Uncategorized

Next, Religious Persecution

Stalin’s-Deadly-Rule

The United States is the only nation in world history to have been founded largely to guarantee religious liberty. Today, that liberty is under increasing attack. Obamacare is trying to force Catholic hospitals as well as Christian businesses to provide contraceptives to their patients and/or employees. New Mexico will not allow a photographer to exercise her religious convictions in not photographing a gay “wedding.” A painting in the dining hall of a military base in Idaho was forcibly removed because it contained a Bible verse. Such cases could, unfortunately, be multiplied by the hundreds. For a sampling of such cases, please visit the Alliance Defending Freedom, arguably the nation’s predominant Christian legal organization standing up to the secular bullies crushing religious liberty underfoot.

The Harbinger of Religious Persecution

The next step after the deprivation of religious liberty is religious persecution. Americans (Christian or not) who stand for biblical ethics, particularly biblical sexual ethics, are being shouted down, fired from their jobs, forced to resign, canceled from speaking engagements, and publicly vilified. Publicly vilifying Christians and Christian morality has long been a Marxist technique. What is new is its mainstream use in the United States. This technique has been used in our leftist academia for 40 years. Now it is widespread in the major media, the corporate world, the sports world, and politics. The goal of this technique has always been radical social revolution, meaning: the dramatic secularization of culture and installation of “principled” antinomianism. By “principled” I mean antinomianism enshrined as a coherent public policy, not simply garden-variety antinomianism, which has been with us since Genesis 3. The purging of Christian symbols from all public property, the legalization of same-sex “marriage” and abortion, and the prohibition of religious speech in the military are all examples of “principled” antinomianism.

The proper immediate response to “principled” antinomianism is legal counteraction. The proper long-term response is the creation of Christian culture.

Eventually Western civilization will come down to Christianity or anti-Christianity.

And this means Christian culture or anti-Christian culture.

There will be no middle ground.

Standard
Uncategorized

A Lamb for a Household: A Theology of Family Salvation

religious-marvellous-religious-christian-family-backgrounds

 

Text: Exod. 12:1–14

Introduction

From Moses’ account of the first Passover we learn great truths about two themes: we learn about God’s way of saving us, and we learn how important the family is in that plan.

Before we learn important truths from the Passover about household salvation, we need to learn important truths from the Passover about salvation.

Salvation by Substitutionary Blood-Shedding

The Passover was one of the most important events to God’s old covenant people. The only other event that could even be considered as important is the Day of the Atonement. Both teach the same basic truths about salvation. We are sinners. God judges sin. His final judgment for sin is death. The only way to be rescued from God’s judgment is for something or someone to die in our place. In other words, there can be no salvation from judgment unless God’s justice has been satisfied by blood shedding, a symbol of violent death.

Let’s think about the Passover. God predicted that the Jews would be enslaved in Egypt for 400 years (Gen. 25:26). He raised up Moses and Aaron to lead them out of Egypt. He sent massive, frightening plagues on Egypt because Pharaoh refused God’s commandment to liberate the Jews. (The Egyptians paid a heavy price for Pharaoh’s rebellion, just as we pay a heavy price today for our political leaders’ rebellion.) Finally, God brought the hammer down fully.

In Exodus 11 God told Moses to tell Pharaoh: “At midnight, I’m traveling through Egypt. I’ll visit every house, and I’ll kill every firstborn, from man to beast, in every family, starting with your family, Pharaoh.” God predicted that, even with this horrific threat, Pharaoh wouldn’t listen. And he didn’t.

Universal human sinfulness

But God wasn’t just leveling his judgment on the Egyptians. He was also leveling his judgment on the Jews. Now consider this very carefully: as far as human sinfulness is concerned, there is no difference between the Jews and the Egyptians. They were all sinners; they all stood under God’s judgment. The Jews weren’t exempt from God’s judgment just because they were God’s chosen people. (Paul makes the same point in Romans 1-3. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. All have sinned and are guilty. All have sinned and therefore stand under God’s judgment.)

There was a difference between the Jews and the Egyptians (Ex. 11:7), but that difference wasn’t that the Jews weren’t sinners, while the Egyptians were sinners. No. The difference is that God provided a way of salvation from judgment for the Jews (and any Egyptians who were willing to join the Jews; see vv. 37–38).

And that way meant death. The Egyptians had to die, because they, in the form of their representative, had sinned. This is why all the firstborn had to die. The firstborn children and animals were a representative, just as Pharaoh was a representative. In killing the firstborn, God was symbolically leveling judgment on everybody.

God’s loving, holy character

Now we need to think very hard about what this judgment teaches about God’s character. God created man and woman to share the fellowship of the Trinity (Jn. 17:20–24). God loved to commune with Adam and Eve in the Garden before they sinned (Gen. 3:8a), just as he loves to commune with us. Living our lives in communion with the Triune God and fulfilling his stewardship of creation is what man was created for (Gen. 1:28–30). When man turns his back on God, he turns his back on the very reason for his existence. This is why death is the penalty for sin. When we turn our backs on God, when we rebel against him, there’s no good reason for us to go on living. That may seem like a hard verdict, but that’s the Bible’s verdict. The only reason that God allows sinful man to keep on living temporarily is because God is a God of grace. Sin deserves death, because sin is the opposite of God’s intention for us.

So when God destroyed almost all of mankind with the Flood, and when God killed the firstborn in Egypt, he wasn’t being cruel. He was making sure he would fulfill his original intention for man: to commune with him.

God is “in the right”

The great evil of sin is that it ruptures that communion. It ruptures communion because God is a righteous God. Righteous basically means, “in the right.” God is always in the right. When we sin, we are in the wrong. If God did not judge sin, he would be indifferent toward the wrong. But as a right-eous God, he can’t be indifferent towards the wrong. This is another way of saying that God is a God of justice. This also means that God can’t commune with unrighteous people — that is, people whose entire orientation to life is different from his. God is a righteous being who communes with other righteous beings.

Since man is a sinner, this puts us in a big predicament. How can he be righteous? We already see in Exodus 12 the basic answer[1] to that question. We can’t make ourselves righteous in God sight. Got himself must “righteous” us. He does this by leveling his judgment on a substitute. At Passover, that substitute was a pure, spotless lamb. The Jews killed the lamb; they ate the lamb; and they sprinkled its blood on the door of their home.

How the lamb redeems

First, Got had them kill the lamb, because the penalty for sin is death. He leveled his judgment on the lamb so that he wouldn’t level it on the firstborn in the Jewish house. This is the only way he could rescue the Jews.

Second, Got had the Jews eat the lamb, because that eating symbolizes union with the one who bore the sacrifice.[2] Our food becomes a part of our being. It wasn’t enough to look at the dead flesh of the lamb. You had to eat that cooked flesh. Salvation isn’t just intellectual. We must act in faith on the sacrifice.

Third, God had the Jews smear the lamb’s blood on the door. Why? To make a public, visible testimony of the faith of that house’s occupants (a “sign,” v. 13). In other words, salvation is not a private, secret matter. In the new covenant, the Christian is required to be baptized. Baptism is a public declaration of faith. At Passover, the blood on the doors let everybody know that the Jews believed in and practiced God’s way of salvation.

Why Pass-over?

And this is where we come to the main point. Why do we call this festival Passover?[3] Because there is the greatest significance to God’s passing over the house. Why is he passing over? Because he sees the blood (v. 13). In other words, he sees that his justice has been satisfied.

Now it is most striking that this is just the point about salvation that God would want to stress with Israel — and with us. Sin must be judged before we can be saved. And if we’re not to be judged ourselves, we must have a substitute. The death of the lamb is the only protection from God’s judgment. There is simply no other way.

This is called sacrificial or substitutionary atonement. It was payment for sin before God by substitution. The Passover lamb was sacrificed and died so the firstborn could be spared.

The final Passover

Now we know from the New Testament that the Passover was not God’s final, definitive way of salvation. Like all the other sacrifices of the Old Testament, it pointed to the one, final, enduring sacrifice, Jesus Christ. John the Baptist said that Jesus Christ was the lamb of God that takes away the world’s sin (Jn. 1:29). Peter tells us that Christians are bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Pet. 1:19). In Revelation, John calls the risen Lord the lamb, again and again and again. And Paul explicitly writes that Jesus is our Passover (1 Cor. 5:7).

The Passover in the Old Testament was most significant because it pointed to Jesus as our Passover lamb (see Heb. 9:26–28). All of our sins were laid on him (2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 5:2; 1 Pet. 3:18). On the Cross, God poured out his judgment on his Son in our place. Just as the Passover lamb was killed to spare the Jews, so Jesus Christ was killed on the Cross to spare us. And had Jesus not suffered on the Cross and died for our sins, we would await God’s judgment in hell. Salvation is by the shedding of blood. There is simply no other way.

Attack on substitutionary atonement: attack on God’s love

Theological liberals[4] deny substitutionary atonement. You may recall that not long ago the liberal Presbyterian Church of United States (PCUSA)[5] dropped the great hymn “In Christ Alone” from its new hymnal. One line in particular offended the liberal Presbyterians: “[O]n that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” They asked Stuart Townsend and his co-author whether they could change that last line to “the love of God was magnified.” They said thank you very much, but no, you may not. Of course, the Cross magnified the love of God, but it magnified his love by showing that he was willing to sacrifice his own Son on the Cross for us in order to meet the terms of his justice. His wrath against sin was satisfied on the Cross. There is no greater magnification of the love of God than that. This is why the liberal view is so disgraceful. It is an attack on the love of God.

This is how much God the Father loved us (Jn. 3:16): he sent his own precious Son to die on the Cross in our place, suffering his own wrath for our sin. If we don’t have substitutionary atonement, we have lost an indispensable part of the Gospel.

Jesus Christ is our Passover lamb. The shedding of blood is the way that God saves sinners (Heb. 9:22). And there is no other way.

A Lamb for a House

So much for the Passover and its truths about salvation. Now, what about its truths concerning household salvation?

The Jews were to take a lamb for every house (v. 3). Now this fact is especially noteworthy. Why didn’t God just call a great convocation and have several lambs killed? Or simply have individuals kill their own lamb? Because he was showing symbolically that he’s interested in household redemption. The Puritans were fond of saying, “God casts the lines of election in the loins of godly parents.” They didn’t mean that children born in Christian families are “automatically saved.” That’s a dangerous presumption (Jn. 8:39; Rom. 9:10–13). Children from Christian families must put their trust in Jesus Christ like everyone else.

God’s family focus in redemption

However, God’s focus in redemption starts (though it never ends) in Christian families. This is why Peter stated in the first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection that the Gospel promise is to the listeners and to their children (Ac. 2:38–39). This is why we read in the book of Acts that individuals were saved and baptized, “and their house.” This is why Paul taught that children are holy, or set apart, if they have even one Christian parent (1 Cor. 7:14). God casts the lines of election in the loins of godly parents.

You’ll notice that God told Moses that if the house is too small for the lamb, they must share it with other houses. In other words, the household may be too small for the lamb, but the lamb is never too small for the household. The blood of Jesus Christ is always sufficient for the household. God wanted to make sure that every single person in the household benefited from that lamb. In other words, every person in that household should be redeemed.

The comfort of household salvation

God’s way of household salvation should encourage us. It should raise our expectations. It should comfort us when our spouses or children are drifting from the Faith.

Look at it this way. If there is even a single Christian parent in the family, everybody in that family stands in a privileged position before God. I didn’t say everyone is “automatically saved.” I said that everyone stands in a privileged position. Paul says this flat out: “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy” (1 Cor. 7:14). “Holy” means sanctified, set apart for God’s unique purpose.

A privileged position

This means that children in Christian families are not on the same footing as children in non-Christian families. Our children are granted a privileged position. They’re members of God’s visible covenant body. They hear the word of God taught at home and at church. They’re instructed in the Gospel and the Faith. They hear their parents and pastor and church teachers and often schoolteachers pour out their hearts before God. They’re so privileged because they have very close contact with the things of God. This is why it’s so tragic when they utterly turn their back on God and depart from the Faith. They have so many privileges. It’s an act of almost unforgivable ingratitude when they throw these precious Christian jewels before the swine of the world.

But even when our children drift from the Gospel, we have God’s promises. We know they haven’t forgotten all that God has placed in them. We know that God still privileges them. If your children are drifting, remind God of his covenant promises. Remind them of their covenant privileges.

Nourishing the lambs in the Gospel

Meanwhile, nourish the lambs in the Gospel. I use that expression a lot. What do I mean by it? I mean you should surround and suffocate your children with the things of God. When they get up in the morning, remind them of God’s goodness and creation and then the Cross and the resurrection. Remind them that the Bible is God’s precious word, and read the Bible to them, and as they get older, have them read it for themselves. Spend time praying with them, and pray for specific things, and when God answers, give God the glory. This will increase their faith. Keep them in God’s house. This is God’s chosen community, and they need to grow up in that Gospel community. In this community, your children are nearest to the Gospel’s covenant sacraments — baptism and communion.[6] Christians who consistently pull their children out of church for some other activities are teaching their children that those other activities are more important than the house of God. That is very bad, and very dangerous, teaching.

Almost everything in our contemporary culture wars against almost everything we Christians hold dear. Therefore, nothing less than nourishing the lambs in the Gospel at every point, suffocating those lambs in the Gospel, will suffice.

When at that first Passover, God commanded a lamb for a house, he was laying down the terms of household salvation. We dare not deviate from those terms.

Conclusion

Let me review. There can be no redemption apart from sacrificial, or substitutionary, atonement. In the Old Testament, lambs and goats had to die to avert God’s judgment. But they were only a temporary atonement. They pointed to the one, final, enduring atonement — Jesus our Savior and Lord. Trusting in the crucified and risen Lord alone is the only way of salvation.

God’s plan is a lamb for a household. That means: the substitutionary atonement I just talked about is designed first for the Christian family. We should live in the expectation that God wants to save everyone in our house. And we should act on that expectation by nourishing the lambs in the Gospel. God casts the lines of election in the loins of godly parents.

 

[1] The complete answer, of course, would come only with Jesus’ sacrificial death on the Cross.

[2] This is what Jesus means in John 6 when he requires that all who would belong to him eat his flesh and drink his blood. He is not talking about sacramental salvation. He is pointing out that sinners must actually join themselves by faith to him, cast themselves entirely on him and his atoning work, if salvation is to be effectual. The metaphor is one of incorporation. In other words, we are saved by incorporation, not merely contemplation.

[3] It’s also called the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex. 12:17f.).

[4] Also the Eastern Orthodox.

[5] There are, of course, theological conservatives and conservative churches in this denomination, but it is clear that they are not in the leadership.

[6] Our congregation practices infant baptism and gives communion to all who were baptized. But the teachings above apply to Christians and churches whatever their specific view of baptism and communion.

Standard
Uncategorized

An Analogy for Authority in the Family

happy-family-on-the-floor

The Bible teaches that the husband should “rule” the home (1 Tim. 3:5). It equally teaches that the woman is the “head” and “master” of the home (1 Tim. 5:14). It teaches, further, that the husband is the “head” of his wife (Eph. 5:23). It teaches, finally, that the Dad and Mom share in authority in the lives of their children. How do these teachings cohere as they relate to the family? While no analogy is perfect, let me offer one.

CEO’s and COO’s

Enlisting organizational nomenclature, the husband is more like the CEO, and the wife is more like the COO. The husband establishes policy, and the wife implements that policy. Of course, this doesn’t mean the husband doesn’t teach their children, too, nor that the wife never establishes policy. Both Proverbs and Deuteronomy are quite clear about this. Yet if we read Proverbs 31:10–31, we note immediately how extensive the wife’s family responsibilities are. She’s actively providing for her family. This is not, I must add quickly, the modern idea of the “career woman.” It’s a description of a godly woman using all of her husband-encouraged resources to provide in ways appropriate to her for the needs of her husband and children (and in the culture at that time, servants).

By contrast, you’ll note that the husband is known “in the gates” (v. 23). “Gates” refers to his leadership in the wider culture of the time, and from the NT we know this would include the church (1 Tim. 3:2). The distinct picture here is: the husband is cultivating his love for his wife and directing her in her leadership of the family. Her main role is “domestic.” His main role is “foreign”: outside the confines of the home, providing for his household as the breadwinner, leading in the culture.

Let me say again that this metaphor isn’t perfect (the family obviously isn’t a business corporation), but I believe that it captures for our own mindset much of what the Bible is teaching. The husband is the principal leader in the home, but he spends much less time implementing that leadership than in helping his wife to implement the kind of home that the Bible requires.

The Bible is therefore neither egalitarian (since the husband governs the wife), nor patriarchal (since the Dad and Mon share authority in the lives of their children).

Standard
Uncategorized

Easter Culture

carav10

 

It’s easy to think about the implications of Jesus’ resurrection for individuals. It’s especially easy to do this in our time, because we are a highly individualistic society. What’s most important in life is what affects me. I am the sole judge of my “values” and my fate. “No one has the right to judge me.” Or so goes the mantra of postmodernity. So when postmoderns in the church think about Easter, they naturally consider primarily, if not exclusively, its implications for them as individuals: what has the resurrected Jesus done for me. Better: what has he done for me lately. This attitude fits quite nicely with the self-centeredness and the downright narcissism of postmodernity.

To be fair: this is not a modern problem. The Protestant Reformation itself reintroduced a highly individualist element into the Gospel, which in fact had been obscured by the overly collective approach to the Faith in Latin Christianity for hundreds of years. Jesus, after all, did die on the Cross and rise from the dead for individual sinners, who must individually trust in Jesus in order to be saved. In time, however, this entirely valid individualism eclipsed broader dimensions of the Faith, particularly its cultural dimensions.

But if we understand the resurrection, we can’t escape the cultural dimensions of Christianity. In fact, it’s possible that there’s no more culturally significant fact in the Bible than Jesus’ resurrection, apart from the creation of the world itself. Easter is all about culture.

Corporeal Culture

First, Easter culture is corporeal culture. You’d think this would be an “Elementary, my dear Watson” moment for all Christians. Resurrection obviously is about a physical body coming out of the grave. All orthodox Christians understand this. It’s the liberals who tend to deny bodily resurrection, that is to say, resurrection. But too many conservatives have purchased stock in the old pagan Greek idea of the immortality of the soul. Many of the ancient Greeks believed that the human soul was preexistent and was inserted into an earthly body, and when that body dies, the soul will escape back into eternity. Many Christians adapted this pagan view to their religion, and they ended up believing that there’s an entirely separate, non-material part of man that escapes death and goes to heaven. They didn’t deny bodily resurrection, since the Bible so obviously teaches it, but they tended to deemphasize it. In the Bible, however, it’s the resurrection of the body, not the immortality of the soul, however that’s defined, that’s most important (2 Cor. 5:1–4).

 Gnostic bad creation versus Easter culture

And it’s important not just for the individual but for human culture as well. Jesus rose from the dead not as a spirit (which is no resurrection anyway), but as a body. In doing this, he verified that the physical world is not somehow inherently inferior to an ideal, non-physical world, as the Gnostics taught. This means that health and food and sex and wealth are not somehow peripheral and sinful. They’re part of God’s good creation. When in “Sympathy for the Devil” Brian G. Mattson exposed Darren Aronofsky’s movie Noah as a subversive, gnostic retelling of the biblical account, he was implicitly defending Easter culture. If God’s created world is truly good, there is no virtue in trying to escape it. Sin, not creation, is the problem.

Physical goodness is culturally significant. Jesus’ resurrection means that politics and baseball and architecture and sculpture and automobiles and computer-generated images and electric guitars are all important to the Triune God. If Jesus was important enough to be resurrected in a body, then the things we do in our own bodies, to the extent that they do not violate God’s word, are important ways of glorifying God.

After God created the universe, he looked at it and said, “It is very good.” By raising his Son from the dead, the Father was verifying that creational verdict: Easter proves, yet again, that the material world is very good. Easter culture is corporeal culture.

Redemptive Culture

Second, Easter culture is redemptive culture. The created world is inherently very good, but that very good world has been polluted by man’s sin. What does Easter have to say to this pollution? Well, Jesus didn’t merely rise; He rose from the dead. Death is the consequence of sin. We die because we sin. Jesus died because our sin was laid on his account.

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, therefore, is a dramatic reversal of the effects of sin. When Jesus rose, he triumphed over the power of sin. Adam failed in the Garden of Eden, but when Jesus rose, he proved that flesh and blood can vanquish sin. Sin happened within history, so redemption must happen within history. In other words, God doesn’t wait until history is over in order to defeat sin. That would get things precisely backwards. Or at least way too late.

Redemption starts right now

Easter means that God is using Jesus to redeem the world right now. This is why Paul writes that even the non-human creation groans and travails for redemption (Rom. 8:22). Man is waiting for the final, complete resurrection redemption, and so is the rest of the world, which has been cursed because of man’s sin. Yet we are not waiting until everything’s over for things to be made right. Easter means God is starting to set things right, right now.

This implies that the power of the Gospel, the resurrection gospel, is redeeming the world. It means that every area of life presently under the sway of sin is a suitable object for redemption. We can’t say of any sinful area of life, “This is too big to redeem.” Politics may be corrupt, but the resurrection is bigger than politics. Popular music may be debased, but the resurrection is stronger than pop music. Modern science may be given over to God-denying naturalism, but science is no match for the resurrection. A gospel that abandons these and other areas of modern life to unmolested depravity is not the Easter gospel.

The Easter gospel is a redemptive gospel and, consequently, Easter culture is redemptive culture.

Vivifying Culture

Finally, Easter culture is vivifying culture. What is resurrection, but life from the dead? But apart from resurrection, death abounds. When Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden because of their sin, they began experiencing the horror of death around them. Plants died. Animals died. Their son Abel died, at the hand of his sinful brother Cain. We can only imagine the shock — genuine culture shock — when they first observed death. This wasn’t how things were from the beginning. This wasn’t as it was meant to be. This wasn’t a design flaw. This was a user flaw.

 Death culture

In John 11:33 we read that as Jesus contemplated the death of his friend Lazarus and all of those in the house weeping at his death, he was indignant, angry. He was angry at the dreadful consequence of sin: death. “This is not right,” Jesus must’ve been saying to himself. “I must do something to stop this. All of this sadness, all of this weeping, all of this wailing are not my Father’s intention for this good, beautiful world.” Jesus did raise his friend Lazarus that day, as a sort of down payment on his own resurrection and the Final Resurrection of the redeemed. That day, his “This is not right,” became “I refuse to let this stand.” Jesus was indignant at death culture. Easter culture overturns death culture.

Today’s death culture is palpable. Tragically, it is far beyond sadness over premature death like that of Lazarus. Rather, it is the perverse glorification of death. The slaughter of pre-born children, the mercy killings of the infirm and elderly, pop lyrics about death and suicide all testify to death culture. “All they that hate me love death” (Prov. 8:36). A culture that knows nothing of Easter knows of nothing more significant than death.

 Life culture

But Easter culture is different. It relishes life. Easter culture rejoices when children are born into a family, relishes the laughter of God’s good provision in friends and love and food and wine and planting and harvest and new inventions and discoveries that enhance man’s good life on God’s good earth. Easter culture is optimistic. Easter culture is faith-infused. Easter culture knows that hardships are only steppingstones to future blessings. Easter culture looks death in the face and laughs (1 Cor. 15:50–58).

God’s global redemption operation

When Jesus rose from the grave 2000 years ago, he didn’t simply rise in order to take a few souls to heaven. He inaugurated his great global redemption operation. His goal is nothing short of banishing sin from his good world, a condition that, while not entirely completed in this life, is well underway.

This Easter, while celebrating our Lord’s resurrection, we are equally celebrating our culture’s resurrection.

Our Lord’s resurrection creates a culture: Easter culture.

Standard
Uncategorized

God’s Good Friday Cleanup Operation

Good-Friday

Communion remarks at Good Friday service, Trinity Bible Church, Felton, California, April 18, 2014

 

In Ephesians 5, Paul compares the relationship of a Christian husband and wife to the relationship between Jesus Christ and his church. He writes:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

We often forget this objective in our Lord’s death. We know that Jesus died to take away the penalty of our sin. We have sinned against God, and we stand under his judgment. Jesus Christ substituted on the Cross for our sins; he bore his Father’s wrath. When we trust in Jesus, his law-keeping righteousness is imputed, or credited, to our account.

But for Paul, Jesus didn’t die only to get rid of the penalty of our sin. He also died to get rid of the pollution of sin. Jesus didn’t atone on the Cross merely that our sins wouldn’t be judged. He shed his precious blood so that, in Paul’s words in Ephesians 5, we would be sanctified, we would be holy, we would be a spotless church. The mark of the blood-bought believer is not only his assurance that his sins are forgiven. An equally vital mark is that sin no longer dominates his life.The question isn’t whether we are sinless. No human except Jesus is sinless. According to Paul in Romans 8, the issue is, Who is Lord? For unbelievers, sin is their lord. But when we trust in Jesus, we get a new Lord. Jesus is our Lord. Where Jesus is Lord, sin cannot be Lord. Sin cannot dominate.As we partake today, let’s relish the fact that our sins have been forgiven. But let us relish equally the fact that Jesus’ death is a great pollution cleanup operation. God is cleaning up our lives, he’s cleaning up our church, so that he will present us a pure church before him.

We have been saved from the penalty of sin. We are being saved from the pollution of sin. And one day, praise God, we will be saved from the very presence of sin.

Standard
Uncategorized

“Narratives”: Pervasive Genteel Disbelief

pretentious

We have this term now in circulation: “the narrative.” It is one of those somewhat pretentious academic terms that has wormed its way into common speech, like “gender” or “significant other,” bringing hidden freight along with it.  Everywhere you look, you find it being used, and by all kinds of people. Elite journalists, who are likely to be products of university life rather than years of shoe-leather reporting, are perhaps the most likely to employ it, as a way of indicating their intellectual sophistication. But conservative populists like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are just as likely to use it too. Why is this so? What does this development mean?

I think the answer is clear. The ever more common use of “narrative” signifies the widespread and growing skepticism about any and all of the general accounts of events that have been, and are being, provided to us. We are living in an era of pervasive genteel disbelief — nothing so robust as relativism, but instead something more like a sustained “whatever” — and the word “narrative” provides a way of talking neutrally about such accounts while distancing ourselves from a consideration of their truth.

 

Wilfred M. McClay

Claremont Review of Books (Winter 2013/14)

Standard
Uncategorized

Why Socialists Must Destroy the Family

“If . . . marriage is transformed into a temporary arrangement for the satisfaction of the sexual impulse and for mutual companionship, which is not intended to create a permanent social unit, it is clear that the family loses its social and economic importance and that the state will take its place as the guardian and educator of the children. . . . Hence it is easy to understand the reasons for the hostility of the Communist, and even the milder type of Socialist, represented by Mr. Bernard Shaw, to the traditional code of sexual morality and to the old form of marriage, since the destruction of these is an indispensable condition for the realization of their social ideals.”

Christopher Dawson
“Christianity and Sex” (1933)

Standard
Uncategorized

What You Owe Your Pastor

pastor2

 

Read: Heb. 13:7, 17; 1 Tim. 5:17–19; 2 Thes. 3:1

Introduction

Today, I lay before you a bill. It is due on receipt. It is a most urgent bill. It’s a bill that God intends to collect.

The Bible is quite clear that the congregation owes its ministers. There are different views of church government and church leadership. It’s not my intention to address them today. My own view is that all elders are shepherds, but the validity of my message today is not dependent on that view. Some of the biblical texts I’m going to expound refer, in my view, to more than the preaching pastor, the “vocational elder.” But they certainly do apply to him also, and he’s the one to whom I refer. In the Bible, there’s a parity of eldership, but there’s also a division of labor.

The preaching pastor is God’s man to fill the pulpit, and I want to tell you today what you owe him.

Obedience

In Heb. 13:7 and 17,  we learn that you owe him your obedience. Obedience to authority — any kind of authority — is about as popular as sexual purity these days, which means: not much. The egalitarian crusade in our culture is relentless. The Left wants to topple every single hierarchy in our culture — except one: the hierarchy of the state. And the state hierarchy is necessary for one reason and one reason alone: to topple and coercively destroy all other hierarchies.

The war on authority

But know this: this widespread attack on duly constituted authority is, underneath it all, an attack on God. God is the ultimate duly constituted authority. When the Left attacks the family, and manhood, and the church, we should be aware: it’s God they’re really after. Because they hate God’s authority, and because they cannot destroy it, they try to destroy earthly, visible representations of his authority. In the end, they won’t succeed, but they’re wreaking cultural havoc in the process.

This aversion to authority sometimes enters the church. And, to be fair, some pastors abuse their authority. This abuse, of course, is a prostitution of their office. Pastors are shepherds. God calls them to be “not domineering over those in [their] charge” (1 Pet. 5:3). Moreover: “[T]he Lord’s servant must . . . be . . . kind to everyone” (2 Tim. 2:24). God doesn’t allow the pastor to be an authoritarian, and he establishes other elders to whom the pastor must be accountable. Still, the sheep are called to obey their local shepherd. The pastor watches for your souls, and he’ll have to stand before God one day on how he leads you (Heb. 13:17).

 The pastor’s job description

The pastor is not a CEO, not a cheerleader, not a human potential coach, not a college lecturer. He’s a shepherd. We live in a depraved society, and God calls the pastor to lead you in a way to protect you from this depravity. I mean the fornication. I mean the neglect of the Lord’s Day. I mean pornography. I mean gaming and drug addictions. I mean prayerlessness. I mean pride and phariseeism. I mean husbands who don’t cherish their wives and wives who don’t submit to their husbands. I mean teenagers who love the ways of the world. Guiding the sheep away from these and other evils is part of the pastor’s job description. If you get upset with him when he does this, you’re actually getting angry with him for doing his God-appointed job.

 Consider the outcome

Our text contains a fascinating command: “Consider the outcome of [his] way of life” (Heb. 13:7). Ask yourself: will his life and ministry lead you away from the Triune God? Will your children become more worldly by living as he lives? Would you have less faith or more faith if you follow the example of his life? Will you spend more time in the word of God or less if you attend to his preaching? You see the point, don’t you? If this man’s life and preaching and ministry will draw you to greater faith, greater obedience, greater worship, greater gospel living, then you are bound by God to obey and follow him.

You owe him your obedience.

Trust

Second,  you owe him your trust. Paul writes in 1 Tim. 5:19, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” Of course, this was a quotation from the Old Testament. Paul, you see, was not one of those “New Testament-only preachers.” He was a biblical preacher, and he understood that the Old Testament is the foundation for the New Testament.

 Attacks on God’s man

Paul also understood that the pastor, because of his prominent position in the Lord’s kingdom, would frequently be under attack. Sometimes that attack  takes the form of gossip or slander. Paul’s instruction is clear: if somebody comes to you with an accusation against your pastor, you simply don’t listen. You stop that person, and say, “Unless you have proof [of multiple witnesses], I don’t want to hear it, and you need to shut your mouth right now.”

It clearly implies that the pastor enjoys a position of trust. Now, this should be perfectly reasonable. The shepherd of the flock, the man that oversees the church, should have the trust of those he’s leading. If you can’t trust the pastor, why are you there in the first place? Yes, some pastors abuse their trust; but know this: bad pastors don’t make pastors bad.  The pulpits of sound, Bible-believing churches today are filled with humble, courageous men of God. And they deserve our trust. I know many of these men. They wouldn’t dare look at a woman besides their wife. They’d rather amputate their right arm than misappropriate church funds. They’ve sacrificed their time and money and life for the church of Jesus Christ. We owe them our trust.

Members who don’t trust their pastor can unleash havoc in the church, and God will bring them to account for their sin if they don’t repent.

Protecting the pastor’s wife

Protecting the pastor’s reputation means protecting his wife. There’s perhaps no person more vulnerable in the congregation of the pastor’s wife, and in many ways she’s the most important gift to the congregation. She suffers the attacks on her husband more acutely than he does. She deserves your love and support and understanding and prayer. She deserves for you to go out of your way to sacrifice for her and protect her and love her. I’m tempted say that the pastor’s wife is the most important member of the congregation. I’ll give in to that temptation and say it.

And the same is true of your pastor’s children. They’re constantly scrutinized, and they’re constantly under satanic attack. The pastor is called to rule his house effectively, and Satan will attack his house so that he can neutralize the pastor’s ministry in the church (Tit. 1:6).

 False doctrine about the pastor’s children

We have every reason to expect that children in devout Christian families will all grow up to be strong in the Faith. But children make covenant choices. Those choices are real and fateful choices. Sometimes those choices are sinful choices, even very sinful choices. Not all children reared in Christian families grow up to be zealous in the Faith. It doesn’t always happen even in the pastor’s family — and it certainly didn’t happen in biblical history.

I want to take a moment and refute some utterly false teaching that has entered certain sectors of the church as of late. This is the idea that if a pastor’s children grow up and drift from the Lord and depart from the Faith, he’s somehow responsible and has forfeited his ministry. This view is often well-meaning but it’s illogical and contra-biblical. We read in Isaiah 1:2,

 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;

for the Lord has spoken:

“Children have I reared and brought up,

but they have rebelled against me.

Question: was Jehovah at fault? Did Jehovah fail as a Father to Judah? I think not. The issue in the Scripture is always whether the pastor both in his family and in the church rules faithfully, not whether everyone follows that rule. It’s ironic that some of the same pastors who claim that an adult wayward child disqualifies the pastor, don’t claim that a wayward church member disqualifies them in their own church. They talk about “covenant headship” — but they get suspiciously quiet when their church members grow wayward under that covenant headship. They should have understood the biblical truth in the first place: their ministry is validated by their faithfulness to God, not the faithfulness of those they lead.

Your pastor’s children desperately need your love and protection and prayer. And if — we pray it never happens —  they start to drift from the Lord, your job is not to target him and his dear wife. Your job is come alongside them and pray for them and help them and work to bring those children back into the path of righteousness.

You owe your pastor your trust.

Money

Third,  you owe your pastor your money. Some preachers are reluctant to talk about money, but I’m not. Jesus talked about hell more then he talked about heaven, and he talked about money more than he talked about hell. Paul talked about it too (read 2 Corinthians). He requires that the church give the minister “double honor,” and he means by this: money (1 Tim. 5:17–18). The man who watches over your souls and the souls of your children is owed double remuneration. I would remind you that these are God’s inspired words, not mine. The principal responsibility of deacons and others in the congregation is to ensure that this man’s financial needs are amply cared for.

The church’s first financial obligation

More broadly: the church’s first financial obligation is not to pay building rent or utilities or to send foreign missionaries or launch a Christian day school but to pay their pastor, and pay him well. If the church is smaller, it should, as quickly as possible, get the pastor to a full-time salary. This is not a privilege; this is not a luxury; this is what God’s law requires. And if the church doesn’t do this, it’s disobedient, and will forfeit God’s blessings.

Double honor

Now, it’s remarkable how far many churches have drifted from the word of God on this point. Their philosophy of remuneration to their pastor goes like this: “Lord, you keep him humble, and we’ll keep him poor.” Or, at best: “We want him to make a salary commensurate with those in the congregation.” That’s sensible — and totally un-biblical — reasoning. Paul says that the elders who deliver the word are worthy of double honor, and no doubt he has in mind Deuteronomy 21:17, which says that in ancient Israel the firstborn should get a double financial portion. And like the Levites in old covenant Israel, the ministers should be overwhelmingly compensated.

You owe your pastor your money. And if you obey God in giving him your money, God will abundantly bless your obedience.

Prayer

Finally I turn to 2 Thessalonians 3:1. I wonder if this is the most important thing we owe the pastor. And that is: prayer.

Diabolical prayerlessness

Let me say initially that I am amazed at how much the Bible talks about prayer and how little we talk about it — and how little we do it. I’ve come to believe that this omission is sinister and diabolical. Prayer moves the mighty hand of God to unleash his power in earth, and Satan knows this, and Satan therefore will do anything he can to undermine the prayer life of the church. Do you realize that God the Father suspends the evangelization of the world on the prayer of his Son (Ps. 2:8)? And this is why Paul is constantly begging his congregations to pray for him.

Prayer: decretive versus prescriptive

One of the great false teachings about prayer is to pit it against God’s sovereign decrees. This is a false antithesis. Faithless, unbelieving, disobedient prayers go like this: “God,  we’re not sure if this is in your eternal will, but if it is, please save sinners”; or, “We beg you to heal our brother and sister, if you will it”; or, “Would you be kind enough to provide for us — but only, O God, if it’s in your sovereign, secret will.” Let me tell you, almost no godly Christian in the Bible prayed that way. They didn’t pray in light of God’s decretive will, but according to his prescriptive will (in the Bible).

The saints in the Bible knew that God loves his people and wants to do kind things for them. They knew that when God answers prayer, he bolsters the faith of his saints. They knew that to pray big prayers is to pray that God will demonstrate his greatness in the earth. They knew that answered prayer is a powerful contribution to evangelism: when people see how great God is, when he intervenes massively in history, they throw their trust in him (1 Kin. 18:36–39). Shriveled, anorexic prayers do not honor God. Big, bold, robust prayers honor God.

Perhaps the greatest debt you owe your pastor is prayer. You must be calling out to God every day that he will empower your pastor with his Spirit, that he will protect God’s man and his family from Satan’s attacks, that he will increase your pastor’s faith and courage in these apostate times,  and that God will radically increase your church’s influence for the kingdom of God under your pastor’s leadership.

Not to pray for your pastor faithfully is an epic fail.

Conclusion

Let’s review: you owe your pastor your obedience. You owe him your trust. You owe him your money. And you owe him your prayer.

An old minister was fond of saying: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” God has given many of you one of the greatest gifts a Christian can enjoy: a faithful, zealous, knowledgeable pastor married to an equally devout wife. Do not take these gifts for granted. If we take these gifts for granted, God is in the habit of removing them. Remember what you owe your pastor.

And remember that if you pay what you owe, God will abundantly bless your obedience. He’ll bless your church. He’ll bless your marriage. He’ll bless your children. He’ll bless your vocation. You’ll bless your future.

Pay your debt to your pastor. God is no man’s debtor. And remember: God always pays up.

Standard
Uncategorized

Time Passages

the_persistence_of_memory_1931_salvador_daliWe do not live in the past, but the past in us. 

U. B. Phillips

 

It is arresting to observe the constancy of older men and women within the variability of historical flux and the inevitable change it engenders. The world has changed, but they have not.  They seem an anachronism to their juniors, for whom the unquestioned assumptions of the present age are normative.  The elders carry with them the perspectives, virtues, convictions, prejudices, and vices of the peculiar era of their youth.  To their idealistic juniors, the prejudices and vices predominate, and the virtues and convictions evaporate at the scrutiny of youthful eyes naively conditioned by a single era, their own era, whose normativeness they would not think to question. Little do they know that as they age, and a new generation succeeds them, they too — and their prejudices and vices — will be an anachronism.  The world changes about them, but their own habits of mind, their own worldview, long before solidified. The world moves elsewhere, and they with it, but they carry their own private world, the previous world, in their bosom.

But though their habits of mind and worldview persist, they as human beings do grow. They grow in knowledge and in wisdom, which often stand outside, and sometimes contrary to, the knowledge and wisdom of the age that succeeds them, for there is no more reliable characteristic of youth than its aversion to the deepest intellectual convictions of the age of its predecessors (“There is no greater heresy,” a friend once wryly intoned, “than the one from which you’ve been most recently rescued”). These seniors are able to impart that wisdom to their predecessors — if only the latter will hear it.

 

“The Truth Always Comes Too Late For Us”

 

What they generally cannot do, as Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy pointed out, is to change themselves.   “The truth,” he writes, ”always comes too late for us.” Like the twig bent in its youth, whose subsequent trajectory of growth becomes permanent and final, so the era in which they came of age has so shaped them that they cannot change — even under the ripening knowledge of their own cogent advice — without breaking their very being. While, however, they cannot change, their juniors whom they advise, whose trajectory is not yet solidified, can change.  It is this phenomenon that spurs what is perhaps Rosenstock-Huessy’s most incisive observation: we should not calculate a man’s lifetime from his own birth to his own death, but from his own fifties to his son’s fifties. In short, I will not know if I have been successful as a man — much less a father — until my sons have lived through their fifties. One can assess my life’s and my parental work not when my sons are young, but only when they have had time to develop the implications of my own life when I myself lived during my fifties, not during my twenties, when the implications of my own thinking were immature. In most cases (though not in mine personally, since I sired sons at a very young age), this means that one will not be alive to discover whether he has in fact been a successful man and father. That judgment will be left to others. His chronological (but not his influential) lifetime outlives him in his children, just as his father’s lifetime is outlived in him.

 

“The Strangeness of the Past”

 

What Alister McGrath terms “the strangeness of the past” survives in us as we grow older. The younger often perceive this strangeness displayed most patently in dress and mannerism, but its actual root is man himself — in his ontology.   Different ages stamp men differently.   This historical conditioning is, in large measure, what produces different kinds of men all stalking Earth at any one given time.   It also produces intergenerational conflict.  What in the 1960’s was termed the “generation gap” is, however, precisely the opposite of what should occur. A conversation, not a gap, is what is most needed.  A generational conversation is essential not only to transmit the best elements of the past’s “strangeness” to a succeeding generation but also to exhibit the subversive fact of historical conditioning to the previous one, which ordinarily glories in the peculiar features of the age of its youth, and intensely so the older it grows. The act of growing older proves — or should prove — that the mores and convictions of one’s youth should not be absolutized — that the “good old days” were never that good, that the future is open to progress, not destined to regress.  The reality of growing older, on the other hand, should indicate to a succeeding (younger) generation that youth is fleeting, that the assumptions they are incurring and will later absolutize are not in fact absolute or otherwise privileged, and that the older can change their thinking — even when they cannot change themselves.

Meanwhile, we gaze in fascination, and sometimes even awe, at our immediate predecessors, who carry the past with them, a past that survives only in them, a past that is fleeting, a past that will accompany them to the grave — just as we will carry our own past to the grave. It is only man, man made in God’s image, that can transmit a little of that past — his own peculiar past, not just the general past of the era of his youth — to the future. The solidarity of humanity is marked partly by this gripping trait — the ability not merely to span eras (“tradition”) but to commit a small portion of one’s own past, one’s private, unrepeatable tradition, to another individual.

In this strange way, a little of the past, and with it we ourselves, live on.

Standard