I was recently introduced to a new medical term while listening to a recording of Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile. In this book he engages with the medical system and science at various points.I am engaging with what Taleb writes as someone with a BA and an MDiv.
“Iatrogenic” is something relating to illness caused by medical examination or treatment. Iatrogenics is when a treatment causes more harm than benefit. After hearing more about “Iatrogenics,” the old hyppocratic oath to do no harm is not as black and white as it immediately appears to be.
Many might argue for the current lock-down on the basis of the public safety. But it does not appear to me that things are that black and white. Especially in light of iatrogenics.
For example, many patients are not warned of the side-affects of various drugs and prescriptions. If you listen to this interview of Jordan Peterson by his daughter Mikhaila, you will hear his experience with an “iatrogenic result from his treatment.” His account has brought many other cases to public attention. I have talked to various people who have taken certain antidepressants and they are not really sure whether these meds have caused more harm than good. I am not arguing against them. I am just recognizing that there are harmful side-effects.
Here I speak of side-effects whether intended or unintended. I prefer to think that they are unintended, but we must never undermine the nature of sin. I haven’t even addressed the clear and direct harm that doctors are willing to do to people through abortion, doctor assisted suicide and euthanasia. I think some medical professionals are confused about the nature of the hyppocratic oath they took… We live in a culture of death. But I digress…
All of this lead me to reflect more on COVID-19. Recently, some Christians have popped up out of the wood-work to claim the “pro-life position” in the COVID-19 debates. They may have been barely involved in the pro-life movement. But apparently the science proves that many Christians are unloving and even murderous if they push back against COVID restrictions.But these arguments enter into a murky territory of subjectivity and trade-offs which could potentially prove to be very immoral.
Questions abound. I have written publicly on the issue of the “side-effects” of our response to COVID-19. These include mental illness, socialdivision, and economic devastation for small businesses.
My debate with “the science” is not whether every individual scientist and/or medical professional sees a man or a woman simply as a physical being. But our response has not taken into consideration the fact that sin is in the medical system. Our response has not taken into consideration the spiritual side to this situation. For years we have been fighting for the lives of the unborn and the elderly. All of a sudden with COVID our medical system has become saintly?
Many Christian counselors these days are taking a holistic approach to counselling. They are encouraging people to take health measures and go to doctors within a framework of Biblical counseling. I believe and argue that this is an excellent thing to do. Reformed Christians believe that men and women are created with both a body and a soul, both of which have been affected by the consequences of Adam’s sin. They are inter-connected. It should not exclude what I call nouthetic counseling, which deals with the root issues of sin, whether the individual has committed it or it has been done to the individual.
Our medical system does not appear to take this holistic approach. And even denies the spiritual aspect of these matters. At least in the over-arching system. There are definitely those who push against the pressure towards scientific consensus. Encouraging parents to cover their faces in front of their kids, and encouraging “physical distancing” in the schools, does not take into account many different human needs. Even Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto argued against that. Kudos to them.If you look at psychiatry and similar lines of study, many are not allowed to recognize a spiritual element.Doctors have been kicked out for helping patients in the name of Christ. Read “Psychobabble” by Dr. Richard Ganz.
Vaccines themselves (which I neither promote nor discourage) may have iatrogenic effects. A healthy skepticism is… healthy. Vaccine injury is not an uncommon circumstance. While Quebec is the only province in Canada with a system for compensation for vaccine injury the States deals out millions a year in compensation. The connection between vaccines and big pharma as well as the fact that some vaccine-makers have no liability should be a matter of concern or at least serious questioning. Yes, certain diseases have been eliminatedand there appears to be a strong connection to vaccines. But how many kids have been killed or damaged by the cure?Again. This is where we get into thorny moral territory. Especially in the area of mandatory vaccinations.
If anyone wonders where I got this from. I recently read this in an article promoting vaccines: “At a population level, these rare risks are far outweighed by the benefits of the high uptake in the vaccination. However, this implies that, in rare instances, an individual will suffer from significant consequences for the benefit of others, and that such an event can be anticipated (expected, even), though not necessarily predicted at the individual level.”
The matter of iatrogenics should not be lightly dismissed in any situation. The history of medical theory has been a history of iatrogenics. I am the recipient of unknown substances and the subject of hypotheses that are still being tested. I should challenge these things holistically and think them through rationally. Above all, as a Christian, I am called to subject them to Biblical principle and reasoning.
How should Christians live and think in an era of medical and scientific power? I’m not telling you which side of a medical issue to take a stand on. But think about this. Modern intellectuals have dealt out a strong dose of skepticism with regards to the authority of Scripture. But where does their authority come from? Apart from the revelation of God which brings us not only to see the appearances, but also what lies behind the appearances, will they promote less than moral solutions to the thorny ethical issues of the day? Christians need to seek ethical answers from the Word of God.
Conversations and discussions are good and helpful in society and it is fine for people to lie on the opposite sides of an issue. But don’t buy into the philosophy that science is neutral. It also must be tested with Biblical ethics. Taleb made this point well.
Listen to Taleb’s book Antifragile. Test every spirit. Read the Scriptures. Be humble. Seek the truth.
In the early to mid-1900s many theologians wrestled with the revolutionary spirits of the age. Especially in a society that has some lingering influence of Christianity, it seems explicable that those who have been jaded and hurt by the disobedience/unbelief of Christians, and above all those who hate what God wants for their lives, would want to throw off that influence.
I recently wrotean article on the revolutions of 2020. I wrote this drawing on ideas from the Bible, but also the wording of mid-century theologians: “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.”
Revolution is a forcible overthrow of a social order or government in favor of a new system. If we definite revolution in this worldly or naturalistic sense, it is something then that is of this world and not of God, as we find the distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of men in the Gospels.Defined in this sense, it is very much of this world.
And yet, some have argued that Christianity is indeed in a sense revolutionary. The Swiss theologian Francis Schaeffer wrote this: “One of the greatest injustices we do to our young people is to ask them to be conservative. Christianity is not conservative, but revolutionary.” I don’t believe that he meant this in the “of this world” sense of the word.
I would describe Christianity as anti-revolutionary in the fullest sense of the word. The Psalmist describes the revolution in Psalm 2 as a vain conspiracy/plot and a wild rage against the Lord and against His Anointed. This revolution seeks to burst the bonds of the Lord apart and cast away His cords. It seeks to break the yoke of Jesus Christ which is easy and light in comparison with the empires of this world.
We should remember that there are two types of revolution. The first is men who rebel against God’s gracious rule and authority (a deep rage that permeates the peoples of the earth). The second is men who rebel against the kingdoms of this world. As the church brings the gospel to the ends of the earth, we should remember that the two are distinct but not divided.
So what about my distinction between revolution and regeneration?
Revolution seeks to re-make the externals of a society. Government shifts from elected officials to health officers. It burns buildings and builds new ones. It puts new graffiti over old paint. But like a graveyard, no matter how much you water the grass and polish the tombstones, you cannot change the fact that it is a graveyard. There are dead bones underneath.
Regeneration seeks to re-make the internal life of men and women. No man can do this. Only God can do this. God uses the courage of His people to speak the truth, to preach the gospel, to live out the change that He has worked in them to spread this regeneration. First and foremost, He does this through His Son Jesus Christ who took the anti-revolutionary route of dying on a cross, before He ascended into heaven over all principalities and powers. This is what it means to be born of God. The world changes not by revolution, but by rebirth.
This is not to deny that this internal change will reveal itself in external action. The two are inseparable. A world leader who has been regenerated by the power of God will also seek to live and act by the power of God. And this really is revolutionary in the sense it it goes against the grain of the sinfulness of this world. What is of God is sent on mission in this world with the confession that Jesus is Lord.
So what? The church will always have to wrestle with the revolutionary spirits of the age and test those spirits under the light of the Word of God. The church must lift the cross above the smoke and flames of every new revolution and point to the kingdom that is from God and of God. Those who have been made new by the power of God, must continue to take responsibility under the Lordship of Christ to live in a way that does not perpetuate wicked revolutions, but the renewing and redeeming power of the Word of God, which drives us to the reality of the cross and resurrection.This includes calling the wicked to repent. Not based on the latest social theory. Not based on their status or academic training. But based on the Word of God.
The Apostle Peter captured the thrilling nature of this struggle for freedom that comes through the gospel and the Word of God. “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” (I Peter 2:15-16)
Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ. You might be able to imagine a discussion about civil authority. One person states that we must obey the civil authority and honor the king and that person may cite Romans 13 and I Peter 2. The next person tells you that you must obey God and not man and will cite Acts 5:29. One person may point to the fine that Jason and the brothers paid for the Apostle Paul in Acts 17. Another person will point out that the Apostle Paul himself fled from the authorities by night, John the Baptist rebuked Herod, the High Priest rebuked Uzziah, and Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego all obeyed God against the king’s orders.
So who is right? Does the Bible hold contradictory commands? Often when we read through Scripture, we look at a text and we forget to consider the immediate context and the broader context of all of Scripture. In the original manuscripts of the Bible, there are no chapters and verses, which forces you to consider the overall argument that is being presented to you. I don’t plan to preach on the entire Bible in one sermon. I do want you to see that Romans 13 makes sense within and is not contradictory to other commands of Scripture.
I declare the Word of the Lord to you under this theme: there is no authority except from God.
In 1st century Rome (Rom. 13)
In 16th century Europe (BC Art 36)
In 21st century North America.
In 1st century Rome (Rom. 13)
I must begin with two points.
First, in Romans 13, the Apostle Paul is not specifically addressing democracy, tyranny, or monarchy. He is not addressing the Trump government, the Trudeau government, or the dictatorship in China. He does not have a specific political party in mind. The Apostle Paul’s first allegiance is to the Son of God, the son of King David, that is King Jesus (that is what we read about in Romans 1:1-5). His primary audience is a Christian community living in a world that is not Christian. Second, the Apostle Paul is addressing the matter of legal issues as they were arising among Christians. If you read 12:14-21 or 13:8-10, he is encouraging you to think about how you respond to injustice. Think about a contract that has been broken, for example. He does not forbid Christians from seeking justice. But he lays out ground rules for how to do that. He wants you to seek justice as Christians and not as rioters and rabble-rousers.
There are three matters that Paul addresses in Romans 13: (1) you; (2) God; (3) civil authority.
First he addresses Christian responsibility, you. If you read through vs. 14-21 of ch. 12, he calls you not to repay evil for evil, to show kindness to an enemy, to overcome evil with good. This passage begins with an emphasis on you. It begins with self-government under God. This is also emphasized throughout Romans 13:1-7. Look at vs. 3b: “Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval.” Look at vs. 4b: “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.” Look at vs. 5: “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.” It is far better to endure wrong than to do wrong. If you join in on wrong-doing you may incur the wrath of the authority, but you will endure the wrath of God. He also promises in chapter 12:19 that if the approved authorities will not judge, then God Himself will one day judge. So the passage begins with this call to personal responsibility: do good.
Why do we do good? Well, because God is God. In Romans 13, the Apostle Paul addresses God’s authority over all authority. There is no authority on earth that we can consider without understanding God’s authority over all. You may know the famous quote from the Dutch Preacher and statesman Abraham Kuyper: ““There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” We just read in chapter 12, vs. 19, that you must not return evil for evil, because God will repay. God is God and you are not, so don’t play God. In fact, He has set court systems into place to respond to evil in the world. This is important. The court systems have been set in place by God. When the courts systems do wrong, they also are held accountable to God. You are still called to do good. When the court systems do not praise what is right, you are still called to do good.
What is the responsibility or role of the civil authority? God gives the civil authority the task to punish evil and reward good. God has ordained them, but He has also given them a specific task. You might even call it a narrow task. He has given the civil authority the sword to punish evil and reward good. Their duty is not to keep us safe or to take care of us. Their duty is to punish evil and reward good. What is important here is that they have a very specific task which is set within a very specific sphere of authority or responsibility. They do not have unlimited authority or authority with no boundaries at any time. Their authority stands under the authority of God Himself. They are called to act as servants of God, to respect Him.
How does this apply today? Look at the rioting throughout the States and in Toronto and Montreal over the death of George Floyd. A police officer acted unjustly in killing this man. Justice against this civil authority should have been pursued in the civil courts. Instead, large mobs returned evil for evil. They did this through the destruction of private property. In some cases, they killed people. The Apostle Paul knows the nature of sin. There is sin in the heart of the mob. There is sin in the Church. There is sin among civil authorities. He knows that Christians can also get caught up in the mobs of the day and join them in doing evil. And so you are called to take the appropriate routes of justice through the God-ordained means.
The Apostle Paul does not approve of the unjust use of authority. He does not call for blind submission to abusive authority. The Apostle Paul also calls for the submission of a wife to her husband (Eph. 5), he calls for the submission of members to their church authorities (Heb. 13), he calls for the submission of the Christian to the civil authority (Rom. 13). But no authority is absolute. Husbands do not have unfettered authority. Pastors do not have unfettered authority. Politicians do not have unfettered authority. There is no authority except that which is from God. That means you are set free to do what is right and good and noble and lovely, not using your freedom to mask evil, but fearing God and serving God in all things.
Let us turn to our reading from the Belgic Confession:
In 16th century Europe (BC Art 36)
Throughout history, Christians have struggled with how to live godly lives when the civil authority will punish them for doing good, when unjust authorities rise up and say that evil is good and that good is evil, when they enter into areas of life that do not belong to them. These are not easy answers. We live in a sinful world. Sin doesn’t make sense.
This is why this article of the Belgic Confession was written and edited and debated over. In the 1500s there was a group called the anabaptists who denied any civil authority whatsoever. Meanwhile the civil authorities were persecuting Reformed pastors and elders, by forbidding them to preach and teach and practice God’s Word. The Reformers did not want to deny that the authority had been ordained by God, but they knew that they had to obey Jesus Christ in their teaching and their practice as a church. These pastors and elders struggled in regions where oppressive governments ganged up with the Roman Catholic Church to attack them and restrict their activities. Many Dutch, Polish and French Christians fled to England where they were allowed to worship and shepherd their congregations with greater freedom. Their court systems would not defend what was good as the Apostle Paul teaches that they must in Romans 13. Many were forced to flee. Others were imprisoned. Others were killed.
Like Romans 13, the Belgic Confession focuses on three parties: (1) God; (2) you; (3) the courts.
Consider the sovereignty of God. God has ordained kings, princes, civil officers because of the depravity of the human race. God has placed the sword in the hands of the government. The goal is a society pleasing to God. The civil authority is placed in subjection to God’s Law.
Consider your responsibility: all must be subject, pay taxes, honor and respect, pray for them. But notice that there is an important clause that is in here: be subject in all things that are not in conflict with God’s Word. In other words, do good, that is, good as defined by the Holy Bible.
And what about the civil courts? There have been some debates on this article over the last 500 years. These debates were not over the civil courts being given to little power or a narrow task, instead the article started off with too broad and too wide a mandate for the civil courts, giving them too much authority in the life of the Church. Their primary task is to punish evil and reward good. The glory of God is the goal of their work. It is also specifically stated that they should do this while completely refraining from every tendency to exercise absolute authority. Why is that added? The 1800s and 1900s saw the rise of a number of tyrants and Romans 13 teaches that there is no authority but from God.
Think about where both Romans 13 and the Belgic Confession directs your attention: to God. One reason that constitutions have bound western civil authorities is due to the influence of Romans 13 and the pattern of authority throughout Scripture. Secularism says that Christianity is one of many religions and this means that civil authority is ultimately a law in and of itself as society determines its own truth. The Holy Spirit says that there is no authority but from God and that all authority must stand under His truth. Husbands are not a law in and of themselves. Pastors and elders are not a law in and of themselves. Police officers and politicians are not a law in and of themselves. Jesus Christ is the one who has been given authority over all things.
In 21st Century North America
These are Biblical principles for how you can think about authority today. I am focusing on what Belgic Confession Article 36 focuses on: the sovereignty of God.
This is important. No human authority is absolute or unlimited. The authority of a father, a husband, a pastor, an elder, or a civil servant is not absolute or unlimited.
There is only One whose authority is absolute and unlimited. This is the One who had the authority to lay down His life for His people and take it up again. This is the One who before ascending into heaven blessed His people and said to them: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20).
If He is the one with all authority, then all authority on earth flows from Him. The bureaucrats in the Roman Empire wouldn’t have agreed with the task and God-centered calling that the Apostle Paul laid out for the civil authority in Romans 13. They would have liked the part where Christians were called to submit, but not the part where they were held accountable to God. They thought that their authority flowed from the emperor. The Apostle Paul said that their authority flowed from God.
There is no authority but from God. When you look at the entirety of Scripture, you will see that God has ordained civil courts, church courts, parental courts, etc. You will see that at many times in history Christians have spoken out for the vulnerable. Paul calls a wife to submit to her husband, but both Jesus and Paul made provision for a wife to appeal to the church and/or civil courts against a truly abusive husband. Paul calls Christians to submit to their leaders, but church leaders began to realize that the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church was making statements and wielding authority that did not belong to them, and so they appealed to Acts 6 and I Tim 3 for a consistorial form of church government. Some might argue that the very idea of binding a king to a constitution arose from a Christian framework. Sin exists wherever people are. And so it is the aim to hold all forms of government accountable and transparent to God.
You might be punished by the civil authority for doing what is good. You might be told not to do what is good. As Christians, you are permitted to protest and appeal decisions made by the civil authority in respectful and honorable ways. The Apostle Paul made full use of the Roman court system in order to bring the gospel right to Caesar. He could have been set free in Jerusalem, but he chose instead to appeal to Caesar, and to use his rights as a Roman citizen. This is part of living as a Christian citizen. That is what the courts have been ordained by God for. Christians are not allowed to join riots and destroy private property or human life or reputations by taking the law into their own hands. If those who commit such evil are not judged in the present day, they will receive the wrath of God on the last day. Unless they repent. But you are called to obey God in all things and do good.
Consider the glorious authority of Jesus Christ. There is no authority but from God and He has set His Son to reign. Jesus is not a tyrant. He is a king who is exalted to be king by serving and laying down His life. God showed His love for You and me in that while we were still rebel sinners, He sent Christ to die for us. Even though we rose up and militated against God’s good order, and made our own lives and society a complete mess, Jesus laid down His life on a cross. He did this so that we might be set free from that life of rebellion and sorrow. The reason that it is such a delight to call Jesus King, is because He is Savior and He has come to save His people from their sins and from the power of sin and slavery. He gives this freely. It is a free gospel. A free gospel makes you free men and women. When the Son sets you free you will be free indeed. Amen.
I have always had a love-hate relationship with academia. Don’t get me wrong. I am looking at it as a whole and not at the individual parts. I am friends with and look up to and learn from a number of academics. You might even call me an academic to some degree (I know some academics who might strongly contend with that). I love reading and studying and learning more. But I never have really cared about getting published in academic journals. I might be interested in getting a doctorate some day. But not because I care about the credentials. I would do it for the rigorous scrutiny. That being said, a pastor is not first an academic, but a servant of Christ, or as Paul says, a slave of Jesus Christ.
I want to demonstrate in this post, what is the failure in much of modern academia and how this failure stems back to their rejection of Christian and Biblical principles for education.
In my third year of college, I was particularly fed up with academics. That is, not the people, but the pursuit. Maybe it was because I was studying the philosophy of math and I had a really good professor who was trying to make us think deeply about reality. This lead me into the Book of Ecclesiastes, and I ended up writing a paper on Ecclesiastes for theology while studying the philosophy of math and other classes like the history of western philosophy and art. One verse caught my attention: “The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” (Ecc. 12:11-12)
If you look through some of my philosophy of math books from that year, I wrote a number of comments about the vanity of life in the margins. Weirdly, Ecclesiastes never led me to stop reading and studying, but led me to do it more…
One of the central ideas of Ecclesiastes is that vanity looks like a shepherd trying to shepherd the wind. The Preacher applies this to academia as well in the first chapters. Over the last couple months as I watch leaders who have been trained in 20th and 21st century academia try to respond to the current crisis, it looks a lot like shepherds trying to shepherd the wind, to corral it, to tame it. I appreciate many of their efforts. I am sure there have been things learned. But I also hope that we have spent some time seeking to analyze academia itself, what it is based on and where it is heading.
I often think of Ecclesiastes as presenting a holistic view of life and even education. In Ecclesiastes 5 we are brought into the temple, to consider God’s sovereignty over all things. Before, the preacher pursued knowledge in a segregated universe, that had no unifying factor. But then as he grows in His understanding of the sovereignty of God, he also steadily develops a greater appreciation for how everything fits together in the world. He redevelops a childlike love and wonder for all the moving parts in God’s creation. He recognizes that this world is sinful and broken, but that God is sovereign over all that sin and brokenness.
And here is where I put in a plug for New Saint Andrew’s College, a liberal arts college in Moscow Idaho (https://www.nsa.edu/). In the last couple months I have seen a huge amount of flux in academia. The conflicts over whether or not UofT psychology prof, Jordan Peterson, would use people’s preferred pronouns, heralded a coming confusion. As I write this, universities and colleges are suspending departments and laying off staff for the year of 2020-2021. Gender has finally been redefined in the supreme courts of the USA. Scientists are presenting conflicting reports about viruses. Church leaders are butting heads over the appropriate responses. Academic Institutions are wracking up debt and struggling with conflicting reports from their beloved scientists about how to proceed in the coming school year. It all feels so much like vanity and grasping after wind. Meanwhile, I have been watching the most recent series of promotional videos coming from NSA. They are willing to state obvious truths as riots rip through the States and as governments oppose and contradict one another. They may be one of the few liberal arts programs that thrive. Marxism doesn’t work. Scientism doesn’t work. And they have not just stated these things privately. They have openly challenged the rippling fear with the truth that God is Creator and the truth that He is sovereign.
There are certain truths that should be axiomatic to all of education. God is sovereign and man is not. In Christ, all things hold together (including science and theology). While all universities should start with these truths, yet, one can still hold to these truths even if a university rejects them. My wife received two art and graphic design degrees at two secular universities in BC Canada. Even though I went to a private Christian liberal arts college in the States and she went to two secular universities in Canada, it is important and I would dare say even crucial, that we agree on these axiomatic truths. These truths bring all of our unique studies together in a beautiful harmony that operates under the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
I believe that there is a failure in much of modern academia and this failure stems back to their rejection of Christian and Biblical principles for education. Even much of modern seminary education struggles to speak with authority into modern academia because at root their is a deep antagonism between the mind-set of modern academia and basic Biblical principles. Even in modern orthodox and conservative seminaries there is a struggle with how to use or not to use text-critical methodologies. This is not to say that we cannot learn from modern methodologies. But we should be incredibly careful. We may want to be accepted.But it is this caution that brings about the antithesis. And it is this antithesis is crucial.
Christian education should not be used as an excuse to check out of modern debates and discussions. But if we do not begin with the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Christ in both word and action, then it too will become a vanity and a grasping and a shepherding of the vapor.
Listen to the most excellent wisdom of the preacher in Jerusalem: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.” (Ecc. 5:1-3) Good academics begins with a deep and profound humility. And the primary expression of this humility is when an academic stands before his Creator and listens to Him speak.
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.
There is a great need for Christian Apologists who understand the Word and understand the times.
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.
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.
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)
It is a weird feeling to have a law system in a country and then all of a sudden in 3 months the rule book is drastically changed.
What is an emergency act? I’m still not totally sure. I am sure that lawyers who have studied the constitution would know a lot more than I do. What rules are in place to maintain the distinction between church and state during the imposition of an emergency act and to put temporal boundaries on an emergency act? Not sure… I would like to hear feedback. What kind of democratic laws and processes continue to abide under an emergency act? Not really sure. What laws bind the lawmakers during an emergency? Again, it is unclear. It seems like we are stepping into a brave new world that many didn’t vote for…
A lot of discussion has gone around about trust. We don’t trust our state. Wedon’t trust our scientific communities. Before I say anything about that. I should also make another remark. The state and the medical system does not seem to trust ecclesiastical authorities. Do we have freedom and authority to make prudent decisions in the light of the current chaos? It doesn’t seem to be so… Maybe we do! I just don’t know. It sounds like we are being given orders, but maybe they are just recommendations…
It is a legal jungle out there for churches. I think we are getting a better idea of what emergency measures look like in a secular nation rather than a Christianized nation like we had during the Spanish flu. The presence of the internet gives our civil authorities an excuse for their approach. But it is inherently a secular response.
As we head into the coming years we should be asking ourselves a multitude of questions about our emergency response. How important is the Church in times of emergency? What kind of freedoms are necessary to maintain during an emergency? What constitutes an emergency? What physical evidence of an emergency needs to be present in society in order to maintain emergency measures? Is it better to do waves of emergency, where society, or parts of society, are locked down in periods of 1-3 weeks at a time?
Emergency in a technological age brings us into a legal frontier. How do we continue to operate on our constitutional foundation on the frontier?
To lay down clear principles will only create trust. But the current morass of legalese and extreme measures for months on end with no end in sight will only create distrust. Safety and freedom should never be pitted against each other.
In a former post, I brought up my concern that scientists are thinking primarily about medical risk, but not economic, mental health, or spiritual risks. I am still willing to be convinced that the medical risks of this crisis over-ride every other risk. But that is not the purpose of my relentless writing.
Over the course, of the last couple weeks, the concern came up that Prime Minister Trudeau has joined forces with China to develop a vaccine with china from a fetal cell line from aborted babies. It was concerning to see how many Christians continue to call people to support their governments and then turn a blind eye to some of the ethical issues surrounding such research.
Of course, to speak out on this matter, brings up a whole host of ethical issues. For example, we use research that was developed during Nazi human experimentation. So can we use research that was developed during Canadian and Chinese human experimentation? Many of those who speak glowingly of Bonhoeffer might tell me to stay silent at this point.
My purpose is not to argue for or against vaccines. My purpose is not to argue for or against the shut-down. My purpose is to pursue a line of argumentation that many Christians should be pursuing.
The American scientist Lewis Thomas wrote in the 1900s. I have three of his books: “The Youngest Science,” “The Lives of a Cell,” and “The Medusa and the Snail.” From my understanding, he was an atheist, but he had some startling insights. For example, he once wrote about scientific reductionism: “Much of today’s public anxiety about science is the apprehension that we may forever be overlooking the whole by an endless, obsessive preoccupation with the parts.”
One thing that you may notice is that there is a thriving medical system that lies on the fringe of the publicly sanctioned medical system. While it is on the fringe, many health insurance programs include naturopathy, chiropractic, etc. I have been in the hospital for bone fractures, but more often I have found medical care through alternative medicine. Through my own experience and the testimony of a large variety of friends I have found that things like rashes, aches and pains, etc, are often better treated outside the public medical system.
So what point am I getting at? It is not my point to discredit the public medical system. They do many good things: surgeries, treating extreme illness, etc. But one wonders why alternative medicine has become so popular.
Much of our modern medical system has accepted the language of what they believe is science. For example, the baby in the uterus, is reduced to a fetus, and can be treated like a useless appendage. Doctor assisted suicide (commonly known as medically assisted dying) for the elderly and infirm has become more popular. Back in January, the government was considering extending this to the mentally ill. You can read about this in the National Post. There is a de-humanizing tendency in our modern medical systems. Whether it is Nazi, Chinese, or Canadian, it is still de-humanizing.
What is man? In a medical system that de-humanizes babies and the elderly, no wonder that we can so coldly use their DNA, and believe that somehow the world is a better place as a result of it. I once heard someone rebuke their opposition for wanting to build an economy on the blood and bones of those who die from COVID-19. We have been building a medical system for at least 50 years (the strains of fetal cells came out in the 60s and 70s) on the blood and bones of the most vulnerable in society. Maybe more people live with vaccines than without vaccines. Maybe more people will live from the shut-down than without the shut-down. But what part of our soul are we willing to give away for that ideal?
Over the last two months I have been haunted by the spectre of what a society looks like under quarantine. There are elderly who have had to die alone. Pastors are not allowed to visit the sick and dying. Hugs and hand-shakes are forbidden at funerals. Weddings have been reduced to 5 attendees. I have been reading about the economic collapse that the northern province of Newfoundland is facing. Churches have been shut down and small businesses are going under while Walmart and Home Depot keep on bringing in crowds and income. And now our Prime Minister is rushing a vaccine that is using aborted babies. It is a dangerous world out there. If you aren’t scared of COVID-19, there are many more dangers at every turn. Of course, I am not advocating fear, but a more humanized medical system, a re-humanized medical system.
We need to relentlessly ask the hard questions. We are not robots. We are not blobs of scientific processes. We are made in the image of God. And that truth changes everything.
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.
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 examplehere). (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)