The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, February 17, 2023

It’s Friday, February 17, 2023.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

A Crisis of ‘Belonging?’ A Clash of Worldviews Reveals a Deep Human Longing on College Campuses

We’re going to get to questions shortly, but first I want to address a very interesting issue that’s been raised in the media and the immediate focus is on college and university campuses, but I want to argue that this is a far more widespread issue.

The headline in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and that’s very much like a Wall Street Journal or New York Times of the higher education industry, and here the article begins with a headline, “Everyone is Talking about Belonging.” Now, the word “belonging” has to be put in quotation marks as if it’s a strange term of art. The article goes on to describe in great detail how colleges and universities, largely driven by the impulse of diversity and inclusion and all the rest, how they are trying to help students to feel like they belong on the space of the college or university.

Now, in the background of this are other headlines telling us that college students are now more emotionally brittle than they were in the past, and that COVID has exacerbated a situation. It’s also affecting high school students and middle schoolers, teenagers and young adults. They are having difficulty. They are increasingly emotionally fragile and they do not know their place in the world and many of them say they do not feel that they belong on the college or university campus.

Now, that becomes an immediate issue just in practical terms for colleges and universities because, as the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Adrienne Lu points out, students who do not feel like they belong, do not tend to stay and are not as likely to stay and to continue and to graduate. Now, if you don’t know this, you need to know that not only is graduation and achievement for the student, it is also a measure of institutional success for the college or university, a matter even of concern when it comes to accreditation. If you don’t graduate your students, the accreditors assume there is some kind of problem. They want to know what that problem is.

Here is a consideration that one of the problems is that so many students don’t feel like they belong. Now, there’s a lot for us to consider here, but I think this is one of these issues that can help us in many ways. It can help us in worldview analysis, yes, but it can also help us in terms of helping those whom we love, to whom we are related, if not in our family, in the local church who might actually be described by what we find in this article.

We also see a clash of worldviews here, no doubt about it. That clash of worldviews shows up in the fact that so many of the people quoted in these articles have headlines such as something like Dean or Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion. You can understand what’s going on there. Equity. It is very much part of the great ideological battle in which you have something like cultural Marxism, all the modern autonomy and individualism, all the ideology of inclusion and diversity and all that that includes, inclusively and diversely enough. All of that is in this situation, but also you have titles such as this. You have, “Belmont University in Nashville is hiring a Vice President for Hope, Unity, and Belonging.”

Now, I’m just going to say I’m not trying to throw Belmont under the bus here because of this title, but if you were trying to come up with a warm fuzzy title that would actually be a joke about this, it’s hard to come up with any title greater than the Vice President for Hope, Unity and Belonging. Cue the music. There are so many diversions we could take from this. How exactly do you write that job description? Do you have one page for hope, another page for unity, another page for belonging?

I just want to step back as a Christian and say even as it’s very easy to look at this and say that’s absolutely ridiculous, there are some big issues here we need to consider. First of all, the Christian worldview tells us that every single human being made in the image of God is not only an image bearer, but is also a social creature. God made us to be social creatures. The very gift of language is a part of what it means to be a social creature. We have social longings and a part of human satisfaction is to know where you fit in the world and to know that there is somewhere where you belong.

Now, it’s easy to dismiss it as just another project of the left, just another attempt at some kind of therapeutic solution to what’s not just basically a therapeutic problem. But we do need to look at this and say, no, there is a lesson here for the church as well and this is where we’re going to end that consideration today. We’ll go to the church. But right now, let’s go back to the campus and let’s understand that we would agree it is a problem if students feel like they do not belong, in the sense that they might not feel like they belong anywhere.

This is where I want to say, as a Christian, I need to address something that’s not addressed in this article at all. It’s not addressed in all the conversation about what is being talked about on college campuses as a crisis of belonging and trying to encourage belonging and create belonging so that students will, after all, belong. It is something behind that which is that, as Christians, we need to see that if there is a crisis in belonging, and we have to say there is, it has to be at least largely traceable to the destruction of the institutions and the structures that assure human beings a belonging in the first place.

I’m just going to state it bluntly. It becomes far more difficult for people to feel that they belong in the universe, much less on a college campus, if they know, first of all, that they belong in a family, that they belong to a mother and a father, that they belong to a community, that they belong to an extended family, that their place in the world is not something they have to figure out first and foremost, it is something provided for them. It is a structure of protection. It is a structure of nurture. It is a structure of order and, thus, their lives are made secure because they do know they belong at home. They belong to their parents. They belong to their family. They belong to their brothers and sisters. They belong to their aunts and uncles. They belong to their grandparents. As a grandparent, let’s underline that.

As you think about this, you recognize this is a part of the structure of belonging. That is what God gave us in creation and we have been on a long deliberate experiment, in terms of western societies, determined to liberate human beings from the very structures that God gives us that assure us of belonging. In this sense, I’m arguing that, as we think of the problem of belonging, we have to step back and say, well, what did we expect in a society in which we have subverted marriage? We have embraced no fault divorce to the point that marriage is now, on the part of most secular people, just seen as a temporary arrangement. We’ll see how this works.

Even as you have premarital sex, extramarital sex is no longer even discussable in the secular culture as if they’re moral terms. Even as you have the subversion of the family, the redefinition of marriage, and as you’re looking at now even the subversion of gender, is there any reason why we wouldn’t think that there would be a crisis in belonging? Because a part of what it means as a creature is to know that our belonging is settled, first of all, by the Creator, and it’s settled by the Creator on his terms to his glory. It is then settled for us by the structures of creation that God has given us that starts, once again, with marriage, family, extended family, neighborhood. All of this turns out to be just really, really important.

A part of what we see in our society right now is trying to put back together all the parts without any reference to the fact that there is a whole. That is, there is an entire whole picture here. If you destroy that picture, then we should expect there will be a crisis of belonging. It may be showing up here on college and university campuses but, as you know, it’s showing up just about everywhere in our society.

Now, there are two other things. As I say, we’re going to end by considering belonging in the church. But before we get there we need to recognize that, yes, many of the titles here in DEI, diversity and equity and inclusion, and so much of this is simply being driven by the ideological left. It includes LGBTQ and so many other permutations of personal identity now energized and driven by identity politics in which belonging means you have to accept me for who I say I am. You have to revise the entire moral code of civilization. You have to redefine marriage. You have to accept me as whatever gender I declare for now. You have to accommodate language to use my preferred pronouns.

One of the things we need to recognize as Christians is that if you revolt against creation, you are not going to feel like you belong. It’s not just going to be on a college and university campus, regardless of its policies, because so many of these campuses are actually absolutely committed to LGBTQ inclusion. But the fact is there is still a crisis of belonging and this is where Christians understand this is a problem that can never be merely remedied by DEI programs or therapeutic programs or a Vice President for Hope, Unity, and Belonging. If you try to unravel civilization, you are going to end up feeling that you do not belong.

Now, as you think of so many who are now in this crisis, for many of them this has been foisted upon them, foisted upon them by modern ideologies, foisted upon them by modern experts who tell them that their main project is the invention of the self. Guess what? The self you invent just might be a pretty lonely self.

But before turning to questions, I just want to say this is another affirmation of the importance of, indeed, the centrality of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ and God’s plan of redemption and in the economy of salvation and in his purpose for humanity. As you look at this, you recognize what we are looking at here is that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, by definition, must be the place which is marked by belonging, but that belonging is not just some kind of free association. That belonging is not just some kind of affinity group. That belonging is rooted in the fact that we belong because our shared identity is in Christ.

The church is made up of regenerate believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, made up of disciples seeking to be faithful and seeking to be faithful together. We understand that belonging to the church, and that means to a congregation rightly ordered by scripture and driven by the gospel, that belonging is actually the most powerful belonging of all in eternal perspective because we will always be a part of the body of Christ. Once we are united to Christ and we are made a part of his body, we are together with fellow disciples from every tongue and tribe and people and nation for eternity in Christ.

Once again, we look at this and we simply understand there is a longing here that is genuine and it is an appropriate longing. There is a problem here that is also genuine, but it is a problem largely of our own rebellious making as a society. There is an attempted solution here, but coming from secular sources on these terms, driven by identity, politics, DEI and other ideologies, even those who are well-intended aren’t going to get to a place where people actually feel like they belong because the alienation is not just something that can be resolved by policy. It’s an alienation that can only be resolved by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let’s be determined, as Christians, to value and to strengthen our marriages, to value and strengthen our families, to value and strengthen our churches and to value and strengthen our evangelism as well. Our commitment to the gospel and to seeing persons become whole by means of the gospel, be saved from their sins and, yes, to belong to Christ and to belong to the church as Christians together belong to each other.

Part II

Is a Public Profession of Faith Necessary for Salvation? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Next, we return to questions, always good questions.

We’re going to start out with a question from Brett. He says, I have a question about Romans 10:9-10. It states, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved.” He says, “I do not want to be legalistic, but a new pastor in our church in a tiny town states frequently that this is something you have to do to be saved. He says, to be saved, you have to make a public confession of faith in Christ.” He goes on to say good things about the pastor but he says, “Isn’t this making a profession of faith basically a work necessary for salvation?”

Well, Brett, good question and I want to say I think your pastor here is absolutely right. It’s not only a passage such as Romans 10:9-10, it’s also a passage like Matthew 10:32 where Jesus himself says, whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. The question that we have to think about here is which comes first, the faith or the works? It is salvation that produces the works. It is not the works that produce salvation.

And so, the gospel also makes very clear that repentance from sin is necessary for salvation. But Christians looking at this biblically have to understand, and this is called the order of salvation, that it is God’s act of salvation that draws the person, the sinner to Christ, convicts the sinner of sin and draws that sinner to faith in Christ, and then also leads that sinner to the repentance of sin and to the public profession of faith in Christ.

The public profession of faith in Christ is the demonstration of the fact that salvation has come. It’s Jesus himself who says it’s a requirement for us to understand that anyone is a Christian. That’s how churches, that’s how fellow believers, know that someone is a Christian. It is by professing Christ. Again, it’s not a work necessary in order to achieve salvation. It is, instead, the product of the fact that salvation has come and it is as Jesus, and here is Paul in Romans 10 makes clear, it is a necessary sign in order, if nothing else, for Christians to identify fellow Christians.

Part III

How Can Jesus Sympathize With a Woman’s Infertility? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Sometimes there are some questions that are sent in and they really, really tug at the heart. We understand that if this individual’s asking the question, there must be many other Christians who are struggling with something like the same experience and perhaps even something like the same question. A young woman wrote in, writing in the context of having heard what appears to be a very faithful exposition of Hebrews 4:14-16, about Jesus as our great high priest sympathizing with us, sympathizing with our weakness and made like us in every respect so that he may fully sympathize with us. That’s a part of his saving work. It’s even a part of his substitutionary work on the cross. It’s a part of his mediatorship and the fact that he is indeed our great high priest.

But understanding that, this young woman writes in and says, while I believe in scripture fully and I understand what the writer of Hebrews is explaining here, as I listened to the sermon and went about my weak, one thing kept nagging me, infertility. I understand that Jesus is the sympathetic great high priest. Based on the text and elsewhere in scripture, I get that he sympathizes with us. But the thing that gives me pause every time this comes up is infertility. How can Jesus, as a man, understand the desperate desire of a woman to have a child and not be able to?

Now, she goes on further imposing the question in this situation, but I wanted to share that much with you in order to say this raises a very important issue. It is an issue that has to do with how we understand Jesus, how we understand his work as mediator, how we understand the incarnation, how we understand the fact that Jesus is indeed a man, that he was born as a male baby. He was born of his mother Mary as the conception came by the Holy Spirit. How many put all of that together? Well, here is one of the great mysteries of scripture, but it’s one of the great truths of the gospel. Jesus truly, as our great high priest, he sympathizes with us, male and female, young and old, in every respect. In other words, he identifies with us fully.

Now, that’s hard for us to understand. It’s hard for us to define, but we simply have to hold together what the Bible teaches, and that is that Jesus is truly man and truly God and that, as we understand the mystery of the incarnation, even though he was clearly male, he was, as the scripture says even early in the gospels, tempted in every way as are we. Now, that cannot mean merely male temptation or women would not be included within salvation, and that is decidedly not the case. This means that Jesus was able to be tempted in every way as is a man, as is a woman, as is persons of every single ethnicity and language group, as would be the young and as would be the old. How exactly does that happen? I don’t know because of the glorious mystery of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. But I do know it is true because the Bible tells us so.

Now, I want to say to the young woman who wrote this letter, I want to do my best to identify with you and to sympathize with you. My wife and I have known some similar challenges earlier in our married life. I also just want to tell you that I would not presume, as a man, to experience either in terms of being a man, or for that matter, even the duration of this kind of struggle. I would simply say that a part of my limitation, as someone who would wish to identify and sympathize with you as a fellow believer in every way, is that there are severe limitations upon my personal experience.

There are severe limitations upon my ability to identify with any number of human challenges and human conditions, but those limitations do not apply to Jesus at all, which is why, as the gospel proclaims, the church and the redeemed are made up of men and women from every tongue and tribe and people and nation because he has identified fully with us all. He was tempted in every way as are we, and he sympathizes with us in our weaknesses.

I want to thank this young woman for sharing this urgent question and for being so generous in doing so. It reminds us all, as part of the body of Christ, of our responsibility rightly to sympathize with each other as we pray for each other, and then to be reminded of our own limitations in that and rejoice in the fact that Jesus identifies and sympathizes fully with us, and that’s without limitation.

Part IV

Is It a Biblical Mandate To Be a Member of a Local Church? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

I appreciate another good question coming in from a listener.

The question is this “Is it a biblical mandate to be a member of a church? Is it sufficient to worship, study the Bible, support fellowship and seek wisdom from elders and pastors?” Well, that’s a great question and I’ve dealt with it in different ways even on The Briefing and even during this time. I simply want to say that I appreciate the candor in asking the question, but the short answer to the question is yes, it is a biblical mandate to be a member of a church.

That’s made very clear by the fact that we’re ordered not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together and by the entire thrust of the New Testament demonstrating that Christians are found within congregations, which are to be rightly ordered by the word of God and are to represent what it means for the body of Christ to be visible in local congregations.

But you know what? I just want to say, and I say this kindly, but I just want to say, you answered the question the way you ask it because you go on to talk about elders and pastors. Well, elders and pastors do not serve the universal church without any kind of reference to a local responsibility. They are, instead, serving congregations. If they’re serving congregations, they’re not just elders and pastors, they are elders and pastors of specific churches, that is to say specific congregations. Especially when you think of elders and pastors, they are responsible for a rightly ordered ministry and for a direct pastoral ministry to specific people to whom, and all it means to the members of that church. In other word, member is actually a rather essential word, certainly in English, and you see this even in English translations of scripture, we are a part of the body of Christ.

We are made a part of the body of Christ because having been united with Christ, we are to be united with a local congregation of believers growing in grace and in faithfulness and obedience together encouraging one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, being confronted by the preaching of the word of God together and, yes, led and pastored by elders and pastors together in a congregation. The only way that works is if the congregation knows who is a part of the congregation and who is not.

Now, by the way, this doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from and benefit from other elders and teachers. In this day, we should be thankful we can benefit by hearing the preaching of preachers now who are even dead, but there is no replacement for the preaching and teaching and pastoral ministry and oversight and fellowship that comes in the context of the local covenant community, which is a congregation rightly ordered, rightly structured, rightly deployed to the glory of God.

Part V

Can Christians Join the Military? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

I really appreciated a question sent in by Cannon, a 17-year-old Christian young man.

He asked the question, he says, “Over the years I’ve gotten into multiple spats with friends over the issue of Christians joining the military. What are your thoughts on the issue? Is it moral? Can you be a Christian and be on active duty? Should you not join the military if you’re already a born again believer?” Well, Cannon, I’m just going to say I’m thankful that this is something the Christian church has thought about for about 2000 years because the Christian Church began, in terms of local congregations, in the context of the Roman Empire, which, after all, included the Roman army. One of the things we find out, even in the Book of Acts references elsewhere in the New Testaments, well, but just think about the Book of Acts. There were members of Caesar’s armed forces. There were officers in Caesar’s legions who were known as early Christians and, eventually, also became leaders in the early church.

What’s the deciding issue there? The deciding issue in the Christian church has been this, a Christian may serve in Caesar’s army, may serve honorably and nobly in Caesar’s army, may help Caesar fulfill the government purpose given in Romans 13 to offer security and order in society. That is all good. What the Christian soldier cannot do is serve in Caesar’s army if that requires declaring Caesar to be Lord. At the history of the Christian church, that has been the main, very clear, very consistent Christian teaching. This doesn’t mean that ethical issues, huge worldview and moral issues do not arise in the context of war, war being as excruciating and intense as it is. From the very beginning of human experience, it has been a crucible of very, very difficult issues. But in that, even if it is unique in intensity, it is not unique in terms of being the only place those moral issues come.

A lot of the issues that we raise these days, and this would be a continuing of that Christian conversation about issues related to Christians serving in the military would have to be extended to many other areas of activity as well, including much of big business, major corporations, big business, institutional life. Increasingly, there is no safe space. Christians are going to have to be struggling with many of these questions and where the boundary lines should be drawn between faithfulness and unfaithfulness, and we’re going to be at that for some time to come.

Part VI

What Does It Mean When a Church Says It Will Bless the Union of Same-Sex Couples? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Finally, I want to get to a question asked by Donald, and it is an extremely short question, to the point. He says, “What does it mean when the church says it will bless the union of same-sex couples?” Donald, I want to tell you my most immediate equally succinct answer. What does it mean when the church says it will bless the union of same-sex couples? It means that any church that would declare that has effectively ceased being a church.

Now, we’re talking about this so-called middle position, which the Church of England has declared saying it’s going to bless same-sex unions but not actually even conduct them. It’s a form of liturgical, theological and moral insanity. I know that might sound just too direct, but I’m sorry. It’s what it is. When you have a church that blesses what the church cannot, in biblical terms, bless, then the church has forfeited not only its moral credibility but, at this point, how do you preach the gospel when you’re blessing same sex unions if we understand what sin and what the gospel actually reveal in the Scripture?

So what does it mean when the church says it will bless the union of same-sex couples? It means it’s no longer a church. It has become some kind of social institution, often with very elegant architecture and a lot of people wearing odd clothes.

Well, there you have it. I’ll brace for the emails.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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