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

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Principles for Singing the Psalms

My church sings Psalms. We do not sing only Psalms - we use the Trinity Hymnal (1990) in addition to the Book of Psalms for Singing (1973) - but on a given Lord's Day usually about half of our songs will be from the Psalms, sometimes more. Tonight my wife and I will be hosting a Psalm sing at our house, and in inviting various friends to the event, I remembered that singing (or praying) the Psalms can be a bit confusing when someone is unfamiliar with how to interpret and apply them in the new covenant era. So here are a few principles to keep in mind when singing the Psalms today.

1. View these as formative, as well as expressive, words. The Psalms are God's word, as well as words intended to be sung by His people. Thus, not only do they teach you truths (about God, Jesus, the church, yourself), nor are they merely expressions of your desires and thoughts, but they shape your affections, your prayers, and your hopes as they teach you how to direct and express them. And so when you come to a Psalm that rubs you the wrong way, seek to understand it properly and then let the Psalm form your sensibilities, rather than let your sensibilities judge the Psalm.

2. Jesus is the Davidic king and the head of Israel. When you sing of David, the king, or the anointed one in the Psalms, think primarily of Jesus Christ. For one thing, Christ means "anointed one." Psalm 2 is a classic example here - it refers to God's anointed king in Zion, and this is applied to Jesus Christ several times in the New Testament (e.g. Acts 4:23-31). And Jesus, as king, embodies and represents His people and takes up their songs on His lips. Psalm 69, for example, does not talk about the Christ explicitly, but in the New Testament it is applied to Jesus as one who embodied and represented His people (Rom. 15:3, John 2:17, Acts 1:20). So there are various ways the Psalms can be fulfilled in Christ, and just because they are fulfilled in Christ does not necessarily mean they do not apply to us as well, but that they are applied to us according to our union with Christ.

3. The church of Jesus Christ is the people of God, His dwelling place. So when you sing of Israel, Zion, city of God, temple, see these as references to the church of Jesus Christ. The "us" in the Psalms refers to us who are in covenant with God through Christ. This is a point made several times in the New Testament: those in Christ are the offspring and heirs of Abraham (Gal. 3:29), apostate Jews were taken out of Israel and believing Gentiles are grafted into it (Rom. 11), the church is the temple and dwelling place of God (1 Cor. 3:16-17, 2 Cor. 6:16, Eph. 2:19-22). The New Testament applies the "us" of the Psalms to the church (Rom. 8:36).

4. These are songs for God's people. They were collected in the book of Psalms for their use by God's people, to give expression to shared desires and to shape a common identity. So sing them as a Christian. If you can't personally relate to things said in them, you can still sing them by identifying with Christ and His body. Perhaps you don't feel like your suffering is like that described in Psalm 22, but you identify with Christ who did suffer in that way, and with the church who suffers in that way as a body and in some of its individual members.

5. Related to this, conflict in the Psalms is covenantal not personal. As a consequences of the other principles above, the enemies in the Psalms are the enemies of Christ and His church and should be considered as such. The Psalms are not expressions of personal vengeance and bitterness, but of covenant loyalty, siding with Christ and His church against their enemies, and siding with God's justice against wickedness and tyranny. Just as with God's proclamations of judgement (e.g. Jonah 3), there is an implicit understanding that these curses are conditioned on a lack of repentance (made explicit in Psalm 7:12). If these enemies repent and turn to Christ, then God's wrath is satisfied in His Son and the person is forgiven. We desire both that God's justice be established and that all peoples be saved, and we find both desires expressed in the Psalms (see the desire for the salvation of the nations in Psalm 67).

So with these in mind, sing the Psalms with your voices and with the heart. Sing them so that they begin to dwell within you, shaping your desires and affections and the way you see this world. Sing them from day to day, as well as on the Lord's Day. Sing them on your own, and sing them with others - your family, friends, and church. "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)

Saturday, September 28, 2019

What is Doctrine? - J.I. Packer

Recently I have been reading J.I. Packer's book, Taking God Seriously (2013). It has been a great book, similar in some ways to J. Gresham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism (1923) except that it is written the context of events in the Anglican Communion rather than the Presbyterian Church. One theme in the book is that Christians who take God seriously will take His word seriously and treasure its doctrines. You can watch him explain this point in this short video:


He writes in the book,
“The New Testament church appears as a community of learners, some of whom became teachers as well, but all of whom are called to the lifelong task of taking in, digesting, and living out, which includes giving out, the good news of Jesus Christ that the apostles expounded to them. Disciple translates a Greek word that means learner; the church is seen as a fellowship of disciples, and any congregation that did not consist of persons laboring to learn more about Christ than they knew as yet would hardly count as a church by New Testament standards.” (p. 33) 

Friday, September 27, 2019

Steadfast Love and Faithfulness

"What is desired in a man is steadfast love,
and a poor man is better than a liar."
(Proverbs 19:22)

"Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love,
but a faithful man who can find?
The righteous who walks in his integrity—
blessed are his children after him!"
(Proverbs 20:6–7)

"Steadfast love and faithfulness preserve the king,
and by steadfast love his throne is upheld."
(Proverbs 20:28)

Do you see a common theme in these proverbs? Steadfast love, faithfulness, and honesty are more important than riches, power, and position. Not only are they attributes of God, not only have you benefitted from His steadfast love and faithfulness, but they are even valued and appreciated by your fellow man. They are rare qualities and quite valuable. Consider this as you go about your work today. Seek to be steadfast and faithful more than you seek to be rich and powerful.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

What Does It Mean for God to Save Us?

What does it look like when God saves a person? What is included in God's work of salvation? We can begin to answer these questions by taking a look at Ezekiel 36:22-38, a prophetic passage that describes God's saving work among His people. In Ezekiel's context, God's people had defiled the land by their sin and had been sent into exile among the nations where they continued to profane God's name (Ezek. 36:17-21). God therefore declared His intent through the prophet Ezekiel to save His people for the sake of His holy name. This renewing work began with their return to the land under King Cyrus the Persian, but its fullness came with out-pouring of the Spirit following Christ's ascension (Acts 2). And so what is included in this saving work?

1. God sprinkles His people clean from sin's defilement. "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses..." (36:25). Sin defiles those who sin and separates them from God, who is holy and pure. But when God saves people, he cleanses them from their sin so that they are pure and holy in His sight. How does He do this? By the blood of Christ, shed for sinners (1 John 1:7, 9; Rev. 7:14). As this verse anticipates, this cleansing is symbolized and confirmed to His people in the water of baptism (Eph. 5:26, Acts 22:16). 

2. God gives His people a new heart, produced by the Spirit, which results in obedience to God's rules. "And I will give you a new heart ... And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules" (36:26–27). Our former heart was a "heart of stone" (36:26), dead to God, unable to please God (Rom. 8:8), and blind to the truth (1 Cor. 2:14). But God changes us on the inside, renewing our understanding and will, giving us faith to receive Christ and His cleansing blood (1 Cor. 2:12-13, Eph. 2:1-10) and giving us a new character marked by virtues which Paul describes as "the fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22). Because of this internal work of the Spirit, we grow more obedient to God's law. The Spirit does not replace the law, but rather causes us to walk in its ways. 

3. God adopts His people as His own, and binds Himself to be their God. "...you shall be my people, and I will be your God" (36:28). This is what it means for God to establish His covenant with a people (see similar statements in Gen. 17:8, Ex. 6:7, Lev. 26:12). A covenant is an alliance, a bond of friendship, a fellowship sealed by an oath. It is a two-way relationship, in which God graciously blesses His people and they respond with love, obedience, and praise. God dwells with His people as their Father and refuge, and they can confidently approach Him in prayer. Not only do we gain a new standing before God and a new character, but we are also embraced by God as His people. 

4. God grants His people repentance, so that they are ashamed for their sinful ways. "Then you will remember your evil ways ... you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act ... Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel" (36:31–32). One result of having a new heart is that you recognize your sin for what it is. A Christian is not ashamed for his sins merely because of public embarrassment, but because he sees that his sins are defiling, loathsome, shameful, and evil. He grieves over his sins, he hates his sins, and he abhors his own sinfulness and depravity. And with this sense of his sin, he turns from it to God and His grace, knowing that he is saved not because of his own works, but because of God's mercy and love. This results in peace, joy, thanksgiving, and growth in righteousness (Ps. 32). This cycle continues all this life, as we struggle with sin and progress towards holiness. 

5. God builds up His people as a community. "And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited' ... like the flock at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts, so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of people" (36:35, 38). God does not save individuals for them to remain in isolation. His salvation of individuals is part of a bigger plan. God is gathering His church and spreading His kingdom. He causes it to be fruitful and multiply, that it might fill the earth and subdue it to Christ. When God saves a person, He unites that person to the church. He gives the believer a community, restoring love and fellowship with God and each other. And He gives the believer to the community, equipping each one of us to serve the rest of the body and contribute to its further growth. This work of salvation then also looks forward to its future completion at the coming of Christ, when the church shall be gathered and perfected, paradise restored, and God glorified for all eternity. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Gratitude and Gluttony


God gave us food for our good. He made it delightful and profitable, giving joy and strength (Ps. 104:14-15, Acts 14:17). God created food to be enjoyed (1 Tim. 6:17) and "to be received with thanksgiving" (1 Tim. 4:3). While in this life there are times to fast from all or some food (Ezra 8:21, Dan. 10:2-3, Matt. 5:16-18), there are also times to feast (Deut. 14:22-27, Luke 14:13, Matt. 9:14-15), and in general we are made to depend upon and enjoy God's provision of our daily bread (Matt. 6:11, 33). But as with all the gifts of God, man in his rebellion is able to use it in a sinful manner - to reject it, to idolize it, to abuse it.

A proper use of food is governed by gratitude, but when gratitude is gone, one sinful abuse of food is that of gluttony, i.e. eating too much or with immoderate desire. Gluttony is a sin described in the Bible. It is found among the rebellious wilderness generation in Numbers 11, which describes the episode of the people’s ingratitude, discontent, and craving for the food of Egypt. Gluttony is brought up in Ecclesiastes 10:16–17, which discourages untimely feasting, and encourages feasting for strength rather than for drunkenness. Ezekiel 16:49–50 lists “excess of food” as one of the sins of Sodom. Proverbs 23:20-21 warns against being with those who partake of too much wine or too much meat. Other verses like Deuteronomy 21:20, Proverbs 28:7, and Titus 1:12 also speak of gluttony.

The Puritan, Richard Baxter, gave quite a bit of thought to biblical ethics, and has a significant section on gluttony in his Christian Directory. An article which gives a good summery of this section can be found at this link. In short, Baxter's basic definition is that “Gluttony is a voluntary excess in eating, for the pleasing of appetite, or some other carnal end” (Christian Directory, p. 309). As he reviews what the Bible says on the matter, he notes that excess can refer to things such as excessive amount, excessive frequency, and excessive cost. He also notes that what counts as excess may look different for different people:
“it is not the same quantity which is an excess in one, which is in another. A laboring man may eat somewhat more than one that doth not labor; and a strong man and healthful body, more than the weak and sick. It must be an excess in quantity, as to that particular person at that time, which is, when to please his appetite he eateth more than is profitable to his health or duty” (p. 309). 
He also notes that what counts as excess depends also on the type of food:
“Nature will easier overcome twice the quantity of some light and passable nourishment, than half so much of gross and heavy meats. (Therefore those that prescribe just twelve ounces a day, without differencing meats that so much differ, do much mistake.)” (p. 316). 
The Bible does not describe in detail exactly how much food is too much, but it does give us these guidelines, encouraging self-control and requiring each of us to wisely and knowledgeably evaluate our own situations and the food before us, and to apply these principles accordingly. As we receive food in gratitude, as a gift of God, it turns us from being centered on our often self-destructive and misleading desires to being centered on the ends for which God created food, receiving it to our strength and joy, rather than to our hurt.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Communion of Saints and the Christian Life


In an earlier post, I had written about the biblical doctrine of the communion of saints and its development in the Reformation. In short, this doctrine is the idea that believers share a common union with Christ and His benefits, giving them a share in each other's gifts and graces, so that each is bound to maintain a fellowship in common worship, mutual edification, and outward relief. Here I want to write again on how this doctrine enriches our explanation of the church and our role in it. We can explain the church not only as a means by which salvation comes to us through the word and sacrament, but also as a benefit of salvation and a purpose of salvation.

Would anyone want to reject forgiveness, resurrection, or any other benefit of salvation? Those who have been baptized into one body by the Spirit have been given all His diverse gifts found throughout the whole body (1 Cor. 12:7, 12-13). This includes the gift of pastors and teachers, which Christ gives to His church to build it up (Eph. 4:11). The gifts of the whole church are a gift to me. It is a great benefit to the individual body part (eye, ear, etc.) to be united with the rest of the body. The church, the society of saints, is a divine gift, obtained by the sacrifice of Christ and received only though union with Him.

And not only is the church given to us, but we are each given by God to the church. One purpose of our salvation is to build up a new humanity in Christ. The sanctification of the church is a goal of Christ’s death (Eph. 5:25-27). Thus, grace is given to each of us so that we might each do our part to increase the maturity and Christlikeness of the church (Eph. 4:7-16). While the salvation of individuals is one goal of salvation, it is also a means to a further goal, which is the maturation of the church.

And so the Christian life is a shared life. It is one that involves binding relationships that are founded on union with Christ. Active membership in the visible society of saints is not an optional or merely desirable aspect of the Christian life. As a means, a benefit, and a purpose of salvation, the it necessarily has a place in the life of the believer.

The organization of the church provides a context for practicing this communion by identifying the body of Christ through baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and discipline. A fixed congregation under established leadership provides a context where we can maintain this fellowship in worship, mutual edification, and care for one another’s needs. In this way, the communion of the saints is nourished by Christ's appointed ordinances, equipped to built itself up, just as a body needs to eat food and then process this food with its various organs so that it gains strength and growth. We can only gain this benefit by participating in a particular visible church. As Abraham Kuyper said, “From the organism the institution is born, but also through the institution the organism is fed” (“Rooted and Grounded,” The Church, 2016).

So the church is not a mere accessory to the Christian life, nor is church membership a bare command. The importance of the church flows from our shared union with Christ. The doctrine of the communion of saints connects salvation and the church and unites the believer to the body. The correct understanding of this doctrine motivates and directs a participatory practice of Christian community in the context of the organized church. In a day where American Christians are prone to privatize the faith and abandon organized religion, we could use grater reflection on this important biblical concept.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Jesus: the Son of Abraham and Son of David

"The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." (Matthew 1:1)

This past Sunday, I began preaching on the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus Christ (1:1-17). While the purpose of this genealogy might not be evident at first glance, a closer look will show that Matthew is emphasizing that Jesus is the heir of David and of Abraham, reviving the hopes that seemed dashed by the Babylonian deportation. You can listen to the sermon here, but in summary, here are four implications for our understanding of Jesus.

First, as the promised heir of Abraham, God’s blessings and curses are based on your relation to Jesus. They are not based on your relation to the modern state of Israel. Rather, just as the Father said to Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse” (Gen. 12:3), so He promises this to Jesus. By extension, this can apply to the church, those united to Jesus - to persecute them is to persecute Christ - but the main point is that your relation to Jesus as the Savior, whether you receive Him or reject Him, determines whether you are favored by God or cursed.

So align yourself with Jesus by faith, so that you might be blessed. Woe to those who reject Him. Galatians 3:25-29 says that those who believe in Jesus, those who have put Him on in baptism, become Abraham’s offspring and inherit his promised blessing.

Second, as the heir of Abraham and David, Jesus brings God’s blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:1-3, 22:18, Ps. 72:17). He accomplishes redemption and sends out His disciples to bring this blessing to all nations. Not only does this redemption save people from death and judgment, but it also teaches them true righteousness and gives them a heart to practice it.

Just as it was the mission of the old covenant people to bring God's blessing to the nations, so it is our mission today. Yet the source of blessing is not ourselves, but Jesus. We do not proclaim ourselves - we proclaim Christ! We bring this blessing to the nations both as a city on a hill, living distinctly as Christ’s disciples in a way that attracts unbelievers (Matt. 5:13-16), as well as disciples sent out into the world to brings others in (Matt. 28:18-20).

Third, Jesus is the Davidic king who rules over God’s people. He delivers them, establishes righteousness and peace, and subdues His enemies (2 Sam. 7, Ps. 2, 72, 110). This is how He brings blessing to the nations, expanding the kingdom to the ends of the earth. “All authority” is basic to “go therefore.” In Matthew, the gospel is called the “gospel of the kingdom,” the glad tidings of the blessed reign of good King Jesus.

So rejoice in these tidings, declare them, and joyfully serve your king. Find security knowing that Jesus is a powerful king, a merciful king, and your king.

Fourth, as the Davidic king, Jesus builds God’s house (2 Sam. 7:12-13). But He does not build a temple building like Solomon. Rather, he builds the temple of the Holy Spirit, the church. He comes as Immanuel, God with us (Matt. 1:22-23), and at the end of this Gospel, Jesus says He will be with us, even to the end of the age (Matt. 18:20). So the church is the dwelling place of God. And it is in Matthew 16:18 that Jesus says “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

So do not fear for the church. Jesus is with us yet, and the gates of hell cannot thwart Him. He is gathering His church, building it up by His grace, teaching and training it by His word.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Sexual Immorality and Sanctification in 1 Corinthians 6-7

In an earlier post, I had written about sexuality and marriage as God created and designed it: Marriage in Genesis 2. In today's post, I want to look at the same issue from another passage, 1 Corinthians 6:9-7:16, which approaches sexuality and marriage as it currently exists in our fallen world.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 states that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God and this includes the sexually immoral, adulterers, and homosexuals. These desires and acts are manifestations of rebellion against God's will and design. Do not be deceived, thinking that everyone will inherit a place in God's eternal kingdom and glory. The Corinthians were to therefore turn away from these sins and to discipline those who refused to repent and continued in these ways (1 Cor. 5:11).

1 Corinthians 6:11 goes on to give hope for sinners and to inspire gratitude and humility in the hearts of believers by saying, "And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." Being justified (accounted righteous) and sanctified (cleansed from defilement and made holy) are benefits purchased by Christ, to be obtained in His name, and they are applied to us by the Spirit of our God who unites us to Christ through faith. Therefore, believers are not "the unrighteous." The blood-washed saints will "inherit the kingdom."

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 then goes on to apply this new identity to the present life of the Christian. It says that your body is a body part of Christ, a temple of the Holy Spirit, and a ransomed possession of Christ. Therefore, do not unite Christ to immorality! Do not defile the temple with sin! Do not spurn the great cost of your redemption by using Christ's possession against His will!

Therefore, flee sexual immorality! Make your body holy, consecrated, and governed by Christ. Make it an instrument of righteousness (see also Rom. 6:12-14).

1 Corinthians 7 goes on to describe how one flees sexual immorality. His basic principle is "because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband" (1 Cor. 7:2). Marriage is a duty for most adults. The sexual desire is a natural desire, built into human nature, designed for a good end (Gen. 1:26-2:25), so direct it unto good rather than evil.

In 1 Corinthians 7:3-6, we find it is the duty of married people to not deprive each other sexually, except by mutual agreement for a limited time. Why? (1) Your bodies belong to each other - resulting in mutual rights and duties; and (2) for the prevention of immorality, minimizing Satan's ability to tempt you to sin.

In 1 Corinthians 7:7-8, there is an exception to this general rule of marriage. Singleness has some benefits if one has the gift for it (see 7:32-35). Singleness is not the gift. Continency - the ability to be single without distraction and passion - is the gift (see also Matt. 19:10-12). Those with this gift can still marry, but they do not need to, and they should consider whether they might serve the Lord better as single.

1 Corinthians 7:9 returns back to the normal duty to marry, and to this we might add 7:36-37 and 1 Timothy 5:11-14.

1 Corinthians 7:10-16 goes on to address the topic of divorce. It begins in verses 10-11 by summarizing what Jesus had taught on the subject in the case of marriage between two believers (Matt. 5:31-32, 19:1-9). They should not divorce (divorce in the case of sexual immorality was an exception taught by Jesus and assumed here by Paul), and if they do, they should remain unmarried or be reconciled. Verses 12-16 address the case of a believer's marriage with an unbeliever, a situation not addressed directly by the Lord while He was on earth. In this case, the believer should not leave - the unbelief of one's spouse does not defile the rest of the family (although this type of mixed marriage should not be entered into, see 7:39). But if the unbeliever does not consent to continue their marriage and separates, then the believer must let them go. In such a divorce, they are free of their former marriage and can remarry.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Three Marks of a True Church


How can you identity the church? Does a group become a church just because it gives itself the name? The Protestant Reformers had to deal with this question because their Roman Catholic detractors claimed (and still claim) that Protestants churches were not churches since they were not in union with the Pope and did not always have bishops who could trace back their ordination in unbroken succession to the apostles. Some Protestants, particularly Anglicans, have contested the second claim about ordination, but many Protestants saw that debate as not worth having, since Scripture does not make the unbroken succession of episcopal ordinations necessary for ordination or the existence of a true church. Since the days of the Reformation, identifying true visible churches has continued to be an issue. Roman Catholics maintain their claims, while many Protestants seem to identify a church as any gathering of Christians (with varying definitions of what it means to be a Christian). 

The Scottish Confession of Faith was written in 1560 by John Knox and five other ministers for the newly reformed realm of Scotland. They addressed this issue directly in their 18th chapter where they discuss the "notes" by which the true "kirk" (the Scottish word for church) is distinguished from false kirks. They denied that the "notes, signs, and assured tokens whereby the immaculate spouse of Christ Jesus" are "antiquity, title usurped, lineal descent, place appointed, nor multitude of men approving an error," giving various examples from the Bible to prove their case. Rather, they went on to articulate three "notes" by which the true kirk could be identified:
"The notes, therefore, of the true kirk of God we believe, confess, and avow to be: first, the true preaching of the word of God, into the which God has revealed himself to us, as the writings of the prophets and apostles do declare; secondly, the right administration of the sacraments of Christ Jesus, which must be annexed unto the word and promise of God, to seal and confirm the same in our hearts;[1] last, ecclesiastical discipline uprightly ministered, as God's word prescribes, whereby vice is repressed, and virtue nourished.[2] Wheresoever then these former notes are seen, and of any time continue (be the number [of persons] never so few, about two or three) there, without all doubt, is the true kirk of Christ: who, according to his promise is in the midst of them:[3] not that universal [kirk] (of which we have before spoken) but particular; such as were in Corinth,[4] Galatia,[5] Ephesus,[6] and other places in which the ministry was planted by Paul, and were of himself named the kirks of God."
1. Eph. 2:20; Acts 2:42; John 10:27; 18:37; 1 Cor. 1:13; Matt. 18:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; 1 Cor. 11:24-26; Rom. 4:11. 2. Matt. 18:15-18; 1 Cor. 5:4-5. 3. Matt. 18:19-20. 4. 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:2. 5. Gal. 1:2. 6. Eph. 1:1; Acts 16:9-10; 18:1, etc.; 20:17, etc.
A year later (1561), these three marks were also articulated in the Belgic Confession, which was written in the Netherlands and later adopted by many of the Reformed churches on the continent of Europe. In article 29, it declares,
"We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully, by the Word of God, what is the true church — for all sects in the world today claim for themselves the name of “the church.”[1] We are not speaking here of the company of hypocrites who are mixed among the good in the church and who nonetheless are not part of it, even though they are physically there.[2] But we are speaking of distinguishing the body and fellowship of the true church from all sects that call themselves “the church.” The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel;[3] it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them;[4] it practices church discipline for correcting faults.[5] In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God,[6] rejecting all things contrary to it[7] and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head.[8] By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church—and no one ought to be separated from it."
1. Rev 2:9. 2. Rom 9:6. 3. Gal 1:8; 1 Tim 3:15. 4. Acts 19:3-5; 1 Cor 11:20-29. 5. Mt 18:15-17; 1 Cor 5:4, 5, 13; 2 Thess 3:6, 14; Tit 3:10. 6. Jn 8:47; Jn 17:20; Acts 17:11; Eph 2:20; Col 1:23; 1 Tim 6:3. 7. 1 Thess 5:21; 1 Tim 6:20; Rev 2:6. 8. Jn 10:14; Eph 5:23; Col 1:18.
It is important to be a member of the church - not only the universal church, but a local assembly of Christians where these three ordinances of Christ are established, with a recognized leadership capable of administering them. Every church will have its errors and faults, but join a church where you can find Christ's ordinances of Word, sacrament, and discipline (which is broader than merely excommunication, but includes discipleship, correction, and admonition, all with the goal of repentance and growth). Of course, these marks are not the entirety of a church - they are the skeleton or the foundation. As Christ works through His appointed means, His people respond in faith and love, engaging in shared worship, mutual edification, and loving help.

Friday, August 16, 2019

What It Actually Means to Be Citizens of Heaven



Recently I have begun recording short videos to share on Facebook and YouTube, and here is the latest one. I have written about this subject before - and I believe you will continue to see some overlap between what I write on this blog and say in these videos - but it is an exciting concept worth repeating. What did Paul mean when he said that Christians are citizens of heaven? In about three minutes, I seek to explain Paul's often misunderstood point about our heavenly citizenship.
"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself." (Philippians 3:20–21) 
"Only let your manner of life be [πολιτεύεσθε, behave as citizens] worthy of the gospel of Christ..." (Philippians 1:27)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Necessity of the Pastoral Office


In the passage below, John Calvin writes on the importance of the ordained leaders of the church. He and other Protestant Reformers taught the importance of the Bible as the final standard that judges all human authority, as well as the necessity of direct and personal faith in Christ. Some modern Protestants have taken this truth to mean that the organized church and its officers are unnecessary or even a hinderance. Yet the Reformers also realized that Christ, in this same Bible, also appointed the ministry of evangelists, pastors, and teachers to build up the church in this prophetic and apostolic Scripture. Here Calvin comments on Ephesians 4:4-16, which speaks of how Christ "gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ..." (Ephesians 4:11–13).
"By these words he shows that the ministry of men, which God employs in governing the Church, is a principal bond by which believers are kept together in one body. He also intimates, that the Church cannot be kept safe, unless supported by those guards to which the Lord has been pleased to commit its safety. Christ “ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things” (Eph. 4:10). The mode of filling is this: By the ministers to whom he has committed this office, and given grace to discharge it, he dispenses and distributes his gifts to the Church, and thus exhibits himself as in a manner actually present by exerting the energy of his Spirit in this his institution, so as to prevent it from being vain or fruitless. In this way, the renewal of the saints is accomplished, and the body of Christ is edified; in this way we grow up in all things unto Him who is the Head, and unite with one another; in this way we are all brought into the unity of Christ, provided prophecy flourishes among us, provided we receive his apostles, and despise not the doctrine which is administered to us. Whoever, therefore, studies to abolish this order and kind of government of which we speak, or disparages it as of minor importance, plots the devastation, or rather the ruin and destruction, of the Church. For neither are the light and heat of the sun, nor meat and drink, so necessary to sustain and cherish the present life, as is the apostolical and pastoral office to preserve a Church in the earth." (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.3.2)