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Another Fine Mess We've Gotten Ourselves Into (Counter-Cultural Christianity)

When Peter Hammond, missionary to the persecuted church, last visited Milwaukee, we took some time off one night to watch the movie "Gettysburg."

  • Brian M. Abshire,
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When Peter Hammond, missionary to the persecuted church, last visited Milwaukee, we took some time off one night to watch the movie "Gettysburg." Peter was amazed at how the film portrayed men bunched together in groups, charging fortified positions in frontal assaults. "Seems a bit suicidal," Peter remarked; "Why didn't they use fire and maneuver?" Always looking for opportunities to share my ignorance, I explained that their tactics were dictated by their technology. The average soldier during the War of Northern Aggression was armed with a single-shot, muzzle-loaded musket. The weapons were not accurate beyond a certain distance and had a very slow rate of fire. Troops had to stand close together and fire in volleys in hopes of hitting anything. Furthermore, the weapons were very awkward to reload, almost necessitating standing up to do so. And standing up is a sure way to get shot on the battlefield.

But what came through so powerfully in that movie, recreated by Civil War enthusiasts using authentic weapons and tactics, was the sheer courage, determination and integrity of the average soldier. They knew from personal experience the horror of war. They knew their chances of survival if wounded were negligible (no antibiotics, no anesthetics, with amputation being the treatment of choice); yet these men not only fought bravely, but charged cannon and enemy musket fire. While Pickett's charge now seems futile, think of the courage it took for those massed formations to walk directly into certain death. Peter's comment was that, "It'd be hard to find any Western men willing to face that today." He's right. Most men today would not and could not do what our great grandfathers did. Now there is nothing particularly wonderful about standing up and getting shot. But soldiers on both risked everything because of principle. They did what they did because they believed it had to be done, regardless of the personal cost. Such courage is hard to find today. I am reminded of news footage from the war in Vietnam; during the 1968 Tet Offensive an American soldier is seen hunkered down behind a large stone barrier, holding his M-16 over his head by the pistol grip and shooting blindly, in the general direction of the enemy. Can you imagine this man charging a fortified position simply because his officers told him to? Possibly, but not likely. We give the Medal of Honor today for what were once routine acts.

The Loss of Biblical Masculinity
As we discussed the film, Peter compared the experience of those soldiers with the problems that he and other missionary organizations have today recruiting men who will stay the course. It appears that mission boards have a fantastically high failure rate; too many men sent to the field return before their tours are up. Peter's assessment was that they lacked self-discipline, integrity and basic Christian character. As long as such men were cocooned in a nice comfortable mission station everything was fine. But heaven forbid that such men should be inconvenienced for the Kingdom! In his own ministry, Peter said it was not the danger of being shot at while crossing a border, or forging a crocodile-infested river, or even the danger of disease that ran most people off the field. It was the simple things like lack of hot showers and different food that most Westerners couldn't handle. The point being of course, that courage, integrity and perseverance are desperately lacking in far too many modern men.

Most Christians form their concept of what it means to be a man from our culture. Cultural influences are so powerful, often because they are so subtle. Scripture puts it this way, "Do not be deceived, bad company corrupts good morals" (1 Cor. 15:55). Psychologists call this "conformity behavior" or the tendency of the individual to change his behavior to fit with perceived group norms. The society in which we live exerts tremendous pressures on the individual. If Christians do not offer a consistent Biblical world view as an alternative, then our salt loses its savor and we end up adopting the same values as our culture. As long as the culture is Christian, fine, but when the culture is pre-Christian, post-Christian, or anti-Christian, then there is a serious problem.

After a hundred years of sociological changes resulting from the Industrial Revolution, and the growth of new religions, Western men no longer have a valid role model of what it means to be men. The cultural values have changed, and men have changed with it.

Christianized societies value self-control, discipline and hard, diligent work. Western men before the advent of eighteenth-century Enlightenment Humanism often lived far closer to the Biblical ideal than those of us born in the post-Enlightenment era. They too were susceptible to cultural forces, but at least those forces had been influenced by 1700 years of Christianity! The concepts of duty, honor, courage were ingrained in young men at an early age. Puritan fathers taught their sons the value of hard work, perseverance despite adversity, and that they had a calling higher than themselves to which they had to be devoted. As a result, such Christian men built the foundations for modern prosperity.

But with hard work also comes increasing prosperity, a prosperity that allows a degree of comfort and ease and takes considerable Christian character to overcome. God's people historically do well in adversity; it's prosperity we fail at. By the latter decades of the eighteenth century, New England pulpits rang with stern warnings of God's judgment on the indolence of the youth. Rather than building on the spiritual foundation of their parents and grandparents, succeeding generations of Puritans squandered their heritage by flirting with the new religions of Arminianism; Deism; Unitarianism and Pietistic, Evangelical Revivalism.

Furthermore, with the advent of new secular religions in the ninetieth century came new religious values, values that placed the welfare of the individual as preeminent. Modern technology eliminated traditional role distinctions, allowing women to assume more and more power in the culture. Material prosperity created soft bodies, idolatry created soft spirits, and technology finished the job. The twentieth century has waged a successful war against Christianity and therefore inevitably a war against Christian men. Emasculated by a feminized religion; sundered from a consistent, Biblical world view; handicapped by a technological culture where his traditional skills were no longer needed, modern men lack the theological and sociological back bone necessary to make successful warriors for the kingdom.

Most American men, freed from their domestic responsibilities, now live in semi-permanent adolescence, consumed with pleasure, self-indulgence and personal gratification. Birth control and abortion-on-demand allowed women the same freedom to sin with impunity that men had often enjoyed in the past. The sexual revolution of the 60s turned into a bad bargain for women. After a heady decade of debauchery, these same women were left without significant relationships and the responsibility of raising a family on their own. The most common type of marriage in America today is serial monogamy: i.e., only married to one person at a time, but changing partners when opportunity or inclination allows. The last three decades have seen an increasing number of men dumping their middle-aged wives for sexy young nymphets.

Most modern evangelical churches are firmly in the hands of the women since they are usually the most active, responsible members. And since women control the church, they tend to select pastors that fit with their ideal. Even in churches where women may not hold formal office, they still pull the strings; and the pastor had better be what they expect and want him to be.

Pastors cooperate in their own emasculation. Since most have no greater vision of the kingdom apart from the local church, growing the church is equated with extending the kingdom. Since the most visible measure of success is a large number of people showing up on Sunday morning, numerical growth becomes the greatest and highest good. I actually heard a specialist on church growth from a major Reformed seminary state that the greatest challenge for the PCA was how to recruit more women for positions of leadership. It seems that since the office of elder is restricted to men, upper-middle-class white professional women are hesitant about joining the church. In order for the PCA to continue growing, he argued, we have to appeal to these women. Therefore, he advocates relegating the elders to an "oversight" group that meets once a year, and turn the actual government of the church to committees. Since there is no formal provision preventing women from serving on committees, even as "chair-persons," they could therefore take their rightful place as leaders in the PCA. "Reformed" pastors across the country are actually hiring this man to teach them how to grow bigger churches. I rest my case.

The Biblical Model
If we want to know what men are supposed to be, we first have to understand what God created them to be. Genesis 1:26ff is the classic text. Man was created in the image of God, as a viceregent, and given the responsibility to exercise dominion over His creation. Please note though that God chose to reveal Himself, not in theoretical or theological language, but in terms of His creative acts; i.e., He creates something out of nothing, and then fashions and shapes that creation so that it is all very good. God's first revelation of Himself in Scripture is in terms of His work.

No analysis can adequately deal with contemporary role confusion unless it begins with this most fundamental fact; Man was created for work. God has a divine call on each man's labor to subdue the earth. While Rushdoony notes, man's original work was aesthetic and scientific, to tend the garden and classify the animals, it was still work. Man was not created to live an aimless, indolent life.

It was only after Man began his dominion work that God created a helper, suitable for him. Woman was created for Man (cf. 1 Cor. 11:8-9), to assist him in subduing the earth. Therefore there are unique sex roles that God Himself has determined for men and women. Those roles are not determined by relative cultural values (real men don't eat quiche, work in the garden, or do dishes) but rather by the Creation ordinances. Man was created to do a task; Woman was created from him to assist in that task. As in the nature of the Godhead itself, Man and Woman enjoy equality of honor, but have distinct functions (cf. 1 Pet. 3:7).

It is crucial to note that the curse in Genesis 3 does not alleviate man's responsibility to work, to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it. Instead, the curse simply makes this work more difficult. The man must now work for the very substance of his life; by the sweat of his brow will he eat bread. In the same way, the woman's task in child-bearing now occurs with great pain, but immediately after being driven from the garden, the woman bears children, and is given her name of "life bearer." The responsibility of the dominion mandate continues; the process just becomes more difficult.

The Genesis account also reveals that the fundamental sin of men is an abdication of responsibility, a refusal to exercise dominion on God's terms. In the garden, Adam followed Eve's lead; he did not protect her from temptation, and where she led, he followed. When confronted with his sin, Adam immediately tried to shift the blame to his wife, and ultimately back to God. Hence as a culture becomes more consistent with its rebellion to God, men will increasingly pervert, flee or distort their dominion duties. The more irresponsible a nation's men are, the closer it is to judgment.

Building Godly Men
The foundational sphere of government is self-government. Unless a man is self-governed, he cannot exercise dominion in his home, calling, church or state. We need men, godly men, men of character, integrity and perseverance who will stand up amidst adversity, speak the truth in love, boldly proclaim God's statutes, judgments and laws, and make them work consistently in the real world.

Therefore, the first step in building godly men has to be a commitment to personal holiness. Holiness is often seen as separation from the world, but true Biblical holiness is consecration to God, a dedication and submission to God and His Law. Rushdoony has noted that the word "sacrament" comes from a Latin military term that referred to a soldier's oath to his legion. Though the term itself was not used in the New Testament, both baptism and the Lord's Supper were seen by the early church as more than simple rituals, but rather as essential components of the covenant. Through baptism, we are brought into the visible community of the elect; through the Lord's Supper we demonstrate our allegiance to Christ as King. Yes, the sacraments are "means of grace"; but they are also visible testimonies that ought to remind men of their duties before their Lord. As important as the sacraments are, they cannot be separated from the Word. The Word of God is the spiritual meat of personal holiness. God's men need God's Word. And let me clear here: I am not talking about a bunch of theologians sitting in an ivory tower discussing esoteric aspects of arcane doctrine. Granted, I love doing that, but it's my calling. Real men of the Word are those who understand the Law and its implications to life. Deuteronomy 6:4ff is very clear here. We read the Law, we meditate on the Law, we discuss the Law, we teach the Law to our children so that we might become doers of the Law (cf. Josh. 1:8, Jas. 1:25, Jn. 14:21, etc.). It ought to be every man's goal to be able to sit in the city gates, dispensing wisdom and justice because his life is being conformed in every aspect to God's word. Therefore men's Bible studies are crucial, studies that focus on teaching practical obedience to the principles, statutes and commandments of our King. Rushdoony once pointed out to me why Reformed churches have a communion table in front of the pulpit; to tie the Word and Sacraments together. The Word is His command to His people, the Sacraments are our oath to God to obey Him (and His grace to us that empowers us to do so).

Secondly, each man must see his labor as worship. Everything he is and has belongs to God. Whatever he does for work, providing it is lawful, is acceptable to God and worthy, as long as it is done "unto the Lord" (cf. Col. 3:23-24). Rather than seeing work as a regrettable necessity, as a way to finance one's pleasures or pump up one's ego, work itself is good. Men must become diligent, conscientious in their labor. God in His sovereignty has gifted men differently and providentially placed them in various situations. Sometimes, men find themselves working at callings that are less than satisfying. Sometimes, men must sacrifice a rewarding career or more enjoyable work for the benefit of their families. Remember, we are a nation under judgment, and as a result, many men find their work "laborious." It is only the asinine influence of self-absorbed humanist propaganda that leads men to believe their labor is worthless unless it is "fulfilling."

Thirdly, as time and opportunity allow, families ought to work towards establishing family businesses. Self-employment not only frees us from the tyranny of working for others; it also fosters the kind of hard, diligent labor that God blesses. We are not there yet; most men today could not assume the responsibilities necessary when working for themselves. There is a lot of the slave mentality rampant in Christian circles today. A slave seeks security first and foremost and so sells himself and his family into bondage (1 Cor. 7:23). Sometimes, there is no other option. But a godly man will seek freedom and the responsibility that goes with it.

Fourthly, in order for men to lead effectively at home, they must have godly women to help them. Thus before a man gets married, he ought to know his dominion calling and be working diligently at it. Furthermore, he must select a woman who will support and assist in that calling. Rushdoony notes that in ancient Israel, a man had to pay a bride price that equated to three years of his labor. This bride price not only became the woman's social security, but also demonstrated to her father that this man was responsible. It also ensured that a man valued highly the wife that God gave him. If he worked for her, he would treasure her as the gracious gift of God she is. Godly women would do well to carefully evaluate potential suitors as to their callings. The issue should not be, "Do I love him?" but rather, "Do I respect him?" 

Finally, godly men must find churches where they are admonished and instructed in their roles and where the pastor teaches sound doctrine applied to life. Sadly, as the stack of letters, faxes and e-mail messages on my desk testify, there do not seem to be a lot of such churches available today. Some have opted out of the institutional church altogether, and who can blame them? Why attend a church with a mushy-headed preacher who won't take a stand, adjudicate a problem, confront sin or teach the truth?

But allow me to be really radical for a moment. If a healthy church is vital to one's spiritual growth and development, if the care of godly elders who keep watch over our souls (Heb. 13:17) is so crucial to building warriors for the Kingdom (something no tape ministry can do, no matter how brilliant the teacher), then why do we continue to live in areas where there is no solid witness?

It is one thing to have a vision to reach a certain area and so start a church in a spiritual wasteland. But I am always a little skeptical when a home church never seems to grow beyond the immediate family. Could it be that so many Christians lack good churches because they are not sharing the gospel and starting a new church (it takes only ten tithing families to hire a pastor)? Or could it be that they value their economic situation above their spiritual one? Our ancestors made the arduous journey to this country, giving up land, jobs and families just so they could have sound churches for their children. Maybe more of us ought to think carefully about why we are living wherever we are living. For the sake of our wives, and our children and their future, perhaps we too ought to consider moving to areas where we know there are sound churches, even if it means some career or financial sacrifices along the way.

These very basic principles are only the beginning but offer the potential of reforming our culture. Men must find their calling, work diligently to fulfill it, find wives who will support and encourage them, in churches that assist and not undercut them. The Kingdom needs men, and it is out of these kinds of families that such men will grow to change a world.

  • Brian M. Abshire

Rev. Brian Abshire, Ph.D. is currently a Teaching Elder associated with Hanover Presbytery. Along with his pastoral duties, he is also the director for the International Institute for Christian Culture, has served as an adjunct instructor in Religious Studies at Park University and is a visiting Professor of Comparative Religion at Whitefield College.

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