Helps to understanding the approach and message of my book, UNITED IN MARRIAGE BY ONE LORD
Some readers have sent us very encouraging feedback after reading our book. One or two readers have written expressing concern relating to the counsel I offer in a few chapters. They interpret my counsel as being inconsistent: in some chapters I appear to them to take a lenient position towards Christians and intermarriage, while in other chapters a clear and decisive stance. The purpose of this brief paper therefore is to help any who may be troubled by this apparent inconsistency or lack of unity in the book’s message.
My conviction throughout the book is that God commands His holy people not to intermarry with unbelievers. That’s God’s clear command, His holy will. The other side of the coin is what we can call “the human factor”: how do God’s people respond to His commands? And if they disobey them, then what? How does a holy God deal with us when we choose to go our own way?
Of course, this is the very issue at the heart of the Bible. A holy God, relating with sinful, sin-loving people. Does this human factor ever catch God by surprise? Hardly! In fact, we can say that our human condition and all its resulting damage is the sum and substance of God’s eternal plan of salvation: a holy God, the righteous Judge, revealing Himself to us also as our Saviour.
In God’s divine nature, these two truths which appear as “opposites” to the human mind are fully and perfectly ONE in God’s perfect Being. There is no tension between His holy law and His amazing grace. The tension or conflict is only in our human minds.
However, some Christians find this tension uncomfortable. They try to resolve it by preferring one side of God’s character, or the other. So we have in the church law-focused Christians who teach and live a message about our obligations to obey God’s laws and commands. Sadly often one senses very little grace in their lives and in their message. And then we have grace-focused Christians who choose to meditate only on God’s grace and love. As if God’s holy laws and commands including His moral laws can be relegated to “history” rather than anything Christians need to take seriously now.
Of course, as God’s people we do not have a choice to choose one or the other. From beginning to end, the Bible reveals God’s will through commands and laws, and His nature is revealed both in His holiness, His righteousness and His grace. As Christians, we are to understand “law” through the eyes of God’s grace. And we are also to understand “grace” as inseparably woven into the very fabric of God’s law.
Could this be the reason why a few see inconsistency in the message of my book? I think so. Why? Because in some chapters I focus the attention of my readers on God’s clear command as an expression of His best for the person to whom I am giving my counsel. Whereas in other chapters I focus upon God’s grace in order to encourage and strengthen the heart of the person to whom I am giving my counsel, because at that particular moment he or she most needs to hear about God’s comfort and hope.
Just as we need to read the entire Bible in order to gain the full Biblical picture of God’s perfect nature, so my readers also need to read the entire book and see it as a complete and unified message, each chapter fitting into all the others. When the “law-focused” chapters set over against the “grace-based” chapters, misunderstanding and distortions will inevitably occur in the minds of my readers.
These truths about God’s character are at the very heart of the Gospel message, and also my book. As a servant of Christ, I am committed to speak God’s truth under the direction of His Spirit, to achieve God’s holy purposes, namely, to bring life to His people in their particular circumstances, calling the disobedient to return to God’s path and the wounded and despairing to put their hope in God their Refuge.
That’s my heart-beat. And that’s the heart of our Christian faith, that our holy God who commands His people to know and obey His commands also passionately desires for them to taste His goodness and to enjoy His unmerited favour in the face of all their woundedness and trials. Please keep this truth in clear focus as you read all 18 chapters of my book.
Understanding my approach:
- As I mention in the Preface, this book was birthed during the early years of our missionary service in Indonesia. At that time God burdened my heart to write a book on “intermarriage” for my Indonesian brothers and sisters. So began a long journey covering more than 30 years, during which time I have interviewed Christians who had been or still were married to a non-Christian (i.e. a person from a different religion), studied all the Scriptures related to intermarriage both in the Old as well as the New Testaments, and developed a file of stories and case studies from all over the world. My research and study helped me to understand the situations and needs of people in an interfaith relationship or marriage.
- Therefore, from the beginning I had a specific goal in mind, that is, to write a book to encourage and help my fellow-Christians from a non-western multicultural and multireligious context. (By “non-western” people I mean: people who have been raised in a religious and cultural environment dominated by a non-Christian worldview, beliefs and values. Obviously after the mass migrations of peoples all over the world over the past few decades, “non-western” has little to do with living in “the west”. In contrast, “westerners” are those people who have been raised in a secularised, post-Christian culture and society. Their worldview and values, even among many Christians, cannot be said to be “Christian” in the truly biblical sense of the word.) This necessitated I choose themes and topics that would minister to the real issues of Christians living in such regions or locations. In contrast, books and booklets written and published in the West on “intermarriage” will address the particular issues that western Christians face. The longer we lived and served among Indonesians, the more we realised that both the message and the approach of such “western” books did not address the complex intermarriage issues experienced by God’s people in non-western socieites.
- Before I began writing my book, I grappled with the following questions: WHAT I should write to these people? And TO WHOM I should write? Should I write to meet the needs of for church leaders and pastors? Also HOW should I communicate the message? Finally one morning I sensed the Spirit of God answering these questions, guiding me to write a book to meet the needs of ordinary believers who were personally caught up in the tough, hard-to-cope-with realities of “intermarriage”. And in response to the “how” question, I sensed the Spirit guiding me to use a letter-writing style.
- This means, that my book is a MINISTRY TOOL which God’s people can use to find help for themselves as well as for others. I wrote with the hope that even if God used just one chapter to rescue a brother or sister who was feeling lost or hopeless, or to strengthen a fellow-believer’s heart who needed a reminder to keep holding on to God, then I could rejoice in God’s kindness to use this simple book to help meet the need of some fellow-pilgrim. (The testimonies from a number of readers assure me that indeed God is working particular chapters of our book to help different ones facing particularly difficult battles and choices.)
- I write, then, as a MISSIONARY PASTOR with a passion to communicate God’s truth, with deep conviction in the authority of the text and with the understand of my responsibility to contextualise its message, so that God’s people might hear His truth, understand, believe and walk in it.
- I also write as a FRIEND, an older brother in Christ if you please, wanting to dialog with my readers rather than preach “at” them. As I was in the process of writing each letter/email, I often needed to remind myself that I wasn’t just typing words into a computer but rather connecting with real people, people whom I loved and cared for. In other words, I sought to connect with my readers, to come alongside them and empathise with them in their particular struggles.
- Let me also explain why God led me to use letters and emails to communicate His message to fellow-believers in our multireligious, multicultural world. Simply because “people stories” are the most powerful tool for communicating God’s truth in these contexts. In contrast, the typical western approach is to fill a book with propositions and statements. Isn’t this the method Jesus most often used in communicating God’s truths to His Jewish listeners? We cannot improve on that, even in the west.
Behind all that I have written in this book are two Christian truths of highest significance: the Bible is God’s authoritative Word of truth, and Jesus, God’s Son, is the God’s revealed Word, God in human form, in every way revealing the glory and the truth of the eternal God.
What do these truths have to do with my book? Firstly, all I have written is based upon God’s revelation of His will in both the Old and the New Testaments. It is for me the one and only authoritative guide and reference point for understanding God’s mind, will and purposes for His people, showing us how we are to live the Christian life, including how we are to make life’s important choices concerning a life’s partner and how we are to conduct ourselves as marriage partners regardless whether our spouse is a Christian or non-Christian.
Secondly, my calling as a servant of God is to teach Jesus as God’s Good News, the Truth and the Source of true hope for His people in the face of life’s joys and trials, including those we encounter in romantic and marital relationships.
I pray for you and for myself, in the words of the apostle Paul, “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thess.2:16-17)
Equip & Encourage Int’l, Hornsby, NSW, Australia
February 5, 2008