Category Archives: Culture

Walking In Gratitude

As a nation, we celebrated Thanksgiving this past November 25. For many, the significance of this day has turned from an opportunity to praise God to a generic sentimentality about gratitude for family and comfort. However beneficial it is for a nation to have a day of giving thanks, it is meaningless void of an acknowledgement of God. As His people, we should remember to give Him thanks every day. His word calls us to this daily celebration in these ways: 

His covenant promises. The foundation for Christian thankfulness runs throughout the Bible. The record of God’s covenant relationship with His people reminds us daily that it is God’s grace only that allows us to be in relationship with Him.

His law. The commandments of God point us to Him in two ways. First, in showing that we are incapable of keeping them He gives us daily motivation to find salvation in Christ. Second, once living in the reality of salvation, we have daily reasons for praising Him because we have been delivered from sin’s dominion.

His works. God’s record of His providential work in this world plainly shows us His power, patience, and strength. Where we fail and fall, He is powerful to pick us up and to carry us to eventual glory.

I love Thanksgiving. I love the chance to acknowledge that the blessings we enjoy come to us from God’s hand. And yet I wish my heart was more grateful on a day-to-day basis for the eternal blessings God provides.

Part 2 » The Christian’s Relationship with the Government: The Source of Authority

“My travail is that both princes and subjects obey God. Think not, Madam, that wrong is done you, when you are willed to be subject to God.”[1]

There is much to consider when it comes to the power and authority of the government. Especially in western nations, there is consternation among Christians over recent mandates and requirements coming from the civil magistrate. As a result, there has been disagreement in churches and denominations about the extent of authority the magistrate may exercise. And then there is John Knox. Last article he is quoted as advocating for disobedience, even violent opposition to a civil magistrate who exceeds his bounds. In the quote above Knox is speaking to his queen, Mary, Queen of Scots. This time he asserts the limits of her power: she also is to be subject to God. Before there is too much excitement (either positive or negative) about these quotes, there are a series of questions that have to be answered. Before the Christian can affirm or deny Knox’s claims, there must be a clear and biblical understanding of the role and function of government. These questions and their answers make up the substance of this series of articles. The first question to be considered is, “What is the source of the civil government’s power?”

Chapter 23 of the Westminster Confession of Faith deals with government and is entitled “Of the Civil Magistrate”. The biblical texts regarding the establishment of the governing authorities cited in this confession are 1 Peter 2:13-14 and Romans 13:1-4. Reserving consideration only for the latter, in the opening verse of Romans 13 Christians are told “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Christians must allow the significance of those words to sink in. The Bible teaches here that good and bad princes are placed in their positions by God. There is no authority except from God, and those in authority are placed there by Him. Humanly speaking, rulers may assume power in a variety of ways. Monarchies and emperors do so by birth,  nations may conquer through war, deceitful men may claim power through intrigue and betrayal, and in democracies governments are chosen through the voting process. But behind all those secondary human causes sits God’s singular and divine providence. God decrees, and then carries it out by governing all His creatures and all their actions (see Westminster Shorter Catechism #11).

God’s will is done in the world, also in times when evil seems to have the upper hand. That was the case in Joseph’s life and he recognized it as such. In Gen 50:20 he tells his brothers: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” In that moment, Joseph recognizes that things appear differently to man than God. Man only has part of the picture and it can seem like evil will prevail. But God, seeing the entirety of His plan, accomplishes his will through secondary causes. When it comes to the governance of the societies of this world, He uses the civil magistrate. God may work through godly princes, but his plan is also accomplished when the wicked rule. Job understood that all things come from God’s hand: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Cf. Job 2:10). When Satan entered Judas Iscariot’s heart and convinced him to betray Christ, that evil plan resulted in the final victory over sin and death. Those moments are not accidents which God did not foresee. So God gives authority to all rulers, whether they are good or evil. Recognizing that truth will eliminate the vast majority of calls for civil disobedience.

However, when the Bible says all governing authorities are instituted and appointed by God (Rom. 13:1-2), it is not saying that all authorities behave in a godly manner. It is simply recognizing government receives its status through God’s providence. Their position is God-ordained, regardless of the personal approval of its citizens when it comes to their political decisions or personality when lawfully made. To say all authority is instituted by God is not saying anything about the right direction or proper boundaries to the government’s power. What is the civil magistrate to do? For what purpose to it wield its authority? That is a question for the next article.

[1] John Knox, The History of the Reformation in Scotland (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1982), 279.

Part 5 » An Appeal on Race in the Presbyterian Church in America

“Therefore my appeal is that the PCA re-focus on the gospel ministry of the church and make that its declaration rather than repeatedly making statements on race and its related issues.”

Moving Past the Issue

This series began by addressing three diagnostic questions as to where the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is in relation to racial sin. It is necessary to ask these due to considerable attention given to the issue of race in the denomination over the last number of years. These questions are:

  • Has the PCA made a clear and thorough declaration on the sin of racism?
  • Are there any new or extraordinary manifestation of this sin rearing its head in society or the PCA that would warrant additional teaching from God’s word?
  • Is the PCA neglecting shepherding of private or public unrepentant sins in this regard that should be addressed by church courts?

The first question is answered here; the second here; the third here. By way of summary, the PCA’s condemnation of racial sin is abundantly clear. There are no circumstances that justify revisiting previous statements. And as there are no appeals or complaints regarding racial sin moving up through the courts of the church, it is fair to assume that such sins are being effectively handled at a local level. For these reasons, the appeal of this series is that the PCA re-focus on the gospel ministry of the church and make that its declaration rather than repeatedly making statements on race and its related issues.

Other have spoken of the dangers of “mission creep” in the church. In other words, the church loses sight of its main gospel objective and thereby becomes ineffective. Is the focus on race “mission creep”? In the case of the PCA it certainly is. This sin has been clarified and condemned, and it is not controversial in the PCA. However, the PCA’s continued discussion on alleged acts of racism in or outside the church, outside of the actions of the discipline of the church, fosters an “us” and “them” mentality in the church based on race. Yet the church is one body (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:20; Eph. 4:4; Col. 3:15).

At the last General Assembly (GA) there was talk of majority and minority cultures, designations of “you” and “us” along ethnic lines, and justifications for public repentance in the PCA based on news reports from secular outlets. The language of majority/minority culture is foreign to God’s word. The Bible does not recognize the validity of “you” and “us” statements of difference in the body of Christ. These statements are derived from the philosophy of man.

In Fault Lines, Voddie Baucham critiques the social justice movement, especially as it appears in the church. In it he quotes a definition of Critical Race Theory (CRT) from the pen of one of its proponents: “CRT recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture.”[1] Those are exactly the sentiments communicated through the language of majority/minority culture, or the “you” and “us” statements made during floor debate. Intentional or not, these terms reflect CRT and imports them into the PCA.

The notions of majority and minority culture seem to be driving the distinctions drawn in the PCA. However, when the Bible deals with differences in the church, they are not based on ethnicity as much as covenantal standing: Jew and Gentile. Certainly, ethnicity cannot be separated from that discussion, but it is accidental. The biblical point is always the inclusion of gentiles into the family of Abraham. But, for example, discussing Asians as a minority culture in a mostly Caucasian denomination divides up the Gentiles. The PCA is populated, by and large, by Gentiles. There are Gentiles with a variety of skin colors, but the PCA is mostly Gentile. All of the Gentiles have been grafted into the family of Abraham, have become the spiritual Israel. In Scripture there is no talk of a majority vs. minority culture. There are only sons of Abraham by faith. To speak of majority and minority cultures in the church is to deny 1 Cor. 12:12-13: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” The PCA must stop speaking of and championing the different ethnic varieties of Gentiles in the body of Christ, and return to being ambassadors of the whole of the Bride of Christ. So how is that done?

Color Blindness

First, the PCA must become “color blind.” Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Morgan Freeman (by no means a conservative, reformed theologian as far as I know) when asked about racial division in an interview with Mike Wallace stated the solution to racial difference was to stop talking about it. Wallace asked him, “How are we going to get rid of racism until…” Mr. Freeman cuts him off and says, “Stop talking about it. I’m going to stop calling you a white man, and I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man. I know you as Mike Wallace. You know me as Morgan Freeman.”[2] In other words, treat each other as people. This sentiment is even more compelling for Christians who have a  theological reason for it. The church should treat anyone according to the biblical understanding of man as created in the image of God, no matter where he was born or what his status is (James 2:1-4). But I have been told that color blindness is not possible. I disagree. It is possible, and it should be pursued.

My father grew up in Charlotte, NC during the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. He grew up with segregated water fountains. Fast forward to the 70’s when he moved his family to the Netherlands. Our family lived in a “diverse” neighborhood, and one of my friends was Jairaj. His skin was not pasty white like mine. In the course of our “friendship”, Jairaj stole every penny from my piggy bank. However, while walking me through this betrayal my father never once mentioned ethnicity. My father explained Jairaj was not to be trusted because he was a thief, and never mentioned that he was East Indian. His ethnicity had nothing to do with it. In one generation, and through the gospel, my father had learned to look at character and not color. That change transformed his family into a place where Christian friends from Australia, South Korea, Japan, Ghana, the Netherlands, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa,  Mexico and other places would regularly be welcomed. There was no discussion about majority or minority culture. Sure, there were some things they did that we thought was weird, just as some of the things we did seemed weird to them. Certainly there were cultural differences, but the thing that united was a common love for God in Christ and a desire to worship Him. That is where the PCA must land.

Living as One Body

Second, the PCA must intentionally and uncompromisingly live as one body. There are different members with different functions, but they make up one body. Unity is lived out through word and deed. That is the reason why the language of majority or minority cultures is so damaging. The task of the body of Christ is with one voice to bear witness to His works of creation and redemption. That work is accomplished through people fulfilling different tasks as hands and feet of the body. However, the discussion is not around what color the hands and feet may be. It is rather to mobilize all the different parts of the body to be faithful in carrying out the Great Commission of evangelizing and discipling.

At the 48th General Assembly, I spoke to a brother about overture 45, which sought the flourishing of Asian Americans. There was a significant difference in opinion about the value of that request from Metro Atlanta Presbytery. In the conversation he stressed the pain of a minority culture (in this case Asian Americans) living in a majority culture. At the time I didn’t have time to process through what he said, but the more I thought about it, the more the terminology bothered me.

The point is not that there is no pain in the Asian-American community. I would expect there is. The problem is the shift in discussing pain in terms of ethnicity rather than the sin and misery that is in the world through the fall. There should be no surprise that there is pain among Asian Americans, just as there is in black, white community, and Indian communities. All communities, also those marked by racial diversity, suffer pain because all communities are affected by sin. Sin causes pain and all face the pain of sin in their day because they live after the fall. The body of Christ is unified as it realizes that all have been rescued from eternal pain through the work of Christ as a substitute on the cross. And this truth must be championed.

Commitment to Truth

Lastly, the PCA must be committed to biblical truth as its unifying principle. Instead of making statements about the pain of one ethnic group over against another, the task of the church is to speak primarily of the singular solution to that pain: the Lord Jesus X. The world’s comfort from pain is found in Him. Unity is not found in easy-to-make declarations. They cost very little, especially when there is as much agreement on the topic as there is in the PCA. But sharing the gospel in the world, practicing hospitality generously, and encouraging each other toward love and good works in the church is the hard work of building unity and love in the church. The unity of the human race is based in its original creation (Genesis 1:28), and the Gospel is the message that restores the unity that has been lost by sin.[3]

So please, my brothers, let us be done with discussions on race at the General Assembly. If there are sins of that nature in our denomination, they should be addressed through formal process in the courts. The PCA cannot allow the hot topics of the world to become the cause for “mission creep.” Instead the PCA must re-focus on the gospel ministry of the church and make that its declaration rather than repeatedly making statements on race and its related issues.

It is my prayer this appeal will be received in the brotherly spirit in which it was written. It is meant to be an appeal. I pray that the Lord will use it for building the unity of His body.


Geoff Gleason is pastor of Cliffwood Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia. His passion is to see the people of God grow in their faith, and those who are lost become numbered among the faithful. He has been married for 28 years and, usually, is the joyful father of 11 children ranging in age from 28 to 6, and two grandsons.

[1] Voddie Baucham, Fault Lines, (Salem Books, Washington, D.C.: 2021), p. xv.

[2] YouTube, Morgan Freeman on Black History Month, n.d. (accessed August 2, 2021), https://youtu.be/GeixtYS-P3s.

[3] Pastoral Letter on Racism, p. 6.

 

Part 3 » An Appeal on Race in the Presbyterian Church in America

“Therefore my appeal is that the PCA re-focus on the gospel ministry of the church and make that its declaration rather than repeatedly making statements on race and its related issues.”

Part 3 » Are There New Issues?

Last article addressed whether the Presbyterian Church in America’s (PCA) position on racial sin was clear. This question is raised as this series of articles (for the first one click here) makes an appeal to PCA elders to turn the corner on a prevailing General Assembly (GA) conversation: race and racial sin. To that end, three questions are asked that should help give clarity on the need for continuing attention on this topic:

  1. Whether the PCA has a clear and thorough declaration on the sin of racism;
  2. Whether there are any new or extraordinary manifestation of this sin rearing its head in society or the PCA that would warrant additional teaching from God’s word;
  3. Whether the PCA neglects shepherding of private or public unrepentant sins in this regard that should be addressed by church courts.

The first question was raised and answered in last installment with a resounding “yes!” The preponderance of theological statements, pastoral letters, and reports from the PCA (1977, 2002, 2004, 2016, 2018) has rendered further declarations on racial sin simply an exercise in restatement and redundancy.  However, questions 2 and 3 above are yet to be tackled.

Overture 45 (and 46) at the 48th General Assembly (St. Louis, MO)

Both Metro Atlanta (#45) and Metro New York (#46) presbyteries submitted an identical overture, asking the GA to take several actions on behalf of the Asian-American members of the PCA. Although the reasoning for any overture is never part of the final denominational adoption of a request, it is still pertinent because they argue that a significant new development in the area of race relations has arisen that would make a new statement necessary and good. Two points are specifically important:

“Whereas, Metro Atlanta Presbytery learned with sorrow of the tragic deaths of eight people in and around our own presbytery on Tuesday, March 16, 2021, six of whom were of Asian descent, who were wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters made in the image of God; and

Whereas, even though the ultimate motivation of this shooter remains unestablished, these tragic shootings happened within the larger context of an increase in violence in this nation against Asian Americans over the last year; and have brought to light the racism that many of our Asian American brothers and sisters in Christ, and Asian American neighbors have experienced, and remind them of the anti-Asian racism that has been present in the past.”[1]

These reasons sound very much like a case for answering the second diagnostic question above with a “yes.” It is an assertion that there is a new form of racial sin previously unacknowledged by the PCA warranting additional clarification from the denomination. However asserting something is not the same thing as proving it.

Is There An Extraordinary Increase In Racial Sin?

Certainly US news outlets reported an increase in violence against Asians with vigor. For example here is a story of such increased violence from NBC. In the article, several cities are cited as examples, but for simplicity’s sake, only New York City will be considered here. Included in the article is the statistical analysis that the city with the largest surge in race based crime is NYC at a staggering 833% increase. Reporting things that way makes for an alarming headline and concern is an understandable result. However, as Christians it is important to think critically to understand if such numbers are, in fact, indicative of a racial crisis in our land.

So the question has to be asked, what kind of numbers are we looking at here? It is appropriate to acknowledge that I’m not a statistician, so perhaps the numbers are over-simplified, but it will be close for illustrative purposes at least. The article cites an increase from 3 hate crimes in 2019 to 28 in 2020. That within the context of 1.4 million Asian Americans who live in New York. Looking at these numbers a different way in 2019 you had a 0.000214% of being the victim of a hate crime as an Asian New Yorker. In 2020 it is 0.002%. And the same can be said for the increase in other major urban centers: 7 to 15 in Los Angeles, 6 to 14 in Boston, 6 to 9 in San Fransisco, 0 to 1 in San Diego and Cincinnati. Just to be clear, this observation is not a denial that hate crimes were committed, neither is it minimizing the pain of those afflicted. Rather it is disputing if this rise is actually a significant difference or whether the world is continuing to show evidence of its condition of sin and misery. I say it is the latter.

My contention is that these numbers do not represent a significant shift in the world. But could it be that within the PCA there was a shift or a pattern of racial sin? That was certainly argued from the floor. Take for example the floor speech made by Pastor Hansoo Jin of the Korean Capital Presbytery. This brother insinuated racism or at least racial insensitivity against Koreans at multiple general assemblies. TE Jin said,

“You can imagine, if you will, how I felt when I heard that a member of this assembly refer (sic) to Korean prayer as unbiblical. See, when we think about racism it is easy to think of it as a problem that is in the world that the worlds struggles with and so why do we have to deal with it in this assembly? And I admit that the things that we see in the world with race do not necessarily manifest in the same way in the PCA, but we must not confuse that with a lack of racism in the PCA, or at least a lack of racial awareness in the PCA. See, comments like that that I heard at this assembly I have heard every single year that I have been a commissioner…at GA. I have had uncomfortable, demeaning, marginalizing conversations oftentimes by well-meaning individuals but still nevertheless these conversations made me feel and question whether or not this is a denomination for me.”[2]

In his speech, TE Jin articulates what he considers to be a sin by another man allegedly to have occurred at the Bills and Overtures committee of the 48th GA. The contention is not that such a sin may not have been committed, but with the process and assumptions TE Jin made. If the alleged racist truly believes Korean prayer is sinful because it is Korean, there is a bona fide charge of racism to be investigated. It would be appropriate to address such a brother about his perceived sin in private, taking other witnesses along should he remain unrepentant. Only after that process should the church courts have been made aware of these allegations. This process ensures that the truth is told, and that the 9th commandment is not broken. However, starting with the conclusion that these comments were an attack on Korean prayer seems to be an adaptation of the kind of “guilt by skin color” that is rampant in the world today.

It is possible the alleged racist who made the statement took issue with the style, and not the ethnic background of the prayer. In other words, in a PCA that has overwhelmingly repudiated racism, is it not more likely that it is the mode of the prayer, rather than the ethnicity of that prayer that is causing the objection of this TE? Of course, the world begins its attack with race. There must be a racist lurking behind every corner. Everything is boiled down to race, and all disagreement must include some underlying racial motivation. And yet, Christian charity would require us to admit at least the possibility that the issue might be entirely theological without any racial motivation at all. The process of speaking to a brother first ensures that the wrong picture is not presented as fact in the church court. However, if there is racial sin in a man, it is the sin of the individual rather than the whole denomination.

The conclusion is that the second of our three original diagnostic questions also can be answered at best in the negative, or at worst as undetermined until the process of clarifying intent and views is fully followed. That begs the question as to whether the third diagnostic question has some validity: are there individual racial sins in the PCA that remain unaddressed? That is the question for next the next article.

[1] Commissioner Handbook for the 48th General Assembly of the PCA, p. 164.

[2] Vimeo, Presbyterian Church in America, Thursday Closing Business Session, n.d.,  https://livestream.com/accounts/8521918/events/9731338/videos/222954013, accessed July 28, 2021. TE Jin’s speech takes place from 3:00:12 to 3:01:23


Geoff Gleason is pastor of Cliffwood Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia. His passion is to see the people of God grow in their faith, and those who are lost become numbered among the faithful. He has been married for 28 years and, usually, is the joyful father of 11 children ranging in age from 28 to 6, and two grandsons.

The Christian and Profanity

There is much discussion in the Christian world about liberty. This post is not concerned with civil liberties as such. The question is not whether society should, on the one hand, allow recreational drugs or prostitution or some other “victimless crime.” Neither is it investigating whether society should, on the other hand, mandate the use of masks or vaccinations. Perhaps another day. Rather it is dealing with the Christian’s liberty that is found in Christ.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 (ESV).

One of the debates within Christian circles is to what extent our behavior is not restricted under Christ. There is a false defense of Christian liberty that claims a Christian is free to express himself according to his own desires, because Christ has paid for sin. That, of course is a gross generalization of a position people take. But it is a position that I have heard articulated and as expressed it is a mind-boggling denial of God’s wrath against sin and His hatred of it. God views sin with such anger that He sent His Son to die a horrific death on a cross to satisfy the guilt for the same. One of the areas where “trendy” Christians are seeking to carve out ungodly liberty is in the use of profanity and cursing. Is there a place for such speech in the Christian?

Christian liberty does not make room for disobedience to God’s word. The Westminster Confession of Faith says this about Christian liberty:

“They who, upon pretense of Christian liberty, do practice any sin, or cherish any lust, do thereby destroy the end of Christian liberty, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.” (WCF, Chapter 20.3)

The purpose of liberty is to serve God, being set apart by His word to reflect Him as His adopted children. Therefore what does the Lord say about speech? In Colossians Paul exhorts the one who is raised with Christ to set their minds on the things above. That means putting on righteousness, and putting off what is earthly (Col. 3:5). Included in that putting off is the putting away of “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.” (Col. 3:8). In another place Paul gives similar instructions when he charges the Christian to “let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Eph. 4:29). Obscenity and corrupting talk are out of place for the Christian. The Bible plainly says so. If you begin arguing at this point that your profanity is not “obscene” or that you are using it to build others up, I can not help you. You are committed to your disobedience. The statements from Scripture could not be clearer. In this case, the desire for nuance can only be taken as a desire for license.

Are there times when Paul uses strong language in his letters? Some people would argue he does as a justification for their own speech. Even if you make that argument, you cannot argue that he does so habitually. Maybe one or two places in all his written words can be used as potential examples (“rubbish” Phil. 3:8 or “emasculate” in Gal. 5:12). Moreover, the words he uses  are hardly the same as the adoption of the vulgar and crude language of society which resorts to the crassest expressions of bodily functions and sexual activity. Brothers and sisters, these things should not even be named among us (Eph. 5:11-12). Yes, it is true that Christ has come and fulfilled all the law for the Christian. And, yes, it is true that all the sins of all God’s people are forgiven in Christ. But Christ work on the cross in no way diminishes the holiness of God. It in no way reduces the call to be holy and He is holy (1 Pet. 1:16). It in no way permits a despising of Christ’s sacrifice by engaging in the wickedness of the world.

Here is the sad thing. Even the world knows that certain language should not be used in the presence of children. We have an organization that ensures language for movies is rated, and that words are edited out of TV shows. There is, even in the world, an acknowledgement that these words are inappropriate. How is it that the Christian who has the Spirit and the Word of God would so badly miss this point?

 

Civil Unrest and the Christian

Wednesday at 3:18 p.m. I got a text from my younger brother “Did you see what’s happening in DC?” is all he wrote. We all know what was happening by now. A group of people stormed the Capitol, and we have all seen the videos. I have seen some responses from conservative Trump supporters who view this act as victory, and the violence justified. Ironically, these are often the same people who condemned the riots of the summer instigated by Antifa and/or Black Lives Matter. On the other end of the spectrum there has been outrage and condemnation for the occupation of the Capital. With just as much irony, many of these are the same people who ignored the riots of the summer and made accommodation because the anger of the protestors was somehow understandable.

The gamut of emotions in the world is also reflected among Christians. Some are outraged today, believing the election to be stolen and our republic to be in tatters. If that reflects your view, the denial of the courts to hear Trump’s cases of voter fraud are outrageous to you. Others, I think the majority, is horrified at the pictures of people occupying the very symbol of order and law, although there is a general uneasiness about how America’s politics is being conducted. Regardless of where you land, there seems to be a nervous churning in our nation. It is not my intention to solve those problems (as if I could). If possible, I would even like to conceal my own opinions on all that has transpired. This post is not meant to draw political conclusions, but rather to help the body of Christ to focus on a godly response to our current cultural climate.

Do not let current cultural outrage rob you of your peace in Christ. The Christian can be easily distracted from his main purpose: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The Christian is a subject of his heavenly king the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). It is true that Christ at times lead to division. But the anger and outrage in those moments should belong to the world, not the Christian. In so many places the Christian is called to live at peace with his neighbor (Mark 9:50; John 14:27; 16:33; Acts 10:36; Rom. 1:7; 5:1; 14:17, 19; 15:13; 1 Cor. 14:33; 2 Cor. 13:11; Gal. 5:22; Col. 1:20; 1 Thes. 5:13; 2 Tim. 2:22; Heb. 12:14; James 3:18). 

There may be exceptional circumstances where violence is necessary, such as self-defense or just wars. But the Christian should never delight in it, nor should he choose it if he can avoid it. The Swiss Reformer Pierre Viret has written: “There is nothing which Christians ought to hold in greater horror than the taking up of arms…and that there is nothing in which Christians ought to be more hesitant to engage, nor which agrees less with their profession of faith.” If you are tempted to side with those who occupied the capital, please reflect on the texts above and ask yourself if your heart reflects the call of Scripture.

Do not allow the lies of the world to elevate people of bad character. It is intriguing to me that the people who are outraged over the events of January 6, 2021 had a much different reaction to the events of October 4, 2018. The result of that day was the same, but the cause was different. The former was perpetrated by conservatives. The latter by the Women’s March outraged over the nomination of now supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh. 

To rush to condemn an action out of political expediency is not praiseworthy. It is a violation of the 9thcommandment. It is the height of naivité to claim innocence in either of our political parties. God is a God of truth, and desires His people to live according to the truth (Ps. 51:6; 86:11; 119:160; Is. 45:19; Jer. 5:3; Zech. 8:16; John 8:32; 14:6; 15:26; 17:17; 1 Cor. 13:6; Eph, 4:15). And when someone makes a truthful statement for a selfish purpose, as a whole he breaks the 9th commandment. 

Neither political party in the USA can claim moral high ground at this point in our nation’s history. And for Democrats to feign outrage over the actions of a few Republican that lasted less than 3 hours seems like a violation of the 9th commandment in light of the summer-long riots of 2020 and their relative silence on those occasions. It is good to condemn violence and destruction, even when done by your political allies. But please do not allow the lies of the world to elevate men of poor character, just because they say true things when it serves them to gain an advantage over their political opponents.

Do not forget about the absolute sovereignty of God. To look at current events apart from God’s on-going governing of all his creation will cause despair. In all of our circumstances, God is exercising control over His creation. Hebrews 12:1-11 explains that control in the context of discipline. The circumstances faced in life can be painful and hard to bear. But the Christian should recognize them as God’s discipline. When God’s chastenings come, the Christian must not resist or fight as the world does. The Christian is called to rejoice and accept God’s work, and respond with peace. Your peace will disappear if you forget that God is good, that He is governing the world, and that political turmoil in the United States is not catching Him by surprise.

This post is not meant to solve all the controversy of our nation’s election debacle. In a sense it seems obvious that God’s judgment has already fallen on this land and we’re simply reaping what we have sown. But more than at any time in an already tumultuous twelve months the Christian must focus on God’s word and get his eyes off his emotions. Peace and stability are only found in by looking to Him. The Christian serves the Prince of Peace and as such his response to the circumstances of the world should reflect that.

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.

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.

Worship at Work

wrench

The contemporary use of the word “worship” often refers exclusively to the time of singing during the corporate gathering of the church. The emotions that the words and music provoke cause the person participating to feel like they have worshiped. However, the question is whether that is really worship as defined in Scripture. Worship is properly considered not primarily from man’s perspective but from God’s. Our opinions about what we have done are far less significant than God’s. The question for the validity of worship should be approached around whether God would recognize what we are doing as worship.

Worship, rather than a feeling we get through music, is a humble serving of God in all of life. In worship, a person defers to the Lord and ascribes glory to him. This deference is seen in Abraham going to Mt. Mariah with Isaac to offer him as a sacrifice at the Lord’s command. Worship is an external expression by the creature of the glory, majesty, and rightful dominion of the Creator. It is a joyful rehearsal of his covenant promise of redemption. It is a recognition of the insignificance of our desires and a training ground in which we are conformed by the Spirit to the image of Christ. And it is not only reserved for the hour of corporate worship at your church. Worship is for all of life: work, home and church.

So how is worship expressed at work? In Romans 12:1-2 the apostle Paul commands the brothers to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, which is their spiritual act of worship. This act of worship involves a lack of conformity to the world, and a transformation of the mind to know the will of God.

In its simplest paraphrase, Romans 12:1-2 commands the surrender of all we do to God by discerning and implementing his will through Spirit renewed minds. In other words, to worship at work is to live according to the first commandment. There are to be no other gods before the Lord in the Christian’s workplace. What the Christian does at work is what God, in his providence, called him to do. Behavior at work should be determined by the extent to which it honors God. According to God’s Moral Law, summarized in the 10 Commandments, workplace behavior should include:

  • Honoring authorities and treating subordinates with respect and fairness.
  • Refraining from sinful anger and hostility toward anyone at work.
  • Promoting proper propriety between those of the opposite sex.
  • Dealing with complete honesty with clients, employees, bosses, or suppliers.
  • Speaking the truth about our products, services and actions we have taken.
  • Being content with what God has provided and rejoice at the blessings given to others.

God says these things honor him. So if they are carried out in a spirit of love toward God and gratitude over the salvation he has purchased, then these will truly show the love of the Christ and be seen by God as a spiritual act of worship.