Life's busy, read it when you're ready!

Create a free account to save articles for later, keep track of past articles you’ve read, and receive exclusive access to all RP resources.

Browse thousands of RP articles

Articles, news, and reviews with a Biblical perspective to inform, equip, and encourage Christians.

Get Articles Delivered!

Articles, news,and reviews with a Biblical perspective to inform, equip, and encourage Christians delivered direct to your inbox!


Most Recent


Theology

Did Adam have enough time to name all the animals?

Some people argue that the activities assigned to Adam on the sixth day, described in Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 2:19-20, were too many for him to have been completed in a single 24-hour day. The activity of naming all the animals, in particular, would have needed much more time. And if he couldn't have done it in 24 hours, then this would contradict the literal interpretation of the six days of creation, forcing us to opt for a non-literal interpretation of these days. Let us examine this argument more closely to see if it is valid. Adam finished the task In Genesis 2:19-20 we read:

"Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him."

According to this text, Adam actually finishes naming the animals that God has shown him – he completes all this activity even before the creation of Eve. We can see, then, that this wasn't a task Adam was supposed to accomplish over the course of the rest of his life, or which he could have shared with his future wife, or which he could have passed on to future generations (as it was the case for the mandate to rule over the earth and over the animals). Adam indeed named all the animals that God has shown him before the end of the sixth day. God presented the animals to Adam So we can see that Adam had some tight time constraints. But we also read, concerning the animals that Adam had to name, that God "brought them to the man." This detail is not trivial. Adam did not need to go everywhere looking for these animals. The Lord brought them to him. We can well imagine that this would make greatly increase the speed at which Adam could name the animals, greatly reducing the duration of the naming process. The species of animals named were limited We should remember that Adam wasn't called to name every animal. The animals named were "all livestock," "every bird of the heavens," and "every beast of the field." The latter category may correspond to terrestrial mammals. The text doesn’t say anything about Adam naming the fish of the sea, other marine organisms, insects, arachnids, reptiles or dinosaurs (distinguished from terrestrial animals in Genesis 1:24), which excludes a large number of species. For example, the arthropods – excluded from this list – are by far the phylum that counts the greatest number of species of the animal kingdom (80% of known species, more than one and a half million living species: trilobites, crustaceans, arachnids, insects, etc.). For this first exhibition of animal kind, God left aside the strangest "creeping and crawling" creatures and presented to Adam only the most useful (livestock) and beautiful (birds, mammals) specimens of His collection. Thus Adam named only a small fraction of all the animals created by God, which greatly reduced his work. The sort of naming Adam was doing On the sixth day, Adam was not doing taxonomy, in the sense that he did not need to describe the living organisms or to classify them in a specific system. All that God proposed to him was to name them. It was not necessary for Adam to give names that would be used as a basis for a rigorous classification. Furthermore, it seems that God did not give any specific orders to Adam about this activity. The text simply says that God "brought them to the man to see what he would call them." Adam did not have to give specific names to each animal neither was he requested to follow a rigorous method. It is therefore possible that God presented to ​​Adam successive groups of birds gathered according to what we call genus, family, or even order. Genesis says that Adam named all livestock, all the birds of heaven, and all the beasts of the field. However, this can be achieved in various ways. Today the class called "birds" lists almost 10,000 known species, distributed in 29 orders, including more than 200 families and 2,200 genera. As for the class called "mammals" (including marine mammals), it includes more than 5,400 species, distributed in 29 orders, 153 families, and 1,229 genera. God may have presented to Adam a first group of birds that included every type of pheasants, partridges, cocks, quails, that Adam could have generally named chickens. Then God could have presented another group of birds including mergansers, scoters, mallards, teals, etc., that Adam could have all named ducks. It was legitimate for God to do so for practical reasons of simplicity and efficiency. Although less detailed than if he had named all the specimens to the species, this way of naming fully complies with the nature of the activity of naming according to the Bible. There was no problem, therefore, to do all this work in less than half a day. There were fewer species We must also understand the phenomenon of speciation, which took place during the period of time between the creation of the first "kinds" of animals and today. Speciation is a rapid increase in the number of species due to the loss of genetic information in the genera originally created by God. This is a phenomenon that goes in the opposite direction to the transformism taught by the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution. Evolution in the technical sense (and not the blurred meaning of "change"), involves a slow but significant increase in genetic information in order to achieve the tremendous transformation involved in the production of a man from the first tiny living cell (a phenomenon never observed by any modern scientist, admitted by Richard Dawkins). Speciation, in contrast, is a scientific phenomenon frequently observed, that some Christians mistakenly call "micro-evolution" (a very unhappy and confusing designation, since speciation has nothing to do with evolution, which goes in the opposite direction). For example, the initial "canine" genus created by God on the sixth day could have contained in its genetic material all the genes capable of producing all the many breeds of dogs and wolves that we know today. In order to subsequently see the appearance of the many breeds of modern dogs, with the observable traits of each race (phenotype), the process of speciation had to happen. To have dogs with short legs only, it was necessary to remove from the line all individuals with long legs, thereby eliminating the genetic information "long legs" from this line. This loss of genetic information occurring in only a few generations has resulted in a rapid increase in the number of subspecies. In many cases, speciation is so marked that it is impossible for different lines coming from the same original "kind" to reproduce together. It is quite possible that in the beginning God created a couple of big cats, producing thereafter all extant species of cats (lions, leopards, tigers, etc.) through the rapid process of speciation. The same applies to other kinds of mammals and birds. In short, the species included in the "livestock," the "birds of heavens" and the "field animals" that God presented to ​​Adam were probably far fewer than today. Obviously, God gave Adam less work than he gave to modern taxonomists. Adam was smarter than us Theistic evolutionists and progressive creationists often make the mistake of projecting the conditions of life as we know them today on the special and unique period during which God performed His creative works. Thus they think that Adam had similar capabilities to ours. But what do we know exactly about Adam’s intellectual capacity to claim that he was unable to perform the task of naming the animals in only one day? It is extremely difficult for us to imagine a man who could have had much greater intellectual abilities than us. But the brain of Adam was undoubtedly greatly superior to those of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein together, because man had not yet suffered the destructive effects of sin greatly affecting our present intellectual capacity. We must let Adam have the freedom to have been much smarter than us and to have been fully capable of naming in a single day all the animals that God has shown him, without even becoming tired. Why would God made ​​Adam languish? Note that the activity of naming the animals is surrounded by the "problem" of Adam’s solitude. First, God noticed this loneliness and expressed His intention to create a companion for him. "The Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (2:18). Then God came to present the animals to Adam, to see what he would call them, which Adam did (2:19-20). Finally, Adam himself expressed his newly discovered emptiness, as a clear conclusion of his naming of the animals. "But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him" (2:20). From this text it seems clear that one of the main purposes for which God presented to ​​Adam the animals was to awaken him to the reality of his solitude. As he watched all these animals that were passing before him, Adam must have realized that they were all male and female, while he had no "female" with him. In sum, the development of a taxonomic system was not the sole purpose of the presentation of these animals (otherwise God would have asked Adam to also name all the fish of the seas and all the other small terrestrial creatures). This exercise was also intended to make Adam sigh and to prepare him to be grateful for the wonderful gift that God had already planned to give him. So why would it have been necessary for God to impose upon Adam an activity requiring a long period of time? This would have suggested either the stupidity of Adam – who would have needed a lot of time before realizing he had no companion of the opposite sex with him – or the perverse pleasure of God in making Adam languish before finally giving him the companion after which he sighed. Adam was not stupid and did not need a long time before realizing his loneliness. As to his Creator, He had no malicious intent and even longed to give him this much-needed companion. God, therefore, had no reason to prolong the activity of naming the animals before finally giving him the gift of a wife and of marriage. This activity was accomplished in less than one day In conclusion, the argument claiming that Adam had to do too many tasks in one day – supposedly causing a problem to the literal interpretation of the days of creation – seems to be an ad hoc argument, created from scratch to annoy and disrupt those who believe in literal days. There is no reason to doubt or to question that all the activities of the sixth day – listening to God’s mandate to keep the garden, being ordered not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, naming the animals and finally rejoicing with his wife – have occurred within a day of normal length, the literal sixth day of creation. All this to the glory of God alone and to the greatest good of man… and woman! End notes For a complete catalogue of the birds of the whole world, one may consult with profit and wonder the fabulous website The World Bird Database, administered by the Quebec ornithologist Denis Lepage For a complete catalogue of the mammals of the whole world, see the wonderful website Mammal Species of the World See the list of pure and impure animals in Leviticus 11, named according to broader categories than the species, nevertheless sufficient for the Israelites to be able to clearly distinguish them. We know the example of the mule, a hybrid of a horse and a donkey, but unable to reproduce. It is astonishing to see some scientists today who can produce what they call "zorses" (hybrid zebra/horse), "zenkeys" (hybrid zebra/donkey), "ligers" (hybrid lion/tiger), "wholphins" (hybrid whale/dolphin). An eloquent testimony to the speciation that happened not so long ago! I suggest that you consult the famous website creation.com and that you look for the word "speciation." You will find many articles about this subject. We may say something similar about the number of species that embarked into Noah’s ark.

Rev. Paulin Bédard is an ERQ minister, and pastor of the Reformed Church of Saint-Georges, Quebec. He is the author of In Six Days God Created, which analyzes and rebuts the Framework Hypothesis, and tackles other figurative interpretations of the days of creation.

Church history, Theology

When they thought the Apostles had written their creed…

It is interesting to note that there has long been a belief that the Apostles’ Creed was written by the apostles of Christ on or around Pentecost with each making a specific contribution. That’s why it has also been known as the 12 Articles of the Christian Faith. While there is little evidence that the Apostles had any such role, in his Divine Tragedy, Longfellow includes an epilogue outlining each apostle’s traditional contribution to the creed. We include it here, just for interest’s sake. Peter: I believe in God the Father Almighty; John: Maker of Heaven and Earth; James: And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord; Andrew: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; Philip: Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; Thomas: And the third day he rose again from the dead; Bartholomew: He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; Matthew: From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. James, the son of Alpheus: I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church Simon : The communion of Saints; the forgiveness of sins; Jude: The resurrection of the body; Matthias: And the Life Everlasting....

Humor, Theology

What is humor?

What is humor? It seems a simple question, with a very obvious answer: humor is whatever makes us laugh or smile. But then what of all the cruel pranks and the sacrilegious gags that make so many laugh? Even the crudest of comedians can get big laughs. The fact is, we laugh at a lot of things that just aren’t funny. So we aren’t interested in simply what makes us laugh. Instead we’re going to explore genuine humor, the sort of humor that gets laughs but can be shared without shame – we’re going to explore Christian humor. DEFINITION OF HUMOR Humor is a term used in English since the early eighteenth century to denote a type of writing or speech whose purpose it is to evoke some kind of laughter. So laughter is a key element. But we want to go deeper – we want to go beyond the knock knock joke. Instead of being something merely light or superficial, the best humor depends upon profundity. "A humorous rejoinder, " said Kierkegaard, "must always contain something profound." For example here’s a joke about a person getting their just deserts (as described in Galatians 6:7-8):  While doing his daily rounds a prison chaplain stopped in on a prisoner who had been assigned the task of making pillowcases for the entire 5,000 inmate prison. “Good morning,” said the chaplain, “Sewing, eh?’ “No, Chaplain, “ replied the prisoner with a grim smile. “Reaping.” Elton Trueblood observed that humor takes intelligence: "It is not possible to have genuine humor or true wit without an extremely sound mind, which is always a mind capable to high seriousness and a sense of the tragic." THE NEED FOR HUMOR Sometimes humor is dismissed as being trivial but genuine humor is an important and effective tool in many settings. Properly used, it can allow us to see our lives in more realistic proportions, restrain an explosion of anger, and deliver us from pessimism and despair, and do so much more. For example, it can be a wonderful educational tool and a means to restoring order in a classroom with a smile. It can even be a way to ensure better parent/teacher relations as a wise Grade 1 teacher was said to have done by sending the following note home on the first day of school: "If you promise not to believe everything your child says happens at school, I'll promise not to believe everything he says happens at home.” Humor is a necessity within the church as well. When we lose our sense of proportion and humor, controversies in the church become battlefields. We look for "heretics" in each corner and even tend to look under our bed before we dare to go to sleep. We can be so busy with controversies we can no longer hear the footsteps of our approaching Lord, whose coming is at hand. And how sad it is to see people spend time and energy to paint their position in bright colors and put others in worse light than warranted. We may not build bomb-free shelters where criticism cannot enter. Humor should not be overlooked in evangelism either. It is easy to visit people who are with you, but it is hard when they are filled with bitterness against the Lord and His church. With tact and humor we can make contact with people who are filled with criticism against church members, and especially ministers. Real humor blossoms only where God's Word has taken root. "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones," says Solomon (Prov. 17:23). So a Christian remembers that he is always in the presence of God, and his speech is the gift of the Creator. As Augustine put it: "Speech is not simply our possession; it is God's gift to us. To recognize and acknowledge this gift in truthful words is to offer grateful praise to the One from whom it comes." LAUGH AT YOURSELF All of us ought to be ready to laugh at ourselves because all of us are a little funny in our foibles, conceits and pretensions. What is funny about us is precisely that we take ourselves too seriously. The ability to laugh at oneself shows we understand some of our imperfections. A Christian who understands he is living his life under the judging eye of God does not boast about his moral achievements. He understands that is pride and folly. One of the qualifications of a missionary is a sense of humor - while learning a new language and new customs it is easy to make embarrassing blunders. When we were serving in the Philippines, I made my share, and a good laugh at myself helped me survive. But there is another side to laughing at oneself. If we keep laughing when we have done something wrong, if we cannot recognize the real evil of sin, laughter turns into folly. If we continue to laugh after having recognized the depth of evil we have committed, our laughter becomes the instrument of irresponsibility. DISTORTED HUMOR It is easy indeed for humor to be distorted. A.D. Dennison, a Christian cardiologist, says in his 1970s bestseller Shock it to me Doctor that he recalls one man who sped up to a drugstore and asked the druggist if he had anything for hiccups. The druggist, without a word, hit the man between the eyes and knocked him to the floor. The man slowly got up and graciously asked again, "Sir, do you have anything for hiccups?" The druggist replied, "You don't have them any more do you?" The man responded, "No, I never did, but my wife out in the car does." This may be a clever joke, but it’s is devoid of compassion and respect for others. Is this Christian humor? A type of humor often used during war is called "gallows humor." Soldiers are known on occasion to engage in hysterical laughter when nerves are tense before the battle. They speak flippantly of the possible dire fate which might befall this or that man of their company. "Sergeant," a soldier is reported to have said before a battle, "don't let this little fellow go into battle before me. He isn't big enough to stop the bullet meant for me." The "joke" was received with uproarious laughter by the assembled comrades. But when the "little fellow" died in battle the next day, everyone felt ashamed of the joke. At any rate, it was quite inadequate to deal with the depth and breadth of the problem of death. But as the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr points out: "If we persist in laughter when dealing with the final problems of human existence, when we turn life into a comedy, we also reduce it to meaningless. That is why laughter, when pressed to solve the ultimate issue, turns into a vehicle of bitterness rather than joy." HUMOR IN THE BIBLE If we are going to investigate true humor, then we must not overlook the Bible. The Bible deals with very serious subjects – heaven, hell, sin and salvation - but that should not cause us to overlook its literary beauty, and the humor in the Bible. There are critics who regard the Bible as deficient in the sense of humor and they can point to the fact there is little laughter in the Bible. But the Bible is filled with humor. Humor in the Bible appears especially when idolatry is mocked. One powerful example occurs when Isaiah pokes fun at a man who carves an idol from wood. In chapter 44:15-17 he describes in some detail the absurd process: "It is a man's fuel for burning, some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares a meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, ‘Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.’ From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, 'Save me; you are my god.'" GOD LAUGHS  The only instance in which laughter is attributed to God occurs in Psalm 2:4, which says, "The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.” This is not a happy image – God is pictured laughing at man and having him in derision because of the vanity of his imagination and pretensions. God mocks kings who plan to divide the world amongst each other, while God says to the Messiah, " I will make the nations as your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession" (vs. 8). But the humor in the Bible is not limited to that of derisive laughter. Throughout Scripture God reveals a real sense of humor. When the human race wanted to build a city with a tower that reaches the heavens so that they could make a name for themselves, "the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building (Gen. 11:5). God acts as if the tower of Babel is so small that He can't see it from heaven – He had to come down to see it. And when Israel is threatened by the Philistines, God uses a most unlikely means to save His people so that the Messiah could come in the fullness of time. What does He do? God writes history with a small stone from a brook. Young David with a small stone smites Goliath and Israel was rescued. JESUS AND LAUGHTER The Heidelberg Catechism confesses that the eternal Son of God took to himself, “a truly human nature so that he might become David's true descendant, in all things like us his brothers except for sin” (Q&A 35). So when we speak about Jesus and humor, we are not disrespectful, We accept His incarnation as real. He was seen as the carpenter's son. Christ's characteristic humor depends, for the most part, upon a combination of ideas rather than upon a combination of words. But it is very important to understand that the purpose of Christ's humor is to clarify and increase understanding rather than to hurt. When Jesus teaches His disciples about being light bearers in this dark world, he uses sly humor about where to put light. The message is about the necessity of witness, but the failure to be a witness is rendered laughable when Jesus asks, "Is a lamp brought in to be put under a bushes, or under a bed, and not on a stand?" (Mark 4:21). Since the lamp mentioned has an open flame, and since the bed is a mattress, it is easy to see that in this situation the light would be suffocated or the mattress would be burned. The appeal here is to the patently absurd. The sensitive laugh; they get the point. When Christ said not to cast pearls before swine (Matt. 7:6), He was again employing the patently absurd to make His point. Christ tells us that we are not to waste precious words or time or effort on those who chronically resist the Gospel. We must remember, of course, that the joke about casting what is precious before the pigs was even more preposterous for a Jewish audience than it is for us. The rejection of pork was deep-seated in their consciousness. Christ's major weapon against the Pharisaic attack was laughter, and He used it fully. The point at which they were most vulnerable was their manifest self-righteousness. There is no one more ridiculous than the sinner who claims to be perfect. Jesus asked the Pharisees, who accused Jesus of casting demons in the name of Beelzebub, "If I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out?" (Matt. 12:27). Jesus pokes fun at the critics, since everyone who listens will realize that the subtle question has no possible answer. Christ's question really means, "By what demonic agency do you perform your miracles?" It is easy to see that the humorous question is a far more effective rejoinder than a serious argument about demons. The severest critics of Christ could not stand ridicule, for seriousness was their central strength. CONCLUSION What then is the secret of true humor? The answer is found in the Gospel. It is to know that you are a forgiven a sinner, to have no illusions about the self, and no inclination to appear morally better than you are, either in the sight of man or of God. Our release from bondage of sin gives joy. This joy expresses itself in an exuberance of which laughter is not the only one, but certainly one, expression. Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years....

Theology

On the Regulative Principle of Worship, and elements vs. circumstances

Many moons ago, in the days of Pine, Lynx and dial-up modems, there was an online discussion group known as Ref-net. I can’t say I was among the first participants of this e-mail forum, but I’m quite sure I got in while it was still made up mostly of university students. We were exploring what it means to be Reformed Christians in cyberspace. All sorts of ideas were up for debate, including public worship. RPW in the HC Through the Ref-net I met a friend from South Africa who introduced me to the "Regulative Principle of Worship" (RPW). What is the RPW? While, you can find it the Three Forms of Unity – though I had never really noticed it before – and it is most clearly stated in Heidelberg Catechism Answer 96 where it declares: “We are not to make an image of God in any way, nor to worship him in any other manner than he has commanded in his Word.” Worshiping God only as He has commanded: this is one of the rudiments and distinctives of Reformed worship. I became involved in a number of discussions about Reformed worship on the Ref-net. These ranged from general wrangling about the RPW as such, to specific polemics on applications of the RPW to questions like psalm-singing and “days of commemoration.” One of the objections I heard to the RPW in general was that it was impractical. If we’re to worship God only as he has commanded, then where has God commanded us to worship at 9:30 AM? Why do we sit in pews when God hasn’t commanded that? In these and many other ways, no Reformed or Presbyterian church really follows the RPW. To the lurkers it must have appeared as if this objection had just detonated the RPW into oblivion. Elements vs. circumstances However, this gotcha moment didn’t last very long. It was quickly noted that the RPW comes with an indispensable distinction. When it comes to public worship, Reformed theologians have often distinguished between elements and circumstances. Elements are the things God commanded in Scripture for public worship, things like preaching, singing, the reading of Scripture, prayers, etc. Elements are governed by the RPW. Circumstances are the incidental things which surround the elements. Circumstances include things like the time of worship, whether one sits on pews or chairs, what temperature the room will be, and far more. Circumstances are not governed by commands from the Bible, but by wisdom and discretion informed by the Bible. It’s true that this distinction doesn’t appear in the Heidelberg Catechism. Since the Catechism was written for children, you shouldn’t expect it to. But Zacharias Ursinus (its main author) does use this distinction in his theological commentary on the Catechism. It was also employed by Puritans such as John Owen and Jeremiah Burroughs. Not surprisingly then, it becomes part of the Reformed confessional heritage in Westminster Confession 1.6, speaking of circumstances in worship “which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.” But is it biblical? The historical pedigree of this distinction is sound, but the most important question is whether it’s biblical. Certainly in the New Testament we see believers worshipping God in a variety of places – homes, synagogues, and even the temple. We see believers worshipping God at different times: evening, late evening, and morning. This sort of variability observed in Scripture is what undergirds this distinction. Outside of the elements commanded for worship, God grants liberty to his church to order the circumstances wisely. Debate continues This distinction doesn’t instantly solve every question in Reformed worship. There are disagreements amongst Reformed and Presbyterian liturgists about what constitutes elements and circumstances. Probably the most well-known example has to do with musical instruments. Some, such as myself, would contend that musical accompaniment (done judiciously) is circumstantial. Others would maintain it has the character of an element and, since it is not commanded in the New Testament, it cannot be justified by the RPW. Note: both sides fully affirm the RPW. However, they differ at the application of it, specifically when it comes to defining elements and circumstances. And no, it’s not a matter of “strict” RPW versus “loose” RPW. You either hold to the RPW or you don’t. While those disagreements can be quite intense at times, we do well to note the broad consensus existing amongst confessionally Reformed churches. There’s unanimous agreement that things like the time of the worship services and the type of seating are circumstantial. Whether you worship in a custom-built church building or use a school gymnasium – God-pleasing worship in Spirit and truth can happen regardless. Conversely, we all agree that what matters are the God-commanded elements. Without elements like the reading and preaching of Scripture and prayer, you simply don’t have Reformed worship. You have something less than authentic Christian worship. Because of our love for the Saviour and what he’s done, we want to follow his Word carefully when it comes to the content of our worship. But we’ll also be careful about imposing our own opinions where God has granted liberty to be different. For more on Reformed worship, be sure to check out Dr. Bredenhof's book "Aiming to Please: a Guide to Reformed Worship" (Amazon.com/Amazon.ca).  And be sure to watch his interview with Focal Point host Chris deBoer below. ...

Theology

Criticizing like a Christian

“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do” – Dale Carnegie ***** In his bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People Dale Carnegie begins with the story of “Two Gun” Crowley, a famous killer from the 1930s. When authorities tracked him down: …150 policemen and detectives laid siege to his top-floor hideaway. They chopped holes in the roof; they tried to smoke out Crowley, the “cop killer,” with tear gas. Then they mounted their machine guns on surrounding buildings, and for more than an hour one of New York’s fine residential areas reverberated with the crack of pistol fire and the rat-tat-tat of machine guns. Shortly before, Crowley had been parked along a country road, kissing his girlfriend, when a policeman had walked up and asked to see his license. Crowley responded by immediately shooting the officer several times, grabbing the officer’s gun, and shooting the now prone man with his own gun. He then fled to his hideaway where he was soon discovered. Though completely surrounded Crowley shot back incessantly, but also found time to write a letter, addressed “To whom it may concern.” In this letter Crowley described himself as a man with “a weary heart, but a kind one – one who would do nobody any harm.” When he was finally caught, convicted and sentenced to the electric chair he continued to think highly of himself. Instead of admitting this was the consequence of his sins he said: “This is what I get for defending myself.” The moral of this little story? Even when our guilt is clear, we will find ways to justify our actions and convince ourselves that someone else must be to blame. Or as Carnegie puts it “ninety-nine times out of a hundred, people don’t criticize themselves for anything, no matter how wrong may be.” A solution? Carnegie has it exactly right. It is human nature to try to elude criticism, and when we can’t manage that, we will at least try to spread the blame around. After all, we know we’re good, so if we did something bad it must be someone else’s fault. “…but you made me lose me temper!” “They had it coming.” “You wouldn’t believe what she said first…” We are all prone to presenting “the devil made me do it” excuses and justifications as if they were valid reasons for our behavior. Carnegie concludes that because we all hate criticism, and pay so little attention to it, “Criticism is futile.” He suggests that, as a general rule, we “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain” and instead focus on the positive and the praiseworthy. God’s thoughts on criticizing Most of us could benefit from taking a large dose of Carnegie’s advice. But does it work as an absolute rule? Should we never criticize? While Jesus spoke against quick, thoughtless, and hypocritical criticism (Matt. 7:1-5), He also called on listeners to “repent and believe” (Mark 1:15), which is a decidedly critical message. It demands that people stop and turn from the evil they are doing! In fact, God says a dividing line between the righteous and the fool is in how they take criticism. Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. - Prov. 12:1 A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. – Prov. 13:1 A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent. – Prov. 15:5 A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool. - Prov. 17:10 Clearly, if taking criticism is a mark of wisdom, then there is a need also to give it – for Christians it is not a matter of whether we should ever criticize, but instead when and how we should go about doing it. When we look to the Bible for guidance, we find at least four questions to consider. 1. Is criticism needed...or grace? To those all aware of their sins and already sorry for them, further fault-finding isn't needed (though some who say they are sorry for their sin are simply sorry they were caught). If a person is already broken, then we can make them aware of our Saviour – we can skip the criticism and get right to grace! It is only those who don't know the bad news – who as Carnegie puts "don’t criticize themselves for anything, no matter how wrong may be” – that we need to first bring to Moses, the law, and the evidence of their sinfulness, before we bring them to Jesus. 2. Are we doing it in love? There are so many wrong reasons to criticize – because we are angry or frustrated, because we want to feel superior, because we want to defend ourselves and don’t want to listen to someone’s criticism of us. That’s why when we are going to criticize it is important to question our motivations. Do we want to build this person up, or tear them down? Are we doing this out of annoyance, or out of love? A good rule of thumb might be that, if we really want to criticize, we probably aren't doing it with the right motivations. But the reverse is also true. If we see a friend, our spouse, a brother or sister, or our children, heading off down the wrong path and we don't want to speak up, that's also a good time to question our motivations – are we being apathetic and cowardly, and, consequently, unloving in not going after a straying sheep? Now, in 1 Cor. 13:4-7 we read that love is patient and keeps no record of wrongs. And 1 Peter 4:8 communicates a similar thought – love overlooks a multitude of sins. If we are to lovingly criticize one another this means we will only speak up about something substantial – something that matters – and won’t keep a running tally of petty grievances. Criticizing lovingly also means doing so inclusively – a matter of coming alongside rather than lecturing from high atop our pedestal. As Paul Tripp puts it, we need to make it clear we are “people in need of change helping people in need of change.” How might this look in practice? Street preacher Ray Comfort, when confronted by a homosexual, will talk first about the sins they hold in common. He will ask whether the man has ever stolen anything, ever lied, ever hated someone in his heart. By starting with the sins they hold in common, rather than the sin they do not, Comfort makes it clear he has no delusions of grandeur. He knows he is in need of this same promise of forgiveness he’s preaching. 3. Are we criticizing with care? We should criticize with care. In Matthew 7:1-5 Jesus condemns how quick we are to judge others by standards that we don’t measure up to ourselves. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. This rules out casual critiques. We too easily evaluate the faults of those all around us, and know just what they should do to fix their hair, their wardrobe, their children or marriage. But this sort of flippant evaluation isn’t done out of love. We aren’t looking to help our neighbor; we point out their flaws so we can feel superior to them. It also rules out reactive criticism. Jesus wants us to consider our own problems and sins – the “plank in our own eye.” So when these problems are pointed out to us, it is may be human nature to respond in kind with a snap assessment of our critic, but that isn’t the godly response. There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. – Prov 12:18 4. Have we tried it privately? Whenever possible, we should offer criticism privately. In Matthew 18:15 the first step in correcting a sinning brother involves a private meeting “just between the two of you.” This is the approach Aquila and Priscilla used when they wanted to explain the “way of God more adequately” to Apollos, who “knew only the baptism of John.” They invited him back to the privacy of their home to talk and teach. None of us like to be criticized but we especially don’t like to be criticized publicly. In the spirit of doing unto others as we would like them to do unto us we should offer our criticism privately. This is just as true for our children. We clearly have to criticize and correct them – that is a parent’s God-given role. But we can try to do this in private as much as possible. Spankings can be administered in a room far from guests or other children. Talks, too, can be done behind a closed door, away from the ears of their siblings. Matthew 18 also makes it clear that not all criticism can be done privately, but when it is possible it is best. Conclusion We should criticize carefully, lovingly and privately, but we most certainly should criticize. God has put us together in a community so that we can “teach and admonish one another” (Col. 3:16). Sometimes there can be a temptation to stay quiet, even when we have some godly wisdom to offer a brother having problems. We can even fool ourselves into thinking we are simply “minding our own business” (and that our silence has nothing at all to do with cowardice). But minding our own business isn’t exactly a Christian virtue - we are our brother’s keeper and we must be concerned with his welfare. So if we love him, and he is in need of correction, silence is simply not an option. “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death…” – James 5:19-20 A version of this article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue. **** Postscript: How should we receive criticism? As Carnegie notes, it is human nature to bristle at criticism and ignore it, but human nature is sinful, so the way we do react might not be the way we should react. God tells us that it is simply stupid to hate correction (Prov 12:1). We know we are far from perfect, and clearly in need of improvement, so we should “listen to advice and accept instruction” (Prov. 19:20). So how do we overcome our defensiveness? How can we learn to welcome criticism? We need to ask God to make us want to be wise, rather than foolish. We need to pray for a growing awareness of our own sins, and our need for correction. It is only when we understand how needy we are that we will embrace the help that is offered. That doesn't mean listening to every critic – many are fools. But it does mean we need to recognize that criticism of the godly sort is a precious, if not always pleasant, commodity....

Theology

Infant baptism vs. believers-only baptism: What’s the main difference?

The fundamental difference between the two positions is revealed in how one answers this question: Is baptism primarily God’s action or is it a human response? The Bible tells us that we are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1). Consequently, it is God who makes us alive in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:4). Even our faith, which is our response to God’s great work of salvation, is of divine origin. Faith itself is gift of God (Eph. 2:8). Infant baptism testifies to the grace of God in salvation: God is the one who initiates, acts and saves. Believers-only baptism testifies to our response of faith to God’s saving work in ourselves. On this view, baptism is a sign and seal of my public profession of faith in Christ Jesus. An overlooked argument There are plenty of helpful resources on infant baptism, and most of them rightly link baptism to circumcision. In Genesis 17, God promises to be “God to you and to your offspring forever (Gen. 17:7). There is great comfort in knowing that God binds himself by covenant to infants even before they can respond to him by faith. Truly, we love him because he first loved us. Often overlooked, however, in the discussion on infant baptism are Paul’s remarks in 1 Corinthians 10:1-5. Although these verses do not provide a comprehensive understanding of infant baptism, they provide another important line of thought. Put simply: Paul assumes that New Testament baptism is the fulfillment of Mosaic baptism. Paul writes: "For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness." (1 Cor. 10:1–5) Four observations There are many golden truths that need to be mined from these few verses but consider the following four simple observations, which help us understand the meaning of infant baptism. 1. The Church is the new Israel First, in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul applies lessons from Israel’s history to the church. Paul can do this only because he sees the church as the fulfillment of Israel: the church is the new Israel (Gal. 6:16). More specifically, Paul sees Mosaic baptism as having relevance for the Christian church. This explains why Paul can tell the Corinthians that this event – Israel’s baptism in the Red Sea – is an example for them (1 Cor. 10:6). The Old Testament is not a random collection of stories in which God interacts with a people that have no connection to us. No! For Paul, the Old Testament is part of our story. The story of Israel is the history of the church. These are our parents - these are our “fathers” (1 Cor. 10:1) – and since God does not change, he continues to relate to us in the same way he related to Israel: by means of the covenant. 2. In this case all means all Second, Paul notes that all of Israel was baptized, ate the same spiritual food, and drank the same spiritual drink. In this case, “all” means “all.” The elderly, the infants and everyone in between were baptized. Whatever else we can say about this passage, it is clear that infants were baptized when they crossed the Red Sea, as they escaped from Egypt. And if infants were baptized, numbered among God’s people, and partook of Christ in the Old Testament, it only makes sense that they would enjoy the same privileges and blessings today. 3. The Red Sea was the work of God Third, Israel’s baptism was pre-eminently the work of God. It was God who led our fathers by pillar of cloud. It was God who opened wide the Red Sea and provided the dry ground. It is true that the adults had to respond to God’s work by faith – they had to walk on the dry ground. And it is also true that the infants who could not walk, but were carried by their parents, were beneficiaries of this baptism. They were delivered from Egypt along with their parents. 4. Baptism is not a guarantee Fourth, baptism does not guarantee salvation. Paul says that God was not pleased with most of Israel, and they were overthrown in the wilderness. Who were these people? They were the adults who rebelled against God and the leadership of Moses. They wandered in the wilderness for 40 years until they died off and their baptized children were old enough to enter the Promised Land. God was indeed the God to these children despite the apostasy of their parents, and their baptism reminded them of God’s faithfulness toward them. Conclusion There is much more than can be said about this passage. However, these brief observations are sufficient to lead us to the following modest conclusion: The Apostle Paul retells the story of Israel’s baptism in the Red Sea because he believed that they participated in an event that corresponds to the sacrament of Christian baptism.1 Endnote 1 Meredith G. Kline, By Oath Consigned: A Reinterpretation of the Covenant Signs of Circumcision and Baptism(Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 67. Rev. Garry Vanderveen blogs at Show, Don’t Tell where a version of this first appeared. It is reprinted here with permission....

Politics, Theology

Haggai and the call to rebuild the temple: a case study in Church/State relations

Canadians find themselves beginning 2021 under varying levels of lockdown. Across our country churches are wrestling with how to respond. The Bible seems to contain few practical examples of believers facing something comparable to our current scenario. However, over the Christmas break, I stumbled across an article about the story of Haggai and its connection to the book of Ezra. The story struck me as having particular relevance, or at least uncanny parallels, for the church in Canada today. I offer this reflection not to recommend a particular way forward for churches in Canada as it relates to restrictions on corporate worship, but to at least help some Christians better understand the decisions of some church leaders who have made the decision to continue worshipping corporately despite (near) total prohibitions in their province. In the May 2020 edition of The Messenger (a denominational magazine of the Free Reformed Churches), the late Pastor Gerald Hamstra published a meditation about the rebuilding of the temple in the post-exile period. Though the books are spaced far from each other in the Old Testament canon, the events of Haggai and parts of Ezra occur simultaneously. Many of us are familiar with the narrative of Haggai, where the prophet calls on the people of Israel to rebuild the temple: "This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’” "Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 'Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?' "Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.'" – Haggai 1:2-6 It appears, on first reading, that the people of Israel were selfishly caring only for themselves and their own houses and ignoring the worship of the Lord without a thought for the temple in ruins. However, that is not the whole picture. In the book of Ezra, we find the rest of the story. Why had the rebuilding of the temple ceased? King Cyrus had issued a decree permitting the Jews to return from Babylon to Jerusalem and charging them to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:2-5). But the Jews, soon after their return, faced many challenges and obstructions from those living in the region and even from the local civil magistrates (Ezra 4:1-5). Eventually, these opponents, with malicious lies, convince a subsequent king, King Artaxerxes, to stop the building of the temple entirely. Having been persuaded by the reports of the local magistrates in Judea, the king concludes that the temple-building efforts are a threat to the security of his kingdom and decrees that the temple work must cease. "As soon as the copy of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai the secretary and their associates, they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop. Thus, the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia." – Ezra 4:23-24 For some sixteen years, the temple lay in ruins because of the king’s edict. Over the course of those years, the crops began to fail and the people were struggling. They were not flourishing following their return from Babylonian exile. Pastor Hamstra, reflecting on this story, explains: “ interest in the temple and the worship of God was waning. They erroneously viewed the encountered opposition as a divine indication that the work on the temple should be discontinued.” (emphasis mine) It is worth noting that the order from King Artaxerxes for the Jews to cease building the temple was not a form of direct persecution. The king was not operating with anti-Semitic animus or anti-religious prejudice. He had been convinced by his officials that there was a threat to the safety and security of his realm. So, he ordered the project to cease. Questions of safety and security are under the proper authority (or “sphere”) of the king. So, the Jews submitted to the civil government, ceasing work on the temple. But in this case, the people of God had mistakenly viewed the challenges to building the temple and the intervention of the local authorities as an indication from God that the temple work must stop. God sends Haggai to call the people to repent, to return to building the temple, and to observe the corporate worship of the Lord in the way He prescribed. Haggai makes it clear that the worship of God is to be held in the highest regard, and that King Artaxerxes had been wrong to stop the building of the temple for the worship of God. In the face of opposition, the people begin to rebuild God’s people respond in faith to the call of the prophet. They recognize the punishment for their disobedience, and the suffering they were enduring because of it. Just a few weeks after Haggai delivers his message and encouragement from the Lord, the Jews restart the temple building project. In Ezra 5 we read that the local magistrates came to the building site to see why the people had begun building again in apparent defiance of the king’s orders: "At that time Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates went to them and asked, “Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and to finish it?” They also asked, “What are the names of those who are constructing this building?” But the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews, and they were not stopped until a report could go to Darius and his written reply be received." – Ezra 5:3-5 Though the local rulers questioned them, the Jews continue to rebuild the temple. The call from Haggai was to obey God, regardless of what the earthly king or the local magistrates declared or forbade. They obey God unquestioningly. Interestingly, as the Jews resume their work, the local governor Tattenai sends another report to the Persian king, King Darius, about how the Jews were rebuilding the temple contrary to the decree of the previous king, Artaxerxes. In that report, Tattenai lists the Jews’ legal defense: that King Cyrus had decreed that they should build the temple (Ezra 5:6-15). King Darius orders a search of the archives and confirms the truth of the matter. He orders the local governors and their associates to “keep away” and to “let the work on this house of God alone” (Ezra 6:6, 7). The Jews are vindicated! Are there any lessons here for today? The parallels to today are striking. In this Old Testament story, we see conflicting government decrees, human opposition to corporate worship, the disdain of the people of God by some levels of civil government, and hasty orders by rulers motivated by fear for safety. We also see commands from God and confusion on the part of His people as to the right way forward. We also see God giving direction, and redirection, patient with His people while unwavering in His call to worship. We see His mighty hand turning the hearts of leaders for His glory and the good of His people. Some lessons in this story for the people of God today include how God’s people can appeal to, and be vindicated by, the higher laws and decrees of civil governments. Perhaps appealing to the original decree of Cyrus (where he first granted permission to the Jews to build the temple), is comparable to church leaders appealing to a constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion and freedom of assembly. Perhaps the Jews’ refusal to abide by the second decree of Artaxerxes while their appeal makes its way to the court of Darius is comparable to the path chosen by some church leaders to resume corporately worshipping God while challenging the legality or constitutionality of overly broad public health orders through the court system. Though I don’t think this story is prescriptive of the way forward for churches in Canada today, the story of the rebuilding of the temple does provide some insight for the 21st-century church to ponder in light of significant restrictions by the civil government on corporate worship. Even if you don’t agree with the decisions made by some churches to continue worshipping, that decision should at least be understandable in light of the Ezra and Haggai story. One thing we can remain confident in is that God rules over the nation of Canada today, just as He has over the nations and empires of the past. He is faithful to those who put their trust in Him. It is our daily duty to pray, work and worship to the glory of His name! "Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit." – Jeremiah 17:7-8 This article first appeared on the ARPA Canada blog here. Colin Postma is the Federal Issues Manager for ARPA Canada...

Politics, Theology

2K is not OK

A review and discussion of Willem J. Ouweneel’s The World is Christ’s: A Critique of Two Kingdom’s Theology **** A tour a few years back by ARPA Canada prominently featured a famous statement by Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” Many Christians undoubtedly agree that Christ is king over every aspect of human life. However, there is a relatively new theological movement within conservative Reformed and Presbyterian churches in North America that stands in direct opposition to Kuyper's view. This new movement draws a sharp distinction between the kingdom of God and a secular “common kingdom” that is not directly under the rule of Christ. Hence the movement is often referred to as “Two Kingdoms” or 2K theology. Sometimes it is known by the acronym NL2K which stands for “Natural Law Two Kingdoms” theology. This is because it teaches that most institutions in society (e.g. schools, businesses, civil governments, etc.) are to be governed by “natural law” (or the law that we can deduce, not from the Bible, but from the “natural” world around us. And the reason these institutions are to be governed by natural law, rather than the Bible, is because schools, business, the civil government and more, are said to be in that secular “common kingdom.” Two Kingdom’s growing popularity in some Reformed circles has prompted Dutch scholar Willem J. Ouweneel (who holds PhDs in Biology, Philosophy, and Theology) to write an extended analysis called The World is Christ's: A Critique of Two Kingdoms Theology (Ezra Press, 2017). This book demonstrates that 2K is highly problematic from a confessional and biblical perspective. New, but not so new It is legitimate to label 2K as “new” because it has only appeared within the Reformed and Presbyterian churches in the last decade. However, there is a sense in which it can be considered to be the return of an old error. According to Ouweneel, 2K is deeply rooted in medieval scholasticism which has a dualistic perspective that divides human activities into the sacred realm and the secular realm. For 2K, the authority of the Bible is restricted to the church and the life of individual Christians. It is not to be used as a guide for politics, economics, science, literature, etc. because those fields are part of the “common kingdom” governed by natural law. Ouweneel’s simple summary of scholasticism also functions as a summary of the basic 2K perspective: “there is a spiritual (sacred, Christ-ruled) domain and a natural (secular, common, neutral) domain, which have to be carefully kept apart. There is a domain under the authority of God’s Word and a domain that is supposedly governed by the God-given ‘natural law’ . . .  There is a domain under the kingship of Christ and a ‘neutral’ domain (which is at best a domain that falls under God’s general providence)” 2K versus the early Reformers However, 2K advocates claim that their view is the original Reformed position. They believe Abraham Kuyper’s “not one square inch” perspective added a new twist that conflicts with the teachings of the Reformers. The confessions indicate otherwise. The confessions formally summarize the essential theology of the Reformers, and their statements on civil government demonstrate 2K to be in error. The original wording of the Belgic Confession on civil magistrates included this statement: “Their office is not only to have regard unto and watch for the welfare of the civil state, but also that they protect the sacred ministry, and thus may remove and prevent all idolatry and false worship, that the kingdom of antichrist may be thus destroyed and the kingdom of Christ promoted.” The Belgic Confession (at least in its original form) saw an active role for the civil magistrate in advancing the kingdom of God. He was not outside the authority of the Bible. Modern Christians may not agree with that statement in the Belgic Confession, but it is clearly in conflict with 2K. The original Westminster Confession contains similar statements about the civil magistrate. For example: "...it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed.” Ouweneel summarizes the confessional point this way: “it would have been unthinkable for the divines who wrote the Belgic Confession (Guido de Brès, d. 1567) and the Westminster Confession to accept the idea that the “secular” state falls outside the kingdom of God.” Therefore, if we use the confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as the standards for determining early Reformed and Presbyterian theology, 2K cannot be said to represent the original position. 2K versus Christian schools Many Reformed Christians send their children to Christian schools because they want their children taught from a Christian perspective. Each of the subjects in such schools is rooted in a Christian approach. However, according to Ouweneel: “This is the very reason why many NL2K advocates object to Christian schools: they do not believe in the possibility of a Christian approach to all these disciplines. In their view, both the school and the disciplines taught there belong to the ‘common realm,’ which is neutral and secular. So why should we need Christian schools?” If there is no distinctively Christian perspective for subjects like English, science and history, then there is no need for Christian schools. This is a consequence of the NL2K theology. Neutral history? Ouweneel asks, “Can you imagine studying history from a ‘neutral’ perspective?” How is that even possible? How do we determine whether particular historical events or people are good or bad without a biblical perspective? Someone may argue that a figure like Adolf Hitler is widely regarded by almost all people, Christian and non-Christian alike, to be evil. Therefore that demonstrates the existence of a common “natural law” standard for judging historical figures. But wait just a minute. In the 1930s there was no consensus that Hitler was evil. In fact, he was supported by millions of people in Germany and he had numerous admirers in other countries as well. It was only after he lost the war that he was regarded everywhere as being evil. If he had won the war, Hitler would have likely remained popular, at least in Germany. From a biblical perspective, Hitler was evil right from the start. But from a “natural law” perspective (whatever that means), things aren’t so obvious. As Ouweneel writes: “If a person is a radical Christian, let him look for an equally radical Muslim or Hindu, and try to find out how much ‘natural law’ the two have in common!” Natural law does not provide a clear and objective standard for determining right and wrong. But the Bible does. Ouweneel describes 2K’s usage of natural law as follows: “Such a Scripture-independent natural law is nothing but a loincloth, a fig leaf, to hide the shame of refusing to acknowledge Christian philosophy, Christian political science, a Christian view of the state, etc.” Two kingdoms in the Bible Now, the Bible does teach that there are two kingdoms. However, they are not the kingdom of God and a “common kingdom,” but the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan (Matt. 12:25-28). According to Ouweneel, every societal relationship (e.g. family, school, business, political party, etc.) is either a part of the kingdom of God or a part of the kingdom of Satan. As he puts it: “in every societal relationship, the kingdom of God can be, and is, manifested if this community is, in faith, brought under the rule of King Christ Jesus and under the authority of God’s Word.” This means that a political community where the citizens and government have placed themselves under the authority of the Bible manifests the kingdom of God. There are historical examples of such communities: “The kingdom of Christ did indeed clearly come to light in various German lands and European countries (Scotland, England, the Netherlands) in which Protestant convictions dominated public life (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries).” Clearly, the early Protestants did not believe 2K theology. And as Ouweneel asks, “Can you imagine John Calvin telling the city council of Geneva that they had to be ‘neutral,’ and that for their rule it did not matter whether they were Christians as long as they were good rulers?” The key issue Ouweneel sees the dispute over 2K coming down to one key point: “This is the issue: either God’s Word has full authority over the entire cosmic reality, or only over a limited part of it: the church.” For 2K, the Bible is authoritative only over the church. It does not have authority over politics and government or the other spheres of the “common kingdom.” The real-life consequences of 2K are serious. As mentioned, it undermines the rationale for Christian schools. Another effect is to remove all Christian influence from political life. As Ouweneel points out, 2K plays “…into the hands of all the atheists and agnostics who propagate the neutral, secularized state and wish to restrict religion to the church and to the private religious lives of people. The growing number of non-Christians in North America should be thanking their new gods for the support they are receiving from NL2K advocates with their commitment to a secular state.” Conclusion The consequences of embracing 2K theology would be devastating to Christian influence in politics and society. Public policy in Canada, the United States and other Western countries has been moving in an increasingly anti-Christian direction for years. If Christians were to abandon their distinctively Christian efforts to influence government, that trend would only get worse. Yet that is what 2K theologians essentially advocate. Abraham Kuyper was certainly correct that Christ is sovereign over every square inch “in the whole domain of our human existence.” Excluding the Bible from certain spheres of society is a recipe for accelerated decline and ultimate disaster. As Ouweneel puts it, “All talk about a so-called ‘common kingdom’ means in the end that we allow the kingdom of Satan to prevail in the public square.” Michael Wagner is the author of "Leaving God Behind: The Charter of Rights and Canada’s Official Rejection of Christianity,” available at Merchantship.ca....

Gender roles, Theology

Who’s Afraid of Proverbs 31?

I can still see the cartoon in my memory – she was robed in white, her nose in the air, gracing a marble pedestal under which lesser women cowered. Inscribed on the pedestal were the words, “The Proverbs 31 woman.” It was illustrating a comedic piece in a Christian women’s magazine, describing exactly what the author felt when faced with such a perfect, perfect woman. My mother lifted the magazine out of my hands. “Don’t read that nonsense,” she said. “Why not?” I wanted to know. She thought a moment. “People like to mock her. It’s easy to make fun of her. But I don’t like it.” *** Lots of women do feel intimidated by Proverbs 31. We feel if we were to meet her in real life, we would only meet with judgment. We react to her as if she is a standard that points out all our inadequacies. And authors who write about her know this – they feel compelled to include an apologetic paragraph somewhere near the beginning of their article: Don’t worry, everyone comes from a different life situation. Don’t worry, this woman appears to be rich, and you might not be. Don’t worry, everyone is unique, and not everyone needs to live up to this passage in the same way. A recent article I read started off with, “Reading Proverbs 31 can be discouraging! Who can live up to such expectations?” The first reaction to her is to downplay her a little, and make her more approachable. The assumption is that an unsoftened look at the woman in Proverbs 31 will lead to discouragement. The assumption is that the first emotions this passage will raise in us will be negative emotions, and that these negative emotions will need to be navigated and managed before we can get anything useful out of the passage. I don’t deny that this is often the case, that often these are the emotions stirred up by this passage. But I don’t think this needs to be the case. It should be possible to re-frame the passage as a whole, from discouraging and disheartening to uplifting and inspiring. Maybe the Proverbs 31 woman can be encouraging without being softened. Actually, I know it is possible. I have often read this passage with a sense of excitement, a sense of possibility. In contrast to many human writings, it does not downplay the capabilities of woman, and it acknowledges and appreciates them (and urges the rest of society to do so). It is not a passage that needs to be clarified with the sentence, “oh, this applies to women too,” but it is directly applicable. However, this woman can clearly inspire either excitement or discouragement in many women. What causes the difference? Can she be inspiring to everyone? The value of ideals One problem is that we tend to think of ideals in the wrong way. The woman in Proverbs 31 is an ideal, and ideals are judges. Ideals are meant to draw our attention to the gap between them and us. They do give a verdict on our conduct by demonstrating the ways we fall short of them. But ideals are meant to be a vision of what could be, of what we can strive for, rather than a standard that is meant to crush and punish us. They aren’t there to push us to quit, but instead give us a vision of a different way to live. Our modern world doesn’t like ideals very much. In the past, people did frequently talk about the ideal country or ideal city or ideal king. But nowadays, who talks about the ideal prime minister? We don’t believe any politicians could ever be ideal. Our cynicism is unavoidable – we are much more comfortable speaking about the way our current society is not just and equal, than speaking of what a just and equal society would actually look like. Human realities have led us to give up on utopias, and create lists of our problems instead. But maybe we should take our eyes off our lists of problems, and learn to feel inspired once again. We can draw fresh enthusiasm from working towards a vision of the good. When presented with an ideal, we feel like ideals force conformity on us, tell us to be all the same, and can only make us feel bad about ourselves. But instead, the power of ideals is that they can open our eyes to a better way of living. In that way they are not limiting, but rather are a demonstration of opportunities we would never have imagined in our current circumstances. After all, children look to their parents to see what it is like to be a person who can accomplish more than what their childish limbs can manage. They can’t do what their parents do, but they can imagine growing into a future where they will be able to do more. When they look to their parents they can see an example of how to live a life they have never yet experienced – an adult life. And Christians are inspired by Christian role models too. Paul the apostle advises the Corinthians to imitate him as a model in their Christian life, as an example of a more mature Christian (1 Cor. 11:1). Having examples can be freeing rather than limiting, because we see how different lives than ours can be lived. Yes, visions of what could be are intimidating. But to erase them is to limit ourselves only to what exists right now. An ideal woman And this is the way I think the woman in Proverbs 31 can function. She can demonstrate the power of a virtuous woman, and lead us in turn to feel enthusiasm about what is possible for us in our femininity. After all, it does not take much for us to feel ground down in our femininity – we're confronted daily by negative portrayals of silly women, clingy women, bullying women, or passively helpless women in media, online, or just mentioned in general conversation. We can feel hormonal and wonder if our genetic makeup is a curse. We can struggle to perform heavy labor and feel dependent on others as a result of who we are. We can hesitate to speak up and make our voice heard, and feel held back. And when others reject us and label us or neglect to appreciate us, and we become vulnerable to harmful images of femininity. When we turn to our Bible to counteract this, we find the Bible itself does not shy away from portrayals of the shortcomings of women (just as it does not shy away from the shortcomings of men). Women can be gullible (2 Tim. 3:6), weak, (1 Pet. 3:7), or just unpleasant (see elsewhere in Proverbs itself, such as Prov. 21: 9). Faced with all this, how does one remain hopeful about womanhood? Is there any vision of a woman being a woman in a positive way? Yes, there is. When we need a picture of a woman exercising female traits and positively affecting the world around her as a result of being a woman, we can look to Proverbs 31. We can look to Proverbs 31 and begin to heal from our doubts and worries about womanhood. There are many things a woman can do, even a very “traditional” woman such as this woman. She can be strong, both physically and mentally, even though we’re tempted by negative images to believe we’re doomed to be fragile and unstable. She can be effective, even though we’re afraid we’ll only be passive and ineffective. And she can be courageous, even though we’re worried and anxious. In this way she is purely encouraging. We are not fated to be that taunting caricature of ourselves that may live in our imagination. When we need to insist our womanhood is a gift God has given us and the world, she is on our side. “A heroic poem which recounts the exploits of a hero,” is how one commentator classes this passage. Another calls it, “an ode to a champion.” What women do is not only worthy of being recorded, it is worthy of being applauded in exactly the same way as a warrior who slew a lion. But she girds her loins and takes up the heroic role in a very different setting. We can feel confident in this picture that we receive in Proverbs 31. This is not like the argument over whether Cinderella is a good role model for girls or not; we can take it as a given that this woman is a good role model. And if she is, what opportunities does that present to us?  She brings so much to the discussion that I cannot begin to include everything in a single article, so I’ll have to limit myself to the example of her strength. Strength is not the first word I associate with women, but it is the first association brought out here, in the very first line: “A woman of strength, who can find?” She draws our eyes to the quality of female strength specifically. Looking for a strong female character What is a strong woman? On one hand, we have many talking heads in media calling for more “strong female characters” in entertainment. On the other hand, strength is not typically the first female trait that comes to mind. If asked to come up with a list of feminine qualities, and you weren’t too afraid of going with the honest associations that came into your mind, you might come up with words like delicate, soft, gentle, meek. Asking for strong female characters is seen as one way to counteract this, to create new stereotypes that counteract the old. But too often “strong females” are interpreted as physically strong, as demonstrated by the number of “kickass” female characters who keep up with, surpass, or beat up men. But this kind of knee-jerk, opposing reaction to the stereotype of a weak female often glosses over the reality that women actually live. Women live their lives under the awareness that they will never be as strong as men. There is a limit to what we can physically do, and aside from a few exceptional women, most of us will burn out measuring our strength against men’s. Because of this, some of us can conclude it is not worthwhile to develop our own strength and capacity. Or others may choose to highlight only these exceptionally strong women as a defense against perceptions of weakness, in a way that makes regular women feel inadequate. Another way we do not feel strong is in our awareness of our vulnerability—we live knowing we can be overpowered and harmed by others with more strength. We structure our lives because of our awareness of our vulnerability, not walking alone in the dark, or holding our keys in our fists when we feel threatened. So no, I don’t believe that physically strong female characters in media are enough by themselves to encourage and inspire us in our regular lives. Strong and weak stereotypes However, it does not follow that in order to be a woman, we must emphasize our weakness. There has been a growing awareness through time that strength in women is a benefit and not a drawback, starting with the nineteenth-century encouragement to throw off tight-laced corsets and be physically active. Nowadays, the capacity of women is recognized on a society-wide level, and women are encouraged to develop and use their abilities to accomplish what they set their hand to do. And Proverbs 31 gives no support to ideas that weakness, fragility or delicacy are defining characteristics of womanhood. It is at this intersection between “kickass” female stereotypes and the experiences of regular women that the woman in Proverbs 31 stands. Remember, this passage is “a heroic poem which recounts the exploits of a hero,” or, “an ode to a champion.” In this way, she stands alongside Achilles and Beowulf. And yet she is not unreachable or alien to us in our everyday life. In fact, one thing many commentators notice about her is the mundane normalcy of what she is described as doing, even as the passage uses phrases such as “girds her loins” as she does these things. We might expect a woman who does “great things for God” would have more in common with female superheroes than with us. But we can relate to the strength needed to consider a field and buy it – or, in more modern terms, decide to launch a business, or plant and harvest a garden, or challenge ourselves with an activity we have never tried before. Let’s take it a step further and compare the Proverbs 31 woman with some older female stereotypes – she may be rich and of high status, but she does not spend her days in the cool shade of her porch, being fanned by servants. She has not retreated from the world to seek the safety of a carefully ordered life, buffered from anything that might jolt her poor nerves – an image of femininity that would be unreachable to most of us, even if we did desire such a life. Instead, her strength is demonstrated by taking up the task of living, including the hard things, and by working with her own hands. In other words, she demonstrates that strength is a non-gendered Christian quality. It is not men with strength, and women with fragility. But both draw on God’s strength to use their full capacity. Christianity has never been about strong men and weak women. Christianity has always been about strong men and strong women. A woman of strength We’re not used to hearing the first verse of this passage quoted as, “a woman of strength, who can find?” It is more recognizably quoted as, “a wife of noble character.” The description is translated in various ways: a wife of noble character, an excellent wife, a virtuous woman. Literally, it is a woman of valor, and the description is the same description given to Gideon (“The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor”) and Ruth (“I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman”). When we read it translated as “virtuous woman” we might not quite get all the overtones of power, competency and initiative this word carries. But it would be misguided to read this chapter and come away thinking this woman is not empowered (she is a woman of power), or that she is a passive housewife experiencing a lack of control over her life. And it doesn’t really matter if the power this woman possesses does not come through in every translation, because further verses in the passage underscore it: “She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong,” and “Strength and dignity are her clothing.” If there exists any strong female character, it is this female character! She is the purest demonstration that strength and women can, in fact, go together. It is clear that while she is described with power, capacity and strength, this is not reduced to the physical ability to bench-press heavy weights. It is not an ability to defend her home from intruders, or protect herself through hand-to-hand combat. The various translations demonstrate the meaning of this word is much broader. Her strength is her competency at what she does, and her capacity to consider a plan and complete it. Strength in this passage is not only physical strength (though a certain amount of physical strength would be necessary for her to accomplish all the things she does), but also includes competency and strength of character. And when we talk about “strengths” we tend to use this term in a broad way as well. Strength of character in particular is important, as she is “a woman who fears the Lord.” When we think of that other “worthy woman,” Ruth, we understand it was her character that brought her notice, and not only her unflagging energy while gleaning for grain. Lastly, don’t forget that this passage is directed to a man – a king, instructing him on what kind of wife to look for. A strong woman will not be a drawback for him. “She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.” Strength in action There is, then, such a thing as female strength, in that woman can develop and exercise their strength. There are some aspects of this that are uniquely female, such as the ability to bear a child, but in a more general way it is women intentionally developing their capacity, skills and character. Developing one’s individual capacity is something everyone can do, regardless of what your starting point is. Sometimes women don’t realize how strong they are. They may hesitate to do things by themselves, or to take initiative to develop an idea of theirs, or to build on their skills and talents. There is nothing wrong with depending on other people, as humans are made to interconnect and rely on the strength of each other. But sometimes, if we habitually rely on others, we forget what we ourselves can do. In Proverbs 31, it does not mention her consultations with her husband over her initiatives, such as buying a field or planting a vineyard – this is not to say that she did not consult her husband (and I would argue most likely she did, and it says he trusts in her completely and her plans always brings him good).  But it does demonstrate that the emphasis in this passage is that this woman can have an idea and carry it through. She knows her strength, and does not shrink away from taking action. She makes plans, and then puts in the grunt work necessary to bring her vision into reality. This is especially true when it comes to our own faith life – we all need spiritual leaders to follow, but we also need to be able to study, learn, grow, tell truth from error, and so on, even when not directed by someone else. When many sections of Christian publishing target fluffy, easy, devotional reads to women, we can get a glimpse at what some marketing bodies think of the readers of these books. But we can also counteract these stereotypes by growing in our own faith. Strength can be used wrongly, of course. Strength can be used to bully. Strength can be used to overwhelm others. This is true of female strength too, and there can even be extremes such as female-on-male abuse. However, strength and gentleness are not contradictory. After all, 1 Peter 3:4 still applies: “let your adorning be… the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” If you can think of strong men who are gentle, you will know strong women can be as well. Am I a strong female character? There are two responses to this idea of strength. The first is to glorify the strength of women as if this strength did not come first from God. To elevate the strength of women to the point where we almost require women to attain the same level of strength as men, or to speak as if female strength always surpassed men’s. We are afraid we’d be betraying our gender by speaking of our fragility A broader understanding of strength is a good defense against this. The other response is to feel intimidated because we personally feel so very beaten down and weak. There are many of us who hate hearing about how strong women are because we don’t feel able to take even another step. Can you tell I relate more to the second? I have never considered myself the strongest, and because of health reasons I’ve spent the past couple years feeling very weak. I was weak to the point where, when certain types of men have expressed the idea that women are inconveniences, I felt like I agreed, in that I wasn’t sure I could help anyone much. It is a modern cliché – “the strong, female hero”– but I tend to notice all the ways I am not strong, physically and otherwise. And then I am reminded of verses like 1 Peter 3:7: “live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel,” and I feel like a weaker vessel. “A woman of strength, who can find?” In this regard, it’s worthwhile to remember that weakness is not a gendered characteristic either. What does Paul say about weakness? “For when I am weak, then I am strong,” he says, because as he says elsewhere, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” He knows his weakness points him to the power of Christ. We all know what it is to be weak, and we all need to know where to turn to be strong. The modern female hero can feel intimidating and unreachable and alien, in a way the woman in Proverbs 31 is not. Female superheroes might be fun to watch, but they do not change how I live. But Proverbs 31 is different. Proverbs 31 inspires me, because she is both like me and better. She challenges me to reach higher, through Christ who strengthens me. The greatest ideal Let me conclude with a question: what do you do if you don’t feel this way? What do you do if, instead of being inspired, you feel ground down by Proverbs 31 and don’t feel enthusiastic about its picture of opportunities for women? First, you need to recall there is another ideal that is very familiar to Christians, and that is the ideal of Jesus Christ himself. All Christians are called to conform themselves to Christ. And all Christians are aware of where we fall short in this. Do we look to Christ to feel bad? Of course, the woman in Proverbs 31 is not an ideal in the same way Christ is. We are not required to live up to the ideal of Proverbs 31 in the same way we are commanded to put on Christ-likeness.  But while pursuing Christ we can see the examples of other Christian role models, who give us ideas about how to apply Christ’s work in our own lives. The Bible has not neglected women – rather, it speaks right to us. Second, there is an undeniable cultural context here. It’s not wrong to point out that this woman is set in a specific place and time, and this affects the way she is described. She acts in the way a wife of a rich, high-standing husband would act. And since this passage is advice given to a king by his mother (see Prov. 31:1), it is, in a sense, an ideal woman viewed through the eyes of a man who will need to find a wife someday, which does explain why some features are emphasized more than others. After all, Jesus Christ himself put on human flesh in a specific place and time, and we still understand that the universal application of his example is not tied to being an unmarried carpenter. It is correct to say she’s rich and you’re not, but not as a way of downplaying her achievements or making her easier to stomach, but rather as a way of re-contextualizing your response to her. In your circumstances, what can she inspire you to do? Therefore, the third point is that we can see her as an example of a different way to live, rather than a standard meant to intimidate us. We are not doomed to some of the repeated negative stereotypes about females that are spread around: neurotic, weak, anxious, gullible. None of this is our destiny. It is not encoded in our genes, a sentence given by God at birth. No, we can draw enthusiasm about our femininity from this picture presented here. The woman in Proverbs 31 does many things. As Wikipedia sums it up, she is “an industrious housewife, a shrewd businesswoman, an enterprising trader, a generous benefactor (verse 20) and a wise teacher (verse 26).” You can look at all that and think, oh wow I have to do all that? Or you can think, wow, I could be a businesswoman. I could be a trader. I could be a benefactor. Look at all the things I could do and be. And that sense of possibility is a good place to start. Don’t be afraid of her. Remember, she comes to you with words of kindness in her tongue. Author Harma-Mae Smit loves theology and loves the Lord. If you want more articles like this, you’ll be interested to learn she has started a monthly newsletter (where this article first appeared) as an antidote to the shallow and negative stories that tend to get shared online. Join her by signing up at the bottom of this webpage to get a new issue every month, and engage in discussion....

Theology

Bill, and The Brothers Karamazov, on the Problem of Evil

“All right, so this passage shows Jesus’ lordship and control over all creation.” Bill glanced at his watch. It was already 3:45 and his class started at 4:00. It was at least a 10-minute walk across the campus. “Are there any questions?” Bill hoped that the passage was clear enough to Victor, the only visitor at the Bible study. The group of four sat in silence staring at their Bibles briefly. Then Peter spoke up, “Well, there aren’t any questions, I guess we can close in prayer. Steve, could you close with us?” During the prayer, Bill felt his stomach tighten. The next two hours were going to be rough. As Steve finished, Bill added a few extra words asking God to strengthen him for what was coming. “Well, I’d love to stick around and talk, but I really gotta get going. My class starts in 10 minutes. See ya!” Bill walked briskly into the cold October air. The darkening dusk added to the tension in Bill’s body. He quickly ran through in his mind the topic for the Intellectual History seminar. He thought of whether he should just keep his mouth shut. “Maybe,” he thought, “maybe I should just go home and skip.” But then he remembered how many classes he’d already missed. It wasn’t an option. ***** In the seminar room, the prof and most of the students were already seated. The professor, Dr. Hamowy, was a short man, but he compensated for his stature with an antagonistic personality and sharp tongue. He gloried in debate and loved the thrill of the attack. Bill took his place at the end of the long table, opposite Hamowy. With two minutes left, Bill quickly reviewed the book to be discussed. A couple more students drifted in – it was time. “Okay, today we’re looking at Dostoevsky. You guys’ll like this. Always creates a good debate. Who’s giving the introduction? Miss Hogan? All right, go ahead.” Hogan launched into it. Bill had heard her talking with some of the other students and she mentioned something about going to a Lutheran church. Could she be a Christian? Bill listened intently. Not a word about Dostoevsky and Christianity. “Thanks, Miss Hogan, but that was rather superficial. I’m wondering, why didn’t you mention anything about Dostoevsky and Christianity?” Hogan’s face bleached. “Umm…I just didn’t think it was that important.” “Miss Hogan, did you even read the book?” “Sure, but I didn’t really see anything religious.” “Miss Hogan, next time you better do a closer reading of the book. If you’d thought about it or even done some research, you’d see we can’t understand this thinker apart from religion. Come on guys, get your act together.” The first part of the class was over. It was now completely dark outside. “Okay, let’s get the discussion going here. We’re especially interested in what Dostoevsky has to say about the problem of evil. You’ve read the book, so you should know that Dostoevsky approaches the problem religiously. Open your books to page 240 and we’ll start reading that second paragraph and go to the end of the following page. Mr. Kosinski, could you read it for us?” Bill opened his copy of The Brothers Karamazov and followed along. Ivan was complaining to his brother Alyosha: “People sometimes talk of bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel. I’ve collected a great deal about Russian children, Alyosha. There was a little girl of five who was hated by her father and mother…” Ivan went on to describe how this little girl had been horribly abused by her parents. He concluded by asking Alyosha if he would design the world in such a way that little children suffer so terribly. Kosinski stopped reading and looked up. Hamowy started the discussion. “Okay, what’d you guys think of this?” Silence. “Come on, somebody must be thinking in this room!” More silence. Bill felt his stomach tighten more. He leaned against the table and slightly pulsated back and forth with the rhythm of his thumping heart. One of the other students raised his hand. “Good, Mr. Bosley. You’d like to comment?” “Yeah, this book pretty much nails it right on. How could anybody believe in God when there’s so much evil in the world? Think of the Holocaust, all those Jews dying, where was God then? How could anyone believe in a powerful good God who could control all this evil, but doesn’t?” “Thank you, Mr. Bosley. Anyone else? Surely you don’t all agree with Mr. Bosley?” It was time for Bill to strike. He slowly raised up his hand, but Evans beat him to it. “Okay, Miss Evans, enlighten us.” “I agree. Believing in a good God in a world where there’s suffering is completely illogical. I don’t get all these god-freaks. Are they even thinking with their brains? We aren’t going to get anywhere in dealing with evil as long as those brain-dead ideas are around. We’d be better off with something like when we’re all god and we all work together.” “All right, thanks Miss Evans. There seems to be a consensus developing. What’s wrong with you guys? Mr. Gordon, I saw your hand. What do you think?” Finally, Bill had his opportunity. “It intrigues me that everyone agrees there’s such a thing as evil and wickedness.” Bill’s heart beat faster and harder and his voice trembled. “I’d like to just ask a question to all of you: can we all agree that sexually abusing children is absolutely immoral?” Most students nodded their head in agreement. Only Bagchee didn’t. “Mr. Bagchee, you disagree with Gordon? Why?” “Well, there may be some societies where adults having sex with children is completely normal. In my country, in some of the cultures, it was at one time custom to make mothers sleep with their boys. In other cultures, teenage girls must be deflowered by tribal leaders to prepare for their arranged marriage.” Hogan couldn’t restrain herself. “I think that’s completely disgusting! Sexual abuse is wrong no matter what!” Dr. Hamowy smiled as the class finally heated up. “Miss Evans, you have something to add?” “Yeah, Subhash you can say that about your country or other cultures, but what if part of their culture was to smash their children’s head against rocks while sexually abusing them, would that be okay too? And what if it was you or your child?” Bagchee shrugged. “Mr. Gordon, where’d you want to go with this? “Well, pretty much everyone agrees there’s an absolute moral rightness or wrongness to certain things, like sexually abusing children or brutally murdering them.” Bill’s voice was quivering again. “But when you ask how can there be a God with so much evil in the world, you’ve missed the hidden assumption in your question – that there is such a thing as evil. And the fact that you get upset about evil in the world shows that in your hearts you know there is such a thing as absolute good and evil. But when you deny the God of Christianity, you deny the possibility of there even being absolute right and wrong. Apart from God, morality is an individual or cultural matter, and like Subhash’s examples, sexually abusing children could conceivably be acceptable. But we’ve agreed that it’s absolutely not. When you ask the question, you’re stuck. You’ve betrayed yourself and the real nature of your problem with Christianity.” “Umm, thanks Mr. Gordon. Okay, what’d the rest of you think of those comments?” Kosinksi leapt in again. “Yeah, I think Bill’s wrong. You’ve got a contradiction in your idea here. You say God is good. You say God is powerful, right?” Bill nodded. “But you say evil exists! You’ve got a contradiction, ‘cause if God was all-good and all-powerful, there’d be no bad stuff. So, ya see, Christianity isn’t so true after all.” Bill thought carefully for a moment. “Joe, you just said God is all-good and I completely agree with that – it’s found in the Bible. His character defines right and wrong. God is all-good and because I’m a Christian, I look at everything in the light of that. And so when I see evil, I can be consistent by inferring God has a morally good reason for the evil we see around us. Any evil we see must somehow fit with God’s goodness. Look at Jesus for example. Jesus was crucified. It was an act of evil – he was 100% innocent. But the cross fit in with God’s good plans to rescue those who’d believe in him. God therefore has a good reason for the wickedness in the world and there’s no contradiction. It all fits.” Bill took a long deep breath and carried on. “But within the non-Christian way of looking at the world, you can’t justify your contradiction between having absolute moral standards and not having an absolute source for those standards. If all we are is ooze, what difference does it make if one glob of ooze sexually abuses another glob of ooze? Who cares? Only with Christianity can absolute standards of good and evil have any meaning. And I think that was the point Dostoevsky was trying to make too.” “Okay, thanks Mr. Gordon. Anyone have anything to say? Mr. Bosley?” “Yeah, this is stupid. What about the influence of Dostoevsky on feminist scholarship?” ***** The rest of the seminar rambled in inanities. Bill’s heart rate and blood pressure were still coming down 20 minutes later when the class ended. As he got up to leave, he tried to make eye contact with some of the other students. He made his way out and walked down the hall of the history department. Hogan came up behind him and stopped him. “Bill, I really liked all those things you said. That was really good.” “Thanks.” Bill walked away wondering why no one ever spoke up in class to support him. As he stepped out into the chilly darkness, he still felt the aching of his chest and the tightness in his stomach. The only thing not bothering him was his conscience. Dr. Bredenhof blogs at yinkahdinay.wordpress.com where this first appeared....

Theology

Is it real corporate worship? - a parable

In this time of pandemic, Christians are carrying on a vigorous discussion about the character of corporate worship. When many if not most of the congregation members are watching online, can we really say that we are gathered as the Body of Christ, worshipping Him in corporate worship? I’ve read many of the arguments for and against, and I tend to agree with all of them. My position is basically this: yes, we are gathered for corporate worship. At the same time, it is only a pale imitation of how corporate worship should be. Some speak quite forcefully against calling a live-streamed service real corporate worship, calling it only a “pale imitation.” Others argue quite forcefully that live-streaming is real, corporate worship; the congregation is gathered together in the building and over the internet, and together the Body comes into the presence of the Lord and worships. It may be pale (less than desirable), but it’s not an imitation: it is real worship. A real imitation As I said, in a sense I side with both.  I would like to insist on maintaining the word “imitation.” The word “imitation,” derived from a Latin root, conveys the idea of “copy.” I think of what the letter to the Hebrews says about the temple and the sacrificial system. They were “copies” of the real thing. The real Holy of Holies is in heaven. The temple was a pale imitation of the real thing. But it was the best that was available until Jesus came, died, rose, and ascended, opening up for us a new and living way beyond the veil, past the very real cherubim (not the gold pale imitations), into the very throne room of God. I would argue that something can be a pale imitation, but can at the same time be real, in the sense that it is the best we have available at the moment. So how can live-streamed worship be real, and at the same time a pale imitation? Let me tell you a parable which might convey how these two things might be true at the same time. The parable of the packed and pollinated country wedding Imagine a wedding going on in a country church. The bride’s cousin has unfortunately come down with a bad case of allergies, and is sneezing a lot. The church auditorium is very small and the cousin doesn’t want to sit amongst the guests and sneeze on them continuously, nor does she want to ruin the video with the sounds of her sneezes. So she stands in a separate room, with the door slightly ajar, and she can more or less see the wedding ceremony from a safe distance.  She’s thankful to be there, and to witness the marriage. But it doesn’t feel quite right: she doesn’t sense that she’s participating fully in the event, because she’s alone in a separate room. She has trouble hearing everything and she has a hard time joining in with the singing.  Meanwhile, the bride’s brother has a large family. Their flight was delayed and their rental car took quite a bit longer to arrange than they had thought. They arrived at the church building only to discover that all of the seats are already filled. It’s a beautiful, sunny day, so they find themselves obliged to stand outside the building by an open window and try to participate as best as they can. (They had considered standing in a separate room, but there was a lady in there sneezing away). This family has to crowd around the little window, and, in fact, take turns peeking in to see the ceremony which they can more or less hear. It’s certainly not what they had imagined when they planned their trip to see the wedding of their sister and aunty.  Is the cousin really at the wedding? Are the brother and his wife and children really at the wedding? Yes, they are. They are there, they are witnessing the vows, they are participating in the event, they are trying their best to sing along.  At the same time, their experience is really a pale imitation of what being at a wedding should be. They are there, but they’re not there. They feel one with the gathered group of family, friends, and fellow believers, but at the same time they feel separate. Now, is this a real wedding? It certainly is!  Is it only a real wedding for the people sitting in the pews? Certainly not!  The cousin in the separate room, and the brother and his family standing outside by the window, are witnessing and participating in a real wedding. Real but not optimal I would suggest that when in our Sunday worship, the Bride comes into the holy presence of the Bridegroom, and their vows of covenant love are renewed and celebrated, this is a real Wedding. It is real worship. It is real for the people who are physically there, and it is real for the people who are straining to participate through “a door ajar, or an open window,” or, in other words, through an online connection. It’s real participation in real worship.  But it is certainly not optimal. For those obliged to “look through the window,” it is a pale imitation of the experience they long to have: to be physically present in the gathered assembly of God’s people, singing and participating physically as the Bride communes with the Bridegroom. Addressing one concern Some are concerned that if we say participation via live-stream is considered real participation in real worship, then once the pandemic restrictions are lifted, some people will say it doesn’t matter if they stay home and watch the church service instead. I believe this concern is unwarranted.  Think again of those in the wedding parable, and the one obliged to participate from a distance because of a health condition. God knows the heart. There is no negligence or lack of commitment when a child of God is obliged to watch the live stream because they have to stay home for a lawful reason.  Think of the family watching through the window. They are forced to do so by the circumstances. Everyone will understand this. If, however, there are lots of pews open in the building, but the brother and his family insist on standing outside and looking through the window, this would be at the very least rather strange, if not offensive.  The same goes for participating in worship via livestream. We do this reluctantly because we are obliged by the circumstances, namely the restrictions imposed because of the pandemic. In a normal state of affairs, however, someone staying home to “watch” church of their own volition, when this is not imposed on them as a necessity, would constitute “despising the Word and the sacraments” and reveal a heart not committed to the Lord, His people, and His worship. Conclusion Is participating in public worship via livestream really worship? Are we really worshipping God together as a gathered church? The answer, during this pandemic, is “certainly!”  It may be a pale imitation of the type of gathered congregational worship we are used to, but given the circumstances, it is the very best we can do. And because it is the very best we can do, given the restrictions, we can be certain that in Christ the gathered congregation is certainly meeting with God in real corporate worship. Rev. Ken Wieske is the pastor of the St. Albert Canadian Reformed Church....

Theology

Why I'm religious, not just spiritual

I was sitting in the sauna at the local aquatic centre the other day when I struck up a conversation with the man sitting opposite me. When you’re a missionary, it’s easy to turn conversations toward matters of faith, and that’s the direction this particular conversation quickly took. It wasn’t long before the man told me something about himself that I’ve heard before, many times. It’s a statement that, to be honest, makes me cringe: “I consider myself to be more spiritual than religious.” What does that mean? Well, it turns out that to this man it meant that he believed in a “higher power” of some sort, that he didn’t attend church, and didn’t have any appreciation for “organized religion,” and that he tried to live, in his words, a “moral life.” And judging from our brief conversation, he certainly did appear to be, on the surface at least, a “good person.” He looked more than a little rough around the edges – he had full tattoo sleeves on both arms, long hair and piercings, but he expressed respect for my position and the work I do, he spoke with affection about his wife and his kids, and he told me how he worked hard to take care of his family and live a good life. So why did his statement make me cringe? Why do I find myself reacting negatively whenever I hear people speaking ill of “religion,” while speaking positively about “spirituality”? Spirituality's self-made god In this case, and others like it, my reaction has much to do with the fact that a person like this is essentially fooling himself. He believes that he can be a good person (and, in the world’s eyes, he is), and he believes that “God” (whoever or whatever he, she, or it is) will accept him on that basis. When it comes right down to it, he believes that he’ll be okay with God because he has, in his mind, created a god that he can feel comfortable with – a god that doesn’t demand too much, a god that doesn’t ask for things that will take him out of his comfort zone, a god who won’t judge him. Let me put it like this by way of example: on a Sunday morning at 8:00, when you’re enjoying that pleasant drowsiness that marks the end of a good sleep after a hard week of work, when you hear the kids beginning to wind themselves up in preparation for another day of rambunctious activity, it’s a whole lot easier to be “spiritual” than it is to be “religious.” Why? Because the “spiritual” person isn’t going to have to get the kids washed, dressed, fed, and into the vehicle before the Sunday morning service. He’s not going to have to keep those same kids under control for an hour of formal worship. He’s not going to have to spend time talking to people that he may not have much in common with, people who may annoy him or get on his nerves. He’s not going to have to listen to a preacher telling him things that he may not be interested in hearing; he’s not going to have his conscience pricked by calls to repentance. But most importantly, he’s not going to hear the gospel – the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, salvation that comes to people because of God’s pure and beautiful grace, if only they trust in Him. And because of that, regardless of how good a person he is, if he continues on his “spiritual journey,” while avoiding the trappings of what is now known as “religion,” he will not be saved. So when I hear a non-Christian tell me that he or she is “spiritual,” and not “religious,” it frightens me. And in the faith landscape of North America, this kind of self-definition is becoming more and more common. Prejudice against organized religion, individualistic thinking, and lack of respect for any kind of authority, whether religious or otherwise, has led to this unfortunate development in our recent history. True religion is more than ritual Now, seemingly in response to this shift in our culture, many Christians have begun to distance themselves from any association with “religion,” and have begun to define themselves in terms of “spirituality.” One phrase, in particular, keeps on rearing its (ugly) head: “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.” “Religion,” we’re told, is a negative concept, and it has to do with outward observance of rituals and behaviors, rather than the relationship that we should have with Jesus. It sounds great because we should all agree that the Christian faith isn’t simply about following the right rules. Being a true Christian means much more than going to church, making the requisite donations, attending Bible study or youth group or whatever church functions may have been organized. It is about living in a right relationship with God. The prophets of the Old Testament knew this, and they would write things like this: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). So why should we be bothered by the phrase, “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship,” if the person saying it simply means that Christianity is about more than ritual and formality and outward obedience to the moral code of the Christian community? Isn’t this just an argument over semantics? But when I hear that Christianity is not a religion, I think of James 1:26 and 27. James says this: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James does not say that religion is wrong. He doesn’t say that it’s superior to be “spiritual” rather than “religious.” The goal is true religion, not the absence of religion. True religion means bridling your tongue. It means visiting orphans and widows in their affliction. It means keeping oneself unstained from the world. So true religion is about much more than going through the motions; that’s clear in both the Old and New Testaments. True religion must be a religion of the heart. True religion is lived out But the fact is, it must not stop at the heart! True religion is not simply something that happens within the person. A faithful life is not a life that’s spent contemplating the right things, having the correct feeling in one’s heart. That attitude of the heart must show itself in outward observance – in seeking to live a holy life, in serving others, in speaking in a way that comports with God’s demand for pure speech. And it must show itself even in the observance of (gasp!) ritual! Sometimes people will speak of a divide that exists between the Old Testament and the New Testament, as if the Old Testament was all about ritual and observance of rules and regulations, about offering the right sacrifices in the right way at the right time, and the New Testament is all about the interior life of the person – what goes on in the heart. And so people see the Old Testament people of God as being “religious,” while New Testament Christians are called to be “spiritual.” But this is a false dichotomy. The Old Testament was never about the external divorced from the internal; the verse I quoted from Hosea proves that. And what’s more, the New Testament isn’t about the internal falsely separated from the external. As Christians, we still have rituals – repeated practices, done the same way again and again, that conform to a set standard. We have been given new rituals – the Lord’s Supper, and baptism – the sacraments. But we also participate in the old rituals – gathering together every week as a set pattern for corporate worship is a central religious ritual that we are called to honor. Ritual unexamined and done in an unthinking manner is surely a negative thing; but that doesn’t mean that ritual, the stuff that people now think of as “religious,” is negative in and of itself. Far from it! In fact, the Bible repeatedly speaks positively about these sorts of activities, and strongly encourages Christians to participate in them! True religion is communal And that brings me to my final concern about the religion/spirituality divide. As Christians, we are people who are called to live in community. As Reformed Christians, we speak about God’s covenant, and we speak of ourselves as God’s covenant people. One of my greatest concerns with pitting “religion” against “spirituality” is the individualistic focus of spirituality. “Spirituality” so often seems to be about my personal relationship with God, while “religion” is often associated with activities that involve corporate relationships – groups of people, doing the same things at the same time, together. In focusing on personal spirituality, as contrasted with organized religion, it often seems that the individual, and his or her needs and desires, becomes paramount, while the corporate aspect of our faith, which should be so central, is lost. Conclusion Our religion is not just about a personal relationship with Jesus; it is about that, to be sure, but it’s so much richer than that, so much more! John puts it this way, in the introduction to his first letter: “ That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). True religion is about the vertical (our relationship with God), but it also includes the horizontal (our relationships with one another). That is what we must strive for – not a vague, individualistic “spirituality,” but a true religion, a religion that defines all activities in our life, a religion that works itself out in love for our neighbor, especially in love for our brothers and sisters in the covenant community, based in our love for the Lord. So maybe we could work out a new motto. Say, something like this: “Christianity: not just a relationship, but a religion made up of relationships – beautiful (and challenging) relationships – with our fellow believers, based in a renewed relationship with God, through His Son Jesus Christ.” It may not be catchy, but it’s true. So let’s reclaim “religion” – a Biblical word that has been much maligned – and rejoice in it, and everything that it stands for. Rev. Witteveen is a missionary who has served the Church in Canada and now Brazil. He also blogs at CreationWithoutCompromise.com....

Theology

Repentance - what does it look like?

It’s embarrassing but true: all around us we see people seriously messing up, ourselves included. It happened to people in the Bible too. If Noah could get drunk and lie naked, if Abraham could lie about his wife being his sister, if Moses could kill the Egyptian, if David could commit adultery with Bathsheba and then kill her husband to cover his tracks, if Peter could deny the Lord three times in a row, then on what grounds would we think we are above similar sins? We too yield to the lusts of the flesh; murder (abortion or suicide), drunkenness (think also of drug abuse), adultery, consumerism, hedonism, wasting one’s time or talents or resources, and so many more sins appear among godly people who regularly attend church. Effect The effect of sin is devastating.  As children of God, unconfessed sin has a way of getting inside our hearts so that we feel guilty – thankfully. But not every child of God immediately admits their sin in repentance.  Then it becomes difficult to pray, and the desire to open the Bible evaporates, and they end up going to church and to the Lord’s Table because you don’t want to draw attention to themselves, and God seems so far away – until they return to the right way through sincere repentance. (See David’s experience of the effect of sin after his affair with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 & 12.) For that’s the gospel of the perseverance of the saints: even when His people fall into terrible sins, God will not desert His own! Rather, He works upon them through His Holy Spirit so that repentance comes about – eventually.  That’s our God: He does not forsake the work His hand has begun. Dying of the old nature What, though, does repentance actually look like? Scripture speaks often about repentance. It consists of two parts, the dying of the old nature and the coming to life of the new. The dying of the old nature in turn is built on three aspects: it is to grieve with heartfelt sorrow that we have offended God by our sin, and more and more to hate sin and flee from it. David speaks of his repentance from his affair with Bathsheba in Psalm 51: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” (Psalm 51:3-4) And, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:10-12) 1. Grief The grief we're talking about here is not a sense of "oops."  Rather, it's anguish of the heart: “heartfelt sorrow” that we’ve offended our holy God. Peter “went outside and wept bitterly” (Mt 26:75) – and that’s obviously grief from a broken and contrite heart. His sin bothered him: deep inside he felt absolutely rotten. 2. Hate Sorrow for the sin one has committed comes coupled with a sense of hate. No, it’s not hatred for the neighbor, but hatred of the sin and all that led to the sin. It’s a loathing of self too in the sense that one is far from proud of one’s accomplishments and abilities. The hate leads to a deep sense of humiliation.  It’s what the psalmist called a “broken and contrite heart” (Ps. 51). 3. Flee The result, in turn, is that one flees, gets away from the proximity to whatever led to the sin – for he doesn’t want to fall again into the snare of the devil or the world, or succumb to the weaknesses of his own flesh. Yet it’s not just a fleeing from; it’s also a fleeing to – to Christ in whose blood there is abundant forgiveness. Actually, it takes quite a man to flee.  One can assume that any true man will stand his ground and conquer his opponent.  Yet any General out to win the war knows that there comes the moment when he has to retreat – and that’s not an admission of failure but a display of prudence.  The child of God knows he has no chance against enemies such as the devil, the world, and his own flesh, and so flees to Christ who has defeated the devil and the world, and has poured out His Holy Spirit so that the fight against the flesh is possible.  To stand and fight on our own in this instance is actually a display of pride – and the taller one’s pride the harder one’s fall shall be. Coming to life of the new nature Repentance is more than the dying of the old nature; the other side of the coin is that a new nature is increasingly made alive. This coming to life of the new nature has two aspects: a heartfelt joy in God through Christ, and a love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works. 1. Joy Fleeing to Christ brings one into the arms of the Savior who conquered sin and Satan, and reconciled sinners to God.  His good news is that my atrocious sin is washed away like gravy off a plate – irretrievably gone.  Holy God, then, does not look upon me as the murderer or adulterer or thief or drunkard I am, but sees me as washed clean in Jesus’ blood.  Instead of anger and judgment, there is mercy and grace.  That reality cannot leave the heart untouched, but fills it with grateful joy and songs of thanksgiving. 2. Live That sense of gratitude for deliverance from the righteous judgment of God results in a renewed determination to live for God in all I do.  Instead of the environment that led to the sin, the repentant child of God actively pursues a different environment, one that promotes a lifestyle pleasing to the Lord God.  He surrounds himself with friends and activities that encourage praise for the Redeemer and discourage another relapse. Repentant people grieve from the heart with a godly sorrow for the sins they have committed; they seek and obtain through faith with a contrite heart forgiveness in the blood of the Mediator; they again experience the favor of a reconciled God and adore His mercies and faithfulness. And from now on they more diligently work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. Important? Is the doctrine of repentance worth repeating for general consumption?  I’d argue that the answer is Yes, simply because our culture does not know what repentance is.  One "apologizes," one says "sorry," but the grief and the hate and the fleeing and the joy and the delighting to live God’s way is a rare thing in our country’s public and not so public life. To cry buckets of tears is not the same as repentance, and an expression of remorse is not the same as repentance either.  Judas Iscariot “was seized with remorse” when he saw that Jesus was condemned, and “returned the 30 silver coins to the chief priests”, and even admitted that “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood” (Mt 27:3,4).  But his remorse and his admission did not amount to repentance; for he did not flee to the Christ he betrayed and pursue a life of godliness. Similarly, Esau’s tears at missing out on the first-born blessing did not amount to repentance (Hebrews 12:17). Repentance is so much more than saying "sorry," for it involves the heart. Repentance goes beyond remorse, for it involves a changed lifestyle. Repentance is not shallow, for it involves a deep awareness that none less than holy God has been offended. Repentance fills one with joy, because God’s declaration of forgiveness-for-Jesus’-sake heals and thrills the heart broken on account of sin. How merciful my God: He restores the undeserving! Rev. Clarence Bouwman is a pastor in the Smithville Canadian Reformed Church....

1 2 3