The Failure of Academia

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.

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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)

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The Rule of Law and Emergency Measures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Re-Humanizing the Medical System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Staying in Your own Lane… ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Christian Ordinance of Labor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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


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.


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