Kindness with a Backbone

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There is a big difference between a nice man and a kind man.

Here at the seminary, we have been listening to a number of students preaching sermons on Ruth and we have now gone through Ruth 1 and Ruth 2. One thing that struck me again today as I was listening to the two sermons on Ruth 2, was Boaz as a role model for Christian men. We have many role models: a dad, a brother, a pastor, a leader. Hebrews 11 talks about the men of the Old Testament as examples of faith. In fact, we are called to be imitators of men like Boaz who through faith and patience inherit the promises (Heb. 6:12).

What stands out to me from the life of Boaz is his kindness as a godly man. We do not often speak of kindness when we speak of masculine characteristics, and yet, it is just another aspect of living as a godly man in a sinful world. But here we see a man whose kindness shines through and is a human picture of the kindness of God and more particularly the kindness of God in Jesus Christ.

I want to briefly lay out 5 actions of kindness from the example of Boaz. But you should also read this article on Desiring God from Douglas Wilson laying out 5 principles for kind husbands from the example of Boaz.

1. Kindness protects weakness

When Boaz sees Ruth gleaning out in the fields in Ruth 2, he commands the young men not to touch her.

2. Kindness notices the foreigner

As a Moabitess, Ruth does not come from the most glorious background. She is also a foreigner among God’s people. And yet, Boaz takes notice of her to protect.

3. Kindness promotes true value

Boaz could have made a number of insulting comments, that would have been true, but unkind. Instead he focuses on that amazing quality that God worked in Ruth when she took refuge under His wings. This was not flattery. He really honors her.

4. Kindness pursues righteousness

When Ruth lays down at his feet, he is respectful of her as a woman. A man who lacked self-control would have taken advantage of her. When he sees that he must “redeem” her, he goes out and does his task, regardless of what people might say about him.

5. Kindness points to Jesus

Boaz was a small picture of Jesus. But he couldn’t die for his bride and rise from the dead for her, whereas Jesus could. In His massive kindness to humankind, God sent His only Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. This kindness ought to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4), including repentance for sins like lack of kindness.

Boaz is a fine picture of kindness with a backbone, kindness with a goal, kindness that does not seek its own, but the best of the servant of God. In a time when there is no king in the land, his kindness and righteousness is like dew in the morning, like the sun rising after a long dark night (II Sam. 23). Much more could be said about his courage, boldness, etc. I will suffice it to say for now that the 21st century man who looks to Jesus Christ, ruling justly, with the kindness characterized by a backbone, is like the morning dew and the sunrise.

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Position Statements on Reformed Churches and Sexual Abuse

These are important thoughts from Pastor Wes Bredenhof on responding to sexual abuse in Reformed Churches.

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I wish I knew less about sexual abuse.  In my personal and pastoral life, I have learned far too much about the horrific reality of what some human beings will do to others for the sake of their own pleasure.  However, the knowledge God has providentially placed in my life has motivated me to advocate for the abused.  I have developed the following position statements with the purpose of creating awareness and provoking discussion in our Reformed communities.   Please note:  I do not claim that these statements are exhaustive, nor that they are necessarily the best and final way to frame the issues at hand.  If others wish to improve upon them, they are certainly welcome to do so.

Let me first say a few words about definitions.  In general, abuse is inappropriate conduct towards another person.  It can be a single event or a pattern of behaviour.  In…

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What Does an Evangelistic Church Look Like?

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I would wager that a church entirely comprised of introverts could be more evangelistic than a church entirely comprised of extroverts. Why? Because they love people, and they aren’t the center of their own constellation. Not that this is necessarily true, but I want to do away with the idea that you need to be an ‘in-your-face’ type of person in order to love your neighbour.

A couple months ago I discussed the problem with all the evangelism training seminars. Now I want to ask: what does an evangelistic church look like?

I would define an evangelistic church as a church that is characterized by the good news. If you get to know people in the congregation, you might meet a young man who has overcome the sin of pornography. You might meet a family with 8 children. There may be a number of old age home and disability ministries in the congregation. You meet a young lady or an older man who entered the church later in life. An older couple likes to invite the youth group over on the odd occasion. The church financially supports a local Christian school. This congregation lives in a way characterized by the fact that the message of the gospel has taken root in their lives. They minister to sinners, knowing that Jesus Christ has ministered to them. They listen to the preaching, they worship God, they use the sacraments, they live together as a Christian community.

Well, you respond that none of this is evangelism proper. You may say that Reformed Churches are unevangelistic because they aren’t telling the gospel out on the streets. I would then argue that you are defining evangelism by a particular branch of evangelism, street evangelism. I would agree, street evangelism is a fine way of doing evangelism, and it should be encouraged and developed in Reformed Churches. I would promote good street preaching as well, but preaching isn’t defined by being out on the street.

I was once told that making friends with co-workers outside the church isn’t evangelism. I was kind of surprised by such a statement. I guess the entire task of evangelism isn’t bound up into this one little aspect, and you don’t want to see work as an evangelistic project. But how is this not evangelism? If you are living in a way characterized by the gospel, if you are talking to people about how deep your gospel roots go and how they can find hope in Jesus as well, how is this not evangelistic?

I find the claim that Reformed Churches are unevangelistic to be a sweeping generalization. I know that you can always find certain unevangelistic points to point out, and evangelism can definitely be developed further. But in my experience I have seen a lot of initiative to reach out in the churches that I have worked in. I have seen evangelism explored, evangelists, old age home ministries, disability home ministries, and students and families bringing friends to church. I personally grew up in a mission church plant. I know many people who have been baptized in Reformed Churches.

I agree that evangelism must be preached, and Christians must also be rebuked in that preaching. We could develop ministries to those caught in sex-trafficking or the abortion industry, we could develop our hospitality, and our involvement in communities or our knowledge of eastern religions. But if it is possible to take an analogy from parenting, you don’t help a child grow by always pointing out their flaws. Yes, a good parent will point out issues, but it is with the aim to build them up. Of course, churching is different than parenting, but I do believe that the point transfers over.

I once critiqued a church that I was in to the pastor, for not having enough evangelistic projects. He pointed out to me that at that point in life I was unhindered by marriage or children, and that I had the gifts and the advantage at that point in life to go out and meet people. The families that had children had the advantage of being more financially established, while being busy, and so they might have more opportunities to be hospitable. So if I could use my gifts to connect people into the church community, I might see a lot more of what I wanted to see. I liked his advice. He made me take responsibility rather than trying to change everybody else first. It was also clear that everyone in the body has their own gifts and position.

So what does an evangelistic church look like? I can’t tell you exactly. I know that there will be love, hospitality, selflessness, courage, continual reformation. Those points are vague. But I believe that a group of people start to develop as they pursue a goal. If we were looking at the dynamics of a particular church (how do people get along with each other in the church?), its geography (is it country or city?), its surrounding cultures (is it an immigrant community, an underprivileged community, a wealthy community?), we could get into more specifics.

I do believe that love for God must drive love for neighbour. If we watch and listen, we will understand more of the needs of our community. We will then know how to apply the Word of God to the needs in our community (that is, if we are also listening to Him). But for that we need to be humble and above all take personal responsibility. A church will never be evangelistic if it specializes in sweeping generalizations and/or if it seeks to change every other church before it seeks to change itself. And change in a local church often starts with individuals making changes to themselves.

Comparing Confessions

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Presbyterian and Reformed confessions on the doctrine of the Church are surprisingly complementary.

Article 29: Of the Marks of the True Church

We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully from the Word of God what is the true church, for all sects which are in the world today claim for themselves the name of church. We are not speaking here of the hypocrites, who are mixed in the church along with the good and yet are not part of the church, although they are outwardly in it. We are speaking of the body and the communion of the true church which must be distinguished from all sects that call themselves the church.

The true church is to be recognized by the following marks: It practises the pure preaching of the gospel. It maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them. It exercises church discipline for correcting and punishing sins. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and regarding Jesus Christ as the only Head. Hereby the true church can certainly be known and no one has the right to separate from it.

Those who are of the church may be recognized by the marks of Christians. They believe in Jesus Christ the only Saviour, flee from sin and pursue righteousness, love the true God and their neighbour without turning to the right or left, and crucify their flesh and its works. Although great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their life. They appeal constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of Jesus Christ, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins through faith in Him.

The false church assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God. It does not want to submit itself to the yoke of Christ. It does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in His Word, but adds to them and subtracts from them as it pleases. It bases itself more on men than on Jesus Christ. It persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke the false church for its sins, greed, and idolatries.

These two churches are easily recognized and distinguished from each other.

Chapter 25: Of the Church

I. The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all.

II. The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

III. Unto this catholic visible Church Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and does, by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto.

IV. This catholic Church has been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the Gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.

V. The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error, and some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan, Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth to worship God according to his will.

VI. There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.

Will Canadian Culture go up in Smoke on Wednesday?

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On Wednesday, marijuana will be legalized in Canada. The news is telling me that everything will change and that we will live in a different world. That being said, all that will change for me is that I will have to study more and respond in a different way.

Here are a couple observations based on my limited knowledge

1. The field of marijuana is largely unexplored territory. We also are still unaware of the psychological and medical affects that it could have (some studies have connected it to schizophrenia).

2. There are various types of marijuana. The primary types of marijuana are CBD and THC. There seem to be a number of variations around this.

3. Medical marijuana seems to be a better option than opioids or psychotropic drugs. Something like cannabis oil could prove to be an effective pain killer that is safer than many pain killers.

4. Up until this point, marijuana has largely been known for its abuse. It can be used to shut down the senses and help a person leave reality (like alcohol abuse). It has also been known for its ties to the occult.

A few of my current reflections (again, based on limited knowledge)

1. You will not find me smoking marijuana recreationally.

2. In a hypothetical scenario where I might be forced to make a decision between a prescription of medical marijuana and a opioid or psychotropic drug, I would likely start with medical marijuana.

3. The federal government has no right to force marijuana upon local communities.

4. Communities and especially churches should be studying and reflecting on this matter. This way, they will be able to respond more effectively rather than relying on a federal government that has proven itself incapable of dealing with moral issues.

5. Local governments have every right to assert their authority against federal legalization. Educating ourselves and our communities are a good place to start.

A lot of people are concerned and don’t know how to respond. I am convinced that God is sovereign, and he has given us the task of searching out this matter. I believe that part of the reason we are at a loss, is because we relied on the fact that marijuana was illegal as the final word on the morality of the matter. But morality is not determined primarily by governments but by the Word of God.

Parents should sit down together to study up on a whole host of matters including, alcohol abuse, pornography, marijuana, broader drugs, medical drugs, etc.

As for the Church, the gospel continues to go out. And the gospel urges young men and women to pursue the path of wisdom. Above all, Christ should be preached who forgives us for our sins of ignorance as well as our self-justifications and our sins that were done in full knowledge of the path we were on. And then He sets us on a new path to live for Him.

How is Christianity Spread: by Violence or by Preaching?

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This is an article I will be publishing in the Sunday Times, a Pakistani-Canadian ethnic newspaper. I trust it will be beneficial and up-building here as well.

Christians believe that the Son of God became man, he became incarnate, and then He died on a cross, and rose again from the dead. But there is more to this story. We also believe that Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, to rule in heaven. The name Christian means follower of Christ, and as followers of Christ, we serve our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who is seated in the heavens. He is ruling in heaven until all of His enemies are defeated, and the final enemy He will defeat is death.

That is the overview, but let us look at the details. Before Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, He told His 12 disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.” (The Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 28, vs. 19-20). We see a couple things here. Jesus has all authority in both heaven and earth. Christians are called to go out into the whole world, and make disciples of nations, we are to baptize them in the Name of the Triune God, and we are to teach them the words of the Holy Bible. So we see an act of going out, baptizing, and teaching.

But we don’t only have these words of Jesus before He ascended into heaven, we also have another great saying from Jesus: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). What do we see here? We see the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit (the third person of the Trinity). We see that Christians are witnesses to Jesus throughout the world. What does it mean to be a witness of Jesus? 1. It means that I know that He has saved me from my sins; 2. It means that I submit to His leadership in my life.

So how is Christianity spread? For that, we can look at the Book of Acts in the Holy Bible. The Book of Acts follows the 4 gospels in the New Testament Canon: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Book of Acts is also written by Luke, the writer of the 3rd gospel. This Book tells the beginning of the history of the spread of Christianity, following the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus into heaven. In this history, we see that Christianity grows through men who faithfully teach the Word of God in the Holy Bible and speak out in public about the good news. This good news is that Jesus Christ has come to save men and women from their sins, and that He has come as Lord. We see men like Stephen who are willing to die for this truth, and we see Stephen’s persecutor, the Apostle Paul, forgiven of his sins and become a great man who defends this truth and spreads it throughout the world by boldly speaking in public of the good news.

We don’t see any examples in the Holy Bible of men spreading Christianity through violence. In many cases, they show that they are willing to suffer violence for the sake of the truth, but they do not return evil for evil. Instead, they get up after men beat them up and keep on speaking the truth.

Let us look at a potential modern day misunderstanding of the growth of Christianity. Some may think that Christians are violent because they think that the United States of America and Christianity are the same thing. But we must be clear that wars fought by the United States are not fought in the Name of Christ, but in their own interests and in the name of the United States. The empire of Jesus Christ looks far far different than the empires of this world. The empire of Jesus Christ looks far different than the United States of America. It is a fundamentally different kingdom. Jesus told us that His empire is not of this world.

The ordinary means for the growth of Christianity in the Holy Bible are the preaching of the gospel, the baptizing of new believers, and then the discipling of Christians. The preaching of the gospel means that missionaries and pastors speak about the good news that Jesus Christ has come to save you from your sins and that He is Lord over heaven and earth. Baptism is a practice of the Christian Church. When somebody comes to believe that Jesus Christ is the only Name in heaven and in earth by which they can be saved, then they are baptized into the Name of the Triune God. Baptism involves sprinkling, pouring, or dunking with water to represent the washing away of sins through the blood of Jesus Christ. The discipling of Christians means that once a new believer is baptized, he or she sits underneath the teaching of leaders in the Church. Discipleship means a growing knowledge of the Holy Bible, but also a desire and ability to live in such a way that truly reflects the Holy Bible.

One Christian song writer described the growth of Christianity this way: “For not with swords’ loud clashing or roll of stirring drums with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.” This means that pastors and missionaries preach the good news, Christians witness and testify to what Jesus Christ has done in their lives. But Christians also seek to build up the Church of Jesus Christ and serve their communities through acts of service and mercy to the poor, the widow, the orphan.

This is all done in service to King Jesus. What you will find fascinating about our Lord Jesus Christ is that He came as a king, but He also came as a servant. He conquered Satan by dying on a cross and rising from the dead. And so Jesus Christ has inverted the power of the kingdoms of this world. Christians find strength in service, victory in suffering, and life in death. As followers of Jesus, we rule by serving, and the Church grows through trial and suffering. Christianity does not grow by acts of violence. Instead, it grows through the preaching of the good news of forgiveness of sins and a new life under the Lordship of Christ.

Social Media Debate in an Age of Communication Breakdown

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I’m not totally sure what my problem with social media is yet. I use it. I share ideas. I connect with people I have met along the way. And yet it has a weird vibe to it. But maybe life just has a weird vibe to it.

I can get into a fight with an atheist about abortion in Ottawa, have a debate with a Leftist about social medicare in California, and have an intense conversation about theology with a Presbyterian from South Carolina. And this is all behind a laptop screen on a sunny summery evening in Southwestern Ontario. And I don’t really care about any of them, in a sense of the word, because I don’t know them.

Somebody recently told me that I used to try to be more inflammatory in my use of social media. It’s probably true. I continue to sharpen my words so that they are more finely tipped arrows than a blunt club wielded by a weak arm with poor aim.

What is this thing with inflammatory comments? To gain popularity? To gain a following? That being said, how did Trump rise into power, or Trudeau for that matter? Was it for the substance of their ideas? Maybe it was just rhetoric. Or a mix of both.

And then there is that word ‘triggered’. Conservatives love it. Liberals do to. It is easy to meta-debate, by characterizing your opponent as an emotionally charged sawed-off shotgun being emptied into the breezes of cultural manipulation. I don’t use the word ‘triggered’. It doesn’t help rational debate. Am I pulling the trigger here? Presumably so. Hopefully I am a better shot than the times I have gone skeet-shooting.

I am a fan of rational debate. And just because people are yelling, doesn’t make my arguments any less poignant. That being said, the fact that they are yelling doesn’t make them any more poignant. I’ve heard far to many people argue from the reaction to the veracity of the argument. I don’t know how that became a logical argument. We are looking for an ability to argue, not the loss thereof. We are looking for an ability to hit a target, not a poor passer by, who just happened to be too close to the aforesaid target.

Back to that use of inflammatory language on social media. Is it inherently wrong in and of itself? Truth be told, the Bible is not devoid of inflammatory language. But just because I am using inflammatory language doesn’t mean that I am anything close to Jesus. Inflammatory language must be tied into the search for truth, beauty and goodness. As such, inflammatory language must have substance. Neither popularity or the fight should be the goal of inflammatory language, but the transformation of hearts. The principle of love means that we should be quick to explain and slow to attack. But the principle of love does not necessarily mean saying nothing.

Facebook fights, combative tweeters. And then the people who drop ‘triggered’ in-between and then proceed to sneer with self-righteous glee as they meditate on their moral superiority for not getting involved in the debate. Oh wait, they did get involved, so scratch that. The tongue is a flame, a world of unrighteousness. Combine the tongue and the internet and with one click, the whole world can be set aflame.

How shall we then live? It seems that Jesus wants us to have real relationships as the precursor to fighting with somebody where we have no skin in the game and no relationships. Debate happens in relationship. Jesus had dinner with the Pharisees that He called a brood of vipers. This does not deny the use of social media, but it puts social media within context, a context of a demand for human relationships.

Social media is still a frontier for the Church, but also society. Mark Zuckerberg is trying to enforce a rule system on Facebook, which in a sense of the word, is commendable. Social media can actually teach us a lot about communication, and also the rabid passions that control the hearts of men when they are put in front of a screen and removed from human relationships.

Fighting did not start with social media. Fighting goes all the way back to the time that Cain killed Abel. Bad men fight, and the fight does not justify them. Jesus made people angry and He was perfect. Stephen made people angry and his faith in Christ justified Him, and his faith expressed itself in speaking the truth against lies. Trump makes people angry and he is often dead wrong. We don’t want to suffer willy-nilly, but we want to suffer for righteousness and as Christians.

Because we have this deep longing to suffer as the protagonist, social media is full of self-justification and even worse, an abundance of self-righteousness. I have often been angry, and then I realized that anger came from a sinful place in my heart. It was an attempt to self-justify myself by pointing out the weakness of the other, capitalizing on the weakness of the other.

But social media still has a place, albeit very small in society. And it is not just a place to post pictures of babies and what you had for dinner. It is an excellent platform for the proliferation of truth, and speaking the gospel to hard and soft and faltering and angry hearts.

At the end of the day, all I can really say is: stay on social media and fear God. And if you don’t want it, there is no shame in deleting your account. Of course,  seeking the applause of men through a certain kind of inflammatory statement (ie Trump), is a matter of fearing nothing, not even God who will judge. So there are actually three positions here: fearing God, fearing men, fearing nothing. Of course, Ecclesiastes has deeper wisdom for mankind. Fear God and keep His commandments. For this is man’s all.

A Criticism of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel

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I signed the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. I did this for a couple reasons. I believe that the drafters have an important corrective for some of the negative trends in social justice: ie, it is easy to correct everything out there except for ourselves. Cultural Marxism and a culture of victimhood are real issues in our society. In the statement itself, they recognize that it holds no ecclesiastical weight and they are looking for discussion (I blogged a week ago on how this is not the council of Nicaea). I don’t necessarily agree with all the wording and I particularly appreciate Alastair Roberts response. But it is still a valuable document in the broader discussion.

My main critique stems back to my Christology, particularly when it comes to the offices of Jesus Christ as prophet, priest and king. The statement emphasizes the prophetic role of Christ in calling men to repentance from their sins. The statement emphasizes the priestly role of Christ in forgiving men and women of their sins. But I would argue that the statement is lacking when it comes to the kingly role of Christ. Again, I am willing to take push-back.

As Christians we believe that Christ is King as well as Prophet and Priest, and as I will argue, one of the aspects of His Kingship plays out in bringing justice in the church, and then consequently in the world. Now, let us be assured, we cannot divorce Christ’s kingly role from His priestly and prophetic role. The three come together.

Isaiah states in Isaiah 9:7 “Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” Paul also states in I Cor. 15:22-26, the consequences of Christ’s resurrection: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Many more verses could be cited in referring to the Kingship of Christ, but we could also highlight Revelation. There we see the King who rules in justice. Consider the gospels, there we see the King who brings justice.

Now, Jesus is not a Marxist. Neither is He a feminist. Neither did He begin a #MeToo movement. But when we look out over the display of cultural confusion, we can hold fast to the confession that Jesus is Lord. That means the state isn’t Lord, but Jesus is Lord. Now, if Jesus is Lord and we are His servants, then we are the vessels of His justice on the earth. Of course, when we work as vessels of His justice, we must never divorce His priestly and prophetic role from His kingly role. As servants of the King of Kings, we must be just, and we must seek justice in society.

Jesus died and rose again. Jesus ascended into heaven. And he reigns there as Lord. He is Saviour and Lord.

This is an expectation laid particularly on men as leaders but also on women when they see a failure in leadership. One text that is brought to mind when we think of a call for men to seek justice and love mercy, is II Sam. 23:3b-4: “When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.” Of course, this speaks of Christ, but we are servants of Christ just as David was a servant of Christ.

I don’t think the statement denies all this, but they could definitely clarify and further emphasize the kingly office of Christ and the kingly task of the Christian.

Five Battlefields for a 21st Century Church

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Here are 5 places that I see as necessary in building a healthy church. They are battlefields, because the Devil hates the Church. There are different projects in North America working on various aspects, but without bringing them together, we will keep finding breaches in the walls. Of course, Christ is the cornerstone and we are building on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, the Scriptures (Eph. 2). I’m sure you can add a thing or two, and maybe correct me here and there. But here goes:

  1. Worship: the public worship of God is central to the cultivation of personal devotion, the advance of the gospel, and the unity of the Church. This is because where God is not glorified, self is exalted. It is not oriented towards these things, but it has a magnetic power as it pulls these things toward it.
  2. Fellowship: we live in a “connected” age, but in a lonely age due to sin and the breakdown of communication through social media. Hospitality and other such things should be encouraged and developed in the Church.
  3. Doctrine: it never stops being under attack. By this, I don’t simply mean systematic categories, but particularly where the church intersects with the culture.
  4. Evangelism: the gospel must go forward, not only over seas, but also in our backyard. Evangelism is simply part of our identity as Christians, and our lack of it reveals an identity crisis.
  5. Family: this is really one of the core units of the church. In fact, the family becomes a “metaphor” for the church. I would argue that the family is built off of the principle of “my life for yours.” I am ready to lay down, my life, my pride, so that I can build you up. When families don’t live by this principle, the Church will have greater difficulty living by this principle.

After the Apostle Paul teaches good doctrine, encourages Christian community, witness, family, and worship, he ends with this exhortation. “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Eph. 6:13) It’s a battle, and we have all the tools: the Word, prayer, truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the Spirit. You know what that means? We are ready to rebuild in the ruins.

A Few Thoughts on the Social Justice Brouhaha

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A recent statement on social justice & the gospel has resulted in another online brouhaha. 

One piece of criticism can be found in this article in the Washington Post. The writer, Michael Gerson, compares a statement that came out from MacArthur and a number of evangelicals to decisions made at the Council of Nicaea. He states strongly: “Since the Council of Nicaea, Christians have been prone to issue joint statements designed to draw the boundaries of orthodoxy — and cast their rivals beyond them.” He states later: “MacArthur clearly wants to paint the participants — including prominent pastors Tim Keller, Russell Moore, Thabiti Anyabwile and John Piper — as liberals at risk of heresy.”

Of course, while it arose out of MacArthur’s circles, a number of prominent evangelical leaders have signed onto it, including: Voddie Baucham, Douglas Wilson, Joseph Pipa, Tony Costa, etc. There is no objective indication that this is painting certain men of heresy, in fact, men like Douglas Wilson and John Piper have long been friends.

The individual statements are up for debate and I appreciate Alastair Roberts for taking some substantial time to pick through the affirmations and denials, looking for better ways to say things. You can find his YouTube video here. Kevin DeYoung entered the ring with a few challenges on the definition of social justice and the lack of clarity in defining important terms. I have had a couple discussions about the need to show more sensitivity in these matters than simply issuing a series of challenges to complex cultural issues. I think there is something to say for all of these approaches. Of course, there is much to say about the journalism, or lack therof, in the Washington Post.

I found Alastair Roberts challenge on the topic of tribalism of particular interest. In North America, we tend to gather in tribes, around certain theologians, and in the end, we can easily be cast about on the winds of doctrine. In particular it is interesting that the lines are falling largely (but not completely) on the sides of those inside and outside the Gospel Coalition.

So how do we deal with tribalism? Well, by taking an article like the one by Michael Gerson and committing it to the flames.

Let’s begin by taking the writers of the Statement at their word, at face value. In the conclusion they say: “The statement makes no claim of any ecclesiastical authority. It is issued for the purpose of calling attention to and clarifying concerns. We have spoken on these issues with no disrespect or loss of love for our brothers and sisters who disagree with what we have written. Rather, our hope is that this statement might actually provoke the kind of brotherly dialogue that can promote unity in the gospel of our Lord Jesus whom we all love and trust.” Well, as we can see, the aim of this statement was to voice their concerns, and to encourage brotherly dialogue. So in the spirit of “social justice” we should hear their concerns and engage in brotherly dialogue.

One concern that immediately jumps out at me is the concern over the rise of “cultural Marxism.” Well, in the spirit of Kevin DeYoung’s exhortation, I will define my terms. The way I understand this, is that within North American culture, Marxist philosophy is at play. Marxist philosophy tends to focus on the oppressor and the oppressed, the rich and the poor, and it tends to make this into an identity. Marxist history has made some interesting points about history in its observations of class struggle. But Marxist philosophy takes certain observations, and imposes those observations on all men and women. A cultural Marxist tends to see oppression everywhere, and assumes that those who are shouting the loudest are in the right. Ultimately it is a matter of weaponizing our victims as Derek Rishmawy aptly put it long before this particular debate. For a more academic analysis of “cultural Marxism” you can read up on it here from the Mises Institute.

Of course, this is by no means a defense of any racist mentality. And I agree with Alastair Roberts that a more serious reprimand of actual racism, as well as other social injustices, in North America could be included with greater clarity in such a statement.

Although I know there have been one or two inflammatory statements by the signers thereof, I would encourage those observing to stand back, rather than join in on the tribalism. This is not the Council of Nicaea. The drafters and signers make some good points. The push-back is making some good points. I am actually thankful that this statement entered into the discussion, because until recently about 6 or 7 men from the Gospel Coalition held the evangelical monopoly on this discussion, and now some more arguments have entered the ring.

I don’t see how there is any comparison between this and the Council of Nicaea. At this point in time, I find myself able to read with appreciation Mac Arthur and the other signers, as I find myself able to read with appreciation the leaders of the Gospel Coalition. Of course, I am a student in the United Reformed Churches which puts me at an arms length between the two major sides of this debate, but I still don’t feel like I have to pick a side. This is an important debate for our times, and I hope to see a lot more conversation in the coming years, without the label of heresy floating around, either from the signers or from those who believe that they have been labeled heretics. And again. This isn’t the Council of Nicaea.

Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash