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


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Muddying the Waters

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One of the many issues that the young man will have to learn how to deal with over the course of his life is how to deal with interpersonal conflict. I am convinced that one of the reasons why Proverbs is addressed to the young man is because if he sows to the Spirit in his youth, then he will also reap from the Spirit in his old age (see Gal. 6:7-9). Young men face great temptations and young men are establishing patterns of faithfulness that will affect them for the rest of their lives. It is the young man whom Jesus calls to follow after Him for wisdom. Wisdom cries out to the young man in the public square when he is standing there wondering which way to walk (Prov. 1, 7:24-27).

I want to get a couple possible misconceptions out of the way before I get to the point. When applying Scripture, we must be filled with the Spirit of Christ who is the Spirit of wisdom. In other words there is a way to be dumb in the application of Scripture. We don’t simply hold to the doctrine of Scripture alone, but the entirety of Scripture (sola Scriptura and tota Scriptura). We seek to understand things in their context. There are other passages in the Book of Proverbs which balance out those who might take a rash approach to Prov. 25:26. For example, there are many verses which condemn contentiousness and getting into unnecessary fights. Just think of Prov. 26:17: “Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.” Many more could be stated. But I digress.

Ashley and I just read Proverbs 25:26 at the dinner table: “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.” This struck me, because this sounds dangerous. Isn’t it better to avoid a conflict? Aren’t we supposed to be peace-makers? Isn’t it better for the unity of the group to live and let live? Isn’t it better to just apologize and move on? These are many of the questions that might come to mind in the context of this passage. These are not bad questions. 

I have been trying to get a better understanding from the Hebrew. The first image is of a well that has been trampled in, so it raises up the dirt, and filled the drinking water with silt. The second image is of a fountain that has been purposely fouled. The man is a righteous man who trembles or shakes or quakes before the face of the wicked. To give way is to back down out of fear. But notice the connection between the second clause and the first clause. That man who actively gives way is compared to that well that has been trampled in. He is compared to that spring that has been fouled. The drinking water is good for nothing. The salt has lost its flavour. The light has been put out. 

I imagine here a situation with a bully in a high school or a grade school. Another guy has stepped between him the person he is bullying. He realizes too late that the bully has 50 lbs on him and has been going to the gym 3x a week. So he stands down and watches the other guy get kicked around. That young man is like a well that has been trampled in and a spring that has been fouled. He has effectively muddied the waters himself by backing down. 

This reminds me of a popular quote from Jordan Peterson: “A harmless man is not a good man. A good man is a very dangerous man who has that under voluntary control.” I would simply edit the end of this quote with words from Galatians 6: “A good man is a very dangerous man who is under the control of the Spirit and not of the flesh.” Someone might contend with the word “dangerous”, but then I should point out that in the Old Testament whenever the Spirit comes upon a man, he goes to war. The principalities and powers in the heavenly places should flee before the church when it is in the armour of God. A dangerous man is someone who does not stand down before wickedness. 

Wickedness should be terrified by righteousness. Light should shine in the darkness. Christian men should fear God and not men. Wisdom must come into conflict with folly. Truth should militate against error.

There is a time for everything. There is a time to stand down. But don’t muddy the waters. Don’t trample in the well. Don’t poison the spring. Don’t be that poison spring. Don’t be that muddy well. This is what Christ calls His followers to. He calls you away from that spirit of cowardice that stands down when someone is coming at you to intimidate you on a point of godliness. Sure, Christ was perfect and we are not. But He gives us His Spirit, He forgives us for the times that we have stood down before wickedness, and we have the mind of Christ through union with Him. Christian men are in this struggle together, because all must learn to rely on Christ more and more. 

So beg Christ for His Spirit of wisdom, call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, and then take a stand.


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Victims or Victors?

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Just recently, we have seen a pastor in downtown Toronto going through the court systems for public street preaching. He was released on bail on June 5 and just in the last two months his church was evicted from the public building where they were meeting in downtown Toronto. They were evicted for apparent “hate activity.” We might debate the method of street preaching and/or even the wisdom of street preaching. Regardless of where your opinions fall on that matter, free speech is being crushed in the public square.

In another case, the churches in Edmonton, AB are facing a very broad law against ‘conversion therapy.” While most pastors would condemn abusive forms of conversion therapy, they are now at risk to be seen as being abusive when they counsel someone with gender confusion or same-sex lust and point them to Christ. In cases where someone is offended by this Christ-centered approach to counselling, pastors might face a minimum $10,000 fine. This is being praised in other regions of Canada as progressive.

I am less concerned with the government in this post as how Christians are prepared to respond to this systemic targeting of the public proclamation of the Christian gospel. Many of us might know that secular universities have long been hot-beds for this kind of ridicule of Christianity. I know people who can speak of having their Christian beliefs publicly ridiculed by professors in class. Christians who hold dearly to the value of human life and the value of the human body are often attacked for their beliefs. Depending on where you work, in what workforce you have been given the opportunity to testify to Christ, there will be various responses.

We all too often spend too much time trying to change the system rather than seeking to find ways for God’s Word to shape us. In her book, The Gospel Comes With a House Key, Rosaria Butterfield confronts a Christian victim mentality: “Are Christians victims of this post-Christian world? No. Sadly, Christians are coconspirators. We embrace modernism’s perks when they serve our own lusts and selfish ambitions. We despise modernism when it crosses lines of our precious moralism. Our cold and hard hearts; our failure to love the stranger; our selfishness with our money, our time, and our home; and our privileged back turned against widows, orphans, prisoners, and refugees mean we are guilty in the face of God of withholding love and Christian witness. And even more serious is our failure to read our Bibles well enough to see that the creation ordinance and the moral law, found first in the Old Testament, is as binding to the Christian as any red letter. Our own conduct condemns our witness to this world.

These are strong words, but I recognize what she is saying. I recognize this temptation for Christians to play the victim, to hunker down and wait for the end times. Yes, we should pray “even so, come, Lord Jesus.” But Jesus gave His disciples the promise of His second coming as a reason to go out in faith and boldness, not to retreat in fear and discouragement. 

This is not a fight with our governments. This is not a fight with our neighbors. This is a fight with the principalities and powers in the heavenly places (Eph. 6), and so the call is to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (Eph. 6:10). Jesus says in John 16:33: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” The Apostle Paul tells the church in Rome: “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.” (Rom. 16:20). In Romans 8:37 we read: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

It is these Bible passages that bring a call to take heart. It is time to attend secular university and to take the blatant criticism with a cheerful face and a heart full of the love of God (Rom. 5:5). It is time to throw resources at Christian institutions to stem the tide of mass indoctrination. It is time to have that discussion in the lunchroom at work without “losing it” even if you are the only guy in the room who holds to a Biblical position. There may come a time where churches might even have to consider cheerfully covering a $10000 fine for their pastor (Acts 17:1-10). That is, if he has clearly and cheerfully shared the love of Christ with a man or a woman who is confused in their sexuality.

Will Christians play the victim and cave to the pressures of a society that is beginning to target Christians more and more? Or are we prepared to take a hit for the Name of Christ? We often speak of a culture of victimhood. But the question is: will you play the victim? Will I play the victim? Christians are victors in Christ. We have been given a task to share the love of Christ to men and women created in the image of God. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:10)


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Trinitarian Christianity

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A number of good books and articles have been written in the last 20-30 years on the centrality and importance of the Trinity in Christian theology. One of the best has been Michael Reeves book “Delighting in the Trinity.” He writes: “‘God is love’: those three words could hardly be more bouncy. They seem lively, lovely and as warming as a crackling fire. But ‘God is a Trinity’? No, hardly the same effect: that just sounds cold and stodgy. All quite understandable, but the aim of this book is to stop the madness. Yes, the Trinity can be presented as a dusty and irrelevant dogma, but the truth is that God is love because God is a Trinity.”

St. Patrick’s Prayer is quite well known for the words: “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me…” But the beginning and end of this song are often neglected among us: “I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.”

Just this last week I had to prepare a teaching sermon on Lord’s Day 8 in the Heidelberg Catechism. This of course, is on the subject of the divine Trinity. It was a good week, I sat down and decided to use the sermon of the Apostle Peter to the crowd in Jerusalem as my main text. Of course, the rest of the sermon had me going all over the Bible to show the glory of the Trinity in the prayers, praise, greetings, and blessings of the Apostles and all over the Gospels. It was intimidating since this about God and these truths are so deep. It also brought me to reflect on how a truth that has been so central to the church for 2000 years is so undervalued today.

I have encountered modalist heresies that actually do teach falsehoods about Christ. There is this idea afoot in Toronto that God is one person who changes his clothing to Father clothing and then Spirit clothing. Such groups might even teach that we must only baptize in the Name of Jesus. This of course, is in direct conflict with the clear teaching of Christ Himself in Matthew 28:16-20. 

I would wager that there is also a shift in modern day evangelicalism towards grounding orthodoxy in a right understanding of the person of Christ. This of course is a noble enterprise since liberalism has so heavily attacked the divine nature of Christ.

The problem with basing orthodoxy solely in orthodox language about the person of Christ is that sometimes the Trinity is sidelined. You cannot speak of Christ without speaking of the Trinity (or at least you must speak of the Trinity at some point). Christ reveals the glory of the Trinity to us: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (I Cor. 4:6). He brings us to a knowledge of the Triune God: ““And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (I John 5:20-21) Read the Gospel of John and you see very clearly the love that the Triune God contains within unity and community. 

This is why the Athanasian Creed combines its theological formulations in two parts: on the Trinity and on the incarnation of Christ. With regards to the first, it concludes in this way: “So in everything, as was said earlier, the unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in unity, is to be worshipped. Anyone then who desires to be saved should think thus about the Trinity.” With regards to the second, it begins this way: “But it is necessary for eternal salvation that one also believe in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ faithfully.”

The Apostle Paul delights in the Trinity and teaches this truth about God to his congregation in Ephesus in Ephesians 3:14–19 “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

If we learn from the missionaries of old like St. Patrick, we should also inject our missional theology with more Trinitarian theology: “I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.”


 

How Women are Viewed in the Holy Bible

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What does the Bible say about women? How are the followers of Jesus Christ supposed to treat women? How does God view women?

This goes right back to the very first chapter of the Holy Bible. In the Book of Genesis, in chapter 1 and verse 27, God tells us how He views men and women: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Man is created in the image of God. Those who are male and female are created in the image of God. Like those who are male, a female has been created in the image of God.

What does it mean to be created in the image of God? One Christian document intended for teaching people in the church defines it this way: “God created man good and in his image, that is, in true righteousness and holiness, so that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love him, and live with him in eternal blessedness to praise and glorify him.” This first man and woman, both walked with God and talked with God.

But then sin came into the world. The woman listened to the words of Satan and the man listened as well. Because of that, everything went wrong. Women sought to rule over their husbands. Men became abusive and domineering and lazy in leading and loving their wives. The natural duty of man was to die for his wife, to sacrifice himself for her, to lead her by dying for her. But instead he made her die for his sin, and he hid behind her in cowardice. He sent women into battle in front of him and did even worse to her by treating her poorly himself. He even went so far to blame his sin on her.

But God had a plan to begin to right what went wrong in those first couple chapters of the Bible. He gave a promise to send His Son from eternity, Jesus Christ, to die for the sins of His sons and daughters. He told Satan in those verse 25 of chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” God chose that it would be through the childbearing of a woman that He would bruise the head of the Serpent. Eventually, the Virgin Mary would have a Son, Jesus Christ, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, who would deliver the death blow to Satan. A death blow that the first man Adam was unable to execute upon Satan.

Old Testament

In the first 39 books of the Bible (the Old Testament), you will find stories of women who raise godly young sons and support strong and good husbands. You will find women who love their God and seek to do what is right. There are beautiful women, strong women, intelligent women. In one passage, you will find God’s prophet Moses defending the property rights of the daughters of a man named Zelophehad, who at that point had no brothers and were unmarried (Numbers 27).

On the other hand, you will also find many wicked women. Two very wicked women even became queens in the nation of God’s people: Jezebel and Athaliah did a lot of harm to the kingdom of God. Women need to be saved from their sins as well as men. For example, one lady named Rahab was a prostitute, but she protected a couple men of God, and she became one of the ladies in the ancestry of Jesus Christ. She was forgiven of her sins because she turned to God from her sins.

One chapter in the Bible, Proverbs 31, presents the ideal woman that many Christian women aspire to be like. She is strong, she is industrious, her husband trusts her. Most importantly she fears the Lord and not men. She serves the Lord first and she serves her husband in a way that will make him want to serve God. I will give you a couple verses of this chapter here: Proverbs 31:28–30 “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”

New Testament:

The last 27 books of the Holy Bible (the New Testament) present a very similar picture. Our Father in Heaven sent His Son to redeem His daughters who believe in the Name of Jesus Christ. Mary, the mother of Jesus, calls herself most blessed among women. She calls herself a maidservant of God. She is blessed, because as a virgin, she will bear the Savior of the world. She is not proud. Instead she gives all the glory to God!

Jesus treated women with the utmost respect. At one point a group of men who were pretending to lead His people, dragged a woman before Him who was caught in adultery. They wanted to stone her. But He did not condemn her. Instead He sent her away without stoning her, and told her to sin no more (John 8). This is a beautiful story about what it is like for a woman to be loved by Jesus Christ. When she feels that love she finds true fulfillment and also turns away from her sins.

Those who follow Jesus are called to treat their daughters and wives well. A husband is called to love his wife just as Jesus loves His Church and died on a cross for her (Ephesians 5). At the end of this chapter God gives a strong call for men to act like men. To act like a man means to love your wife, to listen to her thoughts, to hear what she is worried about. It sometimes means to defer to your wife’s opinion. We hear these words in Ephesians chapter 5, verse 33: “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Notice that the man is told to love his wife before she is told to respect him.

Conlcusion

Jesus and His apostles healed women, promised forgiveness to women, and treated them with all respect. They set the bar high for how women are to be treated in the followers of Jesus. Yes, there is sin, but men who follow Jesus are called to fight for a high standard of treating women, while understanding that Jesus forgives our sins: “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive” (I Timothy 2:1-4). In those who follow Jesus seek to look more like Jesus.


This is an article that I wrote for the Christian-Muslim Forum section of the Sunday Times. The Sunday Times is a Pakistani-Canadian Magazine.


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

It is not good for man to be alone

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Below is an excerpt from Rev. Vander Hart’s book “Bible Studies on Genesis 1-11”, p. 65-66:

The King James Version of the Bible in Genesis 2:18,20, speaks of “help meet.” A new word – helpmeet – was coined as a result. But what does it mean? The word helper can have the idea in our language of servant, the assistant who stands in the background, perhaps the slave who has to “go for” this or “go for” that. But, in fact, the word is used many times in reference to God Himself as our heavenly Helper. Reflect on the following passages:

Exodus 18:4: “My father’s God was my helper.”

Deuteronomy 33:7: “Oh, be his help against his foes.”

Psalm 70:5: “You are my help and my deliverer.”

Psalm 121:1,2: “Where comes my help? My help comes from the LORD.”

Psalm 124:8: “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”

Psalm 146:5: “The God of Jacob is our help.”

More passages could be cited, but the general meaning of help and helper begins to become clear. The word is not pejorative, inferring a put-down for the person called a helper. The word has almost the sense of rescuer or deliverer. The helper is the one who does for me what I could not do all by myself. God said that man’s calling as image-bearing ruler of the creation was such that being alone is not a good thing. Adam need help, and none of the animals would provide this help.

The word meet is better translated as suitable to, a counterpart for, one who corresponds to another in a complementary way. Thus the woman will be a helper who meets Adam’s need; she will, with him, help him fulfill mankind’s chief end, namely, to glorify God and enjoy Him forever (cf. Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q/A 1).

The text is not saying that she is a helper equal to the man (the original language could have said that, but it does not say this). The study note in the New Geneva Study Bible for Genesis 2:18 reads thus, “the word ‘helper’ entails his inadequacy, not her inferiority; for elsewhere it is used of God.” This is an important point to understand in our times. The woman is not inferior in her being because of the nature of her creation. Animals are not superior because they were made first. Nor is the ground superior because man came from the ground. Male and female constitute mankind, and both are created in the image of God. But within mankind (humanity), there is a relationship, an “economy,” of office-bearing. In their being image-bearers, man and woman are equally before the face of God our Father. In their respective offices, the man is the head of the woman, and “so there is a divinely imposed subordination here” (E.J. Young, In the Beginning, p. 77). At the same time the woman is a gift of a loving God to the man because our Lord knows that we can never make it all alone in fulfilling the divine plan for God’s creation kingdom. 


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Chapter Review: the Interrogative in Preaching

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I will now move on from the indicative and the exclamative in preaching to consider John Carrick’s chapter on the interrogative, or the use of the question in preaching. 

Basic grammar is important for good communication, thus the importance of studying Hebrew and Greek grammar. In the same way, this study of the indicative, the exclamative, and the interrogative are important for understanding how to better communicate the gospel. Carrick understands the interrogative to be an aspect of the indicative. Both consider objective fact, but one states it while the other questions it. It is searching and it brings more of a connotation of dialogue to it. He recognizes three basic types of interrogative: the analytical, the rhetorical, and the searching. The analytical looks for an answer, the rhetorical assumes an answer, and the searching searches and probes the hearts of men.

  • Analytical: “What is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” (Rom. 3:27-28)
  • Rhetorical: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'” (Rom. 10:14-15)
  • Searching: “You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal?” (Rom. 2:21b)

He then shares a number of examples from the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Samuel Davies, Asahel Nettleton, and Martyn-Lloyd Jones. He writes about Jonathan Edwards: “Edwards individualizes is hearers; indeed, there is a sense in which Edwards thus interrogates his hearers. He reasons with them; he searches them; he almost hounds them.” (p. 73) It is often commented that Martyn Lloyd-Jones did not observe his congregation as passive, but he would seek to engage them with the Word. They were to be involved, not just sitting there as spectators. Here, Carrick emphasizes that this questioning moves the preaching of the Word from explication to application. The encouragement of self-reflection or self-examination in the hearer moves the sermon from being a lecture to a sermon. He concludes this section with this comment referring to a quote from CS Lewis: “There can be no question but that the sins of the pulpit have come home to roost in the pew. It is, therefore, high time for the pulpit to see to it that God is reinstated to the bench and that man is relegated to the dock.” (p. 80) He concludes the chapter in this way: “There can be no doubt that, under God and with God’s blessing, the interrogative is one of the foremost weapons in the preacher’s arsenal in the battle for the souls for men.” (p. 81).

I found that this chapter left me with a lot to reflect on. Again, as with the exclamative, the interrogative should never be contrived.

I have often found myself inclined to the interrogative because it brings about the reasoning aspect of the preacher’s task. Of course, the Holy Spirit must also be at work through the interrogative otherwise people will just enjoy the rhetoric without coming to a fuller realization of the truth of God’s Word. That being said, this is exactly what the Word of God does. It helps me to realize my condition and my need for a Savior. Pointed questions only drive that point home. This is one reason why I love the Book of Romans. As he writes in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul is relentless in driving these questions into the hearts and minds of his readers. It is then with this passion of the Apostle Paul that we also must engage congregations with the Word of God. 

The value of the interrogative is that it doesn’t necessarily assume certain things about people, but it forces them to put themselves under the scrutiny of God’s Word and Spirit. Used rightly, it avoids the dangers of preaching at, and instead focuses on preaching to.

Nathan Zekveld