Should Christians Vote For Pro-Abortion Candidates?

There is a disturbing political trend emerging among some evangelicals in 2020: support for a Biden/Harris ticket. For one of several examples, Tremper Longman III, a former professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, has recently encouraged Christians to vote Biden/Harris in 2020.

Without question, the 2020 Democratic Platform is passionately pro-abortion. The DNC platform states, “We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should be able to access high-quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion” (pg. 32).

The Democrats are so zealously committed to the pro-abortion cause that they speak about it as a matter of “justice” and favor the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which seeks to prevent federal funding (read: your taxpayer dollars) for abortions. Surprisingly, Biden originally supported the Hyde Amendment before the radical leftists convinced him to change his mind—yet another example of how our culture is not merely drifting left but is being driven left, as Al Mohler recently observed in his excellent book, The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church.

Dislike for Trump appears to be the primary reason for these evangelicals to be losing their minds—and possibly their souls. To be fair, as certain as it is that the Democratic Party has become the Pro-Abortion Party, it’s equally certain that President Trump has an unflattering history of indiscretions. So let me be clear. To maintain, as I do, that Christians shouldn’t vote for pro-abortion candidates isn’t an endorsement of Trump’s character, though I do believe we live in the unfortunate reality of a two-party system, and Christians must consider the most good they can do with their vote. Nevertheless, nothing will change the fact that followers of Christ cannot in good conscience cast a vote for a political platform in direct opposition to God’s moral law. Have we lost our minds?

God’s commandment is clear: “You shall not murder.”

Westminster Assembly’s exposition of the sixth commandment accurately summarizes our duty: “The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defense thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labor, and recreations; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness, peaceable, mild, and courteous speeches and behavior, forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiring good for evil, comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent.”

If you cast a vote for Biden/Harris in 2020, you are supporting their promotion of “safe and legal abortions.” That’s a fact. And that’s a fact completely inconsistent with the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Should any of these things really even need to be said?

Voting for this pro-abortion platform means that you are voting for a lie. Abortions are not “safe.” They are not safe for the women who have them. The psychological damage of murdering your baby is overwhelming. Nor are abortions safe for the little children who have their brains sucked out and are dismembered in the womb. And that’s not to mention the precious babies that survive botched abortions who some Democrats refuse to protect. Consider the Democratic opposition the Born-Alive Abortion Survivor Protection Act. Your hands are full of blood!

This also means you are voting for an unjust law. Isaiah says, “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression” (Isaiah 10:1). The DNC platform’s invocation of the word “justice” with regards to a woman’s right to choose (complete the sentence) to murder her baby is downright sickening. “I look at the faithless with disgust, because they do not keep your commands” (Psalm 119:158). Of course, when you reject God and His Word, you can twist language to suit your agenda because there is no longer any restraint on your God-forsaken heart and mouth other than your own seared conscience.

Instead of asking, Should Christians vote for pro-abortion candidates? perhaps we should be asking, Are Christians who vote for pro-abortion candidates even…Christians? “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15).

I’m well aware that many Christians—and certainly many wishy-washy evangelicals—will say that pastors should stay out of politics. “This is an indifferent matter where good Christians disagree.” Honestly, such a perspective is truly astounding given the state of things in our country today.

This isn’t a political issue. It’s an issue of basic Christian morality. God’s true children are opposed to murdering babies. If you support murdering babies, then you are an evil person. If you support a leader who wants to protect the act of murdering babies, you are joining hands with the wicked to do evil. Your disdain for Trump doesn’t justify a vote for the most pro-abortion ticket in the history of this country. If you simply cannot vote for Trump in good conscience, I respect that. Vote for a third party, but, I beg you: don’t cast your vote for those who favor the shedding of innocent blood. It simply isn’t a Christian option.

The Curse of Apathy

“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” –Romans 12:11

Apathy is a deadly spiritual disease. It gradually weakens zeal for God’s glory until there is nothing left but mush. What’s worse, the disease is highly contagious. When it begins in an individual saint, it soon spreads throughout the entire community, weakening the spiritual vitality of God’s elect people. Apathy steals away all concern about ultimate reality. The apathetic person couldn’t care less about what really matters. Eternity is far from his mind.

We must shun all false remedies for the plague! Enthusiasm devoid of doctrine is a false cure. Worked-up emotionalism is of no spiritual and eternal value. Fanaticism is simply the vice on the other extreme of apathy. Zeal without knowledge is a poor substitute for a heart aglow with the Spirit. The true cure for apathy is godly zeal, a needed virtue in today’s church but a rare gem to find.

Is anything more incongruous with Spirit-filled Christianity than apathy? May the Lord deliver us from this malady! Apathetic souls are unmoved by the present crisis, unconvinced of their own sin, unstirred by sound preaching, unimpressed with Christ’s glory, uninterested in God’s Word, and uncaring about lost souls.

An apathetic soul is a dead man walking. As such he is a contradiction in terms. Although having the reputation of being alive, he is dead. It takes a true miracle to reverse the spread of apathy once it has taken root in a congregation. Only the Holy Spirit of God can rouse sleeping saints!

Therefore we must pray for the Holy Spirit and be on guard against all spiritual declension in our lives. Preachers must be willing to blow the trumpet in Zion! They must sound the alarm to the apathetic. Only the most piercing truth will have the desired effect. Without fervent prayer and powerful preaching the church will become a graveyard, and generations to come will wonder why more dramatic measures were not taken to stop the spread of Satan’s lethal pandemic.

Thoughts on glorification

Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is a well-known source of wisdom for those in the world of business. Although the book is mostly self-help and pop psychology, many of the principles are gems from the realm of God’s common grace, truth accessible to believers and unbelievers alike. One of the book’s lessons has always gripped me: Begin with the end in mind. This means that highly effective people are goal-oriented. They know what they want to accomplish, and they tailor everything in life to achieve that goal. Well, this is certainly a biblical concept. We are called by God to live our lives with a teleological mindset. Since God created the world for His glory, life has a goal, an end. Students of the Westminster Shorter Catechism know the goal well. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” When it comes to the doctrine of salvation, glorification is the ultimate goal of God’s saving work in our lives. It should astound us that God saved us so that we might be glorified.

            Glorification is the final link in the golden chain of redemption. “And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified” (Romans 8:30). God saves His people, effectively bringing all His elect from grace to glory. In context, this glorification is to be fully conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). Jesus Christ fully reveals the glory of God as the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), and He is the pattern into which God will weave the tapestry of our lives. All other saving benefits (election, calling, regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification) are aimed at this goal: the glorification of the redeemed sinner. This is where God is taking us.

            When Jesus looked into heaven as our great High Priest and prayed for all His people, he said, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that You have given me because You loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). How we need to grasp the sublime joy of Christ’s prayer for us! The Father and Son enjoyed a loving fellowship in eternity past. God the Son beheld the glory of His Father in perfect beatific vision. There wasn’t the slightest break in the integrity of that divine fellowship. And yet Jesus prays that we might share in that glorious fellowship and vision. Glorification entails being with Jesus where He was before the foundation of the world. It means that we share in the fellowship of the Trinity, basking in the glory of the great salvation Christ won for us at the cross.

            Again, this glorification is the goal of Christ’s saving work. “But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that He, for Whom and by Whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering “ (Hebrews 2:9-10). If we ask, “Why did Jesus come from heaven to earth, become a little lower than angels, and suffer on the cross?” The answer is ready: “to bring many sons to glory.”

            Like election, calling, regeneration, justification, adoption, and sanctification, glorification is the result of the free grace of God. When we arrive in heaven and are “saved to sin no more,” we will praise God for His grace to all eternity. Not one beam of our glorified state with shine from man’s merit. It is a reflected glory. God is like the sun, and we are moons. All the glory comes from Him and goes to Him. Our glorification is not the result of man’s cooperation. If it was, man would have grounds for boasting. However, we shall be glorified by free grace “so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 2:7). It will take an eternity of ages to exhaust the inexhaustible grace of God! “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.” When Jesus returns and our glorification is complete, it shall only be on account of the fact that He comes with grace. This is why we are told to set our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to us at His Second Coming (1 Peter 1:13).

            Glorification comes in two stages. Taking our cue from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, we understand that we receive certain benefits at death and others at the resurrection.

“What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death? The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves, till the resurrection” (Shorter Catechism, Q. 37).

The first stage of our glorification is the glorification of our soul immediately upon death. When the believer dies, he instantaneously passes to the realm of the “spirit of the righteous made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23). Sanctification is now complete. Sin is gone. Holiness has ripened into perfection. We must stress the fact that this happens immediately upon death. There is no layover in purgatory. Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Elsewhere Paul makes it clear that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6, 8). The Scriptures tell us very little about this intermediate state (the state of the soul after death but before the resurrection). However, we can be sure that it is “far better” (Philippians 1:23) because we are with Christ.

Years ago my wife and I went to visit her brother and his family in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. While we were there, I insisted that we take a trip to Princeton Cemetery in Princeton, New Jersey. I wanted to see Jonathan Edwards’ grave. Well, not far from where I found Edwards’ grave was the resting place of Charles Hodge (1797-1878), the great Calvinistic theologian of old Princeton. And the inscription on his tombstone: “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

But the benefits of glorification are not complete at death. There is more. . .

“What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection? At the resurrection, believers, being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity” (Shorter Catechism 38).

God’s saving work in our lives is holistic. God redeems us body and soul. Although the Fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery, God’s grace restores nature. Salvation is re-creation; God makes all things new (Revelation 21:5). This means that the perfection of soul that happens immediately upon death doesn’t bring the work of salvation to an end. God desires to restore our bodies and vindicate our persons at our public acquittal at the Day of Judgment. This is when “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 12:43).

The glorification of soul happens immediately at death; the glorification of our bodies happens at the return of Christ and general resurrection. “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17). This passage makes clear that when Jesus returns, He will raise the dead. Those believers who are alive when He returns will be instantaneously changed. This change is described as occurring “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Corinthians 15:52). Here the perishable puts on imperishable and the mortal, immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53).

The nature of this resurrection body is the subject of large chunk of 1 Corinthians 15 and is a topic large enough to be covered in a separate study. Suffice it to say, though, that this resurrection body is a real physical body. Paul does indeed refer to it as a “spiritual body” in 1 Corinthians 15:44, but Paul doesn’t use the word “spiritual” to mean non-physical. Instead, it means permeated by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Our resurrection bodies will be free from sin and all the effects of sin. Our resurrection bodies will be incapable of sin, sickness, disease, aches, pains, and death.

In terms of glorification, we will be part of the show when Christ reveals His glory on the last day. “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). Our glorification is not inherent. At the same time, we shall share in the glory of Christ by way of reflection. We shall appear glorious only in Him. Like all the other saving benefits, our glorification is through our union and communion with the Lord Jesus. The Apostle of love tells us that “when He appears we shall be like Him because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). The Second Coming in conjunction with the Beatific Vision instantaneously transforms all the elect of God. And this hope of glorification is an incentive to holy living for John continues: “And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure” (1 John 3:3). We should daily live, then, with an awareness of our blessed future. “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).

            Since glorification is God’s work, it’s a sure work. The power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself is the same power that He will utilize to save us completely from sin and sin’s effects. He shall not fail to bring us from grace to glory. “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Let us never forget that God began the work, and God shall complete the work. He finishes all His projects. He never fails to accomplish any of His purposes. And this is greatest of all God’s purposes. It is, to borrow a line from Jonathan Edwards, “the end for which God created the world.” This is goal of the entire created universe. It is why the whole creation is groaning for the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:19, 22). God is seeking to glorify Himself by saving a people for Himself, and He shall bring that people from grace to glory. SDG

Why the Church Must Meet

Ten Commandments

Throughout the COVID crisis, the church has faced pressures from without and within. From without there has been an unfair restriction placed on the church. As has been seen in Nevada, casinos and the gambling industry have been granted greater leniency than churches, and the Supreme Court of the United States upheld Nevada’s law with a 5-4 decision. And that is just one example. Others, such as liquor stores, home improvement stores, and grocery stores, continue servicing their clientele, having been deemed necessities, while the church has been denied that status. The church has largely acquiesced to the executive orders of the civil magistrate based on the Biblical injunction to honor the civil magistrate and to extend love to our fellow man by protecting them from COVID. And yet, is the prevailing wisdom truly the best way to honor God and love our neighbor?

Especially at the beginning of the COVID scare back in March and April, many churches were willing to temporarily suspend in-person worship, opting for live-streamed services instead. The nation, and the world really, wrestled to understand what COVID was. Over time, as information has been gathered, and the “curve” seemed to flatten, doors were cautiously re-opened. Some members still have stayed away from in-person worship. But is it really wise and God-honoring to neglect gathering together to worship of the Lord?

The foundation of my concern rests on the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3). Here God claims the preeminent place in the hearts of His people. That unique place is reinforced in the summaries of the 10 commandments given in the gospels: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39). Currently the church has focused on the commandments that help it love its neighbor, at the expense of the commandments that direct it to love God.

The church is failing to examine the Scriptures to see if the church is ever described as forfeiting gathering there. Perhaps there are examples in Scripture where the church ceased meeting to avoid a particular danger. COVID is not the only danger in the world. Surely there must be some instance where the New Testament church closed its doors. An examination of Acts shows this did not happen even when the church was under a danger far graver than COVID-19.

Perhaps the most pressing danger facing the apostolic church at its formation was persecution. The church was small, and people were being killed for their profession of faith in Christ. And yet Scripture testifies that persecution did not have the intended effect of suppressing the worship of God’s people.

  • In John 20:19, even though the disciples were afraid of the Jews, they were still gathering.
  • In Acts 4:31, after Peter and John were released from being arrested for preaching the gospel, they “went to their friends.” (v. 23), who were all “gathered together.”
  • In Acts 8:4, after the disciples are scattered because of the death of Stephen and subsequent persecution, they continue to preach the word of God wherever they go. There is an identifiable group that forms in Samaria, to which the apostles send Peter and John (Act 8:15).
  • In Acts 12:12, Peter’s arrest and subsequent unjust imprisonment prompts the church to “gather together” to pray for him.

In other words, even the danger of persecution does not cause the early church to forfeit meeting together. That is because the worship of God is paramount. It should supersede all other earthly activity, because it is the one activity that anticipates heaven. When a church, or members of a church, do not meet together to avoid COVID, a statement is made. Implicitly or explicitly the church, or a part of it, is saying that it is more important to avoid contracting COVID than it is to worship the Lord. And yet in Hebrews 10:24-25, it is the gathering of the saints that is seen as essential to the sanctification of the believer, and not to be neglected: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

I will say it as strongly as this. When the church forsakes worship for a disease like COVID, it is showing love for self, not for God. It is recreating God in its own image, preferring the temporary physical health that isolating may provide, to the praise of the God who made and redeemed His people. This is not saying anything about modified worship, worship out of doors, the use of masks in worship. I have opinions about all those things, but they are not the focus of what is being said here. The point today is that Christians are not loving God by staying away from church because He commands the assembly of His people, and to show love for God is to walk according to His commandments (John 14:15, 1 John 5:3, 2 John 6). God must be loved more that anything in this life. But there is a second principle that flows from this central point.

One of the reasons given for suspending in-person worship is that the church must love its neighbor. However, right now the world is constantly coming face-to-face with death, the very reminder of the coming judgment. They are constantly being told that their death is just around the corner and it is terrifying the world. And yet when the church ceases to meet, these hopeless and lost souls have only the equivalent of a TV show to sustain and comfort them. No doubt they may hear truth, but they will not experience it in the context that God designed: a living, communing body of believers. It is neither loving, nor caring to close the doors of the very place where hope in times of panic can be found, where fellowship can be experience, and where the splendor of heaven is anticipated each Lord’s Day.

My dear friends, the church must consider carefully what it does today. Its actions are making a statement. The next generation of the church is watching the decisions of today. And they are seeing a church that prefers temporary, physical health over the worship of the Lord. And they are learning. The church is folding on an issue that does not pose a significant risk. And if it folds today, what will it do when a real crisis comes along.

In my county, there are 202,403 people. In this county, there has definitely been an increase of reported cases in recent weeks. As of today (August 3, 2020), the total number of people infected with COVID as reported by the Georgia Department of Public Health is 3,719, of which 1,485 (40%) were diagnosed in the last 2 weeks. And yet the number of deaths remains relatively low at 83. The church has to consider the math. A Richmond County resident has a 1.84% chance of contracting COVID. That means 98 out of 100 people will never get this disease. Even more staggering, only 4 out of 10,000 will die of this disease. That means a Richmond County resident has a 99.96% chance of living through COVID. That is not to minimize the tragedy of death, but rather to show just how low the risk is. The risk of dying from COVID is lower that many elective surgeries! 

The church of Christ has been purchased for worship. It has been set apart to worship the Lord. And it is never free to cease to be what it was created by God to be: the body of Christ established on earth to sanctify the saints and call sinners to repentance. To change or deny that work is to have other gods before the Lord.

COVID and the Church

There is no shortage of opinions about how to respond to COVID-19. The debate that encapsulates just how polarizing this issue can be is the one surrounding the use of masks. Basically, there are two camps. Some think that all should be mandated to wear masks in an effort to halt the spread of the virus. Others think that the wearing of masks should be left to the individual because the virus will make its way through the population anyway. This article will not definitively solve this issue for you. The purpose of this article is to protect the unity of the church. COVID-19 will be a distant memory one day, and Christians will find themselves worshiping with that person with whom they disagree with so vehemently today. 

Amazingly, though positions on masks may be different, the sins by their proponents are often the same. First,Christians have not been careful to preserve the truth. It is asserted that those who do not wear masks are not loving their neighbors, or that those who are wearing masks are being fearful. These claims may be true, but most likely they are not. Each position is argued citing scientific studies to reinforce the position. Appeals are made to doctors, scientists, and government policies to bolster the preferred perspective. And none of those things make it clear that the motivation of our fellow man is lack of love or sinful fear. Rather than making statements that are likely not true, it is the joyful duty of the Christian to restrict his statements to things that are known to be true.

Consider the claim is that those not wearing masks are not loving their neighbors. The presence or absence of risk is not an indicator of the presence or absence of love. Our lives are filled with risk. I heard the other day of a 39 year-old mother who fell out of a golf cart while carrying a her baby. In an effort to protect the child, she did not brace herself and died as a result of her fall. Was it unloving of the driver to allow the woman to get into the cart knowing there is risk involved? Certainly not. To assert risk equals lack of love is simply not true and demonizes a Christian brother or sister with perfectly loving intentions. To equate the introduction of risk with lack of love is neither fair nor accurate. And we are charged as Christians to promote the truth in the ninth commandment (Exodus 20:16). 

The claim that those who wear masks are fearful. It is one thing to decide not to wear a mask. It is quite another to assert that those wearing a mask are motivated by fear. There are many reasons people may decide to wear a mask in response to COVID. It is not different than other areas of life. People watch their diet and exercise to promote good health. They wear seatbelts when driving. Smoke detectors are installed in homes. None of these are necessarily acts of fear. They are most often just attempts to be prudent. To assert wearing a mask equals fear is simply not true. And we are charged as Christians to promote the truth in the ninth commandment (Exodus 20:16).

Second, Christians have (again) proved themselves prone to pride. In the lack of charity on display between people, also believers, it is clear people have an unhealthy opinion of their own conclusions. The vast majority of folks are far from qualified to make a definitive statement of the benefits or draw-backs of wearing a mask. 99+% of people are just trying to make the best decision they can with their limited understanding. In Ephesians 4:2, Paul urges the Ephesian church to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” People are not “sheeple” if they wear a mask. They are not simple-minded dolts if they do not.

After COVID is over (and that will happen), churches everywhere will return to regular corporate worship. My plea today is that the church behave in such a way as to make that return easy, and free from bitterness and party-spirit. There is an oft-quoted phrase from church history that can and should be applied to the current situation: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” Masks are not the indicator of orthodoxy. Be charitable to your fellow-Christian. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32).

The Church and Culture

Conflict

The church’s relationship to the culture is a tenuous one. Especially in these tumultuous times of COVID-19, quarantine protests, and Black Lives Matter, the church must use discernment regarding its relationship to the ideas put forward and accepted within its culture. Culture is defined by google as: “the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.” That seems a fair definition. So how does the church interact with those customs, arts, institutions, and achievements?

The answer to that question will, of course, depend on the level of faithfulness to God’s word the culture displays. A society whose culture is righteous will require little oppostion from the church, but one whose foundation is the philosophy of man will frequently bump heads with the church. What today’s culture needs is not the affirmation of the church, but rather her calls for repentance.

The church seems to have lost its prophetic voice. Of course, that is not true of all churches. There are many faithful churches that boldly proclaim God’s word. But it seems to me there are more that are simply mimicking the words of the culture, and pushing the word of God aside. And therein is the problem. The authority of Scripture, based in the Lord who gives it, makes adherence to the teaching of the Bible the distinguishing mark of the Christian. And if culture is doing anything contrary to God’s word, it is neither safe nor wise for the church to adopt or associate with that thing. There must always be an obvious identity in the Christian: an identity defined by his relationship with Christ as defined in the Bible.

Today the more popular cultural voices are in opposition to God’s word. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement enjoys tremendous popularity, also within the church. And yet it stands diametrically opposed to the Lord. Its website proudly proclaims: “We affirm the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, undocumented folks, folks with records, women, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. Our network centers those who have been marginalized within Black liberation movements.” However, the seventh commandment forbids homosexuality, transgenderism, and gender confusion. It is an attack on the very character of God the Creator and defined as sin. Or in another place it states: “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.” But God charges parents to train up their children in the fear of His great name (Eph. 6:4). So there is irreconcilable divergence at the foundation of the Christian faith and the organization Black Lives Matter. The former flows from the Bible, the latter is foundationally opposed to Scripture.

Christian, how will people identify you? If someone does not know you, will they quickly discern that you are Christian from your social media posts, by your choice of words, by the decisions you make throughout the week? The reality is, the Christian cannot take on itself an identity that is partially rooted in the world. Consider these verses from the New Testament. Paul says, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” (1 Corinthians 2:12, ESV). In another place the apostle says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” And in yet another instance the apostle John states: “They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.” (1 John 4:5). The point of those verses is all the same. The world does not have the same voice as the church, and the church should not copy it.

It is important to remember that very basic truth especially in our days. The Christian church must stand on the Bible if it is to maintain its witness at all. The world will not be content until the bride of Christ has become an adulterous wife. But I am afraid that in North America she is already well on her way.

Is Privilege a Sin?

Probably like all of you, I have been trying to process through the recent events in our society. First there was all the upheaval because of COVID-19, and then all the civic unrest surrounding the death of George Floyd. People have reacted in different ways, some good, some evil. One thing that I have been considering in this spectrum of response is the apologies that are being made for privilege these days. To give the most gracious response to those who are doing so, I assume their intentions are good, but is apologizing for privilege, specifically white privilege, actually glorifying to God.

I want to state up front that I do not accept the blanket notion of white privilege as it is articulated today. Even on just an anecdotal level, to ascribe blanket privilege to one ethnic group seems to hopelessly over-simplify the complexities of a society made up of millions of intertwined lives. I am a middle-class white man. I am very sure that I have access to privileges that many, many millions of people of a variety of ethnic origins in our society do not enjoy. But there is also another side. I am also very sure that I do not have access to privileges that many millions of people enjoy. Many white, Asian, black, and Hispanic people have access to privileges that I do not.

Anecdotally I have experienced this myself. As a young man, I applied to teacher’s college when pursuing undergraduate studies. While applying for entry into the program, I was required to fill out forms (of course). On the cover page it stated explicitly that visible minorities and females would be given preferential treatment. In that program, I could be counted as being under-privileged. Minorities and women applied from a position of privilege. Again, this observation does not deny that there may be privileges I enjoy in another setting. I am simply making the point that to make a blanket statement on privilege of one ethnic group seems hopelessly over-simplified on its face. However, apologizing for privilege strikes me as problematic for a more significant reason: it is asking forgiveness for something God has not called a sin.

When I hear white Christians apologizing for their privilege, I want to ask them, “For which sin are you apologizing and seeking forgiveness?” Certainly, the Bible condemns showing favoritism (Jam. 2:1-7) and racism (Gal. 3:28), but privilege is not the same thing, and is not in and of itself sinful. In fact, God gives His people the fifth commandment to guide them in their various relationships, some in which they are privileged, and others not. The Westminster Shorter Catechism states, 

“The fifth commandment requireth the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism #64). 

Sometimes people are in charge and enjoy certain privileges because of their position. Other times they are peers where the same rights are shared. More often than not, they report to others, living under their authority being deprived of privilege others have. In all of them, it is imperative to occupy those roles with dignity, respecting each other as made in the image of God. But it is also important to recognize God has not described these relationships as sinful by default. To apologize for having a privilege is to call sin what God has not called so.

As I’ve said, there are common-sense difficulties with the idea of blanket white privilege, so I want to leave that term aside. However, dealing generically with privilege, there is no doubt there are gradations of privilege in society. Privilege is morally neutral. Privilege can be held in a sinful way, or can be used to give God glory. Privilege in and of itself is not sin. To ask forgiveness for having it is contrary to the Bible which recognizes God’s providence, and His right to distribute His possessions and gifts throughout the world according to His own will. When these are used unjustly, the church should bring correction to her members. But when used for the glory of God, there is no cause to apologize, no matter which ethnic group you belong to. Within the church we are all God’s children, the body of Christ, and we are to work together in our different places and stations to give Him glory together. That is not the cause for division, but for praise.

A little fixing, or a resurrection?

Today I want to consider a word that has been adopted in the Christian church. It is a word that is used to describe the miserable effects of the fall. It is a word that describes all kinds of transgressions, and yet it is entirely the wrong word. I am referring to the word “brokenness.” It is used to speak of unnatural attractions between men, outbursts of anger, drunkenness, riots, racism, and on and on the list goes. The person who is using this term usually means that life is imperfect, not as it should be, and even not as the Lord created it. The concern I have is not so much in recognizing the world is not as it was originally designed. That much is clear. The problem is that “brokenness” softens and minimizes biblical categories and thereby reduces the great blessing of the work of Christ in salvation.

In reformed, confession doctrine, there is typically a two-fold concept of sin. The one which is most obvious is the category the Westminster Standards call actual sin: the sins all people commit in action. The second category is discussed less often. That is the category of original sin: the corruption of man’s nature and his participation in the sin of Adam. The term brokenness can be used replace either of these categories. In doing so the seriousness of man’s condition is minimized.

Biblically speaking, there is a significant distinction between something that is broken and something that is infected with the consequence of sin. Something that is broken simply needs a little fixing. But that is not the biblical view of unnatural attractions, anger, drunkenness, and the like. When Scripture uses the word broken, it is not talking about sin. Usually is talking about what God has done to man (Ps. 37:15; 60:1; 80:12; 102:23). On the weekends many men grab their “honey-do” lists and go about fixing their houses that having various items that are broken or in disrepair. It may be a big repair, or a small one, but the reason it is on the man’s list is because “honey” believes he can “do” the repair. But when Scripture uses words to describe the effects of sin, it does so with words that paint a far graver picture for man.

When Scripture describes man in his natural condition, it uses words that deal with death. God himself warns of the consequence of sin even prior to the fall into sin. He does not warn man that on the day he eats of the fruit he will become broken. He warns man that on the day he eats of it, he shall “surely die.” (Gen. 2:17). In his letter to the Romans, Paul does not warn that sin will require main to be repaired. Instead, he warns that the “wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23). In Ephesians the apostle paints a similar picture to describe the Ephesian Christians before they became believers when he says they were “dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” (Eph. 2:1-2). 

So why the fuss? Brokenness, death. Isn’t it just a matter of preference? God does not make mistakes in His words. When he describes man’s condition He does so in a way that rightly describes the urgency of his condition. To be dead is far more dire than to be broken. There is no “honey-do” lists that involve graveyards. It is intuitive that when a person is buried there is nothing left for anyone to do for them. No man can correct the condition of the dead. To be broken means you can be fixed. It is not a hopeless state. But to be dead means there is no hope for you.

Part of the joy of being a Christian is knowing that God has made alive one who was dead through the cross of Christ. He did not come to make repairs, but to bring life to those who were dead. I do not doubt that the people who use the word “broken” do so with good intentions. But the danger in changing the language of Scripture is that it causes a change in understanding of a concept as well. Man because of sin is not just broken and in need of a little fixing. No, man in sin is dead and in need of a resurrection. God alone can do this work, and when He does it the cause for rejoicing and gratitude is far greater. What was dead has been made alive. So talk about the concepts of sin and its effects using biblical vocabulary. It will protect your understanding of the magnitude of God’s gift in the gospel.

Performing good works

wrench

I love the book of Acts. It is a book that contains so many examples of God’s faithfulness to his church. It is a book that gives confidence to the Christian that the church will be preserved by the Holy Spirit, which can be helpful in a time when the church’s strength and influence seems to be waning. Acts is also a book where the work of the Holy Spirit through the early church is described in some detail. For example, the content of the teaching of the early church can be seen in the descriptions of the different “sermons” that are preached by the apostles in this book.

In this article, I want to focus in on Paul’s speech before Festus and Agrippa II in Acts 26. In verses 20 Luke gives a standard outline for a Pauline sermon. It is quite simple: 1. Repent and turn to God; 2. Perform deeds in keeping with repentance. In my experience, the first point in his sermon would be commonly recognized by most Christians. But since today’s church in the West leans more toward antinomianism, the second point may cause some to bristle.

It is important to separate the justification of the believer from any sense of works. The free gift of the gospel given by grace through faith is a doctrine that demands protection. It has been attacked throughout the history of the church. One manifestation of such an attack comes through the Pharisees. The Savior describes these men as white-washed tombs which look pretty on the outside, but on the inside are filled with dead men’s bones (Matt. 23:27ff). They were busy doing lots of stuff, but on the inside they were decayed. However, comparing the Pharisees to the 2ndpoint of Paul’s outline, there is a significant difference. Whereas the Pharisees performed many deeds, their deeds were not in keeping with repentance.Paul is calling the Christian to live out the principle in James 2:17: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Paul’s point is that repentance and turning to God leads to deeds in keeping with that repentance.

Scripture has examples of the change that takes place in a converted person. Luke 8:26ff records the deliverance by Jesus of the Garasene demoniac. This man was tormented by a legion of demons. While casting them out, they asked Jesus if they could take up residence in a herd of pigs. As a result, the pigs rushed down the steep bank and were drowned. The response of the residents was to ask Jesus to leave. But the healed man literally begged Jesus to be allowed to accompany him (v. 38). Jesus refuses his request, instead commanding the healed man to tell people all that had been done for him, which he does with enthusiasm (v. 40). That is a biblical example of performing deeds in keeping with repentance. The demoniac no longer does the perverse deeds associated with his demon possession. Now he follows his Savior, obeying him in all things. His deeds flow from his deliverance. They do not lead to his deliverance.

These deeds are the second plank of Paul sermon. Once the human heart is given new life unto salvation, Paul expects this man, woman or child to perform deeds in keeping with repentance. The language of Christians doing or performing deeds may make the Christian uncomfortable. It can even evoke cries of “Legalism!” But for Paul it is the natural fruit of a life changed by the Holy Spirit. The key is to view these deeds in light of God’s work of sanctification, rather than justification. So in what ways can the Christian today perform deeds in keeping with repentance?

The way of the flesh and the way of the Spirit are opposites in Scripture. For example, the works of the flesh are seen in strife, jealousy, and fits of anger while the fruit of the Spirit is peace. The work of the flesh is sexual immorality but the fruit of the Spirit is faithfulness (Gal. 5:20, 22). So, Christian, do you want to perform deeds in keeping with repentance? Then you must do the opposite of what your flesh desires, in accordance with God’s word, ensuring that your deeds are not an end in themselves, but are “in keeping with your repentance.”

The point of this article is not any specific application. These may come later. Rather it is seeking to recapture a biblical truth: the life of the converted Christian should be characterized with a preoccupation toward personal piety and holiness. That is not legalistic. That is the natural fruit that flows from the heart that is redeemed by grace through faith.

What is right, what is wrong?

Ten Commandments

One of the great weaknesses I observe in today’s North American church is the failure to recognize the authority of Scripture. Certainly, branches of all stripes within the Christ’s church acknowledge the importance of the Bible. However, on more than one occasion as of late I have observed churches, pastors, and individual members shape the Bible to their own convictions rather than have their convictions shaped by the word of God. 

The European protestant reformation of the 16thcentury re-established the principle of Sola Scriptura, or Scripture alone as our guide and authority. Man’s opinion, whether he is pope or not, should never be placed on par with the Bible. However, there is a quiet pragmatism creeping into North American churches which measures the rightness of an action by man’s assessment of whether or not it works. Actions are justified or condemned based on the perceived benefit they accomplish. These benefits can be made to sound very spiritual, but in the end they are subjective, dependent on the approval or disapproval of man. Herein is the problem.

The Christian individual is not the gauge of whether an action should or should not be done. Instead, the approval of any human action comes from the Lord. God, who knows all things, describes for his people how they should live. The traditional reformed theology about discerning what should be done, or not done is summarized as follows: 

The descriptions of right behavior are given in the Moral Law, summarized in the 10 Commandments. Doing what the law forbids, and not doing what the law commands are both considered sin. The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines sin as: “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” (WSC #14). Therefore, no matter what man’s assessment of any given situation might be, if the proposed action at any point causes you to do what the law forbids (transgression), or not do what the law commands (want, or lack of conformity), that action should not be done. One quick example:

A man attends his local team’s National Football League game on Sunday. As he sits in the stands, he takes advantage of the concessions. He goes to the game with the intention of having gospel conversations with the people in attendance. He justifies his choice because he was able to have a meaningful conversation about the Lord with several people.

Although the action may sound noble, using the authority of God’s word the football fan cannot justify his being at the game because he is sinning against the 4thcommandment. This commandment forbids all work on the Lord’s Day, unless it is of necessity, mercy, or piety. That is not to say God cannot use his sin. His motives could even be appreciated and his evangelistic zeal admired. However, the final answer must be that because his attendance is against God’s law and therefore this choice should have been ruled out. To answer otherwise would be to introduce a pragmatic element that would give man the opportunity to justify any action. 

There are countless other ways in which the positive elements of the fan’s plan could have been achieved without sin against God’s law. For example, the man could have stood outside the stadium and preached the gospel, handed out tracts, or tried to engage in gospel conversations there. In this way, the man would not break God’s commandments. The right choice is always to remain within the boundaries of God’s word. When the Christian obeys God’s commandments he demonstrates love for God (John 14:15). But when the Christian disobeys God’s commandments in order to achieve a goal of his own choosing, no matter how noble he might make it sound, he has chosen to love himself rather than his Savior.