Guest Post from Ben Linzel – Letter to the Locked-Down Churches

This letter was originally posted on Facebook from a brother in Ontario, Canada who is a layman in the Church. It was passed on to me through the grapevine. I post it here for my readership:

To the Locked-Down Churches

I tried to avoid writing this letter. I truly did.

But I can’t let all this time pass without speaking the truth, because that’s how we got here in the first place.

My faith is suffering right now, just as many are who have been isolated from the church for months. And the spiritual hospitals are shut down. That’s not to say I’m doubting my fundamental worldview or convictions, but my confidence in church leadership is at an all-time low. Christ doesn’t abandon us if we’re the last Christian on earth. Church attendance does not determine salvation. But when those Christians and church buildings exist in close proximity, and refuse to meet? That’s maddening. The church was designed in part to facilitate spiritual healing and growth, but the body of Christ has cut off its own arms and legs, and dismissed it as a flesh wound. We can’t meet for corporate worship, we can’t meet for small groups. So much for the thundering praise we used to offer up every week. So much for brotherhood, accountability, and discipleship. You can’t operate as a church body remotely for this long. This is not how church was intended to be done, and you know it.

Let me be the first to say that when this is over, I’m expecting churches to never regain their former capacity or membership. Leadership has inadvertently trained people to think that closing churches for an extended period of time is OK. How are you going to convince people that going to church in person again is important, when you throttled capacity and closed so quickly for so long? How are you going to tell people with a straight face that they need to join and attend small groups when you led by example and didn’t meet for months on end, and never fully reopened anyway? What are we teaching our kids?

I’ll never walk into a Canadian church again without wondering when they will close next for months or years on end at the slightest pressure, from a virus or some other form of public health emergency. Most churches have set the precedent that if there’s social and legal pressure to close, it’s “winsome and submissive” to acquiesce, it’s “unloving and disobedient” to stay open, and if a church disagrees and is punished publicly, most other churches will stay silent so as not to “foment disunity.” Apparently, the best we can hope for from most churches is a digital protest, a polite letter or call to our elected representatives, and the occasional pastor that gets arrested and only becomes real news in other countries that see it as a bad indicator of religious freedom in Canada. Can’t you see that by your actions, you’ve agreed to the government’s assertion that it is the ultimate authority over the Church?

You who pray for the Christians in China who need to meet underground to worship, I guess given the State-approved churches available, they should just attend those? It’s not “formal persecution” anyway unless the government says “We’ve decided that we just don’t like Christians, so we formally announce our intent to persecute them?” James Coates was right to diagnose the western church with an “atrophied ecclesiology”, a church that’s soft and obsequious instead of bold and unflinching in the face of public criticism. You’re letting the government practice how to take down churches individually, and you’re just plodding along with a myopic focus on getting back to 30% capacity. What do you think happens when your turn comes? Or do you think we’ll go 10, 20, 50 years without the government deciding to come after you for violating hate speech codes?

We in the locked-down churches are not suffering for Christ right now. The Biblical exhortations to “run the race with endurance” were not meant for situations where the church itself refused to function. Our current self-imposed suffering is for short-term worldly gain, and there’s no glory in that.

I’m writing this for 3 reasons.

  1. I’m just a regular Christian. I’m not a pastor or an elder or a regular contributor to some Christian website. I hope this encourages other average Christians without a voice to know they’re not alone if they feel the same way, and maybe they can speak up, too.
  2. Because I can’t physically meet my fellow Christians, grab them by their shoulders, shake them and tell them to snap out of it. So until then, this is the next best thing. I’m trying here to speak the truth in love by respectful rebuke.
  3. To save my children from the shame of knowing that their father lived through this time and said nothing publicly.

Please, churches, get back to work.

⁃ Ben Linzel

Photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash

Hold The Line

We live in challenging times. Turbulent times.

Ideas and situations have changed so quickly over the last year that it might feel like you are trying to farm the wind. Tame the ocean.

We will never go back to the world we lived in 2019. The effort to turn back the clock is futile.

The only way to move forward is to hold onto the authority of God’s Word whether it is matters of sexuality, life, or worship. The only way to forge our way into the future is in simple obedience to Jesus and His Word.

If we scatter in this effort. If we turn on each other in this effort. If we fall asleep in this effort. All is lost.

There is nothing better to hold the line and step forward into the unknowns of the future in faith. As the Preacher in Jerusalem said “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecc. 12:13)

Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God. Isn’t that what God has required of you and me? (Micah 6:8).

The Lord gives you a feast in the fog. He gives you the ability to enjoy His gifts even as the clouds gather.

Hold the line. God will bring every deed into judgement. Whether good or evil. (Ecc. 12:14).

There is nothing better than to do your duty knowing that God has already accepted your works in Christ Jesus (Ecc. 9:7).

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Book Review: Post-Christian by Gene Edward Veith Jr.

Below is a Book Review that I wrote for the Haddington House Journal which is based out of Haddington House here in Charlottetown, PEI Canada. You can buy a copy of this journal here.

Book Review: Post-Christian by Gene Edward Veith Jr.

By Rev. Nathan Zekveld

The book Post-Christian: a Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture, by Gene Edward
Veith Jr., is a timely and prophetic analysis of culture especially in the Western world. After all the cultural chaos of 2020, this book should help Christian laymen and pastors think through some of the cultural forces that are at work.

This book comes 26 years after Veith published his book Postmodern Times in 1994. He remarks that he thought that the bombing of the twin towers on September 11, 2001, would be the end of postmodernism. Instead it morphed and hardened in various ways. While there still remain modernists and postmodernists, many of the views at work might now be described more broadly as post-Christian. This book is a sequel to his earlier cultural analysis in 1994.

The term “Post-Christian” is not used to refer to the defeat of Christianity in the West. It is rather a term used to describe the way of thinking in the West that was shaped by Christianity, changed by secularism, and may in fact be leading many back to Christianity again. Many of the cultural revolts of the late 1900s have turned out to be self-defeating. This is “the universal wolf” that devours itself as Veith refers to cultural trends in Shakespearian terminology.

He considers the trajectory of thought in the West in four areas. In Part I, he describes this arc in terms of how we conceive of reality in the West: particularly through science, technology and reason. In Part II, he speaks about this in terms of how we conceive of the body in the West: particularly in the area of sexuality. In Part III, he focuses on society: particularly in how we perceive community following the technological and sexual revolutions. In Part IV, he hones in on religion: he focuses on the “nones” and how Christianity can respond to the growing desire to be religious.

The real genius of this book is in how the author finds common ground with many thinkers in this post-Christian age through creational realities. This is known broadly as “natural law” in Reformed theology. He continually points not only to the Word of God, but to the way in which we were created. According to the Apostle Paul in Romans 2:12-16, this knowledge is written on the consciences of men and women. Veith writes in the conclusion: “Though the postsecular public will be most interested in personal, inner spirituality – which Christianity indeed can supply them – they are also in need of a Christianity that can take them outside of themselves. They need to recover objective reality, that is, God’s creation.”1

Veith also explains how secularism is being put to the test in our Post-Christian age. We may even be headed into a post-secular age as secularism devours itself. I do wonder about this point. The year 2020 has made increasingly clear the vice-grip that secular science has as it holds both North American governments and churches. This worldview does not recognize the supremacy of God as the Creator. But then again, the author gives hope that the science will show itself to be unmoored from creational realities. By God’s grace, the flux of the times may drive people to ask questions which will bring them to the truth of the Bible.

In the middle of all the dire warnings of the pundits, and the despair of many conservative Christians in the Western Church after years of contending for the faith, this book really does offer a word of encouragement to weary Christians. The author points worn out Christians to the example of a growing commitment to Christ and His Word in countries around the world. He concludes with the testimony of thriving immigrant congregations in the West.

Gene Edward Veith Jr does an excellent job of trying to capture some of the trends in the West. He points to the sovereignty of God in all the instability of the times. His cultural analysis is a good challenge to the Church to think about her duty in the culture. It is a warning about some of the trends that are affecting members in the pew and drawing them away from the pew. He addresses the problem of privatized faith and the concern that the Church in many places has become increasingly secularized.

I would definitely recommend this book. It is great for pastors who want to help the young people in their congregations work through some of the ongoing cultural trends. It is great for high school students preparing for university, and for students going through university. It is an excellent point in time to get people thinking about new trends that have hit hard and fast between 2010 and 2020 and what we can do as Christians to witness to the Name of Christ in 2021 and the coming years. In our world, Genesis 1-3 is a great place to start. Veith puts it well in his introduction: “But Christians should be undaunted at the post-Christian onslaughts, knowing that such onslaughts are ultimately doomed, in this world as well as the next.”2

1 Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Post-Christian: a Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 300.

2 Ibid., 21

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Endowed with Freedom

Below is a quote from Robert Louis Wilken’s book “Liberty in the Things of God: the Christian Origins of Religious Freedom.” I would encourage my readers to get a copy from what I read so far. I hope to post a book review in the next month or two.

“This book does not offer a complete history of the rise of religious freedom in the West. It is an historical essay based on my reading of the sources and my judgments as to which thinkers and ideas best represent key lines of development. It aims to show that religious freedom took form through the intellectual labors of men and women of faith who sought the liberty to love and serve God faithfully in the public square. John Plamenatz, the political philosopher, got things right when he wrote that liberty of conscience arose ‘among people who had been taught for centuries that nothing was more important than to have the right beliefs… This was, no doubt, the source of fanaticism and persecution, but it was also, I suggest the source of a new conception of freedom. Liberty of conscience was born, not of indifference, not of skepticism, not of mere open-mindedness, but of faith.'”

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Conscience and the Coates Trial

Monday, May 3, James Coates takes the stand to defend his conscientious objections to public health orders and their effects on his congregation.

In October, 2014, the current Premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney, delivered an address to the annual Red Mass dinner hosted by the Thomas More Lawyers’ Guild of Toronto. It was entitled “Conscience Versus the Spirit of the Age.” It was a reflection on the life, legacy and lessons of St. Thomas More.

He describes the nature of Thomas More’s reason for martyrdom well: “Saint Thomas More suffered martyrdom because he insisted that there was a limit to the King’s lawful authority, namely that he had to respect the freedom of the Church, guaranteed by the very nature of the State and the nature of the Church. These ancient principles were recognized in the first article of the Magna Carta, which guaranteed the Church’s freedom.” (italics mine) He writes later: “The spirit of the age can be a powerful juggernaut that is wont to run roughshod over the consciences of those who would resist it.” He concludes with a quote from Pope John Paul on the life of St. Thomas More: “Above all, he never compromised his conscience, even to the point of making the supreme sacrifice so as not to disregard its voice.”

It is a different age, a different time, a different culture than that of St. Thomas More. But as Kenney points out in his fine lecture, the conscience still plays a role in Canadian society: “The witness of conscience, including the consciences of people of faith, therefore offers a valuable contribution to the common good of society, and has certainly made a positive contribution to the development of Canada these past 150 years.”

As Luther pointed out in the year 1521, four years after he nailed the 95 theses to the door of the Church in Wittenburg, Germany, conscience must be bound by the Word of God. As he stood before church authorities that had allied with civil authorities to suppress the growing dissent, he stood up on the podium and stated these famous words: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and by plain reason and not by Popes and councils who have so often contradicted themselves, my conscience is captive to the word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.”

We are facing new issues as a society. The sweeping lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 are yet untested in history. The evidence of the dangers of lockdowns are mounting. Many pastors and elders have voiced their conscientious objections and a number of churches have acted on their conscientious objections to the various restrictions that have impeded and even shut down movement to and from the assembly. These voices echo the warnings of men who warned of this kind of authoritarianism in modern governments at the beginning of the 1900s: such as J. Gresham Machen and Abraham Kuyper. They also reflect the Biblical command to gather before the Lord in repentance and to ask for mercy and to care for one another in times of need.

As Coates takes the stand in the province of Alberta, I trust that Premier Kenney will remember his lecture in Toronto 7 years ago.

May every church leader reach the end of life and be able to confess with the Apostle Paul these words and receive their commendation from God Himself: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.” (I Cor. 4:1-5)

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What do GraceLife and James Coates have to do with Reformed Churches?

Over the course of the last 3 months, an Alberta pastor spent some time in prison. Following his release, he is scheduled to go to trial on May 3-5. His Church, GraceLife Church of Edmonton, is now meeting in an alternate location now that AHS and RCMP officers in Alberta have shut down their building. If I had told you that this would happen in February 2020, I would have been called a conspiracy theorist, or told that I am fear-mongering.

I don’t know Pastor James Coates, or any of his elders, or any of the members in this congregation. So I can’t really vouch for their characters or persons on an “I know that guy” basis. I know the area somewhat having interned in churches in Parkland County and having worked a little further away out of Grande Prairie. But I was not in Alberta long enough to have a thorough understanding of the region.

If you read through all the news sources on this brother and his congregation, it appears that they have proven themselves to be above reproach in many ways. Of course, their incessant refusal to follow health orders in the assembly of believers for worship appears to have warranted the reproach of the premier, public health officials and many pastors and churches throughout Alberta. Each reproach comes from its own unique angle. At the end of the day, these brothers do still have legal protections within the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the criminal code.

There have been a number of news reports and articles released that range all the way from inflammatory, to balanced, to defamatory.

Does every church have to do exactly what GraceLife is doing? Of course not. But every church should be seeking to learn from the GraceLife debacle. And there are things for Reformed Churches to learn as well.

  1. There is a debate of over certain principles in the Reformed Churches (re the 5th commandment). There are three basic camps 1) Obey the government; 2) Submit to the government; 3) Rebel against the government. I would contend against the third option, but I understand where people are coming from in both the first and the second camp. It appears that James Coates and his elders are in the second camp as much as many want to put them in the third camp. James Coates and GraceLife have shown a willingness to submit to the government in this situation, especially by submitting to judicial process. But this has warranted a critique from certain leaders in Reformed Churches that they are not following the command of Christ because they are not obeying the governing authorities.
  2. There is a shift in how authority is understood and used in North America as reflected in this thoughtful article by MLA Drew Barnes. Part of this shift in authority is seen in the continued shift away from Christian principles for government towards secular principles for government. The Church and it’s officers no longer hold a central role in the community. It is one of many faith groups. It’s officers hold just one opinion among many faith leaders. Churches that were once approached respectfully as an authoritative body and even took in the sick and infirm are increasingly separated into a private sphere.
  3. There is a heavier emphasis on technocratic powers in North America at expense of the more Biblical focus on courts and those who run them as the proper authorities. This means that society is governed by technical experts. Rather than simply receiving advice from various experts, those experts are given un-elected authority through various emergency response measures. These experts may be experts in their various fields like science, but they are usually not experts in law, economics, or religion. Nevertheless, government officials continue to make theological statements about the nature of worship.

I would love to sit around the table with Pastor Coates and other Reformed pastors in Canada who have taken the position of critics. I am sure that there would be a great and animated discussion. Many of us have similar concerns over how the last year has affected not only churches but also individuals. Some questions for discussion:

What does ministry look like in this brave new world? What does Jesus want from His servants? What does it mean to be the Church? What is the authority that Jesus has given His office-bearers in the sanctuary? What role do we hold in the sanctuary in both Scripture and the Reformed confessions? How can we be a salt and a light for King Jesus in a world where there is so much apostasy, loneliness, abuse, mental illness, confusion, anger, depression, sorrow? Is it possible to be apart, but also together? How can we stir each other up to love and good works in real and tangible ways? What are necessary risks that Jesus calls us to take for the advance of the gospel? Is the gospel advancing? What losses are churches taking? How and why? Above all, what does it look like to place the highest importance on obedience to Jesus Christ and His Word in the world that we live in?

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

A Sowing of Peace

The Word of the Lord in Zechariah 8:9-13:

“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.'”

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The Pride of the Cities of Men and the Citizens of the City of God

If you haven’t read Augustine’s book ‘City of God’, I would strongly encourage you to stop whatever you are reading and to go and do that. This book among a number of others has influenced my thought on how to apply the Word of God in an unbelieving world. I would wager that this book has also influenced many other authors who have influenced me. John Calvin, for example, knew the writings of Augustine very well and often quoted his works.

Augustine became a Christian as a young man after a life of sin and after pursuing many other worldviews that he tried and found them wanting. It is well known that his mother Monica was a devout Christian and often prayed from him to become a Christian as a young man. After he became a Christian, he was trained under the well-known Ambrose who was the bishop of Milan, Italy. He often contended against heretics and schismatics in his public writings, but is also known for aspects of his writings that addressed the politics and culture of the day. His book ‘Political Writings’ is also a particularly interesting book where heavily debated passages today – like Romans 13:1-7 – are addressed at various points. He developed one of the earlier, more comprehensive worldviews for Christians seeking to grapple with a world that was living in unbelief and especially pride.

His goal in this book is to contrast the City of God (which comes down from above) with the cities of man. Think of the Biblical references here to the City of God in Psalm 48, Psalm 87, Hebrews 10-13, Galatians 4. Well, Augustine develops a theology around those Biblical references and takes those timeless truths and applies it to the Church in the context of the Roman Empire of his day.

How do Christians live as Christians in an unbelieving world? How do Christians serve in the civil sphere when most of those in civil authority do not believe? These are the tough questions that Augustine grapples with as he applies the character and the ways of the City of God to Christians living as pilgrims among the cities of men. While we experience a different culture than Augustine did, the timeless principles of this book, are still applicable to the questions of today.

Recently I wrote that Jesus did not come to overthrow Caesar’s civil rule. Jesus did come to overthrow his pride. Jesus did come to overthrow his self-conception. As Christians are a city that is a light on a hill as we are the salt of the earth, the pride of kings and rulers is overthrown by the grace and love of Jesus Christ. Their thrones are placed in subjection to his heavenly throne. And this is often the challenge of Augustine to Christian rulers. He writes: “We call those Christian rulers happy who govern with justice, never forgetting that they are only human. They think of sovereignty as a ministry of God, and they fear and worship God. They are slow to punish and quick to forgive. They temper with mercy and generosity the unavoidable harshness of their commands. They are all the more in control of their sinful desires because they are freer to indulge them. They prefer to rule their own passions more than to rule the peoples of the world. They rule not out of vain glory but out of love for everlasting bliss. They offer to God the humble sacrifice of their repentance and prayer. In this life they are happy in their hope and are destined to be truly happy when the eternal day comes for which we all hope” (Augustine, City of God, 5.24)

Augustine often writes this way through his book The City of God and his Political Writings. While in the Bible times parental authority and authority in business was more quickly and directly affected by the preaching of the Word (Eph. 6) and the authority of the office-bearers of the Church, the gospel was bound to reach the hearts of those in civil authority (Phil. 1:12-14). Augustine willingly and cheerfully takes those principles and applies them to Christians who at that time found themselves higher up in the Roman Empire. The truths of the gospel must indeed reach into and transform, not only every nation of the earth, but also every sphere of authority.

If you read through the City of God by Augustine and then branch into his other writings you see how pride in all areas of society is challenged as men are brought under the yoke of Jesus Christ. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Men are taught to delight in the ways and the virtues of the City of God and to loathe those base impulses that come from a heart of pride. Love is rightly ordered as God comes first before all else. It is the celebration, the worship, the humility of the City of God that overcomes the pride of the cities of men.

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A Manifesto: Christ is Head of the Church

The phrase “Jesus Christ is Head of the Church” is a Biblical truth that is clearly stated in Colossians 1:18: “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” You will find this truth expounded upon and taught and applied in various parts of the inspired and authoritative Word of God: Eph 1:22, Eph. 5:23, Col. 2:10. The purpose of this short piece is to state the truth that Christ is Head of the Church with clarity in the public square and to define this truth among all other forms of authority in society.

This is why Christians have always been careful not to identify a political party with the kingdom of God. The Church is the vehicle of the kingdom of God. Not the Conservative or Liberal or New Democrat or Christian Heritage or People’s Party of Canada. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. He has chosen the humble means of the preaching and the sacraments to communicate His grace in this broken world. Matthew 16:18–19 “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The Church is not partisan, it is entirely a different organism, a different institution.

This is a truth emphasized and re-emphasized in Reformed confessions. We read in Article 31 of the Belgic Confession: “As for the ministers of the Word, they all have the same power and authority, no matter where they may be, since they are all servants of Jesus Christ, the only universal bishop, and the only head of the church.” We read in Article 32: “they ought always to guard against deviating from what Christ, our only Master, has ordained for us.” For those of my readers who are unaware of the Belgic Confession, it was written in the France/Netherlands region in the 1500s and is used as one of the three forms that unify Reformed Churches. You can find it here.

The Church then is not partisan and the Church should not be equated with a political party. This of course, does not mean that they are being partisan when a particular political party takes it upon themselves to remove “every obstacle to the preaching of the gospel and to every aspect of divine worship” as civil leaders acknowledge that Jesus is Lord (BC Art. 36). Those leaders are simply doing their Christian duty. There have been times throughout history that the Church has taken upon itself the need to discipline even leaders who have protected the Church. There have been times throughout history where the civil authority has had to wield the sword in situations where leaders in the church went rogue. The point here is this. The pastors and leaders of the Church must always remain objective and begin with the Word of God in her teaching, her preaching, and her discipline. The truth of God’s Word and the duty of His shepherds to preach the gospel and lead divine worship exists apart from partisan politics.

And so we must distinguish between partisan politics and politics more generally. The statement “Jesus is Head of the Church” is not a political statement. But it does have political ramifications. In other words, to make that statement and truly believe it, will have consequences within society at times. When the civil authority puts obstacles in the way of the preaching of the gospel and every aspect of divine worship, the Church still confesses that Christ alone is Head of the Church. And the confession of the Church is not unrelated to her actions. In fact, we confess our allegiance to Jesus Christ through our actions. Jesus Himself equated our love for Him with keeping His commandments (Jn. 14:15).

This is not a teaching that should be taught in antagonism towards the civil authority. Christians are called to pray for them and even give thanks for them so that we might lead a quiet life. Above all we should pray that they would come to a knowledge of the truth: the truth that there is a Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ (I Tim. 2:1-6). We are called to fear God and honor the Prime Minister. Whoever he may be. This is a teaching that is born of love as we teach all nations to observe all that He has commanded us (Matt. 28:20). Why? Because He has all authority (Matt. 28:18). The Church doesn’t have all authority. Jesus does. We are simply ambassadors of His kingdom that has entered onto the world scene. His Word is truth. It is this truth that all nations must come to know and confess. There really is no other way of salvation.

The example of the Apostle Paul in Thessalonika and Caesar’s Courts serves as an example. In Thessalonika the Apostle Paul simply taught that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one of God (Acts 17:1-10). But a mob realizes the ramifications of this teaching and so they come with a slanderous condemnation to the authorities that the Christians are turning the world upside down. The charge is that the Christians are trouble-makers and rabble-rousers and even traitorous in their teaching that there is another King: one Jesus. But Jesus Christ did not come to overthrow Caesar’s civil rule. He did come with a call. This call was that Caesar must take a knee before His throne. Even when Paul is in prison in Caesar’s courts, he shares this gospel of the crown rights of king Jesus (Phil 1). The one in chains is then the ambassador for King Jesus. His announcement is that there is another King, one Jesus and even Caesar must worship the Son of God whose kingdom is not of this world.

Christ is the Head of the Church. This is an axiomatic truth. It is an established rule or principle or a self-evident truth. It stands above the fray of politics and fog of our civic dialogue. It is a truth that must be stated in the public square. It is a reality that should be experienced by Christians of all stripes and positions in the Church in society. It is unequivocally not partisan. Regardless of your political party, you are called to confess that Jesus is Lord. Regardless of whether your last name is Singh or O’Toole or Bernier or Trudeau, there is no other Name under heaven and earth by which you can be saved. This is a statement that is born out of love because there is no other Mediator between God and man. The truth then is this: Christ alone is Head of the Church.

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A Shot of Joy to the Head

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.

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash