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Culture Clashes, News

The Great Reset: don't let a crisis go to waste

Over the past several months, the phrase The Great Reset has swirled around media headlines and social media. Many Christians are asking, should we support The Great Reset? But a better question would be which Great Reset should we support? We should also consider why any great reset is needed in the first place, and why now might be the time for it. So, why now? So why is there a push for big changes right now? To answer that we can turn to a quote, often attributed to Winston Churchill, which argues we should: “Never waste a good crisis.” Democratic governments normally change course gradually. Since humans are slow to change their minds and admit that they'd been wrong, the political views of an entire population of a country tend to change slowly rather than very quickly. Thus governments’ policies will also tend towards incremental rather than revolutionary change. Thus, during regular times, the window of opportunity for policy change is open only a crack. But a crisis swings this window wide open. When the perspectives of an entire citizenry change rapidly, the revolutionary becomes ordinary. We see this in our country’s response to COVID-10. In the eyes of most Canadian citizens, journalists, and politicians, COVID-19 has triggered a crisis. This social, economic, and health crisis – and the fear that it provoked – have enabled the federal and provincial governments to do the previously unthinkable in an incredibly short time: prohibit international travel restrict religious worship services shutter businesses spend hundreds of billions of dollars And this isn’t just the preferred response of politicians and scientific experts foisted on an unwilling public. Public opinion polling throughout the pandemic consistently reports that a significant majority of Canadians support these measures. COVID-19 has thrown the policy window wide open for change. The question is, what sort of change, what sort of great reset, will take advantage of this opportunity before it closes? The Great Liberal Reset The World Economic Forum (WEF) has one proposal to seize this opportunity. The WEF is an international organization aimed at improving partnerships between governments, corporations, and non-profit organizations. With governments unshackled from normal budgetary and policy constraints, the WEF proposed that government use this opportunity to tackle current public policy issues in new ways. The World Economic Forum calls this general plan The Great Reset. The Great Reset was the theme of the Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, which took place in the last week of January. On their website, the World Economic Forum describes The Great Reset:

“The Covid-19 crisis, and the political, economic and social disruptions it has caused, is fundamentally changing the traditional context for decision-making. The inconsistencies, inadequacies, and contradictions of multiple systems – from health and financial to energy and education – are more exposed than ever amidst a global context of concern for lives, livelihoods and the planet. Leaders find themselves at a historic crossroads, managing short-term pressures against medium- and long-term uncertainties.

As we enter a unique window of opportunity to shape the recovery, this initiative will offer insights to help inform all those determining the future state of global relations, the direction of national economies, the priorities of societies, the nature of business models and the management of a global commons. Drawing from the vision and vast expertise of the leaders engaged across the Forum’s communities, the Great Reset initiative has a set of dimensions to build a new social contract that honours the dignity of every human being.”

More concretely, The Great Reset focuses on strengthening environmental protection against pollution and climate change; encouraging private companies to do more to care for their workers, their communities, and the environment; fostering multilateral cooperation; and promoting a rather left-leaning interpretation of inclusion, justice, and equality. So, let’s call this The Great Liberal Reset. To be clear, this is not a conspiracy by a secret elite. No, this is all out in the open. This is about world leaders (politicians, businessmen, activists, the wealthy) who share a common idea of how the world could be a better place trying to implement their vision through conventional channels – government policy, business decisions, grassroots advocacy, and targeted private investments. They are using the policy window opened by COVID-19 to advance their vision. While there are aspects of this vision we might be able to support, Christians should be cautious about supporting this Great Liberal Reset, as it also includes policies that Christians should oppose. More fundamentally, The Great Reset misdiagnoses what ails the world. That ailment is not COVID-19. The Great Moral Reset? Christians know that sin, not COVID-19, ails the world. Rather than reshaping the world according to a liberal vision (or conservative, or socialist, or libertarian agenda for that matter), we should seek to shape the world according to God’s Word. Christians should support a "Great Moral Reset" of sorts, one in which our government’s policies would be aligned with the morality of God’s Word. COVID-19 has opened the possibility for this sort of change. Our society has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect the lives of those vulnerable to COVID-19. Now we should go to even greater lengths to protect lives vulnerable to abortion and euthanasia, and provide better care for our elders. Many provinces have closed schools or moved classes online in their monolithic education system in their response to COVID-19. Promoting educational diversity, including supporting independent schools, homeschooling, and distributed learning in a decentralized education system where parents are ultimately responsible for the education of their children, should be the new priority of provincial governments. The federal government has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into supporting families and businesses through the pandemic. It should continue to defend the vitality of families by upholding a biblical understanding of marriage, gender, and sexuality and uphold the dignity of work. But a Great Moral Reset isn’t enough. The Great Spiritual Reset Ultimately, Canada and the world do not need a Great Liberal Reset or even a Great Moral Reset. It is useless for our country to be a whitewashed tomb on the outside but full of dead bones on the inside. Our society needs a Great Spiritual Reset like the Great Awakenings spurred by George Whitefield, John and Charles Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and Dwight L. Moody. This spiritual reset isn’t the task of governments, businesses, or general non-profit organizations. This spiritual reset is the responsibility of the Church. COVID-19 has opened the window wide open for evangelism. With millions of fellow Canadians searching for hope, worrying about their employment stability, struggling with their mental and physical health, and mourning the passing of loved ones, many more people may be receptive to the Good News right now. As Jesus testifies, the gospel isn’t for those who are healthy and those who think that they have life figured out. The gospel is for those who have realized their brokenness and their need for a Physician. Are all our efforts directed to defending our personal freedoms (even if they are unjustly infringed upon)? Or are we bringing the gospel to our neighbors who need it now more than ever, using both our words and our deeds? Jesus calls us to be the salt and the light of the world, two metaphors that ARPA often draws upon. Christians have taken more seriously their calling to be a salt and a light in the realm of politics and public policy through the COVID-19 pandemic and the infringements on our freedom to worship. Let’s not miss the opportunity to also speak the gospel of life to a suffering world. Let’s not waste this crisis.

Levi Minderhoud is the BC Manager for ARPA Canada. For more on the Great Reset, be sure to check out Chris deBoer's Focal Point podcast episode on the same topic which you can download here, or watch below.

Assorted, Culture Clashes

MODERATION: Where beer and psalm-singing go hand in hand

In his book God Gave Wine, Kenneth Gentry outlines the three positions Christians have has concerning alcohol consumption: PROHIBITION: it’s bad and the Scriptures forbid it. ABSTENTION: it’s bad and the Scriptures allow it. MODERATION: it’s good when used with self-control. The first position is wrong and clearly so – prohibition simply doesn’t stand up to scriptural scrutiny. But what about the second? When a man destroys himself and his family via the bottle it’s hard not to wonder what might have been if he’d never touched a drop. We also know many of our young people regularly drink to excess. So, yes, the Bible allows alcohol consumption, but wouldn’t it be more sensible – wiser even – to simply abstain? Isn’t that the better course of action? We can make a compelling case for abstention. But not a biblical one. As Gentry notes, Christ drank, served, and even made wine. God also repeatedly describes alcohol as something that can be put to good use (Deut. 14:26, Psalm 104:15, Eccl 9:7, etc.). It can be abused, but so can every good thing – it makes no more sense to condemn all alcohol because it can lead to drunkenness than it would to condemn all food because it can lead to gluttony. Abstention undermines moderation This is important. If we get this wrong – if we treat alcohol consumption as shameful – then we are running right up against the true biblical position of moderation. And running up against the Bible is never a good idea. In this case the unhappy result may well be that we’ll contribute to the very drunkenness we are trying to curtail because abstention undermines the teaching of moderation. How so? Well consider this example. I know of a church that wanted to address the very muted way its young men were singing. So the pastor invited the young men down to the church for a psalm-singing kegger – everyone would be given some singing instruction and a tall glass of amber brew. How would you react if such a proposal came your way? I know how I reacted – that is not the sort of thing that ought be done in a church! But why did I think that? Clearly I wasn’t objecting to the psalm-singing. And I knew that a glass of frothy goodness would be an excellent aid in helping young men learn to sing with vigor. So on what basis could I object? It was my closet “absentionism” coming out. I know God speaks of moderate drinking as a good thing, and yet deep down I feel I know better, so when an opportunity comes up for young men to see how a drink can be enjoyed responsibly – when an opportunity comes for them share a cold one with their minister – I want to pass up that opportunity. But could there be a more God-glorifying way to enjoy a glass? Now we all know bush parties happen. We know many of our young people gather at homes or apartments where this is no parental supervision so that they can drink to excess. In that context it might seem reasonable to sound a general warning against all alcohol consumption. But blanket condemnations don’t foster maturity. What our young people really need is instruction in moderate use. They need to learn how to drink to God’s glory. So long as we parents lean in any sort of “just don’t drink” abstention direction are we properly motivated to teach our children how to drink? If we think that it’s more pious to abstain than partake, are we going to teach our children about moderation? When we forbid what God allows, then our children will still learn how to drink, but from peers who don’t care a whit about moderation. Conclusion Of course, Christians don’t have to drink. In God Gave Wine, Gentry rebuts both prohibition and abstention, but he himself has always been a teetotaler, drinking no more than a half dozen glasses of wine a year (and now a medical condition precludes even that). No one needs to drink…and some most definitely should not. But we need to accept what God says and acknowledge that moderate use is not only not shameful but a blessing from God. When we sit around the campfire with a s’more in one hand and a glass of red in the other, and friends all around, it is a wonderful thing. We can drink to God’s glory! Let’s teach our children how....

Culture Clashes

Black Lives Matter – the slogan

Since Christians must oppose the abortion-supporting, LGBT-agenda pushing Black Lives Matter organization should we still be embracing the Black Lives Matter slogan? **** This article is also available in an audio version on YouTube, and on the Focal Point podcast site. The death of George Floyd in May was met with chants across the US, and in other countries too, that: “Black lives matter!”This cry, being undeniably true, resonated with Christians, leading many to march, and others to “black out” their social media pages in solidarity. But as clear as it is that Christians must not be racist and must fight against this sin, what I am presenting in this article is why both the organization Black Lives Matter, and even the slogan itself, shouldn’t be embraced by Christians. Why? Accusations need to be specific to be actionable To begin, the entirety of the movement is based on the blanket assertion that by simply being Black, a person is oppressed. The claim is made that there aren’t just individual cases of discrimination, but there is “systemic racism” – it is a feature of, and built right into the whole fabric of our culture and institutions, public and private. It is important to understand that there could well be evidence of systemic racism or other individual racism, but the first step to addressing problems is identifying them…specifically. Where there are specific examples given of racial injustice, we can then work to find specific solutions. If police are targeting Black drivers in expensive cars, or for driving through a rich neighborhood, that would be racial profiling and would be wrong. This specific problem would require specific solutions such as restricting police officer’s ability to pull over vehicles without evidence of just cause or probability. If Black people are being killed in “no-knock” police raids – operations where the police break down the door without first identifying themselves – this specific problem could also be addressed with a specific approach that might involve completely re-examining this practice. To be sure, widespread systemic racism has existed, with laws in the US that restricted where Blacks could sit, or eat, or even what water fountains they could use. And examples could persist in certain institutions today. But those laws are now gone. And for many years there has been an effort towards affirmative action, both codified (by law) or de facto (local hiring policies), opening greater opportunities for historical minorities to have a better chance for post-secondary education or certain jobs. We could explore the pros and cons of affirmative action in a future article, but the point here is only to note it was certainly an effort to address systemic racism and to provide increased opportunities for those whose opportunities may have been lacking. Unspecified claims of systemic racism suggest that it is intentional and state-sponsored; that the cultural power elites have set up a system where they can continue to suppress any opportunity that Black people, or members of other racial minorities, could have of empowerment. How they account for the many successful and middle-income members within the Black community is not very clear. They don’t fit the victim narrative and their success seems to be either ignored, or they themselves are attacked as sellouts (as Larry Elder highlights in his new documentary Uncle Tom). The idea of systemic racism does not allow much room for individual success for Black people, and any example of such success isn't allowed to counter the narrative of oppression. The point I’m trying to make is that we can address specific problems with specific solutions. In contrast, it is impossible to fix nebulous unspecified problems, especially with riots and looting. The BLM organization is specifically anti-Christian Why we should not support the Black Lives Matter (BLM) organization becomes clear when we take a closer look at what that organization supports. This is from their website: We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence. It is not a societal “privilege” when your sexuality and gender match – it is healthy, natural, and normal. The Creator God made it so. It is possible that this division between gender and sexuality becomes normal language even among Christians, and we must resist this, entirely. We have to understand that we are up against a Great Deceiver, who is prowling around like a lion seeking to devour. There is a battle going on for us and our children and we need to equip ourselves and our young people with clear unambiguous language about the created order. Where there is evidence of gender dysphoria, then empathy, compassion, and help should be readily available; but by seeking to “dismantle cisgender privilege,” and “uplift Black trans folk” the BLM organization is attacking what is good, and celebrating what is broken. They boldly state: BLM foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless s/he or they disclose otherwise). The “Black Lives Matter” slogan has many people thinking this is about racism. To be sure, the organization addresses racism in its statement of faith, but the organization’s focus is fixated on sexuality and gender identity too. By using charged language of “freeing ourselves from the tight grip of…”, they are affirming that all those who are not part of the cultural elite (white, male, able-bodied, cis-gendered, etc.) are oppressed. They hate the idea that heterosexuality is normative, but as Christians, we confess its normative status from creation. We acknowledge, in humility, that there are Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction and the church needs to develop greater empathy for such brothers and sisters, but that does not take away from the norms that God has established in creation. As we look through their website their radical anti-Christian intent becomes more and more clear. 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. The very foundational structure of civilization, all civilizations, is the family unit. It is the Christian worldview that highlights the importance of fathers and mothers, both. God created both male and female in his image; God demands that children honor both father and mother; the Triune relationship includes that of Father and Son, etc. While Christians express the importance of belonging to the communion of saints or the “extended family” and “village” that “collectively cares for one another,” we stress the biblical truth that the primary responsibility for children are parents, both fathers and mothers. It is the task of both parents to train up their children in the fear of the Lord. You’ll also notice that BLM mentions mothers and parents in this statement, but not fathers specifically. They are focused on ensuring they don’t make any allusions to anything that could be remotely close to patriarchy. They would object to orthodox churches refusing to allow women to serve in the office of elders and deacons. They would object to asking a wife if they would “honor, love, and obey” her husband. Any language that suggests that a husband is the head of his household would be forbidden. The BLM slogan is 100% true and still shouldn’t be embraced The brand “Black Lives Matter” was strategically chosen. Who can disagree with it? Black lives do matter, and all people, especially Christians, must fight injustices including racism. But we may not support in any way, shape, or manner the BLM movement which ties the slogan and organization so tightly together. We need to see that the driving force behind the Black Lives Matter movement is an organization that is entirely ungodly, unchristian, unbiblical, and wrong. It is a deceptive movement, seeking to deceive whole nations of people in an effort to portray all the things God teaches us are right and good, as being wrong and unjust. And their influence is seen everywhere, especially, these days, on the professional sports playing field. Might it be time for us to stop watching NBA basketball or NFL football, since these organizations have embraced the Black Lives Matter movement uncritically, and ideologically? Maybe it is time we stop cheering and spending money on BLM ideologues and their paraphernalia whether that is pro-sports or any other organization. Going forward, we will have to choose our words carefully. When we want to express how unjust racism is, we will have to find another way than to echo a slogan that is tightly linked to so much more than the words it says. Perhaps we can find a way to say that all people of all races are “image-bearers of God”? We can no longer use “black lives matter” because it implies that we agree with the organization and what it stands for, but we don’t, and we can’t. I want to conclude this article by suggesting that BLM is not the root of a new tree, but it is a fruit of a tree planted many years ago. The founders of BLM are synthesizing instruction from those who have gone on before them including Karl Marx and Saul Alinsky – one of the co-founders has even described herself and her colleagues as “trained Marxists.” In future articles, I hope to explore some of these foundational developments that have provided the fertile soil for BLM and other such causes. May the Lord help us to remain diligent in keeping his Word, using it as a light to our path, shining the light of His Word on the darkness around us. We are the salt and light in this world; let’s be sure we know what needs preserving and how to preserve it. ***** What could we say instead? If we can’t join in the chants of “Black Lives Matter!” what can we say instead? Imagine this: what if Christians who were upset with the seemingly cavalier death of George Floyd would have responded with “George Floyd was an image-bearer of God too”? That would have underscored the importance of treating him and everyone as persons with dignity and respect. It also would have been specifically targeted to George Floyd’s death. To address the larger challenge of racism, some have suggested “Black lives matter too!” The benefit of adding “too” makes it clear that the sentence itself is not racist. It highlights that racism against Black people is a problem while also recognizing that all races matter. Would a phrase like “Erase racism” capture the same point? Perhaps “Christians against racism” could be a phrase we “meme-ify.” It demonstrates Christians’ opposition to racism, while also confessing we are followers of Christ. Finally, a more wordy suggestion, but that would include the reason for why we oppose racism: “The New Jerusalem will be filled with a mosaic of peoples. Stop Racism Now.” Our anticipation of the perfection that is to come should motivate towards working towards the standards of perfection. As R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries remind us regularly, “Right Now Counts Forever.” So, right now, let’s do our best to hold up every human being, from conception to natural death, as the image-bearers of God that they are, and demonstrate our desire to help those who may be victims of racism. Chris deBoer is the Executive Director of the Reformed Perspective Foundation and the host of the Focal Point podcast. Picture credit: Shutterstock.com/Footage Force. ...

Culture Clashes

Are you “blessed” or “privileged”?

They might seem close synonyms but the Devil is in the details **** A couple of years back a viral video showed a large group of older teens getting ready to race for a $100 bill. It was men and women, blacks and whites, athletic sorts and not so, and all things being equal, we’d expect one of the long lean guys to run away with the money. But the point of the video was to explain that things are not equal. The leader of the group, Adam Donyes, had a series of eight statements to tell the students before the race got started. The teens were supposed to take two steps forward for each one that applied to them: “Your parents are still married.” “You grew up with a father figure in your home.” “You had access to a private education.” “You had access to a free tutor growing up.” “You never had to worry about your cellphone being shut off.” “You never had to help mom or dad with the bills.” “It wasn’t because of your athletic ability that you don’t have to pay for college.” “You never wondered where your next meal was going to come from.” Doynes was trying to make a very specific point. He told the group that each of his statements had “nothing to do with decisions you’ve made.” The students up front were there not because of anything they had done, but because of the position they had been born into, or their parents had put them in. He told those students: “…if this was a fair race, and everybody was back on that line I guarantee you some of these black dudes would smoke all of you. And it is only because you have this big of a head start that you’re possibly going to win this race called life. That is a picture of life, ladies and gentlemen. Nothing you’ve done has put you in the lead that you’re in right now.” Then he shouted “go!” and the race was on. Drawing out biblical truths There are some clear biblical truths that could be drawn out of this video. Luke 12:48b might come to mind: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” Or we might think of how the three servants were given different amounts of money in the Parable of the Talents in Matt. 25. It’s important for us to understand that for those who have been blessed with more, God has raised expectations for us. The video also lines up well with 1 Cor. 12 where Paul notes our different gifts, comparing them to parts of the body. One person might be a hand, another a foot, and another an eye. And just like the "eye cannot say to the hand 'I have no need of you'" so too we shouldn't look down on those with different gifts than our own. That's an important lesson, and Doynes tries to make that specifically to those out in the front. But in this same chapter Paul also makes another point that would have been an important one for all those farther back. We are all part of the body, and we shouldn't overlook what God gifts has given us: "...the body does not consist of one member but many. If the foot should say, 'because I am a hand I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body....there are many parts, yet one body." Guilt vs. gratitude So there was a lot to love in this video. But what made it go viral was how it seemed the perfect illustration of “privilege,” and specifically “white privilege,” since blacks were clustered in the back, and the very front was populated with whites. The way the term privileged is used it can seem like a close synonym to blessed. One person says, “I’m blessed to have always had a roof over my head” and another says, “I was privileged to never have to worry about being homeless.” Just a matter of tomato/tomatoh, right? Two terms for the same idea. But there’s an important sense in which the two words are actually opposites. Blessed is an inherently positive word. When we say we are blessed in this way or that, it is a note of appreciation to our “blesser” whether that is God, or maybe our parents, spouse, friends, or children. But whereas we celebrate the ways in which we are blessed, one admits to being privileged – we’re supposed to “check our privilege.” Being blessed makes us grateful, but being privileged brings guilt. Parents stayed together? You got to go to a basketball camp last summer? Lucky you, but not all of us are so privileged. There's more to privileged than just guilt. Often times it is shorthand for something like: "You're privileged so you don't know me – you haven't lived through what I've had to endure." There's truth to that – if we've been sheltered from some of the world's harshness that can bring with it a naivety. And that might leave a gulf between us and others who haven't been so blessed. But even in this usage privileged is a negative word. Noting differences can be a step to understanding, to beginning to know one another. But the way privileged is used it is not a conversation-starter. This is a putdown used as a conversation-stopper. While Donyes didn’t use the word privilege in his video, there was a reason so many others thought it fit – his video wasn’t a celebration of blessing; there was a touch of shame instead. If the difference between blessed and privileged is still muddy consider this: when we are blessed and others are not, what do we want for them? Don’t we want them to have what we have? But when we admit to being privileged, is that a state we’d wish on anyone else? Being privileged isn’t something you aspire to. This is part of the “victimhood culture” where the worse off you are, the less guilt you have to feel for what you have. But when it’s good, or at least less shameful, to be hard off, then it’s bad to become more “privileged.” A wise man once said that the battle we're in is over the dictionary, and this is an example. These two words – blessed and privileged – seem almost synonyms, but whereas the first takes us to gratitude and God, the second leads to unremitting guilt and stagnation. Inequality vs. poverty Inequality and poverty are also used interchangeably. When we see people who don’t have a warm bed to sleep in, or don’t have money for needed medical expenses, then we’ll quite naturally wish their situation wasn’t so unequal. We want them to have what we have, and wish that they could live like we do. But what we’re really lamenting here is not inequality but poverty. If inequality was our concern, we could be happy as long as everyone was equally needy. But that’s not what we’re after. Our real goal is for the poor to be raised out of poverty.  So here, too, there’s a sense in which this is all just tomato/tomatoh– we might use different words, but we all want to help the poor. But once again there is an important sense in which two seeming synonyms have dangerously different meanings. Whereas “fighting poverty” is focused on helping the poor, fighting inequality is sometimes about tearing down the rich. That shift of focus happens whenever we start believing that one person’s success happens at other people’s expense. That’s what Donyes taught in his video. Donyes told students that his $100 race was like “this race called life – this is a picture of life ladies and gentlemen.” But his race had only one winner. And that winner could only succeed if others failed. In this setting every two steps someone got to take forward diminished the chances of winning for all those left behind. If that’s how you thought the world operated, what sort of attitude would you have towards millionaires and billionaires? If you believed they got their wealth by impoverishing the rest of us, what would you see as the best way to help the poor? Just that quick, concern for the poor becomes “Let’s get the filthy rich!” The world’s wealth isn’t fixed and limited. If it was, would the Tenth Commandment (Ex. 20:17) make sense? There God tells us it’s none of our business what our neighbor has, but if our neighbor could only get wealthy by keeping others poor, wouldn’t we all have a legitimate interest in making sure he didn’t get too much? The truth is, life is not a winner-take-all-race. We can thank God that’s true spiritually, with God’s children numbering as the sand on the seashore – God has made us all champions, and there are too many of us to even count. And it’s just as true materially. Even if someone beats me out for my dream job, that doesn’t mean I have to go jobless. There are other careers. I can succeed too. And if I start a successful business, yes, I might grow wealthy, but I’ll be making my money by creating a product that others find useful enough to pay for. I won’t become wealthy at my customers’ expense. They’re only buying my widget because they think it is worth more than I am asking for it (or they would never buy it). In a very real way in all the countless merchant/customer exchanges that take place around the world both sides are the wealthier for it. That’s why both customer and merchant will say thank-you at the conclusion of a sale – both have become richer...and at no one’s expense. Of course, robbers do exist – some people do become wealthy only by taking from others. But that’s not the rule. God has so made our world that we can work together to each other’s benefit. That’s why the Tenth Commandment makes sense. And when we realize that our neighbors’ wealth isn’t making anyone poor, then we can get back to fighting poverty in fruitful, rather than covetous ways. Conclusion Does that mean we should shake our finger at anyone who speaks of being privileged or uses the word inequality? Not at all. We can put some care and attention to what terms we use, but we don’t need to stress it when others use something else. Rather than going all grammar-nazi on them we can listen in humility, try to be understanding, and use context to hear what they are saying. What’s actually important is seeing through the Devil’s gambit here. Many a best-of-intentioned Christian loves the Lord with all his heart, but there’s a reason God also demands our minds (Matt. 22:37). The Prince of Perversion loves to misdirect what is good and right to his own completely different ends, and our guard against Him is knowing God’s Word, and learning how to apply it. Otherwise, the Devil might have us, in the name of helping the poor, casting covetous eyes at the wealth of our neighbor. And if he could, he’d love to rob God of the praise that is His due by making us feel guilty, not grateful, for all the blessings our Father showers on us. Thankfully, in the great blessing of the forgiveness of sins, we can put away all guilt and all envy, and instead respond in wholehearted, full-throated gratitude to our great God....

Culture Clashes, Theology

May I judge?

I hear repeatedly that we’re not supposed to judge another.  Young people express themselves this way, and that’s not surprising – after all, not judging others fits hand in glove with the postmodern dogma of tolerance that’s so rampant today. Different strokes for different folks, so let the other be; who am I to say that what you’re doing or thinking is wrong…. I’ve heard Christians appeal to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount to provide Biblical justification for the position, for Jesus told His disciples: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). Case closed: do not pass judgment on another. Inconsistent But the Internet is full of comments passing distinctly unfavorable judgments. These leave me puzzled.  We’re quick to repeat the mantra "do not judge" but judgments abound. Something is not consistent here. This sort of thing happens more often. In our relatively small community we hear numerous details of what happens in the life of the person in the next pew, or in the congregation up the road.  And very quickly we have a judgment ready on what we hear. It affects what we say to one another, and affects too how we think about or treat the person(s) about whom we heard a story. Do not judge rashly A quick judgment is simply unbiblical. Solomon put it like this: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17). The Lord in the 9th commandment gave the instruction not to “bear false witness against your neighbor,” and the Heidelberg Catechism summarizes the instruction of this command with this confession: “I must not … condemn or join in condemning anyone rashly and unheard” (Lord’s Day 43). That counts for what we say on Facebook too. We do well to repent before God and man of our easy judgmentalism and seek to learn that God-pleasing habit of doing to others as we’d have them do to us (Luke 6:31). As we hate being on the receiving end of perceived gossip or slander, so we need studiously to avoid being on the giving end of gossip or slander. Test the spirits This does not mean, however, that I’m to be neutral concerning all I hear. The postmodern mantra that I’m to be OK with whatever anybody else thinks or does is simply not biblical. Consider, for example, John’s instruction to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). So much gets said, and people believe so many things.  But I’m to test whether what they say and believe is “from God.” John emphatically wants us to have an opinion on that – and then reject what is not from God. Testing, of course, involves so much more than hearing one thing and swallowing it dumbly as the final word on the subject. Testing involves listening carefully, understanding the details and circumstances, and then evaluating in the light of the revelation of the Lord of lords. You’re meant to have a considered opinion. That’s why, in 1 Cor. 5, the apostle Paul was emphatic to the Corinthians that they needed to pass explicit condemnation on the brother in their congregation who lived in sin, sleeping with his father's wife. They were not to be neutral on this man’s behavior but were to take a stand and excommunicate him. That’s because in this instance the details were abundantly clear (it wasn’t hearsay but indisputable facts evident to all parties), and so the saints of Corinth were obligated before God to form a judgment and carry it out. That obligation was so self-evident that Paul put the matter in the form of a rhetorical question: “is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” (1 Corinthians 5:12). Judging: that’s your duty…. Jesus wrong? Is Jesus wrong, then, when He in the Sermon on the Mount tells His disciples, “Judge not, that you be not judged?” (Matthew 7:1). Actually, Jesus does not tell us not to have a judgment on what we hear or see.  Instead, Jesus’ point is that we’re not to judge rashly. That’s clear from Jesus’ next line, “For” – yes, note that connecting word! “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged...” (vs. 2a). If you are quick to condemn another, do not be surprised when others will be quick to condemn you; “...and with the measure you use it will be measure to you” (vs 2b). So if you hear one side of a story and condemn before you’ve heard the other side, be prepared to have folk condemn you on hearsay before they’ve heard your side of the story! Similarly, if you, from a self-righteous height, condemn others' behavior while you are yourself entangled in sin, do not be surprised that you’ll find no sympathy when others find out about your sin. Jesus puts it like this: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (vs 3). That, Jesus adds, is hypocrisy (vs 5). As long as you try to hide skeletons in your own closet, you are in no position to draw attention to skeletons you think you see in someone else’s closet. Clincher But Christians are not to hide skeletons in their closets! True Christians are repentant of their sins, and confess those sins to God and to those they’ve hurt by their sins. Then you’ve pulled the log out of your own eye – and at the same time have great understanding and empathy for another’s weaknesses and failures. Then you’ll test the spirits, and you’ll have an opinion on what you hear, and carefully avoid condemning the other in a spirit of lofty self-righteousness – and certainly avoid trumpeting your condemnation to John Public. The person who knows his own weaknesses and failures will instead sit down beside the sinning brother to show him his wrong and lead him on the way back to the Lord. It’s Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” Judge? May I judge another? It depends on what you mean by the word "judge."  I am not to condemn rashly and unheard. But I am to have an opinion on my brother and help him in the way the Lord wants him to help me. This article was first published back in 2014. Rev. Clarence Bouwman is a pastor in the Smithville Canadian Reformed Church....

Assorted, Culture Clashes

Did Adam have a belly button?

Why we need to clarify Article 14 of the Belgic Confession In the fourth century a big battle was fought over a one-letter difference. The Church professed that Christ was homoousios – “of the same substance” – as God the Father, while the Arians argued that Christ was homoiousios, or merely “of a similar substance.” The two Greek terms used differed by only a single iota (the Greek “i”) but what was at stake couldn’t have been bigger: the Arians said Christ was like God but was actually a creature. Today we’re contending with an issue that seems quiet small: our battle is over a belly button. On the side are those that profess Adam had no belly button, because he had no mother and because he was never born. As the Belgic Confession Article 14 puts it, ...God created man of the dust from the ground… On the other side or those who say Adam may well have had a belly button and a mom, and ancestors, and may have shared one of those ancestors with the chimpanzees. So this belly button battle quickly shows itself to be about matters much more important. It comes down to whether Adam brought death into the world through the Fall into sin, or whether God used death – millions of years of creatures evolving up from the primordial slime – to bring about Adam. The issue here is every bit as big as Christ’s nature: it’s about the character of God. That’s why Hamilton’s Providence Canadian Reformed Church has proposed amending Article 14 of the Belgic Confession to clarify that Adam has no ancestors. They propose that the Article begin with these two new lines: We believe that God created the human race by making and forming Adam from dust (Gen. 2:7) and Eve from Adam’s side (Gen. 2:21-22).  They were created as the first two humans and the biological ancestors of all other humans.  There were no pre-Adamites, whether human or hominid. Their addition would add about 40 words to the confession, and remove any doubt as to what should be believed. But is the change needed? Is there really anyone in our church circles that’s confused about Adam’s origins? Yes, and yes. Not only is there confusion in our churches, this same confusion exists in other Reformed churches including the OPC. Canadian Reformed confusion One prominent member of the Canadian Reformed Churches, Jitse Van Der Meer, was asked how he could square man and chimpanzees having a common ancestor with what we confess in the beginning of Belgic Confession Article 14 about man being made from the dust. Prof. Van Der Meer answered: I am not sure why you think there is something to square between Article 14 and the idea of a common ancestor for chimpanzees and humans, but let me make a guess. Some have taken Gen. 2:7 to mean that God acted like a potter. If you take that literally you might see a contradiction with the idea that chimpanzees and humans have a common ancestor. But other biblical scholars reject the literal “potter” interpretation because they see this as coming close to disrespect: Did God fashion the liver, the lungs of clay? My conclusion is that the text neither justifies nor excludes the possibility that humans and chimpanzees had a common ancestor for the obvious reason that it is not a scientific text. Prof. Van Der Meer manages to take both Genesis 2 and Belgic Confession Article 14 and read them in such a way as to allow for the possibility that humans and chimpanzees had common ancestors. According to this perspective, Adam may have been crafted from the dust, but may still have had a belly button, a mom and dad, grandparents, and much, much more. Confusion in the Christian Reformed churches The Christian Reformed churches also hold to the Belgic Confession. But it hasn’t served as a sufficient safeguard against evolutionary inroads. Almost 25 years ago, in the CRC’s 1991 Statement on Origins they wrote in “Declaration F”: The church declares, moreover, that the clear teaching of Scriptures and of our confessions on the uniqueness of human beings as image bearers of God rules out the espousal of all theorizing that posits the reality of evolutionary forebears of the human race. That sounds good, right? But this was part of a minority report. The majority had recommended that there be no statements made about human evolution because, “much research remained to be done in that area.” So the majority of the committee, even back in 1991, didn’t want to go as far as to rule out ancestors for Adam. Synod did adopt Declaration F, but attached two notes which rendered the Declaration meaningless. Note 1: Of course, private research, theorizing, and discussions are not addressed by this declaration Note 2: Declaration F is not intended and may not be used to limit further investigation and discussion on the origin of humanity. In other words, even as the 1991 Synod of the CRC took a stand against Adam having ancestors, they specifically allowed for their academics to talk about Adam having ancestors. What the right hand giveth the left taketh away! In 2014, the CRC did away with Declaration F altogether. They still hold to Belgic Confession Article 14, but that is not being understood as an impediment to speculation about Adam having ancestors. Confusion in the OPC Closer to home, confusion about Adam’s origin also exists in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Our sister church was running into trouble way back in 1992 in a case that involved a Calvin College biology professor by the name of Terry Gray. Dr. William VanDoodewaard gives an account of Gray’s case in his book The Quest for the historical Adam: Terry Gray…proposed that both the increasingly accepted hermeneutical alternatives to the literal tradition and what he viewed as the realities of the record of natural history should allow for the possibility that Adam and Eve were created through a process involving primate ancestors. How did Gray address Genesis 2:7, where we are told “…the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground…”? Disagreeing with John Murray’s literal reading…Gray argued that the “dust of the ground” was “a non-technical term” that simply referred to “the physical-chemical constituency of the human body” and that the verse did not address the process by which God formed man. When complaints were first made about Gray’s stance, his session (the OPC term for consistory) “held that the charges were unwarranted.” Fortunately his Presbytery (similar to our Classis) ruled against Gray, and the 1994 OPC General Assembly also ruled against Gray. So the OPC stood strong, right? Not so fast. Gray was suspended from his office as a ruling elder, but as he explained in a blogpost titled “Being an Evolutionary Creationist in a Confessionally Reformed Church” he was restored in 1998 after he admitted “…I did not know how to hold my views about human evolution together with the uniqueness of Adam as taught in the Confessions and in Scripture.” Gray found that what Scripture taught conflicted with his views about evolution. But that did not lead him to reject evolution. Instead he simply stopped trying to revolve the conflict, continuing to hold to evolution, but no longer suggesting as to how it could be fit in with Scripture. That the OPC thought this an acceptable resolution to the issue underscores the need for clarity. If something is found to conflict with Scripture then it needs to be rejected, not sequestered! That’s what it means to live by God’s Word. Gray eventually left the OPC, joined the CRC, and worked with others there to get Declaration F rescinded. Conclusion In the fourth century you can be sure that many wondered what all the fuss was being made over. Just one letter! But the fight was about the very identity of Christ – Who He is – so it wasn’t possible to compromise. The same has to be true today. Some want to position this as only a minor matter. Maybe Adam had ancestors; maybe he didn’t. Can’t we all just get along? But the issue of Adam’s origins impacts every aspect of what we know about God. If Adam had evolutionary origins then he came about through a process of death, disease, and dead ends. Then, rather than Adam bringing death into the world via the Fall, it was death that brought about Adam. If God created using the tooth-and-claw, survival-of-the-fittest, process of evolution which He then called “good” and “very good” that completely changes our understanding of what good is. It changes how we understand our good God. What’s at stake here is our understanding of God’s. So no, we can’t all just get along. We need to help the confused and stop those who are causing the confusion. One very good way to do so would be to adopt Providence’s proposal to revise Belgic Confession Article 14. This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of Reformed Perspective....

Culture Clashes

White sister thinks she is black mother

This summer a former Olympic athlete convinced the world that a man can become a women. Bruce Jenner underwent surgeries that included breast implants and facial sculpting. He either has already, or is considering, amputating his penis. He was given the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. Soon after the National Post then featured an article on able-bodied people who want to be disabled, and like Jenner, want to make use of surgery to amputate parts of their body. And like Jenner, they describe themselves as feeling like imposters in their own bodies. One fellow, now known as One Hand Jason went so far as to cut off his right arm with a “very sharp power tool.” He has yet to receive any awards for the courage involved in his transformation. In mid June the president of the Spokane chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NCAAP) told her local news station that despite being born from two very white parents, she considers herself black. Rather than amputation, Rachel Dolezal needed only to make use of a change of hairdo and perhaps a tanning booth. She also has not received any awards for her transformation. Dolezal also shared that she considers her adoptive black brother her son. Can men become women, abled become disabled, white become black, and brothers become sons? The world is sure about the first, and confused about the last three, though they have no justifiable reason to be so. If amputation is understood as a legitimate option in Jenner’s case, on what basis can they object to it for One Hand Jason? And if what we are is defined by how we feel things should be – which is how the world is treating Jenner – then of course a white can be black and your brother can be your son. Whereas the world despises discernment (they call it being judgmental), God encourages it. God made us male and female, and assigned different roles on that basis. So this is a difference to be embraced, not ignored or fought. And while He has made us in a rainbow of skin tones, this is a difference He minimizes – in the opening chapters of the Bible we are told that all of us are of one blood and there is just one human race. The world is confused, but Christians need not be. God has given us guidance as to which differences matter, and which differences are made too much of. Whether we can convince our non-Christian neighbors and friends that God's ways are the best ways is up to the Holy Spirit, but with a question or two (like, "If Jenner wants to amputate his penis and One Hand Jason wants to amputate his hand, is that something we should encourage?") we can show them the vast gulf that exists between His ways and the wacky world's ways. (Updated June 18, 2015, to reflect the uncertainty about whether Jenner has already amputated his penis.)...