Does God endorse polygamy?

Occasionally I am asked about polygamy.  We see this practiced by some of the characters of the Bible.  This sometimes gets Christians scratching their heads.  images Recently, someone who wanted my help thinking through this topic said, “Polygamy is in the Bible…and I don’t recall polygamy being directly addressed in the Bible as a sin (10 commandments, etc.)  

Sometimes Christians are confused when they see examples of important Bible characters such as Abraham or David involved in polygamous relationships. Unbelievers and skeptics will use an issue like this to “prove” that the Bible is antiquated, irrelevant, and even immoral when viewed in a modern context. The presence of polygamy in the Bible fuels the notion that the Scriptures are anti-woman and chauvinistic. Others see an inconsistency in the Christian’s stance on marriage being between one man and one woman in light of the instances of Old Testament polygamy.  Still others have responded with believing that God actually does or at one time endorsed polygamy. The heretical Mormon religion, in it’s earliest years, believed that polygamous practice was acceptable. While Mormon authorities eventually declared that polygamy must end among it’s members, we find that today, certain Mormon influenced groups continue to engage in this practice.

How are we to respond to this issue?

imagesAs Bible believing Christians, we must recognize that a very important principle of biblical interpretation is to recognize the difference between what the Bible “describes” and what it “prescribes.” Those two things are not always one and the same. For example, when Judas hangs himself, we are not given a prescription on how Christians should deal with their guilty conscience. The text is simply giving a description of what happened.

There are many passages in the Bible that are clearly prescriptive. That is, they are telling you what to do as one of God’s people. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is teaching us not to worry, to be peacemakers, to pray for our enemies, and so on. The New Testament epistles are filled with prescriptions, instructions for the church in how we are to live towards God, one another, and the world.

On the other hand, there are also many passages in the Bible that are descriptive. That is, they give an historically accurate description of events that have taken place. Just because they are descriptive doesn’t mean we can’t learn from these passages.  Indeed, the apostle Paul, writing about the Old Testament revelation, says,

…whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction… (Romans 15:4)

However, we have to be a little more careful with historical narratives as it describes everything…the good, the bad, and the ugly!

So as we come to this topic of polygamy, we see that the Bible describes a number of polygamous situations. How are we to view this?  And how is this to shape our understanding of biblical marriage?

I think the first place we should turn to shape our theology of marriage is not to polygamous David but to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  When He was asked a question about marriage, Jesus’ imagesanswer is quite informative. Jesus said,

“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)

 Jesus’ standard for marriage is ONE man and ONE woman, indivisible, for life. Period.

Now, I suppose one might say, “Well sure, but Jesus said that hundreds of years after David and Abraham. So maybe Jesus’ teaching was something new that hadn’t been heard before.”  But that isn’t true.

Actually, Jesus says absolutely nothing new. In fact, Jesus’ response is, “Have you not read?” In the parallel account in Mark 10:3, Jesus asks, “What did Moses command you?” Jesus wants to take his questioners back to the Scriptures, to the writings of Moses. When He says, “Have you not read?” it’s His way of saying, “Folks, read your Bibles! God has already spoken about marriage and I don’t have anything to add!”

And so Jesus takes them back to the writings of Moses. Way back. All the way to the beginning of the Bible and He quotes Genesis chapter 2 which says, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’

Again- ONE man. ONE woman. For LIFE. Period.

While many people hold that polygamy isn’t directly addressed in the Bible, we actually see that the Bible’s most clear and powerful word against polygamy is a word in the Bible’s opening pages that tells us what marriage really is and how God designed it from the beginning. What’s more, as we keep reading Genesis we also see that a departure from God’s good design for marriage and sex is associated with disobedience and reaps painful consequences.

imagesIn Genesis 2 God designs the standard for marriage.  In Genesis 3 sin is introduced into the human race.  In Genesis 4 we see the devastating outworking of sin in the human race and we meet the first polygamist, who is Lamech, a descendent of the evil Cain.  Godless Lamech follows in Cain’s violent footsteps, singing a boastful, ego-centric song to his two wives of his murderous vengeance upon another man.

In Genesis 16, we see that Abram’s taking on of a second wife, Hagar, was clearly done due to Abram’s and Sarai’s lack of trust in God.   On the one hand, God had promised Abram offspring. On the other hand, Abram was old and Sarai was infertile. In an attempt to “help God out”, Sarai suggested Abram take a younger woman to have a child by, and that child could become Sarai’s.

So the driving factor behind this polygamous union was a lack of faith. What’s more, we images
are given the details of the conflict that arises in Abram’s home when his two wives clash. As you read the story, it becomes obvious that Abram’s polygamous departure from the Genesis 2 design for marriage brought some unpleasant and painful circumstances into their family. You reap what you sow.

The next polygamous character we see in Genesis is Esau. Esau, of course, is hardly the model of godliness. He was a violent and sinfully impulsive man, unspiritual and totally disregarding of God. The book of Hebrews describes him as unholy and sexually immoral. So whereas in Genesis 16 polygamy is associated with a lack of faith in God, in Genesis 26, polygamy is associated with the ungodliness of Esau. Indeed, he took two pagan wives and these women made life bitter for the family. (Gen 26:34-35)

imagesThe next character who engages in polygamy is Esau’s brother, Jacob. A man who, in his early years is of dubious moral character. We are introduced to Jacob in Genesis 25, and we see a man who for many years relied on his own wits more than God’s wisdom, and he seems hardly better than Esau. It is not until halfway through Genesis 32 that Jacob appears to turn a corner spiritually. Until then, he makes a lot of mistakes and learns some hard lessons. Among those was the marrying of multiple wives. You can read Jacob’s story yourself but even a cursory reading makes it clear that much heartache, pain, family dysfunction, and a proliferation of further sin sprang forth due to Jacob’s deviation from God’s design for marriage and sex.

It must be noted that polygamy, while typically legal in ancient near east cultures, was usually only practiced by those who were wealthy. It takes much resources to sustain multiple wives and all the children that come with such a situation. The instances of polygamy I just mentioned were all people from Abraham’s very wealthy family.   We should not believe that all men in the ancient near east had more than one wife.

Regardless, there is not a single instance in Genesis where polygamy is depicted as something wonderful and desirable. Indeed, we see in Genesis many examples of the damage caused by a rejection of God’s plan for marriage and sex.  Homosexuality, rape, prostitution, selfishness in marriage, etc.  All these practices are associated with godlessness, heartache, and strife. If only we had the wisdom to follow God’s wisdom! If only we would base our view of marriage on what the Designer of marriage says about it!

Genesis 2 is God’s clear, unambiguous word against any perversion of God’s design, including polygamy, and it sets the tone for the rest of the book.  However, Genesis is not the only book that informs our thinking about polygamy.

Because polygamy was typically a temptation for the wealthy and powerful, those who were most vulnerable to this sin were rulers and kings.images

The Bible is aware of this, and speaks directly to it. God knew that one day Israel would have kings, and God, through Moses, gives special instructions for those who would one day rule Israel. In Deuteronomy 17 God specifically says the king must not acquire many wives for himself. (17:17) This doesn’t mean that non-kings can go ahead and acquire many wives!  Genesis 2 applies to everyone, whether princes or paupers. But in Deuteronomy, God is specifically dealing with kings, the ones who will be in the best position to violate Genesis 2. What’s more, the kings of Israel were to be “God’s Anointed” or God’s “Messiah”, who would represent God to the people and who would represent the people to God.   In Deuteronomy 17:17, God specifically warns that the accumulation of wives will turn the king’s heart away from God.

Sadly, despite God’s warning, we see kings violating this standard.

King David ended up with several wives and if you study his family you’ll see that a lot of strife resulted in this.

imagesThe worst offender was Solomon, who had 700 wives and 300 concubines. And, once again, we see this associated with sin and rebellion. Not surprisingly, God’s ominous prediction in Deuteronomy 17:17 comes true.

For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God… (1 Kings 11:4)

Instead of being God’s Messiah to the people, leading them to God, he ends up leading the way in rebellion, sacrificing to the detestable gods of the pagans instead.

As usual, the departure from God’s standards of marriage and sex are seen to be foolish, ugly, and destructive.

In Ecclesiastes 2, Solomon looks back on his life and all of the ways he sought to content himself outside of God, including his massive harem building.  And yet, at the end of it all, Solomon concludes such pursuits wastes ones life.  He writes,

Then I considered all that my hands had done…and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:11)

Let me be quick to add that while I have been pointing out a lot of the negative familial and relational consequences that come with polygamy, I do not mean to say that we ultimately judge whether something is right or wrong by whether or not we think things are going smoothly in the wake of our action. For awhile, things were probably going quite smoothly for the wealthy, comfortable citizens of Sodom, until the fire came…

My point is simply that God has allowed us, the reader, to take a peek into the lives of these people and show us the fallout that came from trusting their own wisdom and feelings as opposed to God’s. God set the standard in Genesis 2, people violated the standard, and God gives us, the readers, a front row seat, as He allows us to see man’s futile and foolish attempts to build a life outside of Him and His ways.  Such a life comes crashing down in the end.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Prov 16:25)

God’s reason for designing marriage the way He did is not arbitrary. God’s not out to kill our pleasure and steal our joy. In the end, everything that God does is for the benefit and joy of His people, but everything He does is also for His glory.

There are many wonderful reasons why God created marriage, but there is an ultimate reason behind it all.

The apostle Paul describes marriage as a profound mystery that has been fully revealed in the wake of the redemptive work of Christ. He says,

This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:32)

The reason why God created marriage the way He did in Genesis 2 is because it best imagesreflects the image He wants to convey, which is the relationship Jesus has with His wife, the Church.

The reason why the husband is supposed to lead and self-sacrificially pour out his life for the benefit of his bride is because that is exactly what Jesus did for His Bride.

The reason why the wife is to joyfully follow the lead of her husband, respecting and submitting to him is because that is exactly how the Church responds to Christ.

The reason why adultery is wrong is because Jesus is always faithful to His Bride.

The reason why spousal abuse is wrong is because Jesus never abuses His Bride.

The reason why sex before marriage is wrong is because Jesus became united to His Bride through a covenant promise.

The reason why polygamy is wrong is because Jesus only has ONE Bride, the Church!

Every deviation from God’s design for sex and marriage tells lies about Jesus Christ and the gospel.

Unlike the failed kings of the Old Testament, Jesus Christ is the perfect Messiah, the perfect husband, and all marriages are to be patterned after His special relationship with His Bride.

As we come to grasp God’s ultimate purpose for marriage, is it not a wonderful thing to know that in Genesis 2, when God the Father brings Adam and Eve together in marriage, He is thinking about more than just Adam and Eve?  He is also thinking about a damsel in distress. He is thinking about a people who are enslaved by a terrible dragon called the devil. A people in bondage to sin and death. And in such a people the Father sees a Bride for His Son.

imagesAs God officiates that first wedding between Adam and Eve, His mind already has in place a plan to send His Son into the world to win a Bride for Himself. Jesus Christ enters into creation, crushes the dragon through His victory on the cross, and purchases His Bride with His own blood. He takes this Bride, tattered and stained by sin and cleanses her, gives her new clothes, gives her a new life, and prepares a home for her. And Jesus says to us, His beloved,

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:2-3)

The Bible doesn’t say, “Thou shalt not commit polygamy.” It actually says much, much more.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

 

 

Reflections on Church Planting: Reflection #1

The Priceless Value of a Godly Wife

There were several church planting books that I read before starting Harbins. Most of them had similar lists concerning what is most important to have in place before starting a new church. The lists included things like: sufficient funding, a parent church, a large core group, a compelling mission statement, etc. The one thing that was not on any lists in any of the books was this: a church planter needs a godly wife.

Now, let me say right of the bat that I am not saying that you must be married to start a church, or to pastor. What I can say is that God will use marriage to equip and strengthen a pastor for the ministry. I can also say that having a godly wife as a partner in the ups and downs of church planting is invaluable. I know that I would never have been able to plant Harbins and I would never have been able to survive the pastorate up to this point without Heather’s support, encouragement, and partnership.

After 20 years of pastoral ministry and 21 years of marriage, I can say that it took me a long time, too long, to understand how important my wife was and is to my ministry. In the early years of ministry, and of planting Harbins, I was brutish and ignorant and I took my wife and her faithful support for granted. It was during a season of challenge at Harbins that God graciously allowed me to see how important she was to the work He had called me to do. God opened my eyes to see that she was a gift to me to be my partner in life and in ministry. Her strengths made up for my weaknesses, and her support didn’t waver when it felt like everyone else’s was. To this day words are insufficient to express how absolutely vital she has been in my life, in my family, and in my church.

So here are some things I love about my wife which highlight how important she has been and continues to be to the work at Harbins.

  1. Her sacrificial generosity. My wife is the most generous person I’ve ever known. She exemplifies what it means to give of one’s time, treasure, and talent. I came home one day to find out that Heather had given away all of our living room furniture. She gave it to a young lady who was being forced to abruptly move out of her parents’ 10549263_10204234518048849_6494350707199033210_ohome because of her refusal to have the abortion that they were demanding she have. Many a person at Harbins can testify to Heather’s generosity and selflessness in countless other ways. She has rushed to help friends who are facing a crisis; she has stayed up all night in the hospital calming the nerves of an expectant mom; she has spent hours in God’s Word counseling and discipling younger women. Heather’s sacrificial heart led her to envision a series of well-baby clinics in Honduras called Health Matters Honduras. Although it’s just in its infant stages dozens of children in Honduras have already had their lives changed and perhaps even saved due to her compassion. God continues to use the selfless generosity of my wife to  challenge and stretch me in many ways!
  2. Her wisdom and discernment. My wife sees red flags before I do. I swear she has “spidey-senses” when it comes to trouble. The Lord uses her to see things I am sometimes unwilling or unable to see. Beyond that, she often has better ideas on what the next steps are whenever challenging situations arise. Early on I ignored her discernment to my own detriment and to the detriment of our church. She has a God-given instinct for knowing the right thing to do, the right time to do it, and the right words to say that befit the situation. Her sensitivity to the way God is at work, and her sturdy faith in His Word continually push and challenge me to grow.
  3. Her protection and discipleship of our children. Pastor’s children often have it rough as the pastor’s family lives in the proverbial glass house. A pastor’s home is often under a blinding light with every move being analyzed and scrutinized. Heather1909492_1079763439419_1006_n has provided godly counsel and discipleship to my children which has allowed them to grow and thrive amidst the unique pressures of a pastor’s home. She is momma bear when she needs to be, but she has also mastered the spiritual discipline of letting God be our first defender. The aroma of Christ fills our home and that is due to her steadfast and steady management of it.
  4. Her rest and trust in the Lord. Being a Doyle means a new adventure is always around the corner. Throughout the wild ride that is the Doyle household she has always exhibited a unique mixture of adaptability and advance planning. From the expected challenges of parenting five kids, to the unexpected challenges of church relationships, she has kept her eyes on the Lord and has clung to the promises found in our favorite family passage: Proverbs 3:5-6. It is not uncommon for the challenges of church and home to cause pastor’s wives to become bitter and disengaged, but by the mercy and grace of God my wife has prayerfully avoided those pitfalls. Her trust is truly in the Lord.
  5. Her ongoing, progressive sanctification. My wife is not perfect. She has her share of shortcoming and makes plenty of mistakes. And for that I am thankful. She would become an idol in my life if it were not so. She’d be the fist to tell you that she still has plenty of areas to grow in and plenty of sin to continue slaying. But she also knows “whose she is,” namely, that she is child of the King and that He is faithfully, continually, conforming her to the image of Christ Jesus our Lord. Some pastor’s wives feel like they have to be theological giants and fall into insecurity and fear, but913995_10201241532425470_2133027097_o Heather will be the first to tell you that she knows what she knows and she grows as she grows. She worries little about what people think and instead exhibits grace-enabled, faith-fueled effort to mature in Christ. Nothing stirs me to tears more than to sit back and think about how much my amazing wife has grown in the Lord over the past 10 years!

For these reasons and many more, the importance of a godly wife is my first reflection on ten years of church planting. I plan to share nine more leading up to the 10th anniversary of Harbins on April 8th. Harbins would not be Harbins without Heather Doyle, and I would be much less of a man!

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.(Proverbs 31:10)

Reflections on Church Planting

Ten years ago…

In 2007 the smartphone revolution truly took off when the first iPhone was introduced. In 2007 three-year-old Facebook overtook Myspace as the most popular social media site in the world. In 2007 Michael Vick’s career as a Falcon came to an ugly end due to a dog-fighting scandal. In 2007 George Bush was the President, Taylor Swift was singing country, and Donald Trump was running beauty pageants. A lot has changed in only ten years!

Over the span of the past ten years a lot has changed in my family’s life as well. Ten years ago we were a family of five. Little did we know that 18 children would come in and out of our home through the Safe Families for Children program. Little did we know that two of those children would become permanent members of our family. Ten years ago my son was playing with little green army men, today he’s a Marine. Ten years ago we were Arkansans trying to get used to Georgia, today…well, we’re still Arkansans trying to get used to Georgia. Ten years ago my beard was a goatee without an ounce of gray hair. And ten years ago Heather and I launched out on a crazy adventure called church-planting, which may have contributed, at least in part, to the gray.

doylepiccolorIt’s hard to believe that it’s been that long since the Lord graciously allowed us to start Harbins Community Baptist Church. God has brought Harbins a long way, and a lot has changed in our church as well. Our five core-families who helped us launch the church are no longer with us. We moved from setting up church in a cafeteria to having land and a building. Our name has changed. Our theology has been refined. Our methodology has adjusted. Our church has grown. Our lives have been transformed.

Over the next ten weeks, I hope to write ten blog entries containing ten reflections on ten years of planting and pastoring Harbins. I don’t imagine that there is anything unique or special about any of my observations, matter of fact I know that many of my experiences in regard to church planting could be echoed by other planters of other churches in other places. My desire isn’t to unveil hidden profundities about starting new churches, but to simply share my heart, perhaps make some pastoral observations, and most importantly give honor and glory to God for all that He has done and continues to do.

God has taught me so much. He has taught all of us so much. Some of the lessons have come from doing things poorly. Some of the lessons have come from doing things well. The classroom of church planting includes unexpected joys, and unintended mistakes. But most of God’s lessons have come subtly and quietly through the mundane, day-by-day, non-flamboyant work of the ministry. Those lessons are the ones that we didn’t even realize we were learning. Those lessons are the ones that can only be discovered by reflecting back on the faithful work God has accomplished. Those lessons undergird the reflections that I hope to share over the next ten weeks.

During this decade-long journey my family and I have had to continually rest on the promises of God’s Word, our favorite of which is found in Proverbs 3:

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

The funny thing is that God’s straight path sometimes feels more like a twisting and turning roller coaster: undoubtedly scary, yet utterly exhilarating! So join me over the next ten weeks as I reflect on ten surprising yet satisfying years of having the distinct privilege of planting and pastoring Harbins Community Baptist Church.

My Great Family and My Greater Family

14459_629587730405205_1864804963_nWe are in Arkansas this week for what we affectionately call, “Camping Cousins.” Every year my wife’s family on her mother’s side gathers in Northwest Arkansas for a family reunion where we go camping. Well “camping” may be bit of a stretch since, for the past few years, we’ve had the reunion at a very nice, well air-conditioned lodge, but we call it “camping” none-the-less.

One thing is for sure, we thoroughly enjoy this time in Arkansas. It really is an annual highlight for my family. Almost from the moment Camping Cousins is finished, we eagerly count down the days until the next one. The time is so precious to my children that my girls sob uncontrollably until we are about half-way back to Georgia (and that’s no exaggeration).

The reason we enjoy this time so very much is due to the fact that my wife has such a great family. I enjoy spending time with her side of the family as much as I enjoy spending time with mine. They sincerely care about what’s happening in each other’s lives, they are genuinely nice, and they a blast to be around. But on top of that, they are all passionate followers of Jesus Christ. I can honestly say that I am so very close to Heather’s side of the family that they become some of my dearest friends. All that to say that this year, once again, Camping Cousins reminds me of what a great family we have been blessed with.

But as great as our family is, we have a greater family, and that too has been demonstrated to me recently. The greater family that I possess is the Family of God, the Church. Particularly I am thinking about the one-another-love of God’s people as expressed in the local church, and that love has certainly been seen and experienced by my family at Harbins Community Baptist Church over the past few weeks and months.

IMG_0745I have, in recent days, seen the greater family of HCBC do things for one another that have left me speechless. I have myself been moved to tears as people in our church have, on more than one occasion, cared for my family in sacrificial ways that exceed what I could have imagined. I have seen simple acts of love being carried out for those who are hurting in our church. I have witnessed people giving up material goods to care for one another’s needs. I have seen people weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice. I have seen deep, impassioned prayers being lifted to the Almighty on one another’s behalf. I have seen non-essential differences set aside for the sake of unity. I have seen precious doctrines held tight for the sake of unity. I have seen brothers and sisters in Christ counseling one another with God’s all-sufficient Word. I have seen men and women and children and family units growing in the gospel. I have seen a one-ness, a true, organic unity on display. And thus, I have fallen in love with my greater family anew.

Blood family is important and good and sweet, but it will one day end. Family joined by the Blood of the Covenant is more important and better and sweeter, and it will never end. I preached not too long ago on this very truth. So as I write these words I am reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:49-50: “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

iStock_000004976965XSmallThe local church should be a demonstration of Jesus’ words. The local church should have a greater bond than kin. Sixty times we are given “one-another” imperatives in the New Testament. That truth alone reflects the great love-bond that should exist in the local church. We are genuinely united to one another through Christ. Yet, how rare it is to find such deep familial expressions in the local churches of our day. Today, the expectations many have for the church is not much different than the expectations they have for their local grocery store. Today, many look for a church to join like they are shopping for a hairstylist. Today, the moment a church fails to meet one’s consumeristic standards he swaps it for another as casually as he would switch internet providers. This shouldn’t be so, and if we know our Bibles it should grieve us!

If we truly grasp the Bible’s teaching reading the bond of unity that we are to have Christ, then we will repent of the consumerism that is in our hearts, and we will see and believe that the church is a greater family that we are called to give ourselves too even if we don’t get anything in return. We must let covenant replace consumerism, and if we do, then we will possess and experience a deeper love than any earthly family can offer.

To fuel these truths I challenge you look up some of the “one-another” passages in the New Testament. Start by reading Romans 12 and Ephesians 4-5, and Colossians 3. Let the Word of God root out consumerism. Let the Word of God show us what true unity looks like. Let the Word of God show us a greater family than kin.

So, as I sit here typing these words in beautiful Northwest Arkansas, I am profoundly thankful for this great family that I am with, but I am already missing and longing for my greater family. See you soon Harbins!