Saturday, April 25, 2015


A couple with a baby and young son sit in a restaurant awaiting their order. When the infant becomes fussy, the mother opens her blouse and begins nursing. After loud whispering from a few tables down, an elderly lady approaches them on a mission.

“Honey,” she scolds, “not in public like this . . . and surely not in front of your little boy. Have some decency and take it to the ladies’ room. For Heaven’s sake, this is a restaurant!”

Sound familiar? It should. Her words echo much of the modern church. Her reaction to open breastfeeding is common among evangelicals. But the attitude expressed is neither godly nor God-honoring. It’s a subtle perversion that slithered its way into popular Christian culture as a “Gospel” standard. God referred to its deceptive source when He found Adam afraid of his nudity and asked, “Who told you that you were naked?” Satan is behind most human-unfriendly ideas.

“But the sight of her breast might lead to lustful thoughts!”

Ask a simple, logical question: “Why?” Who or what imposed a sexually lustful focus on women’s breasts? Some tribal cultures don’t treat the bare female bosom that way, until Western ideals supplant their once wholesome perspective. If you don’t believe this, ask missionaries who’ve witnessed the process. If you don’t believe them, then ask maternity nurses like myself, who fight uphill against a culturally sexualized breast in trying to help moms maintain the normalcy of public breastfeeding when they leave the hospital.

But the breast is not the problem. Jesus addressed the real issue when He said, “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” (Mark 7:15). Bare nipples cause immoral enticement only when people are programmed to see them as objects of sexual arousal or lustful fantasy. It requires scrupulous social training to undermine a healthy view of their God-intended purpose as organs of maternal nurture.

“Who’s behind this sexual objectification? Hollywood?”

Movies exploit body parts only by misusing what’s already been sexually targeted. Sadly, the Western church has a long social history of targeting the female body as a sex object—a behavior that “misses the mark” of God’s design. This is a religious sin with social consequences. By sustaining an objectified view of female anatomy, we have significantly assisted those who profit from that objectification in ways that grow progressively more depraved.

Face the tragic reality: wherever prudery is imported , it guarantees the growth of pornography. Take Japan, for instance—once famous for the body acceptance displayed by its nonsexual custom of mixed public bathing. Today, Japanese society exemplifies how Western influence turned a modern, body-friendly culture into one flourishing with pornographic exploitation. Who’s to blame, a pagan Japan or a “Christian” West?

When cross-culturally savvy missionaries witnessed this same degrading trend among primitive tribes, it forced them to do their math. They saw that nudity was our own cultural problem, not theirs. So, they had to quit preaching clothing as part of Christ’s Gospel to naked people groups—a doctrinal sacrilege of which their predecessors were unwittingly guilty. The church at home gained no wisdom from this cross-cultural error abroad. Yet how we cringe in embarrassment when college professors of cultural anthropology tattle on us for this part of our missionary past!
Laura Bates

“So, are you blaming this on the church?”

A spiritually healthy church is quick to acknowledge its errors and correct them. Sadly, we often postpone our reform until compelled by a critical mass of secular outrage from those who logically connect the dots that we chose to ignore. Outside the church, many secular voices are addressing the causative factors of female exploitation and are calling for its end. (See these TED Talks: “Everyday Sexism” by Laura Bates and “The Sexy Lie” by Caroline Heldman, for starters).

Caroline Heldman
We can’t hide the implicating trail of evidence left by our persistent complicity in female objectification:
  • our Victorian redefinition of biblical “modesty” from practicing humility to hiding skin
  • the unforgettable evangelical episode of measuring girls’ skirt lengths on Christian campuses
  • the tactic of  “eye-bouncing” in “every man’s battle” against the sexual allure of female bodies
  • the existence of church cry-rooms for babies who wouldn’t be fussy if breast-fed in the pews

These and other behaviors—religiously baptized as “Christian morality”—have broadcast a united cultural message that females and their bodies are sex objects.

Our pulpits have tried to insure that women in general, and young girls in particular, accept an unavoidable self-identity as “sexual targets.” Instead, we should have trained them to stand up alongside men and assert their right to be treated as unique individuals, never as enticing stacks of body parts. Sermons should have preached feminine beauty as a divine stimulus for praise to the Creator. Instead, we have earmarked the gender-distinctive anatomy of our sisters as a dangerous pitfall from which spiritual men should flee in fear. That fearful flight, however, allowed exploiters, porn-mongers, and human-traffickers to seize control of a crucial realm of creation that belongs to God. We prudishly abandoned our stewardship of that realm.

“Can we repair the damage?”

The human body is God’s holy turf. The hands that surrendered it must retrieve it. We have a duty to retake this lost territory, first by cleansing our own minds from any sentimental allegiance to an objectification of our sexual physiology. Porno-prudery is both theologically heretical and socially destructive. Religiously, it sabotages the credibility of our presentation of the biblical message of sexual morality. We must rebuild into corporate Christian thinking a wholesome attitude about the nitty-gritty physical reality of the human body’s sexual dynamics.

There’s nothing to be ashamed of in this area except for our own near-Gnostic reputation of hesitation or silence when it comes to the body’s gender-specific anatomy. Ours is a shameful neglect that has effectively marginalized the church’s impact on society’s sexual ideas and practices. The Bible’s healthy, incarnational understanding of how our fleshly “male and female” nature images the Creator ought to be well-known in the social arena. But, as in times past, whenever we weren’t doing our theology properly and proclaiming it powerfully, we now have immense “catching up” to do.

If we are going to liberate women from religious attitudes and social actions that showcase them as sex objects, we must start by confessing our personal and ecclesiastical failures. If the repentance is authentic, reform and restitution will follow. This will require new strategies and bold changes, such as:
  • Encouraging Christian moms to nurse their babies in public and especially in the congregation, so that the next generation can learn why God made breasts in the first place
  • Preaching on the “milk of the Word” (1 Peter 2:2) by expounding how the analogy comes from the familiar, healthy sight of breastfeeding in Bible times
  • Preaching from Isaiah 66:9-13, where God uses His functional design of the female body to illustrate His own birthing and nurturing care
  • Encouraging young Christian artists to excel in depicting God’s fleshly temple by ignoring the legalism that made the nude models in anatomical drawing classes a religious taboo
  • Cross-examining “lust” myths about the body by having Christian healthcare workers—expert witnesses—describe the mundane reality of routinely working with non-sexual nudity
  • Hosting conferences for youth and parents where Christian biology teachers bring frank, sex-education talks that explicitly address gender-distinctive human anatomy and sexuality with visual aids that confront porno-prudery directly
Will such radical moves toward a healthier viewpoint eradicate sexual lust? Although coed latrines and public bathing in Bible times may have helped limit it, they didn’t eliminate it. But recapturing the common body acceptance implicit in those ancient customs can point us in a more sane direction. It can lead toward re-subjectifying the body—associating physical anatomy with the person who lives there. It can help us theologically disengage the sight of external skin from its present misuse as an explanation for internal lust. Only by dispensing with misplaced suspicions and vain imaginations about body parts can we refocus on God’s target: human hearts.

If you need more ideas and ammunition for your reform efforts, I’ve written two other articles on this issue of the sexual objectification of women: “Teaching God’s Design for BREASTS - A Message about ‘the Visible Breast’ for Christian Leaders” and “A Dangerous Male MYTH: ‘Men are visual.’

Thursday, April 16, 2015


When a friend of mine, an accomplished Bible scholar, recently embraced Roman Catholicism and became a priest, I recalled my own attraction to what I call “that denomination.”As with all other churches, baptism or church membership is no guarantee of authentic faith. Yet only the most bigoted Protestants will deny that many of those comprising the one truly catholic (“universal”) Church of Jesus Christ are from this Roman branch of Christianity.

What attracts people to the church of Rome? By clear examples, it boasts historical length, geographic breadth, devotional height and philosophical depth. Other denominations may excel in one or more of these areas, but this concurrent, multi-faceted combination in the Roman church has significant drawing power.

Rome’s patronage of the arts is also attractive. Artistically minded souls may abandon the visually impoverished atmosphere of an evangelical service for the liturgical decor in a Roman or Orthodox setting. Zealous Protestant leaders were wrong to ban visual beauty from their churches. Worship environments rich in sacred symbolism and sacramental ritual meet a legitimate human need—a reality divinely revealed and extensively illustrated in the Old Testament.

While such features personally draw me, my greatest attraction is to Roman Catholic friends with whom I share Christian fellowship and to authors loyal to Rome from whom I continue to learn Christian truth. Henri Nouwen, G. K. Chesterton, Thomas Merton, and Pope John Paul II are some favorites. I’m in the midst of studying Thomas Oden’s Systematic Theology, based mostly on early Catholic thinkers, and my daily devotions include the Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scriptures, a compilation of writings by the Catholic church fathers.

So, if I faithfully confess the “catholic” faith succinctly stated by the ancient Catholic church in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, why haven’t I become a Roman Catholic? Frankly, some of Rome’s later creeds contain doctrines which I cannot embrace. Since my Scriptural reasons against these Roman innovations are well expounded by other Protestant pens, I needn’t rehearse them here. Instead, let me describe what I consider the kingpin doctrinal error that has allowed all the others: “Peter’s chair.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”— Matthew 16:16-19 (ESV)
By politically interpreting these verses, successive bishops of Rome claim to preside over the entire Church by sitting in “Peter’s chair.” They insist that Jesus was establishing a perpetual pontifical office and installing the Apostle Peter as its first pope. Beyond inserting into Christ’s words the idea of “succession,” Rome goes on to confer authoritative infallibility on each man filling this papal seat. Such foreign additions—while laying the foundation for a political interpretation of this passage—have tragically obscured its confessional nature.

Protestants see Christ’s focus not on Peter but on his confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” A few verses later, based on Peter’s words, Jesus calls him “Satan” (Matthew 16:23). So here, based on this creedal statement of “Simon Bar-Jonah,” Jesus calls him “Peter” (petros; literally, “a rock or stone”) and immediately says, “on this rock I will build my church.” But in this second phrase, Jesus didn’t use petros, but a different word, petra, which literally means “a rock, cliff or ledge” and is elsewhere often associated both with Christ’s teachings (Matthew7:24-25) and with Christ Himself (Romans 9:33; 1 Corinthians 10:4).

The Holy Spirit carefully selected the wording He ordained for Scripture. Just as a petra is much greater than a petros, so the identity of Jesus is much greater than the man confessing it. If, by this divinely inspired word-play, God meant to distinguish Peter himself from his confession, then it was “on this rock”—on this petra, a confession divinely “revealed” to Peter—that Christ was saying, “I will build my church.

Such poetic language was indeed prophetic of Peter’s Gospel role at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41), in Samaria (Acts 8:14-25), and at the household of Cornelius (Acts 10), but none of these events won him a special ecclesiastical office. The emphasis of the Matthew passage, and of those cited in Acts, is on the power of Peter’s evangelistic confession, which becomes the same power in the mouth of all true followers who confess Christ. The promises given by Jesus in connection with Peter’s original confession were not political and official but creedal and spiritual, therefore transferable to the whole catholic church.

So, whose take on this Matthew passage is right, Rome’s or that of Rome’s would-be Reformers? Which group is interpreting correctly?

The Bible points toward a confessional interpretation. Peter’s initial leadership role in the early church was soon overshadowed by James in Jerusalem and by Paul in the Roman Empire. A frank reading of the New Testament shows Peter using his confessional “keys of the kingdom” to open the Gospel door for both the Jewish and the Gentile churches. Peter then fades from the scene of political activity in the church until we find Paul confronting him later in Antioch for his failure in leadership (Galatians 2:11-13).

The New Testament’s final record of Peter’s influence on the early church are his two Epistles. These letters confirmed not his political role as the church’s head bishop but his continued spiritual role of expounding the implications of his original faith confession. Only on the basis of extra-biblical stories can Rome claim that Peter sat down in a rudimentary papal “chair.” When these and other Roman stories became the criteria for creedal doctrine, Rome boldly stepped into the place of authority that God had reserved for His Word alone.

Roman persecutions provide even more clarity in evaluating the validity of Rome’s political interpretation of Matthew 16:16-19. Following the example of the Roman Empire in killing those who confessed Christ, later Roman pontiffs also initiated and orchestrated policies of harshly persecuting Christ-confessors. The detailed accounts of the Waldensian slaughter in Italy, or the bloody Huguenot massacre in France, or the well-organized extermination of Protestant believers by the Inquisition, shamefully expose the dangerous religious stand taken by bishops who ruled politically from “Peter’s chair.”

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is a painfully humbling read for most Roman Catholics. Its sections that record the atrocities perpetrated by Rome’s “Dark Ages” became the critical mass behind this article and a heavy emotional burden that found mental catharsis only through writing the following poem:
From its height of papal glory,
Rome still bears a stain:
Cruelties and tortures gory
Of believers slain;
Hung or flayed to die of bleeding,
Burned alive in prayer,
Slaughtered for their Scripture-reading,
All by “Peter’s chair.” 
Had their protestation perished
Under fire and lash
Or their hope for freedoms cherished
Vanished in the ash,
We today would too be liable,
As that martyred host,
Just because we owned a Bible
Or made Christ our boast.
Roman faith, if it has merit,
Cringes at these tales.
Mass and Mary can’t repair it;
Explanation fails.
But the popes who wrote this story
Pray without refrain
That those flames be purgatory
Where their souls remain.
— David L. Hatton, 4/13/2015

Salvation is found neither by church membership nor by filling an exalted church office, but only by placing authentic faith in Christ. Countless multitudes of those who confessed Christ in this way perished in horrendously cruel ways for being designated “heretics” by papal edict. Were they unwilling to confess the Apostles and Nicene Creeds? Far from it! Instead, they were tortured to death for refusing to embrace those additions to the later creeds that Rome politically enforced as essential doctrines, and which Protestants have never stopped resisting as unbiblical errors.

According to a creedal belief in “the communion of saints,” all Roman, Orthodox and Protestant believers confessing Trinitarian faith form one “holy catholic Church.” When Rome began killing Protestants for their “heretical” loyalty to Scripture, the historical departure of “Peter’s chair” from Peter’s creed became indelibly manifested. This holocaust of Christian martyrs, lasting for hundreds of years, politically confirmed a creedally Roman church, while spiritually nullifying its boast of being creedally catholic. In fact, Roman believers today should ethically reevaluate using the name “Catholic” for self-identification. Rome’s self-concept of exclusivity precludes true catholicity. In light of those early creeds, “Roman Catholic” is a self-contradictory phrase. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Because of my “born again” nature in Christ and my orthodoxy in creedal confession, I am first catholic and secondarily Protestant. Roman Catholics can think this way too, and should. But when Rome tried eradicating believers like me, it identified itself as primarily Roman and only “catholic” within the context of its own political power structure. Even today, Rome still treats me as not quite catholic—designating me as part of the “separated brethren.” That’s not the fault of my catholic faith but of the Roman politics that perpetuates this artificial separation.

Christ, however, placed in my hands, as He did in Peter’s, the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” to “bind” the powers of darkness with truth and to “loose” the powers of healing with love. While boldly confessing that Jesus Christ is “the Son of the living God” and that He is still in direct charge of building His church, I use that “key” of love to join my Lord in supporting the catholic nature of His Church and in outwitting the mistaken polity of him who sits in “Peter’s chair”:
“He drew a circle that shut me out—
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.”
(from “Outwitted” by Edwin Markham)