Here is another batch of answers to questions I’ve received as part of my Ask Me Anything series. I hope you find them helpful!
Would you consider updating the Porn-Free Family Plan? My wife and I have three small children, and this is something we would like to implement early. The principles laid out in the plan are solid, but I’d like to know about any new tools I haven’t heard of. I’m aware of Circle, but I wonder if there are any other new tools that have come available in the last 3 years.
Yes, I suppose I should update it. While it remains a solid plan just as I laid it out, Circle has changed the game at least a little bit. We love our Circle device and find it a helpful supplement to the plan.
In general, I would say this: Circle is sufficient for a family with young children and a family where there are no known struggles with pornography or other inappropriate online activities. It does its job very well in these situations. As the device and its app mature, the developers are constantly adding new features that have only enhanced its value. We love Circle for its bedtime functionality, for its ability to turn off Netflix after a certain amount of time has elapsed, and for providing a basic history of activities.
For families with older children, and especially families where there are known struggles with pornography or other inappropriate content, I believe the fully Porn-Free Family Plan should still be implemented, and especially Covenant Eyes. It adds abilities that are beyond the feature set of Circle.
I have a question in response to your article “3 Reasons Children Need to Obey Their Parents,” and your series on “The Commandment We Forgot.” In the series, you mention moments when we are called to honor (not obey) when our parents are in direct disobedience to God’s will and authority over us. My question is, how should this principle come into play with non-Christian parents, especially for children who are not yet “adults” themselves, but in the teenage, college, and young adult years? I am a Student Pastor at a predominantly Chinese Church, and this is a big topic of discussion in shepherding our teens in our Youth and College ministries, but also amongst the many Young Adults who are not married. To what extent are they to obey and honor their parents, even if they are from non-believing homes? Is obedience required for minors (teenagers especially) even when their parents are prohibiting them from attending church, joining mission trips, or obeying God through the act of baptism? I face cases like this quite often in my ministry to Asian-American Youth and Young Adults, so I’m curious as to what your answer might be.
I have the privilege of serving a multicultural church in the world’s most culturally diverse city, so I have encountered questions very much like these ones. Because I am not aware of the specifics of your situations, I can only speak broadly. But I hope it still proves helpful.
The authority of parents is not an absolute or self-existing authority, but one that is conferred. God has ultimate authority and delegates it to parents. Thus parents are to exercise God’s authority on his behalf. They are to lead or rule only in ways consistent with his Word. They have no right to demand what God does not demand or to expect what God does not expect.
Well and good for Christian parents who submit to the authority of the Word. But what about non-Christian parents? This is where it gets tricky and often very painful. While we want to honor parents and encourage young people to submit to their authority, there are times when obedience to parents is unwise or even unbiblical.
I think we need to distinguish between some of the examples you have given. Baptism is a necessary step of obedience for a Christian and a parent has no authority to say, “You may not be baptized.” Thus a believing teen can in good conscience defy her parents and be baptized. In this case she is not actually being disobedient because she is appealing to and obeying the higher authority. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Church attendance is necessary for spiritual growth and health, and, again, a parent has no authority to say, “You may not attend.” I believe it would not be disobedient for a young Christian to go to church against his parent’s wishes. Of course he may face tough consequences and have to make difficult decisions. I’ve even known young people to be told by their parents that they have to choose: Faith or family.
When it comes to mission trips and youth groups, we have come to a different matter since these things are not commanded in the same way as baptism and church attendance. They may be good and enjoyable, but they are not necessary. If parents refuse to allow their children to attend a mission trip, I would be very unlikely to encourage them to defy their parents on that matter.
In general, I would encourage young believers to submit to the authority of their parents whenever it would not be sinful to do so. And in every case, I would want those young believers to appeal to the elders of the local church for their wisdom, their prayers, and their support.
Do you have any resources, or would you write on, how to study a book of the Bible? I don’t mean the mechanics of Christotellic interpretation, I mean the method and mechanics of studying a book of the Bible devotionally, over a few months. Should I be speed reading the entire book (for me, Ecclesiastes) every couple days, while camping out on particular verses with a commentary? How should I balance the 10,000 foot view with the minutia, and how should I do that over a number of months while remaining devotional and gospel-centered?
There is no one right method for studying the Bible. In fact, I believe we do best when we vary our methods. There is great value in reading an entire book in a sitting. I’ve often heard John MacArthur advocate reading an entire book every day for a month. There is also great value in reading books very slowly and meditatively, pausing often to linger on individual sentences and even words.
So I would shy away from the “should” language you’ve used. “Should” implies some level of moral obligation, and I’m not convinced you’re into such an area here. The only “should” is in reading the Bible at all. Rather, I’d follow your desires and inclinations. Read a book through a number of times, then perhaps take a few days or weeks to study the first chapter. Then read it through a few more times and advance to the second chapter. Listen to sermons on the text or read a good commentary. Mix it up and find what keeps you learning and engaged.
Speaking personally, my daily reading plan takes me through the Bible in a year, based on five readings per week. Because of the quantity of reading, I need to move pretty quickly. This plan helps me gain and maintain familiarity with the Bible’s big story. Then, as I’m able or inclined, I study individual books or passages, going deep into them and making personal application. At least for my life at this stage, that seems to be an appropriate mix.
If a church’s typical worship service is missing some of the elements you list in “The Whole Christian Life Every Sunday,” do you think that is a legitimate reason for a member to look for another church? I attend a large evangelical church that preaches the gospel faithfully and has a high view of scripture. But our worship service is missing several of the elements you discuss in your article, and generally feels like a concert with a 20-minute intermission for a sermon. I long to worship in a church that makes confession, assurance of pardon, and frequent communion components of Sunday morning services. But I wonder if this desire just amounts to personal preference. Would it be wrong or misguided for me to leave my church over practices that are good but not necessarily essential?
It’s hard to say based on what you’ve told me. But I want to say that a church is not necessarily being disobedient or unbiblical if they do not have each of these elements, and especially if they do not have all of them every week. Different Christians have come to different understandings of what the Bible requires or recommends when it comes to worship services. Different cultures and traditions structure their services in different ways, and I am convinced we have that kind of latitude from God.
But with that said, not all worship services are equal. Especially in North America, we have a large number of churches that are structured pragmatically. The leaders of those churches are not too concerned about what the Bible says we ought to include in our services but instead with what elements seem to deliver a desired effect. This usually means that significant Scripture readings and prayer go missing. So, too, do times of confession and assurance. Soon the worship services are stripped down to music and topical preaching.
When considering whether or not to remain at a church, I think I would want to consider how the leaders of that church have come to their decisions on the elements they include and don’t include. What theology lies behind the services? If it is clear that they are committed to pragmatic principles, that might be a good reason to consider whether this church is truly set on honoring God in its worship. If it is clear that they are approaching the services thoughtfully and with a genuine desire to please God and serve his people, I would be far less likely to consider moving on.
Thank you for your, “The Whole Christian Life Every Sunday” article. Regarding scripture reading, do you think that a reading of the passage that will be preached on is sufficient to fulfill this requirement or should there be additional portions of scripture read?
The Bible tells us that reading Scripture must be a component of our worship services. Paul told Timothy, “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture…” (1 Timothy 4:13). If a church has no Scripture-reading, it is not obeying God in this matter. But the Bible does not mandate how much Scripture we read or how many separate readings there are. This means we are free to exercise wisdom.
It is my understanding that churches traditionally read the Scripture passage that would form the basis of the text and then also read an additional or supporting passage from the opposite Testament. So if the sermon was to be on The Sermon on the Mount, that text would be included in the service and there would also be a relevant passage from the Old Testament. Alternatively, a church preaching through Exodus, might simply read through a series of New Testament book one chapter per week in order to ensure people were hearing from the whole Bible. Either model strikes me as both wise and effective.
At Grace Fellowship Church we always read the text that will form the basis of the sermon. Additionally, we almost invariably have a second reading that is most often taken from the opposite Testament. This may be related to the sermon or it may be related to the theme of the service. We typically also have other short passages that appear as a call to worship, confession of sin, assurance of pardon, benediction, and so on. We believe in the necessity and the value of ensuring our services are drenched in Scripture. Perhaps I can share our orders of service from time to time to give at least model of how we structure our services.
I was wondering if you could clarify the principles of how to apply the biblical commands or exhortations originally given to specific individuals to our own lives. An example would be Jeremiah 16:2 versus Jeremiah 29:11. A lot of people quote Jeremiah 29:11 to encourage others but what in principle precludes applying Jeremiah 16:2 to our own lives?
That’s a great question. We see many people who grab verses or promises out of the Bible and apply them in a way that does not properly account for their context. While the Bible is given for all people in all times and places, that does not mean its words can be used willy-nilly.
Here’s an important rule to ensure the Bible is being properly interpreted: Before you ask, “What does it mean to us now?”, ask “What did it mean to them then?” Contemporary application cannot be separated from original intent. Before we can apply a text to our own lives, we have to understand what that text meant to the original recipients. In the case of Jeremiah 29:11, we see that the promises were given to a specific group of people and that they were premised on a specific form of obedience. Thus we cannot simply grab those promises and say, “God says to you, ‘I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope’.” We cannot say that because he doesn’t say that to us. Not directly.
That’s not to say we cannot be comforted and encouraged by those words. God reveals his character through them and the love he had for his covenant people is the same love he has for us. He really does have plans for us, and they are plans for welfare rather than harm. He does give us a future and a hope. But where all of that was premised on Israel’s obedience to God, for us it comes through Christ. We can still gain encouragement and application from verses like Jeremiah 29:11, but we must first interpret them correctly. I’ve written about this before in the articles 1 Triangle, 3 Corners, 4 T’s and One Indispensable Rule.