grace and forgiveness. Some traditions believe that something holy is imparted to the participant through the process of the sacrament, literally meaning “holy act.” Denominations interpret sacraments differently and some embrace differing doctrines, noting that sanctification describes the process by which a Christian becomes increasingly more “holy.” Holiness in this sense means morally and spiritually excellent, “set apart” or venerated for God's use.

Since Luther was cited by Baucham in the passage of interest, consider that Luther's central message and cause for protest surrounded the idea that salvation comes through faith alone. Faith alone initiates the process whereby Jesus imputes the Believer with His holiness while He bears the punishment and stigma for sin. Luther protested the idea that the Catholic church dispensed righteousness to people and declared them saved from their sins only if they performed certain works, creating a fusion of both faith and works together that were necessary for salvation.

Roman Catholicism still embraces seven sacraments which help to infuse the Christian with holiness which works from the outside of the person through what they do to in order to affect an inward change. These Roman Catholic sacraments include baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist (communion), marriage, ordination, confession/penance and, the anointing of the sick/“last rites.” They either give a person or increase “sanctifying grace” (works that either establish or deepen one's favor with God.) Luther identified only two sacraments in the New Testament, instituted by Jesus Himself, acts which “aid in faith” in some way: water baptism and the Eucharist (the Lord's Supper). Some Protestant theologies observe these traditions as an “act of obedience” or as ordinances which publicly confirm their faith, while others embrace a range of interpretations about some type of conferred spiritual benefit and the nature of that benefit.

The other Roman Catholic sacraments were works that man did, and works cannot impute or infuse righteousness into the inner man, a change that can only happen within the Believer through the sovereign transformative work of the Holy Spirt. One cannot underemphasize this aspect of Luther's message, a concept embodied in the Five Solas (or Solae) of the the Reformation. With that consideration, I note well that Baucham does not use the term “sacrament” itself in the excerpt below, but he does make what some might find to be an even bolder statement. He uses the term “sanctifying work.”

Baucham's Misleading Summary of Luther on Marriage

As part of the discussion of finding a suitable candidate for his daughter to marry, a gospel for all dutiful fathers who want to attain God's highest and best, Baucham turns to Luther for support.

Excerpt from Voddie Baucham's What He Must Be... (pg. 38, emphasis mine):
The Bible clearly presents marriage as a glorious gift from God and a tool that he uses to bless and sanctify his people in numerous ways.  Martin Luther enumerates some of these sanctifying works wrought by the marriage covenant in his lectures on Abraham's plans for the marriage of Isaac.  He states: 
“Marriage is the God-appointed and legitimate union of man and woman in the hope of having children or at least for the purpose of avoiding fornication and sin and living to the glory of God.  The ultimate purpose is to obey God, to find aid and counsel against sin;  to call upon God;  to seek, love, and educate children for the glory of God; to live with one's wife in the fear of God and to bear the cross.” 
Thus, according to Luther, marriage is a tool that God uses for at least three purposes:  1) procreation, 2) avoiding fornication, and 3) sanctification.
Recalling an instance when Baucham accused the world of “playing fast and loose” with Biblical texts, I can't help but offer the same critique of what he does with his “summary” of Luther. Where in this quote does Luther say anything about marriage being an undertaking that specifically works holiness into the inner being of the Believer as a consequence of pursing it? Where does this quote indicate that marriage is a work at all? Are we touching on the issue of “Shepherdism” or the “Obedience of Faith” controversy, merely because Luther says in this quote that our ultimate purpose is to obey God which results in avoiding sin? Has the priority to birth and parent large numbers of “covenant children” to save the world created a new sacrament among Baucham's followers in the Quiverfull Movement?

I believe that to support the premise of his belief system, Baucham makes what I find to be a spurious claim that Luther himself saw marriage as a sacrament. He lays this idea as a foundational principle that he relies upon for additional spurious claims that he makes later in the book. Marriage is such a central part of his narrowly regimented view of family and church hierarchy so that we can all “get family discipleship right,” he's got to exploit every morsel that he can find. And Baucham should be honest. He's well-trained and knows the principles of proper hermeneutics, or at least why a teacher should not “play fast and loose” with theological terms. He should realize and anticipate that, as a self-proclaimed “fire-breathing, TULIP believing, five-point Calvinist,” the term connotes a specific meaning when discussing basic theology.

Maybe he would belabor the technical point that because marriage is said to merely be a tool that God uses as opposed to saying that man willfully uses it as a tool to gain power? That might be more believable, but the context of the book sets marriage up as the ideal and what Doug Phillips calls “normative.” I guess that God gives you fewer grace points by infusion if you fail to get married, considering that marriage is said to be a sanctifying work. If you don't marry, you have less opportunity to have holiness infuse into you? If you marry, you become closer to God and wield more spiritual power? How then does 1 Corinthians 7:7-8 apply? As you can imagine, Baucham has pat and convoluted answers for that in the book, too.

Is Baucham reformed, or does he want to be Roman Catholic theologian? As my husband says frequently after reading John Robbins for so many years and in so many contexts, “The New Calvinists get more RC by the minute.” (If you're a Roman Catholic reading here, note that I don't necessarily intend to slam Catholicism on this point, though I hold to a staunchly Protestant view.) I just want to point out that the if someone's going to start preaching that virtuous works combine with faith results in spiritual holiness on the inside of a person, please don't call yourself a Calvinist. Or try to be more faithful to use academic and theological terms more appropriately so that we can clearly understand your intended meaning when you use terms like “sanctifying work.