Baptism is Warfare

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“Do you renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world and all sinful lusts of the flesh?” This is one of the questions that commonly shows up in baptismal liturgies of the early church. This was asked when new converts would come up for baptism. Baptism is no light matter.

“The subjects of baptism are all the covenanted, whether they are truly such or are regarded as probably on account of external calling and profession of faith and communion with the believers, without any distinction of  sex, nation and age.” (Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 3, 383) In light of this, then would this baptismal vow apply to those who are baptized in infancy? Turretin also writes about baptism with regards to repentance: “Baptism is called the sacrament of repentance; not because it requires that beforehand in everyone to be baptized, but because it binds the baptized to the desire of it, whether in the present (when they are capable of it) or in the future” (Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 3, 419).

I have heard a number of people tell me that it would be helpful if all young people in Reformed churches could see the baptism of a new convert to Christianity just so that they can understand the full weight of what their baptism calls them too. To see a new Christian make a drastic change from past ways, to defy the works of darkness, to renounce the kingdom of darkness, is an important reminder that Christ has brought us from out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13). This involves a necessary rejection of the patterns of sin. Baptism is warfare.

Of course, no matter what the age, nation, or sex of the one being baptized, the call is to fight. John the Baptist was a man of God, and it seems that he had already undergone a transformation already in his mother’s womb, seeing as he leapt for joy when he heard Mary’s greeting (Lk. 1:41). The Apostle Paul calls on young children in the Church of Ephesus to be faithful in how they honor their parents (Eph. 6:1-3), just as he calls on the young children in the church of Colossae to obey their parents (Col. 3:20). More broadly, they were included in the exhortations to the Christian communities in the New Testament. Indeed, children are called upon to renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world and all sinful lusts of the flesh.

How often do we conceive of baptism in this dynamic language? Even Reformed people can fall into the trap of waiting for children in the covenant community to come to a moment of decision or a drastic conversion. But life is conversion. Consider the language of Canons of Dort 3.11:

But when God accomplishes His good pleasure in the elect or works in them true conversion, He not only causes the gospel to be externally preached to them and powerfully illuminates their mind by His Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit, pervades the inmost recesses of the man; He opens the closed, and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which though heretofore dead, He quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, He renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree, it may bring forth the fruits of good actions.

The weightiness of this black and white difference between living in the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of Christ must be impressed upon children as well from the youngest age. When they see other little girls and boys being baptized and ask what it means, they must be reminded who they are and who Christ is. They must also rest in the work of Christ and His Spirit in transforming dirty hearts. They must ask for the Spirit to resist the temptations of the kingdom of darkness. This baptism then really does bind them to repentance.

“Do you renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world and all sinful lusts of the flesh?” This is an important question to ask. Not only for the one who is preparing for baptism, but also for the one who is already baptized. Not only does the call of the gospel and knowing Christ go out to them, but they are in fact bound to respond in faith and trust. To reject such a serious call that goes out in the baptism of a Christian is then to incur a greater judgement (Heb. 10:26-31).

The answer of every Christian child, the answer of every Christian adult should be: “Yes! I renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world and all the sinful lusts of the flesh.” Or as we confess in LD 52 of the Heidelberg Catechism when explaining what it means to pray “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one”:

That is: In ourselves we are so weak that we cannot stand even for a moment. Moreover, our sworn enemies – the devil, the world, 3 and our own flesh 4 – do not cease to attack us. Will you, therefore, uphold and strengthen us by the power of your Holy Spirit, so that in this spiritual war we may not go down to defeat, but always firmly resist our enemies, until we finally obtain the complete victory.

Baptism is a call to warfare.

 

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The Christian Discipline of Humor

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Not many would immediately think of humor as a discipline of the Christian life. The Christian disciplines traditionally involve disciplines such as prayer, Bible reading, suffering, cultivating the fruits of the Spirit, etc. But what about Christian humor which at times is responded to by and expressed in the laughter that rings out in the Christian home, church or school?

Martin Luther, the German theologian, preacher and Reformer, once said: “The gospel is nothing less than laughter and joy.” Which brings us to the necessity of defining terms. We are speaking here of Christian humor or gospel-shaped humor. The act of Christian humor is then directed down the channels of the Apostle Paul’s words in Phil. 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

While Sarah mocked God’s promise to Abraham of a son with laughter (Gen. 18:12), her son is named Isaac, which means ‘laughter’. An ironic twist on sinful laughter. While there is the laugh of unbelief, it is often turned over on its head into belief.

In the Book of Proverbs, the wise man exhorts those listening to have a merry heart, which is good medicine (Prov. 17:22). In the Book of Ecclesiastes, the wise man commends joy in the middle of the vapor of human existence (Ecc. 8:15). In Psalm 126, the fact that the Lord brings his people out of exile, brings joyful laughter to their mouths and shouts of joy to their tongues. Elijah uses irony when mocking the Baals (I K 18:27) and Isaiah uses it when mocking the making of idols (Isaiah 44:12-19). When looking upon the futile attempts of the nations to stop the advance of God’s redemption in history, Psalm 2:4 states that the Lord Himself sits in the heavens and laughs.

I could discuss examples of Christian humor in depth, but the point of this post is to address the fact that there is a Christian discipline of developing humor. It is also linked into the other Christian virtues. Humility means that I can laugh at myself. Love for my neighbor means that laughter should also be unselfish, it should also consider my neighbor and how he/she will respond positively or negatively to my laughter. At times, joy will express itself in laughter. Peace of soul will express itself in a Christian humor that is not consumed by anger and dissonance. Humor is shaped and molded by prayer and Scripture reading as we gain a view of the world and ourselves that is shaped by the clarity of the Scriptures.

The great theologian and philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, once wrote: “It is requisite for the relaxation of the mind that we make use, from time to time, of playful deeds and jokes.” A humor-filled view of the world that is shaped by Scripture, gets our minds off of ourselves. We become small while God becomes great. Through the pain and suffering of human existence, we see something of the sparkle and the crackle of the way that God intended things to be, and we see the kingdom of God break into the darkness of the world.

William Gurnall once wrote: “Hope fills the afflicted soul with such inward joy and consolation, that it can laugh while tears are in the eye, sigh and sing all in a breath; it is called ‘The rejoicing of hope.'” Hope inspires Christian laughter and humor in the middle of human suffering. Out of the fires of human suffering, we see the crackle and spark and the flashes of human joy, which remind us that we have been made for a better world.

Laughter is warfare. Christian humor is warfare. This is not hollow laughter, empty laughter, or wicked laughter. It is simply the deep belly-laugh of a Christian who is aware of the gospel and forgiveness and the love and kindness of the Father. It is a discipline which should be developed as the Christian comes to a greater awareness of how great God is and how small we are.


LGBTQ…C?

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Can you be a gay Christian? As debates over sexuality rage in North America, these debates start coming into strongly evangelical and Reformed denominations. It is interesting to see Christians point the finger at each other, because undoubtedly you can be sure that this debate is coming to a church near you. Satan doesn’t care about denomination, his sole goal is to undermine faithful churches. We must remember this as well in defending the truth about how the gospel transforms sexuality. The Apostle Paul warns the church in Corinth: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (I Cor. 10:12)

Nevertheless, the truth does need to be defended. What has been happening in Reformed and evangelical churches in the last 10 years, is an effort to redefine terms. Sure, even the most conservative Reformed and evangelical churches are not beyond criticism in their dealings. But I don’t think that is the point here. The point is a way of speaking and a type of language that is being promoted. I agree with the report from the CREC churches, that while patient pastoral care should be promoted, “any teaching that combines LGBTQ identity with identity in Christ is completely unbiblical.” Of course, if a teaching is not Biblical then it is also not pastoral. 

This really is the debate of our time. It is a debate over identity. One minister who is at the center of this debate in Reformed and evangelical churches is Pastor Greg Johnson. He has taken up this debate in the Presbyterian Churches of America. He is a major voice in the Revoice conferences and at the last General Assembly of the PCA. I simply want to reflect on what he is saying. In particular, I want to focus on what he is saying about identity.

Following the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America, he tweeted that his “conflict is with Nashville Statement article 7”, not with his “fathers and brothers”. So what does Nashville Statement, Article 7, say about identity? Here the Nashville Statement affirms “that self-conception as male and female should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.” They deny “that adopting a homosexual or trans-gender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.”

I am genuinely interested in what his fight with article 7 is. Notice the language that is used in article 7 of the Nashville Statement, that the sense of identity in homosexuality or trans-gender is not consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption. Notice that the article does not deny the struggle with this fallen world. Like the CREC Statement, the Nashville Statement will not back down on God’s written norm for sexuality: “The CREC affirms the Bible’s teaching on the creation of man and woman and the establishment of the marriage relationship as only between one man and one woman. There are two sexes, male and female. We stand against all attempts to confuse the Bible’s clear teaching in this area.”

The Apostle Paul’s conception of the Christian identity is pretty straightforward. He states in II Cor. 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” This is the only logic that makes sense to me. Let’s say a pastor struggles with SSA, let’s say a young man in the church is struggling with homosexual temptation. To conceive of one’s own identity as being rooted in the fallen creation really would then be militantly opposed to the pattern of the gospel. On the other hand, to recognize the power of the sinful nature and the need to fight would be to recognize the struggle against sin in a fallen creation. And then to rest in an identity that is found in Christ and fight in Christ would be to live the gospel boldly and faithfully in a fallen world. But it cannot be both an identity in Christ and an identity in sin. Again, the Apostle Paul simply speaks the gospel in Gal. 2:20: ” I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

I have yet to be convinced that a fight with article 7 of the Nashville Statement is consistent with the nature of the gospel. I have yet to be convinced that a fight with article 7 of the Nashville Statement is pastoral. 

I am more inclined to perceive Pastor Johnson’s tweet as being contrary to the pattern of the Gospel described in the New Testament. If the Apostle Paul, in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, conceives of the Christian as a new creation, then is it right for Pastor Johnson to conceive of a Christian as a homosexual (which is a result of a fallen creation)? If someone were to struggle with anger, then is it right for that one to conceive of himself/herself as an angry Christian? Should a man who has struggled with serial adultery describe himself as an adulterous Christian? Should a pedophile describe himself/herself as a pedophilic Christian? In every case the identities are at odds with each other. The insanity grows when we compare this with less “acceptable” sins.

Rather, let us consider what the Apostle Paul says on the radical change in identity that the gospel brings about: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Cor. 6:11)


Pride Parades and Capitulation in Christendom

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Just recently Christian singer Audrey Assad openly said that she loves and celebrates gay communities during Pride Month. Her comment is not alone, and obviously various Christians have given varying levels of approval. To give two more examples, a pastor came out as SSA on Christianity Today and a christian rock star came out as gay a couple years back on Religion New Service. I want to ask a question about Assad’s tweet below: what can be more hateful than this response?

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What is happening among Christians in North America? I believe that we all are aware deep down how destructive this lifestyle is, and that the Word of God speaks out expressly against it. And yet, you can be sure that these are only a handful of examples for the many examples of Christians laying down their arms and capitulating to the culture. There are many more examples that you can find for yourself. So why are Christians giving up?

I want to focus here on the matter of ‘love’. This is because the allegation that disagreement and disapproval means hatred, is one of the most manipulative and oldest tricks of the movement and of the day. Its like the highschool girl who throws a fit when her parents won’t allow her to go to a party where the parents know there will be a lot of drunkenness, and she says “you hate me!” Of course they love you, they don’t want you to get raped by a drunk guy or drive drunk. And that means not approving of an action (in love).

If people are confused about what ‘truth’ is in our culture, then the result is that they are just as confused about the truth of what ‘love’ really is. But truth and love come together. Take the case of a Christian family where one of their sons might “come out” as attracted to men, and then start dating one. They can still say that they love him. But to celebrate him would be a sign of acceptance. To truly love him would be to bind themselves to the truth in love and that means warning him about the destructive nature of that lifestyle spiritually, physically, emotionally, etc.

Are we really just giving in to the oldest manipulative trick in the books? I grew up in Toronto, and my Dad generally advised that we stay out of certain parts of the downtown core during June because the pride parades have been happening as long as I can remember. I never sensed a hatred. As early as the year 2000, my parents had already done a number of Bible studies with a man who had done surgery on his privates. When I was at college, I saw Christians reaching out in love, in Idaho of all places. Have you read Doug Wilson’s blog? Yes, I am pretty sure that he would also have dinner and do a Bible study with any attendee of the gay pride parade in Toronto.

Why are Christians capitulating? Maybe its because we have bought into the lies of the most intense and aggressive manipulation scam of the day. Maybe its because we have left our Bibles at the door and have had our feelings groomed by TV shows, university professors, and teenagers. Maybe its because we want to do our own thing. Maybe it is because we are deathly afraid of any sort of conflict that would make us look like radicals. Maybe it is because we have given up on a culture of repentance and must repent and return to the Lord and to His goodness.

Sure, there is a lot of hatred out there. But more often than not (in the circles that I work in), I have seen rock solid pastors and Christian men and women calling out in love for repentance in a dark world. Sure, we need to kick this up a notch,  we need to be more aggressive in taking the message of Jesus Christ into a dying world. We need to listen to people’s pain and heartache. We need to develop a stronger view of Christian justice in an anti-Christian age. We need to take children into Christian schools who are not Christian, but who are being confused by the gender confusion, and the sexual lies that are being forced down their throats in the public schools. But let us not be convinced of the lie that lack of approval is lack of love. Nothing is more unloving than approving of something that will destroy someone. Nothing is more hateful than flattering a man (or a woman) who is headed to death.

Jude calls us to contend for the faith, to have mercy on those who doubt, to save others by snatching them out of the fire, to show mercy with fear, to hate the garment stained by the flesh. This is rock solid love. The image is used of snatching someone out of a fire. Love fights. Love rescues. Love dies so that another might have life. And that is where Jesus Christ comes on scene as the perfect sacrifice to take away the sin of the world.

Justice in the Church

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I don’t think it needs to be stated that some of the most important issues to many people in our decade are related to matters of justice. The abortion debate has broken out onto the national scene. The debate over whether you can identify as homosexual/lesbian and be Christian has broken into some more staunchly conservative churches. And the point where things get messier is that injustice has often happened in churches and has not always been dealt with appropriately.

One of the first principles that I turn to in understanding justice is the fact that God is just. While man has a sense of what is just, his heart is inclined towards injustice. When we consider the mess that this world is, we can cling to the fact that God is just. The Lord states in Isaiah 61:8 “For I the LORD love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.” We also read in Psalm 33:5 “He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.”

Because the Lord loves justice, the Scriptures are full of commands for His people to love justice. He lays out the plan for His people in Deuteronomy 16:20 “Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” Of course, the sinful inclinations of His people lead in the opposite direction and He must call them back: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8)

Of course, God never gave His people an airy sense of justice that doesn’t touch down and take shape in this world. If you read the Books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, they lay out a pattern for dealing with the summary statements of God’s law in the 10 commandments (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:6-21). You find case laws against abortion (Exodus 21:22-25), against rape (Deuteronomy 22:28-29), etc.

Some will draw a line between the Old Testament and the New Testament. For example, in the Old Testament we find that Church and State (to use modern lingo) are very closely connected. Nevertheless, we do find that principles from Old Testament case law do extend into the New Testament. Which also apply to the modern day State as the Church disciples the nations.

As the primary vehicle of the kingdom of God (Matt 16:19), the Church must promote justice. Consider the work of the Apostle Paul in the City of Corinth and how he unequivocally condemns the act of incest in chapter 5, moving to the act of excommunication. The Apostle Paul writes: “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (I Cor. 5:4-5)

In all of the judicial assemblies of the church, Old Testament principles of justice must be taken into account. In II Corinthians 13:1, the Apostle Paul draws on the principle of 2 or 3 witnesses to establish a case (see Deut 19:15 and Numbers 35:30). This was a safeguard put in place in the case of the lying witness (Deut. 19:18-19). It also falls in line with the teachings of Jesus concerning the bringing of charges against a brother in Matthew 18: 15-20.

Of course, there are times when people do not see proper justice take place. In a world where the state doesn’t hold to Biblical principles of justice, and injustice has also crept into the church, and even in the case where a matter can lie buried under lies and confusion, there is still justice that we can look to. God tells Christians not to take justice into their own hands. God Himself will repay the wickedness of men (Ecc. 3:17, Heb. 10:30, Rom. 12:19).

None of this is at odds with Biblical principles of forgiveness, loving ones enemies, and seeking the conversion of the enemies of God. Sometimes God brings about justice through conversion. Consider the prayer of the Deacon Stephen when the Apostle Paul stood watching the clothes of those stoning him: “Lord, hold not this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60) It is when we pit these principles against each other, that injustice gets a stronger foothold.

The reason that we don’t have to pit these principles against each other, is because both of them were at work at the cross of Jesus Christ. At the cross, God’s justice and mercy met together, so that the infinite debt of man’s sin and injustice and mercilessness could be paid. Yes, there are still worldly consequences for sin, which should be pursued where possible. But even the criminal on death row, even the thief on the cross, can know the power of Christ through faith in Him. In this way, the cross of Christ realigns our disordered understandings of justice and mercy, and recreates the image of God in fallen man.


Statement of Testimony for Candidacy in the United Reformed Churches

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I am convinced that the righteousness of God has been revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. The promises of the Old Testament are recognized and come to fulfillment in Him. In these days following the coming of Jesus Christ we are called to spread the good news of salvation, to establish churches, and to call all men everywhere to serve King Jesus. We do this in hope and expectation of His second coming when He will come to judge the living and the dead. There is no better news under heaven and earth than that Jesus Christ died on a cross and then rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven where He rules, intercedes for us before the Father, and pours out His Holy Spirit upon the Church. It is because of the acts of God in history that we now must bring in the nations and build the Church.

It is these truths that force me to my knees. I am a sinner. I am prone to wander. I must still repent of my sins not only before God but also before brothers and sisters in the church and also unbelievers. I know that my only righteousness is in Jesus Christ. The more I am forced to recognize my spiritual death and despair outside of Christ, the more I am forced to cling to His righteousness, and then through the power of His Spirit to stand up and follow Him. God has given me prayer and Bible reading to develop my walk with Him at home, but He has also given the preaching of the Word and the sacraments within the context of public worship.

I have seen the Spirit of God at work in the last 26 years of my life. I was first captured by the need and desire to spread the gospel at Hope Centre, but also through interaction with supporting churches and other Christians and leaders in various churches. This desire has grown through my time at Rehoboth and in my internships. My time in the work force has also brought me to see more and more the absolute necessity that men and women everywhere come know Jesus Christ. I love to speak the truth into our world of lies and half-truths, because that is exactly what Christ has called me to do.

I believe that the Reformed confessions in our churches are an accurate summary of these core truths of the good news within Scripture. They were written as a faithful response to Jesus Christ who commanded His Church to disciple the nations and to teach them all things that He has commanded us (Matt. 28:16-20). It is important that churches work for unity in their confession before the world also as we pursue greater unity and deeper understanding of the Scriptures. I love the desire within Reformed theology to grow in a knowledge of the Scriptures and of God, and that this deep theology leads to doxology, praise, and glory.

I love the Scriptures. It is here that we learn the gospel and how to live a godly life before a holy God. It is here that we find the logic of the gospel, the poetry of the gospel and the symbols of the gospel. It is here that we see the world through new eyes. Here our blindness is dispelled and our eyes are opened to the fact that God has spoken and that He has spoken to us through His Son. It is here that we see the Triune God at work, and we bow in wonder. It is here where the things of this world come into perspective so that we can enjoy them without idolizing them, and so that we can have dominion over them without being ruled by them. As the Holy Spirit enlightens me to the meaning of Scripture this really does change everything.

I want to know Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection more and more. I am willing to serve Him and I am willing to suffer for Him. He has saved me from the power of sin and death and Hell and there really is no other legitimate response.

In Christ,

Nathan Zekveld

Leaders are Forged

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I was recently reflecting publicly on the importance of developing strong leadership skills among men in the church (also in myself). In the conversation below a friend dropped this comment: “Leaders are not built, they are forged.” The comment was made in the context of men who lead in worthy causes, such as pro-life, church, etc. What I have written below is a collage of wisdom I have received from various leaders in my family, the workforce, the church, and academia. And of course, primarily Scripture.

I find it interesting that certain secular writers I have listened to – like Jordan Peterson and Mark Manson – value the growth qualities of suffering in some ways more than many Christian leaders. But remember that the Scriptures are chock full of the call to joyful suffering in service to Jesus Christ.

The value of enduring suffering is one of the more important values that I have learned from my parents. A man does the hard thing before the easy thing. A man doesn’t take the easy route, but the faithful route. A man works faithfully and he works hard. He picks his battles carefully. He gives a hit and takes a hit. He rolls with the punches. Men are given broader shoulders so that they can carry heavier loads. An important lesson that we must learn in our age of entitlement and ease, is that to grow and serve greater, a man must endure suffering. If he walks away from the suffering, from the conflict, he loses an opportunity to grow and to help those around him to grow. One pastor encouraged me: “Always take the red pill.” Essentially, a man is called to love God, love his neighbour, and to work his butt off. Much more could be said from the Book of Proverbs.

One thing that I should emphasize is that the Apostle Peter calls the Christian to suffer – not for his own stupidity – but for being a Christian (I Peter 4:16). This is because suffering is not meaningless, but it is part of our warfare on the forces of Satan. As Peter says earlier: “For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.” (I Peter 4:6)

This also outlines the necessity for men who repent and who repent quickly. It is in the conflicts of life that a man should open his Bible and see how God speaks to his own sins against his brother and against a Holy God. It is from the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit teaches a man to be self-honest and to take responsibility for how he has responded wrongly to evil and the evil that he has done. It is also from the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit works courage in the heart of a man to do what is noble and right and good no matter how much pain and suffering it will involve (i.e. the fierce joy of Christian martyrdom).

The image of being forged is excellent because it moves us away from the image of fame and empty power to the scalding hot furnace where razor sharp weapons are made and silver is tried. While some men may seek to destroy, God can use their destructive purposes to build leadership qualities among His people. One of the Psalms uses this imagery: “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.” (Ps. 66:10) It is used in the book of Revelation as an image of the need for God’s people to repent: “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” (Rev. 3:18) We might also consider the promise of the Refiner in Malachi 3:3: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD.” Do we love this idea of being refined in the forges of suffering?

Consider the testing point of King David’s kingship when he was on the run from King Saul. Or maybe Nehemiah who had to stand before the great king and ask for permission to go back to his homeland, following which, he takes flack from numerous surrounding kings. I think of the Apostle Paul who is stoned and thrown out of the town and promptly scrapes himself off the ground and charges into another city to preach the gospel and get beat up again.

The Apostle Paul passes on this wisdom of hardness or toughness to his student Timothy (and Titus). There is not a lot of fanfare or psychologizing. The Apostle Paul simply calls on Timothy to share in suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (II Tim. 2:3). They are allies in suffering. The analogy extends to him serving the one who has enlisted him (vs. 4). As an athlete he must compete according to the rules (vs. 5). As a hard-working farmer who aims at receiving the first of the crops (vs. 6). Timothy is supposed to act in this way so that he can pass on the message of the Apostle Paul to other men: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (vs. 1-2) Another Pastor gave Pauline advice when he said: “we need men with hard heads and soft hearts.”

All of these men of Scripture are refined by suffering, sometimes through fierce conflict. And similarly, we are called to be faithful to our Lord’s orders today.

Think about this toughness from a military angle. Lord Nelson wrote before the Battle of Trafalgar: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” General Stonewall Jackson warned his men: “Never take counsel of your fears.” He also wrote: “Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. Captain, that is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.”

There is a mental toughness that is developed in the thick of battle where a man learns to trust in His Maker and follower orders from his King, also through repentance and forgiveness. The aim is not to get the fleeting accolades and flattery of foolish men who boast in worldly strength that passes away with sickness and death. Its aim is that when we have passed through the billows and forges of life (Psalm 66:12), to receive the deep and abiding praise of Jesus Christ because we have been found in Jesus Christ: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matt. 25:23)

Letter to a Fearful Pro-Lifer

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Dear Pro-Lifer,

I have heard some concern expressed at the latest protests against Member of Provincial Parliament, Sam Oosterhoff. He recently stated that he wants to “make abortion unthinkable in our lifetime.” It was a bold statement, and as you may have expected, there was some lashback.

While I am speaking to pro-lifers more broadly, I am speaking knowing that Sam is a Christian and I am a Christian as well. I am also addressing pro-lifers knowing that many of them hold to Christian convictions. I also recognize that I am a Christian in training for ministry in the Church, and I know how important it is to point those trapped in the shame and guilt of abortion to the fact that Jesus Christ is Saviour and Lord.

I know that many of you are concerned as I hear you speak about the direction that Canada is headed in. You are worried that Christians are headed into a time of more intense persecution. You are afraid that Canada is irrevocably headed away from many of the Christian roots in its founding.

I do not know what MPP Oosterhoff intended to achieve through this statement. But if you think about it, this was an excellent statement for a Member of Provincial Parliament to make. What it did was push the pro-life position to a moment of conflict once again. Think about what is at stake here.

First of all, the lives of helpless babies are at stake here. As a leader in the public sphere, Sam is called to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves and he is called to defend their rights (Prov. 31:8-9). Second, the mental health and safety of many women is at stake here. Many of these women struggle with intense feelings of guilt and depression following an abortion. As a leader in the public sphere, Sam’s beliefs demand that he works for laws to protect these women and to give them the best protection along with their babies (Prov. 31:8-9).

We live in a time where people love the concept justice. But they will only be just if that type of justice is popular. But in order to promote a more unpopular justice, a society must come to the point of conflict. Ten years ago, this debate was far more ignored in the media than it is today, there was not a lot of conflict. The price of this has been the blood of many more babies.

With the work of men like David Daleiden who were willing to push the card and challenge the status quo, this debate has become more heated in North America. Individual States down south have begun to pass laws against abortion. The core issues have had much more press time. The compassion and justice of the pro-life movement has had some important moments in the public eye. Those who are for abortion are feeling increasingly uncomfortable and this is the way that it should be.

In both the Book of Judges and the Book of Acts, we see that when the Holy Spirit rushes upon a man and he stands up for what is right, there is inevitably push-back. But it is through these trials that the Christian men of old and the Christian men of today continue to labour in this world for a better world.

I say kudos to MPP Oosterhoff as he takes this fight into the provincial spotlight. Christians continue to establish Pregnancy Care Centres on the ground floor, Christian Pastors teach the Word of God and preach repentance and forgiveness from pulpits, and Christians call each other to faithfulness and to rescue the one headed to death (Prov. 24:11, James 5:20). Our leaders as well are called to be men of integrity and men who defend righteousness. And we need men to defend what is right in all areas of society.

Political leaders as well are called to serve under Jesus Christ who “loved righteousness and hated wickedness” (Ps. 45:11). He did this perfectly and we look to Him.

So I would strongly encourage you to be unembarrassed and even courageous as you openly defend what is right, noble, good, and lovely. If you get lashback and are maligned, don’t forget to love your neighbour by speaking the truth. But remember, at least they aren’t apathetic. If you find the opportunity, defend pro-life among your friends at university, at work, and at church. Stand by men like Oosterhoff. Support a Pregnancy Care Centre. Pray for the young ladies and men who have questions but have no one to help or answer their questions. Hold our leaders accountable for the fact that they are called to protect the little lives, and yet might stand down for fear of conflict or losing their elected position.

Let’s speak out to protect the little ones. The debate seems to be growing. The conversation is spreading. This is good, because hopefully it gets people thinking.

Yours truly,

Nathan Zekveld


Dispelling Some Popular Myths About Creationist Arguments

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There are a massive number of issues to study while in seminary. But one of the main ones that continues to pique my interest is the issue of the historicity of Genesis 1, Genesis 1-3, and ultimately the historicity of Genesis 1-11. It started in second year when Dr. Smith asked me to write a paper on the genre of Genesis 1, and it has developed in conversation with both creationists and others who might give more “push back”.

This is a question that has often come up for discussion in Reformed Churches, including in more conservative circles. It was one of the many issues that lead to the formation of the United Reformed Churches, when some observed the trajectory of men like Howard J. Van Til towards theistic evolution. Sometimes this issue will get suppressed among all the debates over systematics. But it might pop up right between a discussion on justification and a discussion on eschatology. It has given rise to websites, books, public debates, and papers.

In the context of these conversations, I want to dispel three myths propagated about the creationist position: the poetic myth, the fundamentalist myth, and the scholarly myth.

1) I don’t think the question is whether or not there is a poetic element to Genesis 1. Many who believe it is historical, also believe it contains at least elevated prose.

2) I don’t think the question is whether or not one has a fundamentalist and reductionist view of the Bible. Many who believe it is historical, also believe that there are types and maybe even allegories in the text.

3) I don’t think this is a matter of creationist scholars ignoring OT backgrounds. Many who believe it is historical, have a deep wealth of knowledge in OT backgrounds.

NT Wright doesn’t want us to get caught up into questions like, were there 6 days, or 8 days, or 5 days. This is another myth that should be dispelled. Just because a scholar or a pastor argues that a day is a day, doesn’t mean he is saying that Genesis 1 is all about that. Wright would also argue that it is a Temple story (something that Walton also argues). I would respond, why can’t a theological truth be built on real history? Why the big deal about the days? Why does it have to not be a regular work week (ie Exodus 20:8-11)? Why can’t a day just refer to a day, especially if God has belabored the point that it was ‘evening and morning the first day’?

I was just listening to this speech from Kevin DeYoung where he argues that Jesus assumes the historicity of the Old Testament (a pretty obvious point). He has an excellent little quip in there about taking Jesus more seriously than the German philosophers of the 19th century. It even makes sense academically in that Jesus is the primary text, whereas the German philosophers are a very distantly removed secondary text. Jesus refers to the historicity of Genesis right in Matt. 19: 4-6:

He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male 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.”

Jesus assumes the historicity of these passages. He also teaches on marriage based on content within the first three chapters of Genesis. We can talk about God’s love for mankind in Genesis 1, His creativity, the presence of the Trinity, the image of God, male and female, understanding man in his created state, we can possibly talk about the world being God’s temple. We can talk about the symbolism of earth and stars (symbols and types often leap out of the history in the Old Testament). We can talk about the Dominion Mandate. One might say that Genesis 1 is written like a symphony and it leads to many of the latter poetic descriptions of the creation of the world in the Old Testament. But why suggest that Genesis 1 is a parable, like Wright does? Why not also listen to the historical flow of the text?

There are a number of other myths that I may write about another day. But I would urge anyone who has been sucked in by anti-creationist rhetoric to reflect on the careful arguments and the thought that creationist scholars have put into this important topic.

A personal note. As a student preparing for the pastorate it is my calling to speak honestly and truthfully and with clarity about the text of Holy Scripture. I would sooner be maligned as unacademic than step out from under the authority of God’s Word into the wild unknown of scientific speculation and changing theories. I still need to be convinced of a reason not to see the importance of history extending into Genesis 1.


Photo by Natalia Y on Unsplash

An Argument for Singing Hymns in Worship

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There have been times where I have almost been convinced of the argument for exclusive psalm-singing in public worship. The argument is generally connected to a strict reading of the regulative principle. This is essentially: that which is not commanded is forbidden.

Ephesians 5:19 reads: “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,” Many Protestants think this refers to the modern distinction between Psalms (from Book of Psalms) and hymns (modern and historic songs of praise to God). But groups like the Reformed Presbyterians (RPCNA) will respond that this is a technical term for the Book of Psalms in Scripture. It definitely seems that they are probably right in their understanding of this verse in Ephesians.

But does this mean that we should scrap the use of the hymnal in worship and only sing the Psalter with the potential addition of songs taken directly out of Scripture (like the song of Moses and Zechariah)?

Danny Hyde defines the Regulative Principle here:

“The Regulative Principle of Worship holds that we worship God in the manner He has commanded us in His Word. As the Westminster Confession says, ‘But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited to his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture’ (21.1)..”

So then, does the singing of hymns in worship break this principle? Has God commanded that we only sing the Psalms in worship? I might add to this the questions: (1) Has God commanded that we only read Scripture in worship and not explain the Scriptures through the preaching of the Word? (2) Has God commanded that we have no creed but Christ, and that we should avoid reciting creeds and confessions in worship? (3) Should we only pray the prayers of Scripture in worship or can ministers call out to God before the congregation on behalf of the concerns and struggles in the congregation?

One of the principles for worship which is broadly agreed upon in Reformed and Presbyterian Churches, is that worship is a dialogue or a conversation between man and God. We recognize that God speaks and we respond. This could be called covenant renewal worship, but the principle is that when God speaks He demands a response.

When God speaks, He speaks through His Word. Of course the two primary pictures of the Gospel are Baptism and Lord’s Supper. So in Christian worship, the Scriptures must be the basis for the preaching, the singing, the prayers, our confession. It is the Word that regenerates men and women (I Peter 1) and so everything must be tested in accordance with the Scriptures in the Old Testament and the New Testament (whether songs, prayers, preaching, use of the sacraments, or confessions/creeds).

Being Scripture and divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Psalms should definitely hold a high place of priority in worship. The language of our praise should be shaped by the language of the Psalms. But we must also respond to the Word with the hymns and confessions of the Church. We must sing about the triumphs of God in the Scriptures, but we should also sing about the continuing triumphs of God in the history of the Church, as the Gospel spreads to the ends of the earth..

Along with the Theses of Bern, the Christian argument is that: “The holy Christian Church, whose only Head is Christ, is born of the Word of God, abides in the same, and does not listen to the voice of a stranger.” And so Psalm-singing gives birth to the songs of the Church. In obedience to Christ and in faithfulness to His Word, we respond to the Word of God. We do this by singing the great hymns of the Church, and the songs of His ever expanding Kingdom.