The future coming of Christ is the cause for Christian courage in whatever situation you find yourself in today. Often we think of the death and resurrection as the primary comfort of the Christian life and there is something central about that since that is where I am forgiven and that is where I rise to new life. But I think in particular of Q&A 52 in the Heidelberg Catechism which speaks of the coming again of Christ to judge the living and the dead: “In all my sorrow and persecution I lift up my head.”
How do we continue to stand firm in the onslaught of darkness and evil, to stand firm in the truth of God’s Word, to stand firm in Christian love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control? Lift up your head and see the rider on a white horse. In all your sorrow look to see the Son of Man who stands among the golden lamp-stands and calls His Church to be faithful unto death. Look to the one who left the sacrament of bread and wine so that you can partake of His body and His blood and so be nourished for the spiritual warfare. Look to the one who pours out His blood for the washing away of sins. Look to the one who sends out messengers to preach the gospel to all nations and to witness to His power.
I lift up my head, knowing that He promised to be with His Church until the very end of the age (Matt. 28:16-20). I lift up my head, knowing that He pours out His Spirit, and that His Spirit moves like the wind. We don’t know which way the Spirit moves. I do know that the Spirit empowers, emboldens, convicts, encourages, helps, and brings men and women everywhere to believe in the Name of Jesus Christ.
I lift up my head, knowing that the posture of my Christian life is often one of repentance, but I also know that Jesus has forgiven me, and so I know that I can also stand tall in the Christian life, knowing that He is mine and I am His.
I lift up my head, knowing that I can live in the present, in a way that reflects the truth that I am made for another world, a better world, a better city, a heavenly kingdom. I can move outward and towards the other because the Spirit of Christ is in me and that means that I will look more and more like Christ, until one day I am resurrected and my body is made to be like Christ’s glorious body. And for that reason I can also taunt death and say “Oh death, where is your sting! Oh grave, where is your victory!”
I lift up my head, knowing that I can live for Christ and serve Him in this world, caring for my family and loving my enemy. I know that because of what Christ has done in my life and the way that He is renewing me through His Spirit, I can enjoy the good gifts that He has given me in this world, eating and drinking, all for His glory. He works that repentance in my life.
When you know Jesus Christ and live in Him, the comforts of the Christian life abound. When you know the comfort that comes at the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, they multiply as you learn about the ascension, reign and return of Jesus Christ. As the gospel flows through the world like a mighty river, it must also bring about this deep sense of comfort that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead. This comfort is also in the Psalms: “The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.” (Psalm 110:5-7)
One of the great things about living in PEI is the freshness of the air. I’m sure that the ocean helps immensely with that. I had a similar experiences in the Greater Vancouver Area. Even though it is a city region, the air is fresh. And it just has a better smell than the air in the Toronto area. Maybe I am imagining things. Anyways. Joy is like taking a gasp of that fresh air, like standing on a PEI beach with the wind blasting in your face, or on a mountain near the Fraser Valley feeling like you are on top of the world.
James called on the Church to count it all joy when they fall into various trials. Ezra tells the people in Nehemiah 8:10, that the joy of the Lord is your strength. Joy permeates the seeming vanity and vapour of life for the Christian in Ecclesiastes. Joy, or I guess you could say even joyful trembling, marks our worship in the Spirit, before the Father and His Son who rules the world with a rod of iron (Psalm 2).
As Christians, it is easy to get our knickers in a knot, as we face the perils of 2020 and 2021. As the voices rise to a growing crescendo, nuance is lost, and voices get shrill. I was recently encouraged by a lecture on courage that was delivered in 2019. In here, it was pointed out that CS Lewis considered courage to be the testing point of all the virtues. Do you really love your neighbor? The test is whether you have the courage to love your neighbor. Do you really have self-control? The test is whether you have courage to maintain your cool or to avoid temptation. The Lord commanded Joshua to be “strong and courageous” multiple times in Joshua 1.
Joy is the shot of adrenaline that keeps courage going in the day of battle. Joy keeps you anchored in reality. Without joy, even the strongest of hearts may faint in the day of battle. Rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4). Rejoice always (I Thess. 5:16). Habakkuk, when he saw the coming judgement of the Lord, vowed to rejoice in the Lord (Hab. 3:18).
In the realm of joy, there is definitely an important place for humor, the Lord Himself sits in the heavens and laughs (Ps. 2:4). Laughter itself is part of the praise of the Christian life (Psalm 126). I’m convinced that when the Psalmist remarked that the mouth of babies and infants will still the mouth of the enemy and the avenger, he was watching a small child busting a gut laughing at something totally meaningless in the world of adults. Do you want courage in the day of battle? Tickle your one-year-old daughter, chase her around the house.
Christians really need a shot of joy to vaccinate their collective soul against the soul-crushing divisions and rage that has ripped through the Church and the world. Yes, we need courage. But we also need joy. Yes, we need love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But we also need joy. This joy marked the life of many of the martyrs as they had spikes shoved through their bodies and were committed to the flames. This joy marks the persecuted Church in the Middle East as they literally have to look down the barrel of a gun. We are not there yet. Yet. While maybe an over-statement, Richard Wurmbrand (the founder of VOM) once wrote: “I have found truly jubilant Christians only in the Bible, in the Underground Church and in prison.” The martyrs are the heroes of history and the joy of the Lord was the shot of spiritual adrenaline that kept them running.
This joy is the responsibility of the individual, but begins in a unique way in the home. Prayer and scripture and song are central. But joy begins with a sense of smallness and insignificance. When you do something stupid, you go home and have a good laugh over how it must have looked.
There are dragons to slay. You may know this from the fairy tales. And yes, when you are old enough, you will believe in fairy tales again. But yeah, you don’t get the girl if you don’t slay the dragon. When you slay the dragon your armor probably will get scorched. Among the Biblical virtues that the Holy Spirit brings into the life of the Christian, a shot of joy to the head is necessary to have the courage to even face the dragon.
In the battle of ideas, in the holy rumble for truth, remember, it is not flesh and blood we contend against, but principalities and powers. In this battle, the Spirit brings courage and joy. We want to come into the presence of God with our brother, our enemy, with all nations, laughing and kneeling, rejoicing with trembling. Ironically, in the Bible history in Genesis, the name Isaac means ‘laughter’, because for some reason His aged Mom laughed in unbelief at the promises of God. When she found out that she was actually pregnant after so many years, I am sure she laughed in joy. I am sure that the Apostle Paul sang songs of joy and praise with the same men he once persecuted at the Council in Jerusalem in Acts 15.
So yes. As always, there is a place for lament and grief. And yet, everything should be marked by a joyful courage. The joy of the Lord is your strength. And when you rejoice in Him, you will run at full speed and feel His pleasure. When you trip and fall, roll over a couple times, jump up, and keep running. Enjoy a Copper Bottom DIPA, go for a run, put the baby in the car and go for a drive. Laughter is the juice to keep the love battery running. We need to suck in that fresh air of joy that settles in the early morning air. We need a heavy dose of joy so that we can have courage for the battle.
I want to further address the loss of truth over the course of the coronacrisis of 2020 and 2021. There is so much propaganda coming from all angles that it is sometimes hard to discern what is true and false with regards to the virus itself. But what is crystal clear is the Word of God. As Dr. Aaron Rock in Ontario has commented: we should run to the clarity of God’s Word in the ambiguity of the moment.
In the face of famine, pestilence, war, and persecution, God’s people have gathered in-person in the face of great risk to call upon the Name of the Lord. The true Church has continued to proclaim the gospel, administer baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and enforce discipline for correction among aberrant members or congregations. It may be one thing to gather underground vs. a public protest. Regardless of the publicity, the church is duty bound to come together and to taste of the communion of the saints even here on earth and to point the earthly cities of men to renewing nature of the heavenly city of God.
In the confusion of 2020, many Reformed Churches in Canada have compromised and confused their doctrine. My wife pointed out from my last article that a church that does not have good practice does not have good doctrine. My first response was to think “well, of course, we have good doctrine” because we have all these profound creeds and confessions. But if you pick and choose what you believe in those creeds and confessions, and compromise and water down other truths within them, then it is true that we no longer have good doctrine.
Belgic Confession, Article 32 states that Christ is the sole head of the Church and the Church must always be on guard against deviation away from what He has ordained for us. The office-bearers of the Church must also guard against commanding human innovations or laws imposed on us in the worship of God. This might also be referred to as “the binding of the Christian conscience.” The focus is on what laws are enforced in the worship service.
The Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 38 states that I must diligently attend the assembly of God on the Day of rest. The Church is recognized as the assembly or the communion of saints that we find in the Apostle’s Creed and taught on in Lord’s Day 21 of the Heidelberg Catechism.
Belgic Confession, Article 31 states that Christ has set office-bearers over the Church and not the governing authorities of the land. Both civil and ecclesiastical authorities should be submitted to, but not as absolute authorities (BC. Art. 31 and 36).
There definitely has been a big focus on LD 39 of the Heidelberg Catechism that has been at the expense of our other confessional statements. Not only has there been a fixation on LD 39, but a fixation on one form of authority at the expense of all other forms of authority. There has also been a fixation on the rebukes that Scripture gives to those under authority rather than to the many it gives to those in authority.
We have introduced a new liturgy into the worship of our churches handed down by the scientific professionals. There is a new liturgy of hand-washing, social distancing, masking, putting caps on numbers. Just because they are introduced by scientists rather than the popes of Rome, that does not make them any less blasphemous than what was introduced by the popes of Rome. In fact, it should be even more black and white when it comes to secular science.
Many have argued, well, it doesn’t go against the Word of God, so go ahead and do it. Well, what if the government ordered a large picture of Justin Trudeau to be set up in all the Churches like you see big pictures of the leader in China and North Korea? It is not directly against God’s Law. So will you still do it? The logic of our approach to worship in coronacrisis is taking us down the road to the State Church of China, where the office-bearers of the Church are answerable to the government in all matters with regards to their buildings and structure which has a real affect how the Church worships together.
When I think of the true Church in 2021, I think less in terms of are you Reformed or not, and more in terms of: are you faithful to the Word of God? There are many virtues that we need in the present: patience, gentleness, reasonableness etc. In this, we are not ultimately answerable to government edicts, but to the rule of Jesus Christ. The Belgic Confession summarizes the true Church in Article 29: “In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church— and no one ought to be separated from it.”
Postmodernism and easy times have made us mushy on truth. When there is no truth, all that is left is raw power. That raw power is increasingly being wielded by the civil authorities. You see that in censorship, cancel culture, and the raw use of authority in fining churches in Ontario hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars.
How shall we then live? We must live by truth, not just a part of it, or a watered down version of it, but all of it. When I signed the form of subscription, I made a statement about not only my commitment to the gospel, but my commitment to the nature of the Church, the call to worship and gather, the call to honor authority, the call to uphold Christ and not the chief medical officer as the Head of the Church, the call to not impose the laws and inventions of men in the worship of the Church.
The Anglican Pastor JC Ryle once wrote:
“A jellyfish is a pretty and graceful object when it floats in the sea, contracting and expanding like a little, delicate, transparent umbrella. Yet the same jellyfish, when cast on the shore, is a mere helpless lump, without capacity for movement, self-defense, or self-preservation. Alas! It is a vivid type of much of the religion of this day, of which the leading principle is, ‘No dogma, no distinct tenets, no positive doctrine.'”
We have seen the incipient evanjellyfish doctrine of the times creep into even Reformed Churches. We want to be reasonable. But is there anything reasonable about the never-ending encroachment of the arm of the state into the life of the Church and which has caused so much harm in society? Is it reasonable to be told what to do for 10 months moving towards a year with no end in sight? We have seen the fruit of government policies. You will know a tree by its fruit.
What about you? Do you love the truth and speak and confess it openly? (LD 43)
“The Devil’s alternative credo often has a few carefully chosen elements of truth in the mix – but always diluted and thoroughly blended with falsehoods, contradictions, misrepresentations, distortions, and every other imaginable perversion of reality. Add it all up and the bottom line is a big lie.” Pastor John Mac Arthur, the Truth War, p. 41
The Church does not cease to be the Church when civil governments seek to regulate its activities. The Church must continue to fulfill the Great Commission and bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. The Church must continue to do its work: primarily the preaching of the gospel, the administration of the sacraments, and the use of church discipline.
Christians must also fulfill their duties to God and to neighbor, whether that is in the sanctuary or on the streets. This includes the work of encouraging one another, caring for elderly parents, caring for the poor, comforting those with mental illness, duties that you will find throughout the pages of Scripture.
In the Apostles Creed we confess that we are the Church, or the assembly of believers. We also confess that we believe that there is the communion of the saints. We commune with Christ and we commune with each other. Christ pours out gifts, not so that we can retreat into hiding and isolation, but to step out in love and service for those who are so greatly in need.
In his commentary on James 3:13, Mathew Henry writes: “True wisdom may be known by its works. The conversation here does not refer only to words, but to the whole of men’s practice; therefore it is said, Let him show out of a good conversation his works. True wisdom does not lie in good notions or speculations so much as in good and useful actions. Not he who thinks well, or he who talks well, is in the sense of the scripture allowed to be wise, if he do not live and act well.”
Maybe the problem with so many Reformed and Presbyterian Churches over the 1900s and into the 2000s is that we have fought so hard for orthodoxy that we have lost orthopraxy. In other words: are all our doctrines just on paper or do they come out of our fingertips? What good is good doctrine if we no longer have good living? James says that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-17). A religion that ignores orphans and widows in their affliction is not pure and undefiled religion (James 1:27).
The same can be said for the orthodox Reformed or Presbyterian Church. We don’t believe that preaching is the only mark of a true Church. We also believe that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the sacrament of baptism, and the use of church discipline accompany the true preaching of the Word. You might have the pure preaching of the Word in a Church that does not have the other two marks. But just as the Apostle Paul preaches Christ crucified so he calls the Church to faithful participation in the Lord’s Supper, the faithful use of baptism, and an ongoing emphasis on discipline within the church.
This preaching, these sacraments, this discipline shapes the church as a community that is alive and active in the world. That is why true Christians are called to seek a church that actively promotes this assembly and demonstrates the grace and love of Christ in welcoming sinners into this assembly.
It is impossible to divide practice from doctrine. The Church cannot exist just on the basis of a confessional statement. It is a real and living body within the world that follows in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. What you do says a lot about what you believe and who you trust in.
The Church is baptized into the blood of Jesus Christ. The Church communes upon the body and blood of the ascended and reigning Christ by faith. The gospel message must be proclaimed. These marks or actions of the true Church should not be separated, but come together in the gathering of the forgiven saints. This then gives individual Christians strength to go out and be the hands and feet of Christ in the world, preaching the gospel message in their lives.
Fellowship is inherently a part of that as we live together and not as loners in the world. If we are going to be the Church we need the communion of the saints.
The Church will at many times find herself headed down a different path than what secular government has laid out for her as she follows in the footsteps of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our fixation on government mandates and edicts has led us in Canada in a very dangerous direction because in many cases it has taken our eyes off of Jesus and His Word. It has brought us headlong into the fear frenzy of the moment whether we are afraid or not. Christian doctors, politicians, pastors, blue collar workers, are all called to take up their cross and follow Jesus. At the end of the day then honoring those in authority is important, but the question of utmost importance is this: are you honoring King Jesus?
Hello friends, it has been a while since I have posted. I believe that my last post was in September.
The year 2020 was a year of great blessings that also came with many challenges. But God is our dwelling place to all generations and His sovereign power under-girds our courageous faithfulness as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
Quick overview of the blog in 2020.
April was the month that received the most views.
April, May, and July were the months with the most posts.
I would place two posts at the top of the posts of 2020:
The top 10 countries that viewed the blog posts in 2020 were: Canada, USA, China, South Africa, United Kingdom, France, South Korea, Australia, Mexico, Netherlands. There were a total of 1,849 visitors over the year 2020.
I would love to blog a little more frequently, but with the busyness of ministry, and with two publications elsewhere in the works, there may be long periods of radio silence every now and then.
My ultimate desire is for people to see the gospel of Jesus Christ and how that good news transforms all of life. Jesus is Lord over all. And there is no better news than the fact that He laid down His life to deliver us from the power of sin, death, and the Devil. Even now, He is at work through His Word and Spirit.
The Creation Mandate of Genesis 1 and the Great Commission of Matthew 28 direct us to the glorious grace and authority of Jesus Christ who unravels the mess of sin and begins to renew us in the image of God through the power of the Holy Spirit.
I was recently introduced to a new medical term while listening to a recording of Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile. In this book he engages with the medical system and science at various points.I am engaging with what Taleb writes as someone with a BA and an MDiv.
“Iatrogenic” is something relating to illness caused by medical examination or treatment. Iatrogenics is when a treatment causes more harm than benefit. After hearing more about “Iatrogenics,” the old hyppocratic oath to do no harm is not as black and white as it immediately appears to be.
Many might argue for the current lock-down on the basis of the public safety. But it does not appear to me that things are that black and white. Especially in light of iatrogenics.
For example, many patients are not warned of the side-affects of various drugs and prescriptions. If you listen to this interview of Jordan Peterson by his daughter Mikhaila, you will hear his experience with an “iatrogenic result from his treatment.” His account has brought many other cases to public attention. I have talked to various people who have taken certain antidepressants and they are not really sure whether these meds have caused more harm than good. I am not arguing against them. I am just recognizing that there are harmful side-effects.
Here I speak of side-effects whether intended or unintended. I prefer to think that they are unintended, but we must never undermine the nature of sin. I haven’t even addressed the clear and direct harm that doctors are willing to do to people through abortion, doctor assisted suicide and euthanasia. I think some medical professionals are confused about the nature of the hyppocratic oath they took… We live in a culture of death. But I digress…
All of this lead me to reflect more on COVID-19. Recently, some Christians have popped up out of the wood-work to claim the “pro-life position” in the COVID-19 debates. They may have been barely involved in the pro-life movement. But apparently the science proves that many Christians are unloving and even murderous if they push back against COVID restrictions.But these arguments enter into a murky territory of subjectivity and trade-offs which could potentially prove to be very immoral.
Questions abound. I have written publicly on the issue of the “side-effects” of our response to COVID-19. These include mental illness, socialdivision, and economic devastation for small businesses.
My debate with “the science” is not whether every individual scientist and/or medical professional sees a man or a woman simply as a physical being. But our response has not taken into consideration the fact that sin is in the medical system. Our response has not taken into consideration the spiritual side to this situation. For years we have been fighting for the lives of the unborn and the elderly. All of a sudden with COVID our medical system has become saintly?
Many Christian counselors these days are taking a holistic approach to counselling. They are encouraging people to take health measures and go to doctors within a framework of Biblical counseling. I believe and argue that this is an excellent thing to do. Reformed Christians believe that men and women are created with both a body and a soul, both of which have been affected by the consequences of Adam’s sin. They are inter-connected. It should not exclude what I call nouthetic counseling, which deals with the root issues of sin, whether the individual has committed it or it has been done to the individual.
Our medical system does not appear to take this holistic approach. And even denies the spiritual aspect of these matters. At least in the over-arching system. There are definitely those who push against the pressure towards scientific consensus. Encouraging parents to cover their faces in front of their kids, and encouraging “physical distancing” in the schools, does not take into account many different human needs. Even Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto argued against that. Kudos to them.If you look at psychiatry and similar lines of study, many are not allowed to recognize a spiritual element.Doctors have been kicked out for helping patients in the name of Christ. Read “Psychobabble” by Dr. Richard Ganz.
Vaccines themselves (which I neither promote nor discourage) may have iatrogenic effects. A healthy skepticism is… healthy. Vaccine injury is not an uncommon circumstance. While Quebec is the only province in Canada with a system for compensation for vaccine injury the States deals out millions a year in compensation. The connection between vaccines and big pharma as well as the fact that some vaccine-makers have no liability should be a matter of concern or at least serious questioning. Yes, certain diseases have been eliminatedand there appears to be a strong connection to vaccines. But how many kids have been killed or damaged by the cure?Again. This is where we get into thorny moral territory. Especially in the area of mandatory vaccinations.
If anyone wonders where I got this from. I recently read this in an article promoting vaccines: “At a population level, these rare risks are far outweighed by the benefits of the high uptake in the vaccination. However, this implies that, in rare instances, an individual will suffer from significant consequences for the benefit of others, and that such an event can be anticipated (expected, even), though not necessarily predicted at the individual level.”
The matter of iatrogenics should not be lightly dismissed in any situation. The history of medical theory has been a history of iatrogenics. I am the recipient of unknown substances and the subject of hypotheses that are still being tested. I should challenge these things holistically and think them through rationally. Above all, as a Christian, I am called to subject them to Biblical principle and reasoning.
How should Christians live and think in an era of medical and scientific power? I’m not telling you which side of a medical issue to take a stand on. But think about this. Modern intellectuals have dealt out a strong dose of skepticism with regards to the authority of Scripture. But where does their authority come from? Apart from the revelation of God which brings us not only to see the appearances, but also what lies behind the appearances, will they promote less than moral solutions to the thorny ethical issues of the day? Christians need to seek ethical answers from the Word of God.
Conversations and discussions are good and helpful in society and it is fine for people to lie on the opposite sides of an issue. But don’t buy into the philosophy that science is neutral. It also must be tested with Biblical ethics. Taleb made this point well.
Listen to Taleb’s book Antifragile. Test every spirit. Read the Scriptures. Be humble. Seek the truth.
In the early to mid-1900s many theologians wrestled with the revolutionary spirits of the age. Especially in a society that has some lingering influence of Christianity, it seems explicable that those who have been jaded and hurt by the disobedience/unbelief of Christians, and above all those who hate what God wants for their lives, would want to throw off that influence.
I recently wrotean article on the revolutions of 2020. I wrote this drawing on ideas from the Bible, but also the wording of mid-century theologians: “We are not revolutionaries. We are living in a time where ungodly revolutionaries are overthrowing all semblance of order and godliness. The Church does not grow by revolution but by regeneration.”
Revolution is a forcible overthrow of a social order or government in favor of a new system. If we definite revolution in this worldly or naturalistic sense, it is something then that is of this world and not of God, as we find the distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of men in the Gospels.Defined in this sense, it is very much of this world.
And yet, some have argued that Christianity is indeed in a sense revolutionary. The Swiss theologian Francis Schaeffer wrote this: “One of the greatest injustices we do to our young people is to ask them to be conservative. Christianity is not conservative, but revolutionary.” I don’t believe that he meant this in the “of this world” sense of the word.
I would describe Christianity as anti-revolutionary in the fullest sense of the word. The Psalmist describes the revolution in Psalm 2 as a vain conspiracy/plot and a wild rage against the Lord and against His Anointed. This revolution seeks to burst the bonds of the Lord apart and cast away His cords. It seeks to break the yoke of Jesus Christ which is easy and light in comparison with the empires of this world.
We should remember that there are two types of revolution. The first is men who rebel against God’s gracious rule and authority (a deep rage that permeates the peoples of the earth). The second is men who rebel against the kingdoms of this world. As the church brings the gospel to the ends of the earth, we should remember that the two are distinct but not divided.
So what about my distinction between revolution and regeneration?
Revolution seeks to re-make the externals of a society. Government shifts from elected officials to health officers. It burns buildings and builds new ones. It puts new graffiti over old paint. But like a graveyard, no matter how much you water the grass and polish the tombstones, you cannot change the fact that it is a graveyard. There are dead bones underneath.
Regeneration seeks to re-make the internal life of men and women. No man can do this. Only God can do this. God uses the courage of His people to speak the truth, to preach the gospel, to live out the change that He has worked in them to spread this regeneration. First and foremost, He does this through His Son Jesus Christ who took the anti-revolutionary route of dying on a cross, before He ascended into heaven over all principalities and powers. This is what it means to be born of God. The world changes not by revolution, but by rebirth.
This is not to deny that this internal change will reveal itself in external action. The two are inseparable. A world leader who has been regenerated by the power of God will also seek to live and act by the power of God. And this really is revolutionary in the sense it it goes against the grain of the sinfulness of this world. What is of God is sent on mission in this world with the confession that Jesus is Lord.
So what? The church will always have to wrestle with the revolutionary spirits of the age and test those spirits under the light of the Word of God. The church must lift the cross above the smoke and flames of every new revolution and point to the kingdom that is from God and of God. Those who have been made new by the power of God, must continue to take responsibility under the Lordship of Christ to live in a way that does not perpetuate wicked revolutions, but the renewing and redeeming power of the Word of God, which drives us to the reality of the cross and resurrection.This includes calling the wicked to repent. Not based on the latest social theory. Not based on their status or academic training. But based on the Word of God.
The Apostle Peter captured the thrilling nature of this struggle for freedom that comes through the gospel and the Word of God. “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” (I Peter 2:15-16)
Congregation of Jesus Christ. I want to begin with a song from a French Reformed Liturgy: “For you, little child, Jesus Christ has come, he has fought, he has suffered. For you he entered the shadow of Gethsemane and the horror of Calvary. For you he uttered the cry, ‘It is finished!’ For you he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and there he intercedes — for you, little child, even though you do not know it. But in this way the word of the Gospel becomes true. ‘We love him, because he first loved us.’”
So why would you baptize your children? I can think of many reasons not to that I have heard from Baptist brothers and sisters. Notice that we recognize Baptists as brothers and sisters when there is a love for Christ and His Word and because of what Christ has objectively signed and sealed to them in their baptism. But I can think of a couple questions of concern from our Christian family in other congregations. What if the children turn away from the Lord when they grow up? Shouldn’t they make a decision for themselves? Isn’t the covenant in the New Testament only applied to adults? Why do we see no explicit reference to baby baptism in the New Testament?
I will answer these questions from the Word of God as we look at the teaching of Q&A 74. The authors of the Heidelberg Catechism respond to similar questions at the time of the Reformation. Many Protestants ran so far away from the Roman Catholic Church that they also rejected infant baptism along with real errors. As with every other doctrine, you are called to go back to the Word of God and look at the teaching in the Holy Bible.
Hear the teaching of the Word of God, summarized under this theme: The children of believers should also be baptized.
As members in the congregation (Q&A 74a, Matt. 19:13-15)
As recipients of the promise (Q&A 74b, Acts 2:37-41, Gen. 17:9-14)
As marked by the covenant sign (Q&A 74b, Acts 2:37-41, Gen. 17:9-14)
As members of the congregation (Q&A 74a, Matt. 19:13-15)
We first read: “Infants as well as adults belong to God’s covenant and congregation.” I will focus more on this concept of covenant in the 3rd point. For now, remember that God promised Abraham all the way back in Genesis 17:7 that He would make a covenant with Abraham and his children. This covenant is not cancelled in the New Testament. In fact. In Acts 2:38-39 the Apostle Peter applies the covenant promise to you and to your children. But what does it mean that infants are part of God’s congregation?
The congregation is a New Testament word that refers to the assembly of the believers in a given location. A congregation is simply those who are gathered together to worship God and to fellowship together as the Body of Christ. In Joel 2:15-16 when the prophet Joel calls on the people of God to gather for a solemn assembly, he includes the nursing infant in this assembly. When the Apostle Paul writes a letter to the congregation in Ephesus, he addresses the children along with the rest of the congregation in Ephesians 6:1. He does not address the children as unbelievers, but calls on them to obey their parents in the Lord. Your children receive the same comforts and warnings as you do. The entire congregation is called away from an inclination to unbelief towards a love and delight in the promises that are found in Jesus Christ.
In Matthew 19:13-15, a number of children are brought to Jesus. This is a passive verb. This means that these children did not necessarily come out of their own desire. They were brought. The disciples thought that Jesus should only hang out with and minister to adults. But Jesus commanded them to let the little children come. In other passages we read that Jesus rebuked the disciples. But what is His reason for letting them come? There is a recognition that even adults have much to learn from the faith of little children. Parents, you have much to learn from the faith of the little ones. I have much to learn as well. To separate the children from the congregation then is opposed to the witness of the Bible.
Children. This is a high privilege and honor for you. Jesus does not withhold His blessing and His love from you just because you haven’t gone through senior catechism class. Yes. You must keep on learning and growing. The Christian life is one of growth in heart, soul, mind, and strength as you strive to love God. When you come to church with your parents on Sunday, Jesus also comes to you in His love and with His blessing. He calls you to repent of your sins and to trust in Him for the forgiveness of your sins. You have a high privilege and standing within this congregation of the United Reformed Church of PEI.
And so we see that the children of believers should also be baptized:
As recipients of the promise (Q&A 74b, Acts 2:37-41, Gen. 17:7)
“Through Christ’s blood the redemption from sin and the Holy Spirit, who works faith, are promised to them no less than to adults.” What is this promise? In the Old Testament this promise is made with Abraham in Gen. 17:7: “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” In the New Testament this promise is clearly revealed that God binds Himself to you His people in Jesus Christ. If you reject this promise there is punishment. If you receive this promise by faith in Jesus Christ, there is joy and peace. Jesus Himself is the source of life. He is the source of new life. Children, know that Jesus comes to you with this new life! You also must believe that this promise is truly yours!
You may know that excitement when your parents give you a gift on your birthday or at Christmas time. How much greater is the gift of the promise that you are given in your baptism! What an excellent gift to receive redemption from sin and the Holy Spirit. Faith is impossible in and of yourselves and so you need the Holy Spirit! What an excellent promise that even the tiny infant, the 3 year old girl, the 6 year old boy, the 27 year old pastor, the 50 year old mother, the 80 year old grandfather can know this free gift of grace at the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ! It is this joy in Christ and love for Christ that I desire to see as your pastor. There is no greater gift for any pastor or elder or parent than seeing that love for Jesus Christ. There is no other way to experience that than through the power of the Holy Spirit in your lives.
The Apostle Peter calls out to the crowds in Acts 2:37-41 to repent and be baptized. He follows this by saying that the promise is to you and to your children. There is no fundamental divide or change between the way that God works through families in the Old Testament as compared to the New Testament. No, there is no longer blood sacrifice, or the cutting away of the foreskin. Christ has put away the spiritual training wheels that you see in the Old Testament. The scaffolding has been pulled away. God continues to communicate the good news from generation to generation just as He continues to communicate this good news through the church to those who still remain outside the congregation, living in unbelief. The Church is always sharing the gospel with those outside and passing on the gospel to the next generation.
As marked by the covenant sign (Q&A 74b, Acts 2:37-41, Gen. 17:9-14)
“Therefore, by baptism, as sign of the covenant, they must be incorporated into the Christian church and distinguished from the children of unbelievers. This was done in the old covenant by circumcision, in place of which baptism was instituted in the new covenant.”
In the Old Testament, the male sons of believers would have their foreskins removed on the 8th day after birth as a sign of God’s covenant. In the New Testament, even though that practice may have continued in Jewish communities or for medical reasons, it is no longer required as a religious symbol. Instead, baptism is the sign and seal of those who had been incorporated into God’s covenant and congregation. This is why you see the command to be baptized. This is why the Apostle Paul replaces the sign of circumcision with the sign of baptism in Colossians 2.
Have you ever found it strange that when the Apostles went around preaching and teaching and someone believed, the entire family would then be baptized? While there are other examples, I am thinking in particular of the Philippian Jailer in Acts 16:25-40. A massive earthquake hits the prison, opening the cells. All the prisoners and Paul and Silas remain in the prison. When the jailer takes the sword to kill himself, Paul calls out to stop him. Paul and Silas are still in the prison cell waiting for him when he runs in, brings them out and asks what he must do to be saved. They respond and say: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” He teaches them and then baptizes the entire family. The Philippian Jailer believes and then God makes a covenant with his family. That sounds a lot like the history of Abraham, right? Abraham believes and then God makes a covenant with his entire family.
I have witnessed a number of family baptisms. It might be a mother and her children. It might be a husband and wife and their children. It might be a Christian couple who realize later in life that God’s covenant sign should also be applied to their children. Abraham believed and his children were circumcised. The Philippian Jailer believed and his family was baptized.
What if a child rejects the gospel later in life? Regardless of what position a congregation has on the baptism of infants, every church has members that walk away from the Lord and reject the promises that are signed and sealed in their baptism. Baptism comes with great warnings. Pastors must preach these warnings in baptism along with the comforts. These warnings accompany a call to return to the peace and joy that can be found in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
Congregation (and this address includes the little children), God teaches you by your baptism that the blood and Spirit of Christ wash away your sins just as water removes dirt from the body. God assures you by this divine pledge and sign that you are truly washed of your sins spiritually as your bodies are washed with water physically. You need both Christ’s blood and Spirit. You need Christ’s blood to be forgiven of your sins. You need the Holy Spirit to fight sin until you die and you go to be with the Lord. Look to Jesus Christ and His Spirit. This is where your baptism is pointing you.
You may run into someone who asks you why this congregation baptizes babies. You may wonder yourself. It can be good and healthy to analyze teachings and ask questions. There are three main reasons. (1) infants as well as their parents are part of God’s covenant and congregation; (2) they also receive the promise of the Christ’s blood and Spirit; (3) This was signed in the OT by circumcision and by baptism in the NT. I have always found Jesus’ love for the little children as such an exquisite expression of His love for me! He even takes the little children into His arms and blesses them. And so children remember this. Your baptism is a sign of God’s love for you in Jesus. Your baptism is a sign of God’s loving power. Even though you are so helpless, even though you are unable to deliver yourself, yet He can deliver you from your sins. You are called to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ. You might be able to imagine a discussion about civil authority. One person states that we must obey the civil authority and honor the king and that person may cite Romans 13 and I Peter 2. The next person tells you that you must obey God and not man and will cite Acts 5:29. One person may point to the fine that Jason and the brothers paid for the Apostle Paul in Acts 17. Another person will point out that the Apostle Paul himself fled from the authorities by night, John the Baptist rebuked Herod, the High Priest rebuked Uzziah, and Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego all obeyed God against the king’s orders.
So who is right? Does the Bible hold contradictory commands? Often when we read through Scripture, we look at a text and we forget to consider the immediate context and the broader context of all of Scripture. In the original manuscripts of the Bible, there are no chapters and verses, which forces you to consider the overall argument that is being presented to you. I don’t plan to preach on the entire Bible in one sermon. I do want you to see that Romans 13 makes sense within and is not contradictory to other commands of Scripture.
I declare the Word of the Lord to you under this theme: there is no authority except from God.
In 1st century Rome (Rom. 13)
In 16th century Europe (BC Art 36)
In 21st century North America.
In 1st century Rome (Rom. 13)
I must begin with two points.
First, in Romans 13, the Apostle Paul is not specifically addressing democracy, tyranny, or monarchy. He is not addressing the Trump government, the Trudeau government, or the dictatorship in China. He does not have a specific political party in mind. The Apostle Paul’s first allegiance is to the Son of God, the son of King David, that is King Jesus (that is what we read about in Romans 1:1-5). His primary audience is a Christian community living in a world that is not Christian. Second, the Apostle Paul is addressing the matter of legal issues as they were arising among Christians. If you read 12:14-21 or 13:8-10, he is encouraging you to think about how you respond to injustice. Think about a contract that has been broken, for example. He does not forbid Christians from seeking justice. But he lays out ground rules for how to do that. He wants you to seek justice as Christians and not as rioters and rabble-rousers.
There are three matters that Paul addresses in Romans 13: (1) you; (2) God; (3) civil authority.
First he addresses Christian responsibility, you. If you read through vs. 14-21 of ch. 12, he calls you not to repay evil for evil, to show kindness to an enemy, to overcome evil with good. This passage begins with an emphasis on you. It begins with self-government under God. This is also emphasized throughout Romans 13:1-7. Look at vs. 3b: “Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval.” Look at vs. 4b: “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.” Look at vs. 5: “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.” It is far better to endure wrong than to do wrong. If you join in on wrong-doing you may incur the wrath of the authority, but you will endure the wrath of God. He also promises in chapter 12:19 that if the approved authorities will not judge, then God Himself will one day judge. So the passage begins with this call to personal responsibility: do good.
Why do we do good? Well, because God is God. In Romans 13, the Apostle Paul addresses God’s authority over all authority. There is no authority on earth that we can consider without understanding God’s authority over all. You may know the famous quote from the Dutch Preacher and statesman Abraham Kuyper: ““There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” We just read in chapter 12, vs. 19, that you must not return evil for evil, because God will repay. God is God and you are not, so don’t play God. In fact, He has set court systems into place to respond to evil in the world. This is important. The court systems have been set in place by God. When the courts systems do wrong, they also are held accountable to God. You are still called to do good. When the court systems do not praise what is right, you are still called to do good.
What is the responsibility or role of the civil authority? God gives the civil authority the task to punish evil and reward good. God has ordained them, but He has also given them a specific task. You might even call it a narrow task. He has given the civil authority the sword to punish evil and reward good. Their duty is not to keep us safe or to take care of us. Their duty is to punish evil and reward good. What is important here is that they have a very specific task which is set within a very specific sphere of authority or responsibility. They do not have unlimited authority or authority with no boundaries at any time. Their authority stands under the authority of God Himself. They are called to act as servants of God, to respect Him.
How does this apply today? Look at the rioting throughout the States and in Toronto and Montreal over the death of George Floyd. A police officer acted unjustly in killing this man. Justice against this civil authority should have been pursued in the civil courts. Instead, large mobs returned evil for evil. They did this through the destruction of private property. In some cases, they killed people. The Apostle Paul knows the nature of sin. There is sin in the heart of the mob. There is sin in the Church. There is sin among civil authorities. He knows that Christians can also get caught up in the mobs of the day and join them in doing evil. And so you are called to take the appropriate routes of justice through the God-ordained means.
The Apostle Paul does not approve of the unjust use of authority. He does not call for blind submission to abusive authority. The Apostle Paul also calls for the submission of a wife to her husband (Eph. 5), he calls for the submission of members to their church authorities (Heb. 13), he calls for the submission of the Christian to the civil authority (Rom. 13). But no authority is absolute. Husbands do not have unfettered authority. Pastors do not have unfettered authority. Politicians do not have unfettered authority. There is no authority except that which is from God. That means you are set free to do what is right and good and noble and lovely, not using your freedom to mask evil, but fearing God and serving God in all things.
Let us turn to our reading from the Belgic Confession:
In 16th century Europe (BC Art 36)
Throughout history, Christians have struggled with how to live godly lives when the civil authority will punish them for doing good, when unjust authorities rise up and say that evil is good and that good is evil, when they enter into areas of life that do not belong to them. These are not easy answers. We live in a sinful world. Sin doesn’t make sense.
This is why this article of the Belgic Confession was written and edited and debated over. In the 1500s there was a group called the anabaptists who denied any civil authority whatsoever. Meanwhile the civil authorities were persecuting Reformed pastors and elders, by forbidding them to preach and teach and practice God’s Word. The Reformers did not want to deny that the authority had been ordained by God, but they knew that they had to obey Jesus Christ in their teaching and their practice as a church. These pastors and elders struggled in regions where oppressive governments ganged up with the Roman Catholic Church to attack them and restrict their activities. Many Dutch, Polish and French Christians fled to England where they were allowed to worship and shepherd their congregations with greater freedom. Their court systems would not defend what was good as the Apostle Paul teaches that they must in Romans 13. Many were forced to flee. Others were imprisoned. Others were killed.
Like Romans 13, the Belgic Confession focuses on three parties: (1) God; (2) you; (3) the courts.
Consider the sovereignty of God. God has ordained kings, princes, civil officers because of the depravity of the human race. God has placed the sword in the hands of the government. The goal is a society pleasing to God. The civil authority is placed in subjection to God’s Law.
Consider your responsibility: all must be subject, pay taxes, honor and respect, pray for them. But notice that there is an important clause that is in here: be subject in all things that are not in conflict with God’s Word. In other words, do good, that is, good as defined by the Holy Bible.
And what about the civil courts? There have been some debates on this article over the last 500 years. These debates were not over the civil courts being given to little power or a narrow task, instead the article started off with too broad and too wide a mandate for the civil courts, giving them too much authority in the life of the Church. Their primary task is to punish evil and reward good. The glory of God is the goal of their work. It is also specifically stated that they should do this while completely refraining from every tendency to exercise absolute authority. Why is that added? The 1800s and 1900s saw the rise of a number of tyrants and Romans 13 teaches that there is no authority but from God.
Think about where both Romans 13 and the Belgic Confession directs your attention: to God. One reason that constitutions have bound western civil authorities is due to the influence of Romans 13 and the pattern of authority throughout Scripture. Secularism says that Christianity is one of many religions and this means that civil authority is ultimately a law in and of itself as society determines its own truth. The Holy Spirit says that there is no authority but from God and that all authority must stand under His truth. Husbands are not a law in and of themselves. Pastors and elders are not a law in and of themselves. Police officers and politicians are not a law in and of themselves. Jesus Christ is the one who has been given authority over all things.
In 21st Century North America
These are Biblical principles for how you can think about authority today. I am focusing on what Belgic Confession Article 36 focuses on: the sovereignty of God.
This is important. No human authority is absolute or unlimited. The authority of a father, a husband, a pastor, an elder, or a civil servant is not absolute or unlimited.
There is only One whose authority is absolute and unlimited. This is the One who had the authority to lay down His life for His people and take it up again. This is the One who before ascending into heaven blessed His people and said to them: “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.” (Matt. 28:18-20).
If He is the one with all authority, then all authority on earth flows from Him. The bureaucrats in the Roman Empire wouldn’t have agreed with the task and God-centered calling that the Apostle Paul laid out for the civil authority in Romans 13. They would have liked the part where Christians were called to submit, but not the part where they were held accountable to God. They thought that their authority flowed from the emperor. The Apostle Paul said that their authority flowed from God.
There is no authority but from God. When you look at the entirety of Scripture, you will see that God has ordained civil courts, church courts, parental courts, etc. You will see that at many times in history Christians have spoken out for the vulnerable. Paul calls a wife to submit to her husband, but both Jesus and Paul made provision for a wife to appeal to the church and/or civil courts against a truly abusive husband. Paul calls Christians to submit to their leaders, but church leaders began to realize that the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church was making statements and wielding authority that did not belong to them, and so they appealed to Acts 6 and I Tim 3 for a consistorial form of church government. Some might argue that the very idea of binding a king to a constitution arose from a Christian framework. Sin exists wherever people are. And so it is the aim to hold all forms of government accountable and transparent to God.
You might be punished by the civil authority for doing what is good. You might be told not to do what is good. As Christians, you are permitted to protest and appeal decisions made by the civil authority in respectful and honorable ways. The Apostle Paul made full use of the Roman court system in order to bring the gospel right to Caesar. He could have been set free in Jerusalem, but he chose instead to appeal to Caesar, and to use his rights as a Roman citizen. This is part of living as a Christian citizen. That is what the courts have been ordained by God for. Christians are not allowed to join riots and destroy private property or human life or reputations by taking the law into their own hands. If those who commit such evil are not judged in the present day, they will receive the wrath of God on the last day. Unless they repent. But you are called to obey God in all things and do good.
Consider the glorious authority of Jesus Christ. There is no authority but from God and He has set His Son to reign. Jesus is not a tyrant. He is a king who is exalted to be king by serving and laying down His life. God showed His love for You and me in that while we were still rebel sinners, He sent Christ to die for us. Even though we rose up and militated against God’s good order, and made our own lives and society a complete mess, Jesus laid down His life on a cross. He did this so that we might be set free from that life of rebellion and sorrow. The reason that it is such a delight to call Jesus King, is because He is Savior and He has come to save His people from their sins and from the power of sin and slavery. He gives this freely. It is a free gospel. A free gospel makes you free men and women. When the Son sets you free you will be free indeed. Amen.
Gavin Ortlund recently wrote a response to John Mac Arthur which I want to interact with here. Without directly defending John Mac Arthur’s decision, I want to interact with Gavin Ortlund’s criteria for arguing that Mac Arthur was showing undue definance to Caesar.
He shares his criteria for critiquing John Mac Arthur’s decision to open church: (1) the importance of worship (Hebrews 10:25); (2) love for neighbor (Mark 12:31); (3) obedience to government (Romans 13:1-7); (4) maintaining a good witness (Colossians 4:5-6). I will interact with each one and ask the questions that I hope everyone is asking during these times.
(1) It seems that most evangelical and orthodox Christians are agreed on the basic command that we should be at least gathering to worship. Only 600 out of 10s of thousands of COVID-cases have been contracted in church in the States. In my own province not a single case has been contracted in worship, and there have been no hospitalizations. So it is reasonable to say that we should at least be worshiping. I would ask Gavin if this is worth the divisions that the State has made in only allowing sections of certain congregations to come to worship, and if the limitation on the work of the office-bearers of the church is justified?
(2) Love for neighbour is essentially living in obedience to Christ to the second table of the Law, at least under Mark 12:31. It would be more effective to place the 5th and 6th commandments in this position. And I would argue also the 4th, 8th and 9th. This is a very hard question to answer. There are the hard questions related to the spread COVID which might lead to more hospitalizations (it could also lead to a weakening of the virus). We have seen some hospitalizations, but locally and at large, we have also seen an increase in addiction, in erratic behavior, a drift in church attendance, mental illness, etc. Many had to put medical issues on hold and they got worse. On the East Coast, we are facing an economic crisis for small businesses. As a pastor my primary concern is what the mixture of fear and isolation is doing not only to spiritual health but also to mental and physical health. Many counselors recognize this connection between mind, body, and soul. My question is: are we really loving our neighbour?
(3) Romans 13 speaks of obedience to the civil authority. But it also speaks of the limitations and mandate of the civil authority. Many churches believe that the civil authority has gone past the boundaries of its God given role, partly related to what I point out in the other points. So my question here would be: what are the limitations on the role of the civil authority? I am sure he would hold an abusive husband in his church accountable, how do we hold the civil courts accountable?
4)Christian witness. Christian witness is based on whether or not we are really loving our neighbour. I wonder when we started defining Christian witness by what people say and not by what really is loving our neighbour. Peter doesn’t tell Christians that there will be no slander, but that they should keep doing good even if there is slander: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (I Pet 2:12) Just because many are angry at the church doesn’t mean that many more are not waiting for the church to take leadership. Love is not affirmation, and so witness is not based on affirming the sins and idols of the day. We first must ask the question: am I really loving my neighbour? Love of neighbour, of course, includes honoring God-ordained authority and protecting life. So my question here is: are we really being a good witness? And what exactly is a good witness?
There are many more questions to bring to bear on this discussion. What is a Biblical theory of church and state? What role does subjective and changing scientific theory play in the the decisions and laws of the civil authority? What role does the Old Testament Law play in this? As some have pointed out, there are Laws concerning pandemics in the OT. But how does the love that Christ and the disciples for the sick play into this? How does our misunderstandings of OT law play into this? Scientism and secularism are both matters that the church must contend with in our post-Christian culture.
We need Biblical answers. Not easy answers.Gavin Ortlund remarked that he is not an epidemiologist. I am not either. I know that there are disagreements among epidemiologists. But if we are allowed to make statements concerning a pandemic from God’s Word, then we are also allowed to ask questions. And those questions might lead to new statements.