At a time when the number of Conservative Evangelical Christian men committed to the church, orthodox doctrine, and their family has never been lower and when higher percentages of men NEVER attend church than attend once a week (35% vs. 31% according to Pew), I’m seeing an increasing stream of internet articles attacking them from professing members of Reformed denominations in which they are made out to be a huge pool of sexual predators, misogynists, spiritual abusers and basically the greatest threat to Christian women in America.
Most of these articles are being written by people who grew up in or around Conservative churches, and therefore these churches represented an outsized influence in the childhood and adult life of the authors. It’s important to remember that while these communities were effectively the world of the authors of these articles, the actual size of that world is tiny when compared to the overall population of the country. For instance, only 22% of Americans attend church every week (and that’s self-reporting so there is inevitably the “halo effect” inflating the actual number) and Evangelicals represent a shrinking and aging portion of that community. So while White American Evangelical protestants make up 26% of the church-going community in the 65 and older demographic, that proportion shrinks to 8% in the 18-29 demographic, and if we quantify for Reformed Evangelicals the stats dip even lower. The authors have an outsized perception of the size of their community because their friend groups are made up of people who also grew up in it or (increasingly) have left it. However, if you go to a major US City or the community I grew up in (Northern NJ/NYC) you’ll find it is quite possible to live one’s entire life around thousands and thousands of people without ever actually meeting a Conservative, Evangelical Christian.
Additionally, if everyone the authors of these articles knew was a member of their small religious community, then if they encountered abuse, the abusers were usually members of this community and therefore they would forever associate that abuse with the community itself and on leaving it assume that the non-religious community was not subject to the same kind of abuses even though an objective perusal of the news would show that to be a demonstrably false impression. The problem is that in the postmodern world one’s “lived experience” often becomes the arbiter of reality while actual statistics become a tool of the oppressor in silencing victims. Similar perceptions can be found among people who grew up in other small Conservative religious communities like the Amish or Orthodox Jewish communities and encountered some form of abuse. There is also the problem that when allegations of abuse are made, those who see abuse as endemic in that community tend to automatically assume that the allegations are automatically true and view even a reasonable defense of the accused as the community corruptly attempting to protect guilty members of “the tribe.” And even when the discipline process results in the conviction of the accused, it is often alleged that the process itself was too difficult and traumatizing for the accuser, even when the practical result was the destruction of the reputation and/or ministry of the accused. [This kind of attitude became evident when writers such as Aimee Byrd complained in articles like, “WHO IS VALUED IN THE OPC?” that the ordinary OPC church discipline process when applied to Elders accused of spiritual abuse would lead to women, “continuing to be harmed by the process.” Again and again, in articles like this one, there was an assumption that the court itself was misogynistic and that they should repent of their misogyny by taking the side (and even the worldview) of the woman accusing the male member, elder, or pastor of spiritual abuse and heavily curtail the right of accused to speak in their own defense. The fact that this would create a hopelessly jaundiced trial and make it virtually impossible to acquit the defendant who would have to prove he was innocent under a worldview that presumes he is an abuser by nature didn’t seem to matter much.]
Now while we shouldn’t take a stance that abuse in any community regardless of the size is not a problem, nor should we foolishly assume there is no abuse going on in the Reformed community (especially because we believe in the doctrine of Total Depravity) the idea that there is an outsized abuse problem among Reformed Evangelicals simply isn’t true and the only major study available that quantified sexual abusers by religious affiliation done in 2006 indicated that the two largest groups were Catholics (28%) and Anglicans (27%) followed by NO religious affiliation (24%). Most sexual and physical abusers in the USA are not Reformed or even Evangelical, and Roman Catholics and Anglicans cannot be reasonably quantified as “Fundamentalist” either. I grew up in a non-religious community and date rape and child abuse were certainly more prevalent there than they were in the Conservative Reformed community. The fact is anecdotal evidence and personal experience (even though they are one’s own “lived experience”) does not a trend make. In the same way, just because someone had an abusive marriage, or was raised in a spiritually abusive church it doesn’t mean ALL marriages and churches or even MOST are abusive. Neither is there a discernable line from Conservative theology to abuse. I’ve been counseling in the Conservative Reformed community for over 20 years, and yet I can tell you that most of the people I’ve counseled who suffered abuse, suffered it outside the Reformed community and often in theologically Liberal environments.
The idea that Conservatives are abusers may be popular among political and theological Liberals (and social Libertarians), but that’s largely a result of believing their own propaganda regarding people they view as evil. This is incredibly commonplace among leftist tribes today because of their overarching Oppressed/Oppressor dialectic. If you are a Feminist, every male is usually either an abuser, a potential abuser, or a friend or member of your family (and therefore excluded from the sample) and every woman is a victim of abuse who needs to be freed from an abusive, patriarchal culture. If you are a Communist, every business owner is a greedy, employee-abusing capitalist, and every worker is an oppressed, saintly martyr who must have his chains broken. The fact that most of the most verifiably abusive and sexually abusive communities on earth, such as the American porn and sex-trafficking communities or the security forces of the Chinese Communist Party are either non or anti-religious and definitely inclined towards the left, or the slew of #METOO allegations made against celebrities who identify as Liberal and Feminist should be enough to cause one to at least question if leftists are indeed less likely to abuse than Conservatives. But to even consider that would be to betray one’s tribe and to open the door to the possibility that all people are subject to a natural tendency towards depravity since birth and that the answer to the problem is not to be found by reordering society, smashing the patriarchy, eliminating privilege, redistributing wealth, or any of the Marxist answers to the problem of human sin.
From my perspective, the saddest part of all of this is that the only solution to the problem of human sin, the Biblical Gospel, is being identified as part of the root of the problem of abuse, and the more faithful one is to the Bible, the more likely one is to be perceived as an abuser. In fact, a bizarre redefinition of Christian is occurring in which it is asserted that the more willing you are to reject Biblical solutions to the problem of abuse and embrace Feminist and Marxist solutions the more authentically compassionate and Christian you are. We are told that the same Jesus who answered the devil and His own human opponents from Scripture would reject people who got their answers from the same source and would instead compliment people who found their answers in a modern dialectical materialist philosophy derived from the writings of atheists.
Needless to say, I don’t think this is true, and I will conclude by issuing the same warning that Paul issued to people who were tempted to find their answers to the problems of life in the popular philosophies of their own day:
“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Col. 2:8)
From A Speech that was to have been delivered to the members of the Warfield List March 10, 2004
In a letter to Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great 19th century Scottish Presbyterian Pastor and Theologian John “Rabbi” Duncan wrote, regarding the concept of baptismal regeneration, “Horrible as the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is, it would be still more so if combined with those scriptural principles which are usually called Calvinism.”
Over a hundred years after he penned that solemn warning, it seems that exactly that horror has taken hold in a portion of the Reformed community. For instance, Norman Shepherd in his book The Call of Grace, published by P&R (2002), had this to say:
“Baptism is the moment when we see the transition from death to life and a person is saved…This covenant sign and seal marks his conversion and his entrance into the church as the body of Christ. From the perspective of the covenant, he is united to Christ when he is baptized…Baptism marks the entrance into the kingdom of God and the beginning of life-long training as kingdom subjects. According to the Great Commission, conversion without baptism is an anomaly. A sinner is not really ‘converted’ until he is baptized… Christians are those who have been baptized. Unbelievers are those who have not been baptized”
According to Shepherd, God converts sinners in Baptism. It is the moment at which a person is saved. This opinion is echoed by CREC pastor Rich Lusk, who opines, “‘Does God save or does baptism save?’ poses a false dilemma. God saves through baptism; it is one of his instruments of salvation, along with the Word and the Eucharist”
Surely, although these are quotes from men in good standing in Reformed denominations, this cannot be Reformed teaching? How can this be reconciled with what our Standards teach? That too is being answered. Apparently, Rabbi Duncan’s “horror” was quite unfounded, for as David Wright tells us in his essay “Baptism at the Westminster Assembly,” which is part of the otherwise excellent book The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century, “The Confession teaches baptismal Regeneration.” Lest there be any uncertainty as to what he means by this, Wright goes on to inform us, “The Westminster divines viewed baptism as the instrument and occasion of regeneration by the Spirit, of the remission of sins, of ingrafting into Christ (cf. 28:1)”
This necessarily begs the questions, “Is the sacrament of baptism a converting ordinance as these men have implied?” and “Is this what our standards really teach?” Those questions are not merely hypothetical. Both for Pastors and for parents it is manifestly of the greatest importance to determine whether or not PCA Pastor Jeff Myers is correct when he urges us to, “Think about how we begin our Christian life among the assembled people of God when we are named and claimed by the Triune God at the baptismal font. The Father adopts us in his one and only Son by means of the washing of regeneration, giving us a new life in his redeemed family.” If Reverend Myers is correct, and we have regeneration, adoption as Sons, and redemption via baptism, it will have inevitable repercussions on whether, for instance, we urge our children to close with Christ by faith alone. Why, after all, would we urge them to do something that has already occurred at the font?
This past Sunday I was honored to Baptize five children ranging in age from 13 years to 10 months. Did the church see those five children, several of whom were already professing faith in Christ, “transition from death to life,” as Norman Shepherd puts it? Were they converted by their baptism? Was that the moment that they entered the Kingdom of God? Did God save them through baptism as Reverend Lusk maintains? The questions, brothers and sisters, are of the greatest possible importance.
Do the Westminster Standards – our Confession as Presbyterians of what we believe the Bible teaches – really teach that baptism is a converting ordinance?
I must tell you that if I believed that this was what the Westminster Standards taught, I would immediately leave Presbyterianism.
Robert Shaw, a nineteenth-century Scottish Presbyterian commentator on the Confession of Faith, certainly did not think baptism was a converting ordinance or the moment at which the children of believers are admitted into the church or even the moment when they are “made Christians.”
Shaw wrote of baptism:
“It is a solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church, and to all its privileges. “It supposes the party to have a right to these privileges before, and does not make them members of the visible Church, but admit them solemnly thereto. And therefore it is neither to be called nor accounted christening—that is, making them Christians: for the infants of believing parents are born within the covenant, and so are Christians and visible Church members; and by baptism this right of theirs is acknowledged, and they are solemnly admitted to the privileges of Church membership.”
So what then is going on here? Men like Lusk have answered that what has happened is that modern Presbyterians have adopted “gnostic” and “baptistic” theology and have abandoned the real efficacy of baptism in favor of an over-reliance on the word preached. They argue that we have corrupted the true meaning of baptism, that we have denuded it of its efficacy as a means of salvation due to baptistic, revivalistic, and rationalistic influences. What they believe they are doing is recovering the original Reformed understanding of baptism but I must respectfully disagree. In embracing baptismal regeneration they are actually teaching something that is not only historically rejected by Presbyterians, they have moved back even further than the initial Reformed teachings regarding baptism.
Now, it is quite true that when one turns to Calvin and some of the continental Reformed theologians, there is indeed an unhappy tendency to use language in regard to infant baptismthat would seem to imply that they are regenerated at the time of their baptism. But even Calvin and his contemporaries do not make the same sacramental errors as the “Federal Vision” theologians (as the movement has been called.) These errors are in a nutshell:
To confuse the sign with the thing signified
To suppose that the sacraments can be efficacious to salvation without faith
I will freely admit that in the midst of showing why this is the case and positing some solutions to the problem, I am going to advance a thesis that is contrary to the statements of most of the Federal Vision theologians, namely that modern Presbyterians should regard the teachings of the Southern Presbyterians and Princetonians not as the worst statements on the subject of baptism, but the best, for while I am a great admirer of men like Calvin and Ursinus, they frequently make statements regarding the efficacy of the sacraments that either can be misunderstood or which do indeed, in the case of infants, seem to exceed the bounds of scripture.
On the other hand, the statements of the Southern Presbyterian, Princetonian theologians, and indeed many contemporary Presbyterian Theologians like Sinclair Ferguson on the subject of baptism – while never denuding the sacrament of baptism of its efficacy as a means of grace or reducing it from its rightful place as a sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace to the status of a “mere symbol” – have sharpened our understanding of the sacrament. By using more careful language, they have safeguarded us from the dire errors of sacramentalism which has historically been the precursor to nominalism and thence to liberalism amongst Protestants.
Now, what do I mean by safeguarding us from such injudicious or over-reaching language? Well, for instance, Ursinus in his commentary on the Heidelburg Catechism makes statements such as “There is in baptism a double washing: an external washing with water and an internal washing with the blood and Spirit of Christ. The internal is signified and sealed by that which is external, and is always joined with it in the proper use of baptism.”
Ursinus immediately qualifies this by noting that the internal and external washing “may take place at the same time” (which is, of course, very different from the tenor of the absolute statements of Federal Vision men) but we would still be very foolish to suppose that Federal Vision advocates have no statements they can appeal to in the work of Calvin and the continental Reformed in order to support their even more sweeping sacramental theories.
That said, while Ursinus makes some comments that the FV men can appeal to, neither Calvin nor Ursinus make the mistake of making the sacrament of baptism efficacious without faith.
Ursinus writes, “The condition of faith is joined to the promise; for those who are baptized do not receive what is promised and sealed by baptism unless they have faith, so that without faith the promise is not ratified, and baptism is of no profit. In these words we have expressed in a concise manner the proper use of baptism in which the sacraments are always ratified to those who receive them in faith; whilst the sacraments are no sacraments, and profit nothing in their improper use.”
Calvin makes exactly the same point as Ursinus in Book 4, Chapter 15, section 15 of his Institutes,“But from this sacrament, as from all others, we gain nothing, unless in so far as we receive in faith.”
The problem with the way Ursinus and Calvin occasionally speak of baptism is that they presuppose that this necessary faith exists in the children of believers. Note the language in Ursinus here, after affirming that adults must first believe and make a profession of faith prior to being baptized, Ursinus writes:
“This we admit and would add, that to be born in the church, is to infants, the same thing as a profession of faith. Faith is, indeed, necessary to the use of baptism with this distinction. Actual faith is required in adults and an inclination to faith in infants… Infants born of believing parents have faith as to inclination.”
The problem with this statement (apart from the biblical data presenting us with numerous infant children of believers without such an inclination – Esau, Hophni, Phinehas, Ishmael, etc.) is that it runs afoul of the substance of Charles Hodge’s solemn warning:
“The doctrine of baptismal regeneration, that is, the doctrine that inward spiritual renovation always attends baptism rightly administered to the unresisting, and that regeneration is never effected without it, is contrary to Scripture, subversive of evangelical religion, and opposed to universal experience. It is, moreover, utterly irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Reformed churches. For that doctrine teaches that all the regenerated are saved. “Whom God calls them he also glorifies,” Romans 8:30. It is, however, plain from Scripture, and in accordance with the faith of the universal church, that multitudes of the baptized perish. The baptized, therefore, as such, are not the regenerated.”
Federal Visionists eliminate this difficulty in their theology by introducing something that would probably have struck “Rabbi” Duncan as even more horrible than baptismal regeneration – the notion of real apostasy i.e. that those who are engrafted into Christ really can fall away. As the official Auburn Avenue PCA position paper [Note: Since this paper was written Auburn Avenue became a congregation in the CREC and is now Church of the Redeemer] put it:
“Once baptized, an individual may be truly called a “Christian” because he is a member of the household of faith and the body of Christ (I Cor. 12). However, not all who are “Christians” in this sense will persevere to the end. Some will fall from grace and be lost.”
This notion, however, should be abhorrent to us as contrary to all the great and precious promises of scripture that teach us that our perseverance depends not on our own obedience as is presupposed by this system of “Covenant Nomism,” for then we would all be lost, but upon the work of the Christ in preserving and keeping us. As Hodge rightly spoke, all those who are regenerated will certainly be glorified for “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phi 1:6)
The Westminster Standards substantially improve on the statements of Calvin and Ursinus that we have looked at. The Standards note that the sacraments are efficacious only to those who receive them in faith, and also makes the critical statement in Chapter 14 section 1:
“The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word, by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened.”
By this definition, the only ordinance that the Confession regards as converting is the ministry of the Word! The purpose of the sacraments is not to convert but to increase and strengthen the faith of believers. What then of David Wright’s statement that baptism is the instrument and occasion of regeneration and engrafting? The Confession does not teach that baptism is the instrument of these things! Baptism is an external and visible sign of an inward spiritual reality and is a seal of the promises of the Covenant of Grace only to those whom the spirit either has already regenerated or will surely regenerate at some later date.
Baptism in the New Testament is no more a converting ordinance than circumcision was in the Old Testament. Think about it, was Esau really saved and then lost? No! Esau lacked faith, which no external sign can grant for it is the work of the spirit. It is circumcision of the heart that is needed which cannot be granted by the external washing of water. The point about salvation depending upon spiritual regeneration and not external signs was the central point of Christ’s comments to Nicodemus in John chapter 3 and yet once again, we seem to have a generation of teachers in Israel who do not know these things.
The answer to how we deal with and teach infant baptism lies, I believe, with a greater appreciation of the work of the Southern Presbyterian theologians and their realization that the status of minors in the political commonwealth is the best analogy for the status of the children of believers. This preserves the essential truths that they really are members of the visible church and have a right to many of its benefits and protections. As R.L. Dabney points out:
When our standards say, “All baptized persons are members of the Church,” this by no means implies their title to all sealing ordinances, suffrage, and office. They are minor citizens in the ecclesiastical commonwealth, under tutelage, training, and instruction, and government; heirs, if they will exercise the graces obligatory on them, of all the ultimate franchises of the Church, but not allowed to enjoy them until qualified. Yet they are, justly, under ecclesiastical government. The reasonableness of this position is well illustrated by that of minors under the civil commonwealth.
B.M. Palmer also said this noting that, “In the church, this ecclesiastical minority terminates only when the man is born again of the Spirit of God, it being known that a new and divine life is indispensable to fulfill the obligations of a Christian.”
Now is this position – that the children of believers while members of the church are not saved by their baptism and still need to be encouraged to close with Christ by faith – a new or “baptistic” understanding? Not at all, its essential truth was recognized in the 17th century by Presbyterians such as Thomas Watson:
“Get a real work of grace in your heart. ‘It is a good thing that the heart be established with grace.’ Heb 13: 9. Nothing will hold out but grace; it is only this anointing abides; paint will fall off. Get a heartchanging work. ‘But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified.’ I Cor 6: 2: Be not content with baptism of water, without baptism of the Spirit. The reason men persevere not in religion, is for want of a vital principle; a branch must needs wither that has no root to grow upon.”
And William Guthrie:
“Believing on Christ must be personal; a man himself and in his own proper person must close with Christ Jesus—‘The just shall live by his faith.’ (Hab. 2:4.) This says, that it will not suffice for a man’s safety and relief, that he is in covenant with God as a born member of the visible church, by virtue of the parent’s subjection to God’s ordinances: neither will it suffice that the person had the initiating seal of baptism added, and that he then virtually engaged to seek salvation by Christ’s blood, as all infants do: neither does it suffice that men are come of believing parents; their faith will not instate their children into a right to the spiritual blessings of the covenant; neither will it suffice that parents did, in some respects, engage for their children, and give them away unto God: all these things do not avail. The children of the kingdom and of godly predecessors are cast out. Unless a man in his own person have faith in Christ Jesus, and with his own heart approve and acquiesce in that device of saving sinners, he cannot be saved. I grant, this faith is given unto him by Christ; but certain it is, that it must be personal.”
This is also the understanding of Evangelical Anglicans such as Bishop J.C. Ryle:
“I am aware that many do not admit the truth of what I have just said. Some tell us that all baptized people are members of Christ by virtue of their baptism. Others tell us that where there is a head knowledge we have no right to question a person’s interest in Christ. To these views I have only one plain answer. The Bible forbids us to say that any man is joined to Christ until he believes. Baptism is no proof that we are joined to Christ. Simon Magus was baptized, and yet was distinctly told that he had “no part or lot in this matter” (Acts 8:21). Head–knowledge is no proof that we are joined to Christ. The devils know Christ well enough, but have no portion in Him. God knows, no doubt, who are His from all eternity. But man knows nothing of anyone’s justification until he believes. The grand question is: “Do we believe?” It is written, “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” “He that believeth not shall be damned” (John 3:36; Mark 16:16). If Bible words mean anything, to be without faith is to be “without Christ.””
Princetonians such as Samuel Miller, could not disagree more strongly with the supporters of the Federal Vision in this regard:
“But it may be asked, what kind or degree of efficacy do Presbyterians consider as connected with baptism? Do they suppose that there is any beneficial influence, physical or moral, in all cases, connected with the due administration of this sacrament? I answer, none at all. They suppose that the washing with water in this ordinance is an emblem and a sign of precious benefits; that it holds forth certain great truths, which are the glory of the Christian covenant, and the joy of the Christians’ heart; that it is a seal affixed by God to his covenant with his people, whereby he certified his purposes of grace, and pledges his blessing to all who receive it with a living faith; nay, that it is the seal of valuable outward privileges, even to those who are not then, or at any other time, “born of the Spirit;” that, as a solemn rite appointed by Christ, it is adapted to make a solemn impression on the serious mind; but that when it is administered to the persons, or the offspring of those who are entirely destitute of faith, there is no pledge or certainty that it will be accompanied with any blessing. They receive the water, but not the Spirit. They are engrafted into the visible church, but not into the spiritual body of Christ, and are, after baptism, just as they were before, like Simon the Sorcerer, “in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:23).”
Which then is easier to believe? That for over four centuries, the greatest of Presbyterian theologians have totally misunderstood the biblical teaching on baptism and were wrong to deny that it was a converting ordinance, or that it is the proponents of the Federal Vision who are promulgating a serious error regarding baptismal efficacy? For my part, I’ll stick with the old paths and put my trust in the biblical understanding spelled out in our Standards rather than adopting this Federal Revision.
Let me close with a quote from A.A. Hodge that beautifully illustrates the falsehoods of the FV Doctrine as well as warning of the dangers that will befall us should it continue to spread:
“The Protestant advocates of Baptismal Regeneration, without committing themselves to the Romish theory of an opus operatum, hold that baptism is God’s ordained instrument of communicating the benefits of redemption in the first instance. That whatever gracious experiences may be enjoyed by the unbaptized, are uncovenanted mercies. That by baptism the guilt of original sin is removed, and the Holy Ghost is given, whose effects remain like a seed in the soul, to be actualized by the free–will of the subject, or neglected and hence rendered abortive. Every infant is regenerated when baptized. If he dies in infancy the seed is actualized in paradise. If he lives to adult age, its result depends upon his use of it (Blunt’s “Dict. of Theology,” Art. Baptism). See above, Ch. 29., Ques. 4.
They rest their doctrine on a large class of Scripture passages like the following, “Christ gave himself for the church that he might sanctify and cleanse it by the washing of water, by the word”Eph 5:26, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins.”––Acts 22:16. Also John 3:5;1 Pet. 3:21;Gal. 3:27, etc.
The Reformed explain these passages on the following principles.
1st. In every sacrament there are two things (a) an outward visible sign, and (b) an inward invisible grace thereby signified. There is between these a sacramental or symbolical relation that naturally gives rise to a usus loquendi(meaning of words by usage), whereby the properties and effects of the grace are attributed to the sign. Yet it never follows that the two are inseparable, any more than it proves the absurdity that the two are identical.
2nd. The sacraments are badges of religious faith, and necessarily involve the profession of that faith. In all ordinary language, therefore, that faith is presumed to be present, and to be genuine, in which case the grace signified by the sacrament is, of course, always not only offered but conveyed (“Shorter Catechism,” Ques. 91 and. 92).
That baptism can not be the only or even the ordinary means of conveying the grace of regeneration (i. e., for initiating the soul into a state of grace) is plain.––
1st. Faith and repentance are the fruits of regeneration. But faith and repentance are required as conditions prerequisite to baptism.— Acts 2:38;8:37;10:47, 11:17.
2nd. This doctrine is identical with that of the Pharisees, which Christ and his apostles constantly rebuked.––Matt. 23:23–26. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but faith that worketh by love––but a new creature.”––Gal. 5:6, and 6:15; Rom. 2:25–29. Faith alone is said to save, the absence of faith alone to damn.––Acts 16:31, and Mark 16:16.
3rd. The entire spirit and method of the gospel is ethical not magical. The great instrument of the Holy Ghost is the TRUTH, and all that is ever said of the efficacy of the sacraments is said of the efficacy of the truth. They are means of grace therefore in common with the word and as they contain and seal it (1 Pet. 1:23, and John 17:17,19). Our Saviour says “by their fruits ye shall know them.”––(Matt. 7:20).
4th. This doctrine is disproved by experience. Vast multitudes of the baptized of all ages and nations bring forth none of the fruits of regeneration. Multitudes who were never baptized have produced these fruits. The ages and communities in which this doctrine has been most strictly held have been conspicuous for spiritual barrenness.
5th. The great evil of the system of which the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is a part, is that it tends to make religion a matter of external and magical forms, and hence to promote rationalistic skepticism among the intelligent, and superstition among the ignorant and morbid, and to dissociate among all classes religion and morality.”
Just a Talker, Sayings of John (Rabbi) Duncan, John M. Brenthall
 Summary Statement of AAPC’s Position on the Covenant, Baptism, and Salvation, section 10
 Incidentally, the idea that Jesus is speaking of baptism in John 3:5 as some of the Federal Vision proponents believe – is an idea that not even Calvin is comfortable with: “So far as relates to this passage, I cannot bring myself to believe
that Christ speaks of baptism; for it would have been inappropriate.” Almost every Reformed commentator in history has dismissed the idea entirely, generally agreeing with Calvin that: “By water, therefore, is meant nothing more than the inward purification and invigoration which is produced by the Holy Spirit.”
Apparently, these two requests were too much for one of my Reformed Christian Facebook friends who sent me a message demanding to know why the ARP and I were praying for and supporting the Ukrainians who are, according to him, abortion loving, “Globohomos” instead of the Russians whom he characterized as a Christian nation under a Christian leader who had outlawed abortion and homosexuality.
I wrote the following answer to him but was unable to send it as he blocked me soon after sending his message. Since I’m finding that there are many other Reformed Christians on Facebook who have similar views, I’ve decided to publish my reply publicly.
“Thank you for writing to me, I have tried to answer the concerns about Russia and Ukraine that you raised in your message, I have also tried to include links backing up everything I’ve stated here.
To call Russia “a Christian nation” is extremely problematic, to say the least. It is true that the Putin regime has extremely close ties with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and it would not be an exaggeration to say that the Russian Orthodox Church is almost the established church of Russia but like many established churches, the ROC uses its strong ties to the state to try to eliminate other religious groups within their country. In recent years the Russian government has imposed laws that make it illegal to evangelize outside of an officially recognized church and attempts to get outsiders to join your church is considered illegal missionary activity. As a result, attempting to plant a new Reformed church in Russia is very difficult as the process of persuading non-members to join it is technically illegal. The Russian laws restricting non-ROC religious activity got much worse in 2021 when Putin signed an amendment to Russia’s religion law aimed at “protecting the spiritual sovereignty of Russia.” The law requires that if a missionary or pastor received their religious training outside of Russia, say at a Reformed seminary in America or Europe, they have to go through a process of mandatory state re-education, and then be certified by local authorities. Other laws make it illegal for religious organizations to use their own religious identifiers in their names unless they are permitted to do so by the government. Churches and church members frequently find themselves under surveillance by the state and Protestant churches and seminaries have been closed by the government and their congregations banned from using them. Because of the increasingly hostile attitude of the Russian government to any non-ROC religious activity in Russia Russia was added to the Open Doors World Watch list of the top 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian in 2019 and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s tier 1 list of religious freedom violators in 2017 (please note this was when USCIRF was still working under the Trump administration).
True Freedom of Religion exists in a country when:
1) The government does not give preference to any one religion or anti-religious group above the others.
2) Clergy may perform all of their religious duties without violence or danger.
3) The laws of that country do not interfere with or hinder the free exercise of the religion of ordinary people and all citizens are free to conduct their lives according to their own profession of faith.
4) The civil magistrate takes care to actively protect the free exercise of religion and as a result, religious assemblies may occur without molestation, violence, or disturbance.
All four of the principles above are actively violated in Russia, and therefore we can safely say that Freedom of Religion does not exist in Russia.
It is also important to note that the Russian Orthodox Church which is virtually the Russian State church formally denies all of the Solas of the Reformation including Justification by Faith Alone, and just about every tenet of the Reformed faith including all five points of Calvinism. The Russian Orthodox Church also has seven sacraments, not the two given by Christ in the Bible. As Reformed Christians, we can therefore affirm that the Russian Orthodox church does not have the marks of a true church and that we do not believe that people can be saved by believing what they teach.
By contrast, there is far greater religious freedom in Ukraine and setting up churches and seminaries and evangelizing is much, much easier than it is in Russia and while the Ukrainian Orthodox church is also not happy about new non-Orthodox churches being planted they do not have the same hand-in-glove relationship with the Ukrainian state that the ROC has with the Russian state. For this reason, many Reformed organizations have established their church plants and seminaries in Ukraine where it was also possible to train Russian pastors even though they would be subjected to restrictions when they returned to Russia. Many other NAPARC churches have strong ties to Ukraine and were a vital part of helping to establish the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ukraine in 2008.
A measure of how much more difficult it is to plant and maintain a church in Russia, as opposed to Ukraine can be seen in what happened to existing evangelical churches in Crimea after Russia seized that area from Ukraine in 2014. Pentecostal, Baptist, and other Protestant churches that had not previously been subjected to persecution from the state suddenly found themselves the targets of government raids, fines, and intimidation. Conditions in the Donbas pro-Russian separatist region which is under defacto Russian control were even worse. In that region, the Baptist World Alliance reports that 40 of their Donbas churches were accused of being “terrorists” and shut down by the regional government.
The implications of all this for who we support should be obvious, if we do choose to support Putin on the grounds of his close relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church, we are chosing to support a government that will promote the interests of a form of Christianity we do not believe preaches the gospel and can’t save people and make it harder for us to plant Protestant and Reformed churches in that area of the world. This is more than a little like being a Protestant in 1588 and deciding to back the Spanish Armada because we liked the conservative King Philip II of Spain more than the more libertine Queen Elizabeth I.
As Christians, our hearts should also be wrung by the current humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, which is rapidly becoming the worst in Europe since World War Two and is occurring because of Russian military activity. Therefore our efforts at the moment should be directed to where the need is greatest among the destitute refugees who are streaming into the countries that border western Ukraine. Not only do our missionaries in those areas have an opportunity to relieve the physical needs of those displaced persons, they also have an opportunity to reach people with the Gospel who would previously have never gone to a missionary to enquire about salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
Regarding abortion, homosexuality, and globalism; while it is true that the Russian regime says they are more opposed to abortion than the Ukrainian government, elective abortion is still legal in Russia up to the 12th week and Russia had the highest number of abortions per woman of child-bearing age in the world according to UN data as of 2010. Additionally, several European nations also have much more restrictive abortion laws than Russia. By contrast, abortion is actually banned in Poland, a NATO nation with strong ties to the West.
Similarly, while Russia has banned spreading “homosexual propaganda,” homosexuality and transgenderism are still legal in Russia and while much has been made of the fact that Russia bans same-sex marriage, so does Ukraine and every other country in Eastern Europe. Also, there is no spiritual power in the form of Christianity Putin endorses. It lacks what Chalmers called “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection” As a result, there is no true Christianity morality growing in Putin’s Russia. This is evident in the fact that marriage and birth rates in Russia are among the lowest in Europe and trending lower, while divorce rates continue to go up. Additionally, while most Russians call themselves Christians, only around 7% of Russians ever attend church. According to Pew Research Ukrainians are more than twice as likely to attend church weekly than Russians (16% vs. 7%).
All of this goes to show that Russia is hardly the last bastion of Christian morality in Europe, with Oligarchs getting rich via shady deals, and a huge amount of organized crime, arms trafficking, human trafficking, and prostitution being winked at by the state. I hope you will forgive me if I also point out that Pornhub’s 2014 analysis of user data indicated that, “Anal sex porn” is more popular in Russia than in any other country.’
Putin himself is no moral paragon either. He’s an ex-KGB Autocrat who had children out of wedlock with his Olympic gymnast mistress whom he eventually moved in with after divorcing his long-suffering wife. His own personal corruption is legendary; not only has he made millions and possibly billions via graft and corruption, but he’s also murdered his political opponents and those investigating him, shut down newspapers, and other media sources, and allowed all sorts of criminal activities as long as he and his friends benefitted from them. In a moral sense, he’s no different from countless other dictators in history including the Chinese and Iranians who although they are not even nominally Christian are also nationalists who dislike homosexuality.
Finally, to portray Russia as the last of the non-Globalist nationalist nations is also misleading, to say the least. Plenty of other nations have a high degree of National pride, including nations like China, India, and Poland, and no other nation on earth is displaying more patriotism at the moment than Ukraine. As for being against globalism, Russia desires to be part of the global economy as much as anyone else but has been isolated from it because of its actions and has formed its own alliances with the other nations that have been shunned because of their human rights record such as Iran, China, and Syria. Their anti-Western globalism certainly isn’t something they chose for themselves and Vladimir Putin is reported to have tried to join NATO in 2000 and said to interviewer David Frost, “Russia is part of the European culture. And I cannot imagine my own country in isolation from Europe and what we often call the civilized world.”
Now, am I thrilled that, like most Europeans, Zelensky is something of a social liberal? Not at all, but I know that I could survive, preach, politically dissent, and evangelize in a nation ruled by Zelensky, I can’t say the same for my chances in a nation ruled by Putin.”
After they die, the bodies of all men go down to the grave, but the bodies of the righteous rest in the grave waiting for the resurrection. While in the grave, only the bodies of the righteous can be said to truly “rest in peace”, while the bodies of the wicked are imprisoned and await their resurrection to judgment. In both cases though the soul survives the death of the body and in that sense all men are immortal. Death is never the end of existence.
While “asleep in the Lord” is often used to describe the state of the bodies of deceased believers, it does not describe the state of their souls. Their souls do not sleep, but go in a conscious state to be with the Lord, as Paul put it, 2 Corinthians 5:8 “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.”We see this confirmed in other passages of scripture including Revelation 6:10 where we hear the souls of the martyrs in heaven crying out for judgment day to come and in Luke 16:19-31 and in Christ’s parable of the Rich man and Lazarus where we see both Lazarus and the Rich man are both very much awake, but Lazarus is in Heaven and the rich man is in Hell.
The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus also answers the next logical question, where do our souls go? The souls of the righteous in Christ go to heaven, and the souls of the wicked go to hell. There is no other place where souls dwell and no intermediate state. Contrary to the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church there is also no such place as Purgatory. Jesus did not tell the thief on the Cross, “Someday, after the stains of your venial sins have finally been purged in the fires of purgatory, you will join me in heaven.” He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) That is why Stephen was able to cry out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” even as he was being stoned to death. There is no need for purgatory, for while even the best of saints still sin in this life, when they die they are instantly glorified, made perfectly holy and join the assembly, “of the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). We may safely conclude that is no waiting room for those for whom Christ has prepared a mansion.
The souls of the wicked however, go immediately to hell. Jesus dramatically illustrated the different eternal destinies of the saved and the damned and several points in his teaching but he drew perhaps the most stark contrast in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus:
“So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” (Luke 16:22-24)
In Numbers 11 the people of Israel had complained against the Lord and his fire broke out amongst them consuming some, and we read in Numbers 11:2 that “the people cried out to Moses, and when Moses prayed to the LORD, the fire was quenched.” But Jesus tells us that in Hell the, “worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” This indicates to us that just as the rewards of the righteous have no end, the punishment of the wicked is also eternal.
On a related note, this should also assure us that there really are no ghosts in the way they are imagined in moves and novels. The souls of men do not linger on earth, they are never trapped here. Unfortunately, however, there are demons a point that is reinforced in the gospels again and again. These demons are happy to pretend to be whatever will scare us, or make us superstitious, or even attempt to turn us from Christ. These servants of Satan are happy to masquerade as false gods (1 Cor. 10:20-21), counterfeit angels (2 Cor. 11:14-15) so it would be no great stretch for them to pretend to be the spirits of the departed especially when we recall that they are the servants of the father of lies (John 8:44) and their aim is always to deceive. We should be glad to know that their eternal destiny is also hell where they will be punished for their rebellion and evil deeds (2 Peter 2:4, Jude 1:6, Rev. 20:10)
It’s common to hear from people who believe that Conservative Christian attitudes towards ethical issues like abortion, euthanasia, fornication, homosexuality, and different religions are merely reflections of “ancient” backward cultural attitudes towards those subjects. In reality, nothing could actually be farther from the truth.
Greek and Roman society in the first century was actually what moderns would describe as quite “tolerant” regarding all those subjects. For instance, it was common for unwanted babies to be exposed or strangled, and the apothecaries of the time did a roaring trade in mixtures designed to induce miscarriages, for instance, thousands of infant skeletons (as in the picture above) were recently discovered in ancient Ashkelon (Israel) which were from first-century children born healthy and then quickly killed and their bodies dumped into the sewer. (See: https://www.ancient-origins.net/history/discovery-mass-baby-grave-under-roman-bathhouse-ashkelon-israel-002399) Continue reading →
I believe that if we do something in Christian worship, we need to be doing it not because we think it might be a good idea or helpful, but because it is something that the bible teaches us to do. Therefore when it comes to supporting the work of the church, while we might be able to come up with some pretty good practical arguments for why we should take up a collection in worship, ultimately the only solid reason for doing it would be because the Bible says we should. And in both 2 Corinthians 9 and 1 Corinthians 16 the Bible does say that we should be taking up collections for the needs of the church:Continue reading →
In 1665 Bubonic Plague, the “Black Death” as it was called at the time, broke out in the city of London, and thousands died. Almost immediately, the royalty left the city, followed quickly by the rich, and then as one wag put it in his history of the time “Most of the clergy suddenly decided they could best minister to their flocks from far, far away.” The scenes of horror recounted in the various plague journals kept by those who stayed are piteous. Hospitals were crammed full of the dying and quickly overwhelmed whatever doctors and nurses had not either fled or died themselves.
But then in the midst of all that terrible sickness and sorrow, and death, who do you think it was who heard the cry of those suffering and returned in droves to minister to the sick and dying, to pastor congregations whose ministers had fled with the king to country estates, to go day by day into the hospitals and read the Word of God to those who were lost and dying without hope and without a Savior? It was the ejected ministers. When the king and his hirelings had all fled, it was the men they despised most who heard the call of Christ and returned. Thomas Vincent, ejected from the living of St. Mary Magdalen, Milk Street, in 1662 was but one of many ministers long remembered by the inhabitants of London for his fearless preaching amidst the dying multitudes in the Great Plague.
Now, why did those men do that? They didn’t have the power to lay hands on the people and heal them, in fact, many of those ministers themselves became sick and died. The answer is that they knew Jesus Christ, and they knew his Compassion because He had worked it in their hearts by His Holy Spirit.
Matthew 9:35-36 tells us “35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. 36 But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.”
Those ministers saw the multitudes in London, weary and scattered, sheep without shepherds, and as faithful servants of the master who saved them and called them, they took up the call and they went amongst them preaching the good news of the Kingdom, bringing light where there was only darkness and hope where there had only been despair. Although they could not cure their bodily ills, yet they could and MUST point them to Jesus, the great physician of the soul. Through faith in him, death could not hurt them. Its sting was gone, and the grave was forever robbed of its victory.
[Note: This is the introduction to a multi-part series on prayer based on the Lord’s Prayer]
“Teach Us to Pray”
In Chapter 6 of Matthew, Jesus teaches His disciples much about prayer, in Matthew 6:5-8 He says:
5 ” And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
6 “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
7 “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
8 “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.
Do you regularly pray? I hope you do because Jesus assumes that his followers will pray regularly. You’ll notice that He started out talking about prayer by saying, “when you pray” not, “if you pray” and then He went on to discuss the key to true prayer, which isn’t to be found in the place that you pray, or the way that you pray, or the length of your prayers, but in the disposition of the heart of the one praying.Continue reading →
At the PCA General Assembly this week, we had several speakers (the most prominent being self-proclaimed Gay PCA pastor Greg Johnson) take issue with the Nashville Statement on the grounds that it condemns a homosexual self-identity. The speakers clearly indicated that they believe that to identify as homosexual and to admit that their lives are dominated by homosexual desires and affections is not sinful unless those desires are actually acted upon. In other words, they may constantly struggle as “Gay Christians” with sinful desires and temptations to have homosexual sex and homosexual relationships, because that is part of their nature as homosexuals, but that unless they actually act upon them, thus joining will with desire simply having those desires is not sinful. They also make it clear that they do not believe that people born with homosexual desires can ever be free of them in this life. Therefore, the life of these Gay Christians will be marked by a constant daily struggle – often described as “heroic” at the General Assembly – not to give into the desires and succumb to temptation.
The real problem is that while there may be PCA presbyters who agree with and sincerely believe in this view of the non-sinfulness of sinful desires and the inability to be free of them before glory, this is not the Reformed position expressed in the Westminster Standards regarding the sinfulness of desires or “orientation”. It is in fact much closer to the pre-Reformation, semi-Pelagian view of sinful desires, appetites and motivations summed up by what the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) calls “Concupiscence”.
Let me try to outline the difference. The Confession, and those who are opposed to Revoice and Side B Gay Christianity, view not only actual homosexual acts but desires to be properly sinful. We also regard part of the work of sanctification to consist of bringing these desires into subjection and mortifying them so they really diminish and die as the regenerate person is sanctified.
Here is how A.A. Hodge summed it up in his commentary on chapter 6 of the Westminster Confession:
“These sections speak of the corruption that remains in the regenerated, and of the guilt or just liability to punishment which attaches to all sin, and of the punishments God inflicts upon it.
I. Of the first, it is taught—
1. Original sin, or innate moral corruption, remains in the regenerate as long as they live.
2. That it is pardoned through the merits of Christ.
3. That it is gradually brought into subjection and mortified by the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification.
4. That nevertheless all that remains of it, and all the feelings and actions to which it prompts, are truly of the nature of sin.
All of these points will be more appropriately treated under the heads of Justification, Conf. Faith, ch. 11.; and of Sanctification, Conf. Faith, ch. 13.
II. Of the second, it is taught—
1. Original sin—that is, the nature corrupt tendencies and affections of the soul— is truly a violation of God’s law as actual transgression.
The Catechisms. (L. Cat., q. 24; S. Cat., q. 14) define sin to be “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.”
This corresponds exactly with what the apostle teaches (1 John 3:4): “Sin is ανουια ”—any discrepancy of the creature or his acts with God’s law. This is evident—
(1) Because from its very essence the moral law demands absolute perfection of character and disposition as well as action. Whatever is right is essentially obligatory; whatever is wrong is essentially worthy of condemnation. God requires us to be holy as well as to act rightly. God proclaims himself as “he which searcheth the reins and hearts.” (Rev. 2:23.)
(2) The native corrupt tendencies which constitute original sin are called sin in Scripture. Sin and its lusts are said to “reign” in our mortal bodies; sin is said to have “dominion”; the unregenerate are called “the servants of sin.” (Rom. 6:12–17; 7:5–17; Gal. 5:17,24; Eph. 4:18,19.)
(3) God condemns men for their corrupt natural dispositions, for their hardness of heart, spiritual blindness of mind. (Mark 16:14; Eph. 2:3.)
(4) In all genuine conviction of sin, the great burden of pollution and guilt is felt to consist not in what we have done, but in what we are—our permanent moral condition rather than our actual transgressions. The great cry is to be forgiven and delivered from “the wicked heart of unbelief,” “deadness to divine things, alienation from God as a permanent habit of soul.” “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24; Ps. 51:5,6.)”
[Hodge, A. A., & Hodge, C., The Confession of Faith: with questions for theological students and Bible classes (pp. 115–117).]
The above understanding derived from the Confession and expressed by Hodge is just not in keeping with what Revoice and the “Side B” Gay Christian movement express regarding Homosexual desires and identity. Namely they believe that the desires that flow from our fallen or “broken” nature are not sinful unless acted upon and that we cannot expect to ever be free of them on this side of glory. So the “Gay Christian” was not only born that way but always will be that way, but his inclinations and self-identity are not sinful unless acted upon.
Therefore the view is far closer to this statement of RC theology than to the historic Reformed view:
“From the explanation given, it is plain that the opposition between appetite and reason is natural in man, and that, though it be an imperfection, it is not a corruption of human nature. Nor have the inordinate desires (actual concupiscence) or the proneness to them (habitual concupiscence) the nature of sin; for sin, being the free and deliberate transgression of the law of God, can be only in the rational will; though it be true that they are temptations to sin, becoming the stronger and the more frequent the oftener they have been indulged. As thus far considered they are only sinful objects and antecedent causes of sinful transgressions; they contract the malice of sin only when consent is given by the will; not as though their nature were changed, but because they are adopted and completed by the will and so share its malice. Hence the distinction of concupiscence antecedent and concupiscence consequent to the consent of the will; the latter is sinful, the former is not.” [Catholic Encyclopedia, “Concupiscence”]
We’ve been using your service virtually since it started, in fact just the other day I found one of the original DVD mailer sleeves from the 1990s that we were always losing track of. We enjoyed your service so much that we never balked at rate increases and stayed with your streaming service through the days of extremely limited selections and technical glitches. We even stayed with you as loyal customers as your company began to stream more and more movies and documentaries that ran counter to our religious, political, and moral beliefs. In more recent years, when you began to cut more and more sweetheart deals with liberal politicians and pundits to produce explicitly left-wing political content, we swallowed hard but considered that many of our friends and relatives also hold views dramatically different from our own and are active in promoting those views, and yet we don’t stop talking, associating, or doing business with them so why would we cancel you? We’ve always been strong supporters of free speech, even when we don’t agree with what’s being said, so mere political differences were never going to be sufficient reason for us to part ways.
But when, two days ago, your CEO announced that you would be donating money to the ACLU to fight Georgia’s newly passed ban on abortions after 6 weeks, it was a bridge too far for us. In essence, you announced that you would be taking the money we send to you for our subscription fees, and using it to promote the killing of babies in the womb. As Christians who believe that every child in the womb is a human being, created in the image of God, “fearfully and wonderfully made” and all equally deserving of life, we cannot support or be a party to efforts aimed directly at the murder of those children.
As you receive this letter, your first instinct may be to simply shrug it off as just one cancellation that can’t possibly have any appreciable effect on your profits. But I will share with you that I am a pastor and that together my wife and I have thousands of friends on social media, and many if not most of them believe as we do about abortion. We plan to share this letter with our friends on social media and encourage them, if they feel the way we do, to also cancel their subscriptions, to let you know why they did so, and then to take the further step of encouraging their own friends to do likewise. If every Netflix subscriber who calls themselves pro-life – and recent polls indicate that 47% of Americans do – were to cancel their Netflix subscription then the results would be impossible to ignore. It is our hope and prayer that even if your company will not listen to the pro-life message, that you will listen to your bottom line and reverse your decision to support the killing of defenseless human beings in the womb. If you do, we’ll be happy to become customers once again, but until that day, we simply cannot do business with you.
I was sickened to hear about how two Mosques in New Zealand were attacked on Friday by a gunman describing himself as an “Eco-Fascist” and who ultimately murdered around 50 people. I am praying for the people of New Zealand today and hope that God will ultimately bring good out of this grave evil. I’m also praying that the attacker’s stated purpose, which was to provoke a race war, first in the United States, and then worldwide will come to nothing.
I have read the murderer, Brenton Tarrant’s, rambling so-called “Manifesto” and I want you to know about several of the things in it so that people won’t end up reacting to this incident in the ways Tarrant hoped to provoke us to react. I am also hoping that people will see that his views were utterly incompatible with what the Bible teaches, not only is Tarrant a racist and an environment worshipper, he saw having families and children as a grave problem, and praised the People’s Republic of China, which persecutes both Muslims and Christians on the basis of their religion.
1) The Attacker Himself Is Neither Christian Nor Conservative:
“Were/are you a conservative?
No, conservatism is corporatism in disguise, I want no part of it.
I mostly agree with Sir Oswald Mosley’s views and consider myself an Eco-fascist by nature.
The nation with the closest political and social values to my own is the People’s Republic of China.”
“Were/are you a christian?
That is complicated.
When I know, I will tell you.”
2) He Used Guns Specifically to Provoke an Anti-Gun Backlash in the United States which he hoped would lead to civil war:
“Won’t your attack result in calls for the removal of gun rights from Whites in the United states?
Yes, that is the plan all along, you said you would fight to protect your rights and the constitution, well soon will come the time.”
“Why did you choose to use firearms?
I could have chosen any weapons or means.A TATP filled rental van. Household flour, a method of dispersion and an ignition source.A ballpeen hammer and a wooden shield.Gas, fire,vehicular attacks, plane attacks, any means were available. I had the will and I had the resources.
I chose firearms for the affect it would have on social discourse, the extra media coverage they would provide and the affect it could have on the politics of United states and thereby the political situation of the world.
The US is torn into many factions by its second amendment, along state, social, cultural and, most importantly, racial lines. With enough pressure the left wing within the United states will seek to abolish the second amendment, and the right wing within the US will see this as an attack on their very freedom and liberty. This attempted abolishment of rights by the left will result in a dramatic polarization of the people in the United States and eventually a fracturing of the US along cultural and racial lines.”
[It should also be noted that Tarrant’s attack on one mosque was abandoned because members of the mosque were armed and fired back. The death toll was 4 times as high in the mosque where no one was armed.]
3) Climate change and “overpopulation” were primary motivators for Tarrant’s attack as he linked the two and blamed both on non-whites. His belief that whites are superior was based in part on their lower birth rates.
“Why focus on immigration and birth rates when climate change is such a huge issue?
Because they are the same issue, the environment is being destroyed by over population, we Europeans are one of the groups that are not over populating the world. The invaders are the ones over populating the world. Kill the invaders, kill the overpopulation and by doing so save the environment.”
Was the attack “racist” in origin?
Fertility rates are innately tied to race, so yes. There was a racial component to the attack.
Was the attack “xenophobic” in orgin?
Fertility rates are cultural, there is no denying that, so there was a war of cultures being fought by the invaders, and my attack was a response to this. Though I hold no great fear or distrust of other peoples.”
Please don’t help this wicked man to achieve his objectives by blaming groups who had nothing to do with this attack or seeking to do the very things he hoped we would.
You can read the whole manifesto here [***WARNING: BAD LANGUAGE AND EVIL, TWISTED THINKING***] :
Most of the great creedal and confessional formulations of the church have been composed in response to widespread error or heresy within the body of Christ and while there are many different errors and heresies that are currently dividing the church, some of the most destructive are the ones that concern human sexuality. In particular, many in the church today have embraced a form of declension that tolerates or even celebrates destructive sexual sins such as fornication, homosexuality, and transgenderism.
While this kind of error in the church is serious and extremely destructive, it is by no means new. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul spent what would eventually become an entire chapter (1 Cor. 5) of his epistle admonishing the Corinthians for allowing a member of their church to sleep with his stepmother. Instead of rebuking the offender, and practicing church discipline, the Corinthian Christians were actually celebrating how gracious they were being towards this man in tolerating his offense. Paul warned that by adopting this practice they would simply encourage more sexual sin, and bring down the Lord’s judgement upon themselves. What was needed was not more patting themselves on the back for how tolerant they were, but discipline and excommunication. They were told that they should not have fellowship with anyone who called themselves a brother – not even eating with them – who practiced sexual immorality.
Today’s church needs the same kind of wake-up call that Paul gave to the Corinthian Christians in his letter, and it is for that reason that the session of our congregation, Providence PCA, was extremely grateful to the CBMW for publishing “The Nashville Statement” which deals biblically with the subject of human sexuality. The statement which consists of a series of 14 articles, each consisting of an affirmation and a denial, was signed by a variety of evangelical and reformed pastors, authors, and theologians including, but not limited to:
John Piper James Dobson J. I. Packer Wayne Grudem R. Albert Mohler, Jr. John MacArthur R. C. Sproul Rosaria Butterfield Francis Chan Marvin Olasky Ligon Duncan Kevin DeYoung Alistair Begg Matt Chandler
Our session has adopted the statement as our own statement on the subject of human sexuality and over the next 15 weeks I will be preaching on each of the articles and comparing it to the teaching of scripture. As I said in my first sermon on the subject, the Nashville Statement, in common with all merely human confessions, is far from perfect, but it is also an excellent start at dealing with the flood of heretical and erroneous beliefs that will inevitably end up drowning the church in the 21st century if left unchecked.
Here then is a link to listen to our first sermon on the PREAMBLE to the Nashville Statement:
Whenever there is a tragedy like the terrible hurricane that struck Houston, the question “Why did this happen?” is inevitably asked. When Christians ask that question they are not simply asking for a scientific explanation of the weather patterns in the Gulf of Mexico, or how Hurricanes flood cities or Tornados destroy schools, they are asking why the God they serve did this, (or perhaps “allowed it to happen” if they don’t believe in the sovereignty of God or haven’t really wrestled sufficiently with verses like Amos 3:6b). It was to answer that question that I wrote the following in 2004, after Florida had just passed through a series of devastating hurricanes including the 2nd and 3rd costliest Hurricanes in history at the time. When I did so I particularly wanted to address the common notion that disasters and tragedies are a direct consequence of the sins of the people they affect.
NKJ Luke 13:1 There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3 “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)
Floridians must be some of the most wicked people in America mustn’t they? To be visited with three massive hurricanes in a row! We here in North Carolina, on the other hand are very virtuous people, because we haven’t really been hit by any of them. Oh sure, we’ve had a little rain, some flooding, and so on, but nothing like the level of destruction that the sinners of Florida have brought down on their heads. But oh, lest we think we are too good. I understand that the city of Las Vegas has suffered hardly any storm related damage this year. Obviously they have attained to a level of sanctification that we here in North Carolina can only continue to strive for.
Now obviously I’m being sarcastic, but the point is that the kind of thinking that says bad things happen to bad people is more common than you might think. You will hardly be able to find a pastor who hasn’t been asked at least once, “Do you think this bad thing happened to me because of my sin?” I’ve even fallen prey to the same kind of thinking myself on more than one occasion.Continue reading →
I recently read your article entitled, “The Downside of Integration for Black Christians” which was posted on the RAAN Network on August 21, 2017 and I’d really like to engage you more on this particular subject. All too often there simply isn’t any “reasoning together” going on when it comes to racial issues, and as a result existing positions just become more entrenched and emotive by the day.
I believe I “get” what you’re saying about wanting to spend time alone with people from the same race and culture and I understand it to a certain degree. Everyone tends to prefer to spend time with people they have an affinity with. It’s one of the many reasons I’m happiest on a Sunday – I get to spend all day with the people I share genuine communion with, and with whom I’m looking forward to sharing eternity with. We all have a common experience of the love of Christ, shared ways of thinking about reality, a (broadly) common world and life view, and the same values and hopes. I have an even greater connection when it’s a gathering of pastors, and then an even greater connection when the pastors are like minded. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy the Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference so much, I’m sharing time there with ministers who understand what it is to pastor from a Puritan and Reformed viewpoint. For me, that’s the highest level of affinity possible. Meeting with the men from a British cultural background just adds the cherry to the top.
In hindsight, that’s one of the reasons we formed a weekly lunchtime bible study many years ago when I worked at a publishing company in Washington D.C. The experience of spending so much time with worldlings, many of whom hated Christ and Christianity and ran it down continually was grinding for the believers at the company. Those moments praying and reading the word together with my brothers and sisters in Christ were like springs in the wilderness for my soul and a weekly reminder that there was a day coming when sin, separation, and division would be over forever. As it happened, I was one of only three white people who showed up for those studies and one of only four men. The majority of the other members of the study were black and Hispanic women, but I felt closer to them than I ever felt to the people who may have looked like me and had similar ethnic and cultural backgrounds, but with whom I had no communion whatsoever.Continue reading →
If you look at the bible you will notice that majority of it is made up of the Old Testament
The Old Testament did not drop from the sky as one complete book, it was also not all written at once, but over a period stretching just short of one thousand years, it had many human authors, but not many themes, and ultimately adds up to one book with only one author – God.
How was this possible? These human authors wrote down his truth under God’s inspiration.
“White Out” co-authored by Alexander Jun, Diversity and Social Justice in Higher Education professor and moderator of the 45th PCA General Assembly.
In Christianity the most fundamental division among men is between the saved and the unsaved (or expressed in the eternal sense the elect and the reprobate, the line of Cain and the line of Seth) and while the divisions according to race, nation, tribe, language, and class are acknowledged, they are not primary, rather we are saved out of them, and on the last day, whether one was a king or a slave on earth, that won’t matter one whit if one is not in Christ. (See Rev. 5:9 and 6:15-17 for instance). The kingdom of heaven is also never fully realized here on earth in this present evil age, and certain things, like hatred and poverty cannot be eliminated because sin will continue till Christ returns. The primary calling of Christians therefore is to proclaim the gospel, that men might believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, be saved, and become members of His body, the Church. Within the church here on earth, people may remain members of the same race or class, but these divisions are unimportant and as the Apostle James points out, shouldn’t make any difference between believers. Additionally, our standing in human society should have no bearing on our standing in the church, and brotherhood should be possible (and often was) between the very rich and the very poor.
In Marxism, the primary division is that of class – the “haves” and the “have-nots”, and the haves have what they have because they prevent the have-nots from gaining access to the means of accumulating the material wealth that would allow them to become haves as well. This means that the rich became that way by making other people poor, and as long as the rich remain rich, the poor will remain poor. Therefore, all of human history for the Marxist is a political struggle between oppressed and oppressors, and in Liberation theology which is derived from the political theories of Marxism, Jesus is a champion of the oppressed who calls for the overthrow of the oppressors and the creation of an egalitarian kingdom here on earth. In Marxism the kingdom can be realized here on earth via reeducation and a fundamental reordering of society where the oppressors lose their material advantages and privileges either freely or via force and their wealth and influence is redistributed to the have-nots so that in theory everyone has an equal amount of wealth and power.
In Black Liberation Theology, the fundamental division is between whites (oppressors) and blacks (the oppressed), but there are other varieties of liberation theology such as Feminist Theology which sees the essential division as being between men (oppressors) and women (the oppressed), and Queer Theology which sees the essential division as being between heterosexuals (oppressors) and homosexuals (the oppressed). These streams often flow together to create a larger tableau of the oppressed (women, minorities, homosexuals, transgenders), etc.
Also – and this is incredibly important – in Christianity the primary fellowship is on the grounds of communion in Christ. This means that in Christianity, regardless of race or nation or class, you are my brother or sister if we are both believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. In Marxism, on the other hand, the primary fellowship is on the basis of our shared position in the political struggle. Therefore in Marxism we are comrades if we are both members of an oppressed class struggling against oppression. So in order for someone in the oppressor class to become a comrade, they must repudiate their class and origin, condemn their privileges, cast off their material advantages, and actively join the struggle, only then can they become a comrade. In practice this means that in Black Liberation Theology there cannot be real communion between blacks and whites until those whites repudiate their race, condemn and lament their privileges, and actively join the political struggle.
These ideologies (Christianity and [Fill in the Blank] Liberation Theology) are fundamentally incompatible and cannot coexist in the church. One will inevitably end up driving the other out.
1) Most of the committee of commissioners (CoC) meetings were held on Tuesday morning. I was on the CoC for Covenant College. There was nothing much of note in our deliberations, I did notice, however, that the Board had changed its by-laws so that they no longer assume that the board of trustees would be composed exclusively of (male) elders. They said this was just their attempt to stay in step with the General Assembly and the assumption that the Report on Woman in the Ministry of the Church would pass. It seemed a bit premature to me, however, and also seemed (and again this is merely a personal opinion) to reflect an unhealthy tendency of the Permanent Committees to be working hand in glove with the Cooperative Ministry Committee (CMC) and their agenda. An agenda which is in turn being pushed on the floor of the Assembly by the National Partnership. To this untrained eye, that agenda looks like part of a unified long-range strategic plan.
2) Outgoing Moderator George Robertson preached in the evening. He began by telling us that he’d written the sermon and then was told by a friend that his points were good but didn’t spring from the texts he was going to use, so he had to look for other texts to preach from. His sermon focused on how God can use us with all of our disabilities, handicaps, sins, and failures and how the kingdom would not be the kingdom without people of every color and shape. Then there was a celebration of sacramental efficacy in lifting us out of depression and giving us assurance of our being accepted by Christ via a personal story. The first 20 minutes were mostly stories of the handicapped overcoming disability. This included Moses who had to overcome the handicap of a “heavy mouth.”
Also, his election really represented one NP moderator handing over the gavel to the next NP moderator. This will probably be the trend for the foreseeable future. Given that the NP also controlled the nominating process for the permanent committees this year, their control over the apparatus of the PCA is fairly impressive. If they don’t like you, you are going to have a hard time getting elected to much at the GA level.
4) The vote was 60/40 in Jun’s favor, and I’m guessing that will be the margin for conservative losses on most of the future votes at this assembly, we’ll see if I’m right. If I am, it probably means that the age of political bloc voting at the GA is here and its likely here to stay.
5) Now for some good news: I had some really good Goat Rogan Josh for dinner and met with some dear old friends.
Wednesday was frustrating in how little actually got done, a lot of which was due to the fact that the moderator clearly had little or no experience moderating a court of the church. While we may be tempted to view the moderator as an honorary position, the choice of moderator can actually make the difference between a smoothly run or frustrating assembly. Presbyters should take note of this and only choose men who can be reasonably expected to do a competent job.
In any event, here is a very quick review of the actions of the assembly on Wednesday:
We started with an “assembly wide seminar” on the role of women, led by the committee that produced the report on the role of women in the church. The lack of freedom for women to exercise their gifts in the church was presented as a crisis, and while those who spoke affirmed that they did not want women to become elders or have authority, some made it clear that they wanted deaconesses as an ordained office in the PCA. Kathy Keller, Tim Keller’s wife, made that statement directly. Mrs. Keller also passionately opined that “no one in the PCA” wants women to be ordained as elders, which reminded me of her husband’s statement to the GA many years ago during the equally contentious creation debate that no one in the one PCA wanted theistic evolution to be taught in the PCA. Oddly enough, shortly after that Redeemer NYC (Tim’s church) began hosting conferences for BioLogos, the most influential theistic evolution organization in the country and Pastor Keller told Christianity Today that it was the duty of pastors to spread the BioLogos narrative. All that to say, I’m going to take assurances as to what “no one in the PCA” wants with a very large grain of salt. The seminar made it clear that they were in favor of having women become “commissioned church workers” (i.e. full time paid ministerial staff) in the PCA and it seems clear that we’ll be seeing overtures calling for ordained deaconesses as soon as next year’s assembly. While the standard arguments against slippery slopes were deployed, the idea that we’ll have generations of female deacons and ministers but NEVER elders strikes me as highly unlikely.
But again, that’s just my opinion.
Next up, we had the Stated Clerk’s report, who pointed out that the PCA is still growing in terms of churches and members, and thus defying current trends.
The Overtures Committee then gave a partial report the highlight of which was a rule change which sought to curb the power of the CMC (Cooperative Ministry Committee) a permanent committee mostly composed of ex-moderators that had effectively reversed the normal means by which changes come to the PCA. In the past, changes in the PCA happened via overtures sent by Presbyteries to the GA, but the CMC – an arm of the administration – had begun sending changes to the GA themselves. For instance, the CMC was the source of the overture that created the women in ministry study committee above. The New England overture had sought to return that power to the presbyteries. The Overtures committee was not willing to go that far, but did suggest a revised overture which would hobble the power of the CMC to effect change a bit. Amazingly, the revised overture passed.
We then had fraternal greetings where representatives from other churches sought to outdo each other by telling the funniest jokes. The winner was the Free Church representative who said, “As Henry the Eighth said to his wife, I’ll only keep you for a while.” The runner-up was Pastor Chad Van Dixhorn of the OPC who I’m told introduced himself as a “Non-Commissioned Church Worker”
Following this we had the report of the Ad Interim Committee on the Role of women. NP leaders scurried to and fro, social media hummed, and suddenly the room was packed again. The recommendations from the committee were then discussed and voted on. The entire process was held up by endless inquiries, attempted substitutes, substitutes for the substitutes, and points of order which sucked the oxygen out of the room and left very little time for actual debate. The process dragged and wasn’t helped by the fact that the moderator, while witty, clearly has little or no experience moderating a meeting of the church and relied heavily on the stated clerk, parliamentarians, and members of the assembly to tell him what to do. It was hard to tell where we were at any given point and most presbyters were very willing to vote to call the question on the various recommendations without much real debate on the substance of the recommendations having taken place. Here’s the condensed summary that doesn’t convey any of the actual frustration.
Recommendation 1, an attempt to declare that appointing the committee was an error and dismiss them with our thanks, failed. A suggested amendment proposed by Dr. Joey Pipa to simply send the report without comment to the Presbyteries for study also failed.
Recommendation 2, which essentially said we’ve always held differing views on what women should be doing in the church, and that we should respect our diversity of opinions passed 880 to 339
Recommendation 3, which essentially said that sessions, presbyteries, and the GA should be using qualified women in all sorts of roles, and sending overtures that would allow women to serve on committees and agencies (previously only open to elders and in some cases deacons) also passed by an even higher margin.
We were on Recommendation 4 (whose language had been improved by an amendment from David Coffin) when Mike Khandjian pointed out that worship and family time was around the corner and the we should recess. This passed overwhelmingly.
I guessed that all the other recommendations would pass without too much trouble, and that turned out to be right. Conservatives just didn’t have the numbers to stop it, a situation that is exacerbated by the sad level of Ruling Elder participation (A little over 200 were present from a denomination of over 350,000 members).
I didn’t have the heart to attend worship again that night, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for a sermon summary.
The only (mildly) conservative recommendation in the report was Recommendation 4 which dealt with the practice of some progressive PCA churches who are not happy that the PCA does not yet ordain women to the office of deacon. These churches deliberately choose not to ordain any deacons because it would be unfair to ordain men without women, and instead either commission all of their deacons or don’t have deacons at all. The report had mildly rebuked the practice and recommended they stop. Accordingly an NP aligned elder stood up and recommended the recommendation be gutted and simply state: “That sessions, if possible, establish a diaconate of qualified ordained men.” A more toothless statement is difficult to conceive of and I’m glad there was no National Partnership at the Council of Nicea. One can only imagine what the Nicene Creed would have looked like if there were.
All attempts by conservatives to modify the other recommendations, even slightly, failed. But here they are:
The Assembly also voted to adopt Recommendation 5: “That sessions consider how to include non-ordained men and women in the worship of the church so as to maintain faithfulness to Scripture, as well as utilizing the gifts God has poured out to His entire church (see exegesis of 1 Corinthians 14:26 in Chapter Two).”
I attempted to amend this statement so that it would read, “That sessions, provided their consciences allow it, consider how to include…” etc. I explained that this would provide some relief for sessions who are already convinced by scripture that women and unordained men should not be taking an active role in leading the worship of the church. Unfortunately, the majority deemed that no one should have any conscience problems when it comes to this issue, and given that any suggestion from yours truly comes to the floor with 200+ votes against it already, my amendment was soundly defeated. As a result I find myself unable to comply with the directions of the assembly regarding Recommendation 5, something I take very seriously.
The assembly then slightly modified Recommendation 6, to include the words “and men.” The final version adopted by the assembly read: “that sessions and presbyteries select and appoint godly women and men of the congregation to assist the ordained diaconate.”
Then came one of the most contentious of the recommendations, namely Recommendation 7, that the PCA begin the process of creating an office that everyone agrees is not to be found anywhere in scripture, namely that of “commissioned church worker.” The moment we do so, we will no longer be able to say that our polity is derived solely from the polity found in scripture. The refusal of Presbyterians to create or submit to offices invented by the church but not found in scripture is one of our biggest differences with Episcopalians, and to reverse our stance on this issue is a much bigger deal than we are willing to admit. Despite all of that, we voted to accept the recommendation.
The last Recommendation, #8, proved to be the least contentious, and I’ll simply list it without comment at this point: “That sessions, presbyteries and the General Assembly consider how they can affirm and include underprivileged and underrepresented women in the PCA.”
We then had our Review of Presbytery Records, and the only really contentious issue was a minority report brought by brothers who believed that presbytery needed to be admonished over the use of a supposed image of Christ by the presbytery during worship. Such a use is a clear violation of our Confessional Standards – specifically WLC 109. The really odd thing is that even though not creating pictures of Jesus is our Confessional Position, the minority report had to argue this from the position of the weaker brethren (even though they know that in reality they are stronger) by asking the supposedly stronger brothers who don’t mind the use of pictures of Christ to provide their supposedly weaker consciences with some relief. So in essence they had to plead as though they were teetotalers asking that beer not be served at the church picnic. Several brethren argued that there was nothing wrong with pictures of Jesus and at least one made the kind of theological argument that the reformed theologians and confessions have been refuting for centuries. The minority report was eventually adopted, but only by a very close margin.
What this served to highlight is that in many cases the position taken in our Standards has become the exception rather than the rule, and that the brothers who agree with the Standards are clearly considered “weaker” or possibly even cranks. This tends to confirm the adage that when error is tolerated, it tends to drive out truth.
We finally arrived at Overtures, and clearly the wind had gone out of most of the presbyters. Overture #2, which would have granted Book of Church Order chapter 59 constitutional authority, was obviously going to be the most contentious issue in the report until TE David Coffin proposed that we recommit it to Overtures, thus putting off consideration until next year. I was disappointed by this decision to punt on one of the most important issues facing the church at present. In 2015 the Supreme Court of the USA created a civil right out of thin air and made something the bible calls an abomination the law of the land. It is now 2017 and the PCA has yet to address the subject in any way. Our silence at this point is becoming deafening. One might almost suspect that we’d rather not confront the civil magistrate or the culture over this issue and hope that if we don’t talk about it people will simply assume that our positions on homosexual marriage mirror those held by the PCUSA.
Finally, in a rather ominous move, the assembly approved an overture that would make it harder to leave the denomination by raising the required quorum at a congregational meeting held to discuss leaving to 50% of the congregation. While this seems reasonable, gathering 50% of the total membership of any church for a congregational meeting is difficult indeed. The vast majority of our own congregational meetings have not come anywhere near that percentage. It also led some to ask why this was felt to be a necessary change to the BCO at this point. Is the PCA expecting an exodus of churches in the near future and what changes coming down the pike are they expecting might precipitate that exodus?
In any event, that concludes my review of the major stuff that happened at the assembly.
My Final Summary and Thoughts
Here are my thoughts about the General Assembly itself.
1) The assembly showed a clear turn towards social justice issues and the social gospel generally. The evidence for this was overwhelming and included:
a) The theme of the Assembly, “Come to the Table” which even the host committee had an obvious double meaning referring to both communion and the inclusion of people who previously didn’t have a “seat at the table” b) The election of a Korean-American moderator who lectures on social justice at the University level c) The fact that everyone asked to pray at the assembly was a minority d) The women’s report and calls for deaconesses and female church workers e) The racial reconciliation report f) The “Welcoming the Refugees” theme of our next PCA Global Missions Conference. and so on…
2) Once again the NP agenda passed overwhelmingly, and they demonstrated that when the votes mattered to them they could pack the assembly with commissioners very quickly. They are also clearly moving through a well defined multi-year strategic agenda for fundamentally changing the PCA, which is a point many of my Conservative brethren fail to grasp. The Women in Ministry report, for instance, was important not because of what it said, but because it was the necessary precursor to a host of overtures moving women into voting positions on the Permanent Committees, into the diaconate, and into the role of “Commissioned Church Worker.” This combined with the push to include women in worship and all kinds of ministry cannot fail to produce the kind of long term egalitarian change that progressives dearly love.
So having a few conservative nominees win positions on permanent committees and declaring that to be genuine progress is rather like chipping a few pieces off a glacier and thinking you’ve stopped it for good. Calling this a victory for conservatives would be even more misleading. It would be rather like describing the Battle of the Little Big Horn this way, “Good news! While General Custer’s northern attack ran into some trouble, the southern attack made a cunning feint towards the Sioux village, followed by a masterful tactical withdrawal. Subsequently Major Reno and his command heroically held off an attack of numerically superior Sioux Indians for a day and a night while inflicting several casualties on the enemy forces!”
By making this chapter, which is already part of the PCA’s Book of Church Order (BCO) constitutional, the PCA could have corporately proclaimed its continuing belief that marriage is only to be between one man and one woman, and that we will have nothing to do with movements that might try to weaken or mute that commitment. There is of course still the possibility that the Overtures Committee (OC) might simply fix the language in the final “therefore” of that overture that CCB found to be in conflict, making it obvious that Calvary Presbytery was asking the 45th GA to begin the process of changing the BCO so that chapter would have constitutional authority. This could be done by simply revising the “Temporary Statement” on at the beginning of the Directory For the Worship of God so that it stated, “BCO 56, 57, 58, and 59 have been given full constitutional authority by the Eleventh and Forty Fifth General Assemblies after being submitted to the Presbyteries and receiving the necessary two-thirds (2/3) approval of the Presbyteries.”
I hope that OC will try do so, because I strongly believe that if we don’t do this, theological conservatives will someday have cause to regret this missed opportunity. Let me attempt to explain why.
When the first attempt to give BCO 59 full constitutional status was made in 2011, many PCA presbyters told me that they were opposed to the overture simply because it was unnecessary. More than one presbyter made a statement along the lines of, “America will never legalize same sex marriage, so being asked to legally marry men to men or women to women will never be something we have to face.”
Those prophecies were obviously proven disastrously wrong when, on June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision that same-sex marriage is protected under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and thus made homosexual marriage the law of the land in all 50 states and a legally protected civil right.
Thus with one fateful Supreme Court decision, homosexual marriage became the law of nation, and never in US history has a civil right, once granted by the Supreme Court, been rescinded. To see how long lasting even the most dubious of newly created civil rights can be, we only have to look to the 1973 SCOTUS Roe vs. Wade decision that created the now 44 year old right to obtain a legal abortion out of thin air. In a similar manner it is very unlikely that we will see homosexual marriage made illegal again in our lifetimes. Perhaps even worse, a recent poll by the highly respected Pew organization indicated that popular support for homosexual marriage continues to grow with 55% of Americans now saying they support gay marriage and even more disturbingly, the level of support rises to 71% among the millennials who represent the future of this nation. Additionally, those who still oppose gay marriage are already being openly called “bigots” by mainstream America and we have seen ordinary Americans who work in both the private and public sectors lose their employment and even their businesses and savings because of a refusal to participate in homosexual marriages or call them good. Even churches and ministers are no longer exempt from cultural and legal pressure as states like Massachusetts are quickly moving to force churches to accept the gay agenda or face legal action.
Therefore, as a denomination, we need to come to terms with at least four facts:
1) Same-Sex marriage will likely be legal in the USA for decades, if not generations to come.
2) Opposition to homosexual marriage is likely to become as odious to the American public as opposition to mixed race marriages, and not substantially different in their minds. In fact, we already see this happening.
3) The legal challenges to our right to refuse to conduct, approve of, recognize or host homosexual marriages are likely to increase exponentially over the coming years.
4) Those churches that refuse to conduct homosexual marriages will almost certainly eventually lose their right to conduct marriages as agents of the state. In other words while we will still be able to pronounce people man and wife, “By virtue of the authority committed unto me by the church of Christ” we will no longer be able to add, “and the law of the state.”
All of these factors will inevitably create considerable agitation within our denomination to take a more Laodicean approach and end our opposition to homosexual marriage. Those who doubt this need only look at what has happened in the mainline denominations and in formerly evangelical denominations, including our closest denominational analogue, the CRC. We also need to take seriously the fact that several denominations and congregations (including ex-PCA congregations) that use the Westminster Standards have already accepted homosexual marriage. Within our own denomination, the Westminster Confession is treated as more general and considerably more open to “interpretation,” while the BCO is often treated as more binding especially when it comes to do day to day church operations. If we hope to stand on this issue for the decades to come, then common sense should tell us that BCO needs a constitutionally binding statement on the matter.
Therefore, as a denomination, if the PCA intends to continue to teach, proclaim, and practice what God teaches about marriage in the bible rather than abandoning our commitment to scripture, then we need to understand that a “business as usual” approach will not carry us through the coming storm. At the very least, while there is still time, we need to do the following:
i) Prepare for the legal battles to come by making sure our constitution is absolutely clear and uniform on this issue.
ii) Prepare the members of our denomination by honestly explaining why we must take a Contra Mundum stand when it comes to issues of sexuality and marriage, and what that stand is likely to cost us. If we do not, we must expect that our congregants will inevitably simply conform to current cultural norms.
iii) End our denominational silence on this issue and begin prophetically proclaiming to the culture the biblical truth about sex and marriage. We must publicly condemn sin, warn of the coming judgment, exalt virtue, and point to the way of salvation in Jesus Christ.
As such, Overture 2 was always more of a beginning than an end of the work that lies ahead of us, but if we are unwilling even to make a start of that work then what hope does the PCA have of standing in the evil day?
The other day after watching the news, my nine year old daughter asked me what “pre-operative transgender children” were. I seriously doubt that the conversation that resulted would have been necessary twenty years ago, but how many of us, 20 years ago, would have believed that people who were against biological males being allowed in ladies bathrooms and locker rooms would be called bigots, that homosexual marriage would be legal nationwide, or that one of America’s premier constitutional lawyers would be fighting for the legalization of polygamy in the Federal courts, or that all of these things would be discussed as though they were perfectly normal in the news?
Today’s Christians are living in the midst of what I can only describe as sexual anarchy, or perhaps a time of ever deepening perversion might be a better description. But regardless of what we call it, our children are being routinely exposed to more and more sexual material at a younger and younger age. As a family, we had to massively accelerate the pace at which we informed our own children about things like abortion and homosexuality simply because with the increasing degeneration of our culture they were already encountering these issues in print, on the news, on the radio, on bumper stickers, bill-boards, and via discussions with peers and relatives and we wanted them to have a bible-based apologetic grid in place through which to filter what they were seeing and hearing. Many of our children’s friends have encountered or are struggling with the consequences of sexual sins such as adultery, fornication, and pornography in their families and I’ve counseled more than one family in our own congregation whose sons were struggling with pornography at ages that would have been unheard of in the past. [In 2005 the average age at which a child would first be exposed to pornography was 11 but now, largely due to the proliferation of internet accessible devices, it may have dropped as low as 6. ] Continue reading →
Over the past 15 years as a pastor, I have counseled a lot of people who have told me they wanted to divorce their spouse for reasons other than adultery or desertion. The most common reason given is that they have fallen out of love with them and now have irreconcilable differences. Often they will say that they want a divorce for the sake of the children, as they believe that their constant arguing is causing them mental and spiritual harm. It is at this point that I usually give a version of my, “Whatever you think you’re going to achieve by getting a divorce, you won’t achieve it” speech tailored to the person whom I talking to. Here is a generic version of this speech, given to someone who has told me they want a divorce because of irreconcilable differences*:
1) God will not be pleased with your decision nor bless this action: Unless you’re the innocent party and your spouse has committed adultery (Matt. 19:9) or deserted you (1 Cor. 7:15), you are not getting a biblical divorce, and God HATES divorce (Mal. 2:16). If you remarry after an unbiblical divorce, Jesus Christ says you are an adulterer. (Matt. 19:9) It is a tearing apart of “one flesh” which inevitably produces a wound that seldom, if ever, heals (Matt. 19:4-6).
2) Far from being “for the sake of the kids” your children will be better off if you don’t divorce: Other than the death of one or both parents, NOTHING is more traumatic or damaging to children than the divorce of their parents. Its usually the root of a host of spiritual problems of their own, makes it more likely that their own marriages will end in divorce, makes them choose between their parents, and introduces them to a life of shuttling between two families without really ever being wholly part of either. I’ve never encountered a child of divorce who didn’t bring trust issues into their own marriage.
3) It doesn’t even achieve the “separation” you think you desire: In a divorce in which children are involved, the two parties go from being joined “for better or for worse” in a matrimonial union that will fluctuate wildly into being legally joined in a relationship in which – having punched out a point when you disliked each other intensely – you will be constantly forced to deal with a person you didn’t like on legally hostile terms. Your new “life apart together” will involve lawyers, payment plans, hostile holidays, regret, guilt, resentment and anger.
4) You aren’t going to find the “perfect” alternative spouse out there: All humans are sinners (Romans 3:10, Romans 3:23), so you might find someone who does some things better than your old spouse, but inevitably they will do some other things worse, and having abandoned one marriage, you will be even more ready to abandon a second.
5) Dating after 30 with kids of your own usually SUCKS (I apologize, but there simply isn’t a good alternative word that conveys how bad it is): Face the facts, all of the undamaged, moral, upstanding, trustworthy, responsible, good looking, well adjusted people without baggage are all married by now. The people you will be dating are going to be either divorced themselves, or trailing a bunch of bad relationships of their own. And guys, you simply aren’t the catch you think you are, and other people either know it, or will realize it. Also remember that you’re married to someone who has been trained to put up with your garbage – other people aren’t and won’t.
6) Trying to fix your marriage is always the better option, it costs less in every sense, and works most of the time. Think of it as two countries opting to negotiate instead of entering into a nuclear exchange.
Even the most cursory examination of the statistics concerning divorce in America reveals figures that are nothing short of staggering. In the 60 years between 1920 and 1980 the divorce rate more than tripled. The United States now has one of the highest divorce rates in the world and at least half of all U.S. marriages will end in divorce (53% as of 2011). About half of those divorces will involve children, for a total over one million children experiencing the divorce or separation of their parents yearly.1
What these figures should tell us is that America has become what one author has called a “Divorce Culture,” and as such we can expect divorce to continue to impact every part of our society, including the church. In light of this situation it is imperative that Reformed churches have a coherent policy regarding divorce that accurately reflects the teaching of Scripture. Today most states have passed legislation that allows for what is called a “no fault divorce.” As the name implies, this is a divorce in which neither party is judged to be at fault and the reasons are usually ones of emotional incompatibility, or “irreconcilable differences.” In this kind of divorce neither party must prove that the other has broken the marriage covenant by some act of sin, only that they no longer wish to be married to the other person. Is this a valid divorce by biblical standards? The purpose of this essay is to answer this kind of question by briefly examining the scriptural evidence and the historic Reformed consensus on this issue in an attempt to frame a “doctrine of divorce”.Continue reading →
The Relationship between
the Second Commandment and Images of Christ
The Following is a Brief listing of just some of the Reformed Evangelical witnesses that directly address the creation and use of pictures of Jesus, either in worship, decoration, art, or mental imagery. They are arranged in chronological order from the Reformation to the present day.
Table of Contents (1561) The Second Helvetic Confession – Chapter IV (1648) The Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 109 (1674) Thomas Vincent, A Family Instructional Guide (1679) John Owen, The Glory of Christ (1692) Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments (1700) Wilhelmus A’Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service (1753) Ebenezer Erskine and James Fisher, The Assembly’s Shorter Catechism Explained, By Way of Question and Answer (1949) J.G. Vos (son of Geerhardus Vos) Commentary on the Westminster Larger Catechism (1961) Prof. John Murray, Pictures of Christ (1970) G.I. Williamson, The Shorter Catechism For Study Classes (1973 & 1993) J.I. Packer, Knowing God, Chapter 4 (2004) Andrew Webb, Final Thoughts Continue reading →
I was listening to a show on Christian radio yesterday and the host mentioned that what American Christians need and want is deep, compelling, convicting, expository, and doctrinal preaching. She’s not the first person I’ve heard on the radio who has made a statement along those lines, and of course the callers all agree with those sentiments.
I, however, am not so sure. I certainly agree that American Christians NEED that kind of preaching, but I’m far less convinced that they WANT that kind of preaching.
For instance, in our city (and I strongly suspect this holds true for the majority of American cities) the churches that are most popular with Christians are the ones where the sermons are light, entertaining, topical, amusing, anecdotal, doctrine-free, and generally about 15 to 25 minutes long. There are a few exceptions, but the rule still applies. Light and fluffy is what draws crowds.
So why is there a big difference between what Christians SAY they want to hear, and what they actually choose to listen to on Sunday?
I think part of the answer might lie in what one ad man I heard called the “Wonder Bread Rule.” He described how when mothers were surveyed in the 1980s about the kind of bread they wanted their family to eat, most said they wanted them to eat natural, whole grain, nourishing wheat breads, with thick chewy crusts. However, when those same moms were surveyed as to their actual buying habits it was found that the majority of them actually bought “Wonder Bread” style breads – soft, bleached white breads, with little or no actual nutritional value. When asked about the difference, most explained that Wonder Bread was what their family preferred to eat and that they didn’t want to have to deal with the hassle and complaints associated with getting them to eat the things that would actually be good for them.
Most Christians probably know what kind of “whole wheat” preaching they need, but they are deathly afraid of the family being bored or irritated or overtaxed by it, and instead choose the Wonder Bread path of least resistance. It may have little or no nutritional value, but its attractive, easy to consume and produces the least complaints.
“You are what you eat” as the old saying goes, and if what the American church is consuming is usually the sermonic version of junk food, should we be surprised it’s so unhealthy?
Unfortunately, the twentieth century saw the creation in the United States of precisely the system of public education that Hodge warned against, a system that was self-consciously devoid of Christian religious instruction, and eventually the architects of this new system even succeeded in actually banning the most basic of Christian devotions, namely morning prayers, from the school grounds. This represented a profound change in the way that American children were educated. Prior to the twentieth century, the Bible and the orthodox Christian theology that it contained, had not merely been subjects to be studied as part of a larger curriculum, but the central unifying factor that shaped the curriculum and made it coherent. As they studied all of their subjects children were constantly exposed to the teaching of the bible from the earliest age – for instance the children who learned their alphabet from the New England Primer of the eighteenth century learned their letters by reciting sentences such as,
In ADAM’S Fall We sinned all.
Heaven to find; The Bible Mind.
Christ crucify’d For sinners dy’d.
Children thus educated, whether or not they consciously realized it, were growing up with a Reformed Christian worldview. And the worldview that those children imbibed in school shaped the America that those children eventually helped to build, making it one of the most free and productive nations in the history of the world. It is not an overstatement to say that it was precisely because parents with a self-consciously Christian faith and world and life view wished to pass on the values that had shaped and molded them that American education was such a success, producing a population that was far more literate and omnicompetent than their European counterparts.
However, by the end of the twentieth century, other worldviews, and in particular that of Marxist Socialism, were vying for a place in the American educational system, and men like John Dewey (who is widely held to be “the father of modern education”) who had embraced the European Progressive Socialist worldview, were determined to make sure that even as public education was becoming universal and state supported that the Christian worldview was eradicated from it and that public education was restructured along self-consciously Socialist lines. These modern materialistic educational methods would no longer produce thinkers who had been shaped in the crucible of the biblical worldview, but an endless stream of worker drones for the modern Socialist utopian state that Dewey and his cohorts dreamed of building. The political leaders and bureaucrats who would direct this state did not want polymaths who were able to think deeply and who were not afraid to dissent, they wanted workers trained to produce products and taxable income who would uncritically accept the “facts” they were taught in school and who would therefore also follow the herd, live an unexamined life, and be content with the bread and circuses style of fare dispensed by the state. Dewey himself wrote regarding this objective, “You can’t make socialists out of individualists. Children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society, which is coming, where everyone is interdependent.”
Perhaps the saddest part of these educational changes has been the way that Christian parents have for decades uncritically accepted the idea that the education of their children should be conducted in a system entirely denuded of the Christian worldview. They have sent out their children to receive precisely the kind of training (I would argue that training or indoctrination more accurately describe what goes on in public schools than education) and then have wondered why they received back children who gobble up and then recite the propaganda they are supposed to and have an unimaginative and flatly materialistic worldview. It is no surprise therefore that in the twenty first century, fully 100 years after the initial implementation of Socialist educational objectives, that we have a system of education more likely to produce Kardashians than Tolkiens.
Unfortunately, American Christians either did not realize or have forgotten that it is impossible to eliminate the Christian religion from education without also inevitably eliminating the Christian religion from our children’s worldview and creating within them a worldview that is actually opposed to Christianity. As Charles Hodge pointed out in his systematic theology:
Therefore if we are ever to have any hope of building a new generation of Christian children who have a Christian worldview and who can preserve the Christian worldview in the midst of a culture that is becoming increasingly opposed to it, then we must recover what Dorothy Sayers has rightly called, “The Lost Tools of Learning.” We must return to the older Bibliocentric methods of teaching, and a system that teaches children to think for themselves within the context of a robustly Christian worldview. My hope therefore is that America’s Christians will heed the educational advice of Charles Hodge and seek to educate their children utilizing explicitly Christian schools and homeschooling before it is too late and we find ourselves guilty of the very self-destruction that he warned us about.
One of the great purposes of constitutions in Republics and Democracies is to protect the rights of minorities. The U.S. Constitution has done an admirable job of doing that. For over 200 years, in a world filled with ethnic cleansing, genocide, secret police, gulags, torture, book burning, and summary executions the U.S. has remained as a sanctuary for those who would otherwise be persecuted and suffer for their differences from ethnic, religious, and political majorities.
A great example of that freedom in action is seen in the history of the Amish and the Mennonites, who because of their religious beliefs and practices, were ruthlessly persecuted in Europe and hunted down and martyred wherever they were, and yet here in the USA they found an abiding refuge. Although they maintained a strict separation from the world, did not pay taxes, did not vote or hold office, did not fight in defense of the nation, did not participate in the school system and did not change with the times, they were not persecuted or expunged. Their way of life was protected by the first amendment which protected them by not, “impeding [their] free exercise of religion.”
While Christianity remains the majority religion in the USA at around 70%, Bible-believing and practicing Christians [or what many would call fundamentalist Christians] are now a political and demographic minority in the USA, and surveys and polls tell us they are shrinking minority. Their beliefs and practices are regarded with increasing abhorrence by those outside of their circles, and they are coming to be regarded as every bit as socially undesirable as the Amish were in Europe.
The question is, will the same constitutional protections that were afforded to the Amish (and other non-majority religions, such as the Hassidim, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.) be afforded to them, or will those Constitutional protections be regarded as antiquated and perhaps “dangerous” by the majority? Will the US simply become another place where religious minorities are persecuted, expunged or expelled? Certainly recent cases, like that of the Kleins, do not bode well for the future, but I’d like to hope that the US, having looked into that abyss, will turn back from it before it is too late.
I read a lot of messages encouraging people to leave Facebook (and other social networks) these days and in partial answer to those calls, I wanted to outline 7 Reasons I believe Christians should STAY on Facebook. I hope this may also encourage you to see ways in which Facebook can be used for Kingdom purposes (and not just Candy Crush Saga) :
1) FELLOWSHIP: Christian fellowship is usually limited to specific settings and relatively small gatherings, and the ability of Christians to meet and fellowship with other Christians outside of their area can usually only occur during conferences and mission trips. But Facebook creates a setting in which fellowship can occur at any time amongst Christians from around the world. It also affords an opportunity to keep in touch with brothers and sisters in Christ who have moved away that would only otherwise occur very intermittently. While it can’t replace the actual assembling together of the saints that occurs in corporate worship (Heb. 10:25), and should never be thought of as a replacement for bible studies or prayer meetings, when rightly used Facebook can provide a healthy supplement to that fellowship and is especially important to believers who are separated from their brothers and sisters in Christ by great distances.
2) ENCOURAGEMENT: The media, and that includes Christian media, tends to focus on negative stories, but Facebook provides a setting where Christians can encourage one another with good reports, lift up the disheartened and do what they can “to stir up love and good works” in their fellow believers (Heb. 10:24). There have been many occasions when I have received words that have encouraged me to press on in difficult times or which have lifted my spirits in a time of sorrow or trial. As Proverbs 10:23 puts it, “a word spoken in due season, how good it is!”
3) REJOICING AND GRIEVING: Paul counseled the Roman Christians to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) There are so many occasions for rejoicing and grieving with fellow Christians that might be lost if you did not hear about them via Facebook. One of my great joys is being able to hear good news from friends who are far away and be able to share in their joy, or to be able to sympathize with them when they are afflicted.
4) PRAYER: James encourages the saints to “pray for one another” (James 5:16) Facebook provides a wonderful platform for both speedily sending and receiving prayer requests, especially for urgent requests. It also provides us an opportunity to pray with and for saints from other countries and congregations whom we would never know apart from Facebook. It’s been my privilege to see many of these Facebook prayer requests wonderfully blessed by the Lord over the years.
5) ACCOUNTABILITY: Facebook is often a place where people publicly share things they probably wouldn’t share in a church setting. I know of many instances in which pastors and elders have learned of serious problems in their congregation via the medium of Facebook that might otherwise never have come to their attention, and have been enabled to deal with them pastorally because of this medium. I know of at least one marriage that was saved, and one suicide attempt that was averted in this way.
6) EDIFICATION: We are often grieved when social media becomes the setting for angry or obscene exchanges, but for Christians there are wonderful opportunities to share articles, scripture, anecdotes, stories, and videos that are intended to teach, strengthen, and build up the people who read, watch, or listen to them. When wisely used, Facebook can massively extend the reach of what would otherwise be a small and very local fellowship. When using Facebook we would all do well to heed Paul’s exhortation to, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” (Eph. 4:29)
7) EVANGELISM: In the parable of the wedding feast the King (God) tells his servants, “’The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’” (Matthew 22:8-9) While it is increasingly uncommon to see people speaking or gathering on the streets, social networks have become the highways and gathering places of our age, and good places for evangelism. If we were to spend a day knocking on doors or speaking to people about the gospel we might reach a score of people at best, but one gospel-centered post on a social network can easily reach hundreds if not thousands of people. Never before in history has it been possible to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:18) from your own house or office, and it strikes me as wrongheaded to be turning away from such a wonderful opportunity just when it has been given to us.
Chariots of Fire is undoubtedly one of my favorite movies. It tells the story of two runners who competed in the 1924 Paris Olympics. One of those runners was a man by the name of Eric Liddell, a man dubbed the “Flying Scotsman” because of his nationality and astounding speed. But in addition to being a superlative runner and all around athlete, Eric Liddell was a man of deep Christian convictions. The son of missionaries, born in China, Eric’s vision was always to return to the mission field to do the essential work of spreading the gospel. But Eric also felt that God had given him a great gift in his athletic abilities and he was determined to put these gifts to good use. To that end he trained hard for the Olympics in the event in which he had already set a record in Britain – the 100-meter dash. But when he arrived in Paris, he found to his dismay that the race he had been preparing to compete in, the 100-meter dash had been set for Sunday, the Christian Sabbath. Eric quietly but firmly informed his country and his teammates that he would not run on Sunday and thus break the Sabbath.
His stand brought outrage throughout Britain. His countrymen widely believed that by refusing to run he was betraying his country and eliminating their best chance to win the Gold medal in this event. Eric tenaciously weathered the condemnation of both the press and his countrymen, and stuck to his guns. Even when the Prince of Wales, his earthly sovereign, appealed to him to run for king and country he pointed out that if serving king and country meant disobeying God, he could not do so. The Sunday of the race, in keeping with his convictions Eric was not on the track, he was in Church and not surprisingly it was the Americans and not the British who took the medal in the 100-meter dash.
A few days later, Eric competed in the 400-meter dash, a race he had not prepared for, and which was 4 times the distance of his best event. Just prior to the race, an America runner by the name of Charlie Paddock handed Eric a scrap of paper. On it he had written a paraphrase of 1 Sam. 2:30, it read “The Good Book says ‘He who honors me, I will honor’.” Clutching that piece of paper, Eric Liddell went on to win the 400 meter dash, and set a new world record in the process.
So, was Eric Liddell what Christians today would call a legalist? Someone similar in convictions to the Pharisees who persecuted Christ and misused the law of God? In order to find the answer to that question, let’s take a close look at the first 8 verses of Matthew chapter 12.
1At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” 3He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread–which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? 6I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. 7If you had known what these words mean, `I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
In the first verse of Chapter 12 we see Christ and his disciples passing through the grain fields. The Season was probably the late spring just prior to the harvest when the grain was ripe. The disciples were hungry, and because they had no food as they passed through the long rows of grain they broke off a few heads and after rubbing the grain from the husk, they ate it. In doing so, they were not stealing from the owner of the field. Deuteronomy 23:25 had made provision for the poor saying “If you enter your neighbor’s grain field, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to his standing grain.” Any of you who have ever seen a grain field will know that allowing the poor to break off a few heads of grain is not going to lead to any monetary loss. The disciples were poor and hungry, and although Christ could have used his miraculous powers to provide food for his disciples he did not do so. As Spurgeon points out, Christ was not going to bribe anyone to become his disciple, to serve Christ was not then, nor has it ever been an easy thing.
But it was not the fact that the disciples were taking from the standing grain that offended the Pharisees, it was the day on which they were doing it. The Pharisees considered what the disciples were doing to be unlawful on the Sabbath. This was because the Pharisees had developed a precise code of regulations that set out no less than 39 different kinds of “work” that they felt constituted a violation of the Sabbath. These restrictions were so detailed that they governed exactly how much a man might put in his pocket before he broke the Sabbath by carrying a burden. The intent of the Pharisaic restrictions was to create a “hedge” around the Sabbath so that men would be dissuaded from breaking it. These restrictions made the disciples picking of grain “reaping”, and the rubbing of the grain from the husk “threshing”. Thus in their eyes the disciples were breaking the Sabbath by working.
But the rank hypocrisy of the Pharisees should be readily apparent. How were these super-pious servants of God observing the Sabbath? By keeping a watch over Christ and His Apostles to see if they might find something to accuse Him with! And once they had observed a violation of their rules, they wasted no time in laying the crimes of the disciples at the feet of their teacher. How then does Christ answer the accusations of the Pharisees? Does Jesus tell the Pharisees that the observance of the Sabbath day has been done away with, and thus His disciples are no longer constrained to abide by it? No. Christ does not do that here or anywhere else in the gospels. Instead our Lord proves from the Scriptures that his disciples were not violating the Sabbath by their actions, but only the false restrictions of the Pharisees regarding it.
With their accretions and additions the Pharisees had taken a day that was intended to be a blessing to men and had made it into a burden. The Disciples had picked grain because they were hungry and had nothing to eat, and Jesus immediately draws a parallel between their actions and those of David when he and his men were in similar straits. He asks the Pharisees in Matthew 12:3 if they have read what David and his men did when they too were hungry. They entered into the Temple and ate the shew bread which was not normally lawful for them to do as only the Priests could eat this bread after a new set of loaves had been set out. What Christ is emphasizing with this example is that God never intended His law to be used as excuse for not doing deeds of necessity or mercy. Had David and his men eaten the consecrated bread out of bravado, or levity, or simply to thumb their noses at God, that would have been a grave sin, but that was not their intention. David and his men had an urgent need, and the law of God was never intended to be construed as compelling men to starve. In the same way, the Sabbath should not be construed as requiring that the disciples go hungry and become faint in order to abide by the made-up rules of the Pharisees. The Pharisees did not stop to consider, and it is doubtful whether they cared, how well an extremely hungry man could concentrate on keeping the Sabbath “Holy Unto the Lord.”
But the observance of minutia and the neglect of that which is truly important has always been the emphasis of religious hypocrites. The Pharisees were constantly guilty of observing the tiniest portions of the law in great detail, while ignoring that which the Lord truly wanted. This was the point Christ was making when he quoted a verse from Malachi to them, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” No law or commandment of God is to be so twisted that it makes us neglect our clear duties of charity and necessity. We are never to interpret our duties to God expressed in the first table of the Ten Commandments in such a way that we end up breaking our duties to man expressed in the second table. The fourth commandment which tells us to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” is never to be interpreted in such a way that we are made unkind and unmerciful to our neighbors. The Pharisees and religious hypocrites were constantly guilty of perverting the law of God in this fashion, for instance, by declaring that their property was dedicated to God they found an excuse for not providing for their parents and by not wishing to expose themselves to the possibility of becoming ceremonially unclean by touching a dead man, the Levite and the Priest were able to pass by on the other side road and ignore their duty to the man who had been beaten and left for dead by robbers in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).
Now if the problems of the Pharisees were the problems of the Christian community today, then the rest of this essay would be markedly different. I would go on to emphasize the foolishness of placing man-made rules over our God-given duties, or of interpreting the law of God in such a way that by keeping the letter of the law we end up violating the spirit of it. But, by and large, our problems with the Sabbath are not those of the Pharisees, we have not forgotten that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Instead we are generally guilty of dismissing the importance of the Lord’s day altogether! Thousands of Christians have come to the conclusion that the fourth commandment has been abrogated – done away with entirely – when nothing that we read in the New Testament justifies that conclusion. Certainly Christ did not tear the fourth commandment out of the Decalogue and announce that we now only have nine commandments to abide by.
Jesus did not abolish the law of the weekly Sabbath; he purified it from man-made additions and sinful interpretations. Christ put the Sabbath where it belonged – subordinate to His Lordship.
There are some who try to eliminate the Sabbath by saying that it was specifically Jewish, and merely part of the Ceremonial law, consequently, they maintain that the Sabbath passed away when the ceremonial law was fulfilled by Christ. But the Sabbath is a CREATION ordinance; God instituted it long before the ceremonial laws came into existence. To quote John Murray: “The sequence for man of six days of labour and one day of rest is patterned after the sequence that God followed in the grand scheme of His creative work.” The fact that this scheme is part of the Moral law and not the Ceremonial law is further reinforced by the fact that it was included by God in the Ten Commandments. God is not the author of confusion, he did not include one Ceremonial law destined to pass away in the midst of a group of moral laws that never expire.
The Ceremonial and Judicial laws that passed away are those which have reached fruition. They were shadows that were fulfilled when the reality they pointed to – Jesus Christ – appeared, or when the state for whose governance they were intended – Israel – passed away. They were akin to the photographs of families and loved ones that we take with us when we are far away from them. We may contemplate or even lovingly hold these images, but when the reality of those loved ones is present we no longer retire to our rooms to contemplate the images. Calvin compared these ceremonial laws to candles – dim lights – while Christ is like the Sun. A man does not light a candle at midday.
The pattern of one day in six set apart to the Lord has not expired, however. The writer of Hebrews tells us “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” Please turn with me to (Hebrews 4:9-11.) Here and elsewhere Hebrews teaches us that the weekly Sabbath points to the final rest anticipated by God at Creation, and secured by the redemptive work of Christ. This final or eschatological rest-order will not be finally entered into by the people of God until Christ’s return.
We’ve seen in the example of the Pharisees, how the Sabbath can be abused under the pretense of sanctifying it. But how then should Christians keep the Lord’s Day holy? To begin with, we should note well that Christ proves that certain types of work are permissible on the Sabbath:
First, we have works of piety – those works that must be done in order for God to be worshipped.
Christ tells us in verse 5 of Matthew 12 that the priests who worked in the Temple on the Sabbath day were not breaking the Sabbath. In the same way those involved in the ministry are not guilty of violating the Sabbath even though they work on the Sabbath and receive payment for doing so.
Secondly, we have works of necessity – those works that cannot be delayed without harm to life or property, this would include things like rescuing a sheep from a pit, feeding livestock, putting out a fire, stopping a crime, or even defending a nation.
Thirdly, we have works of Mercy – these are acts of mercy or kindness to a person who is sick, distressed, hungry or in need. They would include ministering to someone who was injured, or feeding someone who was hungry, or even consoling those who mourn.
Christians are never to rest from doing GOOD. We should never use the fourth commandment as an excuse for neglecting our Christian duties and in this we are given the supreme example of Christ. God’s Sabbath rest began when creation was finished, but man’s sin and misery required that this Sabbath be interrupted in order to redeem man from this condition. Christ then performed that awesome work of redemption – which was the ultimate deed of necessity and mercy – during the Sabbath rest of God.
But given that the basic meaning of the word Sabbath is cessation it is clear that there are some things that Christians should cease from doing on the Sabbath. What then should we cease from doing on the Sabbath? Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession answers this question by summarizing the teaching of scripture on the subject:
VIII. This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.
On the Lord’s Day we cease from performing our work, but we do not merely cease from performing our work so that we might continue our favorite recreations unencumbered by employment. It means we rest from all the things that engross us during the other days of the week whether it is employment OR recreation. We do not set these enjoyments aside because they are not proper to the Christian life, we set them aside because the Sabbath is to be devoted to exclusively to the worship of God, the reading of God’s word, and for other works of piety, necessity, and mercy.
Please do not confuse works of necessity with works of convenience. It is a work of necessity for a Doctor to attend to a patient on Sunday, or for a fire fighter to put out a fire, or for a policeman to respond to an emergency call. It is not a work of necessity to work on Sunday because otherwise you won’t get a promotion, or receive a raise, or even if your job requires that you work on Sunday simply because all the other stores are open on Sunday. Unless the work itself is a necessity, then working on that day is not a deed of necessity. The vast majority of stores and business that stay open on Sunday are flagrantly violating the Sabbath, if Christians choose to work for them on the Lord’s day, then they join them in breaking the Sabbath, and for this there is simply no excuse.
Some people consider this to be an unfair imposition on their time, but consider well: God, your Creator, your Sustainer, and — if you have faith in Christ — your Merciful Redeemer gives you 144 hours each week to do with as you will. He only commands that 1/7th of your week be devoted exclusively to Him. What man can honestly say that 1/7th is too much to ask, especially when we are the ones who benefit so greatly from observing a Sabbath rest? It is not God who will grow in grace, truth, and peace and rest in mind and body on the Sabbath, but His worshipers! If, on the other hand, you truly consider playing sports or doing business to be of greater importance than honoring God, then consider what or who it is you really serve.
So let us now turn our attention once again to Eric Liddell, how shall we answer the question that was originally posed? Was Liddell just a legalist, some sort of modern-day Pharisee? The Bible’s answer is a resounding NO.
Even though it was the Olympics, the pinnacle of human athletic achievement, Eric Liddell understood that running that race was less important than running THE RACE (Hebrews 12:1, 1 Cor. 9:24). He understood that obeying the Lord of his nation must come second if it meant disobeying the Lord of all nations. Eric Liddell described the Christian life as, “complete surrender.” In fact, years later, as Eric Liddell lay dying in a Japanese concentration camp in China, those were his last words to his nurse, “It’s complete surrender.” Eric Liddell understood that complete surrender to Christ is total victory.
Does complete surrender describe your Christian walk? Have you surrendered your Sunday to the Lord of the Sabbath, or are you still holding on to it? If so, I beg you to let it go. You will find that in giving it up to him, you receive back a day made infinitely more precious, and of far greater value to you than it ever had when it was yours. And if you haven’t yet seen Chariots of Fire, it’s high time you did!
A question for Christian friends who are currently opposed to homosexual marriage:
If the cost of remaining opposed to homosexual marriage becomes losing your ability to work for the government* or company you work for, lose your tax exempt status, and lose your ability to adopt or foster children, will you change your views about homosexual marriage or accept the consequences?
* keep in mind that members of the military, firefighters, public school teachers, and policemen are also government employees
Dr. Al Mohler, the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written an article that all Christians who are religiously opposed to same sex marriage need to read. But before I discuss some of the issues Dr. Mohler raises, I need first to address anyone reading this who might be a supporter of same sex marriage; The issue here is no longer opposition to same sex marriage. That battle against the legal imposition of the Gay Agenda and nationwide Homosexual marriage is, without a miraculous intervention or a successful rebellion, irretrievably lost and most sensible Christians understand that. Regardless of how we feel about it, we accept that The Supreme Court of the United States of America (SCOTUS) will soon rule, by at least a 5-4 majority, to make homosexual marriage a civil right nationwide. What Christians are preparing for are the profound consequences of that ruling for our faith, life, and practice. We were initially told that allowing homosexual marriage would not affect us, that we weren’t being asked to be involved, and that we could go on believing as we always had. Now subsequent developments and even constitutional lawyers (on both sides of the issue) are saying that won’t be the case. Some of the effects will include:
1) Tax Exempt Status: Religious institutions such as schools, universities, seminaries, and even potentially churches that don’t recognize homosexual marriages or make accommodation for them in hiring, benefits, housing, etc. will likely lose their tax-exempt, non-profit status. This would bankrupt most of them.
2) Adoption and Fostering: All agencies that place children in families will be required to be willing to place children in homosexual marriages and Christian organizations that refuse to do so will have to close down. This is already the case in Europeand US states like Massachusetts. Also, it is highly likely that as is the case in the UK, families opposed to homosexuality will not be allowed to foster or adopt.
4) Employment – Private: Most private employers will be legally required to treat homosexual marriages in exactly the same way they treat heterosexual ones, this includes hiring, benefits, insurance, housing, etc. Additionally, employees who remain opposed to homosexual marriage will be subject to not being hired because of their views or being fired without much legal recourse at all. We are already seeing high profile cases of beliefs-based firings in the private sector such as the forced resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, and the lightning fast firing of Fox Sports commentator Craig James.
In other words, the legal message being sent is, “Sure, you Christians can hold on to your “bigoted” views of homosexual marriage, but you can’t also have your own schools, adopt children, or work.”
Given that situation, most Christians are going change their religious views at lightning speed, and denominations are going to be scrambling for theological excuses to change theirs about as quickly as the Mormons suddenly discovered that polygamy wasn’t an article of their faith in 1890 when the US government explained Utah couldn’t be a state and allow polygamy (ironically, the Mormons just needed to weather the storm and wait a century or so for America to catch up to them!) It’s no understatement to say that Christians who choose NOT to change their beliefs about homosexual marriage are going to find themselves quickly isolated and consigned to the same kind of cultural ghetto historically reserved for the most extreme kinds of racists. Many will also be appalled at how quickly the previously steadfast views of their Christian denominations and friends change in the wake of these legal challenges. As has already happened,many Christians who do change their views to conform to the new cultural norms will also end up attacking their former friends who refuse to change.
Given all of this, it is well past time that American Christians sat down and began seriously counting the cost of discipleship in the present age (Luke 14:28) we may well find out that it’s much more expensive than we were initially led to believe.
The faithful preacher lives a life filled with melancholy – one cannot read the writings of Jeremiah or Paul, or the biographies of men like Luther and Calvin and Edwards and not recognize that they were often struggling with Depression.
We should not think this is odd or sinful, even Jesus had his times of sorrow and depression, for instance in the garden on the eve of his crucifixion he confessed to his disciples:
Matthew 26:38 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”
Now while no merely human preacher will have to endure anything like the struggle that Christ did in the garden, all pastors are called to take up their cross and follow Christ and endure the same kinds of sufferings. The great evangelist Charles Haddon Spurgeon confessed to his ministerial students that he knew, “by most painful experience what deep depression of spirit means, being visited there-with at seasons by no means few or far between” and went on to explain to them why that must be the case:
“Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment. To see the hopeful turn aside, the godly grow cold, professors abusing their privileges, and sinners waxing more bold in sin—are not these sights enough to crush us to the earth? The kingdom comes not as we would, the reverend name is not hallowed as we desire, and for this we must weep. How can we be otherwise than sorrowful, while men believe not our report, and the divine arm is not revealed? All mental work tends to weary and to depress, for much study is a weariness of the flesh; but ours is more than mental work—it is heart work, the labour of our inmost soul. How often, on Lord’s-day evenings, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us! After pouring out our souls over our congregations, we feel like empty earthen pitchers which a child might break. … It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed; we are to spend and to be spent, not to lay ourselves up in lavender, and nurse our flesh. Such soul-travail as that of a faithful minister will bring on occasional seasons of exhaustion, when heart and flesh will fail. Moses’ hands grew heavy in intercession, and Paul cried out, “Who is sufficient for these things?”” [Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Ministers Fainting Fits”in Lectures to My Students]