A Few Questions for Gavin Ortlund

Gavin Ortlund recently wrote a response to John Mac Arthur which I want to interact with here. Without directly defending John Mac Arthur’s decision, I want to interact with Gavin Ortlund’s criteria for arguing that Mac Arthur was showing undue definance to Caesar.

He shares his criteria for critiquing John Mac Arthur’s decision to open church: (1) the importance of worship (Hebrews 10:25); (2) love for neighbor (Mark 12:31); (3) obedience to government (Romans 13:1-7); (4) maintaining a good witness (Colossians 4:5-6). I will interact with each one and ask the questions that I hope everyone is asking during these times.

(1) It seems that most evangelical and orthodox Christians are agreed on the basic command that we should be at least gathering to worship. Only 600 out of 10s of thousands of COVID-cases have been contracted in church in the States. In my own province not a single case has been contracted in worship, and there have been no hospitalizations. So it is reasonable to say that we should at least be worshiping. I would ask Gavin if this is worth the divisions that the State has made in only allowing sections of certain congregations to come to worship, and if the limitation on the work of the office-bearers of the church is justified?

(2) Love for neighbour is essentially living in obedience to Christ to the second table of the Law, at least under Mark 12:31. It would be more effective to place the 5th and 6th commandments in this position. And I would argue also the 4th, 8th and 9th. This is a very hard question to answer. There are the hard questions related to the spread COVID which might lead to more hospitalizations (it could also lead to a weakening of the virus). We have seen some hospitalizations, but locally and at large, we have also seen an increase in addiction, in erratic behavior, a drift in church attendance, mental illness, etc. Many had to put medical issues on hold and they got worse. On the East Coast, we are facing an economic crisis for small businesses. As a pastor my primary concern is what the mixture of fear and isolation is doing not only to spiritual health but also to mental and physical health. Many counselors recognize this connection between mind, body, and soul. My question is: are we really loving our neighbour?

(3) Romans 13 speaks of obedience to the civil authority. But it also speaks of the limitations and mandate of the civil authority. Many churches believe that the civil authority has gone past the boundaries of its God given role, partly related to what I point out in the other points. So my question here would be: what are the limitations on the role of the civil authority? I am sure he would hold an abusive husband in his church accountable, how do we hold the civil courts accountable?

4) Christian witness. Christian witness is based on whether or not we are really loving our neighbour. I wonder when we started defining Christian witness by what people say and not by what really is loving our neighbour. Peter doesn’t tell Christians that there will be no slander, but that they should keep doing good even if there is slander: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (I Pet 2:12) Just because many are angry at the church doesn’t mean that many more are not waiting for the church to take leadership. Love is not affirmation, and so witness is not based on affirming the sins and idols of the day. We first must ask the question: am I really loving my neighbour? Love of neighbour, of course, includes honoring God-ordained authority and protecting life. So my question here is: are we really being a good witness? And what exactly is a good witness?

There are many more questions to bring to bear on this discussion. What is a Biblical theory of church and state? What role does subjective and changing scientific theory play in the the decisions and laws of the civil authority? What role does the Old Testament Law play in this? As some have pointed out, there are Laws concerning pandemics in the OT. But how does the love that Christ and the disciples for the sick play into this? How does our misunderstandings of OT law play into this? Scientism and secularism are both matters that the church must contend with in our post-Christian culture.

We need Biblical answers. Not easy answers. Gavin Ortlund remarked that he is not an epidemiologist. I am not either. I know that there are disagreements among epidemiologists. But if we are allowed to make statements concerning a pandemic from God’s Word, then we are also allowed to ask questions. And those questions might lead to new statements.

Photo by Rohit Farmer on Unsplash

Refining our Christian Witness

In analyzing our Christian witness in the 21st century, it is interesting to look back and to consider the charges that the early Christians faced in the Roman Empire. My aim is to show that Christian witness is defined not so much by how the world reacts but by the Word of God.

I quote from Everett Ferguson’s book “Church History”: “The Christian Apologists repeatedly responded to three other charges: atheism, cannibalism, and incest.” The charge of atheism came from their rejection of the Greek gods. The charge of cannibalism came from the language that surrounded the Lord’s Supper. The charge of incest likely came from the terminology of “brother” and “sister” that was used in the congregation. Of course, at root, the very act of Christian worship and refusal to burn incense to Caesar was taken as a refusal to show certain acts of loyalty that the empire demanded of “loyal” citizens. This was seen to be treason.

Comparisons between our present age and the 1st century easily get lost in subjectivity. These are different times. The 1st-3rd century was a pre-Christian era and we are living in a post-Christian era. So how shall we then live? Here are three things that existed in that era that we also need in our era.

  1. There is a great need for Christian Apologists who understand the Word and understand the times.
  2. There is a great need for Christian pastors who do not apologize for Christian language and Biblical terminology just because someone has misunderstood it. Rather pastors should avoid the feeling of being threatened and proceed to explain it patiently.
  3. Christians should learn that obedience to Christ is their greatest witness. If obedience to Christ really is the best way to live, then they will be willing to take slander for it.

I call the century that we live in a post-Christian era, not because I think that Christianity is coming to an end, but because we are facing a cycle of unbelief in the West. There are many who have compromised on essential truths and practices. Those who have not compromised have been caught by a great fear.

So what then is Christian witness?

In Luke 24:48 Jesus told His disciples that they were witness of the events of His death and resurrection and the reality of repentance and forgiveness of sins in Him. In John 20, they met in secret for fear of the Jews, and Christ entered among them and told them not to fear. When the Spirit comes upon them, the witness of the church spreads, through obedience to Christ, in the preaching of the gospel and the worship of the church and acts of love and kindness.

I have always appreciated the reason that the Heidelberg Catechism gives for doing good works. Obviously it begins with a focus on the centrality of Jesus Christ and the salvation that He bought for us with His blood. It also focuses on the centrality of the work of the Holy Spirit. It concludes with these words: “and that by our godly walk of life we may win our neighbours for Christ.”

I believe that an elder or pastor must be above reproach (I Tim. 3:2). I believe that a good name is better than great riches (Prov. 22:1). I believe that our conduct in the world must be honorable (I Peter 2:12). I believe that if we suffer, it must not be for doing evil, but for doing right (I Peter 4:15-16). But that’s the point. If you do right, you will suffer. As the Puritan pastor, Cotton Mather once stated: “For the faithful, wars will never cease.”

As always, we should be patient and cheerful in our explanations of the truth. King David once asked about how a young man could keep his path straight. It is hard. Young men want respect. But he made a beeline back to the Word of God (Psalm 119:9). That is the only place where men will receive both the praise of God and men (and we must seek the praise of God first and foremost), once they have passed through the finished work of Jesus Christ and have found salvation in Him.

We can always put more work into our Christian witness, to refine our Christian witness. That is part of our sanctification, by which we grow in holiness. For that, the Holy Spirit gives the children of God hard heads and soft hearts. Soft hearts that love and are receptive to the Word of God. Hard heads that break the blows of those who will chastise them for clinging to the Word of God. It all begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ breaking into your life. That’s what it means to be a Christian witness.

Photo by Ante Hamersmit on Unsplash

The Revolution of 2020

Sometimes you just have to step back and process everything that is coming down the pipeline in the news.

There has been a lot of upheaval in North America since approximately March 15. First, the presence of COVID-19 sent the world spiraling into lockdown. In all this, the emergency act has not ended. Within the last 2-4 weeks rioters took to the streets over the death of George Floyd. These protests even spread to Canada, although they were less violent in Canada than in the States. In the meantime the Supreme Court in the States has re-defined gender, and the Canadian government is at work to pass legislation against conversion therapy which could lead to the imprisonment of parents whose children are confused on their gender. The latest aspect of this revolution that we are seeing is a call to defund the police.

This is nothing less than a revolution. I am surprised that it took me 3 months to realize this, but back in March, I did not realize that I was standing on the precipice of a revolution. My point here is to contrast the work of the church with these revolutionaries.

At root, revolution is the forceable overthrow of a government or social order, in favor of a new system. What we saw in March was the movement from a current system of government to one designed for emergencies. What we saw in April and May was that such a system of government can be perpetuated even when they accomplished their initial goal of “flattening the curve”. What we saw in June was the rage of the mobs as they seek to dismantle even more forms of authority.

I see the hand of the Lord in all of this. When Jesus rained down judgement on the city of Jerusalem in 70 AD, so that no stone was left standing, he was smashing the power of the false church. Read the book of Revelation. The beast is false government that is opposed to the Lordship of Christ. The whore is the false church that is opposed to the Lordship of Christ. This is not a call to despair. This is a call to hope. You and I are invited into the vision of the Apostle John who sees the Son of Man seated in the heavens. He is sovereign over all the affairs of men and is using them to bring His people to repentance and to bring unbelievers to faith in Him.

I am not saying that this is the end of time. It may be. This may also be the beginning of something new. What new opportunities will we find for faithfulness in this time of upheaval? Have we become lukewarm? Will we return to our first love? We look back at the Reformation and we scorn those who did not side with the Reformers. How could they when the gospel was so clear in the Reformers teaching? Well, they wanted to take the easy route, they didn’t want to pay the price. I don’t think a Reformer has ever walked by his own statue. We are not facing an old school martyrdom like in the times of Nero and Bloody Mary. But we are facing a public shaming if we do not follow along with the current state of things. Who wants to be tarred and feathered on social media? Step up to the platform.

We should not be surprised at revolution, or grow fearful, when we see the nations in uproar. John Calvin writes in his commentary on Isaiah 9:1-7: “We see that the mightiest governments of this world, as if they had been built on a slippery foundation, (Psalm 73:18,) are unexpectedly overturned and suddenly fall. How fickle and changeable all the kingdoms under heaven are, we learn from history and from daily examples. This government alone is unchangeable and eternal.” While we honor earthly authorities and pray for them, we recognize that while revolutions and upheavals shake the world, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is seated in the heavens.

I don’t have specific answers yet for exactly what the church must do in this current situation. Pastors and elders everywhere are in desperate need, not of worldly wisdom, but of the wisdom that comes from above (James 1:17). Pastors and elders everywhere are in desperate need for the wisdom and boldness and strength to gather the wandering sheep. Satan has the church at a point where the flock is divided, and the shepherds are at a loss for what to do, and wolves are gathering on the hills as the dusk descends on the West.

I do know is that the gathering of the church is the rallying point where the message of the gospel is ministered to the hearts of men and where men and women give honor to whom it is due. But it is also a rallying point for acts of love and kindness as Christians share their latest victories and encourage one another on to love and good works. There is a reason why the writer to the Hebrews encouraged this meeting (Heb. 10:24-25) even though the church was under fire. We must never separate the meeting from Christian acts of love and mercy. We cannot separate the meeting in Acts 2:42-47 from the love that was shown to widows in Acts 6. Worship is the rallying point where we come together to vow allegiance to Jesus Christ and then go out from that place of worship and rest to show this love and care towards the citizens of this earthly country.

We are not revolutionaries. We are living in a time where ungodly revolutionaries are overthrowing all semblance of order and godliness. The Church does not grow by revolution but by regeneration. Regeneration is that seed of new life that is planted in hearts that are spiritually dead. True obedience to Christ flows from that regeneration. The revolutions in our culture began with a revolution against God. That revolution began in the church when we revolted against the authority of Christ as He rules through His Word and Spirit. Rather than living by every word that comes from the mouth of God, the church has tampered with that Word in the name of contextualization and contemporary definitions of love. The only way to respond to that is to defend the flock from the divisions that she is facing and to call all men and women everywhere to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Acts 20:8)

Photo by Michael LaRosa 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)


 

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.


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.


Photo by Richard Bell on Unsplash

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)


Photo by José Martín Ramírez C on Unsplash