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).

Photo by Tapio Haaja 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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Preaching Christ at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary

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As some of you might know, I spent four years at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary before taking a call to a congregation of the United Reformed Churches in Prince Edward Island. I did internships with 4 consistories and 3 pastors in the United Reformed Churches on my way through seminary and I have always been a member of the United Reformed Churches since I was knee-high, so I am unable to say much about the Canadian Reformed Churches at large. I have heard some excellent sermons from Rev. den Hollander Sr. in Rehoboth URC and some excellent sermons from Rev. William den Hollander Jr. and Rev. VandeBurgt while visiting my wife who was a member of the Langley CanRC while we were dating.

I found that CRTS during my time there had a strong homiletics (the art of preaching) department. This was confirmed by various conversations I had with leaders and members in both the URCNA and Canadian Reformed Churches in the opportunities that I had to preach in close to 35 URCNA and CanRC churches across Canada and into the States (over the course of 3 years and 4 internships).

One of the highlights of taking this particular homiletics program was the 9 sermons (3 per year) that were publicly presented before 1 or 2 professors and the entire student body. There was then a public critique from the professor and the floor was then opened up to our colleagues to bring up questions, concerns, and encouragements. The intense self-reflection following an evaluation was not particularly fun, but I can’t imagine a better way to teach men to preach a message that is faithful to the text and centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Another highlight was the two homiletics classes (in 1st year and 3rd year). We read a lot of articles on preaching: anywhere from ones by professor de Visser to Sydney Greidanus and Cornelis Trimp. We also read some great books on finding the glories of the cross and resurrection of Christ throughout the pages of the Bible. We read David Helm’s “Expository Preaching.” We read Timothy Keller’s “Preaching.” We also read Bryan Chappell’s “Christ-Centered Preaching.” We studied and reflected (and yes, debated) each book closely. Various Church Fathers, Reformers, Lloyd-Jones, Stott, and other preachers were also discussed in class.

One of the points that Dr. de Visser underscored to our class in first year is that the difference between good preaching and great preaching is the work of the Holy Spirit in the work of the preacher. We were also encouraged to reflect on that in the grading system. Of course, there an was an effort to grill us based on objective principles for preaching, like whether the text was preached, how we drew our lines to Christ, and how Christ was preached. But an “A” sermon might just be a good sermon, whereas a “B” or a “C” sermon might be a great sermon because the Holy Spirit is working powerfully through it (I believe that Tim Keller also presents this important reminder). 

Between 5 professors and 20 students, a variety of perspectives and intellectual/spiritual gifts are brought to the table. Yes, there are weaknesses and points for growth in both individuals and institutions. And so we see every institution, individual and denomination growing also in conversation with the broader Reformed/Presbyterian and evangelical world. For individuals, mentorships bring further gifts to the table, and prior education also brings various gifts to the table. Seminaries should not operate in isolation from broader ideas and the authority of the local consistory. It was also great to hear lectures from OPC pastor Eric Watkins on redemptive historical preaching at the conferences one year. Over my years at seminary, we heard lectures on various topics from members from the RPCNA, OPC, FRCNA, PCA, URCNA. 

I would recommend the Canadian Reformed Seminary for the Christ-centered nature of their homiletics program and for the way that both OT/NT/dogmatic disciplines also lead to the glory of the cross and resurrection.

I would love to reflect further here on the need for greater union between the Canadian Reformed Churches and the United Reformed Churches. Maybe one day I will also reflect further on unity with the many other congregations and federations in North America. I have many thoughts on the importance of organic and geographic unity and the danger of stereotypes and lack of charity. I hope to shape and formulate these thoughts in the coming months and years also in conversation with the wisdom of older pastors and the wisdom of my consistory and other consistories. We must not neglect good debate and healthy communication. Christ-centered preaching leads to Christ-centered unity. Those who preach the cross, after all, must be examples of life under the cross and resurrection. And so we also find unity at the cross, in our worship of the Triune God and on the bedrock of the Bible:

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:13–22


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