Thursday, October 09, 2014

What's Doctrine Got To Do With Me? Some Thoughts for Women Married to Christian Leaders, Teachers or Pastors

Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine . . .Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.  Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.  Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.

For any endeavor undertaken by two or more people to be successful, there will need to be a division of labor.  Each person works within their strengths - the salesman sells, the accountant manages the books, and the organizer structures.  However, while your husband may be the theologian of the family, this does not mean theology  is something at which only he needs to work.

In his second book to Pastor Timothy, the Apostle Paul writes, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."  I am fairly certain we have all heard many Sunday School lessons or sermons where that verse was used to motivate all Christians to be diligent in Bible Study - and rightly so.  While the epistle was originally written to Timothy, its message is applicable to us all, in a secondary way, even if we are not pastors.

Tom Wright has some interesting comments on this verse as it relates to pastors and teachers:
In particular, [Paul] wants preachers and teachers to 'carve out a straight path for the word of truth.' Some translations say things like 'rightly dividing the word,' and it's possible Paul means something like that (in other words, 'being able to show how the sentences work, what each part means, and how they all relate to each other').  But it's more likely that the picture he has in mind is of a pioneer hacking out a path through the jungle so that people can walk safely through it.  Part of the job of the teacher is to do what Paul himself is doing in this passage: to see where there are brambles, creepers, and dead trees blocking the path which the word should be following to people's hearts and minds, and to shift them out of the way."  ~ Paul for Everyone: Pastoral Epistles
If we take a quick walk through the Psalms and Proverbs, we will see the theme of a straight path comes up over and over again and the admonition to keep to it is not directed at pastors and teachers alone:

The righteousness of the blameless makes their paths straight, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness.  Proverbs 11:5

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.  Psalm 119:105

In the way of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.  Proverbs 12:28

So you may walk in the way of goodness, and keep to the paths of righteousness.  Proverbs 2:20

Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it.  Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to covetousness.  Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way.  Psalm 119:35-37

Concerning the works of men, by the word of Your lips, I have kept away from the paths of the destroyer.  Uphold my steps in Your paths, that my footsteps may not slip.  Proverbs 17:4,5

So we have established as a Christian, we are responsible for being diligent in the Word and thereby staying on the straight or righteous path.  This path theme is of particular importance to you as the wife of a Christian leader.  If you are not traveling along the same path as your husband, your path could become rocky.

Notice in several of the verses above, the word "path" is in the plural, "paths."  On a personal level, we are all on our own Pilgrim's Progress journey, going down our individual Christian paths.  While people from different denominations are able to stand together and in agreement recite The Apostles' Creed, they do so while traveling different theological paths.  This became of particular importance to me when my future husband switched paths after we became engaged.

Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.  Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.  Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself  and those who hear you.

My husband and I met in my childhood Southern Baptist church. He also attended a Baptist church, but not of the Southern Baptist tradition with which I was familiar at the time.  He used words like "Reformed" and "Calvinism."  Back then, I had no idea what a difference these new words would make in my life!  During our engagement, my fiance presented me with a required reading list.  (Whenever I tell people this, he indignantly says, "Oh, I did not!" but the list was real.)  Here I am planning a wedding, my mind consumed with hearts and flowers, and my sweetheart is giving me Calvin's Institutes, Lorraine Boettner's Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, and other tomes.  Our engagement was full of theological discussions and debates.  I read the books and found myself drifting more and more over to his path.  This would happen again after we married when he found himself in closer alignment with the Presbyterian church.  In short order, this born, bred, and burped Baptist found herself leaving that denomination and becoming a congregant in the Presbyterian Church in America.  It is a good thing my hubby had taken heed to himself and to doctrine, because I confess when first presented with these changes, he did not encounter a quiet and gentle spirit.  I rebelled!  Fortunately, the more I read and the more we discussed doctrines, the more I found myself agreeing with his new direction.  Now I remind him if he can persuade me, he can persuade anyone.

Lest there be any confusion about it, let me state clearly my purpose in sharing this is not to convince you to explore Presbyterianism.  Pastors are to be students. It was because of his studies that my husband changed denominations.  Over the course of our marriage, I have seen him not necessarily change, but refine his theological views from time to time.  These matters are the topics of our conversations and as he shares what he is learning, I can see the way his mind is working and get a good feeling for where he is going.  I have learned it is important that I take heed to myself and to doctrine to be able to be the helper my husband needs and walk in unison down the same theological path.  The book of Amos sums it up nicely, "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?"  Billy Graham and his wife Ruth, who was a lifelong Presbyterian, may just be the exception that proves the rule.

Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.

There are other reasons for staying sharp theologically. Church members and others will pose theological questions to you.  Again, church members and others will pose theological questions to you.  The biggies you can easily defer with a sweet smile and, "You'll have to talk to my hubby about that."  However, there will be situations, conversations at church get-togethers or casual parties, where in the midst of a general discussion a theological issue will be raised. This is true for all Christians, but remember your opinion will reflect upon your husband.  You represent him...always.  An off-the-cuff remark can cause him headaches. [Trust me - I have personal experience here.]  That is why it is so important that we are that workman who needs not be ashamed, the woman who is striving to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

Another reason to stay theologically sharp is the opportunities your spouse's vocation will present to you.  Whether it is standing in line at Wal-Mart or making chit-chat in a waiting room, when people find out I am married to a pastor, I am continually surprised by how often the conversation will take a decidedly personal turn.  A complete stranger will share an intimate situation with me and seek counsel as if I were the one wearing the clerical collar!  When faced with a hurting person, I silently pray that I will not be an ashamed workman and ask the Lord to bring to my remembrance His Word.

As husband and wife, we are to be one flesh and I think within that is an exhortation for a theological oneness.  We have a biblical example of this in the pages of Acts:
Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus.  This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John.  So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue.  When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

Notice:  Scripture says, ". . .When Aquilla and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately."  Priscilla was being a helper to her husband in this circumstance as well.

You are not just married to a theologian, ladies; you are expected to be one.

[Ladies, if counseling opportunities keep finding you, here is a very good resource: Women Helping Women: A Biblical Guide to the Major Issues Women Face by Elyse Fitzpatrick & Carol Cornish, published by Christian Counseling & Education Foundation.  Kindle edition here.]