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Theology

On the benefits and limits of creeds and confessions

Most RP readers belong to creedal churches. We hold to creeds and confessions because they have helped the Church preserve the truth of God’s Word though the generations. So what are these confessions? In his article “The Necessity of Creeds and Confessions," Garry Vanderveen defined confessions as a: “common/shared interpretation of Scripture, which is the highest and only infallible rule for faith and life.” Orthodox Reformed churches generally still adhere to the ecumenical creeds (Nicene, Athanasian, and Apostles’) and some set of Reformed creeds (e.g., Westminster Standards, Three Forms of Unity, Augsburg Confession, etc.). In this article I want to explore both the benefit of creeds, and their limits. Symbols that came with risks In the early church, to hold to a creed or confession was often done at risk of one’s social and/or physical safety. In his A History of Christianity (Vol. 1), Historian Kenneth Scott Latourette explained that creeds and confessions are known as “symbols” because the term symbol here, “comes from a word which in one of its usages meant a watchword, or a password in a military camp. As applied to a creed, it was a sign or test of membership in the Church. Assent to the creed or symbol was required to those who were being baptized” People made this confession with a conviction to join the Lord’s army, as it were. They were convinced that Jesus Christ was the true Son of God, that He made full payment for their sins, and that they were assured of the resurrection of the dead. Each believer was prepared to “deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow ” (Luke 9: 23). Philip Schaff, in his Creeds of Christendom (Vol. 1), explains that the earliest creeds were often committed to memory and not written down. “From fear of profanation and misconstruction by unbelievers… the celebration of the sacraments and the baptismal creed, as a part of the baptismal act, were kept secret among the communicant members until the Church triumphed in the Roman Empire.” The earliest creeds are found in Scripture itself. When Christ asks the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:15-16). The importance of making a confession was quickly tied to one’s baptism and membership in the early church, and it included a confession of the Triune God before being baptized into the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The authority of creeds The creeds have an ecclesiastical authority but not in the same way that the Roman Catholic Church, and others, would suggest. The Roman Catholic Church believes that the creeds, traditions, and the papacy share a co-ordinate (equal) authority with Scripture, and that, then, is a denial of Scripture alone. Of course, with the Roman Catholic view of continuing authoritative revelation, we can anticipate, and we learn from experience, that the result is an ever-changing view of what God’s Word teaches. Councils, encyclicals, and formal Church documents become as authoritative as Scripture, and because these come later, they can be seen as progressive revelation. Protestant churches need to be careful that we do not fall into the same trap; we need to be very cautious that we do not elevate the ecumenical or Reformed creeds to such a status that we start arguing that any topic they don’t address must therefore be left to the freedom of the individual believer. Many of the creeds were written to articulate what Scripture teaches in response to a perversion of the Scriptures, a heresy. They were written in a historical context, addressing particular matters that were pertinent. They could not have foreseen issues such as abortion, euthanasia, gender confusion, etc. as topics that would need to be addressed. To grant freedom on these issues simply because the creeds don’t speak to them would be to ignore what Scripture does say. Then we would be elevating the confessions to the same level, or even higher than Scripture. And if we do that, then we risk causing the pendulum to swing the other way, leading to an abandoning of creeds and confessions and a turn towards rationalism and unfaithfulness. At the same time, the confessions do have an ecclesiastical authority as they regulate the public teaching of the church. They also allow members to express their commitment to the truth of the Scriptures as articulated by the church. The Apostles’ Creed appears to be the first formally crafted creed, and seems to have developed in response to Gnosticism, Marcionism, and Monasticism. The Nicene Creed, more prevalent in the East, seems to be an expansion of the Apostles’ Creed, with a somewhat stronger emphasis on the Trinity, and in particular, the nature of Christ. So, also, Reformed creeds were written to elucidate the biblical teachings on salvation by grace alone, the sovereignty of God, the sufficiency and completeness of Scripture, etc. They were written to echo the truth of Scriptures on core doctrines of the faith after those doctrines were perverted or misunderstood by the Roman Church and others. Just as early church members used the Apostles’ Creed to make their public profession of faith in order to receive access to the sacraments, so also today, we do something similar. It is quite reasonable to think that members of Reformed churches would express their agreement with Reformed confessions as a way to experience access to the sacraments for themselves and their children within Reformed churches. Are the truths expressed in the later creeds less true, or less important? Are they not expressing crucial truths? Or perhaps we have come to a point in the 21st Century that such truths are of secondary importance – to our detriment, I fear. To be clear, the Scriptures have a self-authenticating authority while the confessions have a provisional authority – they are authoritative in so far as they agree with or accurately summarize the Scriptures. This bears repeating. As Schaff puts it: “The Bible is of God: the confession is man’s answer to God’s Word”  No creed but Christ? I recall numerous discussions I had as a young adult with my peers, about the role of the confessions. Many wanted to adopt a “no creed but Christ” attitude. For them, this means that we do not need to express anything other than Christ – only Christ. This sounds pious and echoes the sounds of “Christ alone.” But what does only Christ, or “…but Christ” really mean? Does Scripture allow us to accept the Marcionites and Gnostics in the church of Christ? Or better yet, does Christ accept them as members of His bride? Today’s Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses also speak piously of Christ. In fact, the Mormons sing so many evangelical hymns about Christ, it is a wonder that they will not rightly comprehend what they sing. But the truth is, the Apostles’ Creed is – but Christ; the Nicene Creed is – but Christ; the Heidelberg Catechism is – but Christ. What I mean, of course, is that these creeds seek to be nothing more than an articulation of but Christ – they are only what Christ’s Word teaches us. All of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is equally the Word of God. As long as creeds and confessions echo the truth of God’s Word, they remain but Christ. Grey Areas To be fair, the aforementioned points raise some real challenges. In particular, how do we view or interact with those who cannot articulate agreement with Reformed confessions, but bear fruit as confessing Christians? They could agree with the Apostles’ Creed or all the ecumenical creeds, but not the Reformed ones. Can they not also be members of local Reformed congregations? Do they have to answer “I do” to this question: Do you believe the Word of God, summarized in the confessions, and taught here in this Christian church, to be the true and complete doctrine of salvation? These are questions I’ll explore in future articles as I seek to read through the forms for making a public profession of faith in use among faithful Reformed churches. As a start, however, there are things that churches cannot know, or things that we cannot decide – this is God’s hidden will. God decides who is and will be a member of the New Jerusalem, and every individual there will be there only because of Christ’s redeeming work. What the church can and must do, however, is ensure that the thrice holy God is honoured and His Word obeyed, and preached. If the Church no longer believes that the confessions articulate fundamental truths of God’s Word, necessary for salvation – if they are more than but Christ –  then one wonders why they should maintain any kind of ecclesiastical authority. Is there no room for grace, further education, disagreement? On a practical level, I find this very difficult. I believe, for example, fundamentally, that children should be baptized as members of Christ’s covenant congregation. I also believe that I have true brothers and sisters who would agree that children of believers belong to God, but who would disagree that baptism is a sign and seal of that reality, and so refuse to baptize their children. Is there a way to express and experience this unity despite the significant difference? Can I be honest and say, “I don’t know”? Perhaps we need to begin by identifying a difference between a personal conviction and a church’s position. That is, while I enjoy fellowship and relationship with such brothers and sisters, the fullness of our unity cannot be expressed until there is repentance and/or until Christ returns, in whom all of our sins are completely forgiven. If we were to put the problem the other way, a Reformed Baptist congregation would not agree to baptize my children if that church believed, fundamentally, that doing so would be sin or at least meaningless. Would I be permitted to be a full-fledged member if I refused to be rebaptized? Probably not. Creeds and confessions express a church’s understanding of the truth of God’s Word. They are not meant to serve as a catalogue of ideas from which we can pick and choose. The church adopts these statements of faith because they delineate our expression of the faith from those who express this faith differently. So, while we are on earth, we must strive to maintain the truth, and unity in that truth. Where there is not unity in understanding of the truth, there might need to be a limit to the experience of the spiritual unity we trust often exists. God is gracious, and while it is not good that brothers and sisters are separated because of sin, it is the way things are. Perhaps, even before Christ returns, we’ll all agree on why we baptize (or not) children of believers, but not likely. So, we wait patiently and pray fervently for Christ’s return when we will all experience the fullness of joy in belonging to Christ and to each other, in perfection. Until then… let us be careful that we do not compromise on the truth of God’s Word...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Marriage

A husband reads "Lies Women Believe"

Have you ever read a book specifically written for the opposite gender? I’ve just finished Lies Women Believe: and the Truth That Sets Them Free by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and boy, what a read! As an elder in our local church, I have the opportunity to speak with sisters in Christ about various challenges, and I appreciate their willingness to share. I try to be careful with my words in all visits, and I pray for wisdom when pastoring to the specific needs of these beloved sisters. One of the books that I have encouraged some to read is DeMoss’s. While I’d previously perused it, I was making this recommendation based on my wife’s, and other’s, high praise. But as I started to recommend it, I became convinced that I really ought to read it myself. I’m glad I did. Before I continue, I’m going to express a word of caution. If you think you are such a “good husband” with an “unappreciative wife,” this book is not for you. If your marriage is going through a rough patch, this might be a very good book for a wife, but not for the husband. DeMoss is honest in her assessment, and strives to be thoroughly biblical, but in the context of a challenging marriage, a bitter husband could use this book to point out the flaws and lies that his wife is perpetuating, even subconsciously. And he could then use this as ammunition against her, and this would be grossly inappropriate. But if you are a husband who loves his wife, an elder who loves his sisters in Christ, or a dad who loves his growing and maturing daughter, then this is a good book for you to read to better understand how you can help, and not hinder, your sisters in seeing through these lies, and learn how you can stop feeding these lies yourself. Lots of lies Throughout the book, DeMoss addresses forty lies that women believe, and she addresses them under eight different areas. These include lies women believe about: God themselves sin priorities marriage children emotions circumstances This list isn’t exclusive to women, of course, but DeMoss’s target audience is clearly women. She starts each chapter with ideas that Eve might have struggled with, and includes engaging real anecdotes from some women’s experiences, and discusses the lies specifically as women might grapple with them. What made it so interesting to me, as a dad, husband, elder, and Christian man, is that it made me reflect on how I might perpetuate the lies to the women in my own life – how men might feed the lie, as it were. While I strongly recommend the book in its entirety, in this article, we’ll limit the focus to the lies women believe about marriage, and we’ll explore how men might believe similar lies, or even feed the lie. 1. He’ll complete me The first lie is, “I have to have a husband to be happy.” As men, we might believe that “I have to have a wife to be happy.” Of course, our happiness or blessedness has to be rooted in Christ. He taught that the blessed ones were the poor in spirit, peacemakers, those who mourn, etc. (cf. Matt. 5:1-12). James teaches us that, “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (1:17). If we are married, that is a good gift for us, and if we are not married, what the Lord has given is also good for us – we are blessed because it comes from the Lord. This does not mean that it is easy to accept God’s plans over our own. Neither is it wrong to desire marriage in the Lord. But our happiness and contentment needs to be rooted in Christ and the blessings of belonging to him. In this respect, I think of my daughter and other single sisters in the Lord. I wonder how we might perpetuate the lie to these women and young girls that marriage is needed for happiness. Do we repeatedly ask single women why they are single? We ought not. Do we repeatedly tell them of some single men who are really nice? If we thought two people would be a good match, we could carefully and prayerfully introduce them to each other and then wait to see what the Lord has in store. But it is important that we do not try to play matchmaker flippantly. Do we ever ask them what they would like, or how they feel about their current state of singleness? Perhaps they enjoy the freedom to serve the Lord and their neighbour in various capacities and places. Do we invite them to be a living member of our family so that they can experience the blessedness of being an integral part of a family? Belonging to the church family is not something single people, or anyone, should only experience on Sundays. Do we really believe and accept what we read in Proverbs 16:9, that we may make our plans, but that the Lord determines our steps? Our married state is not by chance but is under God’s fatherly providence and love. Whether we are in a hard marriage, great marriage, single, or dating, today is from the Lord, and He has determined our steps. Instead of trying to “solve a problem” we should work hard at not perpetuating the lie that one has to be married to be happy. 2. I will change him A second lie about marriage that we might believe is that “it is my responsibility to change my mate.” In her commentary on this lie, DeMoss writes, “I sometimes wonder how many husbands God would change if their wives were willing to let God take over the process” (p. 140). Interesting point, and such a crucial discussion to have before marriage. I wonder if we spend enough time with young dating couples, having serious conversations with them. Are moms and dads, elders, or other couples challenging the couple’s compatibility, especially when there is evidence that the couple is not a good fit? Or do we simply “mind our own business”? Are ministers the only ones who are having somewhat serious conversations with a couple, and only after they are engaged? This is a lie that needs to be addressed before a couple gets married, to be sure. But what about when a couple is married? What happens when the initial euphoria of marriage has passed? Or what happens when our spouse doesn’t live up to our expectations? Can we just tell our spouse to change, tell them their faults, how to be better, and why we’re in the right? DeMoss suggests that “a godly life and prayer are a wife’s two greatest means of influencing her husband’s life” (cf. James 5:16; 1 Peter 3:1-4; p. 162). That can, of course, be said of husbands, too. Do we regularly pray for our spouse? Do we thank the Lord for our spouse? Do we see our spouse as an image-bearer and fellow believer? Do we wonder if our marriage expectations are biblical, and if they are, do we have patience with our spouse’s weaknesses and recognize our own? This second lie about marriage can be tied into the first one. If we keep repeating that we have to be married to be happy, then we might manipulate someone into getting married to an unsuitable spouse. That could lead to more grief and pain than we might ever anticipate. Have you ever told a young woman who doubted if she ought to get married to a particular man, that marriage would make things better? Have you told a man that if he didn’t marry a particular woman, that he could well end up single his entire life? We need to be careful that we do not perpetuate the lie. 3. He’s supposed to serve me A third lie is that “my husband is supposed to serve me,” and in this case it might be more likely that a husband believes the lie that “my wife is supposed to serve me.” A husband ought to be chivalrous towards his wife and daughters, and to teach his sons to be likewise. However, DeMoss points to Scripture in explaining how the woman is created to be a help-meet to her husband. But she makes the lynch-pin point for both spouses when she writes, “The Truth is that we are never more like Jesus than when we are serving Him or others. There is no higher calling than to be servant.” Indeed, that is what being Christ-like or being imitators of Christ looks like. Both spouses need to model Christ-like service as the normative act of love within the family, both the immediate and church families. 4. Submission is miserable Connected with this is the fourth lie that “if I submit to my husband, I’ll be miserable.” This is a lie that is repeatedly echoed throughout the secular world in which we live. It reminds us of the desire for autonomy or self-rule. The world around us views marriage as a contract between two independent individuals who agree to cohabitate, share some responsibilities, but remain independent. And if things do not work out, then we can mutually agree to terminate the contract. Of course, this independence is a lie right from the start. No one is truly independent or autonomous. We all serve God, or Satan and many other idols of the heart. It is possible that Christians have bought into the lie that submission implies inferiority, silence, or cowardice. We all need to submit to the Lordship of Christ as we seek to serve him in the various roles given to us. This once again reminds me, as a husband and father, how I might perpetuate the lie. Do I make my wife miserable by being over-bearing, proud, and inflexible? Do I honor her, and do I love her as Christ loves his bride? Am I miserable when I don’t get my way? Do I say one thing with my words and something else with my actions? My daughter is quite young, but if she starts dating, I’ll be looking out for her and wondering if her boyfriend is treating her in a godly way. It reminds me, too, to train my sons to honor their wives, should they get married. I am setting an example in my home in how I love and honor my wife – the question is if it is a godly example. 5. I should take the reins The fifth lie is “if my husband is passive, I’ve got to take the initiative or nothing will get done.” Immediately, as a husband, I reflect on if I am being too passive or becoming too dependent on my wife’s initiative and becoming lazy. A wife is not meant to take on the role of her husband because he is unfaithful in fulfilling his tasks, but we can understand why that might happen. Now, it is possible that when a husband does make an effort to do something helpful, that his wife tells him it isn’t good enough, isn’t done rightly, or it would be better if he just left it to her to do. DeMoss writes: “I can’t help but wonder to what extent we women have demotivated and emasculated the men around us by our quickness to take the reins rather than waiting on the Lord to move men to action. We can so easily strip men of the motivation to rise to the challenge and provide the necessary leadership. To make matters worse, when they do take the action, the women they look to for encouragement and affirmation correct them or tell them how they could have done it better.” Once again, as a husband and father, do I model a sense of laziness in my family? Do I show proper initiative? Am I balanced, patient, kind, loving, and self-controlled? Do I come home, expect the beer or coffee to be served, expect supper to be ready, house to be cleaned, bills to be paid, children to be quiet, etc., all because I spent eight hours out of the home? Am I obedient to the Lord in how I lead my family, or have I given up because of a few hurtful comments in the past? Do I argue for peace instead of for what is right? My children need an honorable dad, a father figure and role model, not a deadbeat dad. My wife needs a leader who loves her rightly and serves as a head in our marriage and family – there’s no room for being passive or lazy. 6. Divorce is good The last lie about marriage that I think both men and women might struggle with is that “sometimes divorce is a better option than staying in a bad marriage.” To be clear, DeMoss doesn’t delve into the permissible reasons given in Scripture for divorce. Her focus is more on other things that make marriage more challenging – bad situations, but not the sort which have been understood to be grounds for divorce for Christians. I can’t help but wonder if this is becoming a harder situation today. The church has always echoed Scriptures teaching that “God hates divorce.” When Christ was asked by the Pharisees if it were lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause, he replied: Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them make and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate… Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so…” (Matt. 19:1-9) This article doesn’t have room to go through the challenges of divorce and remarriage. Nevertheless, as an elder in the church, I find myself struggling with giving sound counsel and wisdom in various circumstances. Strength comes from speaking the Word of God to married couples as they struggle through some challenges. But finding the wisdom to rightly apply God’s Word in every nuanced circumstance is hard and requires humility and love. I probably get it wrong a lot of the time because I would be relying too much on man’s wisdom. Divorce is never a commandment, and in rare cases it is permitted. This is an important starting point in Christian marriage. We can’t just “give it a shot” and see what sticks. We can’t treat marriage as a contract between two people, but we must treat it as a vow that both spouses make, and to the Lord in the first place. It is not that I promised my wife that I would love, cherish, and care for her, as much as that I made those promises to the Lord. He is the Lord of my marriage, and if I strive to be faithful to him, I must be faithful to my wife. Conclusion My hope in writing this article was two-fold. First, I hope I demonstrated how DeMoss grapples with some real and challenging issues that women (and men) struggle with. Secondly, I hope that I was able to show how this book has much to commend it to both women and men. While most men would probably skip over a book with this title, we do so to our detriment. As we love our wives, daughters, sisters-in-Christ, and even as we love our sons, we can make good use of this book as it draws us to Scripture’s teaching on how we ought to live as citizens of God’s kingdom. Now that I’ve finished “Lies Women Believe,” I am looking forward to reading “Lies Men Believe: and the Truth that Sets Them Free” by Robert Wolgemuth (2018) who married Nancy Leigh DeMoss in 2015. Perhaps I’ll be able to recommend that book as strongly as I recommend DeMoss’ book....

Assorted

A more generous ministry of mercy?

The Lord loves his church and gave her the gift of the ministry of mercy. But is this blessed ministry as active as it can or should be within the communion of saints? Let’s consider the following scenarios and the possibilities they present.  1. After a miscarriage A sister has had a miscarriage or stillborn child. Initial visits by the elder and/or minister have taken place. There is concern that it will take some significant time before the sister will have the energy and emotional strength to take on the regular management of the household. The husband has a good paying job so doesn’t think to ask the deacons for help. A few sisters have dropped off meals, and this has been a godsend. Nevertheless, laundry is piling up, the kids are not bathed, the house is not getting cleaned. The sister knows that this is not the way it should be, but that only makes her feel more guilty and incapable of taking next steps. Her husband has tried to take on more responsibilities, but now he is also starting to feel overwhelmed and is afraid of coming across as insensitive. They need more help! Do the deacons know that there is a problem? Maybe not, but perhaps it should be expected that they inquire again two or three weeks after the loss of the child, to see how things are going. If the deacons were to follow up with the brother and sister, and to inquire how things are going, they might find that while there isn’t any help need financially, the family does need to experience the love of the communion of saints in other tangible ways. 2. In the face of cancer A brother has been diagnosed with cancer. He is sixty years old. The news is shared with the congregation and the minister/elder come to make a visit. After the initial shock is over, the couple decides that it is best that they move out of their large home and into a smaller place. They have children all over the country but who here in town can help them move? Members of the congregation can get together, but the deacons can also take a lead here. They can ensure that this couple, under their care, has the physical help they need. And, of course, the deacons will want to ensure this couple has adequate financial means after the cancer diagnosis led to the brother’s necessary decision to stop working. 3. An unplanned trip A brother in Ontario has a father deathly ill in British Columbia. The deacons or close friends in the congregation know that this family does not have a lot of financial resources. The brother takes his wife and three children to BC to make a visit. He can afford this trip because he has a line of credit, and feels such a trip justifies the expense. Who would disagree? This brother would not be likely to ask for assistance from the deacons because he has a full-time job. But might it be good if the deacons (or other church members) made a visit? Could they, or other members, inquire as to the cost and conceivably gift the family with a signed cheque to help cover some of these unexpected costs? Was this family in dire straits? No. Could they use the help? Absolutely! **** I am sure we can come up with a plethora of other examples in which the minister of mercy, led by the deacons, can be administered within congregational life. Nevertheless, let’s return to the question we began with: is this blessed ministry as active as it can or should be within the communion of saints? My hope is that this article causes all of us to reflect on God’s Word to determine the answer to the question: Is the ministry of mercy equipping all the saints to live in the joy of being redeemed? Loving and caring as God does I strongly recommend Dr. Van Dam’s book “The Deacon” available at Amazon and elsewhere. The New Testament church of our Lord Jesus Christ is blessed to have a formal ministry of mercy as ministered by men serving in the office of deacon. As Dr. C. Van Dam notes in The Deacon: Biblical Foundations for Today’s Ministry of Mercy, seven men were originally chosen in Acts 6 with the task “to see to it that there were no needy so that everyone could rejoice and celebrate the salvation and freedom given in Christ.” As the number of followers was increasing, there seemed to arise a tension between the Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews) and Hebrews because the Hellenist widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. In order to ensure that the ministry of the Word was not hindered, brothers were appointed to an additional office to begin exercising the ministry of mercy. These men were “set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:6). And so the ministry of mercy is initiated. How does this office function today? In the first place, this ministry of mercy proceeds from the love of our God and Saviour. While he was on earth, Christ fed the hungry, healed the sick, and showed compassion to the afflicted. And while the formal ministry of mercy was not initiated in the Old Testament, the loving covenant God provided numerous laws to ensure that the poor and afflicted were cared for in generous ways (e.g., gleaning, labor, and marriage laws). God loves and cares for his people. That is a consistent characteristic of our covenant God throughout scripture. In Matthew 26:34-40, Christ teaches that on judgment day: “the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” “The Form for Ordination of Elders and Deacons” used in many continental Reformed churches summarizes Matthew 26 with the conviction that “no one in the congregation of Christ may live uncomforted under the pressure of sickness, loneliness, and poverty.” Living uncomforted is not an option for the Christian community; rather, we should be living in the joy and comfort of our freedom in Christ. And so, the Form explains, it is for the sake of this service of love, that Christ has given deacons to his church. Diaconal work is made possible by the congregation sharing their resources, monetary and other gifts, with these office-bearers, for distribution in one’s home congregation and beyond. Sharing resources is rooted in our love for each other. We love each other because Christ first loved us. Scripture also teaches that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7). And it remains an important principle that collections are done in such a way that members can give in secret, without sounding the trumpet and making a public show of their generosity (Matt 6:1-4). When we give generously, there is no need for brothers and sisters in the Lord to experience the burden of poverty or the suffering of want. Not waiting to be asked However, while there is no need for poverty and suffering of want in Christ’s church, for some of us, it is a challenge to ask for help, especially financial help. When we lose our job, become seriously ill, or struggle with frailty, we are often not prepared to ask for help. In The Deacon, Dr. Van Dam suggests (insists) that deacons should be visiting the members under their care in order “to give those he visits the opportunity to feel comfortable with him.” The idea is to build mutual trust. The deacons can learn a lot about family life when they make a visit, and can quickly learn to trust a member in their ward when they have the courage and humility to ask for help. Likewise, when a member trusts the deacon, confident that neither an audit or interrogation will take place, he can ask for help without shame or fear. In addition to building this trust, deacons can also ascertain “whether church members have any needs, financial or otherwise, that are not being met… ideally can see or anticipate needs and offer to help rather than waiting for those in need to come to them.” Love is the greatest command within the congregation of Christ. We love, because he first loved us. It remains important that office-bearers practice servant-leadership as they serve the congregation in which they are appointed. Love requires a servant’s attitude. This means that when they hear someone has lost their job, deacons make a visit and offer help; when a member is diagnosed with a serious illness, deacons should make a visit; when a baby is born and requires a lengthy stay in the hospital, the deacons should ensure the parents have sufficient kinds of help during that challenging time. Deacons do not wait to be asked for help, they need to take the initiative to offer help to the members. Deacons need help too At the same time, deacons do not always know when there are needs. Communication is a two-way street, and the members can also take initiative. When we lose our jobs, we confess that this is under God’s providence. There is no shame in asking the communion of saints for help. This can be done by asking members directly, if a solid relationship of trust has already been established. There is no rule that suggests that members should not help each other directly, rather it should be encouraged. Nevertheless, the ministry of mercy is there to provide for the financial and physical needs of those in need. A relationship with deacons helps members ask for such assistance. The ministry of mercy is a gift – it bears repeating. Do we make good use of this gift? And, yes, like all good gifts, we can abuse them, but let’s leave that for another article. Let’s first commit to making good use of this godly gift of our Lord for His children. For more on the ministry of mercy, be sure to check out the episode below of the Focal Point podcast where Dr. Chris deBoer, along with special guest Dr. Cornelis Van Dam, discuss the why, what, how, and where of the Church's ministry of mercy. ...

News

Twice a Sunday needs to happen!

With the battle raging, we may not neglect coming together “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” – Hebrews 10:24-25 **** Churches face many challenges, and some are more significant than COVID’s potential impact on our physical health. There is a spiritual battle going on and the devil has no qualms with using any and all means available to try and deceive and attack the Body of Christ. And he can even use COVID. The devil has, long ago, learned that the Church can actually grow via the spilt blood of martyrs. So, rather than stir up passions via persecution, he will sometimes try the very opposite tactic, lulling the church into complacency and apathy. Beyond temporary During the initial uncertainty of COVID, many churches were mandated by the government to stop gathering together. After a few weeks, permissions were granted to have maybe five or six people in the building, and that made it possible for congregations to watch their pastors lead a service via livestream. Other congregations were encouraged to watch other church services online. Then, as restrictions were loosened, a group of fifty, or groups of fifty in different cohorts, could gather in the building for worship – some had restrictions on singing, others could sing with full voice! While these temporary restrictions to formal gatherings for worship might have been an acceptable measure while COVID was novel, now, months into it, we must ask, how long we can practice these temporary measures? Is it time to start making plans for the longer-term so that we can ably equip the saints for the battles we must wage? Worship services are essential One of the greatest training grounds for preparing saints for spiritual warfare is the formal worship services held on a weekly basis. In the Church Order of many continental Reformed churches we express the importance of formal worship services: “The consistory shall call the congregation together for worship twice on the LORD’s Day. The consistory shall ensure that, as a rule, once every Sunday the doctrine of God’s Word as summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism is proclaimed” (Church Order of the Canadian Reformed Churches, Article 52). The reason why at least one service focuses on the doctrine of God’s Word as summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism is to ensure that the congregation knows core doctrines well. Such knowledge equips the saints for the battles raging. In Canada, many of our church members were managing to worship in their buildings with about half the congregation once per Sunday. While this is better than not meeting, it does not meet the normative standard set out by the Church Order, to meet twice per Sunday. Worship with the communion of saints is special. Church attendance promotes fellowship and encouragement (cf. Act. 2:42; Heb. 10:24, 25). As the Psalmist says, “we used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng” (Psalm 55:14). The Holy Spirit works through the preaching of the Word (1 Cor. 2:4, 13; 1 Thess. 1:5) for the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). This weapon of offense, this Word, is powerful. Hebrews 4:12 teaches us that the “word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword…” The Word, accompanied by the power of the Spirit, is effective for changing lives. The preaching of that word is crucial for the saints, as they seek to maintain their engagement with each other and with the world around them. Formal worship services are centred around the preaching of the Word. But of course, formal worship is more than just a listening exercise; indeed, if that is all we needed to consider, then virtual worship would be virtually the same as corporate worship. We can hear great speeches, sermons, and elucidations on God’s Word anytime online. But Christians are not just concerned about an academic learning, but about developing and nurturing both their vertical relationship with God (the greatest commandment), and also the horizontal relationships (the second commandment to love one another). A worship service includes hearing the promises of God’s blessing, singing praises to God with the saints, active listening to the living preaching of God’s Word to a specific congregation of the Lord, etc. A worship service truly addresses both aspects of our walk of faith in a congregationally specific manner Where there is a will, there is a way It is time to refocus our efforts to worshipping together twice per Sunday. The principled position articulated in the Church Order needs to be reignited before apathy sets in, if it hasn’t already. It is apathy that the devil uses to infiltrate a laziness in the church. He sows the seeds of doubt through apathy when we start to wonder: do we really need to go to church twice? Why can’t we just stay home this morning? I think we’ll take a nap this afternoon and catch the service via livestream, etc. We must not let the devil get a foothold in the churches of Christ. We need to get back to corporate worship again! If we take the threat of the devil seriously, we will do all that we can to combat his attacks by any biblical means available. Practically speaking, this means that the consistory could call each half of the congregation to worship twice per Sunday. Yes, that means four services in the building. Some churches would need to have the elders lead one or two of the services per Sunday. It might be wise to have the same half meet together consistently for a period of time. This would allow that half of the congregation to get to know each other better and to increasingly function as a body of believers, encouraging each other to love and good works. However it happens, the normative practice of gathering in worship twice on Sunday needs to be restored as soon as possible. People have started feeling guilty coming to church twice because the one time was not technically their turn. Others have stopped feeling guilty altogether when they choose to skip going to church, or even skip watching the service online. Because we love the Lord and His saints, we need to reinstate the call to worship twice every Lord’s Day. In so doing, the Holy Spirit will continue to work mightily in the lives of God’s people so that we are increasingly equipped to fight the good fight of faith and to live according to God’s commands to love him with our heart, soul, and mind, and our neighbour as ourself. Since originally writing this article, further worship restrictions have been implemented in many regions. Brothers and sisters, let us do all that we can to gather together as often and willingly as possible. Formal worship is essential to the life of the local congregation – let us ensure we do what we can to keep the congregation alive and active before it may need to go on life support....

Sexuality

Christians and same-sex attraction

I am a Christian. I am still a sinner. We could add a whole host of other sentences to describe me, too, but these two would encapsulate the others, I think. For example, I am a Christian and sinful dad; I am a Christian and sinful husband; I am a Christian and sinful employee, etc. I am a Christian, by God’s grace; I am a sinner, in need of a Saviour. But if I have been redeemed, if I am Christ’s, why then does sin still cling to me? In the Heidelberg Catechism we confess we are “freed from the power of the devil” (Lord’s Day 13) and our old nature is dead and buried so that sin no longer reigns in us, (Lord’s Day 16). So why then am I still a sinner? Why do I still do the things that I do not want to do? There are two realities working in our lives at the same time (Lord’s Day 21): The reality that God, because of Christ’s satisfaction, will no more remember my sins nor my sinful nature against which I have to struggle all my life He will graciously grant me the righteousness of Christ that I may never come into condemnation This is true of all true Christians. We will struggle against our sinful nature all of our lives. There is no escaping it until we pass away. This, then, must also be true for those who struggle with same-sex attraction: being tempted to sin in this way belongs to our sinful nature and can be a lifelong struggle for many Christians. Mainstream Christianity’s poisonous response So if this struggle with sin has been a constant through all time, why is it now that the struggle with same-sex attraction has taken on a life of its own within Christendom? Isn’t it because it has taken on such a significant position in the world? Over the past 150 years, sexuality has become increasingly part of individual identity. So how is Christendom contending with this issue? How are we explaining to the world, God’s thoughts on our sexuality and our identity? As you might expect compromising churches are doing what compromising churches do. I will begin by outlining two of their responses. 1. Qchristian There are a number of so-called ministries teaching that Christians can fully embrace an LGBTQ lifestyle and remain faithful Christians. One such ministry is Qchristian, and in a confessional-type document they ask and answer a number of questions that give a summary of some of their main positions: Does God affirm LGBTQ+ identities and gender-expansive identities? Yes Does God affirm same-gender sexual relationships? Yes Who are members of our “Side A” community? LGBTQ+ Christians who affirm both LGBTQ+ identity and same-gender sex for various personal and/or theological reasons Who are members of our “Side B” community? LGBTQ+ Christians who affirm LGBTQ+ identity and who also are committed to refraining from same-gender sex for various personal and/or theological reasons. What is “Side X” or “Ex-Gay” theology? This is dangerous and disproven theology that alleges that LGBTQ+ identity can and/or should be changed by God. Q Christian counters this theology… These questions and answers help us understand some of the main issues at stake. The claims they make are quite outrageous. To begin, the insistence that God affirms any sexual identities other than male and female, is very difficult to align with Scripture. In fact, there is some evidence that in Christ the only real identifier we need to consider is that we belong to Him (Gal. 3:28). Either we are followers of Christ, or we are not. When we first learn about marriage, we are taught that a “man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). There is nothing in Scripture that changes this concept of marriage. Throughout Scripture, Israel is described as the Bride of God (Is. 54:5, Ez. 16:8-14, Jer. 31:32); the church as the Bride of Christ (John 3:29, 2 Cor. 1:2, Rev. 19:7-9). Male and female again and again. Familiar as we are with the ways Scriptures can be twisted, we can perhaps imagine how, through theological gymnastics, some would argue that God does not forbid same-sex physical relationships, which Matthew Vine does in his book God and the Gay Christian. But they are going even further here, insisting that God affirms these relationships, and it really is hard to fathom how, no matter how extensive the squinting or editing they might do to Scripture, they can find any examples of that. We are introduced here to the Side A and Side B groups that both affirm Christian sexual identity. Many orthodox Christians would not identify a Christian by his temptations, weaknesses, or sins but that is exactly what both Side A and Side BChristians do. The Side B Christians, however, would agree with us that the practice of same-sex physical relationships is forbidden by Scripture. Unfortunately, holding to the Side B position seems to lead to an eventual affirmation of Side A; at a conference in Chicago where these two sides were to meet together, Side A had over 1100 representatives while Side B only had about 46. Most of our readers would be considered “Side X” by the Qchristian community. Of course, our position is that temptation for same-sex physical relationships has similarities to the temptation for opposite-sex physical relationships. Single people who desire opposite-sex physical intimacy have the same calling to purity as those struggling with same-sex attraction. “God’s grace is sufficient” (2 Cor. 12:9) is not a band-aid solution to help our struggling brothers and sisters, but it is a promise from our faithful Father: despite our struggle, God’s grace is our sure confidence. So, even though we cannot be certain that sexual temptation and desires of any kind will be changed by God in this life, we can know that such sexual temptation does not define us. Our identity is not our sin; we belong to Christ!  2. Reformation Project Another organization is even more dangerous in its approach. Since Qchristian is “progressive” it may not have much direct impact or reach into conservative Christian churches. However, that cannot be said of the Reformation Project. This organization, led by Matthew Vines (mentioned earlier), seeks to reform evangelical, conservative churches. They suggest that their work is similar to the work of Luther and other Reformers. The irony is sharp. When one reads Vines’ book, quotations from John Calvin, C.S. Lewis, John Chrysostom, and others are sprinkled throughout. But Vines pulls threads through his book that do not tie together. As just one example, the chapter on celibacy is quite strong even as its application is quite wrong.  We would agree with Vines that celibacy is not commanded or even, generally, considered the better way, but we would vehemently disagree with him that such a conclusion opens the way for those struggling with same-sex attraction to participate in marriage. This approach to Scripture is very dangerous because it sounds so pious but is so blasphemous. The Reformation Project outlines a Brief Biblical Case for LGBTQ Inclusion. The 10 principles are examples of pious sounding dangerously blasphemous teaching. For the purposes of time and space I’ll share and respond only to the first of them. 1. Experience of sound Christian teaching should show good fruit, not bad fruit “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” – Matt. 7:16-20. Further on into their site they then list the fruit they think results from opposition to same-sex intimacy: ….Condemnation of same-sex relationship have created crushing burden of shame on countless LGBTQ Christians’ lives, fostering alienation from God, the church, and family. According to a landmark 2009 study, when families reject their LGBTQ children, their children are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide, 5.9 times more likely to have high levels of depression, and 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs than LGBTQ children who have supportive families.                 A 2018 study found that while religiosity helped to protect against suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts among heterosexual youth, it was associated with significantly higher rates of suicidal thought and suicide attempts among gay, lesbian, and questioning youth. Suicide rates are highest among transgender people; 41% of transgender adults in the Unites States have attempted suicide in their lifetime, compared to only 1.6% of the overall population. Do we see the logic used? They quote Matt. 7:16-20, but it is when we add verse 15 that the irony becomes all the more clear: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Matthew Vines dresses in sheep’s clothing, imitating the bleating of sheep, but serves as a ravenous wolf. He wants to serve as a shepherd to Christians struggling with sexual identity, but true sheep know the voice of the Good Shepherd, and His voice is not being echoed by Vines. When we read the above description and statistics we can see how The Reformation Project determines good fruit and bad fruit – if we do not affirm the sexual identity and orientation of Christians in their struggles the fruit is bad, that is, greater rates of suicide and self-harm. If we do affirm them, the fruit is better with far fewer episodes of attempted suicide and self-harm. Of course, logically if we affirm any sin, the sinner may feel better about him/herself… but then they would never echo the words of King David in Psalms 32: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” As long as the sinner does not acknowledge his sinfulness but rather delights in it, and has others delight in it, too, there will be no repentance. The Reformation Project perverts Scripture to permit LGBTQ lifestyles which God hates. It is so similar to the temptation of the devil in the Garden of Eden; Vines and his supporters are asking Christians, “Did God really say…” and suggesting that faithful churches have had it completely wrong from the beginning. The Reformation Project and QChristian are providing false compassion and comfort to brothers and sisters struggling with same-sex attraction. There has to be a better biblical way. A better way The church of Christ is filled with sinning saints. Every day each one of us needs the Holy Spirit’s powerful work of sanctification in our life because apart from the redeeming work of Christ and the powerful work of the Spirit, we would all be dead in our sins. This is true for those of us who are struggling with pornography, greed, covetousness, same-sex attraction, gambling, excessive drinking, or whatever it might be. At the same time, we recognize that society’s insistence on identifying us by our sexual desires has taken root and developed fruit in the secular world and that makes sexual sins and temptations all the more challenging. The powerful sexual urges that well up in a person as they are growing up will no doubt be of considerable struggle for those with same-sex attraction, as it is for others. Nevertheless, just as single Christians who experience opposite-sex attraction must remain pure and abide by the word of God, so also those who struggle with same-sex physical attraction must resist the temptation. Nevertheless, having no hope to fulfill those urges can remain a true and real disappointment and loss for those with same-sex attraction. Therefore, the church also needs to be gracious and compassionate with each other, as members of the Body of Christ. We need to be living out Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfish ambition, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Christians have no stones to throw at others who are struggling to resist sin and temptations. We have no stones to throw at those who have fallen into temptation and repented from their sin. We need to help each other, trust each other, be vulnerable with each other, etc. We are so fearful of one another’s judgements that many of us do not “confess your sins to another and pray for one another…” (James 5:16). We do not trust others because of harmful ways that many in our churches speak about being gay, about homosexuality, and about gender dysphoria. We need to ensure that our criticism and critique of sinful lifestyles is seasoned with salt, garnered in grace. We can offer friendship to those struggling with same-sex attraction, offering to pray with them, visit with them, and letting them experience the blessing of belonging to the communion of saints despite their temptations. Christians struggling with same-sex attraction ought not to be identified as gay or homosexual but as a brothers and sisters in Christ. The command to love God and our neighbour are the two greatest commandments given to us by Christ. Let us strive to do this with humility and love to the benefit of all those who belong to our Lord, who are members are His Bride, the Church....

Culture Clashes

Black Lives Matter – the slogan

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

News

Racism is wrong…

Racism is wrong. The Minneapolis police officer, holding his knee on George Floyd’s neck for a lengthy period of time, may have been motivated racially, or by pride, or by hatred, etc. I do not know. If the police officers involved behave as racists or as “judge, jury, and executioner,” they deserve to be punished.  We can empathize with protests demanding justice in this way; some may even participate. Christians in Minnesota should be writing to their newspapers, political leaders, and law enforcement personnel, encouraging everyone to fight for justice, but to do so in a godly way. Action can be taken throughout our various countries, but our action needs to be in step with who we are as Christians and it must respect the dignity of all others. Racism is wrong. And the root cause of racism is sin. …because we are all made in God’s image Racism is wrong. Anyone holding to a solid biblical worldview cannot help but arrive at that conclusion. We know that all people are created in God’s image (Gen 1:26-27). Originally, being created in God’s image, man: “was adorned in his mind with true and wholesome knowledge of his Creator and of all spiritual things; his will was upright, all his affections pure, and therefore man was completely holy.” – Canons of Dort, Chapter 3/4, Art. 1 However, man fell from this glorious state of being as we rebelled against God in paradise. Nevertheless, we confess that man’s fall did not make him like the animals, but that a light of nature remains in mankind after the fall: “whereby he retains some notions about God, about natural things, and about the difference between what is honourable and shameful, and show some regard for virtue and outward order. But so far is he from arriving at the saving knowledge of God and true conversion through this light of nature that he does not even use it properly in natural and civil matters… man wholly pollutes it in various ways and suppresses it by his wickedness.” – Canons of Dort, Chapter 3/4, Art. 4 All of mankind share in this new fallen state of being. There is no alternative until the Holy Spirit changes our hearts and minds, making us alive again in Christ, and the image of God is being renewed in us. …because diversity was always God's intention Racism is wrong. We are reminded of the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. This story tells us of one united nation that did not want to fulfill the cultural mandate of Genesis 1 in filling the earth. Man’s rebellion against God increases exponentially when there is a united purpose against him and his revealed plan for mankind. At the Tower of Babel God decides to create new cultures through confusing the languages of the people there. This confusion drives the people apart and the earth begins to be filled. Physical, racial, and cultural diversity develops. This mosaic of diversity is a result of sin, but is not sin in itself – God wanted mankind to develop culturally and spread throughout the earth and He will not let his plans be manipulated. …because the Gospel is for all Racism is wrong. When Abram was addressed by God to leave his home country he was encouraged by the promise that God would make of him a great nation and that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). God develops a nation through Abraham, a special distinct nation in all the earth, as he works out his plan of salvation for his people from all tribes, languages, and nations. Racism is wrong. When our Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross he fulfilled the promises of the Old Testament, also the promises to Abraham. Christ gives his disciples the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20). Much of the New Testament scriptures are about taking the gospel of Jesus Christ and spreading that message indiscriminately among the nations! There is no room for racism in Christianity. Where racism is evident, together with any and all examples of injustice, Christians should be engaged in various Godly activities to provide a witness to the truth and to fight the injustices as they are able. …because it is what’s inside that counts Racism is wrong. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Racism looks at the color of one’s skin and makes a judgement ignorant of the content of that person’s character. Racists look at the outside of a person, make an unjust judgement, and so reveal the depravity of their own heart and mind. Those who love and defend the just cause of their neighbour because God has loved them reveal a heart that is enlightened by the Holy Spirit, while those who hate their neighbour, who judge them falsely or on the basis of skin colour, still live in darkness and delusion. …but not all disagreement is racism Racism is wrong. But not all that is called racism is racism. In this context we can think of disagreements between the worldview of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Christianity. Christians who argue that the Islamic religion is false and dangerous, are not behaving in a racist fashion. Although most Muslims are from the Middle East, this does not mean that Christians are racist against Middle Eastern citizens when we express the implications of the cultural battles that exist between these two significantly different worldviews. When Christians tell Judaists and Muslims that the promise given to father Abraham is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, we are not making a racist comment but the very opposite – we are inviting them to accept Christ as Saviour and so be our brothers and sisters in Christ! Godly mission work directed towards individuals of other faiths or those who profess no faith is not driven by a cultural or racist superiority rooted in idolatry, but in a love for our neighbours, fellow image bearers who also need the gospel of Jesus Christ in order to be saved from meaninglessness in this life and eternal punishment in the life to come. …but riots are not the answer Racism is wrong. Christians need to fight against this form of injustice wherever it rears its ugly head. But Christians do not riot. The evil evident in the riots over the past weeks demonstrate an unchristian worldview bearing fruit. Evil begets evil. These riots are not being indiscriminately condemned: a number of actors are contributing to a "protester bail fund," including Steve Carrell, Janelle Monae, Seth Rogen, Ben Schwartz, and Halsey. Justin Timberlake is also encouraging people to donate to the Minnesota Freedom Fund which is raising funds to bail out protesters. But which protesters? In the larger cities, many among the protesters are not fighting against injustice; they are perpetrating it! Stores and much property of black citizens, and others, are being destroyed by "protesters." The violence and damage will do nothing to address injustice or racism. It is an unchristian and an inhumane response. Love is not the overriding principle, idolatry is. Unbelievers are developing (or have created) a worldview that has no foundation and the idol of self is at the centre. Justice for George Floyd is not the goal of those rioting – it is the excuse for open “acceptable” rebellion. …and the Gospel is the answer Racism is wrong. The solution, despite opinion to the contrary, is the gospel rightly understood and applied. May the Lord, the king over all the earth, so work by his word and spirit so that justice is restored in this world. In the meantime, we are busy fighting for justice in a godly way. We are also praying that the Lord will usher in his kingdom in all its glory so that his people from all tribes, tongues, races, and languages can be gathered together in one united kingdom to praise our King! ...

Theology

“Whose am I?”

Are you your job? Does your gender define who you are? Your ethnicity? Your feelings? Or is your identify found in a truth far more substantial and stable…and controversial?  ***** Crazy, out-dated, offensive– these are a few of the words we could expect to hear if, in the midst of our culture’s identity debates, we offered up this answer: “I am not my own…” This is the first line of the very first answer in the Heidelberg Catechism and it’ll seem all the more absurd when we share the question that prompts it: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”It’s common enough for people to struggle with their purpose in life, and to want to know what happens after death, so the world can appreciate a question like this one. But the answer? That’ll strike most as incredibly out of line with 21stCentury thinking! I couldn’t agree more. A stumbling block… The first question and answer in the Heidelberg Catechism is more relevant and more revolutionary today than when it was first penned. Here is Lord’s Day 1 in full: What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him. The confession that “I belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ” may be a stumbling block for many. My body is not my own? My life is not my own to do with as I please? What do you mean, “Christ has fully paid for all my sins…?” He bought you and He set you free? How does that work? Doesn’t His purchase of you, make you His? If you are His, are you really free? Isn’t it hyperbole to suggest that “without the will of your heavenly Father not a hair can fall from your head?” Why would God care about such minute details? If God controls all these things, are you experiencing true freedom? These are real objections that people utter when they consider what it means to become a Christian. They find the instruction of Christ in Luke 9: 23- 24 too much: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” While Christians understand that their identity is in Christ, others cannot fathom giving up their autonomy, denying themselves, or submitting their entire being to Him. They would rather create their own sense of identity, and they might even consider adding a slice of religion to their life…but only a slice. Christians confess Christ as Lord of their whole life but the world says, “I am my own god. They put self at the center, and rank everything else by how relevant it is to the all-important me. Whether it is my job, my sexual orientation, my race, my religion or lack thereof, my children, my spouse, etc., these are just aspects that contribute to my self-made identity. When we are Christ’s it changes everything When we die to sin and self, and have Christ as Lord of our life, it’s then that we find our true identity. As a result, it is not my job, my spouse, my children, or my race that give me my meaning. It is belonging to Christ, living by the power of the Holy Spirit, and being a child of the Father, that sets me free! The implications of this are profound! This changes how I view my wife, a fellow believer and saint belonging to Christ. She is not simply a spouse; she is a sister-in-Christ, with whom I have a very special relationship. She is a gift of God and I must treat her as Christ treats the church. I must do all that I can to husband her and to cause her to flourish. This has implications for me as a dad. I do not just have children; I have covenant children. My wife and I must work in harmony with God’s Word and Spirit, together, to train and instruct our children in the way that they should go. When they grow older, this training will not leave them (Prov. 22:6). I need to disciple my children and care for them as a representative of the Father’s perfect love for us. It impacts my work. I am not simply a teacher – I am a teacher of God’struth, and I need to work hard to ensure that this is what students receive. I am a teacher of God’s covenant children and need to assist parents in training the youth of the church in godliness, training them to fulfill the calling they have as children of God. This also has implications for how I treat my physical self. My body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, the living God! My body, heart, soul, and mind belong to him! I need to be intentional in what I let my body and my mind ingest. I have to treat my body as God so desires and that means being faithful to my wife, even prior to marriage. I have to be careful with my heart, fighting against covetousness and discontent. That means waking up every day with an attitude of gratitude – this day provides me another opportunity to serve Him; may all my efforts be directed rightly! Conclusion The list could go on and on, couldn’t it? There is not a single corner of my life that is not under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The way I spend money, time, and other resources, the kinds of friends I keep, the movies I watch, the attention I give to my Winnipeg Jets – all of this is under the Lordship of Jesus Christ! This is truly a marvel: I am not my own, I belong to Jesus Christ; He paid for me and He set me free! He set me free to serve Him, to find my identity in Him. My life, my entire life is hidden in Christ! I am free indeed! If this freedom eludes you, reach out to those you know who have this joy. It is not frivolous, meaningless, or constant. This joy ebbs and flows with the challenges of every day life. But it is deeply rooted and gives true meaning and purpose to life. This joy and freedom lets us live in joy under our King, Jesus Christ. I am not my own, I belong to my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ. To Him alone belongs all glory! Chris deBoer is the Executive Director of the Reformed Perspective Foundation and host of the Focal Point podcast....

Christian education, Parenting

Martin Luther on the vital, foundational, educational calling of parents

Martin Luther loved God’s Church so much he risked his freedom and life for it. He boldly took on princes, bishops, emperors, and popes, all in an effort to bring reformation to the Church he so loved. But did you know there was something he thought even more foundational to society than the Church? Luther recognized that society has three basic structures – the family, the Church, and the State – and of these three, he argued that it is the family that is the foundation for the other two. Why? Because of the great responsibility parents have to educate their children. It is in this role that the family unit will, for good or ill, greatly impact both the Church and State. In his “Letter to the Councils of German Cities” Luther expresses how educating children: “is the command of God. Its importance is seen in how He so frequently, through Moses, urges and enjoins parents to instruct their children such that it is said in Psalm 78:5-6, ‘how strictly he commanded our fathers that they should give knowledge to their children and instruct their children’s children.’” In his exposition on the fifth commandment, Luther stresses the need for children’s obedience towards their parents. Where that is absent, “…there can be neither good morals nor good government. For where obedience is lacking in the family, no city or principality or kingdom can be well governed. Family government is the basis of all other government; and where the root is bad, the trunk and fruit can not be good… where the father and mother rule badly, and let the children have their own way, there neither city, town, village, district, principality, kingdom, nor empire, can be well governed.” Luther on the basics But Luther doesn’t just tell parents that they had better do a good job because a lot is riding on their success. He also provides guidance for instruction. He prepared The Small Catechism in which he provided “the simple way a father should present to his household.” Luther believed everyone in the home needs to be instructed in the fundamentals of the faith, daily. In his short preface to his The Larger Catechism he lays out his expectation that fathers would examine their children (and servants) “at least once a week to ascertain what they know of it, or are learning and, if they do not know it, to keep them faithfully at it.” Parents have a high calling that aligns with their high position. The Lord commands all of us to love one another, but: “the parental estate God has especially honored above all estates that are beneath Him, so that He not only commands us to love our parents, but also to honor them… for to honor is far higher than to love, inasmuch as it comprehends not only love, but also modesty, humility, and deference as though to a majesty there hidden… that both in heart and with body we so act so to show that we esteem them very highly, and that, next to God, we regard them the very highest” Parents must be teachers This view of the relationship between parents and their children has many implications. First of all, when parents send their children to Christian day-schools (Luther wouldn’t imagine sending children to secular schools but would call them “nests of Satan”) or even to catechism classes in the church, they are sharing the responsibility for teaching their children with the school and Church. They are not permitted to abdicate it. Parents cannot hire out the task of teaching their children, but they can share it with others they know and trust to be godly in their teaching. Luther’s views would also have an impact on family worship and devotions as parents, especially fathers, intentionally teach their children, explaining to them the glorious deeds of the Lord. If we are convicted as Luther was, of parents’ important educational role, then perhaps recitation of the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, and the Lord’s prayer every day would become a new norm. Opening the Heidelberg Catechism to teach our own children the fundamental doctrines of God’s Word could become a part of family devotions. Perhaps we could sit beside our children while they do their assignments from school, not only when they need help, but also to demonstrate interest in their work, and in showing a unity of purpose with the school to the children. The Lord has given children to parents and in so doing, has given parents the major responsibility and privilege of training up their children in the fear of the Lord for the benefit of family, Church, and State. May the Lord grant His blessing on all parents who seek to fulfill the high calling given to them by God. Chris deBoer is the Executive Director of the Reformed Perspective Foundation and the host of the Focal Point podcast....