A few years ago the Ashland County Ministerial Association brought Kevin Malarkey, the author of The Boy Who Went to Heaven, to town as a main speaker at its National Day of Prayer prayer breakfast.
I was not on the ministerial at the time and was grieved when I heard their plans. The decision demonstrated an obvious lack of theological understanding of how God chooses to reveal himself and the nature of death.
This past week news broke that the book was a hoax and a good deal of scandal surrounds it.
What good theology knew then has now become even more apparent.
Recently two boys from Ashland published a YouTube video of themselves wherein they called their father to tell him that they had become homosexuals. The video has reportedly gone viral, reaching over 3 million views in just a matter of hours. The father of the boys is said to have affirmed them in their decision and expressed his acceptance of their perversion.
In light of this, it is incumbent that the truth of God's law for sexuality be advanced and the vileness of the video be exposed for what it is. The video is certainly distressing on at least three different levels.
The first has to do with the boys' open embrace of the sin of homosexuality. It should be recognized that these kids have committed a terrible sin by rebelling against God's created order and expressed law for sexuality. Not only that, but they have compounded their sin by publishing the video to exalt their perversion. In all reality, they become an advertisement for the further promotion homosexuality.
The Bible is clear in its declaration that homosexuality is a perversion of God's original design for sexual relationships. God created one man for one woman and gave them the covenant of marriage by which they could enjoy the pleasures of sex. As a testimony to this God's word declares that that inflamed lust for the same sex is "unnatural." It also expresses the deep vileness of the sin by labeling it an "abomination."
But the scandal of the video is not limited to the action of these boys. It is also demonstrated in the degeneracy of the father. The father failed his duty before God as an authority figure by affirming his children in their sin. Instead of lovingly correcting them and calling them to repentance with calm sobriety, he allowed them to become further ensconced in their sin.
Admittedly, a solid, loving response would have been difficult given the nature of the situation and the surprise of the news. Yet, a caring father could easily proven himself honorable by given godly counsel to his boys.
As a father he should have politely inquired as to the reasons that have led to this decision. He should have counseled them on how God views this decision and lovingly instructed them on the peculiar heinousness of homosexuality. He should have reminded them that God provides grace to sinners to forgive them and enable them to fight against temptation if they would only turn to Him.
At the very least, with a heavy heart he could have tenderly voiced his disapproval and encouraged them to seek what is right.
Unfortunately, he did not do any of this. As a result, he proved to be a faulty father and added to grief of the situation.
Yet the boys and their father are not the only causes of distress in this episode. Throngs are gushing over the video and many are congratulating the boys for having gone public with this announcement. This too is cause for sorrow because it reveals the extent of the moral decline of our culture.
Instead of being embarrassed that such a thing has been done, the vast multitudes are celebrating it and making it a cause for rejoicing.
This should make us greatly concerned because God says that he hands us over to our sin. When we rebel He threatens to remove his restraining grace and allows us to plunge further into the pits of darkness.
All of the above is to say that we are not products of random occurrences in evolutionary development. Humans are not meaningless blobs which are permitted to bump into whomever we wish whenever we'd like.
We have been created in God's image and are accountable to Him for our actions. Our sexuality is governed by God and we are to do everything in our power to promote Biblical chastity.
It is my hope that these two boys come to realize the depth of their sin and turn to Christ. I hope that they may understand the depth of the the mercies of God are and seek to correct the incredibly serious mistake they have made.
2015 will mark the 200th birthday of Ashland. No doubt this will be a year of reflection on Ashland's heritage.
What's interesting to me though, is that our town's heritage is anchored in the doctrines of the Reformed faith.
This morning I glanced at the bicentennial website that has been put together for this special occasion. It was interesting to note that one of the primary figures noted as early settlers of the town was a Presbyterian Minister by the name of Rev. Thomas Beer. The Ashland County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society notes that Pastor Beer moved to the area as a church planter in 1830 and ministered until 1871. Diving further into Ashland's past revealed that Rev. Beer was associated with the Old School strand of Presbyterianism, which was differentiated from the New School strand that broke with basic Reformed doctrines of atonement, original sin, and form of worship.
But Ashland's Reformed Roots go back even further than this. The first church within the bounds of what is now the city of Ashland was Montgomery Church, a Presbyterian church. Montgomery Church was organized in 1817, just two years after Ashland came into being. It later changed its name to Hopewell Presbyterian Church, and a testimony of its earliest days may be also found in the History of the Pioneer and Modern times of Ashland County.
This document further testifies that the earliest settlers of the town were predominantly Presbyterian. The initial congregation of Montgomery consisted of 34 members.
Old School Presbyterian theology is marked by its intent to be thoroughly Reformed. It sought to uphold the doctrine of man's depravity in the face of those who wanted to say that man had by his own power an ability to turn to God. It thus concurrently upheld belief in the sovereignty of God in salvation. In order for a person to be saved, God must first act to renew the heart and bestow the gift of faith.
Old School theology is also marked by a the right view of atonement. Jesus, by his death, took upon himself the wrath and curse of God due to man for his sin. Christ's death was seen as penal and vicarious, meaning that Christ died in the place of sinners to satisfy divine justice. This, at that time, was opposed to the growing view that Jesus death was simply a demonstration of how seriously God took sin and that God had to punish it.
The town has certainly diverted from these roots. The Hopewell Church eventually lost its grip on the Reformed doctrines. In time became First Presbyterian Church, which is located downtown, and went the way of the mainline PCUSA churches. Other churches also entered the town that did not have the same affection for the confessions of the Reformed faith. Most churches in town today would be Pelagian or semi-Pelagian and do not view Adam's sin as having much bearing on us.
It did occur to me that I am something of a continuation of the Hopewell theology. I grew up in the First Presbyterian Church and made my first formal profession of faith there. I certainly did not receive reformed teaching while there. I left the church when I was about 15 years old because I realized Christ was not being preached there. It was later in college that I came to embrace the doctrines of the Old School Presbyterian.
Nevertheless, I originally came back to the area for the distinct purpose of propagating Reformed theology. To that end I sought to plant Covenant Reformed Fellowship. After it closed, I joined with Providence Church which is currently the only lamp of confessional truth and stronghold of Reformed doctrine within the borders of the county.
I continue to be amazed at the structure of the book of Hebrews. The author surely knew how to communicate to a Jewish audience. Jews would often employ the literary device called chiasm. A chiasm is where you place ideas in parallel so as to put the main thought in the center. For instance...
Each night my last thoughts have to do with how vile I am. When I lay my head down and begin to descend into the world of sleep, it is as if my pillow whispers into my ear and makes me recall how wickedly I acted that day.
It only lasts a moment, but it is enough to catalog my sins of omission and commission. I am reminded of how prayerlessness I had been and how pitiful my fight against temptation had been. Much like a trailer for a movie I have a momentary overview of my day wherein I recall my careless thoughts, foolish words, and weaknesses of the flesh.
I continue into that drowsy state knowing Christ has bled for them all. This, for certain, allows me to sleep soundly. Nevertheless, I drift off with the penitent laments of how powerless I am to conquer sin.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.