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),, 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 has supported a long tradition in the church of praying for the civil authorities. 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 tyranny which was being practiced by Parliament (you can get a taste of it 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 church and the king's domains. 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.