Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Marriage in Genesis 2

In an earlier post, we saw from Genesis 1:26-28 that humanity - created male and female in the image of God - is given a mandate to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it, and that this task is especially given to married couples. Men and women share this task in common, but as we move to Genesis 2 we find that men and women approach this task differently. And here we will focus on how they relate to each other in marriage, although these natural differences have relevance in all of life.

A common view today is that man and woman are equal and that marriage is subordinate to their pursuit of their (individual) dreams in which each has the same role in the marriage. (Even as I write this at the local library I hear a mother reading to her daughter the "Feminist ABCs" where D is for dreams and E is for equality.) This makes sense in an individualistic worldview where each person is their own maker, creating their identity and purpose out of thin air. But all this changes when we view the world through the lens of Scripture.

In Genesis 2, we find that man and woman were created by God, and that they were created differently. God made Adam from the dust and His breath (Gen. 2:7), while God made Eve from Adam’s rib (2:22). They had unique purposes behind their creation: Adam was created to work the ground and keep it (2:5, 15), while Eve was created to help Adam with this task (2:18, 20). Neither one of them was independent of the other, but they depended on each other differently. The ultimate end for both of them was the creation mandate, but Adam found the task and therefore received a helper, while Eve found the man and therefore received the task.

The fact that Eve was formed from Adam gave them unity. When Eve was brought to Adam, he saw that she was from his flesh, and so they united in marriage as one flesh (Gen. 2:23-24). Woman was taken from man, and ever since they have desired to become one again, a desire which is designed for marriage. Companionship, friendship, love, romance, and physical union thus play an important and natural role in marriage. And this union of affections and bodies also promotes their original calling to multiply and subdue the earth: it naturally leads to childbirth and it unites them closer so that they might work together as one.

Some have claimed that God's primary intent in marriage is not to make you happy, but to make you holy. But I'm not sure that marriage made Adam any more holy - it did, though, make him quite a bit more happy (Gen. 2:23). In our fallen state, marriage is supposed to make you holy as well as happy, and neither of these exhaust the purposes of marriage (since it's not all about you). Because of sin, marriage sometimes does not achieve its purpose, but this does not alter its purpose and design.

This one-flesh unity shapes the rest of the marriage relationship. Marriage is designed so that husband and wife work as one and treat each other as part of his or her self. The husband does not treat his wife as an external force to be conquered, but as his body to be directed and cared for. The wife does not see her husband as a conquering invader to be resisted, but as her head to be supported and obeyed. John Calvin commented on this chapter that “something was taken from Adam, in order that he might embrace, with greater benevolence, a part of himself. ” He says, “In this manner Adam was taught to recognize himself in his wife, as in a mirror; and Eve, in her turn, to submit herself willingly to her husband, as being taken out of him.”

We see from Genesis 2 that neither man or woman is independent - they both need each other - but they depend on each other differently. Adam helps as a head by directing and caring for Eve in love as His flesh and helper. Eve helps as a body by respectfully following and extending Adam’s leadership. As Calvin comments, “women, being instructed in their duty of helping their husbands, should study to keep this divinely appointed order. It is also the part of men to consider what they owe in return to the other half of their kind, for the obligation of both sexes is mutual, and on this condition is the woman assigned as a help to the man, that he may fill the place of her head and leader.”

Much more could be said on the topic, but from this chapter we can draw the following applications (in line with Scripture's own commentary on this passage in places like 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, 1 Timothy 2:8-15, Proverbs 31:10-31, and Ephesians 5:22-33):

Both Husbands and Wives: love and desire the other as one’s self. Seek your spouse's good and be close to your spouse in soul and body. Both should seek to help the other and promote God’s glory and fulfill His mandate together. Your marriage serves more than your respective needs - it is so much bigger than you.

Husbands: view your wife as your body. You provide and protect your body, so protect and provide for your wife. You direct your body for purposeful ends, so give her direction and instructions for purposeful ends. You train your body, so teach your wife as an intelligent human and co-heir of grace. You treasure your body, paying attention to what it communicates about its pains and needs, so value your wife and be understanding towards her. You honor your body before others since your body is you, so do not degrade or disgrace your wife before others.

Wives: view your husband as your body, particularly as your head. Even as your body works in unity with the head by following its direction, so help your husband by working according to his direction as one. As the body furthers and implements what the head intends, so take initiative to further your husband's mission by being faithful over your charge. Represent and reflect your husband, working as a faithful steward over his house.

For more on this topic, see my recent sermon "Marriage and Sexuality."  

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Joel Beeke on Family Worship

In this 7-minute video from the 2013 G3 Conference, Dr. Joel Beeke talks about the importance and practice of daily family worship. The booklet on the topic which he mentions for further study can be found at this link
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." (Colossians 3:16)

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

America the Beautiful?

America the Beautiful  
There are many things we love about our country. As “America the Beautiful” recounts, we treasure its majestic mountains and fruited plains as well as the history of its people and their heroic sacrifices and achievements. We treasure our God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, loudly proclaimed by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Our country truly has been blessed in many ways - compared to much of the world and much of history, our country is incredibly prosperous, powerful, and full of opportunity.

America the Perfect?
Yet, one thing that set apart our country from the beginning was our recognition that we were not perfect. The second verse of “America the Beautiful” includes these words,
“America, America,
God mend thine every flaw
Confirm thy soul in self control,
Thy liberty in law.”
Some of us may find it quite easy to point out flaws in our society and our institutions. But the issue is not simply out there in other people. This is an issue rooted in human nature. Each of us are morally flawed.

Our founding fathers understood this principle and designed our system of government with this in mind. Because human nature is naturally given to selfishness and moral corruption, checks and balances are needed in government. As James Madison wrote:
“But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external or internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” (Federalist No. 51, Feb. 8, 1788) 
Or as Patrick Henry put it:
“Notwithstanding what gentlemen say of the probable virtue of our representatives, I dread the depravity of human nature. I wish to guard against it by proper checks, and trust nothing to accident or chance.” (Elliot's Debates, vol. 3, June 12, 1788)
Americans, the Guilty
This has implications for civil government which our founders understood. It also has implications for you as an individual. You are not an angel. You have not been just towards God and man. Have you always served, loved, and worshipped God above all? Have you always loved your neighbor as yourself? If you are like the rest of humanity, you have dishonored God and your neighbor with your desires (such as greed, lust, pride), words (such as profanity, lies, unkind words), and other actions. God is not one to look the other way when it comes to these evil deeds. He is a just ruler and will not approve of the guilty.

Americans, the Free?
Therefore, you stand condemned under the justice of God. Yet, God chose to free a people from this condemnation by sending His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus satisfied the justice of God by His sacrificial death on the cross, and offers forgiveness and reconciliation with God through faith in Him. If you repent and believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you shall be set free from condemnation and from the tyranny of sin: “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Jesus gained a pardon for His people and sends the Holy Spirit to transform their character so that, more and more, they begin to overcome the bondage of their old human nature, and begin to manifest love, righteousness, and self-control (Rom. 14:17, Gal. 5:22-23).

May God indeed shed His grace on America, mending its every flaw, and may He begin with you and me.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Ethics of Taxation

As it has been said for the last three hundred years, taxes seem to be as inevitable as death. Yet the thought has surely occurred to many people as they hand over their money to the state - is taxation right? Should we pay our taxes? Should the government demand taxes, and if so, what limits are there?

Some people, inspired by the historic slogan “no taxation without representation” might think that taxation is simply the money that we decide to give to our government. It is at the discretion of the people how much is wise to give, and it is legitimate because we all get a vote. Yet, does 51% of my community have a right to take my money?

On the other hand, some today argue that taxation is theft. After all, why can the government take our possessions by coercion when this is considered theft if any other person or group does the same? “No one has the right to point a gun at you and demand your help, your money, whether it be an individual or a government.”[1] Christians would agree that the civil authorities cannot do whatever they want and that the eighth and tenth commandments assert a right to private or household property. What you have gained honestly without fraud or coercion is yours. Some Christians say taxation is theft but add that the head tax of Exodus 30:11-16 is an exception given by God as the only legitimate tax.[2]

While I am sympathetic to the position that taxation is theft because it makes some valid points, I do not think it does justice to all the biblical material. I argue that taxation is legitimized by the duty we have to support the civil authorities financially to enable them to fulfill their God-given responsibilities. Taxation for functions beyond their normal responsibilities is slavery. And with regard to the tax burden, less taxation is more freedom and a blessing, while more taxation is more slavery and a curse. Burdensome taxation, especially on the poor, is oppression.

The Bible ties our duty to pay taxes to the fact that the civil authorities have God-given responsibilities. “For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed…” (Rom. 13:6-7). Taxes are an obligation which we fulfill for the sake of conscience (Rom. 13:5), a debt that we must pay (Rom. 13:7). God gives the civil authorities a right to taxes because they are God’s servants who do His work (Rom. 13:4, 6). This work is not unlimited. Basically, God has given them the duty of restraining bad conduct by executing God’s wrath through the punishment of criminals and the waging of defensive war (Rom. 13:3-4, 1 Peter 2:13, see also WCF 23.1-2). Additionally, this obligation is due only to people with a legitimate claim to civil authority. Usurpers, habitual tyrants, and officials acting illegally are another story, and here the concept of theft might be used to describe their actions (this is a main reason why the American colonies declared independence - they were being taxed by Parliament, which was a body that had no authority over them and in which they had no representation).

Other social responsibilities like education and welfare are not given to the civil authorities but are described as duties of family, church, and community (e.g. Deut. 6:7, Eph. 6:1-4, 1 Tim. 5:3-8, Deut. 15, Lev. 19:9-10). When the civil authority begins to use tax money for these functions it is a form of slavery. It is like finding yourself in arrangement where someone takes your money or labor and provides you or your dependents with the things you should have provided for yourself. It is not a sin to be a slave, but it is certainly undesirable, and we have a responsibility to seek freedom when we have the opportunity (1 Cor. 7:21-23).

No one has a right to make innocent people slaves, and normally people should not volunteer to be slaves, but there are times when this is necessary. The Bible does speak of the case of a brother who becomes poor enough that he sells himself to a fellow believer for a time (Lev. 25:39-40 Deut. 15:12-15), a brother who becomes poor enough that he must borrow (Lev. 25:35-38, Deut. 15:7-11; debt is a form of slavery, Prov. 22:7), and of a brother who for one reason or another choses to remain in permanent slavery (Deut. 15:16-17).

In Genesis 41, Joseph, by the Spirit of God, foresaw the coming famine in Egypt and advised a 20% income tax during the plentiful years to save up provisions (Gen. 41:33-38). In God's wisdom, this temporary burden was apparently the best option for the Egyptians, forcing them to provide for the future. In the end, this measure led to literal slavery for the Egyptians who had to sell themselves and their land to buy back the provisions, resulting in a permanent 20% income tax (Gen. 47:20-26; though interestingly priests’ land did not become Pharaoh’s). God blessed the family of Jacob by making this a temporary dependance, allowing them to remain free after the famine, having been temporarily provisioned with the "free welfare" by Joseph (Gen. 47:12).

Israel later foolishly desired this permanent civil slavery, seeking a powerful king. But when Israel desired a king like the nations, Samuel warned the people that this king “will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants…He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves” (1 Sam. 8:15–18). This taxation is seen as a curse of slavery upon Israel for abandoning God as their ruler and relying on a powerful king. While an increase in taxes might have been necessary with any king,[3] a “king like the nations” would demand more than the restrained king who abided by Deuteronomy 17:14-17. Israel’s lack of self-government and restraint described in Judges drove them to a position of civil slavery.

When the state begins to use coercion to fulfill duties which ideally belong to the family, church, and community, it takes away our sense of responsibility for one another. It gives us an excuse to not provide for ourselves and our family, to not care for our parents, to not care for the elderly and disabled in our midst. A slave mentality is an irresponsible one that looks to other people for initiative, direction, purpose, and provision. Christians ought to cultivate the mentality of a freeman even when living in slavery (living not as people-pleasers, but as servants of God, looking to Him for reward; Col. 3:22-25). But if opportunity is given to gain greater freedom, Christians should take it.
“Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.” (1 Corinthians 7:21–23)
There are cases where the Bible condemns burdensome taxation as oppression. Taxation had become oppressive under Solomon and even more so under his son, Rehoboam (1 Kings 12). Amos 5:11 condemns the people because “you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him…” The prophets several times condemned civil leaders who devoured the people's wealth (Is. 3:14, Mic. 3:1-3, Zeph. 3:3). Proverbs 29:4 says, "By justice a king builds up the land, but he who exacts gifts tears it down," and here I believe the ESV footnote, "taxes heavily," to be a more accurate translation than "exacts gifts."

Thus, taxation should be judged on its use, its amount, and its impact. The ability to enforce taxation is a power given to the civil authorities. One must have legitimate authority to exercise this power. The people have a duty to pay taxes to the civil authorities. When the tax is serving its proper goal, it is good and proper. It can become undesirably enslaving when it needs to cover for a lack of self-government. It can also become an unjust tool of oppression. While we should pay our taxes, Christians should live responsibly as freemen and seek freedom when given the opportunity (1 Cor. 7:21-24). As we care for our households, practice charity to others, tithe to the church, and seek the welfare of our community, we can hope for the blessing of greater freedom in the area of taxes.

[1] Chris R. Tame, “Taxation Is Theft (Libertarian Alliance Political Note No 44, 1989)” (PDF), http://www.libertarian.co.uk/lapubs/polin/polin044.pdf, accessed 3-17-18.
[2] R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Nutley, N.J.: The Craig Press, 1973), 510.
[3] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub., 2008), 802-803.

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Creation of Man in Genesis 1:26-18

Genesis 1:26–28
"[26] Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'
[27] So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
[28] And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'"
The first chapter of Genesis asserts that God alone is eternal and that everything else is His creation. Everything visible and invisible came into being by His powerful word, in the space of six days, and all very good. This means that He is the potter and we are the clay. Not only does this mean He determines what we are and our purpose, but it also means that we have a nature and purpose! There is design and intention behind our existence - we are not the product of an accident, we do not have to make life meaningful by trying to create ourselves. And yet, that is exactly what we tend to do - seeking to be as God, determining who we are by our independent choices. But as those who are repenting from our sinful folly, what does it mean to return to our Creator's design? In Genesis 1:26-28 we find a few important basics about the nature of humanity.

The image of God

"God created man in his own image" (v. 27). What is the image of God? Man, both male and female, is the image of God. To be created after His likeness means that we are His image. The image of God is not some part of us. It does not say that some part of man was created after God's image. We are God’s image, and like an image, we resemble Him and represent Him.

How do we resemble and represent Him? No, we do not physically look like God, for God does not have a body - He is invisible (1 Tim. 1:17). Yes, God the Son became man as well, but this was later and did not change the nature of God. Rather, we resemble God in other ways. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “How did God create man? A. God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness and holiness, with dominion over the creatures” (WSV, Q. 10). We reflect God's knowledge, righteousness, holiness, and dominion. Colossians 3:10 and Ephesians 4:24 speak of being renewed after this image in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. Genesis 1:26-28 emphasize our reflection of God's dominion over the earth. And even though we reflect invisible attributes of God, we manifest them in the world with our bodies. Our whole person, body and soul, is created in God's image and designed to make God's character visible in this world, unto His glory. When man fell into sin, we continued to be God's image, but a distorted image - we remained rational, moral, religious, and cultural creatures, but all these areas were distorted by sin and idolatry. Those who are being saved by Christ are being restored in these areas, to reflect God truthfully again as His children.

Not only do we resemble God, but we represent Him. The image of the king is not just appreciated for art's sake - it is a symbol, a representation of the king and His authority. This is why our creation in God's image is brought up in Genesis 9 in the context of the penalty for murder. The fact that we are God's image gives us dignity and value - to attack God's image is an attack on God.
"Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image." (Genesis 9:6)
Finally, Genesis 1:27 also indicated that both male and female are created in the image of God. This brings us to our next point.

Creation of man as male and female

"...male and female he created them" (v. 27). God created man as male and female. These are not merely social constructs or the products of individual choice, nor did God create other genders to choose from. We are male and female based on the way our bodies are made. Since our rebellion, the physical creation does groan under the curse, and our bodies do suffer various unnatural things - sickness, disease, death, disabilities - and this includes rare occasions where biological sex is unclear. But the exception does not overturn the rule - mankind is still created by God as male and female.

Not only are we male or female (whether we like it or not), but we also have a duty to submit to this arrangement, to present ourselves as male and female. This is evident from the case law in Deuteronomy 22:5 which forbids wearing the attire of the opposite sex. I have written about this more in this post.

The mandate: be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, etc.

Not only does God make man and woman, but He also gives them a task. In this task, we reflect God - we create and rule. Yet, our procreation and dominion is in some ways quite different than God's. It is done on our level, as those who, unlike God, are limited creatures created as male and female.

This task is big, and to unpack all that it involves would take more than a simple blog post. But fundamentally it involves having and raising children, filling the earth with God's image, and ruling it as His vice-regents or stewards unto His glory. Our exercise of dominion involves cultivating, conserving, and harnessing the potential of this earth, and so this mandate is sometimes called the "cultural mandate."

This task is given to all humanity. It is part of who we are as humans. All of us participate in this grand calling in one way or another. Sin hijacked this task - infecting us and our children with sin and guilt and perverting our use of authority and power. Just as sin distorted but did not destroy God's image, so it distorted but did not destroy this mandate. And just as God's grace restores us to the true image, so it restores us to a proper fulfillment of this mandate. Once again we can fill the earth with God's children - by raising covenant children and by evangelism - and once again we can fulfill our earthly callings unto God's glory.

This task is given to humanity, but it is important to realize that it was originally and fundamentally given to a married couple. An individual cannot fulfill the mandate. As Adam found out in Genesis 2, he needed a helper to fulfill this mandate. Together in the context of marriage, man and woman work together to be fruitful, to fill the earth, and to rule it. This is the way things naturally work. Men and women naturally have complementary strengthens and weaknesses such that they work best together. They are naturally attracted to each other in a way that naturally produces children. Thus, except in cases where they can serve God in singleness undistracted by this burning desire, the normal duty of adult men and women is to marry: "each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband" (1 Cor. 7:2).

We learn from this passage that marriage is not just about you and your needs, or even about your spouse and his/her needs - it is about serving a bigger cause, the creation mandate. Our marriages serve the goal of filling the earth with the image of God and ruling the earth as His faithful stewards. Marriages produce households, which are religious units, economic units, cultural units - microcosms of human society. God created marriage to be fruitful and productive, for the good of the world and for His glory. May God help our marriages to fulfill this intention through the sanctifying grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Three Reports on Revoice from PCA Presbyteries

There was a conference held in St. Louis last year called Revoice, which sought to support gay, lesbian, bisexual, and other same-sex attracted Christians who affirmed the historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality. This event was controversial before it even happened and has continued to be polarizing, particularly among conservative Presbyterians. While Revoice was clear in teaching that sex belongs only within monogamous and heterosexual marriage, it was less clear on the issues of homosexual desire, orientation, and identity.

Revoice is not a Presbyterian organization, and its speakers came from a variety of denominational backgrounds, but it featured several speakers who are ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and was held at Memorial Presbyterian Church (PCA), whose senior pastor spoke at the event and defended it against critics. After the conference, several of the PCA's regional presbyteries set up committees to study and report on the teachings promoted at the conference. These reports have been released as the PCA approaches its annual General Assembly later this month. I am in a different conservative Presbyterian denomination (the Orthodox Presbyterian Church). Yet we in the OPC have an interest in the direction and well-being of our sister denomination. I am also personally involved - I graduated from the PCA's seminary and I have friends in the PCA (on "both sides" of this controversy).

Here I want to review the reports on Revoice adopted by three of the PCA's presbyteries: Missouri Presbytery, Central Carolina Presbytery, and Westminster Presbytery. For those who do not have time to sort through these reports, perhaps this summary can give you an idea how the PCA is addressing this controversy.

Missouri Presbytery - "Missouri Presbytery Ad Hoc Committee to Investigate Memorial Presbyterian Church for Hosting the Revoice 18 Conference in July 2018" (111 pages, 32 additional pages in the appendices)

This presbytery is the one which includes Memorial Presbyterian Church and its senior pastor, Rev. Greg Johnson. Its task was to investigate not only Revoice, but particularly the role played by Memorial Presbyterian Church and its senior pastor. This investigation was first requested by Memorial PCA and later by Calvary Presbytery. Its report is by far the largest of these three reports, but it does include a "Summary of Allegations and Judgments" on pages 29-34 and "Commendations and Recommendations" on pages 110-111 for those who want to read a shorter version.

In receiving this report and adopting and approving certain parts of it, the Missouri Presbytery also noted on their website,
"We would ask readers to take care to not represent this report as an endorsement of Revoice, because our Presbytery does not understand itself to be endorsing Revoice by the actions it took at the May 18 meeting. As we say candidly in the report, we have concerns about where Revoice is going, and even now, how its goals and principles are being worked out by some of its participants under the umbrella this organization has become. We believe it is a young and evolving organization and stands in need of much prayer and guidance, and, in places, constructive criticism, to the end of becoming aware of some corrective moving it needs to make, at least in our judgment." 
More specifically, the report judged,

- "...that both TE Johnson and Memorial ought to have vetted more carefully the speakers and content of the Revoice conference.... In addition, ... by not providing a gracious, clear critique of the conference, especially at those points where it was alleged that there was difference with our doctrinal standards, the Session of Memorial and TE Johnson erred…” (p. 29)

- "...that neither Revoice nor the Memorial Presbyterian Church Session ground homoerotic desire and actions in Creation rather than in the Fall. We believe that Revoice itself does not teach that sexual desire for someone of the same sex is morally neutral and not sinful. In fact, they affirm that it is sinful." (p. 29)

- "...that the way Revoice and Side B believers in general use terms has been confusing to many of our churches. But we reject the claim that this is because terms like 'gay,' 'sexual orientation,' 'queer,' and 'sexual minorities' are always or necessarily unbiblical." (p. 30)

- that Revoice understands terms like "same-sex attraction" and "gay" in an expanded way so that "they are inclusive of 'attractions,' of an 'orientation,' of a quality of 'gayness' that lies behind homoerotic desire and yet is essentially or intrinsically related to it—rather than being simply related to it situationally" and in this "Revoice has committed at least an error of imprudence by indulging in needless and potentially dangerous speculation, and it remains to be seen whether this error will be used in such a way as to strike at the vitals of religion." (p. 30-31)

- that while a Christian can, in some sense, include their sinful desires as a part of who they are, "any part of 'who we are' that is the result of the Fall and sinful must be mortified, and all aspects of our identity must be seen through the lens of our primary identity as those who are made in the image of God and restored to that image through our union with Christ." (p. 31)

- "...that, to the extent that Revoice even entertains the possibility of 'celibate partnerships' (even within the limits expressed above), it has erred in offering unwise, unedifying relational arrangements to Christians who know same-sex-attraction (cf. 1 Cor. 6:12).... TE Johnson, in his Revoice workshop, publicly warned about the danger of friendships morphing into romances and stressed the importance of boundaries." (p. 32)

- "...that Memorial did not err in allowing Roman Catholics to speak in their church building under the aegis of Revoice…. However, Memorial erred in failing to make clear to their congregation our doctrinal differences with Roman Catholicism before, but especially after the Revoice conference." (p. 34)

The end result of this investigation is that the Missouri Presbytery required Memorial PCA to respond to these concerns (specifically, "the judgements and recommendations of this report") by their summer presbytery meeting in July, and that Missouri Presbytery adopted an “Overture to the 47th General Assembly of the PCA to Form an Ad Interim Committee to Seek Consensus on Doctrinal Boundaries and Pastoral Care in the Current Debates About Sexuality.”

Central Carolina Presbytery - "Central Carolina Presbytery Study Committee Report on 2018 Revoice Conference" (16 pages)

The Central Carolina Presbytery's report is generally well written and only 16 pages long. It helpfully summarizes the main talks at Revoice and then addresses them by looking at five issues.

Regarding desire and temptation, this report helpfully distinguishes between the Reformed and Roman Catholic understandings of sin and desire (both Reformed and Roman Catholic speakers were present at the conferences). While the Roman Catholic view is that disordered desires only become sinful when we consent or act upon them, our Presbyterian standards affirm that the corruption of our nature (original sin) is sin to be repented of, and that the desire for sin is a sinful desire. In other words, "when the heart is drawn after an illegitimate end, we must repent of that sinful desire, longing, or attraction and run to Christ for cleanness of conscience and forgiveness of sin" (p. 8). The report critiques the idea that same-sex sexual desire can be purified, leaving behind a unique attraction towards members of one's own sex. Unfortunately, the report ends up arguing that there is no such thing as non-sexual attraction towards another person (!).

Regarding labels and identities, this report notes that "'gay' or 'sexual minority' might be used occasionally in order to identify a persistent struggle that must be mortified by the power of the Holy Spirit. Insofar as identity language is used in this way, we see it as consistent with the manner in which faithful Christians have talked throughout the centuries (e.g., 'I’m an alcoholic but a Christian who is seeking to forsake this sin.')" (p. 10). But it also argues that adopting these labels can seem to foster the idea that these sins cannot be resisted, that they are part of a settled identity, and are perhaps morally neutral. I find this section of the report a bit unclear - it seems to realize that people can adopt these terms in a legitimate way, but then condemns the use of these terms since those who do so "are not merely identifying a struggle. Such linguistic moves signal an inappropriate add-on to what we all agree is a more fundamental category: Christian" (p. 11). It does helpfully recognize the life long struggle with sin described in Romans 7, while also noting that it is a mistake to view sexual orientation as immutable.

Regarding spiritual friendships, this report states, "We certainly agree with the Revoice Conference that same-sex attracted persons can find in the Bible, and should find in the church, examples of deep, loyal, committed relationships between persons of the same sex. We think it unwise, however, to posit a separate class of homosexual friendship that goes by different names and looks substantially different from the healthy friendships all Christians should cultivate and enjoy" (p. 13).

Regarding the "gift of homosexuality", I think the report says it well: "as we discussed above, we do not believe it is right to characterize sinful inclinations as a gift. But if same-sex attraction is not a gift to be celebrated, our brothers and sisters who pursue Christ courageously in the midst of this attraction certainly are. In short, we believe it is important to affirm that same-sex desires are sinful, that the fight against these desires is an admirable struggle, and that those who labor in faith and repentance to overcome these desires should receive our sympathy, our gratitude, and our support" (p. 14-15).

In the end, the report summarizes by saying: "We appreciate Revoice’s commitment to biblical marriage. We commend them for their desire to help sexual strugglers stay rooted in Christ and in historic orthodoxy. At the same time, we are concerned that some of the principal voices in Revoice have not been careful enough with their labels, their theology, and their relational advice. Consequently, at present we do not feel Revoice is a safe guide in helping Christians navigate questions of gender and sexuality" (p. 16).

Westminster Presbytery - "Report of the Committee to Investigate THE TEACHINGS OF THE REVOICE CONFERENCE, Adopted by Westminster Presbytery March 9, 2019" (27 pages)

Westminster Presbytery earlier sent an overture to the PCA's General Assembly with a list of twelve affirmations and denials on this controversy (available here), which I found to be good, though I would push back a little on article nine's denial. Unfortunately, their report is somewhat misled by a misunderstanding of what Revoice speaker Nate Collins meant in his book when he said that "the gay identity is a first-creation identity" (cited on page 3 of the report). While the report understands Collins to say that the gay identity was a pre-fall reality, Collins meant that this identity was part of this present, post-fall age, as opposed to the age to come. Collins does affirm that "sexual desire for someone of the same sex is sinful and something that I should repent from" (source), but also argues that being gay includes a broader aesthetic orientation that is not sinful in itself, though restricted to this age (footnote on p. 3). This understanding of sexual orientation is problematic, but this report ignores these distinctions and so misses the mark in some of its critique.

In short, this report commends Revoice for teaching that "Homosexual Sex and Homosexual Marriage are always Sinful." Yet, it argues that the "counsel and teaching of the Revoice conference is, for the most part, in grave error and is spiritually reckless and destructive" (p. 27)
- because it taught that "Sexual Orientation is Real, Fixed, & Likely Unchangeable, and same-sex orientation is not inherently sinful" (p. 2)
- because "Memorial PCA has put 3 Roman Catholic Speakers in front of the people of God as spokespersons for true Christianity and teachers of God’s word" (p. 13)
- because "Revoice’s Concept of 'Spiritual Friendship' Promoted by Wesley Hill and Ron Belgau [RC] is the Creation of Marriage Culture Minus Sex" (p. 16)
- because it taught that "Gender and Sexual Minority Christians are Victims of the Church Because the Church Will not Acknowledge Sexual Orientation and LGBT Identity" (p. 17)
- because it taught that "Roman Catholicism’s Anti-Scriptural Doctrine of Sin is True (aka: “concupiscence”): Sin consists in actions only, not in desires contrary to God’s Word" (p. 22)

I should note that it was Revoice, not Memorial PCA, that invited the Roman Catholic speakers, although as the Missouri Presbytery report noted, Memorial was not free of all responsibility to note where we disagree with Roman Catholics on these issues. Also, it is not correct to say that the speakers at Revoice taught that desires contrary to God's word are not sin. Some did make the problematic assertion that homosexual orientation or attraction is not sinful and a debatable distinction between lust and involuntary desires/temptation. For example, outside the conference in his interview on Crosspolitic, Memorial PCA's senior pastor, Greg Johnson, seemed to make the distinction that one must repent of volitional sins and lusts while one must mortify homosexual attraction (but that one cannot repent of homosexual attraction). This issue was more accurately handled by the other two reports.

Yet, this report helpfully draws to a conclusion by saying,
"In summary, Christian people and ministers must befriend, love, and express the deepest patience and grace toward people engaged in sexually perverted forms of sin.... And individuals ensnared by such sins must see in us a people who are determined to love and serve them regardless of whether or not they ever repent and come to Christ.... The church must support, encourage, and empower people to repent from and put to death their LGBT identities, attractions, desires, and/or actions with the help of Christ. And we must work hard to counsel and walk beside such people as they do so. Their battle with sin will be no less consuming and intense than our own. This is what the body of Christ and Christian fellowship is all about. We walk alongside each other, support one another in our battles with sin, and cheer each other on as we run the race with endurance." (p. 27)

Friday, June 14, 2019

God Save the King: Prayer for Governing Authorities

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way." (1 Timothy 2:1–2)

This text (and others) has supported a long tradition in the church of praying for the civil authorities, and it was quoted by Pastor David Platt when he recently prayed for our president and set off a minor controversy by doing so. Even though the church has had a variety of relations with the civil government, sometimes being oppressed by the authorities and sometimes being supported by them, the church has continued to pray for them. It has recognized the truth that the governing authorities "have been instituted by God" (Rom. 13:1) and that the one in authority "is God's servant for your good" (Rom. 13:4). And so we pray for them, desiring that God would equip them do to their task.

Charles I with M. de St Antoine, 1633
Recently I was looking over the Westminster Directory for Public Worship (1644) and its directions for the main prayer that the pastor was to lead during the service. At one point, it directs the pastor,
"To pray for all in authority, especially for the King’s Majesty; that God would make him rich in blessings, both in his person and government; establish his throne in religion and righteousness, save him from evil counsel, and make him a blessed and glorious instrument for the conservation and propagation of the gospel, for the encouragement and protection of them that do well, the terror of all that do evil, and the great good of the whole church, and of all his kingdoms..."
What makes this especially remarkable is that at the time this was written, the king was waging a war upon the Puritans who produced this directory. In 1644, the English Civil War was raging, with King Charles I leading forces against the forces lead by Parliament, and it was Parliament that had called the Westminster Assembly to reform the English church to be more in line with Scripture and the best reformed churches (namely, Scotland). Producing this directory for public worship was part of the assembly's work. This assembly included the likes of Samuel Rutherford, a commissioner from Scotland who that same year published a book, Lex, Rex, which included a critique of the divine right of kings and defended the type of resistance to tyrants which was being practiced by Parliament (you can get a taste of it here and here).

Despite their resistance to tyrannical acts that violated God's purposes for civil government, they were still dedicated to honoring the king because of his office, even seeking blessing upon his person. Yet, this prayer did not end there. This prayer for blessing was inseparable from a prayer that God would lead the king to fulfill his role in righteousness and wisdom.

The prayer asks that God would make the king an instrument for several ends. It prays that God would use the king to protect and promote the gospel, to encourage and protect the innocent, to terrorize evildoers, and to serve the common good of the universal church and the king's domains. In line with the text I quoted at the beginning, when kings and rulers do their job, it is to the end that we might "lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Tim. 2:2). Their job is not to serve themselves, but they are God's servants for our good (Rom. 13:4). They do this by approving the one who does good while carrying out God's wrath on the wrongdoer (Rom. 13:3-4). They are also called to submit to Christ (Ps. 2:10-12) and to be foster fathers and nursing mothers to the church, protecting it and looking out for its interests (Is. 49:23). By establishing justice and protecting the innocent, they give us liberty to dedicate ourselves to good works, the service of God and man.

The prayer in the Westminster directory is not made just for the king. All rulers are responsible to God, to judge "not for man but for the Lord" (2 Chron. 19:6-7). The prayer is for "all in authority" and it goes to direct the pastor to pray
"for the conversion of the Queen [Henrietta Maria of France], the religious education of the Prince [the future Charles II], and the rest of the royal seed; for the comforting of the afflicted Queen of Bohemia, sister to our Sovereign [Elizabeth Stuart]; and for the restitution and establishment of the illustrious Prince Charles, Elector Palatine of the Rhine, to all his dominions and dignities [he went on to be restored in a few years]; for a blessing upon the High Court of Parliament, (when sitting in any of these kingdoms respectively,) the nobility, the subordinate judges and magistrates, the gentry, and all the commonality; for all pastors and teachers ... for the universities, and all schools and religious seminaries of church and commonwealth, that they may flourish more and more in learning and piety; for the particular city or congregation, that God would pour out a blessing upon the ministry of the word, sacraments, and discipline, upon the civil government, and all the several families and persons therein..."
The church cares for its community, not only because it desires to be free to serve God and others, but also because it seeks to reflect God's love for the world and for all kinds of people. Just after Paul urges the church to pray for all kinds of people, especially for kings and those in authority, he goes on to say, "This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:3-4). May the truth shine brightly throughout our society, bringing all kinds of people to salvation. And as we are saved from the guilt and power of sin, may we return to society, better equipped to serve our God and the common good in our various callings.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Principles of Worship: Reverence

In this series on principles for Christian worship from a Reformed and Presbyterian perspective, we have looked at why we worship as we do (the regulative principle), when we ought to gather for corporate worship (the Sabbath principle), what worship is (the covenantal principle), and who is worshipping in our Lord's Day worship (the corporate principle). The where of worship is not of much consequence in this new covenant era, as Jesus explained in John 4:19-24. God is to be worshipped in every place (Mal. 1:11, 1 Tim. 2:8). This leaves us with how God is to be worshipped, which I will answer by pointing to the attitude which ought to infuse all our worship: reverence. 

Hebrews 12:28-29 gives us clear instruction on our attitude in worship: 
"Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire."
Perhaps you could say that both gratitude and reverence ought to be fundamental attitudes in worship, and I would grant the point. In fact, there are many attitudes and affections that we should manifest in worship, as we might see if we turn to the Psalms as a model. But I note reverence as a basic attitude for worship because it calls attention to the basic identity of the two parties in worship: the Creator and His creatures. Even in New Testament worship, the book of Hebrews reminds us that the God we worship is a consuming fire, worthy of reverence and awe. 

This reverence leads to the praise of God. It leads a person to take his sin seriously and and to not take his pardon and acceptance by God lightly. A Christian can approach God with confidence, but this is different than saying he can approach God casually and carelessly. Reverence keeps our joy from being superficial, it keeps our sorrow from being self-centered, and it keeps our love from being sentimental. It gives substance and weight to what we do in worship. It keeps our focus on God, in all His holiness and power, which makes His grace and compassion towards us all the greater. And this attitude of reverence and humility is what God desires. As God says in Isaiah 66:2,
"But this is the one to whom I will look:
 he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word."

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Principles of Worship: Corporate Worship

As I have been laying out principles of Christian worship from a Reformed perspective (so far I have looked at the regulative principlethe Sabbath principle, and the covenantal principle), I have been focusing on the Lord's Day worship of the church. This is particularly true with my fourth principle, what I call the corporate principle of public worship. Not all worship is done as a church - God also calls us to worship Him in private and in families, although even then we should still be mindful of our communion with all the saints. But the convocation of the church which worships every Lord's Day is corporate, not private. The fact that we worship then as a church has several practical implications.

1. The congregation participates as a body. As we saw in an earlier post, the two parties in public worship are God and the congregation. The congregation usually responds to God by everyone saying the same thing, or by a representative voice. This is why we, following the examples of Scripture, use some forms like hymns and written prayers for the congregation to say together, as well as extemporaneous prayer led by the pastor, to which the congregation assents by saying “amen.”

2. Our gathering is inclusive of the whole covenant community. It ought to manifest the unity of the church without favoritism based on things such as wealth, class, or race (James 2:1-4, 1 Cor. 12:13). This gathering includes our children (Deut. 31:12, Mark 10:13-16), since we believe the children of believers are heirs of the covenant and members of the church (Acts 2:38-39, 1 Cor. 7:14, Gen. 17:7).

3. We worship in unity with the historical church. The church transcends our period in history and includes those who have gone before and continue to worship God in heaven. We benefit by using an order of worship that is shaped by centuries of use and biblical reflection. In addition to biblical Psalms, we sing hymns produced by the church over the past two thousand years.

Some of the details of worship (like the language) will vary according to the cultural context. We should worship in a way that is intelligible in our context (1 Cor. 14:15-16). Yet, when the corporate principle of worship is applied, it will generally result in a worship service that may seem traditional and “churchy” to many people. It will include a desire to avoid fads and to have a multi-generational vision for worship. It will serve as a manifestation of the unity of the church, bound together by one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Eph. 4:5).
"May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 15:5–6)

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Principles of Worship: Covenantal Worship

This is the third post in a series of five, looking at principles of Christian worship in a Reformed and Presbyterian understanding of Scripture. The third principle is the covenantal principle of worship. If the regulative principle explained why we worship as we do and the Sabbath principle explained when we ought to gather for corporate worship, then the covenantal principle explains what worship is.

We see in Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 11:18, 20, 33 that the Lord’s Supper is a basic part of Lord’s Day worship – they gathered to eat the Lord’s Supper. This is not to say that the Supper is central, but that is not incidental - it helps us understand what kind of thing the Lord's Day worship is. And it teaches us is that our worship service is a covenant ceremony – a ceremony that revolves around God’s covenant relationship with us. That is to say our Lord’s Day worship is more like a wedding ceremony than it is a family reunion, concert, or school lecture.

The Lord’s Supper is a covenant meal, recalling other covenant ceremonies like Passover and the worship service in Exodus 24 with its words “this is my blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:28, see Exod. 24:8). Thus, our Lord’s Day worship is a ceremony where God confirms His covenant to us and we renew our grateful acceptance of, and dedication to, this covenant relationship with Him.
“The triune God assembles his covenant people for public worship in order to manifest and renew their covenant bond with him and one another.” (OPC Directory for Worship I.B.5)
A covenantal pattern of worship that we find in Scripture consists of the five “c’s” of worship: call to worship, cleansing, consecration, communion, and commissioning with a blessing (OPC DW I.B.5.b). In each of these, God graciously initiates and we respond in faith. God initiates worship – He condescends to us and blesses us by grace. We do not merit His favor. But His blessing is intended to further a relationship – it is designed to provoke our response. A covenant relationship is a two-sided thing. Thus, covenantal worship is "dialogical," participatory, shaped by call and response. We find the pattern when God’s people meet with Him in Scripture, such as in Exodus 24:1-11, Isaiah 6, and Nehemiah 9:3.

Consider Exodus 24:1-11 as an example of God's initiative and our response in these five "c's."

Call to worship (24:1-2): God initiates by saying "Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship..." (Ex. 24:1). He calls them to approach and worship.
Cleansing (24:3-6): Next, God speaks with His word as Moses reads all the words and rules of the Lord, and the people respond by committing themselves to these words (Ex. 24:3). The sins of the people are confessed and covered by shedding the blood of sacrificial animals (Ex. 24:4-6).
Consecration (24:5, 7): Some of these sacrifices are burnt, showing their consecration to the Lord as the smoke ascends to Him. Some of the sacrifices, the peace offerings, are kept for later. Then Moses reads God’s word again, and again the people respond by committing themselves to those words, by pledging their allegiance. In essence, they say, “Amen!”
Communion and Commissioning with a Blessing (24:8-11): The blood of the covenant is applied to the people and they (in this case through their representatives) see the God of Israel and live, drinking and eating the peace offering in His presence, enjoying fellowship and peace with Him.

So our Lord’s Day worship is a covenant ceremony with a certain logic to it, revolving around our relationship with God. The fact that it is a covenant ceremony makes it distinct from serving God in all of life, although it is connected to all of life. It claims and commits all of life. In it we confess the sins of our life and gives thanks for the blessings of our life. It must be connected with faithfulness in the rest of life. It equips us and directs us for our daily life. Our spiritual worship (Rom. 12:1) is to present our bodies as living sacrifices in worship and then to live out this commitment the rest of the week.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Principles of Worship: The Sabbath Principle

Here I continue the series on worship, looking at a second of five principles that govern Christian worship, according to a Presbyterian understanding of Scripture (see this link for the first principle). This second principle is that of the Sabbath - the day of corporate worship.

The Sabbath is the weekly day of rest, and is a day of holy convocation. God calls His people to assemble to worship Him on this day. We find this stated in Leviticus 23:3.
“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the LORD in all your dwelling places.” (Lev. 23:3)
The sabbath day in the Old Testament was based on God’s works of creation and redemption on the seventh day (Exod. 20:11; Deut. 5:15). But the day of the new creation and the day of redemption in the New Testament is the first day of the week, the day Jesus rose from the dead. Thus, our observance of the Sabbath and its “holy convocation” also shifts to the first day. The fourth commandment was not abrogated, but its old covenant form was replaced by its new covenant form, explicitly connected to the work of Christ.

This shift was taught by the example of our Lord - it was not a mere invention of the church. Jesus met with his disciples on the day of His resurrection and broke bread with some of them (Luke 24, John 20:19-23). A week later, on the first day of the week, they were gathered again and He met with them again (John 20:26-29). Seven weeks later, on the first day of the week, was the day of Pentecost (Lev. 23:15-16), when the disciples were gathered again in one place and the Spirit descended upon them in the morning (Acts 2:1ff). They spoke in foreign tongues and Peter preached.

Following this, we find the apostles following this example and gathering on the first day of the week. Later in Acts 20:7 we find that “on the first day of the week” they “were gathered together to break bread” and “Paul talked with them…and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” In 1 Corinthians 11 we find that the Corinthian church gathered together as a church to eat the Lord’s Supper (11:18, 20, 33), and in 1 Corinthians 16 we find that this day that they met together was the first day of the week, since Paul tells them to collect supplies for the Jerusalem church on “the first day of every week” (16:2). Finally, we find that the Apostle John received God’s word on the “Lord’s Day” in Revelation 1:10, a reference to the first day of the week, the day of the Lord’s resurrection.

The early church continued to gather on this day, as Justin Martyr records in A.D. 155: “We all make our assembly in common on Sunday, since it is the first day, on which God changed the darkness and matter and made the world, and Jesus Christ our Savior arose from the dead on the same day” (Justin Martyr, First Apology).

While there is more to the Christian Sabbath than worship, we can see that worship is a very important part of it, even central. It is a day of rest and worship, a feast day in commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection. It is a day of convocation, a day to worship with God’s people, a day to partake of the Lord’s Supper and to meet with the triune God.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Principles of Worship: The Regulative Principle

Over the next three weeks, I will cover five principles that govern Christian worship. These are principles that are held and practiced particularly by Reformed and Presbyterian churches, although some of them we hold in common with the church at large. The first one I will cover here is what has been called the "regulative principle of worship" and it seeks to answer the question: what determines our worship practices? Why do we worship the way we worship?

The regulative principle argues that our worship should be regulated by holy Scripture. As the Westminster Confession of Faith explains,
“the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture” (WCF 21.1).
In other words, God - not us - decides and reveals what is pleasing to Him. He calls us to worship and to worship on His terms. Therefore we can only do in worship what God tells us to do. Leviticus 10:1-3 gives a gripping example of this principle:
“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the LORD has said: “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.”’ And Aaron held his peace.”
This principle does allow that
“there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God … common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.” (WCF 1.6)
In other words, God tells us what to do in worship, but some of the details of how we do them is left to the general rules He gave us like “Let all things be done unto edifying” and “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:26, 40).

This principle ensures that we are worshipping God as He wants, making Him the center, rather than putting ourselves at the center - focusing on our felt needs and preferences. It also ensures that we are worshipping the God revealed in Scripture, not some figment of our imagination.
“Only when the elements of worship are those appointed in God’s Word, and the circumstances and forms of worship are consonant with God’s Word, is there true freedom to know God as he is and to worship him as he desires to be worshiped." (OPC Directory of Worship)
So here are a few case studies to show how this works:

- Would a vow of perpetual celibacy be proper worship of God? No, it is without biblical warrant.
- Would kissing or bowing to images be proper worship of God? No, not only is it not prescribed, but it is also explicitly forbidden by the second commandment.
- Would a play or skit be a proper element of worship? No, even though preaching and participatory worship is “dramatic,” this is different than adding a play or skit, which is not used or commended in Scripture as an element of worship.
- Would singing with instruments be proper worship of God? Yes, even though the New Testament warrant for the use of instruments is debatable, we can draw instruction from Old Testament worship, especially from those aspects which were not symbols of Christ.
- Would worshipping without singing be proper worship of God? On occasion perhaps, but not as a common practice; the regulative principle does not only exclude things, but also requires things.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Beating Swords into Plowshares

Tomorrow I will be preaching on Isaiah 2:1-5 and the vision of the nations flowing to the house of the Lord. As the nations learn God's ways and submit to His rule, the result is that of peace. John Calvin's comments on this passage are quite good, and they can be read online at this link. Here I want to share some of his comments on verse 4, where the peace that flows from God's reign is described.
"And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares He next mentions the beneficial result which will follow, when Christ shall have brought the Gentiles and the nations under his dominion. Nothing is more desirable than peace; but while all imagine that they desire it, every one disturbs it by the madness of his lusts; for pride, and covetousness, and ambition, lead men to rise up in cruelty against each other. Since, therefore, men are naturally led away by their evil passions to disturb society, Isaiah here promises the correction of this evil; for, as the gospel is the doctrine of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18) which removes the enmity between us and God, so it brings men into peace and harmony with each other. The meaning amounts to this, that Christ’s people will be meek, and, laying aside fierceness, will be devoted to the pursuit of peace.... 
"Besides, Isaiah promises that, when the gospel shall be published, it will be an excellent remedy for putting an end to quarrels; and not only so, but that, when resentments have been laid aside, men will be disposed to assist each other. For he does not merely say, swords shall be broken in pieces, but they shall be turned into mattocks; by which he shows that there will be so great a change that, instead of annoying one another, and committing various acts of injustice, as they had formerly done, they will henceforth cultivate peace and friendship, and will employ their exertions for the common advantage of all; for mattocks and pruning-hooks are instruments adapted to agriculture, and are profitable and necessary for the life of man. He therefore shows that, when Christ shall reign, those who formerly were hurried along by the love of doing mischief, will afterwards contend with each other, in every possible way, by acts of kindness."

Friday, May 17, 2019

A Few Points on the Current Abortion Debate

The Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City
As Alabama and Missouri have recently passed relatively strong laws against abortion, there has been an escalation of the already strong debate in our society on the subject of abortion and the state. I have posted here in the past on the case against abortion from the Bible and the church fathers. Here I want to make a few points on the current debate on anti-abortion legislation.

1. The point of anti-abortion laws is the same as existing laws against murder. The pro-life position argues that abortion is murder, the unjust taking of innocent human life.

This is why exceptions for rape and incest make no sense to someone who is pro-life. Rape should be strongly punished, but it does not justify the killing of an innocent party.

This is also why the argument for "safe, legal" abortions as opposed to "unsafe, illegal" abortions makes no sense - the fact that robbery and murder are illegal do make those actions more dangerous, but this is not an argument to make them legal (in this vein, see this satire article). It is the job of the civil government to protect and vindicate innocent life and punish those who take it unjustly.

2. Anti-abortion legislation, like all legislation against crime, is a moral issue, so it is no surprise that religion is involved. This is why the argument against imposing my religious views on others does not hold weight. If you asked me why murder, stealing, or perjury is wrong and unjust, I would also appeal to my religious beliefs. Non-Christians still have some god-like authoritative source for their moral judgments, which they then seek to impose by law in society. (And few object to the imposition of religious beliefs when they are invoked to support the fair treatment of minorities and immigrants.)
"Law is in every culture religious in origin. Because law governs man and society, because it establishes and declares the meaning of justice and righteousness, law is inescapably religious, in that it establishes in practical fashion the ultimate concerns of a culture. Accordingly, a fundamental and necessary premise in any and every study of law must be, first, a recognition of this religious nature of law. Second, it must be recognized that in any culture the source of law is the god of that society" (Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 4). 
3. This is not a "war against women," but a certain type of feminism is waging a war against the unborn. In line with my first point, the focus of anti-abortion laws and the pro-life position is on the life of the unborn child. Its goal is not to punish or suppress women - in fact, the pro-life movement has resulted in many charitable efforts to help pregnant women and their children in difficult circumstances. With that said, egalitarian feminism does come into conflict with nature. With its insistence that men and women must have identical options, abilities, and positions, it runs into the fact that men and women are created with different bodies.

In general, we are created to naturally desire sex, which naturally leads to pregnancy, which naturally leads to distinctions between men and women and their abilities. All this naturally leads to traditional marriage as the best arrangement for these factors, all of this being designed by God. The conservative and biblical approach is to strengthen marriage, passing laws such as those that limit divorce (Matt. 19:3-9), hold men accountable for premarital sex (Ex. 22:16-17), and punish rapists (Deut. 22:25-27). But egalitarian and individualist theories have sought to get rid of all distinctions between men and women, even if it means killing the unborn.

Now some feminists, including many of the founders of feminism, have not taken their position to this extreme and have opposed abortion, pointing to other solutions such as birth control, adoption, and accommodations in the work place. But a certain type of feminism believes that women need the ability to have their unborn children killed so they can be free and equal. But it is a sorry version of freedom and equality that requires women to betray their own unborn offspring and have the innocent murdered. So yes, the pro-life position does conflict with a certain type of feminism, but this is because this type of feminism is waging a war on unborn children.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Thoughts on the Vision of Daniel 7

Daniel's Vision of the Four Beasts, by Matthew Merian (1630)
This Lord's Day, I will be preaching on Daniel 7. This is a complicated and often debated passage. Some interpret this vision to be about Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabees, others interpret to be about the Antichrist and the second coming, and others interpret it as partly about Christ's ascension and partly about the Antichrist and the second coming. I do not think this passage has anything to do with the antichrists mentioned in 1 and 2 John, nor do I think that its focus is on Antiochus Epiphanes (although Daniel 8 will focus on him). While I am not equally certain of all the details of the chapter, here are a few points on this vision that begin to lay out my approach.

1. The vision of "one like a son of man" coming with the clouds to the "Ancient of Days" portrays the exaltation and ascension of Jesus Christ.  "The Son of Man" was the name that Jesus most used for Himself, identifying Himself with this figure in Daniel's vision. This is not a vision of Jesus' second coming, since it portrays Him coming, not to earth, but to the Ancient of Days in heaven. This same scene is portrayed in Revelation 4-5.

2. The "one like a son of man" is interpreted in Daniel 7 to symbolize the saints (7:18). Just as a given figure in Daniel's visions can symbolize both an earthly king and his kingdom, so also the "one like a son of man" symbolizes both Christ and the saints. Thus, just as Christ is exalted and receives the kingdom, so the saints (by virtue of their union with Christ) are exalted and receive the kingdom (Luke 22:29, Rev. 5:10, Eph. 2:6). Likewise, the suffering under the "little horn" that precedes this exaltation applies to both Christ and His people. As Jesus said, "it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things" (Mark 9:12).

3. The four beasts refer to four world kingdoms, the same as the four world kingdoms of the statue in Daniel 2, which are Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece (under Alexander and his successors), and Rome. The first empire is identified as Babylon in chapter 2:37-38. The empire to conquer Babylon was the that of the Medes and Persians. The third empire, which conquered the Medes and Persians, was the Greek empire of Alexander the Great, which continued to exist in a divided state under his four successors (see 7:6 and 8:8). The fourth empire, which conquered these divided kingdoms, was Rome. I think the best explanation of the horns of the fourth beast that I have read is the one given by John Calvin. He argued that the ten horns symbolized the multiplicity of rulers under the Roman Republic, and the little horn symbolized the rule by one man in the line of Roman emperors.

4. The son of man/saints are delivered over to the little horn of the fourth beast. Jesus is crucified and the saints are persecuted under Rome. But the Father makes His judgment in their favor. The beast/little horn looses its dominion and is destroyed (7:11-12, 26). The rebellious kingdom of man lost authority over Christ when He rose from the dead, and all the kingdoms under heaven were given to Christ as His royal inheritance (7:11-14). Although the Roman emperors sought to persecute the saints, their opposition was overcome by the gospel (7:24-27). Universal authority was given to Christ so that "all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him" (7:14), and ever since then, He has been exercising His dominion, bringing all nations into His service as the saints carry out His great commission.

Update: the sermon on Daniel 7 is now available online at this link

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Building Community in Christ

Coming out of our recent Men's Advance, which focused on the theme of Christian community, I am reminded that Christian community is supernatural community. It is rooted in the work of God's grace which produces love for God and one another. It is not founded on narrowly-defined special interests or the natural affinity one might have with people that are the same age, race, or class as you. It is founded on our shared union with Christ which makes us one body and produces the fruit of love. If this union and love is lacking, then no amount of techniques will be able to salvage Christian community.

Yet, this does not mean there is nothing for us to do. We must believe in Christ, repent of our sins, and embrace the the normal means of grace that God uses for our growth, which are the Word of God (preached, read, studied, discussed, applied, etc.), the sacraments, and prayer. We find community by depending upon the same source - Jesus Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel. This fellowship that we have then manifests itself in love, forgiveness, brotherly affection, service of one another and with one another, hospitality, generosity, mutual edification, and shared worship.
"Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace" (1 Peter 4:8–10). 
The church is a creation of God's grace, but we have a duty to make it visible. The communion of saints is a gift, given to us freely in Christ, but it then obliges us to act accordingly. We are stewards of God's varied grace, responsible to use it to serve one another.

Our Westminster Confession of Faith lays out this biblical framework for Christian community in its chapter, "Of the Communion of Saints." It declares that since those who are united in Christ are "united to one another in love," they "have communion in each other's gifts and graces" and are therefore "bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities" (WCF 26.1-2).

If this still seems too theoretical, then consider how this week you might sing with one another, encourage and exhort one another, share with one another, forgive one another, and pray for (and with) one another. Consider how you might more faithfully practice family worship, hospitality, and Sabbath observance. Consider how you might stir yourself and others to love and good works. And consider the love and forgiveness God has shown you, remembering that "if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John 4:11).

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Freedom, Fruitfulness, and Apostasy in 2 Peter

One theme of 2 Peter is that those who have been cleansed from their sins ought not go back to live in them. At the beginning of the letter, Peter stresses that believers have "escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire" (1:4), and that therefore they ought to build on this foundation with divine qualities like virtue, self-control, and love (1:5-7). The one who neglects to cultivate such qualities "is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins" (1:9). It is folly to return to the enslaving dominion of sinful desire if Jesus has set you free from it.

In Peter's day, just as in ours, there were those who promoted a different view. In chapter 2, Peter gives attention to false teachers and treats them as a very serious threat. Not only will they lead people astray, but the immorality these false teachers produce will cause the way of truth to be blasphemed by unbelievers (2:2). How do these false teachers operate? They "they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error" (2:18). They target those who are not firm and steady, but who are "barely escaping" from the fallen ways of the world (2:18), "unsteady souls" (2:14). The false teachers entice them by using the appeal of sinful pleasures. Even as it happens today, these false teachers "promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption" (2:19). Those who "indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority" (2:10) might feel that they are free and independent, but they are in fact subject to a harsh master, "for whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved" (2:19). And this way leads to death: "For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved" (2:17).

What makes this even worse is that these false teachers, and the unsteady souls they targeted, had once professed the truth. Some of the strongest descriptions of apostasy can be found in this chapter. It says that these false teachers "will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction" (2:1). They feasted with the church (2:13), but forsaking the right way, they went astray (2:15). They sought to lead others back into the corruption they had once escaped from, and Peter says this would be a worse condition than the condition of regular unbelievers. "For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first" (2:20). They were dogs returning to their vomit, and washed pigs returning to wallow in their mire (2:22).

We know from the apostle John that such apostates never truly belonged to the church (1 John 2:19). Jesus will not lose any of those whom the Father has given Him to save (John 6:37-39). But John also records Jesus' teaching about those people who are connected to Christ like dead branches are connected to a vine - because they do not receive life from the vine, they are unfruitful, and therefore they are cut off and thrown into the fire (John 15:1-11). Their covenantal connection to Christ is real enough that they can be described as "cleansed" (1:9, 2:22), "bought" by Jesus (2:1), and those who "have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior" (2:20). Nevertheless, they were predestined for condemnation rather than predestined for salvation (compare 2:3 with Jude 4) and unregenerate, and this was manifested by their unfruitfulness and apostasy (1:9, 2:15).

On the other hand, true believers manifest their regeneration by their fruitfulness and perseverance. If you have escaped the defiling passions of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, then avoid entangling yourself in them again and "be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election" (1:10). How? This is how:
"...make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ .... for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (1:5–8, 10-11)
These qualities are graciously granted to us by God through the knowledge of Christ (1:3-4), so let us therefore "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen" (3:18).

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A Vision for Christian Community in Church and Home

Community is weak in modern America. People are taught to live for themselves and to adopt a consumerist mentality. The family is fragile. The father’s leadership in the family is tenuous, if not ridiculed. The generations are generally severed.

The church, by adapting to these realities, sometimes makes them worse. It too can become a well-branded commodity, more an activity center than a community, catering to youth culture and neglecting the place of the family in its ministry.

A number of churches and families have realized these problems and have sought to foster an organic, familial, and multi-generational church culture where church and family strengthen each other. Here is how Covenant Family Church, the church I serve, seeks to summarize this vision (as found here on our website):
Our name, Covenant Family, refers to our vision to be a church that is loyally bound to our God and each other in Christ, showing love among this church family and strengthening individual families as part of this whole. This ministry philosophy that views the church like a family and families like miniature churches, while viewing them as different but complementary institutions, has sometimes been called a “family integrated” approach to church. 
Building upon our Presbyterian distinctives, we emphasize that God has bound us together in His covenant as a family (Eph. 2:19-21). Those who have been adopted by God as their Father have each other for siblings. Those who love God will also love their brothers and sisters in Christ (1 John 4:7-8, 19-21). Thus, we seek to avoid church programs that divide and segregate the church by age, class, or special interests – seeking to integrate the various gifts and strengths found in our family (1 Cor. 12:12-26, Eph. 4:1-16, Titus 2:1-10). We also worship together as one covenant family. 
We also value families, believing that God includes in His covenant not only believers, but also their households (Gen. 17:1-14, Acts 16:31-34). We desire to equip and encourage parents to disciple their children in the ways of the Lord (Deut. 6:7, Eph. 6:4), being sensitive to the tendency for church programs to replace or hinder this family discipleship. Despite the opposition of our culture, we value marriage as God created it as a basic institution for our good and His glory (Gen. 2:18-24, Eph. 5:22-33, 1 Cor. 7:2-5) and we value children as a divine blessing to be desired and cherished (Gen. 1:28, Ps. 127:3-5, 128:3-4). 
Yet, there is a place in our church for the single, the fatherless, the orphan, and the childless. We do realize that some Christians have a gift of celibacy, and others are single or childless due to tragic and complicated circumstances, and this is where the church as an integrated covenant family is especially important. God is the “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows” and He “settles the solitary in a home” (Psalm 68:5–6) as He brings them into His household. We are unified in Christ, whether “Jews or Greeks, slaves or free,” rich or poor, married or unmarried, whether you have numerous children or none (1 Cor. 12:13). 
It has been a blessing for me to grow up in, and now pastor, a church with this desire for a more relational model of church ministry. This effort has not been without difficulties and shortcomings, and it is prone to lose momentum since it pushes against the pressures of modern culture. Consequently, this Saturday, our church is holding our annual Men’s Advance with the theme of "building community." Kevin Swanson and Scott Brown will be joining us to speak on the challenges and lessons learned in trying to implement a more relational model of local church life, as well as articulating and reviving this vision for Christian community. If you are free this Saturday, consider joining us. You can find more information about the event at this link.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

No, You Cannot Choose "Your Sabbath"

The idea that the first day of the week is the Christian Sabbath is rather unpopular today. Our culture prizes individual freedom and economic efficiency, both of which conflict with the idea of a corporate observance of a day of rest and worship. As our society has become more and more secular, its schedule and rhythm of life no longer makes space for the Sabbath. While society used to give support to the Lord's Day, now Christians must swim against the stream to carve out this time. Secular society has its own rival "church calendar" that seeks to shape our character by scheduling our time.

Many Christians have wavered in the face of this pressure. One approach that some have taken is that any day of the week can be your Sabbath. The idea is that in the new covenant the seventh day is no longer the Sabbath and there is not a specific day substituted in its place. Those who hold this position would agree that a Sabbath principle rooted in creation continues to apply (i.e. there should be one day in seven as a day of rest), but that it is a matter of individual choice as to what day of the week that is. This allows them to observe their Sabbath whenever it works best in their schedule, minimizing conflicts with the schedule of the broader society.

I believe that a specific day has been substituted for the seventh day. As my church's shorter catechism says, "From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian sabbath" (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 59). I don't intend to make the case for this position in this post, but I would appeal to texts like Deuteronomy 5:15, Luke 24, John 20:19-23, 26-29, Acts 2:1ff, 20:7, 1 Corinthians 11:18, 20, 33; 16:2, and Revelation 1:10. What I do want to point out is that even if God did not specify which day of the week was to be observed as the Christian Sabbath, the choice would not be left to individual believers. 

The Sabbath is not designed as something to be observed by individuals on their own. It is designed to be observed by a community. This requires that a day be agreed upon by that community rather than leaving it up to individuals to choose their Sabbath.

When the fourth commandment was given, not only was it commanded that "you" shall not do any work, but also "your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you" (Deut. 5:14). Exodus 23:12 also emphasizes corporate responsibility and communal benefits, “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed." This is not merely a command for individuals, but a command for a community to rest and give rest and to share in this rest together. It gives leaders a responsibility to see that those under their charge observe this day, knowing that our schedules are rarely individual matters.

The Sabbath rest was not merely for the cessation of work - although physical rest was certainly part of it. It was also a day of worship. As Leviticus 23:3 proclaimed, "Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the LORD in all your dwelling places." Work was set aside for the sake of worship with God's people. Central to the idea of the Sabbath rest was worship - not only private and family worship, but worship in the assembly of the saints. Furthermore, we find this pattern of a weekly holy convocation continued in the New Testament (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 11:18, 20, 33; 16:2, Heb. 10:25). This important aspect of the Sabbath is not possible if the Sabbath is left to individuals. Even if one believes there is no divinely appointed day of the week in the New Testament, there is a practical necessity that the church chooses a weekly day to observe this holy rest and common worship. And throughout the history of the New Testament church, this day has been the first day of the week, the Lord's Day.

Like I said, I believe the the first day of the week has been divinely appointed as the Lord's Day, which is the day the Sabbath principle is observed in the new covenant. But even if one is not convinced of this, I believe one should observe the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath because this is the publicly recognized day the church observes its weekly rest and worship. Giving individuals the option to observe any day of the week as "their Sabbath" actually transforms the Sabbath - making it a day off for individuals, rather than a community holiday observed with a holy convocation. In a day in which community is weak and culture is generally secularized, Christians need a communal holy day on a regular basis. This is God's appointed means to build up His saints so that they can maintain their distinct identity in a world that seeks to conform them to its ways.


Speaking of community, my church is hosting a men's conference next week with "building community" as its theme. For more information, go to this link