Welcome in. Pick your virtue. What is your preference? What comes to you most naturally?
There is a lot of discussion at large about some of the challenges that churches are facing right now. Some are letting off the war-cry for courageous action. Others are calling for wisdom in both speech and action.
In the cacophony of voices some get called “cowards” and others get called “unwise”. It might be real cowardice or folly. It might be a disposition of character. Sometimes Christian principle gets lost in the malaise of virtue signalling and virtue scorning.
There does come a time to challenge Christians on a lack of various Christian virtues. That time may have already come. Maybe on a case by case basis as well. Even the godliest among Christian men and women need to be reminded frequently and daily to ask our Heavenly Father for the fruit of the Spirit and the ability to lead wise and courageous lives.
Before I jump to the matter of courage and wisdom, my central question is this: what are you doing and why are you doing it? Do you have a Biblical, historical, confessional, and pastoral rationale for what you are doing (Biblical is central)? If you are just trying to be courageous or wise, that doesn’t really answer the question. In a worldly sense, you can be wise and bought out by vain philosophy and empty deceit. You can be courageous and have the intellectual and Biblical maturity of a 12 year old.
That is the thing with Christian virtues. They are Christian virtues. They are not Greek or Dutch or Canadian virtues. We are not sophists or stoics or secularists. We are Christians. And when a Christian thinks about courage he or she is thinking of the Book of Joshua or the Book of Acts. When a Christian thinks about wisdom he or she is thinking about the book of James.
The Christian, when looking at Scripture is looking at principles that fill all of Scripture and not just a small portion of Scripture. When Protestants teach sola Scripture, that does not mean that we reject tota Scriptura. All the principles of Scripture come to bear on a specific matter at hand as we look to Christ for wisdom and courage to serve Him with a glad and joyful heart.
Is it possible to be a man (or a woman) who is not just wise but also courageous, not just courageous but also wise? What about boldness, or the ability to speak with clarity, in tense situations? What about gentleness? The fruit of the Spirit is one fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Whether you have a peaceful or fiery temperament, is it possible to have this fruit of the Spirit and various other Christian virtues in effect?What are your weaknesses that might relate to your temperament?
If you look at James 1, wisdom is developed in the face of trial, as the Christian seeks wisdom from God in the hour of need. But that is a wisdom that leads to a “groundedness.” This groundedness is at odds with compromise. If you look at Joshua 1, the basis for strength, and courage is that God is with you wherever you go. It is not a self-reliance that is to be boasted in. That pride is at odds with godly courage. Both wisdom and courage come from the Father of Lights (James 1:17).Courage and humility and wisdom are complementary. They are not at odds.
In Proverbs we find that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). But courage also begins with the fear of the Lord, or at least not fearing men (Deut. 31:6).
Also important to remember. Niceness is not a virtue. Kindness or gentleness are virtues. Brashness is not a virtue. Courage and boldness are virtues. Vain philosophy and empty deceit will not lead to Christian wisdom. But a love for the authority of God’s Word will lead to Christian wisdom. The temperature of American or Canadian culture is not the test for wisdom or courage. Rather, a longing for the Lord and a fear of Him, is the beginning of all Christian virtue.
Conflict doesn’t necessarily mean that a person in conflict is unwise. Otherwise the Apostles were unwise throughout the Book of Acts. Lack of conflict doesn’t necessarily mean that a person in times of peace is a coward. Sometimes it takes courage to maintain peace. Again. What are you doing and why are you doing it? Do you think I am wrong? Let’s open our Bibles together. Let the Spirit convict me that I am a coward or unwise.
In the current climate of Canadian culture in particular, those who speak about wisdom may need more courage, and those who speak about courage may need more wisdom. But at the end of the day we all need the Word of the God and the fear of the Lord and His strength to speak with both courage and wisdom in a culture where principles are so often based on the direction that the wind is blowing.
And so it comes back to Biblical principle. Principled men who love the Lord will ask Him for not just certain virtues but all the virtues. But they will never compromise their Biblical principles in that search for courage and wisdom.
Only then will we do what is right. Only then will we be the Church. Only then will we find true peace under the cross. Only then will we live in joyful obedience and submission as the bride of Christ to Jesus Christ and His Word. In that submission you get the whole buffet.
I will conclude with a word from Abraham Kuyper: “When principles that run against your deepest convictions begin to win the day, then battle is your calling, and peace has become sin; you must, at the price of dearest peace, lay your convictions bare before friend and enemy, with all the fire of your faith.”
Below I have transcribed another piece of writing from Hermanus Knoop entitled “The Tragedy of the ‘Leaders.” It is from the book “A Theatre in Dachau.” You can find the book here with Inheritance Publications in Neerlandia, Alberta. You will find the piece that I have transcribed on p. 67-73. It is by Rev. Hermanus Knoop with an introduction by Dr. Klaas Schilder.
In this piece, you see Knoop’s keen awareness that there is not one square inch over which Jesus as Lord does not declare “mine!” The influence of Kuyperian thought lived on even though it’s principles all but died out in the early 40s. All of human life is to be lived under the Lordship of Christ. Right around this time, Knoop’s German colleague and contemporary, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was also teaching the call of discipleship, and the heavy consequences or costs for following that call of the gospel. Whether Dutch or German, the confession of the Christian Church during WWII, was that Jesus is Lord.
Rev. Hermanus Knoop writes with a certain ethos (character) and pathos (emotion) since he wrote having experienced the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp in Dachau. Knoop describes a distinct time of history that had distinct challenges. There are timeless principles in here for leaders in various positions and strata in society in every age. You see the continuing fire of Knoop’s Biblical and Reformed conviction as well as his prophetic awareness, following this age of compromise in the Church.
The Tragedy of the ‘Leaders’
The well-known Czech statesman Masaryk was asked by a journalist, upon receiving word that he had been appointed president of Czechsolovakia, whether or not he was happy with the distinction. “Happy?” he answered. “No, I am not happy, but I have a feeling that we may not be disappointing.” That is the language of one who is not ambitious for a political plume or a post of honour, but is deeply conscious of his great calling and is, therefore, fully conscious of his great responsibility. Being a true leader is a matter of great responsibility, which one must assume with its most dire consequences, and therefore is at the same time a mater of sacrifice. True leadership means being a devotee, sacrificing that which is most precious and dear. A leader lives solely for those whom he must lead. To him the words of Brand apply: “Though you should offer all but life, your sacrifice is nothing still.”
He who is called to be a leader and is not ready to accept the extreme consequences had better not accept the task. He is nothing more than a disappointing jumping-jack, not fit for the task. He is a despicable seeker of sinecures who toys with duty and gambles with his appointed trust for the sake of personal advantage, gain, and glory. He is a filthy bankrupt who should be brought to justice for swindling. He does not care at all if he causes disappointment.
How glorious it would have been, and how significant and different, if all those who were called to leadership in the Reformed (Gereformeerd) Churches, in any sphere of life, had given evidence of such a deep consciousness of their calling during the German occupation! Instead, a disturbing lack of leadership came to light. Ability and character did not prove able to cover each other. Again, as of old, it was the ‘little people’ who stood immovable, while many who had such preeminence over the ‘little people’ either simply toppled over, quickly got off their leader’s seats, or tried, by shifting and fitting, by yielding step by step, to save their own little affairs. Or else they were conspicuously absent from field or highway. Were not journalists, politicians, preachers, and officers of various organizations duty-bound to give leadership and guidance to the Christian people as it sought for guidance in the great difficulty in which it suddenly found itself?
Surely they had the right to expect every leader to speak up saying, “Here we are, you can depend on us. We are attacking; follow us! Now it is as never before, but you are not alone.” This was the fire-test of their principles which showed what they were really worth to us. This was also the fire-test which showed what we were worth. Right now, especially now, we had to live from those principles, whatever the cost. With tact, surely, but also with firmness and stability. That is how it should have been. That would have been a feast in the midst of our great sorrow. But did they live up to that expectation? Alas, very many did not. They would have moved mountains if they had possessed faith as a mustard seed. They would have lived up to it if they had lived in the strong consciousness of their calling of responsibility now, of self-sacrificing devotion now. They would have lived up to it if the principles they preached had been a part of their flesh and blood. But, alas, it appeared that for many this was not the case, and therefore in our own circles we had to behold the tragedy of the “leaders.” We were witnesses of the desertion of many who were called to be leaders, or at least whom we had always considered as leaders. We discerned the faithlessness and cowardice of many who had climbed to a seat of leadership, and clung to it as a cramped clutch. So we discerned that they did not carry the feeling that they must not cause disappointment.
Oh, how they did cause disappointment, many of those ‘leaders’ who did not prove worthy of this privilege of grace! Did they ever really for one moment foster that inner anxiety which says, “If only we do not cause disappointment.” but it was only when there were no clouds in the sky that they were such principled men. Before the war, when elections were again at hand, they gave deeply principled guidance. They were favourite speakers at mass-meetings. The youth-meetings received their enthusiastic enlightenment. They battled with words, hard words, and witty words, against the principles of the N.S.B., because these conflicted with Scripture. They forcefully called men to battle, to stand for the antithesis. But at that time it was quite easy and brought them no small profit. But when the sky began to turn cloudy, did they offer their freedom, their lives, their position, their honour?
Then God finally deemed it time to purge His threshing floor. When their fire-test in the shape of the German occupation came, where did they stay? What did they do? Were they equal tot he test? God blew down all their display and appearance of sufficiency.
Yes, indeed, it was the tragedy of the “leaders.”
That was the great offense of which I had to take note for about a year and a half before my imprisonment – an offense which I often mentioned in my preaching. I heard our people complain in great vexation that they had looked to their highly beloved and trusted leaders for guidance, but had been failed by them. I saw their deep consternation when they discovered that the leaders had either disappeared or had begun to negotiate with the enemy, and were trying to save the situation for themselves by the policy of yielding, rather than letting them demolish; or were giving them advice, for example about their treatment of the Jews, which was in diametrical opposition to their previous preaching. Thus people complained that their pastor would not pray for the queen and the lawful government, and if he did, his prayer was so diplomatic that one had to ask, “now what was he really praying for?” So they tactfully moved away from the truth, lest they came into conflict with the prowling Gestapo. They would not risk their life for Christ and the sake of His Gospel.
One of my colleagues once said to me, “I can still say so much that is glorious about the Lord Jesus,” to which I replied, “Then why do you not once mention this glorious fact, namely, that He is Lord, and that no man, no Fuhrer, is lord besides Him. Is not your official calling to say everything about Him that you find in the Bible?”
There was also constant complaining by Christians concerning their Christian daily periodical, which used to give such vigorous leadership, but now was simply never being forbidden. And why not? Because it twisted itself into every possible shape so that it might maintain its existence. Because it was not faithful, it gradually permitted itself to be assimilated by the German rule, to at last lend itself to the Nazi propaganda in order to help infect our Christian people therewith. This was what De Standaard did, their standard, the publication of Abraham Kuyper, who in the past had aroused and led the Kleine Luyden (the “little people”).
There was constant complaining about church periodicals. How great was the consternation concerning the “leadership” of De Heraut, a “leadership” which was definitely pro-German in spirit. It was a vassal which sold itself to the oppressors, thereby being able to preserve its regular size. Meanwhile, well-known professors and ministers continued to lend their cooperation to this Germanized periodical.
There was complaining over the lax leadership given by the Synod of the Reformed (Gereformeerd) Churches. Did this Synod really give leadership? Did it give fearless testimony against the constantly expanding, constantly more pervading, ever-further encroaching Nazi terrorism which appeared in the Jewish programs, the imprisonment of pastors, and the labour-camp measures? The Reformed (Gereformeerd) Churches do not stand out among the Christian churches for courageous and tenacious resistance for the faith. Later a highly placed Gestapo testified that the Reformed (Gereformeerd) Churches were the most pliable.
But this Synod did have the courage to persecute brothers and to cast them out in a manner very much akin to the methods practised by Nazism. Those simple Reformed (Gereformeerd) people saw this clearly and plainly as well, and they were bitterly grieved by this. This grief was for the corruption rooted at the centre of the institution.
Thus they complained in advance about the surrender to the demands of an occupying power which did not honour a single international rule of warfare, even though this power had subscribed itself to it. What about the required “Aryan Declaration?” If the “Christian leadership” had given forceful and courageous advice to say “No!” to this demand – because it was not at all a measure of administration, but entirely an action to prepare for the gruesom and cowardly persecution of the Jews and, ultimately, their eradication – surely much Jewish suffering would have been avoided.
And what did De Heraut dare to write about this persecution in the issue of November 17, 1940? Why was the declaration of the Protestant Churches to Seyss Inquart concerning the persecution of the Jews, not read from the Reformed (Gereformeerd) pulpits? Why? De Heraut answered, “[Because] such an announcement from the pulpit in public worship would endanger those who made the announcement.” Why, then? To save one’s life. And to save the “life” of “our” churches. As if that was most important. Did they not know that Hitler had said that he would solve the Jewish problem? And did they not know that such a solution meant, in the vocabulary of the National Socialism, nothing but annihilation? Or, were they blind though seeing, deaf though interrogation? And could they not know that everyone who signed this declaration became personally responsible fro the great misery which soon overcame our Jewish countrymen?
Why did the “leadership” not call for a front of open resistance, a resistance through obedience in faith by all who know that their salvation is of the Jews? A mass resistance for the faith could have effected very much. Even if it had not, we would still have had a quiet conscience that we had been faithful to our calling before God with respect to the Jews as well. But the “leadership” failed. Read again what Dr. H.H. Kuyper dared to write in De Heraut of December 8, 1940, and you will be filled with deep indignation about what this unfaithful “leader” did not hesitate to bring forth.
I still believe that a massed resistance could have accomplished much. This was seen, for example, in the case of the churches’ care for the needy, in which the Germans also wanted to meddle. I myself experienced that if one gave a well-motivated reason, one could very well accomplish something. The same was true with regard to the occupying power, which wanted to centralize and rule everything. It demanded that those who planned to hold a lecture had to inform the authorities in advance of its contents. Thus we simply let ourselves be controlled and muzzled. Several times I refused and informed them to come and listen if they wanted to know. It is better to be prohibited from speaking than to speak while wearing a muzzle. Thus it was with the members of the Department of Culture and others. The “leadership” of the Reformed (Gereformeerd) section of our people kept silent and so the people became members of such National Socialist organizations.
Barring a few laudable exceptions our confessing journalists shied from making the sacrifice for Christ’s sake by joining the National Socialistic Fraternity of Journalists, to save their jobs and their lives. But the leadership silent – or led the way.
It is not surprising that our Reformed (Gereformeerd) people, left in the lurch by their leadership, felt forsaken. And, since the leaders erred from the path, the sheep also wandered off. In many cases, the responsibility for the breakdown of the resistance for the faith lay with the leaders. Certainly, how differently our Reformed (Gereformeerd) people would have acted if all those who were called to give leadership had all proved true, and if they had confirmed their lofty pre-war words by equally noble deeds. Here the lack of a sense of responsibility became manifest. The instinct to save one’s own life was altogether to strong. Oh, indeed, if this had been different, many more victims would have fallen, and many more would have had to undergo the gruesome suffering of the horrible concentration camps. But was not the cause of the Lord worth all this, even apart from the cause of the oppressed and tyrannize fatherland?
This might all have become very dreadful, but one thing is certain: Our Reformed (Gereformeerd) people would have been proud of those leaders, and in the event that they came through this conflict alive, would have received them after the liberation of the country with open arms, eager to follow their firm leadership. How mighty and beautiful the flowering of our life of faith would have been! Alas, this faithlessness has been an abomination to the Lord. It has surely avenged itself.
It was not only complaints about the tragedy of these “leaders” that I heard during the year and a half before my seizure. I also heard something else. “Our people” drew from this tragedy a definite conclusion for the future. They would never forget this. For of course, it would not be at all impossible that when all this was past – recall how things went after the Napoleonic occupation – they would see the spectacle of all these deserting leaders coming unashamedly out of their hiding places to sit in the saddle and again take up their reins of leadership. “But,” they grimly assured, “they shall not succeed. Whether they are preachers, journalists, burgomasters, legislators, party officials, or labour leaders, they will have to comfort themselves with the fact that their little kingdom is done for, that they are finished and not needed anymore. First of all there must be a thorough purging! They may have been ever so capable, but they have proved to have no character. It would just be a little naive to allow a responsible leader who defaulted in the hour of peril to calmly take up the reins again later. By their laxity they have proved that they were not equal to the calling of confirming their words with their deeds, and did nor dare do the weighty tasks that the hour demanded.” It was this conviction which I saw growing deeper in the people in those days, and in my last interrogation I testified to the German Security Police of that conviction.
The tragedy of the “leaders” is one of the saddest episodes in the history of the occupation.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer poses the question in his book The Cost of Discipleship: “It is becoming clearer every day that the most urgent problem besetting the Church is this: How can we live the Christian life in the modern world?”
As we face the increasing challenges that surround globalism and technocracy, the Christian Church must be ready to pivot and prepare for new and strange challenges. This will not be done by clinging to old ways of life or by running after the newest and latest fad in the Christian world or in the secular world. How do we prepare Christians to be Christian in the various hubs that we find ourselves in: in the Church, in business, in the family? I especially want to look at the family unit here as a sphere of authority that is distinct from both the Church and the State and reflect on how families can prepare for new and daunting challenges to the Christian world and life view.
The monastic life was often known for being closed off to the world. But that is not totally true. There was a lot of good that was given too the world through the Christian disciplines that could be found in the monasteries. After all, it was through the monasteries that much of Scotland and Ireland and England were converted in the 400s and 500s. There is much that we can learn from Benedict and Bede and Boniface.
In His book the Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer shows how Luther brought the Christian disciplines out of the monastic life and into the world. “The other-worldliness of the Christian life ought, Luther concluded, to be manifested in the very midst of the world, in the Christian community and in its daily life. Hence the Christian’s task is to live out that life in terms of his secular calling. That is the way to die unto the world. The value of the secular calling for the Christian is that it provides an opportunity of living the Christian life with the support of God’s grace, and of engaging more vigorously in the assault on the world and everything that it stands for.”
As his own marriage and family life show, Luther brought the Christian disciplines into family life. It was in the family that the pastor or elder of the Church would show his metal. Each father becomes a local shepherd, raising and discipling young hearts in the cloister of the home. In the union of marriage God shows His glory as the family becomes one of the base units for the spread of the gospel.
It may very well be that family life took on this devotional shape before the Reformation, but following the Reformation, the Dutch Reformed family became known for prayer before and after meals and the Scottish Reformers became known for family worship. The discipline of coming to worship with all of God’s people at least once or twice a week became part of the family discipline as the family cannot be separated from the household of God, the assembly of God’s people. Of course, in the various reform movements of the coming years it would become clear that at times, faith ties would need to prove to hold stronger than blood ties.
But what greater fuel for reformation is there than training for godly marriages, Christ-like child-raising, Christian education in the home? When the home is a boot-camp for raising children with spiritual muscle and calibre and grit and determination to serve King Jesus, what wicked power can stand against such an array of arrows? (Psalm 8, 127-128). What better place to encourage critical thinking in a young generation than around the family table or around the fireplace on a late evening? This is where the virtues of joy in suffering, courage in times of hardship, and love for enemies are instilled and inculcated in young souls as they look to mothers and fathers who have been tried and tested and refined by the providences of God.
Families who are units of Christian discipline and Christian piety (in prayer, Scripture reading, Church attendance) will be like the monasteries of old that shed the light of Christ into dark worlds. There will be no ordered societies until there are ordered families. As Chesterton once put it: “The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.”
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Let your hands be strong, you who in these days have been hearing these words from the mouth of the prophets who were present on the day that the foundation of the house of the Lord of hosts was laid, that the temple might be built. For before those days there was no wage for man or any wage for beast, neither was there any safety from the foe for him who went out or came in, for I set every man against his neighbor. But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, declares the Lord of hosts. For there shall be a sowing of peace. The vine shall give its fruit, and the ground shall give its produce, and the heavens shall give their dew. And I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things. And as you have been a byword of cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you, and you shall be a blessing. Fear not, but let your hands be strong.'”
These are convulsive times. Last year in June, I wrote about the revolutions of 2020. As time proceeds it becomes more and more clear that we are living through times that will be marked down in the history books for good or ill (or both). Everything is off kilter. There are mysteries and meanderings to the last year that may never be understood.
I wrote last year that “the revolutions in our culture began with a revolution against God.” Since then I have found some of the works of Solzhenitsyn to be intriguing. Apparently it was a common thing during his day in Soviet Russia for the older generation to say that “all these things have happened because men have forgotten God.” This was his often repeated quote in his Templeton address: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”
I was listening to an interview of Rev. Dr. Joe Boot with Founder’s Ministries the other day. Towards the end, Rev. Boot speaks about the worldview shift that is necessary in the Canadian Church today as we return to core Biblical doctrines like creational ordinances or norms and the Lordship of Christ. Gene Edward Veith also focuses on these creational ordinances in his latest book “Post-Christian: A Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture.” He addresses matters such as transgenderism in particular, but his book was published in a timely manner, right as scientism combined with technocracy began to stifle all of human life in an unprecedented way. We need to ask ourselves basic questions again about the image of God and how the entirety of Scripture forms and shapes our world and life view.
In revolutionary and convulsive times it is paramount to be anchored in these norms and truths of Scripture as culture shakes and morphs and transforms. Psalm 46 was a great comfort to Martin Luther during the Reformation and the uprisings of the early 1500s and it is a passage that can also provide great comfort for us today as well: “The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah.” (Ps. 46:6-7) But like Martin Luther and the other Reformers of his time, we need to keep our eye on the ball, labouring hard in the Scriptures, pointing to Jesus.
It is during times like this that we must be reminded again and again of the grace and mercy and authority of Jesus Christ. If we have forgotten God, then we must remember Him again. I think of the startling recognition of this in Jeremiah 3:25 “Let us lie down in our shame, and let our dishonor cover us. For we have sinned against the LORD our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even to this day, and we have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God.” For this, the Word of God must be opened with authority. For this, the cross of Jesus Christ must be made known. Not with lofty speech or wisdom. We preach a crucified and risen King.
And this really lies at the crux of everything. Charles Spurgeon once wrote: “I received some years ago orders from my Master to stand at the foot of the cross until He comes. He has not come yet, but I mean to stand there until He does.” After those long laments of Jeremiah and the cries of Hosea, Christ came bursting onto the world scene in the middle of all the world crises, with a message of the kingdom, with a call to repent and believe the gospel. The cross of Jesus Christ lies at the center of history for sinful men and women. It is this cross that the Apostle Paul made known in a culture similar to ours where he spoke to men and women who were former homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, but He wrote to them as those who had been cleansed by Jesus Christ and sanctified by the Spirit of God (I Cor. 6:9-11). The gospel really and truly is the power of God (Rom. 1:16-17).That is the joyful reality that shapes the communion of the saints, also as we gather to worship the living God from week to week.
In the mess of all the spasms of our societies and the shakings and collapse of our empires of dirt, God’s work of regeneration is far more powerful than the work of revolution. Revolution is normal to the rebellious heart of man. But God takes hearts that have not obeyed Him and makes them new through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Look at how the Lord deals with all those tools of revolution: “He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.” (Ps 46:9) And then He calls His people to be still in the storm and to remember that He is God. Why are men so anxious? Because men have forgotten God. What is the answer? A deep change of heart. Where must we go for this change of heart? To Jesus Christ.
In all the throes of a world that has rebelled against God and His Word, in a society where men and women have forgotten God, then Christians are called to glorify the Triune God and to lift high the cross of Jesus Christ before the eyes of a dying world. It is a message that might be scorned and mocked. You worship a King who went to a cross? You really believe that Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth? You really believe that Word of God is the final authority for all of life? Yes. Jesus is Lord. And the greatest manifestation that God is our very present help in time of trouble is in the cross and resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when the morning dawns.” (Ps. 46:4-5)
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.
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?
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)