The Rule of Law and Emergency Measures

It is a weird feeling to have a law system in a country and then all of a sudden in 3 months the rule book is drastically changed.

What is an emergency act? I’m still not totally sure. I am sure that lawyers who have studied the constitution would know a lot more than I do. What rules are in place to maintain the distinction between church and state during the imposition of an emergency act and to put temporal boundaries on an emergency act? Not sure… I would like to hear feedback. What kind of democratic laws and processes continue to abide under an emergency act? Not really sure. What laws bind the lawmakers during an emergency? Again, it is unclear. It seems like we are stepping into a brave new world that many didn’t vote for…

A lot of discussion has gone around about trust. We don’t trust our state. We don’t trust our scientific communities. Before I say anything about that. I should also make another remark. The state and the medical system does not seem to trust ecclesiastical authorities. Do we have freedom and authority to make prudent decisions in the light of the current chaos? It doesn’t seem to be so… Maybe we do! I just don’t know. It sounds like we are being given orders, but maybe they are just recommendations…

It is a legal jungle out there for churches. I think we are getting a better idea of what emergency measures look like in a secular nation rather than a Christianized nation like we had during the Spanish flu. The presence of the internet gives our civil authorities an excuse for their approach. But it is inherently a secular response.

As we head into the coming years we should be asking ourselves a multitude of questions about our emergency response. How important is the Church in times of emergency? What kind of freedoms are necessary to maintain during an emergency? What constitutes an emergency? What physical evidence of an emergency needs to be present in society in order to maintain emergency measures? Is it better to do waves of emergency, where society, or parts of society, are locked down in periods of 1-3 weeks at a time?

Emergency in a technological age brings us into a legal frontier. How do we continue to operate on our constitutional foundation on the frontier?

To lay down clear principles will only create trust. But the current morass of legalese and extreme measures for months on end with no end in sight will only create distrust. Safety and freedom should never be pitted against each other.

Photo by Damien Checoury on Unsplash

Re-Humanizing the Medical System

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In a former post, I brought up my concern that scientists are thinking primarily about medical risk, but not economic, mental health, or spiritual risks. I am still willing to be convinced that the medical risks of this crisis over-ride every other risk. But that is not the purpose of my relentless writing. 

Over the course, of the last couple weeks, the concern came up that Prime Minister Trudeau has joined forces with China to develop a vaccine with china from a fetal cell line from aborted babies. It was concerning to see how many Christians continue to call people to support their governments and then turn a blind eye to some of the ethical issues surrounding such research. 

Of course, to speak out on this matter, brings up a whole host of ethical issues. For example, we use research that was developed during Nazi human experimentation. So can we use research that was developed during Canadian and Chinese human experimentation? Many of those who speak glowingly of Bonhoeffer might tell me to stay silent at this point.

My purpose is not to argue for or against vaccines. My purpose is not to argue for or against the shut-down. My purpose is to pursue a line of argumentation that many Christians should be pursuing.

The American scientist Lewis Thomas wrote in the 1900s. I have three of his books: “The Youngest Science,” “The Lives of a Cell,” and “The Medusa and the Snail.” From my understanding, he was an atheist, but he had some startling insights. For example, he once wrote about scientific reductionism: “Much of today’s public anxiety about science is the apprehension that we may forever be overlooking the whole by an endless, obsessive preoccupation with the parts.”

One thing that you may notice is that there is a thriving medical system that lies on the fringe of the publicly sanctioned medical system. While it is on the fringe, many health insurance programs include naturopathy, chiropractic, etc. I have been in the hospital for bone fractures, but more often I have found medical care through alternative medicine. Through my own experience and the testimony of a large variety of friends I have found that things like rashes, aches and pains, etc, are often better treated outside the public medical system.

So what point am I getting at? It is not my point to discredit the public medical system. They do many good things: surgeries, treating extreme illness, etc. But one wonders why alternative medicine has become so popular.

Much of our modern medical system has accepted the language of what they believe is science. For example, the baby in the uterus, is reduced to a fetus, and can be treated like a useless appendage. Doctor assisted suicide (commonly known as medically assisted dying) for the elderly and infirm has become more popular. Back in January, the government was considering extending this to the mentally ill. You can read about this in the National Post. There is a de-humanizing tendency in our modern medical systems. Whether it is Nazi, Chinese, or Canadian, it is still de-humanizing.

What is man? In a medical system that de-humanizes babies and the elderly, no wonder that we can so coldly use their DNA, and believe that somehow the world is a better place as a result of it. I once heard someone rebuke their opposition for wanting to build an economy on the blood and bones of those who die from COVID-19. We have been building a medical system for at least 50 years (the strains of fetal cells came out in the 60s and 70s) on the blood and bones of the most vulnerable in society. Maybe more people live with vaccines than without vaccines. Maybe more people will live from the shut-down than without the shut-down. But what part of our soul are we willing to give away for that ideal?

Over the last two months I have been haunted by the spectre of what a society looks like under quarantine. There are elderly who have had to die alone. Pastors are not allowed to visit the sick and dying. Hugs and hand-shakes are forbidden at funerals. Weddings have been reduced to 5 attendees. I have been reading about the economic collapse that the northern province of Newfoundland is facing. Churches have been shut down and small businesses are going under while Walmart and Home Depot keep on bringing in crowds and income. And now our Prime Minister is rushing a vaccine that is using aborted babies. It is a dangerous world out there. If you aren’t scared of COVID-19, there are many more dangers at every turn. Of course, I am not advocating fear, but a more humanized medical system, a re-humanized medical system.

We need to relentlessly ask the hard questions. We are not robots. We are not blobs of scientific processes. We are made in the image of God. And that truth changes everything.


Photo by Arseny Togulev on Unsplash

Staying in Your own Lane… ?

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One thing I have heard people remind pastors of in our current cultural milieu is that we are not scientists or epidemiologists. True. Although I do know of pastors with degrees in science and in various fields of intellectual study outside of their studies in theology. Many pastors in my own federation have taken a liberal arts degree of some form before taking an M.Div. Degree. So what does it mean for pastors to “stay in their own lane”? 

Should we focus on the gospel? Of course. The cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ give hope for the life to come and deliver us from the fear of death. Of course, the gospel has implications. Jesus is Savior. But Jesus is also Lord. He is currently reigning, seated at the right hand of the throne of God. He has commissioned pastors with a very broad teaching mandate (Matt. 28:20). I was just reading the Political Writings of St. Augustine in the early 400s. They are very Christ-centered, but they also provide real-life guidelines for Christian politicians. 

I am not trained in data analysis. I am definitely not trained in epidemiology or virology. I took 4 terms of natural history and two terms in the philosophy of math that did give me a broader understanding of principles for science. Yet. I recognize the limitations of my knowledge. There are many trained scientists that I look up to as experts in their field.

I have heard a lot of scientists question the “traditional meaning” of Genesis 1 wherein we believe that there is historical and Biblical and even scientific precedent for a young earth. Many of them will be the first to say that pastors are not qualified to speak on the topic of evolution due to the fact that they have no scientific training. But then what qualifies them to challenge the skilled exegete of Scripture and student of languages?

I am not an opponent of inter-disciplinary musings. A scientist can be a skilled exegete of Scripture. And I know at least one pastor who has a doctorate in astrophysics. Maybe my tendency “to dabble” comes from my liberal arts education in my pre-sem studies or my classically oriented education in home schooling. Reading entire books from atheist scientists and philosophers brings you deeper into the questions of ‘why?’ and ‘how?’

In Colossians 1, we learn that all things cohere in Jesus Christ: “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:17) I have always understood that true liberal arts are grounded in a distinctly Christian philosophy. Literacy in the Christian West began with monks who worked with both their hands and their head. For example, the German monk Theophilus, invented the flywheel, wrote De Diversis Artibus, and was a skilled theologian and exegete (Mangalwadi, the Book that Made Your World, 109). A later German monk and then pastor, Martin Luther, brewed beer, did lots of gardening, and wrote large quantities of theology. The theologian, Abraham Kuyper, spent much time applying principles from the Word of God to science and politics. This did not mean they were always correct. But they were fulfilling the commission of the Apostle Paul to take every thought captive to obey Christ (II Cor. 6:5).

The sealing off of intellectual disciplines in our times is a tell-tale warning of a downturn in learning. Our loss of Christ at the center of everything is even more scary. To tell people to be quiet and trust the scientific experts is dangerous to a society.

I recently read an article from a doctor down in the States encouraging people to reflect on the medical risks of COVID-19. It was an interesting read, but she only talked about the medical risks. I have not read or heard many articles from scientists that grapple not only with the medical risks, but also the economic risks, the mental health risks, and above all, the spiritual risks. The few that I have read have been a breath of fresh air and were shortly thereafter censored by YouTube.

Sure, there are a lot of people who are saying very uneducated things and spewing out even less educated theories in our times. There are lies being circulated both among the masses and in the halls of power. But to say that only scientists have the authority to speak to the risks that we are facing in North America at this time is intellectual suicide. My wife came up with a great idea the other day: we need more conversations between disciplines. We need more conversations between pastors, scientists, economists, and world leaders.

I recognize the limitations of my own knowledge. But there are some things that make sense, others that make less sense, and some things that make no sense. There are some things that have begun to make more sense, there are other things that have begun to make less sense. But the liberal arts still run in my blood and I am always wondering how to apply Biblical principles to world events. Should I stay in my own lane? Hopefully that statement makes less sense now than when you started this article.


The Christian Ordinance of Labor

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Recent world events have highlighted the centrality of labour for me again. The last two months have seen unemployment rates skyrocket. I promised that I would do a write-up on the ordinance of labour following my two part series on authority that I wrote over the last 6 weeks: here and here

Ever since I was young, my parents taught me the importance of labour. While I have collected tax returns and tax breaks, I was taught to pick up any job before going on unemployment. This is based on the command of the Apostle Paul to the suffering church in Thessalonica: “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” (II Thess. 3:10-12). I have worked in greenhouses, in the landscaping industry, in the oil industry, and on farms before entering the ministry.

I realize that there are challenges to the times that we live in. Among many, the serious threat of COVID-19 has come crashing together with socialist political ideology. This puts some men in the position where if they want to care for their family in a responsible way, then they must collect the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. If you are doing that and you are frustrated that you can’t work, that is a good place to be. If you are doing that and building a home-based economy, that is even better. Things are messy right now, so the aim here is to focus on principles.

God made men to work. Work was part of the creation mandate (Gen. 1:27). And even though work was cursed when Adam fell into sin, work was still part of his calling (Gen. 3:17-19). I have often heard the 8th commandment cited in reference to the command to work. What is interesting, is that we find a clear positive command to work in the 4th commandment: “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work,” (Ex. 20:9).

The American theologian John Murray, comments in his book ‘Principles of Conduct’: “If we will, we may call this an incidental feature of the commandment. But it is an integral part of it. The day of rest has no meaning except as rest from labour. it is rest in relation to labour; and only as the day of rest upon the completion of six days of labour can the weekly sabbath be understood.” This is the pattern that we find both in Genesis 1, Exodus 20, and Deuteronomy 5. Work and rest.

As John Murray points out, we see throughout the New Testament, that the Apostles respect this institution of labour. We see this in the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to the Church in Thessalonica that I quoted above. There we see (1) the man who chooses not to work should not eat; (2) Idleness leads to busybodies; (3) the first command is to work quietly; (4) the second command is to earn your own living. This command is heightened in I Tim. 5:8: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

In the context of servants and masters, the Apostle Paul also calls out to employees: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Again, the Apostle Paul commands employers: “Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.” (Eph. 6:9).

I wish that I had time and space and experience/wisdom to apply the principles of Scripture to many different situations. I do want to say that I have seen how hard the regulations of the last months have hit the blue collar workers among others. Those who are making the rules and regulations for our country are in many cases remaining employed. In the meantime, we see the oil industry tank and many farmers are wondering what kind of a hit they will take this year. The restaurant industry and many others will take massive losses (and have already). This gets into economics. But economics are built on the basic institution of labour. Good economics are built on integrity and honesty in labour and on the assumption that people are actually working. 

So what am I getting at here? (1) I want to affirm the Christian desire to work and build. (2) I want to point out that decisions with regard to the ordinance of labour are moral decisions and moral decisions have moral consequences (yes, there are other moral decisions at play, but these moral decisions are part of the equation). (3) I want to condemn the dishonesty and breaking of the 8th commandment made possible by the welfare state (you can find an example here). (4) I want to provide a Biblical basis for Christians to forge a way forward into this brave new world. (5) I want Christians to have a Biblical perspective on work: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Cor. 10:31)  

All of this has a higher goal: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (I Tim. 6:17-19)


 

Bridges on the Privilege of Being Early Enlisted under the Banner of the Cross

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Below I share a quote from a commentary on Proverbs 2 from the 19th century Anglican pastor Charles Bridges (you can read the full commentary here):

And now, what serious reader of this chapter can fail to estimate above all price the privilege of being early enlisted under the banner of the cross; early taught in the ways, and disciplined in the school, of the Bible; and early led to hide that blessed book in the heart, as the rule of life, the principle of holiness, the guide to heaven!

Parents, sponsors, teachers of youth; ponder your deep responsibility with unceasing prayer for special grace and wisdom. Beware of glossing over sins with amiable or palliating terms. Let young people be always led to look upon vicious; habits with horror, as the most appalling evil. Discipline their vehemence of feeling, and all ill-regulated excitement. Keep out of sight, as far as maybe, books cal- culated to inflame the imagination. To give an impulse to the glowing passion may stimulate the rising corruption to the most malignant fruitfulness. Oh! what wisdom is needed to guide, to repress, to bring forth, develop safely, and to improve fully, the mind, energies, and sensibilities of youth!

Young man! beware! Do not flatter thyself for a moment, that God will ever wink at your sinful passions; that he will allow for them, as slips and foibles of youth. They are the “cords of your own sins,” which, if the power of God’s grace break them not in time, will “hold” you for eternity. (Chap. v. 22.) Shun then the society of sin, as the infection of the plague. Keep thy distance from it, as from the pit of destruction. Store thy mind with the preservative of heavenly wisdom. Cultivate the taste for purer pleasures. Listen to the fatherly, pleading remonstrance, inviting thee to thy rest—“‘Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me, ‘My Father! thou art the guide of my youth?’” (Jer. iii. 4.)


Marriage Under the Cross: the Great Snare for Young Christians (Whitefield)

 

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A warning and encouragement from the 18th century Reformed pastor, George Whitefield in a sermon on the Marriage at Cana:

“But then, we may learn the reason why we have so many unhappy marriages in the world; it is because the parties concerned do not call Jesus Christ by prayer, nor ask the advice of his true disciples when they are about to marry: no; Christ and religion are the last things that are consulted and no wonder then if matches of the devil’s making (as all such are, which are contracted only on account of outward beauty, or for filthy lucre’s sake) prove most miserable, and grievous to be borne…

…I cannot but dwell a little on this particular; because I am persuaded the devil cannot lay a greater snare for young Christians, than to tempt them unequally to yoke themselves with unbelievers: as are all who are not born again of God…

…Let it suffice to advise all, whenever they enter into a marriage state, to imitate the people of Cana in Galilee, to call Christ to the marriage: he certainly will hear, and chose for you; and you will always find his choice to be best. He then will direct you to such yoke-fellows as shall be helps meet for you, in the great work of your salvation, and then he will also enable you to serve him without distraction, and cause you to walk, as Zachary and Elizabeth, in all his commandments and ordinances blameless.”


The Problem with Authority Part II: Authority and Truth

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Throughout the gospels, we often hear conversation about authority and what it is. Both Mark and Matthew contrast the authority of Jesus Christ with the authority of the Scribes and the Pharisees (Mk 1:22, Matt. 7:29). Luke records that when Jesus heard that Herod wanted to kill Him, Jesus called Herod a fox and then turned to reflect on His own authority (Lk. 13:31-32). John records a conversation that took place between Jesus and the Jews in John 7:14-24. Jesus says in John 7:18 “The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.”

Is truth determined by society? Is truth a social construct? What is truth? A society that asks these questions will struggle with the concept of authority. What happens when authorities cannot agree on truth? What happens when authorities cannot agree if there is truth? A society can still value reason. But when reason doesn’t work then what? When reason proves to have its own limitations then what? When science proves to have limitations then what? I suggest that with the loss of truth, society will gravitate between anarchy and raw coercion. Tyranny becomes the proposed answer to anarchy, because there is no other way to exercise authority than through coercion. Human authority itself is deified, hated and feared. Thus we hear the radical authority claims of the old Roman Empire: “Caesar is Lord!” Thus we hear the radical authority claims of the Roman Catholic Church when the Pope speaks “ex cathedra”.

Where did the Apostles derive their authority? Well Matthew tells us that Christ claimed that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him (Matt. 28:16-20). He gives His Church the authority to preach, to teach, to disciple, to baptize. We should not be surprised then that the chief priests, the rulers, the scribes and elders in Jerusalem are astounded by the authority of Peter and John: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13) If you remember, they had a similar reaction to Jesus: “The Jews therefore marveled, saying, ‘How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?’” (Jn 7:15)

“And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.’” (Acts 17:2-3) Acts 17:1-10 is an interesting passage to analyze. 1.) Paul’s proclamation that Jesus is the Christ is taken as a threat to Caesar; 2) Paul did not teach revolution, but his message had clear political ramifications; 3) Jason and the brothers pay the fine, giving to Caesar what is due to Caesar; 4) They hide Paul and send him off to Berea, and do not give Caesar access to the messenger of the gospel.

This again gets back to the Romans 13 passage. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” Most governing authorities would respond with a hearty ‘Amen’ as I hope Christians would. But the second half of verse has major political ramifications. The Apostle Paul whisks away the secular foundation for our reasoning on the civil magistrate: “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Secularism is a modern heresy. Wait, that means that magistrates must abide by an objective truth? For the rest of Paul’s speech in Rom 13:1-10 one is forced to ask some hard questions about our modern day political theory. The Apostle Paul implies that their authority comes from God, that they will indeed be a terror to bad conduct and not to good. We ask questions in the 21st century. What is your standard of good and bad conduct? How does this affect your view of your own authority?

What am I talking about when I talk about the truth? Some vague truth? Some sort of secular argumentation? Reason? What is observable? I am speaking of the Word of God. While God does give Church and State two different types of authority, He does not give them two different laws. After all, “there is no authority except from God” (Rom 1:1). I realize that in modern society, a Christian politician will need to gravitate largely towards natural law arguments in the public sphere. This is permitted, since there are many truths that can be argued to from nature (as we see in Psalm 19). But in the background, is this natural law unbreakably tied into the truth of God’s Word? Natural law is not secular law. In fact, nothing is secular, because all authority has been given to Jesus (Matt 28) and all things cohere in Him (Col 1). He has preeminence (Col 1).

Notice how important good and necessary consequence is to Christian moral reasoning. As we apply the principles of Scripture, we are always returning to the drawing board, as others challenge our line of argumentation. As we stand under the authority of Christ, there is a freedom to argue from across Scripture and allow denominations and pastors to challenge one another to be more precise as we disciple the nations in the truth that all authority has been given to Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:16-20).

The starting point for a pastor ought to be a clear statement of the truth: “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (II Cor. 4:2) As a Christian pastor, I want people to see that I have been with Jesus. And then I want them to see His authority over all things and fall on their knees and find salvation and new life in Him. This is the way of life and peace and blessing. Jesus Himself said: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jn 8:31-32)

P.S. My next post will be on the ordinance of labour.


For a former article on the Problem of Authority, click here.

“The Book that Made Your World” by Vishal Mangalwadi and “Solomon Among the Postmoderns” by Peter Leithart got me thinking about truth and authority in our 21st century world.


The Problem with Authority

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As a husband and a father and a pastor, I have a delegated authority. What does this mean? This means that Christ has delegated a certain type of authority to me within my spheres of influence. This also means that I may not impose a rule that is not authorized by Christ or does not operate within the boundaries of Biblical wisdom. Christ guards my wife, my children and my flock from unjust rule by limiting my authority with the Word and by various other authorities who are accountable to Him. As a result I don’t expect unquestioning allegiance to human authority.

A number of pastors and theologians have rightly pointed out that we are called to honour those in civil authority, pray for them, and encourage them. They are right. This is the direct command of Scripture.

But when interpreting Scripture, we stand in a long tradition of using Scripture to interpret Scripture. Reformed theologians have traditionally accepted some understanding of spheres of authority: parents, Church, state, etc. While certain Reformers looked to the State to defend the Church, other Reformers wrote fiery letters to those who persecuted the Church. When draconian rulings have been passed down, we have followed the example of the Apostles in obeying God and not men.

This is because all human authority is delegated. There is no authority that is transferred. By ‘transferred authority’, I mean ‘exclusive’ or ‘total’ authority. All human authority stands accountable to God.

Let me share two quotes from the Belgic Confession, the first referring to the authority of the church and the second referring to the authority of the state. We read in Article 32, regarding the Church: “We also believe that although it is useful and good for those who govern the churches to establish and set up a certain order among themselves for maintaining the body of the church, they ought always to guard against deviating from what Christ, our only Master, has ordained for us.” We read in Article 36, regarding the state: “They should do this while completely refraining from every tendency toward exercising absolute authority, and while functioning in the sphere entrusted to them, with the means belonging to them.

This is why the state does not have the authority to force a father to allow his daughter to have a transgender surgery. This is why the state has the authority to bear the sword against office-bearers in the church who are using their authority wrongly to abuse women and children. This is why John the Baptist had the authority to rebuke Herod for marrying his brothers wife and Luke commended him for preaching the gospel (Luke 3:18-20). This is why the Reformer John Knox was able to rebuke not only insubmission but the abuse of authority. All men must bow at the throne of Christ and seek their life in Him: and that includes Presidents and Prime Ministers and scientists.

There is a time to submit, there is a time to ask questions, and there is a time to rebuke. There is a time for everything. There is a time to pray and there is a time to work. Or as John Calvin once said: pray and work. This is where Biblical wisdom comes into play. There are wisdom and judgement calls to make at every time. Asking questions can be done in an unwise manner, or with a bad attitude, but to limit questions is to limit learning opportunities for all and to leave authority unchecked. In order to move from submission to questions to rebuke, we need to be clear on the concept of delegated authority.

There seems to be an authoritarianism at work in many Reformed Churches. I have often appreciated the the approach of the Presbyterians in the Westminster Larger Catechism to the 5th commandment. It rebukes the sins of both those under authority and those in authority. Yes, there is authority. It is hard for those in authority. There are challenges and wisdom calls to make in having that responsibility. It is part and parcel of leading people. But that does not justify a blind submission to those in positions of human authority. Just as Reformed churches need to be on guard for an abuse of authority, so our civil governments need to be on guard against an abuse of authority. Am I being cynical? Read your history books. If we don’t learn our lessons from history, there will be much harder lessons to learn today.

Criticism of the positions of a man (or a group of men) in authority is not necessarily an attack upon his office. It might be. But not necessarily. King David obviously had criticisms of King Saul and He obviously had a backbone. And yet he wouldn’t raise his hand against the Lord’s anointed. The prophet Nathan came to David himself with serious criticisms, and King David took the hit like a man, repented and started out again with a new perspective.

We should be careful to cling to all of Scripture and not just our favourite Bible texts. There are many people who cherry pick through Scripture to justify their abuse of authority. Biblical ethics are not simplistic, even if many of its commands are straightforward. We are given all 10 commandments, not just the 6th or 7th commandment. We are given all of Scripture (like Judges and Samuel and Kings and Acts and Revelation), not just Romans 13 and I Peter 2. Scripture interprets Scripture. We are commanded to honor those in authority. Sometimes that means pointing back to the Word of God. Sometimes that means asking questions concerning the commands of God. By all means. Begin everything with prayer and supplication.

The problem with authority is that we must remember that human authority is delegated authority. Human authority is not absolute. “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecc. 12:13-14)

PS: If I find the opportunity, I hope to comment further on authority and truth.


Photo by Matt Popovich on Unsplash

Footnote: I took my explanation of delegated and transferred authority from Rev. Donald Van Dyken’s book for Public Profession of Faith, “With all My Heart”. You can find what he says in Lesson 21 on the Government of the Church.

Discipling the Little Ones

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I am an avid baby baptizer. I can give you arguments for that on another day and in other places. What I want to reflect on here is the pattern in Scripture that we see of raising children of believers in the fear of the Lord.

Not everyone who is baptized is eternally saved. Baptism does not = election. Both Baptist Churches and Reformed Churches recognize this truth. The quantity of warnings to the covenant community throughout the New Testament is ample evidence of this truth. But notice who these warnings are directed too. More often than not, they are directed to adults, and maybe by default to children. When we consider children in the covenant community, our post-Enlightenment minds need a paradigm shift away from seeing children through the lens of saved/unsaved categories, to the categories that the New Testament establishes.

  1. Children receive the blessing of Christ. Christ blesses the little children. Christ rebukes His disciples for trying to send them away. Christ does not place a question mark over their little heads, but takes them into His arms and gives them His blessing. His rebuke here and in other places is quite shocking: “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’ And he laid his hands on them and went away.” (Matt. 19:13-15)
  2. Children receive the exhortations of Christ. In his letter to the Church in Ephesus, children are exhorted in the same way as their parents in that they are called to obey them “in the Lord” (Eph. 6:1). Notice that this clause “in the Lord” is used abundantly in exhortations to adults as well.
  3. Children receive the faith of Christ. The flame of faith is not simply individualistic, but is a generational matter. Paul commends Timothy for the generational pattern of faith in his family: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” (II Tim. 1:5) Consider also Paul’s words to Timothy in II, 3:5: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

I have a few observations to take from these points.

  1. The Dutch Reformed tradition of “sowing your wild oats,” like the Amish tradition of “rumspringa,” or however your tradition likes to justify youthful rebellion among the children of believers, is totally and entirely unBiblical. Yes, children rebel and leave the faith (and Jesus forgives those sins as well). But, children leaving the faith should be an oddity, not the norm.
  2. Baptism doesn’t ensure faith. Jesus Christ alone can do that. But that doesn’t mean it is a meaningless and empty symbol. Whether adult or child, this baptism gives you an irrevocable identity that ends either in blessings or curses.
  3. When parents train their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4), that includes teaching them to pray, read the Scriptures, say sorry, forgive, and all the practices of the Christian life. The new birth is a mystery according to John 3. We cannot control it, all we can do is be faithful in what Christ has commanded in exhorting and shepherding. But we should also be careful in how we judge the state of this new birth in our children as we should when considering any Christian. We should show our children the charity that we show to anyone in the Church.
  4. A 2 year old can experience the new birth, and faith in Christ. To deny this is to deny the mystery described in John 3. This does not mean that every baptized infant or adult has experienced this new birth. This does not mean that you should give a 6 year old a pulpit or appoint him to the elder board (or a new Christian for that matter). There also has to be an understanding of growing responsibilities within the Christian community.

Just a few reflections. Feel free to respond, debate, discuss.


Preaching Christ at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary

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As some of you might know, I spent four years at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary before taking a call to a congregation of the United Reformed Churches in Prince Edward Island. I did internships with 4 consistories and 3 pastors in the United Reformed Churches on my way through seminary and I have always been a member of the United Reformed Churches since I was knee-high, so I am unable to say much about the Canadian Reformed Churches at large. I have heard some excellent sermons from Rev. den Hollander Sr. in Rehoboth URC and some excellent sermons from Rev. William den Hollander Jr. and Rev. VandeBurgt while visiting my wife who was a member of the Langley CanRC while we were dating.

I found that CRTS during my time there had a strong homiletics (the art of preaching) department. This was confirmed by various conversations I had with leaders and members in both the URCNA and Canadian Reformed Churches in the opportunities that I had to preach in close to 35 URCNA and CanRC churches across Canada and into the States (over the course of 3 years and 4 internships).

One of the highlights of taking this particular homiletics program was the 9 sermons (3 per year) that were publicly presented before 1 or 2 professors and the entire student body. There was then a public critique from the professor and the floor was then opened up to our colleagues to bring up questions, concerns, and encouragements. The intense self-reflection following an evaluation was not particularly fun, but I can’t imagine a better way to teach men to preach a message that is faithful to the text and centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Another highlight was the two homiletics classes (in 1st year and 3rd year). We read a lot of articles on preaching: anywhere from ones by professor de Visser to Sydney Greidanus and Cornelis Trimp. We also read some great books on finding the glories of the cross and resurrection of Christ throughout the pages of the Bible. We read David Helm’s “Expository Preaching.” We read Timothy Keller’s “Preaching.” We also read Bryan Chappell’s “Christ-Centered Preaching.” We studied and reflected (and yes, debated) each book closely. Various Church Fathers, Reformers, Lloyd-Jones, Stott, and other preachers were also discussed in class.

One of the points that Dr. de Visser underscored to our class in first year is that the difference between good preaching and great preaching is the work of the Holy Spirit in the work of the preacher. We were also encouraged to reflect on that in the grading system. Of course, there an was an effort to grill us based on objective principles for preaching, like whether the text was preached, how we drew our lines to Christ, and how Christ was preached. But an “A” sermon might just be a good sermon, whereas a “B” or a “C” sermon might be a great sermon because the Holy Spirit is working powerfully through it (I believe that Tim Keller also presents this important reminder). 

Between 5 professors and 20 students, a variety of perspectives and intellectual/spiritual gifts are brought to the table. Yes, there are weaknesses and points for growth in both individuals and institutions. And so we see every institution, individual and denomination growing also in conversation with the broader Reformed/Presbyterian and evangelical world. For individuals, mentorships bring further gifts to the table, and prior education also brings various gifts to the table. Seminaries should not operate in isolation from broader ideas and the authority of the local consistory. It was also great to hear lectures from OPC pastor Eric Watkins on redemptive historical preaching at the conferences one year. Over my years at seminary, we heard lectures on various topics from members from the RPCNA, OPC, FRCNA, PCA, URCNA. 

I would recommend the Canadian Reformed Seminary for the Christ-centered nature of their homiletics program and for the way that both OT/NT/dogmatic disciplines also lead to the glory of the cross and resurrection.

I would love to reflect further here on the need for greater union between the Canadian Reformed Churches and the United Reformed Churches. Maybe one day I will also reflect further on unity with the many other congregations and federations in North America. I have many thoughts on the importance of organic and geographic unity and the danger of stereotypes and lack of charity. I hope to shape and formulate these thoughts in the coming months and years also in conversation with the wisdom of older pastors and the wisdom of my consistory and other consistories. We must not neglect good debate and healthy communication. Christ-centered preaching leads to Christ-centered unity. Those who preach the cross, after all, must be examples of life under the cross and resurrection. And so we also find unity at the cross, in our worship of the Triune God and on the bedrock of the Bible:

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:13–22


Photo by James L.W on Unsplash