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.'”

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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?

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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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Lifting High the Cross in Revolutionary Times

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)

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Iatrogenics and the morality of the COVID-19 Lock-down

I was recently introduced to a new medical term while listening to a recording of Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile. In this book he engages with the medical system and science at various points. I am engaging with what Taleb writes as someone with a BA and an MDiv.

“Iatrogenic” is something relating to illness caused by medical examination or treatment. Iatrogenics is when a treatment causes more harm than benefit. After hearing more about “Iatrogenics,” the old hyppocratic oath to do no harm is not as black and white as it immediately appears to be.

Many might argue for the current lock-down on the basis of the public safety. But it does not appear to me that things are that black and white. Especially in light of iatrogenics.

For example, many patients are not warned of the side-affects of various drugs and prescriptions. If you listen to this interview of Jordan Peterson by his daughter Mikhaila, you will hear his experience with an “iatrogenic result from his treatment.” His account has brought many other cases to public attention. I have talked to various people who have taken certain antidepressants and they are not really sure whether these meds have caused more harm than good. I am not arguing against them. I am just recognizing that there are harmful side-effects.

Here I speak of side-effects whether intended or unintended. I prefer to think that they are unintended, but we must never undermine the nature of sin. I haven’t even addressed the clear and direct harm that doctors are willing to do to people through abortion, doctor assisted suicide and euthanasia. I think some medical professionals are confused about the nature of the hyppocratic oath they took… We live in a culture of death. But I digress…

All of this lead me to reflect more on COVID-19. Recently, some Christians have popped up out of the wood-work to claim the “pro-life position” in the COVID-19 debates. They may have been barely involved in the pro-life movement. But apparently the science proves that many Christians are unloving and even murderous if they push back against COVID restrictions. But these arguments enter into a murky territory of subjectivity and trade-offs which could potentially prove to be very immoral.

Questions abound. I have written publicly on the issue of the “side-effects” of our response to COVID-19. These include mental illness, social division, and economic devastation for small businesses.

My debate with “the science” is not whether every individual scientist and/or medical professional sees a man or a woman simply as a physical being. But our response has not taken into consideration the fact that sin is in the medical system. Our response has not taken into consideration the spiritual side to this situation. For years we have been fighting for the lives of the unborn and the elderly. All of a sudden with COVID our medical system has become saintly?

Many Christian counselors these days are taking a holistic approach to counselling. They are encouraging people to take health measures and go to doctors within a framework of Biblical counseling. I believe and argue that this is an excellent thing to do. Reformed Christians believe that men and women are created with both a body and a soul, both of which have been affected by the consequences of Adam’s sin. They are inter-connected. It should not exclude what I call nouthetic counseling, which deals with the root issues of sin, whether the individual has committed it or it has been done to the individual.

Our medical system does not appear to take this holistic approach. And even denies the spiritual aspect of these matters. At least in the over-arching system. There are definitely those who push against the pressure towards scientific consensus. Encouraging parents to cover their faces in front of their kids, and encouraging “physical distancing” in the schools, does not take into account many different human needs. Even Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto argued against that. Kudos to them. If you look at psychiatry and similar lines of study, many are not allowed to recognize a spiritual element. Doctors have been kicked out for helping patients in the name of Christ. Read “Psychobabble” by Dr. Richard Ganz.

Vaccines themselves (which I neither promote nor discourage) may have iatrogenic effects. A healthy skepticism is… healthy. Vaccine injury is not an uncommon circumstance. While Quebec is the only province in Canada with a system for compensation for vaccine injury the States deals out millions a year in compensation. The connection between vaccines and big pharma as well as the fact that some vaccine-makers have no liability should be a matter of concern or at least serious questioning. Yes, certain diseases have been eliminated and there appears to be a strong connection to vaccines. But how many kids have been killed or damaged by the cure? Again. This is where we get into thorny moral territory. Especially in the area of mandatory vaccinations.

If anyone wonders where I got this from. I recently read this in an article promoting vaccines: “At a population level, these rare risks are far outweighed by the benefits of the high uptake in the vaccination. However, this implies that, in rare instances, an individual will suffer from significant consequences for the benefit of others, and that such an event can be anticipated (expected, even), though not necessarily predicted at the individual level.”

The matter of iatrogenics should not be lightly dismissed in any situation. The history of medical theory has been a history of iatrogenics. I am the recipient of unknown substances and the subject of hypotheses that are still being tested. I should challenge these things holistically and think them through rationally. Above all, as a Christian, I am called to subject them to Biblical principle and reasoning.

How should Christians live and think in an era of medical and scientific power? I’m not telling you which side of a medical issue to take a stand on. But think about this. Modern intellectuals have dealt out a strong dose of skepticism with regards to the authority of Scripture. But where does their authority come from? Apart from the revelation of God which brings us not only to see the appearances, but also what lies behind the appearances, will they promote less than moral solutions to the thorny ethical issues of the day? Christians need to seek ethical answers from the Word of God.

Conversations and discussions are good and helpful in society and it is fine for people to lie on the opposite sides of an issue. But don’t buy into the philosophy that science is neutral. It also must be tested with Biblical ethics. Taleb made this point well.

Listen to Taleb’s book Antifragile. Test every spirit. Read the Scriptures. Be humble. Seek the truth.

Photo by Hans Reniers on Unsplash

Is Christianity Revolutionary?

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 wrote an 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)