Thursday, November 14, 2019

John Calvin on the Old and New Covenants

There is one covenant that God has made to reestablish fellowship with sinful humanity, revealed in first in the old covenant (Old Testament) and then in the new covenant (New Testament). There is one people of God throughout history, bound to Him and to each other by this covenant. Christ did not come to abolish the old covenant. He came to bring it to fulfillment in a permanent form, based on His redemptive work, with greater spiritual power and new ceremonies that more clearly exhibit what the old covenant ceremonies pointed to: Christ. John Calvin remarked on this continuity between the old and new covenants, and the abiding authority of the Old Testament law, in his commentary on the Gospels.

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matthew 5:17)
"God had, indeed, promised a new covenant at the coming of Christ; but had, at the same time, showed, that it would not be different from the first, but that, on the contrary, its design was, to give a perpetual sanction to the covenant, which he had made from the beginning, with his own people.
'I will write my law, (says he,) in their hearts,
and I will remember their iniquities no more.'
(Jeremiah 31:33, 34)
By these words he is so far from departing from the former covenant, that, on the contrary, he declares, that it will be confirmed and ratified, when it shall be succeeded by the new. This is also the meaning of Christ’s words, when he says, that he came to fulfill the law: for he actually fulfilled it, by quickening, with his Spirit, the dead letter, and then exhibiting, in reality, what had hitherto appeared only in figures. 
With respect to doctrine, we must not imagine that the coming of Christ has freed us from the authority of the law: for it is the eternal rule of a devout and holy life, and must, therefore, be as unchangeable, as the justice of God, which it embraced, is constant and uniform. With respect to ceremonies, there is some appearance of a change having taken place; but it was only the use of them that was abolished, for their meaning was more fully confirmed. The coming of Christ has taken nothing away even from ceremonies, but, on the contrary, confirms them by exhibiting the truth of shadows: for, when we see their full effect, we acknowledge that they are not vain or useless. Let us therefore learn to maintain inviolable this sacred tie between the law and the Gospel, which many improperly attempt to break. For it contributes not a little to confirm the authority of the Gospel, when we learn, that it is nothing else than a fulfillment of the law; so that both, with one consent, declare God to be their Author." (source)

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Westminster Assembly on Dating and Courtship


The Westminster Assembly was a 17th century council of English Puritan and Scottish Presbyterian ministers who were tasked with unifying the English and Scottish churches with a shared statement of faith, catechism, system of government, and guidelines for worship. Its confession of faith and catechisms are still the doctrinal standards of Presbyterian churches today.

Today I want to share some of what the assembly said about biblical guidelines for the process of getting married. In evangelical circles in our time, there has been a bit of confusion and discussion about how to respond to the culture of individualism, casual dating, sexual "freedom" that surrounds us. Some have used the term "courtship" to describe a way of getting married that is more purposeful, careful, and respectful of parental authority. While this approach has gone well for some, myself included, in other people's experience the attempt to implement this alternative way has been messy and prone to overreaction, which is why I bring in this historical perspective. Over-reacting and under-reacting are both driven by an unbalanced focus on the present situation. The teachings of the church in other cultures and eras can give us balance, new insights, and the wisdom of experience. So what did the Westminster Assembly have to say about getting married?

First, the Westminster Assembly has a chapter on marriage in its Confession of Faith (chapter 24, see link for biblical footnotes). In short, it affirms that the Bible teaches that marriage is to be monogamous and heterosexual, for mutual help, procreation, and the prevention of immorality. Incestuous marriages cannot be made lawful, and divorce is only lawful in the case of adultery or willful desertion which is unable to be remedied by church and state. Article three of this chapter is particularly relevant for the topic of getting married:
"It is lawful for all sorts of people to marry, who are able with judgment to give their consent. Yet it is the duty of Christians to marry only in the Lord. And therefore such as profess the true reformed religion should not marry with infidels, papists, or other idolaters: neither should such as are godly be unequally yoked, by marrying with such as are notoriously wicked in their life, or maintain damnable heresies." 
Second, the Westminster Assembly described the duties of the seventh commandment (the one against adultery) at length in the Larger Catechism (Q. 137-139). Not only does it describe our duty to be chaste in "body, mind, affections, words, and behavior," but also our duty to preserve our own chastity and the chastity of others. This requires "watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses; temperance, keeping of chaste company, modesty in apparel" - certainly important directions in our present day which exalts pleasure, autonomous freedom, and irresponsible clothing choices. Most importantly for the topic of getting married, it affirms that one duty of the seventh commandment is "marriage by those that have not the gift of continency." If you are of marriageable age, you have a duty to seek marriage, unless you have a special gift of restraint such that sexual temptation is not a threat (1 Cor. 7:2-9; see this post for more on that text). The catechism says that one of the sins forbidden by the seventh commandment is the "undue delay of marriage."

Third, and perhaps most overlooked, is what the Westminster Assembly said about getting married in the Directory for Public Worship (under "The Solemnization of Marriage"). Before the directory gives directions for the wedding ceremony, it gives directions for the process of getting married. Give particular attention to how it handles the consent of the couple and their parents, beginning in the fourth paragraph. In short, the free consent of the couple (Gen. 24:57-58, Mal. 2:14) and of their parents (Ex. 20:12, 22:17, Deut. 7:3) are both needed before the engagement is made public (i.e. they all have ability to veto the marriage), although parents cannot deny their consent without just cause.
"Although marriage be no sacrament, nor peculiar to the church of God, but common to mankind, and of publick interest in every commonwealth; yet, because such as marry are to marry in the Lord, and have special need of instruction, direction, and exhortation, from the word of God, at their entering into such a new condition, and of the blessing of God upon them therein, we judge it expedient that marriage be solemnized by a lawful minister of the word, that he may accordingly counsel them, and pray for a blessing upon them.
Marriage is to be betwixt one man and one woman only; and they such as are not within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity prohibited by the word of God; and the parties are to be of years of discretion, fit to make their own choice, or, upon good grounds, to give their mutual consent. 
Before the solemnizing of marriage between any persons, the purpose of marriage shall be published by the minister three several sabbath-days, in the congregation, at the place or places of their most usual and constant abode, respectively. And of this publication the minister who is to join them in marriage shall have sufficient testimony, before he proceed to solemnize the marriage. 
Before that publication of such their purpose, (if the parties be under age,) the consent of the parents, or others under whose power they are, (in case the parents be dead,) is to be made known to the church officers of that congregation, to be recorded. 
The like is to be observed in the proceedings of all others, although of age, whose parents are living, for their first marriage. 
And, in after marriages of either of those parties, they shall be exhorted not to contract marriage without first acquainting their parents with it, (if with conveniency it may be done,) endeavouring to obtain their consent. 
Parents ought not to force their children to marry without their free consent, nor deny their own consent without just cause. 
After the purpose or contract of marriage hath been thus published, the marriage is not to be long deferred."
And fourth, even though it is not the product of the Westminster Assembly, but of one of its members, I would recommend William Gouge's book, Of Domestical Duties (1622), which has been published in a modern edition as Building a Godly Home, 3 volumes (Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), available here. The topic of getting married is covered in volumes 2 and 3. William Gouge was a senior member of the Westminster Assembly, a Puritan pastor in London, and a married man with thirteen children. His book is worth reading. Here is one quote from him on the process of getting married:
"The first liking is sometimes on the parents' or other friends' part, and then made known to the party to be married ... (Gen. 24:58). Sometimes again the first liking is on the party's part that is to be married, and then if that party be under the authority of parents, the matter must be proposed to them, before there be any further proceeding ... (Judg. 14:2). Even if the party is not under the authority of any, it is very fitting that counsel be taken of wise and understanding friends ... After a liking is thus taken by one party for a good mate, that liking must be proposed to the other party so liked, to know if there is a reciprocal affection of one towards another ... Mutual love and good liking of each other is as glue. Let the parties to be married be well settled before they come to meet with trials through cohabitation, and that love will not easily be loosened by any trials ... When both parties have shown a mutual liking to each other, and upon mature deliberation and good advice do think one to be a fit match for another, it is necessary that a joint consent and absolute promise of marrying one another before sufficient witnesses be made." (Building a Godly Home, vol. 2, p. 17-19)

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Who is the Holy Spirit?

The Spirit is not a dove, but once He used the form of a dove to symbolize Himself (Matt. 3:16)

1. The Holy Spirit is God, the same God who is revealed throughout Scripture. The apostle Peter identifies the Spirit as God in Acts 5:3-4. The apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 3:17, identities the Spirit as the Lord, and in that context "the Lord" is God, the same God who revealed His glory to Moses. This means that He shares in all the attributes of God: He is eternal, invisible, present everywhere, all powerful, all knowing, perfectly righteous and wise, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. 

2. The Holy Spirit is a person, not a force. Jesus described the Spirit in personal terms when He called the Spirit "another Helper," just as Jesus had been a helper (John 14:16-17, 26). The word can mean helper, counselor, or advocate. The Spirit can be lied to (Acts 5:3), which implies a personal relation to the Spirit. The Spirit can also be grieved (Eph. 4:30).  

3. The Holy Spirit is distinct from the Father and the Son. The Spirit is sent by the Father and is “another Helper” compared to Jesus (John 14:16-17), so the Spirit is distinct from both of them, even though the three of them are the one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. We also see the Spirit distinguished from - and interacting with - the other persons of the Trinity in passages like Jesus’ baptism where He descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove (Matt. 3:16-17).

4. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Son is distinguished as the only one eternally begotten from the Father (John 1:14) and the Spirit is distinguished as the one who eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. This term comes from John 15:26, where Jesus says, "when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me." The Eastern church argues from this that the Spirit only proceeds from the Father, but the Western church has argued that since Scripture also speaks of the Spirit as "the Spirit of his Son" (Gal. 4:6), that the Spirit proceeds from them both. This makes sense, since just as the Son reveals and points to the one from whom He is begotten, the Father (John 1:14, 18), so the Spirit reveals and points to those from whom He proceeds, both the Father and the Son (John 14:26, 15:26, Gal. 4:6). 

5. The Holy Spirit is the giver of life. "For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:6). In both creation and salvation, the Spirit is described as the one who gives life. We get a hint of that when God gives life to man by His breath in Genesis 2:7, since the word for breath and spirit are the same (see also Job 33:4). Psalm 104:29–30 describes God's ongoing work in the order of creation by the Spirit, "When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground."

Therefore, it is fitting that the new spiritual life of salvation also comes from the Spirit. We are born again with a renewed nature by the Spirit (John 3:5-6). We are united to Jesus and given eternal life by the Spirit (John 6:54-56, 63). We are delivered by the Spirit from our sinful nature and its rebellious ways unto a new nature defined by virtues like love, peace, and self-control (Gal. 5:16-24). The Spirit gives life to the church, making the body work together in mutual service and binding it to Christ the head (1 Cor. 12:3-7, 12-13). And finally, our bodies will be raised up on the last day by the Spirit (Rom. 8:11). In short, while the Son accomplishes salvation, the Spirit applies these benefits to the elect. 

6. The Holy Spirit reveals God's word to humanity. The Spirit spoke through people and guided them to write down God's word for future generation in the Scripture. The apostle Peter told his readers to pay attention to Scripture, because no prophecy of Scripture came "by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). And while he had the Old Testament particularly in mind, Peter put apostolic witness on the same level (1:16-19, 3:2) and identifies the apostolic writings as Scripture at the end of his epistle (3:15-16). This is no surprise, since Jesus said that the Spirit would remind the apostles of His words (John 14:25-26), so that the whole Bible is the product of the Spirit's work. 

In connection with this work, the Spirit also gave gifts of healing and miracles to confirm the apostolic message (Heb. 2:4) and gave the gift of speaking in foreign tongues to communicate the inclusion of the Gentiles in the new convent (Acts 2:4-11, 1 Cor. 14:21-22). The new covenant being established and the canon of Scripture being finished with Jesus and His apostles (Heb. 1:1-2, 2:4, 2 Peter 3:2), these particular gifts have ceased with the passing away of the apostles.

Yet, the Spirit continues to work in the hearts and minds of people to enable them to recognize, receive, and understand the written word of God (1 Cor. 2:12–14). The Spirit gives us the ability to believe and obey God's word, not only externally, but also from the heart (Ezek. 36:26-27).

7. The Holy Spirit is essential to the Christian faith and life (Matt. 28:19). Neglecting the Spirit cannot come without fundamentally distorting Christianity. This usually happens by making the faith moralistic, merely formal and external, or a matter of "cold orthodoxy." On the other hand, many people today have a unbiblical understanding of the Spirit's work, isolated from the written word and the work of Christ. This can lead to a dangerous confusion between the Holy Spirit and your inner thoughts and feelings. But a proper appreciation of the Holy Spirit leads to a lively faith and active love in the fellowship of the saints which is guided by Scripture and leads us to appreciate and enjoy the work of Christ and the love of the Father. And so we confess in the historic words of the Nicene Creed of 381:
"And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets."

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Join Us for the 2019 Pilgrim Heritage Celebration!


In the video above, I give a brief explanation of why my church hosts an annual event that remembers and celebrates the Pilgrims who settled Plymouth colony. This year's event will be held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, November 23rd, at the Family Vision Library (2020 Parkway Dr. St Peters, MO 63376). I will be speaking on how we might live today as heirs of the Pilgrims, learning from their example and extending their vision into the future. I will be joined by Jeff Hamann, who will recall the history of the Pilgrims, and Dan Ford, who will speak about the legacy of the Pilgrims in American history. Dan Ford is the author of The Legacy Of Liberty and Property and In the Name of God, Amen: Rediscovering Biblical and Historical Covenants.

The main program will begin at 3:30pm. This will include the talks, as well as music and other fun. Afterwards we will eat together with a delicious Thanksgiving-style dinner, and we will conclude with a 17th-century country dance.

Registration for the event is now open online at this link. Register today at least several days in advance so that we can tell the caterer how much food to bring. Admission is $5 a person, and children 2 years old and under are free. Let me know if you have any questions by using the contact form at this link

For recordings from the last two years of this event, see here and here. You can also read this post that I wrote in preparation for this event last year, explaining why the Pilgrims are worth a celebration. You can also watch the dance that I plan on calling at the end of this year's event at this link

“Lastly, (and which was not least), a great hope and inward zeall they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way therunto, for the propagating and advancing the gospell of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world; yea, though they should be but even as stepping-stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.”
-William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation

Friday, November 1, 2019

Should Christians Keep the Old Testament Feasts?


Because modern Christianity tends to neglect the Old Testament, some have sought to supply this lack by returning to Old Testament practices like the food laws, the seventh-day Sabbath, and at least some of the feasts. It also seems that this movement comes as a radical reaction against the history and tradition of the Christian church. For example, the choice between the traditional church calendar and the Old Testament feasts is seen as a conflict between tradition and biblical truth. This is a bit ironic, because they usually end up adopting Jewish traditions that have continued to develop since biblical times. But it is a powerful appeal, especially to Protestants, and appears to have some truth to it - after all, Sukkoth is in the Bible, but Christmas is not. So should we return to the Old Testament ceremonies and holy days?

In his letter to the saints in Colossae, the apostle Paul wrote,
"Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ." (Colossians 2:16–17)
This is one of the places in the New Testament which teaches that the old covenant ceremonies that pointed to Christ are no longer binding on Christians in the present era. Now, I have seen some argue that Paul is here affirming these practices, in effect saying: "do not let anyone condemn you for practicing these things, since they point to Christ." But this is not Paul's point in Colossians. Rather, he is saying, "do not let anyone condemn you for not following these practices, since you already have the substance they pointed to - Christ!" How do I know this? Because the sufficiency of Christ, as opposed to regulations regarding what you can taste and touch, is Paul's theme (Col. 2:6, 20-21). He had already addressed the matter of circumcision, the preeminent symbol of the old covenant administration. He argued that they were already circumcised with a circumcision made without hands by putting off the flesh and being united to Christ, an event confirmed by their baptism (Col. 2:11-12). They were circumcised without being physically circumcised by having the substance, Christ. This pattern holds true for other ceremonial laws of food and times.

The laws regarding clean and unclean foods had been given to represent the purity of God’s people, in distinction from the nations (Lev. 11, Acts 10:9-29). The unclean foods were literally unclean and often unhealthy, but that is not the main reason they were forbidden (just as ritual washings were primarily spiritual in meaning, even though they did physically wash things). The true uncleanness or defilement is sin and curse. The food laws were a shadow, but the substance belongs to Christ. Christ takes away our defilement and makes us clean. In Christ, we are called to avoid the defilement of sin and to be holy. Christ taught us the true meaning of defilement in Mark 7:18-23 when he said,
“‘Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’” 
The festivals and new moons were holy times in Israel, observed with sacrifices and often participated in by eating. These also were shadows of Christ. The Passover pointed to Christ, our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:6-13). The Feast of Firstfruits pointed to Christ, who rose as the firstfruits of the dead on that very day (1 Cor. 15). The Feast of Weeks or Harvest (i.e. Pentecost) commemorated blessing in the Promised Land and the giving of the law. It pointed to Christ, who achieved lasting rest in the land (Heb. 3-4) and who sent His Spirit on that day to write the law on our hearts (Acts 2). The Feast of Trumpets prepared the people for the next two events in that seventh month: the Day of Atonement, which pointed to Christ’s atonement for our sins which was achieved on the cross (Heb. 9), and the Feast of Booths, which looked back to God’s provision for Israel in the wilderness and the promised land and looked forward to Christ, who is the manna from heaven, the bread of life (John 6), and the rock from which comes living water (John 4, 1 Cor. 10). And all the sacrifices on these days and on the new moons pointed to Christ, the once-for-all-time sacrifice which paid the penalty for our guilt and defilement and reconciled us to God (Heb. 9-10).

Also on this list is “a Sabbath” or “sabbaths.” This probably refers to the sabbath years, as well as the weekly, seventh-day Sabbath. The old covenant Sabbath pointed to Christ and His redemptive work. It was a day of rest, and Christ has given us rest. If we have entered God’s rest in Christ, we have rested from our works (Heb. 4:10). It was also a day that commemorated the accomplishment of redemption. In Deuteronomy 5:15, Israel was commanded to keep the Sabbath in remembrance of their exodus from Egypt. It was then that God rested from the work of redemption and that Israel rested from its bondage. But this pointed to the full accomplishment of redemption in the resurrection of Christ. Thus, the seventh-day Sabbath was a shadow of things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. And so we do not observe the seventh-day Sabbath of the old covenant, but we follow the example of Christ and the apostles and observe the Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath. The Sabbath principle is an aspect of creation and is part of the moral law, but the day has changed because a new creation has begun and something greater than the exodus has come.

Thus, all of these old covenant ceremonies of food and time are no longer required. They were tutors given to bring Israel to Christ before His coming. They were shadows, giving us the outline of the one to come, but now that He has come, we turn from observing the shadows to Jesus Christ. Jesus established new ceremonies that fit the greater clarity of the new covenant, like baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the Lord’s Day. While the Old Testament feasts are in the Bible, to treat them as holy days, to be observed today as such, is unbiblical.

The Old Testament is important. It is often sadly neglected today. It is still part of the Bible, God's infallible word. But it is vital to understand it and obey it in the light of Christ and the new covenant.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Reformation and the Sufficiency of Scripture

Reformation Day is coming up in a few days on October 31st, and one of the central points of the Protestant Reformation was the doctrine articulated in the quote below. As opposed to the idea that the whole counsel of God was given partially in Scripture and partially in a distinct oral tradition preserved by the church leadership, the Reformers taught that Scripture was sufficient, not lacking any additional revelation to be gained through church tradition, and that Scripture alone remained an infallible rule of faith and obedience. Because the whole counsel of God was given in His written word, and only there preserved infallibly, it could serve as the basis for a reformation of the church and a correction of her doctrines and traditions where they had gone astray.


“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable 
for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 
that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 
(2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Our Duty towards Unjust Civil Government

In two recent posts, I have considered the duty of civil government and the duty of the people toward civil government. Here I want to conclude this short series by considering our duty when civil authority is abused. Those in civil government often use their power in unjust ways or ways that go beyond God's intention for civil government, adding additional burdens for those under them. While the civil government ought to be the champion of justice and liberty, sometimes it is the very thing that undermines these principles. So what should we do when the civil government is unjust or overbearing? Here are some things we should do:

1. Focus on serving God in your current condition, rather than fretting. As Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 7:20-24, be content even when you are in some degree of servitude and serve God by respecting your master. "Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it" (1 Cor. 7:21). But seek freedom when you are able. "But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity ... do not become bondservants of men." (1 Cor. 7:21, 23).

2. Embrace responsibility and act like freemen in spirit. Do not let your condition lead you to lose initiative or become embittered and discouraged. You are a freeman of the Lord (1 Cor. 7:22). Govern yourself, take responsibility for your own, and show mercy to others.

3. Be patient amid injustice - especially as private citizens. Jesus gave us a general rule in Matthew 5:38-42 to not resist the one who is evil, particularly in cases like when someone gives a personal insult, takes your clothes, or impresses you into government service for a mile or two. See also Paul's instructions in Romans 12:14-21, where he says, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them ... Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God."

4. Repent of your sins and seek mercy from God in prayer. Participate in corporate repentance as a people, confessing not only individual sins, but also societal and national sins. God can use tyrants and oppressors to judge sinners and to chastise His people (Judges 2:11-23), and the intended response is for us to repent and seek His mercy (Jonah 3). And pray also that God might correct injustice and tyranny and save His people from oppression (Ps. 10, 82, 94), appealing to His righteousness and steadfast love.

5. Disciple others in a biblical view of society, justice, and the state (Matt. 28:18-20). This is key to lasting change, particularly when people are transformed by the gospel and desire to honor God in this area. Political campaigns might call people to action, but they cannot replace the formative work of education, gospel transformation, and discipleship.

6. Be involved in politics. Seek reformation with whatever influence you can reasonably exercise. This includes campaigns, protests, petitions, donations, voting, and the like. “Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate…” (Amos 5:15). A free system of government, like that which we inherited from Great Britain, gives citizens a lot of opportunity and responsibility to establish justice and freedom through political involvement. The well-being of your neighbors depends in part upon your political involvement.

7. Challenge unjust actions by legal means. Call a lawyer. Appeal from one authority to another. Paul made this sort of resistance several times (Acts 16:37, 22:25, 28:19).

8. Respectfully and firmly disobey if the civil government commands you to sin. Consider the examples of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Dan. 3), Daniel (Dan. 1, 6) and the apostles (Acts 5). "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).

9. Run away when in private danger for just cause. Consider the example of David (1 Sam. 19:12, 20:1, 21:10) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-3).

10. Support resistance by another civil authority. Within a system of civil government, there is a variety of authorities, and each civil authority has a particular duty to use force to protect the people under his charge against unjust aggression (Rom. 13:1-5). It is proper for a civil authority to interpose between the people and an unjust ruler. The people as a whole is one of these civil authorities, though private individuals are not. We see an example of this imposition in 1 Samuel 14:43-45 when the people stopped King Saul from executing Jonathan, as well as in 2 Chronicles 23 when the priests and the commanders and heads of the people made Joash king and dethroned Queen Athaliah the tyrant. Because this imposition involves resistance with force, it should be subject to just war criteria and used when other remedies have been tried and failed. We see more recent examples of this principle in the English Civil War and the American War for Independence.

It is easy to get discouraged when the power of civil government begins to be used for injustice or to expand government control and take away freedom. The is especially the case in our day when an individual seems so small in the grand scheme of things. But to give up in discouragement and bitterness is only to become even more a slave than you were already. There are many things that a person can do, and with the help of others and the blessing of God, change is possible. Our Lord reigns in the heavens and laughs at the pride of even the most powerful tyrants.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Our Duty toward Civil Government


"It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honor their persons, to pay them tribute or other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience' sake. Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrates' just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them..." 
(Westminster Confession of Faith 23.4)

Earlier, we had looked at the duty of civil government (here). Now I want to consider the duty of the people toward civil government, as defined in God's word.

The authority of civil government to execute God’s judgement upon the unjust was instituted by God in Genesis 9:4-6. The form of government is not fixed in that passage. Principles like wisdom and justice must guide each nation to construct the best form for their situation.

By God’s common grace, this institution can be found in virtually all societies, much like marriage. Even in Israel, where God’s written law was supreme, the written law did not replace human authority, but rather defined and established it. Subjection to human rulers was a duty in Israel, for example, in word, obedience, and attitude.
"You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people." (Exodus 22:28) 
"You shall not turn aside from the verdict that they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left." (Deuteronomy 17:11) 
"My son, fear the LORD and the king, and do not join with those who do otherwise, for disaster will arise suddenly from them, and who knows the ruin that will come from them both?" (Proverbs 24:21–22)
And so it is no surprise that the apostle Paul did not approach submission to civil government as a pragmatic compromise with a pagan power merely to avoid punishment. Rather, in Romans 13:1-7, he teaches that it is the institution of God and that our duties toward it are done for the sake of conscience.

We find in that passage that we ought to be subject to the various civil authorities and to not resist them, for God has appointed them (13:1-2). In the original Greek, the words “be subject,” “instituted,” “resist,” and “appointed” are all variations on the word τάσσω, "to set." The idea is to set yourself under authority, because God has set the authority there, so do not set yourself against what God has thoroughly set in place. Know your place and place yourself under the governing authorities in word and deed.

We are told to do good and to not fear punishment; in other words, to govern ourselves so that the civil authority does not need to intervene (v. 3). We are told to be in subjection to the magistrate, both to avoid God’s wrath at his hands and for conscience sake (v. 5). We are told it is our duty to pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers (v. 6). Give taxes, revenue, honor, and respect to whom they are due (v. 7). This honor and respect includes your attitude, your words, and even visible signs of respect. In 1 Timothy 2:2, Paul adds that we should pray for them as well (1 Tim. 2:2). For more on praying for civil authorities, see this post.

In our current political culture, it is common for people of all political persuasions to disrespect those who serve in civil government. It is a temptation we all face. Your faithfulness to these commands from God's word are especially tested when the official in question is someone you strongly disagree with. In a day when insults, ridicule, exaggeration, falsehoods, and reviling is common, be firm in your convictions but respectful to all, especially to those with authority, remembering the apostle's words to Titus, "Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people" (Titus 3:1–2).

But what about when civil government is unjust and tyrannical? Is there anything else we can do? While being respectful and subject to authority, what can we do to oppose injustice and tyranny? I will follow up on this question in another post.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Duty of Civil Government


"God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates, to be, under him, over the people, for his own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evildoers." (Westminster Confession of Faith, 23.1)

Civil government is not just a good idea - it is appointed by God. In Genesis 9:3-6 he gave man the responsibility to avenge the murder of the innocent, to reestablish justice when the image of God is attacked with the power of the sword. This basic responsibility developed under God's direction to a general responsibility to enforce justice, to punish the evildoer, and to protect the innocent.

We see this point articulated in both the Old Testament law and in the New Testament in passages like Romans 13:1-7. There we see that civil rulers, even pagan rulers, have delegated authority from God (Rom. 13:1). They have their legitimacy from God’s appointment (Rom. 13:2). Just like the judges and elders of Israel (Deut. 1:17), so even pagan rulers judge not for men, but for God. They are God’s servants (Rom. 13:4). They exercise God’s authority and are accountable to Him. They are appointed to carry out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer (Rom. 13:4). When justice is violated, civil rulers are to restore justice. “Justice, and only justice, you shall follow…” (Deut. 16:20). Wrongdoing provokes God’s just wrath, and rulers carry it out as far as they can as limited human authorities.

The power they have to carry out God’s wrath is the sword (Rom. 13:4). The authority of civil rulers is symbolized by the sword since it is their final appeal, their ultimate power. They vindicate the innocent and restore justice by capital punishment, but also by other means, like restitution and corporal punishment. The sword is used against private criminals as well as foreign armies - rulers have the authority to defend their people and land in just war.

The result is that they are a terror to bad conduct (Rom. 13:3). They restrain evil in the earth. They promote peace by punishing those who break the peace. As Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:2, when kings and rulers do their job, it allows us to “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Therefore, they are for your good. The saying of Cicero which was adopted as the state motto of Missouri, “Let the good of the people be the supreme law,” is not perfect when it is left unqualified and undefined. Yet it is true that rulers are God’s servant for the good of the people. They are servant leaders, ruling for the sake of those under their care, not for themselves. They serve the public good by restoring justice, judging the evildoer and defending the innocent. They are especially a benefit for those who are vulnerable and weak (Prov. 31:8-9). They also have a particular duty to protect and promote the good of the church as "foster fathers and nursing mothers" of God’s people (Is. 49:23, see also WCF 23.3, WLC 191).

Since civil rulers are God's servants, they must take their standard of justice from God. This is known to some degree through the design of creation and the witness of conscience, but it has been revealed infallibly and most clearly in the Bible, being summarized in the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17). So to understand what the civil government ought to be doing, let us consider the principles of the Ten Commandments, what we might consider the Bible's "bill of rights."

1. God’s right to ultimate loyalty (Ex. 20:3). He is the Creator of all things visible and invisible, Sovereign over all, and all authorities on earth ought to act accordingly. The civil government ought to confess subjection to God, particularly His anointed King, Jesus Christ (Ps. 2), rather than serve a false god or treat themselves as god. In our secular age, the state - as the manifestation of the will of the people - is often seen as supreme, divine, and messianic.

2. God’s right to be worshipped as He has appointed (Ex. 20:4-6). The civil government ought to discourage false worship and idolatry, at least protecting and prioritizing the true worship of God (Is. 60:10-12, Judges 6:25-32). Certainly in its own ceremonies, assemblies, and proclamations of thanksgiving and fasts, it should worship the true God as He has appointed in His word. As our Larger Catechism says, in addition to our personal opposition to false worship, we should acts against it "according to each one's place and calling" (WLC 108).

3. God’s right to His name (Ex. 20:7). The civil government ought to keep its oaths, punish oath breakers (Lev. 19:12), and suppress public blasphemers (Ex. 22:28, Dan. 3:29). Just as a human has a right to his good name (see below), so God's name ought to be vindicated from slander. As John Calvin wrote, "those laws are preposterous which neglect God's right and provide only for men" (Institutes, 4.20.9).

4. God’s right to His day and man’s right to a weekly rest (Ex. 20:8-11; note the added emphasis on rest for laborers in Deut. 5:12-15). Because this day is appointed for God's worship and man's rest, the civil government ought to limit business on a weekly sabbath day (see this post for more on the corporate implications of the sabbath). Like the rest of the Ten Commandments, this command is based in creation and binding on all people. This commandment explicitly includes "the sojourner who is within your gates" (Ex. 20:10, see also WLC 118). And since the resurrection, the sabbath day is the first day of the week, the Lord's Day. See Nehemiah 13:15-22 for an example of this being enforced on non-Israelites in a firm but careful manner.

5. Parental rights and authority (Ex. 20:12). The civil government ought to back up parental authority, as well as other proper authorities in society, protecting it and supporting it against rebellion (Matt. 15:4, Deut. 21:18-21). Civil government becomes totalitarian when it seeks to replace these authorities. Rather, the family is a basic governing authority in society and ought to be respected by the civil authorities. Household government is accountable to the civil government when it unjustly abuses its authority, but otherwise its authority ought to be supported by the civil government.

6. Human right to life (Ex. 20:13). Human life is valuable because God created humanity as His image, His representative (Gen. 9:6). The civil government ought to administer the death penalty for murder (Gen. 9:6), various penalties for negligence, manslaughter, and physical abuse/injury (Deut. 22:8, Num. 35:22-29, Ex. 21:26-32); support the right of justified self-defense (Ex. 22:2-3), and wage just war against aggressors (Deut. 20, Rom. 13:4). This responsibility to defend innocent life extends to the unborn (Ex. 22:22-25), so that abortion, rather than being a right protected by the government, should be punished by it.

7. Rights of marriage (Ex. 20:14). The civil government ought to uphold and recognize the institution of marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman, according to God's design (for more on marriage and sexuality, see this series of posts). It ought to put limits on divorce (Matt. 19:3-9, 1 Cor. 7:15, Deut. 24:1-4, see also WCF 24.5-6), hold men accountable for premarital sex (see Ex. 22:16-17), and punish those who are caught committing rape, adultery, and homosexuality (Deut. 22:22-27, Lev. 20:10-13).

8. Right of property ownership (Ex. 20:15). The civil government ought to enforce restitution for goods unlawfully taken or withheld (Ex. 21:33-22:15), punish fraud in the market place and unfaithfulness in contracts (Lev. 19:11-13), and punish kidnapping and enslaving (Ex. 21:16). The protection of private property encourages responsibility, initiative, and long-term thinking. Rulers should avoid using their power for unjust confiscation, excessive taxation, or other ways they might violate this principle (1 Kgs. 21, Mic. 3:1-3, Amos 5:11; see this post for more on taxation).

9. Right to one’s good name and the truth (Ex. 20:16). The civil government ought to punish perjurers with the penalty that would have been received as a result of his witness (Deut. 19:15-21) and vindicate the innocent against slander (Lev. 19:16). This is essential to harmony in society and to a judicial system that might enforce justice justly.

10. You shall not covet (Ex. 20:17). This last one is like the first - primarily an internal command. And just as rulers should confess subjection to God, likewise should they confess their duty to protect those under their care, even from themselves, recognizing their limits and the purpose of their authority.

I have probably included more proof-texts than necessary, seeing that the Ten Commandments themselves are Scripture, but on the other hand, neither is this list comprehensive of all that these basic principles of justice involve or all that Scripture says in expanding on these basic principles.

Finally, an important part of justice is having a just method for adjudicating cases and punishing crime. The Bible insists on an investigation of the facts, due process, and at least two or three witnesses (Deut. 19:15, Josh. 7). In biblical law, there is a focus on the victim’s rights rather than a process dominated by the state, an aim at restitution and restoration, limits and checks on government power, and only a very limited use of prisons. It teaches that the death penalty (except in the case of murder) is a maximum penalty - not necessarily a mandatory penalty. For more on this point, I would recommend reading the booklet, Is the Death Penalty Just? by Phillip Kayser, available online at this link. Also, the Bible teaches that it is vital for judges to have good character and wisdom if they are going to do their job well (Deut. 1:13, Ex. 18:21, 1 Kgs. 3).

So civil government is appointed by God to enforce justice so that people may enjoy peace and liberty. In the next two posts, I will move on to the duty of people toward the civil government.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Key Issues in the Reformation

Reformation Day is in just two weeks! The Protestant Reformation was a tremendous historical event in the 16th century, but what was it all about? Watch the video below to see how I summarize the main doctrines that the Reformers promoted and the Roman church rejected. May the example of the Reformers inspire us to continue to contend for these biblical truths, to the end that all who claim the name of Christ may one day be united in such convictions.




Wednesday, October 9, 2019

John Knox on God's Word in the Home

In 1556 the Reformation was spreading in Scotland, but it remained out of favor with the authorities, and the established church remained under Rome. As reformer John Knox left Scotland to spend a few years as a pastor to English-speaking refugees in Geneva, he wrote a letter to be circulated among the Scottish people, "A Letter of Wholesome Counsel." In the letter, he gave counsel on the importance of God's word and how they might benefit from it, despite living in a country in which Roman Catholicism was still in power. While he goes on to teach the importance of Bible study as a congregation, here he speaks of the importance of the daily use of God's word in the home, a point which remains "wholesome counsel" today as we seek maintain true religion in an increasingly secular society.
"But to you, dear brethren, I write my knowledge, and do speak my conscience, that so necessary as the use of meat and drink are to the preservation of life corporeal, and so necessary as the heat and brightness of the sun are to the quickening of the herbs and to expel darkness, so necessary is also to life everlasting, and to the illumination and light of the soul, the perpetual meditation, exercise, and use of God's holy Word. 
"And therefore, dear brethren, if that ye look for a life to come, of necessity it is that ye exercise yourselves in the Book of the Lord your God. Let no day slip over without some comfort received from the mouth of God. Open your ears, and he will speak, even pleasing things to your heart. Close not your eyes, but diligently let them behold what portion of substance is left to you within your Father's testament. Let your tongue learn to praise the gracious goodness of him who of his mere mercy hath called you from darkness to light, and from death to life. Neither yet may you do this so quietly, that ye will admit no witnesses. Nay, brethren, ye are ordained of God to rule and govern your own houses in God's true fear, and according to his holy Word - within your own houses, I say, in some cases ye are bishops and kings; your wife, children, and family are your bishopric and charge; of you it shall be required how carefully and diligently ye have instructed them in God's true knowledge; how you have studied, in them to plant virtue, and to repress vice. And therefore I say, ye must make them partakers in reading, exhortation, and in making common prayers; which I would, in every house were used once a day at least. But above all things, dear brethren, study to practice in life that which the Lord commands, and then be ye assured, that ye shall never hear nor read the same without fruit." ("A Most Wholesome Counsel," from The Select Practical Writings of John Knox, 2011, p. 126-127; also available online at this link