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World gone woke

This is an overview of “World Gone Woke,” Episode #75 from Lucas Holtvlüwer and Tyler Vanderwoude’s Real Talk podcast. Real Talk is a bi-weekly podcast of Reformed Perspective featuring great conversations on everything from propaganda to pornography. If you haven’t checked it out, you really should. And you really can, at


What does it mean to be “woke”? What challenges does the “woke” world present to the Church, and especially for the younger members of the body? Real Talk’s Lucas Holtvlüwer recently sat down with Pastor Greg Bylsma to talk about the “world gone woke,” and other challenges for Christians today.

Rev. Bylsma developed a passion for evangelism as a teenager already, studying missions at Redeemer College, before becoming a theological student at Mid-America Reformed Seminary. He has served Living Water URC in Brantford, Ontario for the past thirteen years.

Being woke sounds good

In broad terms, Rev. Bylsma defined woke culture as the idea of becoming awakened to all the prejudices and discriminations that exist in the world, and newly alerted to the effects of these prejudices on the downtrodden. “When you become ‘woke,’ you begin to see all the aggressions and ‘micro aggressions’ (against minority groups, non-traditional sexual identities, or different viewpoints).”

And when you are woke, you will dedicate yourself to fighting this oppression, which exists whether or not others around you are woke enough to see it. The woke movement talks about “systemic racism” – prejudice against other beliefs and races that permeates all of our societal and governmental structures. The more woke one is, the more devoted one becomes to tearing down these structures and rebuilding a new world without prejudice or oppression.

Holtvlüwer noted that on the surface, this can sound good, and Rev. Bylsma agreed: of course we as Christians want to fight oppression and prejudice, and we must be opposed to all racism.

But the devil is in the details: when Satan and the world use what seems to be a righteous cause, to tear down the Judeo-Christian foundations of a society, the result is chaos where “everyone does what is right in his own eyes.”

How should we deal with the woke movement in the Church?

Rev. Bylsma recommended that Christians be very careful to examine what the underlying meanings are of slogans used by the woke movement: “’Love is love’ is not a statement we can stand behind because of what it has come to mean.” It means that all types of sexual love are acceptable and must be allowed, which of course is in contrast with Biblical teaching.

“We can’t fly the gay pride flag, because it symbolizes acceptance of homosexuality as not sinful,” he noted. One of the tools Rev. Bylsma recommended was the “New Reformation Catechism on Human Sexuality” written by Rev. Chris Gordon, which cuts through a lot of the confusion around sexuality and gender, using clear Biblical instruction.

At the same time, we want to recognize that all sinners are called to repentance, and people who are living a homosexual lifestyle are sinners that we should want to see saved to renewal in Christ. “We should be welcoming to LGBTQ people, we should want to preach the Gospel to them… But we can’t pretend that sin is OK,” the pastor explained.

Bylsma continued, “The Bible differentiates between one who is a sinner who is not a believer, and one who is a believer but continues in sin.” He referenced especially 1 Corinthians 5 where Paul differentiates between the sexually immoral, the greedy, and the swindlers who are of the world, from those continuing in sin who claim to be Christians – those who bear the name of brother.

“We are not to associate with those who claim to be Christians who also persist in sin and say that this is OK. We can and should walk away from those who persist in sin and claim to be Christ’s.”

Rev. Bylsma also noted that Paul puts sexual immorality on the same plane as greed and swindling – so it’s not the great sin; it’s just like greed, just like swindling. It is a sin like other sins.

But Christians who insist that being a practicing homosexual is OK, or that changing genders is acceptable, can’t be treated the same as one who is ignorant of the Bible.

“[If you’re] dealing with someone in your friend group, and they’re claiming to be gay, or a girl claiming to be a boy, and they say they’re a Christian, and there’s nothing wrong with what they’re doing… the Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 5 that we should have nothing to do with that person.  First, we follow the rule of Matthew 18, but if they refuse to accept admonition, refuse to accept that this is sin, then we no longer have a relationship with that person.”

This is different from someone who is questioning their sexuality or questioning their gender.

“If they’re wrestling with these things, and they’re a friend, then we continue to talk with them. [We should steer] them towards good advice (a pastor, a parent, a Christian counselor)… Don’t shun them; keep them in your connections. Be a friend! You don’t have to be a Christian counselor. Especially young people should not think they need to be the counselor themselves…”

Let’s recognize that we all have areas in which we struggle with sin, especially sexual temptation. We should not excuse our own sinful tendencies. We all need Christ; we all need the same Savior.

What’s coming, and how to be prepared

Holtvlüwer wondered what might be coming next in terms of the woke movement, and how we can prepare for it.

“I don’t know what’s coming,” replied Rev. Bylsma.

“But Canada is moving ahead very fast with woke ideology. Faster than Europe for example. Friends from Holland recently said ‘We can’t believe how woke Canada is!’ In the U.S., there is strong pushback against the woke agenda (but that push) is not here in Canada.

“We may go into a greater time of persecution, where we can see the Church sanctified and purified. The Church will be tempted to compromise on what is called ‘non-essentials.’ The Church cannot do so, we must hold to God’s Word. If it means being shut down, going to meet underground, worshipping out in the fields, we must do so. We may see the Church split based on her stand for scriptural truth. Businesses may lose work, jobs, income, because they won’t support LGBQT agendas, won’t put the gay flags out. On the other hand, we could see a counter swing as people see what is coming and how far it’s gone (for example drag queens reading to children).”

God may give persecution, or a temporary stay – but either way, the Church’s response must be uncompromised allegiance to the gospel, and diligence and vigilance in making Christ known, and calling the nations to follow Him.

Real-life relationships

Rev. Bylsma is worried that so many people, in particular the young, are heavily influenced by social media and “electronic friends” as opposed to real, in-the-flesh friendships.

“The gospel deals with real people, real neighbors; gospel ministry is real people, getting to know your neighbors, speaking to people, hearing where they’re at. This whole Internet world destroys those connections. We need to teach our kids to have real relationships with real people. Away from artificial intelligence, away from virtual relationships, or following remote YouTube teachers.”

Holtvlüwer pointed out that many young people who are struggling with sexual identity are also spending time alone, researching things online, spending a lot of time under the influence of non-Christians. Positive, real-life friendships with fellow believers can go a long way in keeping one grounded in the foundations we have been taught at church, school and home.

Some conclusions

Holtvlüwer and Bylsma touched on other topics as well, including whether or not the Church should withdraw from the world in response to the anti-Christian culture around us. And they also addressed finding joy in suffering for the Name.

Ultimately, Rev. Bylsma finds the answers to the woke movement, and to an increasingly hostile world, to be the same as they always have been for Christians:

“The answers may be more basic, and more difficult, than we might assume. How do we prepare for what’s coming? Love the Lord, love His Word, love His Church, love the lost. No matter what guise the devil takes, the answers are always Christ.

“….How do we get through this? Reflect on 2 Timothy 3: ‘All of scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable, is edifying, to thoroughly equip the man of God for every good work’ – including today! Love the Word of God, study it honestly, take time to be with the Lord, take time to be in prayer, bring your kids to God in prayer, bring your lost neighbors to God in prayer, strive to be faithful in allowing the Spirit to talk to your heart and convict you of where you’re falling into sin. Pray the prayer of David (from Psalm 139): ‘Search me, oh God, and know my heart, try me and know my anxious thoughts, see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.’”

Byslsma concluded:

“Christ is always the Victor, He is always the King, He will never lose a sheep from His hand. Draw near to Him, love Him, love His Word. You don’t have to listen to a thousand podcasts, you don’t have to read a thousand books. Dig into the Scriptures, tackle this honestly, ask questions… Iron will sharpen iron, and the Lord will bless.

“[Satan] is a scary monster, but Christ has got His foot over (the devil’s) neck, and He’s about to stamp. Remember Romans 16: the Lord will soon crush the devil under your feet. Be humble, prayerful, and courageous, and bold as a lion, because the devil flees when we resist him… Stick to the basics and press on!”

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When it comes to evangelism, do we trust the Holy Spirit will show up?

This is an overview of a recent episode of Lucas Holtvlüwer and Tyler Vanderwoude’s Real Talk podcast. Real Talk is a bi-weekly podcast of Reformed Perspective featuring great conversations on everything from propaganda to pornography. If you haven’t checked it out, you really should. And you really can, at ***** Lucas Holtvlüwer recently interviewed Dr. Eric Watkins to learn more about evangelism and church planting from one with a lot of experience and wisdom. Dr. Watkins is the pastor at the Harvest Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) in San Marcos, California and is also the director of the Center of Missions and Evangelism at Mid-America Reformed Seminary. Dr. Watkins wasn’t raised in the church. Growing up in North Carolina, he was a troubled youth, particularly after his father left his mom when Eric was just twelve years old. After college, Watkins was drifting around the country, following the band “The Grateful Dead,” when his sister lent him her Bible: “you’re going to be stuck for a few days on a bus, so take this…” Eric recalls that through His Word, “God confronted me by His spirit, and convicted me that I was a sinner… and that Jesus was the Savior and had done for me what I could not do myself… I got on the bus a long-haired stinking deadhead, and I got off the bus a week later, longer-haired and stinkier, but converted!” Dr. Watkins then began a long journey of learning more about the Lord, going to seminary, becoming Reformed, and teaching Bible classes at the same church where he now ministers in California. Becoming a pastor, Watkins helped plant a “daughter” OPC congregation in Orlando; seven years later he and his family moved to St. Augustine, Florida to start a “parachute church” – meaning that there was not yet an established core group, and one needed to “start from scratch.” By God’s grace, these two churches are still thriving today. Capital “E” Evangelism and lowercase “e” evangelism Watkins defines evangelism as: “bringing the truth claims of the Gospel to bear upon the hearts of those that are outside the kingdom… where the objective content of the Gospel is made clear and people are called to faith and repentance in Christ.” He further differentiates the general call of Christians to evangelize, from the specific calling by a church body for one to do the work of an (uppercase) Evangelist. “Like Paul says to Timothy, ‘Fulfill your ministry – do the work of an Evangelist,’ or when Paul says in Corinthians ‘Woe is me if I don’t preach the Gospel.’” In Watkins’ opinion, church planters in particular bear that warning to fulfill their duty to evangelize. “Among the list of gifts that Christ gives to His Church in Ephesians 4 there’s a role for the gifting of the Spirit in the area of evangelism for people that are called to do particularly evangelistic ministry, and they literally live and sleep with that ‘woe is me if I don’t preach the Gospel.’ So that’s in a category of capital E Evangelism. “Lower case ‘e’ evangelism is what the whole Church does. So, like in Acts 8, when the church is scattered, it says not simply those who were ordained like the apostles but men and women who were dispersed went about proclaiming the Gospel. To me that’s lowercase ‘e’ evangelism…. Even lay people in the Church in some fashion or another are called to walk wisely before the watching world, and even to engage them at times and opportunities that God will provide with the claims of the Gospel…. “There’s something important to be recognized in ministering not simply the Gospel to people, but also ministering the Gospel through people, and to help our members understand that they too have a role to play in the great commission, and the promotion of the life and the work of the Church. It may not be street corner preaching, or handing out tracts… but it is befriending the people that we have the opportunity to get to know that are outside the Church, wherever we’re able to meet them.” Enough time for members old and new? Holtvlüwer asked Dr. Watkins if there can be tension in the church when there is so much focus on reaching those outside the body, since there are also many needs among the current members. Watkins agreed that this can be difficult, and he advised that there should be clarity on what is required of the pastor and elders, best captured in written descriptions of their roles. “For instance, it takes a certain number of hours a week to prepare a sermon; it takes a certain number of hours a week to visit the congregation, to do the bulletin, to meet with leaders, to disciple, and to do evangelism. So we have to decide what we think is important; we need to prioritize, and there needs to be not only transparency and accountability for the church planters, there also needs to be protectiveness for him and his family… It’s really important that you protect the time and space for the pastor to do evangelism… even after the church is up and running.” Watkins continued: “Visitation is very important in Reformed churches; I think regrettably evangelism isn’t, and we’ve created an unintentional… paradigm in which we have so busied our pastors that there’s no room for evangelism… There’s a lot of guilt on the shoulders of our pastors that that this work really is important, and should be done, but I’ve got a 60 plus hour work week, with two sermons, and a congregation, and Consistory and Council meetings.” Holtvlüwer suggested, “This might mean that you need to get a second pastor if your church is of a certain size.” Do we expect the Holy Spirit to show up? Talking about Reformed churches and evangelism, Watkins reminded listeners that John Calvin wrote his most famous books like The Institutes of the Christian Religion, as, “…discipleship tools for new converts to the Reformation, and as a pastor he modeled and did evangelism. He housed orphans in his home, and what we could call seminary students whom he trained and taught the work of the ministry including evangelism…. Calvin is nicknamed the Theologian of the Spirit, and if you read his writings as they relate to evangelism, he wholeheartedly believed in it…. “Our problem at times is that we have too small a view of the Holy Spirit… We don’t expect (Him) to show up much, and to do great things in and through our church. Do we really expect God to convert people through the preaching of His word? Do we expect God to convert people off the streets, out of depravity and drug abuse and all the different things that are out there, into the arms of the church? Do we expect to see baptisms not just of kids but adults in our church? I think our Trinitarian theology could be enhanced and brought into greater conformity with Calvin’s view… that invigorated his ministry.” Holtvlüwer wondered how or if Reformed churches had strayed from Calvin’s mission of being evangelistic in orientation. Watkins summarized that “Part of the Church’s temptation in history has always been to isolate itself from the world rather than to engage. And yet with the best of intentions: because we don’t want our covenant kids to get swallowed up by the world. So what do we do? build high walls around them and insulate them from the world. The other is to train and equip them to engage the world with the Gospel…. Do we simply teach kids to think about what’s wrong with the way the world thinks, or do we also teach them how to engage the world, not simply apologetically, but evangelistically.… Do we disciple with a view towards raising up people that will be able to contend for their faith in a 1 Peter 3 way or Colossians 4 way?” Watkins also identified the opportunity for the younger generation of Reformed Christians. “The world has come to the back door of the Church, and the front door, and is on either side of our house – it’s all around – the nations are all around us! What will we do with the… opportunities that God has placed before us in an increasingly diverse world. It’s an exciting time (for spreading the Gospel!)” Christian schools and our covenant youth Holtvlüwer mentioned that he is thankful for, and understanding of why our parents and grandparents spent so much energy and effort on establishing Christian schools, and that these institutions can still serve as a bulwark against the teachings of the world that are so prevalent all around us in social media and in the culture overall. But do we need to do more to prepare our kids to go out to the world with a strong apologetic viewpoint? Watkins expressed thankfulness for Christian schools (his own children attend a Christian school in Escondido): “I’m not trying to change that paradigm at all!” At the same time: “…social media has more access to our kids now than parents, pastors, and Sunday school teachers combined… the amount of time that kids are spending online in different media platforms (is huge)…” What is the answer to all these potentially harmful influences? Watkins reminds listeners of the well-known Biblical verse, “‘Train up a child in the way that he should go!’ That is, not simply protect and shelter him from all the things you never want him to hear or learn about… Parents and pastors must be the teachers, not the world… There’s a challenge to not simply reach the lost, there’s a challenge to keep our kids! There are a lot of kids that are drifting away from the church, for different reasons… and while there’s no silver bullet… I do believe in discipleship…” Wakins continued: “An uncomfortable question we could ask would be, ‘Could a covenant kid graduate high school without ever seeing a parent or church leader share the Gospel with a non-Christian?’ …if the answer is yes, then think about what life looks like for them when they… go off somewhere else perhaps for college or a job. So we have to train our kids with not simply what’s wrong with the way the world thinks, but (train them) to engage the world evangelistically, in the hope that in doing so (we might) actually insulate our covenant kids the right way.” Watkins wanted to emphasize that he appreciates the Reformed faith, and in no way wants to tear down the institutions that Reformed Christians have built. “The Reformed faith is grand, as J. Gresham Machen said, and we have some of the most wonderful tools at our disposal… we do a great job in many ways raising our covenant kids. By God’s grace we have a wonderful doctrine of the Church, and what the world needs most… is for the church to be the church! To continue to be committed to the ordinary means of grace… to be committed to family worship, and at the same time… to use the tools for evangelism that are part of the Reformed faith.” In the last part of their conversation, Holtvlüwer and Watkins discussed mentorship as a way for mature Christian men and women to provide leadership and guidance to younger people, both those new to the faith and those who have grown up in the church. Watkins ended his contributions with a call for “young men to consider a pastoral call in the ministry. We need pastors, we need church planters!” The complete discussion between Holtvlüwer and Pastor Watkins can be found on all major podcast platforms – just search for “Real Talk Reformed Perspective,” episode 63. And you can watch it on YouTube below. ...