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.

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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

Intolerant Women and Pornography

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I appreciated a recent conversation between Jonathon Van Maren and Lindsay Shepherd on the Bridgehead.

Lindsay Shepherd has found herself in some Twitter controversy after tweeting two tweets on the tweetosphere about pornography. First she wrote: “Haha I’m actually down with this. Internet pornography is disgusting and I would never date a man who watches it. I’m glad there is a movement among men who used to watch it but realized how harmful it is and stopped.” And then she followed this up with another Tweet: “A lot of people seem to think modern feminism ruined relationship dynamics but really it’s women finding teen porn in their husbands’ browsing history hahaha.” Canada’s Prince of Pot, Marc Emery decided to mock her and found himself being made fun of with pictures of his creepiness. You can find this on her Twitter feed.

The interesting thing is, she was supporting a Bill initiated by social conservative and Christian MP Arnold Vierssen. This Bill in the Conservative party has effectively named and labeled pornography as a public health risk. That being said, on most issues she is not a social conservative.

I found two important cultural observations in Shepherd and Van Maren’s discussion. First, there is a substantial cultural movement for guys to dump porn. Second, there is a substantial cultural movement for girls to dump guys looking at porn. Let’s be clear. That doesn’t mean that she has a higher view of marriage. She might, but it is not clear. As one man commented on Van Maren’s post: “She seems to be OK with sex outside marriage. Biblically speaking porn is porneia and so is extra marital sex. And neither practitioner shall inherit the Kingdom.

What is this movement fighting against? Marc Demers’ comment that men who don’t look at porn are dweebs, is actually quite common. That being said, he is on the extreme end and seems to have stooped to some pretty low moral depths, but his attitude is not an uncommon attitude. I have had porn pushed in my face in an attempt to “make me sin.” I have also been told I am weird for being against porn. One man I talked to in the past was happy that I was against premarital sex, but thought I was crazy for being against porn. I’ve been told that a “look, but don’t touch” policy, is a really good standard to have in a marriage. Of course, what makes it even more difficult is when women make excuses for men and even begin to look at it themselves.

And so, there is something to learn from this movement. This movement shows that men have God’s Law written on their conscience, warped though it may be. Lindsay Shepherd’s intolerance is noteworthy and commendable, because woman should be intolerant rather than making excuses. The fact that there are men giving up porn outside the Church, is commendable, noteworthy, and more men should jump on board this movement. As I understand it, most women would recognize courage as an attractive quality in a man, and this is an act of courage.

So we see a growing intolerance in the culture, but now we want to see an intolerance in the Church. Not just intolerance, but a holy intolerance, starting with ourselves.

But I have made a rule that I don’t blog on pornography without blogging about Christ. Without Christ, these movements against pornography are good, but ultimately they end in arbitrary moral standards. And to some degree, there is a kind of moral hypocrisy in these standards if one is willing to have sex before marriage in place of pornography usage. And so for those in the Church, for both women men and women who need to be more intolerant towards pornography, Christ is the hinge at which all change happens. His Law is an absolute moral standard, and He by His Spirit renews us inwardly so that over the course of a lifetime the Christian has to worry less and less about the unbelieving man who says “You want to look anyways, so why not just be honest to your true self.” Why does this become less of a concern? Because God is transforming us from the inside to the outside. Because God has given us hard heads and soft hearts. He has given us a spirit “not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (II Tim. 1:7)

 

Thinking Through Covenant and Salvation: Formulating a Testimony from the Book of Hosea

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I was recently having a conversation with a classmate about exhorting through Hosea. I want to reflect on the covenant and salvation not so much from the perspective of the pulpit, but from my vantage point as I stand before the Word of God.

The first three chapters of this book are well known. Hosea is called as a prophet of the Lord, literally to marry a wife of whoredom, a whore. These are powerful chapters about grace but also about the anger of God. But most of the book (ch. 4-14) is directed at the covenant community, the people of God.

This is a story that takes place in a covenant community. What do I mean by this? Well, most of the exhortations are directed to the nation of Israel, particularly, to the tribe of Ephraim. These were considered to be the people of God, they had been delivered by God through the Red Sea (in which they were all baptized with Moses, see I Cor. 10:42), and the men were marked by the sign of the covenant in the Old Testament, circumcision (Gen. 17).

I would argue that Gomer could be called a child of the Lord in the same way that she could be called the wife of Hosea. There is no indication that she was not part of the covenant community. If she was born in the New Testament times, she would be a baptized member of the Church. But in the same way that she had broken her covenant with Hosea, she had broken her covenant with the Lord. With all of Hosea’s focus on unbelief is seems that a broken covenant with the Lord comes first. I would argue that unbelief is the root sin in the book of Hosea.

One thing that I found as I studied the text is that I desperately wanted her to be saved. After all, the prostitute Rahab was saved, why wouldn’t God be telling a similar story about Gomer? Let’s be clear. There is a sense in which she is saved from slavery in Hosea 3. But that is the last comment about her and her relationship with her husband. There is no indication of repentance. She may have repented, she may not have, but there is no indication to what happened. I will get to the point of this in the next paragraph.

First of all, God didn’t write the Bible so that we could go through all the men and women of old and check off who was saved and who wasn’t. Yes, there is a hall of faith in Hebrews 11, but the point is a call to faith. What I see to be the point of the call to Hosea is not primarily on the nature of the covenant community, but on the nature of the call to repentance and faith within the covenant community. We will get to the comfort yet.

Contrary to many of the Puritans who liked to dwell heavily on sin and misery, we see a more paradoxical situation in Hosea’s call to repentance and faith. As Hosea calls his wife to return to him, doggedly committed to the command of the Lord in that situation, we see two elements in the call to repentance.

1. The first is what many of the Puritans picked up on (I read Jeremiah Burroughs quite thoroughly). Hosea pulls no punches in laying out Gomer’s sin before her. In Hosea 1, her children are named pretty nasty names. In Hosea 2:1-13 God uses imagery of Gomer to also speak about Israel. He says that He will strip her naked, have no mercy on her children, make her a wilderness, etc.

2. The second is what I have begun to realize more and more is an integral part of a call to repentance. In Hosea 2:14, Hosea promises to allure his wife, to show her goodness. According to the command of God, this is exactly what he does in Hosea 3:1-3. Immediately God applies this to His covenant people: “For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.”

But let us make this point from Romans. The readership is warned not to be presumptive in their view of the mercies of God that are revealed to them through growing up in Christian families, being members of churches, etc. The Apostle Paul definitely drops the hammer on several occasions: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Rom. 3:10-11). But he also appeals to the mercies of God to lead His people to repentance: “ Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4). He also warns about presumption: “Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?” (Rom. 2:3).

I don’t know if Hosea’s wife returned to him. What I do know is that a call to repentance, a call looking to both the judgement and mercy of God was there. This call also goes out to me in the New Testament: “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:29). But the goodness of God should also lead me to repentance: the Christian upraising, etc. If I did not grow up in a Christian family, God shows His goodness in other ways since God brings His rain and sunshine on both the just and the unjust. I must come before the Lord and His goodness with trembling and with fear. I don’t deserve any good thing in and of myself.

I believe that the point of leaving the results unnamed is to give the reader a chance to repent of their sins and come trembling before the Lord and before His goodness. My baptism, my Christian upraising, all point to Jesus Christ who came in both justice and mercy. I have seen the judgement of God but I have seen his kindness and forbearance and patience in even fuller abundance. I have passed through the waters of baptism, I have tasted of the bread and the wine. But they don’t point to themselves, but to Jesus. If I don’t turn from my sin and return to Jesus in faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit, I do in fact trample underfoot the Son of God and outrage the Spirit of grace. I have seen the light and tasted of the good things. The call to me is to fall to my knees and come boldly into His presence in the Name of Jesus alone.

Jesus is the exclusive source of comfort throughout the Book of Hosea. As He Himself said: this book of the Bible speaks of Him (Luke 24:27). And so there was a way of escape for Gomer who entrenched herself so deeply in her sins.

This is what I believe the last verse of Hosea is talking about: “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.” (Hosea 14:9

 

Renewing the Call to Reformation with Urgency

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I recently tweeted and posted on Facebook a call to prayer: “Pray for the Roman Catholic Church. Pray that God would spark another Reformation and that they would return to the Lord.” I believe that the recent scandals in the Roman Catholic Church have shown once again that the Roman Catholic Church as an institution is deeply flawed and in deep need for further Reformation. That being said, I have met true believers in the Roman Catholic Church, and since their priests have the Scriptures which speak in clear letters of Jesus Christ, I am sure that there are also true believers among their priests. But we also must consider their established teaching (which continues to change), and the fact that the Church as institution has still officially condemned the Reformation.

Just to get some background out there on the history of our two churches, I would be seen as a schismatic in the Roman Catholic Church. I respond to some of these charges here. What I want to do in this blog post is to interact with a former classmate of mine, Jeremy DeHaan. He writes a post, arguing for the importance of tradition, and against some of the perceived inconsistencies in our doctrine of sola Scriptura. He observes about the Reformed communities, in which I find myself, that: “Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostals, Christadelphians, Arians, Pelagians, and Nestorians stand together with Reformed people looking into the same box at the same book and declaring that every word it says is true.” He concludes his post with a bold claim:

It is, in fact, in becoming Catholic that you discover Scripture’s rightful place. You find not just the inspired words of Scripture, but the entire body of divinely-revealed truths the Apostles taught. You find Scripture as the New Testament Church would have known it, and as the Church has always known it, within the living apostolic ministry. You find Scripture not alone, but as it belongs within “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jd.3).

Now, if this bold claim is true, then great! I’m a convert, and I am headed back to the fold of the Roman Catholic Church. Now, Luther’s testimony can become a little cliche, but the reason it became so famous is because he actually laid his finger on a real issue in what the Roman Catholic Church was promoting: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” What I continually focus on is the words: “for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves.”

It is increasingly clear in the current Roman Catholic Church, that this is no less true now than it was 500 years ago. There are various interpretations of Scriptures within the Roman Catholic Church. But just to muddy the waters, there are many more interpretations of tradition (I must confess that as an ‘outsider’ I am totally lost when it comes to interpretations of tradition). And I do have to admit that the Church does not fall with the current Pope’s errors and sins, because there are various interpretations of who he is and what his authority is, at play within the Roman Catholic Church.

Now, Jeremy is frustrated with the different interpretations at play within the Protestant Churches. He quotes James White in the cited blog post, and it should be recognized that James White does not come from his former Canadian Reformed background. James White would not be able to teach in Jeremy’s Canadian Reformed background (or my United Reformed community, for that matter), because he does not teach that babies should be baptized. That being said, I would look up to James White as a leader in Protestant communities. 

Realize that the variety of interpretations in Reformed communities is a difficulty for Reformation Churches. We have tried to clear this up with confessions, and some Reformed leaders have fallen into the Roman Catholic error of raising those confessions to the level of Scripture. But let us clarify the intent of those confessions. Reformed Christians do not deny the importance of tradition, we do not deny the importance of a public testimony and summary of Scripture, in fact Guido de Bres recognized the necessity of a confession in the face of accusations from the Roman Catholic Church that we are schismatics and heretics. You can read de Bres’ introduction to the Belgic Confession here, and read his defense below:

Through this confession, as we hope, you will acknowledge that we are unjustly vilified as schismatics or as disturbers of the unity of society, as disobedient and as heretics, since we are committed to and confess not only the most fundamental points of the Christian faith that are contained in the symbols of the common faith but also the whole doctrine revealed by Jesus Christ for a life of righteousness and salvation. This doctrine was preached by the evangelists and apostles, sealed in the blood of so many martyrs, preserved purely and wholly in the early church; until it was corrupted through the ignorance, greed, and the lust for praise of the preachers, through human discoveries and human institutions contrary to the purity of the gospel.

But the Roman Catholic Church is in no place to critique the struggles of Protestantism. I would argue that the Reformation cleared the mud that the Roman Catholic Church mixed into the waters of interpretation by raising the conflicting and contradictory opinions of Popes and councils to the level of Scripture. The problem wasn’t so much in the tradition itself that came down from the Apostles, the problem was a lack of self-criticism in doing the work of examining what they were claiming with what the Church Fathers and more importantly the Apostles were actually saying.

I find it a breath of fresh air to be able to do the hard work of digging deep into the exegesis of a text with a Presbyterian or a Baptist brother, as we struggle to rightly discern the Word of truth. Of course, we are doing this in a broader tradition of Church history. It is within that tradition that we can also discern error and heresy. It is within that tradition that we can also see where the Roman Catholic Church went off the path of Scripture to start declaring certain errors to be established doctrine. Notice that one of the reasons that I hold to infant baptism is not only because I see it to be clearly on the pages of Scripture, but because I see a rich Christian tradition of baptizing babies.

Jeremy DeHaan asks the question: “Why should a convert think he needs to kneel before God and beg forgiveness for disagreeing with James White and the Reformers?” May this attitude never be the case. This is the wrong question, and is oriented in the wrong direction. We simply remember the words of men like Jan Hus who spoke these words from a prison in Bohemia: “I write this in prison in fetters, which I am wearing, I trust, for the gospel of God, expecting every moment the sentence of death. For God’s sake, I pray you suffer not good priests to be oppressed.”[1] We pray that the Roman Catholic Church would return to the Lord: that means bringing justice to wicked men in places of power, but that also means praying that they would suffer not good priests who seek to preach and teach the Word of God faithfully to be oppressed. I posted that call to prayer, not to point the finger at the Roman Catholic Church, but to point to the Word of God, the glory of God, and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. May we see Reformers and Roman Catholics on their knees together in prayer, as we continue to work for Reformation according to the sole foundation of the Word of God.

1 Jan Hus, Herbert B Workman and R. Martin Pope, The Letters Of John Hus., 1st ed. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904), 274.

Photo by Tim Graf on Unsplash

The Two Shall Become One Flesh: Pastors, Wives, and Reformation

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I would argue that one of the crowning jewels of the Reformation was that Pastors were allowed to marry once again. I for one, am enjoying the blessings and challenges of being married as I go through seminary and head towards the ministry. What happened during the Reformation was that the Reformers raised the calling of a woman to be a godly wife of a pastor in the Church, and blessed the minister in his loneliness with a help-meet. I would argue that this Reformational initiative multiplied the effectiveness of pastoral ministery a hundred fold, at least when done Biblically. What a gift!

Just a bit of background. My Mom and a number of aunts are married to pastors. If the Lord wills, my wife will be married to a pastor. Now, notice that I didn’t use term, the Pastor’s wife. It’s not that I really make a big hoopla about that term, but sometimes we do need to switch up the terminology a bit.

I recently read an article on the Gospel Coalition by a lady named Shari Thomas. She made a lot of true statements, but I found it disappointing that she stated a lot of aspects of her identity as negative. She makes certain statements like this: “She’s not an appendage of the pastor. She may even have differing political, social, and biblical views than her spouse.” Again, she states: “After years of serving in pastoral ministry, some women confess a sense of loss, of not even knowing themselves. They were too busy serving where needed. On the other hand, others may be minimally involved in church ministry with a calling focused outside the church.”

Now, there are a lot of things a woman married to a Pastor has to struggle with. There are sinful expectations, gossip, sinful criticism, financial struggles, stress and ambiguity. Of course, these are the things that many Christian women have to struggle with in their various situations and with their husbands. That being said, these are also things that her husband has to struggle with, so maybe the question also is, how is he dealing with it?

This question is a question largely of identity. Well, both your pastor and his wife and every Christian believer must confess what the Bible confesses: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col. 1:3-4) So when a pastor and his wife serve and live godly lives they do this first of all as those who have been hidden with God in Christ.

Now, we all have a name. John, Mary, Tim, Susan, etc. That name which is sinful by nature is bathed by Christ. When John marries Mary and Tim marries Susan, something happens that touches down the very depth of their created nature. Jesus makes this plain in Mark 10: 6-9 “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” So at point #2 in Shari’s article, I would suggest a rephrasing: I am not an appendage of my husband, we are a team, we have a joint calling to serve the Lord where He has placed us as a unit.

So lets back up and look at the qualifications for a bishop in I Tim. 3. Let’s not put the trailer before the pick-up truck. Paul doesn’t say that you have to be a certain way because you are a pastor and his wife. Paul lays out his expectations for office-bearers based on certain pre-requisites to becoming a pastor and his wife, these expectations are laid on the whole family. He must “be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive…” (I Tim. 3:2-4) So the Apostle Paul would look at a congregation and see the growth in holiness of certain individuals: he would see a husband loving his wife as his own body and a woman respectfully submitting to her husband (Eph. 5: 22-33). When he saw that family unit, he would recognize the gift in a man to lead in the church.

Back to the Reformation. Calvin and Bucer and Luther restored the glorious calling to be the wife of a pastor when they married godly Christian women who were willing to serve. I don’t know if Calvin’s wife was able to play piano, and I really don’t care. Luther’s wife definitely wasn’t a sweet mild woman who played the submissive doormat stereotypical of the Victorian era. They were Christian women who feared the Lord and not men, and suffered alongside their husbands as they worked for Reformation and the advance of the gospel. And a lot of suffering they had to take. Just consider the fire of criticism that Luther’s wife had to take for leaving behind her vows at the nunnery.

Various women who marry pastors have various gifts, but their calling is with their husbands, to be a helpmeet, to serve as a team, and to endure and rejoice in suffering together as husband and wife. You will not find a woman who has a different calling, maybe different gifts (which she can also use in her own way in the community), but their calling is together. Obviously there are a lot of points of wisdom, which all men who are leaders are in the process of learning, but there are also ways in which women can help their men to lead (which they are also in the process of learning). Just as we see a diversity of godly pastors, we also see a diversity of godly pastors wives. Just read about the women of the Reformation. Elise Crapuchettes has a wonderful speech entitled Reformational Women: Popes and Feminists; Reformers and Wives spoken here. She also brings out the wide range of personalities and gifts among the wives of the Reformers.

These are just a few reflections, and I invite interaction. But the whole point of this all is that alarm bells start ringing when I see certain women slowly driving a wedge between what God Himself has joined together. And negativity from either men or women start tapping that wedge into the marriage. I empathize with the pain, and I believe that certain people need rebuke. But that doesn’t deny the joyful norm. Let’s not go back to the painful days for leaders before the Reformation, that’s a deformation, not a Reformation.

What the Reformation produced were Biblical men who had experienced the joys and the challenges of marriage, and so has produced hundreds of good books and debates on marriage. The Reformation produced women who were called to a noble calling of serving alongside their husbands in the Church. Solomon states in Proverbs 12:4 “A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.” So when the wife of a Pastor is of noble character, she is her husband’s crown, she has a glorious calling. And just because she is under fire doesn’t mean that she is decay. Why? “A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (Prov. 31:30b) And when a godly woman fears the Lord, wicked men get angry. The young man in the Song of Solomon beholds such a woman: ““Who is this who looks down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awesome as an army with banners?” (Song of Solomon 6:10)