Don’t Cry over Spilled Milk

You’ve heard the saying, and the main point of it is an important life lesson; keep things in perspective. The problem of spilled milk is not an enormous one with long-lasting consequences. At most, it’s an inconvenience, it means getting up, grabbing a rag, and wiping up a spill, and pouring yourself more milk… Keeping things in proper perspective is vital for us to function in our lives. This is one of the problems that young children often struggle with. The other day, my toddler had a meltdown, because she wanted to both hold the orange, and she wanted it peeled so she could eat it… as I began peeling it and pulling it apart, the thought occurred to her that she wouldn’t be able to hold it as a ball anymore, and the result was a meltdown. 

Her problem was perspective. If she could stop and reason, she would realize that the emotional anguish of not being able to hold the orange as a ball would soon pass, and her life would go on. This illustrates an important point; the true size and severity of a problem is related to the question of duration; how long will this problem impact us? Spilled milk is one of those which, generally speaking, will not have long term consequences. The lesson from the saying is that we should not overreact to those things which will not impact us for terribly long; we need to learn to keep things in perspective. 

It is here that Paul’s instructions in Colossians 3 come to mind: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” 

I’ve been struck by the reality that I don’t usually do a great job of obeying this command. The vast majority of my thoughts and mental energies are directed to things on this earth; my problems, my desires, my hopes, my problems, my dreams, my problems… you get the picture. 

What would it do for us if we could learn obedience to this command from the apostle? One big thing it would do is it would grant us perspective. It is remarkable how many of the things that I worry about actually fall into the category of spilled milk; things which cannot affect me for very long. 

When I examine the stresses and challenges that I tend to lose sleep over, it is amazing how many of them will be solved in a relatively short time frame. If I think back to the things that were stressing me out 5 years ago, I cannot think of many things that are still impacting me now. My stresses have changed. Those things I worried about then, were very short-term, all things considered. 

At this point, you might be thinking, ‘okay, Riley, you may have had a cushy life with no major problems, but you’re not helping me out much. My problems are big, and they are not going away any time soon.’ And I would say that you’ve fallen into my trap *insert evil laugh here* 

When we take Paul’s instructions in Colossians 3 seriously, what we realize is that all of our problems, however severe and long-lasting, are, in light of eternity, nothing more than spilled milk. Now there’s two ways you could take this. First you could read this as me trivializing your suffering, and if this was my intention, you would be rightly offended. But no, this is not my aim. The second way to look at it, and the way that I’m hoping you will, is to compare your trials to eternity in the presence of God. 

When we obey the instruction to fix our eyes on things above, our minds will focus on Jesus, sitting victoriously at the right hand of the Father, as all His enemies are being made His footstool. We will be thinking about eternity, when we are raised to life with Christ, and will spend forever in glory. 

Here’s where the spilled milk principle comes in. Think about the time in which your earthly problems will affect you, and try to compare that to eternity. 

Supposing for argument’s sake that spilled milk was a problem that occupied 1% of the total duration of your earthly life, …if this is you, then you should really consider using lids on your cups… But for argument’s sake let’s give it a nice round number like 1%. 

Now try to think of the troubles you face on earth in light of eternity. What percentage of your total existence will those problems involve? You realize quickly that you can’t actually give it a percentage, since the longer you spend in eternity, the smaller that percentage gets. 

Supposing you live to be 100, and all of your days were filled with grief and calamity. What percentage of eternity is 100 years?

Once you have spent 10,000 years in the presence of the Lord, how significant will your earthly problems seem to you then? How about after 100,000 Years? 1 Million? 1 Billion? 100 Billion? Here’s the point; live your life in light of eternity. Forever is a long time. The spilled milk lesson is that we need to keep perspective. To paraphrase A.W. Tozer, we are relieved of ten thousand temporal problems when we see that these all have to do with matters which at the most, cannot concern us for very long. 

Quality

Our considerations thus far have been about the question of quantity. Now let’s consider  question of quality. The apostle Paul ties quality and quantity together in 2 Corinthians 4:17 as he compares our earthly afflictions to the glory that is to come. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 

Notice that he calls the sufferings of this life Light (quality) and momentary (quantity). Now we need to keep in mind that the apostle Paul knew suffering (read his list in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 if you don’t believe me).

And yet he calls all earthly suffering both light and momentary. How can he do this? Is he downplaying the severity and duration of our sufferings? No. He’s simply looking at this life through the lens of eternity. 

In comparison to eternity, the entirety of this life is momentary. And secondly, compared to the weight of glory that is to come, all of our sufferings no matter how severe they were, will be shown to be light in comparison. As he says, the weight of glory that is to come, is beyond all comparison. 

The glory of being welcomed into the presence of our Lord, will be weighty. To put that level of glory on the scales comparing it to our earthly sufferings, Paul says is a fool’s errand. As he said in verse 17, our eternal weight of glory is beyond all comparison.

As he says also in Romans 8:18: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” 

Not only the quantity of time in eternity but the quality of what we’re inheriting is so great, so marvelous, so wonderful, that according to scripture it is not worth comparing. 

It’s like imagining that spilling the milk could ruin the mood of a kid who found out he was going to disney world. Not worth comparing. 

So consider this my invitation for you to join me in getting better at fixing our minds on heavenly things and not on earthly things. If we can gain the perspective of Scripture, if we can see things in light of eternity, in light of our eternal weight of glory, this will transform our lives now. 

C.S. Lewis addressed the old saying, that some people are too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly good, and he argued that it’s actually just the opposite. He writes: 

“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next… It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither (p. 134).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

If you know me well, you’ll know that I am not an escapist by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not picturing Christians huddled together in the closet, trying to wish themselves into heaven. Rather, I’m convinced, as the Apostle Paul was, that understanding these truths is one of the keys to gaining the courage necessary to engage the world. If our minds are on Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father, this will embolden us, as we are regularly reminded that however bleak the battle looks in front of us, it has already been won by Christ.

Death is dead, God has won, Christ is risen. 

For the Unbelievers: 

I’ve been addressing Christians, but the flip side of this coin is equally true. If you do not know Christ, then there is one pressing reality, which is bigger than all the problems that you think you have. As you well know, you are on an unavoidable collision course with death, and you also will spend eternity somewhere. It’s a classic question, which often evokes eye rolls, but I ask you to humour me, and actually ask yourself if you died today, do you know where you’re going? Deep down, we all know that we will face justice. As surely as we live, we will stand before the God who made us, and He has declared that He will judge us in righteousness. However good you might think you have been, it requires perfection to stand before God. You have sinned, and your good deeds will not be enough to earn you a place with God. And this is why He sent His Son. He payed the penalty that was due for sin, dying on the cross, and then rose again on the third day, breaking the power of death. The promise goes out to all: that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. 

Repent and believe the good news!

Conclusion

As Christians, keeping an eternal perspective emboldens us for the present, and gives us hope for the future. An eternal perspective keeps us balanced. A person crying over spilled milk would not strike us as having a firm grip on reality. And the reality for the Christian is that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us. 

Soli Deo Gloria

Tolerance, Judgment and the Winkler/Morden Voice

A tract went out recently with the Winkler/Morden voice. Now we don’t get the paper where I live, so I don’t know all the details, but as I understand it, this flyer was paid advertising. Some enterprising, and evangelistically minded individual or group wanting to get their message out. 

I was sent a screenshot of a more recent edition of the paper, containing a few letters to the editor expressing, shall we say, less than positive opinions about the flyer, which even brought an apology from the newspaper. 

The flyer was described as “Shameful propaganda,” “a thinly veiled message of hate” without an ounce of love, understanding or compassion” 

Now as I mentioned, I don’t get the paper, and so I have not read the flyer. This being said, the complainants gave some broad strokes in their critiques, strokes under which I have no doubt that I would be included if they knew me, or heard any sermons from my Church. Hence my response:

The Tolerance Brigade

Firstly we should just note the irony of people calling for others to be banned for not being tolerant enough… If tolerance were truly one of your chief virtues, then should you not be willing to tolerate intolerant viewpoints?  

What seems to me to be the real heart of the issue is expressed in the first letter, a gentleman wrote: “just because we do not share the same beliefs does not mean we are immoral and “lost in the dark.” To express such a viewpoint, is perceived by our interlocutors as a hateful message of propaganda from fanatical extremists. Here’s the bottom line: what you’ve identified as “hateful propaganda” is simply the historic message of the Christian Church. 

Jesus did not die for nothing

The fact is, secularists, muslims, jews, buddhists, hindus, and everyone else who rejects the gospel of Jesus Christ is lost. They will stand before their creator on judgment day, and they will be condemned. 

You can call this hateful, you can call this propaganda, you can call it judgmental if you want to, but that changes nothing, and should not bother a Christian. Why? Because we are simply affirming the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: John 14:6: “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” 

To ask us to affirm that there are other ways to God, is to ask us to deny the very words of Jesus. In fact, it is to ask us to deny the very heart of the Christian message. If there were other ways to God, then Jesus died for nothing. God the Son, did not die on the cross to simply be another option on the table. Jesus did not die for nothing. 

The fact that there may be apostate churches who deny the exclusivity of Jesus’ claims does not change the fact this has always been the Christian message. 

Judge Not…

This weekend is Easter weekend. Amid the drivel about rabbits, eggs and chocolates, there will be Christians celebrating the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One of the amazing statements about the resurrection is what the Apostle Paul said to the men of Athens in Acts 17:30-31: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he calls all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” 

The resurrection of Jesus testifies to the reality that God has appointed Christ as the judge of all the world. When men stand before Christ as their judge, one of the things that they won’t say is that He’s being too judgmental…

The gospel is a message of love, hope, and compassion. God in His great love, sent His one and only Son, to die on the cross and take the penalty against sin that was due to His people. He rose again on the third day, and defeated the power of death. Absolutely anyone who will turn from their sin in repentance and faith will be forgiven. When they then stand before Christ as their Judge, they will be declared righteous. Not because of their own works, but because of what Christ accomplished on their behalf. 

So here’s where we must say: sorry, not sorry. We will not stop proclaiming this message with all the courage and boldness we can muster. Why? Because we love God, and people too much; because our Lord has given us a mission, and we must obey. Because hell is too hot, and eternity too long, for us to not give warnings, and proclaim the way to salvation. Turn to Christ and find light, hope and eternal life. 

Soli Deo Gloria

A Failed Prophet?

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” You are likely familiar with these words of Jesus that He cried out as He died on the cross. These words from Jesus sound like a despairing cry from a man who was confused why God had abandoned Him. In fact, these words have been used by skeptics to claim that Jesus was simply a failed prophet. He thought He was the messiah; He thought He was doing God’s work, but things went horribly wrong for Him, He was executed as a criminal, and this then is the despairing cry of a man dying in agony, confused as to why His mission failed… But is that really what’s going on here? 

Jesus was Quoting Scripture

As you may know, the chapter and verse divisions that exist in our modern Bibles were not part of the original text. They have helpfully been added to aid us in navigating the text of Scripture. In the first century if you wanted to direct someone’s attention to Psalm 23 for example, you wouldn’t be able to tell them ‘turn to Psalm 23’ instead, you would quote the first line; “the Lord is my Shepherd.” 

This sheds light on the words of Jesus: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is in fact, the first line of Psalm 22… why would Jesus direct our attention to Psalm 22 while He’s being crucified? If you read Psalm 22, you discover something remarkable. Psalm 22:14-18 reads as if it were meant to be a first-person account of Christ’s crucifixion. 

“ I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; they have pierced my hands and feet – I can count all my bones – they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

Psalm 22:14-18

To feel the weight of this, we need to realize that Psalm 22 was written one thousand years before the time of Christ. 

Jesus died much sooner than most victims of crucifixion do. This is why the gospel accounts mention the surprise of the Romans when they discovered He was already dead. Crucifixion is typically a very slow death by asphyxiation. By pushing up on the spike between your ankles, you can free your airway and continue to breathe, until from physical exhaustion, you sag back down, and hang from the nails in your wrists; a position where you can’t get enough oxygen, and slowly suffocate. Death by crucifixion could sometimes take days. 

Jesus died comparatively quickly, and the detail of blood and water pouring from His side when He was pierced by a spear, has led modern physicians to believe that He had experienced a form of  heart failure. I’m not a medical doctor, but as I understand it, extreme stress as well as the kind of blood loss that can result from the flogging Jesus experienced can lead to a buildup of fluid around the heart and lungs, which explains the blood and water which flowed from Jesus’ side as He was pierced. 

Read Psalm 22 and consider the gospel accounts of Jesus’ Crucifixion. He was mocked, the crowd jeered at Him, He cried out because of thirst, His bones were forced into unnatural positions as He was crucified, He was surrounded by gentiles (dogs). His hands and feet were pierced through by the nails. His heart gave out in His chest. The soldiers cast lots for his clothing. 

Fulfilled Prophecy

If you read Psalm 22, and compare the account of the Crucifixion, what you discover is that Jesus is not a failed prophet, crying out in despair, but rather, He directs your attention to Psalm 22 in order to show that He is fulfilling prophecy… ironically, rather than proving Jesus to be a failed prophet, the crucifixion, and these words of Jesus do the polar opposite. They demonstrate that Jesus was fulfilling prophecy.

Jesus was not surprised by His crucifixion. He knew very well what He was doing. In John 10, Jesus identified Himself as the good shepherd who would lay down His life for His sheep. In verse 18, He says of His life: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again…”

If you read through the gospel accounts, you’ll see that Jesus predicted His death many times. He was not caught off guard by what happened. He was not surprised by the Crucifixion. He went to cross to lay down His life for His sheep. 

In His death, Jesus took the punishment for sin that was due to His people upon Himself. He died on the cross in our place. As another prophet had written about Him, hundreds of years before He came: “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:5

Christ laid down His life of His own accord. It was not taken from Him as if He were a helpless victim. He was there for a purpose. That purpose was to secure salvation. To purchase a people for Himself; a people for His own possession (Titus 2:14).

The Resurrection

The story doesn’t end with a crucified Messiah. Jesus declared His authority to lay down His life, and to take it up again. And He did. Christ rose from the dead; for death could not hold Him (Acts 2:24). Just as He had predicted, Jesus the Christ, literally, physically, and bodily rose back to life from the dead. There were hundreds of people who saw Him alive after His crucifixion, and His disciples spent their lives, and many of them went to their own violent deaths proclaiming this message; something that would have not have been likely if the disciples had simply been making up a story…

Psalm 22 records a cry for help: verse 19:

“But you O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen! I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but he has heard, when he cried to him.” 

-Psalm 22:19-24

Psalm 22 begins in agony and despair but it ends in victory. The suffering servant is vindicated. God hears His cry and He is delivered!

Christ was delivered from the grave. He was resurrected, and the promise is made that anyone will turn to Christ in repentance and faith, they will share in His resurrection life!

Christ’s resurrection is referred to in Scripture as the first fruits of the harvest; He is described as the firstborn from the dead. It’s nonsensical to speak of a firstborn, unless there are other children coming… He is not accurately called the first fruits if there was not a greater harvest coming.

So come to Christ, and join in the power of His resurrection. As He was raised, so will be all those who are united to Christ by faith. 

Jesus was not a failed prophet. He was fulfilling prophecy. 

Soli Deo Gloria

Romans 13 Absolutism

As I write this, a faithful pastor is in prison in this nation for simply conducting public worship and being unwilling to turn anyone away. Our Provincial Government mandates required the closing of all churches (among other things) in the province for 3 months. Many Christians and even pastors have fully agreed that the civil government is right to exercise authority in this way. By far the most common argument has been to quote from Romans 13. 

First, a caveat, I will be speaking in broad terms to respond to what I believe to be the majority position. I recognize that there are Christians who take nuanced positions who truly believe they are being faithful to God and acting according to their consciences. Please don’t take this post as a sweeping condemnation of everyone who takes a different view. It is not my intention to burn bridges, as I believe that when (or if) this COVID situation is passed, we will need one another as we face down other challenges coming against the Church. 

With that qualification, I do believe that there has been a lot of misapplication of Romans 13, which can be addressed by a few observations from and about the text. Let’s dive in:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

Well there you have it, right? God says we need to submit to the government, so when the government gives any order at all, we obey right? Seems pretty straightforward? Not so fast. We need to remember a few points: 

  1. The man who wrote these words was executed by the state for refusing to submit to governing authorities. 

The Apostle Paul was arrested, imprisoned, beaten and ultimately executed for his disobedience to civil authorities. 

If we think Romans 13 means unlimited submission to whatever civil government says,we turn the Apostle Paul into a hypocrite, who refused to follow his own instructions. This should be our first clue that something else is going on. 

  1. Romans 13 outlines the responsibilities of civil government. 

If we keep reading instead of stopping at verse 2, we begin to get a fuller picture. 

“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” 

This is what Civil Government should be. The God-appointed role of civil magistrates is to punish evil-doers. Those who do what is right should have no fear of civil authorities. Civil Government has been given a specific assignment from God. 

But what do we do when the Civil Government flips their role upside down? What if they begin to punish the righteous for doing what is righteous?

Romans 13 doesn’t address this question. For this, we need to go elsewhere in Scripture. We’ll come back to this point. 

  1. God alone is Supreme, therefore, all earthly authority has limits. 

Notice what scripture says government is. It is a God-appointed sphere. Civil governments have a God-appointed task to punish evil-doers. This emphatically does not give Civil Government unlimited authority. The authority that the government has, is authority given to them  by God. This means that God is a higher authority. 

A civil government cannot legitimately use their God-given authority to override God’s authority.

Nobody has the authority to command what God forbids or to forbid what God commands. 

This places limits on civil authority. Since God alone is supreme, no earthly authority is unlimited. In all of the spheres that God grants authority, the authority is always limited. Hebrews 13 commands Christians to be in submission to their Church Elders. Ephesians 5 commands wives to be in submission to their husbands, and Romans 13 commands citizens to be in submission to civil authorities. Since all of this authority is given by God, it is therefore under Him, and therefore is limited. 

Sphere Sovereignty

The various governments that God has established all have distinctive roles. The State is assigned by God as the Minister of Justice. The Church is assigned by God as the Minister of Word and Sacrament, and the Family is assigned by God as the Minister of health, welfare and education. I may expand on these points in a later post. The point I want to make here is that each of these spheres has limits. Having authority in one sphere does not give authority in another sphere. 

The fact that Pastors have authority in the Church does not grant them civil authority. As a pastor, I can’t pull you over and give you a speeding ticket. Similarly, A civil magistrate does not have authority within the Church. A policeman cannot enter the church and place someone under church discipline; that is outside his jurisdiction. Similarly, the civil government cannot (rightly) declare to your wife what she is to make for dinner, that is outside the sphere that God has assigned to them. 

The fact that God commands submission to various authorities (Church, State and Family) does not mean that those authorities can claim absolute authority. 

If a Pastor claimed absolute authority over every area of the life of their congregants, we would recognize this as an abuse of authority, this is overstepping their God-appointed jurisdiction, and we would not hold people to obey their authority. 

So then why do we assume that civil governments have the right to do this? Using Romans 13 to justify blind submission to a totalitarian state would be like using Ephesians 5 to justify submission to an abusive husband, or to use Hebrews 13 to justify submission to abusive Church Elders. When we see people overstepping the bounds of their God-appointed authority in those other spheres, we rightly acknowledge the limits on those authorities. The same must apply to the state. 

The reason of course is that God has claims on the lives of His people. All people belong to Him, He alone has absolute authority, and He alone may rightly require absolute submission. 

If God has commanded something, no husband, pastor or civil authority can rightly forbid obedience to it. Nor can they rightly command something God forbids. 

What do we do?

So what do we do when the civil magistrate flips their role upside down and begins to punish the righteous? What do we do when they forbid what God commands?

The Apostles (Paul included) faced this exact question. Romans 13 doesn’t address this question, we must look elsewhere. Acts 5:29 records the response of Peter and the other Apostles when they were commanded to stop preaching.

“We must obey God rather than men.” 

Although this particular event occurred prior to Paul’s conversion, we know from his ministry (and his death) that he took the same approach. When an unrighteous civil authority, (or husband, or pastor) commands something that God forbids or forbids something that God commands, the faithful Christian response is to say with the apostles, ‘we must obey God rather than men.’

The Present Distress

This of course brings us to our present crisis. We just came through a 3 month period where the civil government completely banned the gathering of the Church. Many (if not most) of the Churches in Manitoba capitulated entirely. The reasoning I heard was something along these lines: ‘the government is not persecuting the Church, this is all for public safety, therefore they have the legitimate authority to close the Church.”

This argument assumes that the government does have the authority to forbid what God commands if it is done in the name of safety, and doesn’t appear to be targeting the Church. This position functionally gives a blank cheque to civil government as long as they say that what they are doing is for the purpose of public safety. 

If Christians are not free to evaluate the legitimacy of such orders, we will be left at the mercy of any tyrannical government who exercises their tyranny in the name of public good or safety. One of the major problems of course is that tyrannies always exercise their tyranny in the name of public good/safety. The Pastors arrested in Communist China are never arrested for preaching the gospel, they are arrested for a “subversion of state power.” The Pastor in Germany was not charged for preaching the gospel to the LGBT community he was charged with “sedition.” The point being, we need to be able evaluate the legitimacy of any orders we receive, rather than simply capitulating any time the government does something in the name of safety/public good. 

Church Authority

The pastors in the majority of churches across our nation, appear to have conceded to the idea that civil government has authority over the Church, as though it were legitimate for the state to tell us how we may worship, what we wear, which of the sacraments we have permission to partake in, how many people can worship together and how we may interact with one another when we’re gathered. 

The Church needs to stand together, and declare to the civil government: Christ is the head of the Church and He has appointed elders and deacons, not civil magistrates to govern the affairs of the Church. The authority God has given to Civil governments is not absolute, but like all earthly authority, is limited. When earthly authorities overstep their bounds, and forbid what God commands or command what God forbids, civil disobedience becomes a Christian duty. 

So this is my call to my fellow pastors; Open your Churches, worship the Lord as He commands. Preach the Word, proclaim the Gospel, shepherd the flock entrusted to your care. Do not neglect to meet together. Partake in the body and blood of Christ together as a body in communion. Pray for one another, fellowship together. Be strong and courageous, do not be discouraged, do not be dismayed.

Soli Deo Gloria

Indoctrination (Inescapable concepts part 3)

Introduction

“Right wing groups love to push homeschooling because it helps keep kids away from material that might challenge the conservative worldview.” – This was taken from a tweet by lawyer and author, Jill Fillpovic which illustrated the point I would like to make quite well.  It introduces the third inescapable concept of our series: indoctrination.” Before we begin, I should mention that the Christian worldview should not be equated with right-wing politics, but I think it’s a safe assumption that the author of the tweet would oppose Christian home-schooling with the same objections. 

Not Whether, but Which

This tweet illustrates very well that when it comes to education, it’s not a matter of whether indoctrination will be taking place but rather, which worldview a person will be indoctrinated in. Whose doctrines will be taught? This tweet, and many other anti-homeschooling articles and statements attack home-schooling, because they recognize one of the motives among home-schooling parents is the question of worldview. 

 An article was circulating a number of months ago from Harvard Magazine critiquing homeschooling, and striking essentially the same chord: “But it’s …important that children grow up exposed to community values, social values, democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints.”

The fear of this article is that home-schooled (and presumably Christian private-schooled) children will not be exposed to “community values, social values, democratic values, ideas about non-discrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints.” I hope the irony doesn’t escape us… in an article suggesting a ban on homeschooling, to prevent parents from instilling their viewpoints, one of the “values” she purportedly is concerned about is tolerance of others’ viewpoints… As the state forcibly removes our children to receive the indoctrination from the state, I’m sure we’ll all be appreciating their “tolerance of our viewpoints…”

…One of the keys for us if we’re going to engage with our culture, is we need to learn to decipher when they speak in code. What is meant by “community, social and democratic values?” Well, given her fear that Christian parents will not be instilling these values in their children, we can be quite confident that these “values” are not Biblical values. So, what “values” is the Harvard professor concerned that Christian parents will not pass on to their children? Those would of course be the values of the modern, progressive left. 

The key point here for my post, is that the other side fully recognizes the worldview divide that exists between Bible-believing Christians and the values that will be promulgated in the government school system. This proves a point that I have been trying to make for a while on this blog; the government schools are an instrument intended to instill a secular humanist worldview into all of their students. The very fact that these people are warning against home-schooling for fear of your children not being taught particular “values” should be a very plain indicator that the schools do not share your values, nor do they even pretend to be “neutral.” They intend to instill what they call: “community, social, and democratic values” And they are fully aware that these are not the values that you intend to instill in your children.  

Make no mistake, the secular humanists want your children, because they understand the value in discipleship. Education is discipleship. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” We have a direct calling to bring up our children as Christians. This involves the whole Christian world and life-view, which is presently the opposite of what the government schools teach on nearly every significant worldview point, and this is why they want your kids. They do not want you indoctrinating your children in your values, because they want to indoctrinate your children in their values. As I will keep saying: not whether, but which. 

Equipping vs. Sheltering

The irony of their criticism can be seen on multiple fronts. As we saw from the initial tweet, one of the criticisms is that home-schooling parents will insulate their children from material that will challenge their worldview… It should be a fairly obvious weakness in an argument if the argument you use can be equally applied to you… to turn the original quote around: “Left-wing groups love to push government schools because it helps keep kids away from material that might challenge the liberal worldview.” …You can’t accuse your opponents of being one-sided ideologically when you have no intention of being any different. 

Hypocrisy aside, there is a pitfall here for Christian parents. While I believe we should be protecting our children from “mainstream” culture and values, I believe that thinking of it primarily in terms of sheltering is misguided. This brings me back to a point I made in a previous post, “Bubble Wrap vs. Boot Camp” in which I argued that we need to think in terms of equipping rather than sheltering. This will mean engaging with the ideas of our culture, and learning to critique them from a robustly Christian world and life view. What I hope is clear is that I do not have in mind, a frightened, sheltered child, who has been taught to fear the big bad world which they don’t understand. We ought to aim for intelligent, thoughtful interaction with our world, in a way that honors God with the minds that He gave us. If our children are to be equipped for godly adulthood in a world that may be ever more hostile to our faith, we will need to be preparing them for what they will encounter. This will mean thoughtful interaction in a way that accurately represents what our ideological opponents believe.

The kind of Christian education that I’m promoting is a well-rounded one. My hope is that at the end of their education, my children will have a robust understanding of the Christian worldview, as well as a working knowledge of many opposing worldviews; secular humanism, world religions, etc. This will require engaging with and not hiding from material that opposes the Christian worldview. When the truth is on your side, and you are well-grounded in it, you will not be easily blown about by any wind of doctrine. A well-grounded Christian need not fear opposing ideas, and we will be better equipped to engage with the culture if we understand their worldviews.

The Impossibility of “Neutral Education” 

Once again, the impossibility of being “neutral” flows from the reality that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and the entire world, including every human being belongs to Him. The “democratic, community, and social values” promoted by our culture cannot remain “neutral” toward the Lord Jesus. If God is the Creator, then it is not “neutral” to posit naturalistic explanations for the Universe’s origins. It is in fact a denial of God. If God created male and female, then it is not “neutral” to rebel against Him and seek to alter the sex that He made us. It requires participation in a lie to affirm someone’s chosen pronouns. “Tolerance” of this sort is not morally neutral, but is a violation of the 9th commandment, and is rebellion against God. Education will inevitably flow out of our worldview, and so if the foundation of our worldview denies God, and rejects the Holy Scriptures, this denial will be seen and felt downstream in every school subject.

The ideological opponents of the Christian worldview are passionately committed to the propagation of their worldview. Their stated intention is to take the children of Christians, and educate them in their values. If Christians as a whole were even half as committed to passing on our worldview as the secularists are to passing on theirs, society might look much different than it currently does. We need to wake up to this reality. Education is discipleship, and the government schools as a whole are passionately committed to creating a particular type of disciple, and in case there’s any doubt, it’s not disciples of Jesus they’re after. 

We are called to bring up our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, and efforts will be undermined if we are handing over our children to people committed to bringing up our children in the discipline and instruction of Marx and Darwin. Because a ‘neutral’ education is not possible, indoctrination of some sort will be inescapable. The only question is whose doctrines will our children be brought up in?

Soli Deo Gloria

You can’t Legislate Morality (Inescapable Concepts Part 2)

Introduction

You’ve likely heard this one. I sure did in my Christian ethics class in Bible College. The discussion arises about society and how we ought to approach instituting laws within society, and inevitably before very long, some well-meaning individual will say something to this effect: You can’t legislate morality, or you can’t expect non Christians to act like Christians, and therefore, we shouldn’t bring scripture to bear on our discussions of ethics and law for society. 

And this brings us to our next inescapable concept:

All laws legislate morality 

As the refrain for this mini-series will remind us frequently, it’s not whether, but which. It’s not a question of whether laws will legislate morality, it’s a question of which morality is going to be legislated. This is one of the downstream effects of the reality that there is no neutrality. Christians have been taken for fools in this regard. If we’ve believed the idea that we should not legislate our (Biblical) morality, it’s become rather apparent that our ideological opponents do not share this belief as something which applies equally to themselves. Functionally, they’ve used the argument: “you can’t legislate morality” as a bat to beat back Christian (Biblical) morality so that they can then legislate their morality. Much like our government’s current public health orders, this is a rule that applies to you, but not to them…

It should be very obvious that our secular culture does not hesitate to impose and legislate their morality on society, regardless of what the rest of the society might think about it. Hate speech laws are one of the clearest examples. This is nothing if not the imposition of a secularly defined morality. You may not speak a negative word about any of these protected categories. I’ve mentioned before how many of the classrooms in government schools put the sticker on the window: this is a safe-space for lgbtq+. If you believe that man in a dress isn’t really a woman, you’re not welcome in here champ. 

The morality of the secular gods involves the legal protection of their bloody sacrament of abortion. It involves the enforcing of blasphemy laws: thou shalt not speak ill of the name of “lgbtq+” The morality of the gods of secularism involves the gradual repealing of the Biblical morality upon which our nation had been founded.  

These laws imposed by the gods of secularism are anything but neutral. In fact, as I made the case in my last post, if God is God, if Jesus Christ is Lord, there is no possible neutrality. The claim to neutrality is being shown more and more clearly to have been a ploy to cause Christians to surrender the public square so that a rival morality can be imposed. 

Justice?

The questions before us are these: is there such a thing as justice? Is it objective? Is it knowable? Should we advocate for it? 

If you claim to be a Christian, I hope your answer is an obvious yes. Justice is real. It is objective, which means it is what it is regardless of what anybody might think about it. Justice and morality are not mere conventions. These are not things that cultures develop for their own use, which might be entirely different in a different culture. If something is morally right or just, then this is true across all cultures and contexts. If we want to advocate for justice therefore, we cannot simply yield to public opinion. This would be to surrender a society to the tyranny of the 51% (my apologies to whomever I heard this from). 

Supposing 51% of the people in a society thought cannibalism was acceptable… does this make it just? Does this mean that people in such a society should not advocate for the abolition of cannibalism? No. Cannibalism is wrong regardless of what anybody thinks about it. It is wrong because this is God’s world, and God made man in His own image. 

People are sinners. We are fallen. Our reasoning, our emotions, and absolutely our moral compasses are badly broken by sin. “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick, who can understand it?” – Jeremiah 17:9. If this is true, why would we assume that the consensus of such people would be helpful in determining what is right or just?

By What Standard?

It’s not whether, but which. Not whether, but which. I’ll keep repeating this. This is key for us to understand. It’s not whether we will impose or legislate morality, it’s whose morality will we impose and legislate? It’s not a question of whether we will have standards, but a question of which standard will we use? How do we go about determining right and wrong? Are we free to decide these things for ourselves? Do we turn to a form of utilitarianism? That which brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number? That which serves the best interests of the state? That which serves the “greater good” of humanity? Who gets to determine what the “greater good” truly is?

In the end, we are left with two options: man’s standards or God’s standards. Our laws will either be in accordance with the principles of God’s law, and therefore truly just and moral, or it will not be. We will either address these moral questions with a sure word from the  True and Living God, or we will continue drowning in a sea of ambiguity and tyranny. It is truly either God’s Law or man’s law, justice, or injustice, Christ or chaos. 

If we are to love our neighbors and serve our God, we must contend for justice in society and we must define justice as God has defined it in His Word. Scripture declares that the blood of the murdered pollutes the land (Numbers 35), the blood of the murdered cries out to God for justice. Scripture warns that sexually deviant practices defile the land, and cause God to hate a nation (Leviticus 20:23, 18:24). 

As our culture continues off this cliff that we’re in the process of running off headlong; devolving into tyranny, moral depravity, and in some cases sheer insanity, as we continue storing up and experiencing the judgment of God in various forms as we pollute our land with the blood of the unborn and through our public celebration of depravity, the church must stand on the Word of God, and show the world an attractive alternative to the chaos, depravity, and constantly shifting sands of political correctness and secular ideology.

No Embarrassment

Christians need to make up their minds beforehand that we are not going to be embarrassed by anything in God’s Word. There is nothing that God commands or does that should make us blush. We need to be willing to stand and uphold the goodness of the entirety of God’s Word, not just the parts we like. We need to do the hard work of digging through God’s Word and work through the difficult questions, so that we will not be easily shut down when someone throws out a challenge for us. 

I’m not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but it’s been well-said, that whatever can’t go on forever, won’t. The fact is, stupidity is not a plan. The science-denying insanity currently promulgated and enforced by the laws of our land will end at some point. Either through the collapse of our civilization (which looks more and more likely) or, if God is merciful to our nation, through repentance. 

My Proposition: 

My hope and prayer is that the church has learned its lesson about supposed neutrality, and will be willing to offer the whole gospel as the solution. Not a watered-down version that works nice on the flannel-graph, but the whole gospel, unvarnished, unfiltered, and uncompromised. 

Jesus bought this world with His blood. He is it’s Savior, and the nations are His inheritance. The blood of Jesus is our only solution. It is truly either Christ or Chaos. And so as a nation we will either bow to Jesus Christ, the King of the rulers of the earth, or we will continue in rebellion. If we choose option B, we should not expect blessing from the King upon our nation. 

If we do chose option A, let us do so with gusto. No half-measures. No partial repentance. Turn from your sin, turn to Christ, and live in obedience.

In the meantime, let us as Christians continue to enjoy the freedom that Christ gives, the glorious blessings of a clean conscience washed white as snow through His blood. Let us show the world how good citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven. Let us hold forth the full and undiluted gospel to our nation, after all, it needs it. 

Soli Deo Gloria

Inescapable Concepts

Introduction

Solomon said there is nothing new under the sun… which, if that were true at his time, he probably heard from somebody else. This post is no exception. As with most of what I write, I’m deeply indebted to others, who are also likely indebted to others. I give this convoluted introduction as my way of saying that I don’t remember who I first heard this idea from, and so I write this post with apologies to the anonymous theologian from whom I’m borrowing. 

I want to talk about the idea of an inescapable concept. The more I ponder this particular idea, the more I become convinced that this is an extremely helpful concept for us as we continue to develop our Christian worldview. The basic idea is this; certain things are inescapable; they are inevitable; try as you might, you will not succeed in avoiding them. 

 I’m thinking this might be the first in a mini-series, where we’ll walk through a number of examples. 

The myth of neutrality

The idea that certain realities are going to be inescapable is simply the downstream result of the fact that Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Inescapable concepts are the outworking of the reality that there is no neutrality. Consider the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Because God is our creator, He deserves to be worshiped as God, and given thanks. Because God is our creator, all of life, everything that exists, relates to Him. 

The created order relates to God in the way that a song relates to the guitar player who is strumming it. Hebrews 1:3 says of the Christ: “He upholds the universe by the word of His power.” That is to say, the universe is being actively upheld by Jesus. Colossians 1:17 says something similar: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Furthermore, in the immediately preceding verse, “By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.” 

The implications are all-encompassing. If all things, (including us) were created through and for the Lord Jesus Christ, what we see is that there is a dichotomy in all that exists. There are only two options. Either, all things will be done in service of the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom and for whom they were made, or they will be done in rebellion to the Lord Jesus Christ, in the service of various idols. 

Even if we attempted to do something and remain “neutral” toward Jesus, as though it neither served Him, nor scorned Him, we find this to be an impossibility if it is true that all things were created through Him and for Him. Interestingly, this means that all of life is religious in nature, and infuses all of life with meaning and significance. 

Not whether, but which

The downstream effects of this reality will be inescapable concepts. As Pastor Douglas Wilson is fond of saying, it is not a matter of whether, but which. At the very foundation of everything else is the question of worship. It is not a matter of whether we will worship or not, but rather, which God or gods we will worship. And, as it happens, there are only two options. Either we will worship and serve the true and living God or we will be  worshiping and serving false gods; idols of various sorts. 

Because this is the world of the true and living God, and because we ourselves were made through and for the Lord Jesus Christ, the one thing we cannot do is live a life that is truly neutral toward His claims to Lordship. All that we are and all that we do will either be serving and worshiping Him, or not. We will either be grateful for the gifts, or we will be indifferent, which is to say ungrateful. We will either be aiming at the glory of God or we won’t be. Which is to say we will be aiming in the wrong direction. 

Because all things are created through and for the Lord Jesus, they will either be serving Him and thereby fulfilling their purpose or they will not be. If anything in life is not aiming at glorifying Him, even in the name of some supposed “neutrality” then it is not fulfilling its purpose. It is aimed in the wrong direction. If you’ve been given a target to shoot, then the fact is, aiming anywhere other than the target is to aim in the wrong direction. 

The glory of the risen, ascended and reigning Christ, is the target that all of creation must be aiming at, for as Colosssians says, this is the purpose for which all things have been made. As we come to faith in Jesus Christ, as we are renewed inwardly, we are realigned with our purpose. The Kingdom of God is the people of God, ordering their lives according to their true purpose; bringing all things under His feet in service and subjection to Him. 

As I mentioned earlier, this of course has implications for every area of life. Because there is no neutrality, because worship is an inescapable concept, because all things were made through and for the Lord Jesus Christ, His claims to Lordship extend to every area of life, and we therefore, as citizens in His Kingdom who deeply desire not to be idolaters, must labour to consistently press His crown rights into every sphere. We must faithfully exercise the dominion given to us, bringing all things entrusted to us under the rule and reign of Christ; ensuring that whatever we have and whatever we do is aimed at the target; His glory. 

Over the next few posts, we’ll work through a few areas where we’ll see the inescapable implications of Christ’s Lordship. 

Soli Deo Gloria

The Fear of Death

This post is not about COVID-19. Not directly at least. In this post, I’m not intending to address how dangerous the virus is or discuss government or church responses to it. My intention rather is to give a message of hope and encouragement at the end of a year which for many has felt dark and hopeless. Fear is all around us. Whatever your views on COVID-19 I think you’ll agree, one thing it has done is it has confronted our culture with the reality of death. There’s been a running tally of deaths as a permanent fixture in the news cycle for months.

This is unsettling. Generally speaking, we don’t like thinking about death, and it certainly doesn’t make for very pleasant dinner discussion. But whether we like to think about it or not, the fact remains that we are all going to die. Although I hope and pray that it will be a long time from now, most likely, I will one day bury my parents. Unless we both go together, chances are very good that either I will bury my wife, or she will bury me. Whether it happens this year, next year, or 5, 25, or even 55 years from now, your loved ones will one day gather together and say all the nicest things they can about you, as they mourn losing you, and then they will lower your body in a fancy wood box into the ground, and bury you under 6 feet of dirt. 

What Then?

Are you prepared for what comes next? Death is not the end. While we aren’t given all the details, what we can say for certain is that at some point after you’ve taken your last breath, you will find yourself face to face with your creator. You will face the God who made you in His image, who knit you together in your mother’s womb, who gave you life and breath and grace upon grace. 

You will meet the God whom you sinned against time and time again, and you will face Him as your judge. 2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” 

Are you ready for this? Before you answer, think about the question. What criteria will the judge be using? What’s the standard? What’s the law that we will be judged by? By our own standards, most people generally consider themselves to be “good” people. By this they usually mean that they can think of a good many people that they would rank lower down on the scale than where they rank themselves. Compared to them, yes, I’m a very good person! 

But is that the standard God uses? Will Christ judge by the criteria you’ve set? No. God is the law giver and judge, and He will judge by His standard, and His standard is perfection. James 1:10 says this: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” 

The question is not; ‘am I better than the people around me?’ The question is not ‘do my good deeds outweigh my bad deeds?’ The only question is this: have I broken God’s Holy Law? Am I a law-breaker? Am I a sinner? The answer of course, is yes. None of us are perfect. So, we will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, and will receive what is due to us, whether good or evil… what is it that we are due? What does justice require? What verdict will a righteous judge give to a law-breaker? 

There’s only one possible answer: Guilty. 

The Hope I promised…

Not all that encouraging so far… No, it’s not. But it’s understanding the bad news that shows us our need for the good news. The good news is that the judge Himself has done what we could not do for ourselves. We celebrated Christmas recently which is the time we celebrate the coming of the Savior. The Savior came to save His people from their sins. That guilty verdict you’ve got on your life can be changed; in fact that’s exactly what Jesus came to do. He lived the life of obedience to God’s law that we could not. He died on the cross and took the penalty that we deserved for sin, and God raised Him from the dead; physically, bodily, literally. 

God promises forgiveness to anyone and everyone who will repent of their sin and turn to Christ in faith. Romans 10:9: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Saved. Here’s where that hope and light that I promised comes in. Salvation means that when you stand before your judge, it won’t be your life that is judged. You will be judged on the basis of another. The good news is that all who turn to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith will not be judged on the basis of their lives, they will instead be judged on the basis of Jesus’ life. Their penalty paid, their righteousness provided, their resurrection assured.

Resurrection Life

So, what comes next? If you are a Christian, what happens after you take your last breath on earth? Scripture does not give too many details, but there are a few things we can say with certainty: 

  1. At the moment of death we will be with the Lord. 

2 Corinthians 5:6-8: “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 

We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So to be away from the body, that is, to die, is to be at home with the Lord. 

Similarly, Paul, speaking of his death in Philippians 1:21-23: “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” 

Paul did not fear his death, in some ways, He welcomed it, for He knew that death meant departure from pain, trials and miseries, and the welcoming presence of Christ. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

Whatever the moments after death are like, according to Scripture, for the Christian, they are far better, superior, more to be desired, than anything that this life has to offer. 

  1. The next thing we can say is some really interesting facts about our resurrection bodies. 

2 Corinthians 5:1-5 just before the passage we just read: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it no we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent we groan, being burdened – not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” 

This imagery is astounding, I’m not sure why Christians don’t talk about this more. Paul draws out comparisons between the nature of our earthly bodies, and the nature of our bodies we will have for eternity. He says it’s like the difference between a tent and a house. It’s like the difference between being naked and being fully clothed. That which is mortal must be swallowed up by immortality.  

The tent analogy hits home. We all know the weaknesses of our present bodies. They are fragile, they ache, they hurt, they slowly fall apart. They are susceptible to all manner of problems and ailments. Microscopic particles can bring down in even the mightiest of us, and there’s nothing we can do about it. 

That’s our earthly tent. Now compare that to a building; something solid, something strong. A house, built to last forever. While we are in our tent we groan, longing to “put on” our heavenly dwelling. Not that we might be found naked, but that we might be further clothed. That what is mortal would be swallowed up by life!

Passages like this one should do away with our visions of heaven as an ethereal ‘floaty place’ where we are spirit-beings, with no physical bodies. The language of Scripture does not describe heaven as a less real place, but as more real. 

C.S. Lewis does an excellent job describing this in his novel The Great Divorce. A man arrives in heaven with his earthly body intact and he finds that he is not real enough for that world. He looks like a ghost, he is grayish and nearly transparent. He’s not solid, the grass hurts his feet, the light is too bright for his eyes, the colours are too vivid. It is he that is the ethereal, ‘floaty’ being, the citizens of that country are firmer, more solid, more real. They have been further clothed, what was mortal has put on immortality. 

This glorious vision is the reality for every believer. As Scripture says: “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” 

The Spirit, whom we have if we are Christians, is the down payment of this resurrection life. He is the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, and He will also raise you from the dead. That’s the promise, that’s the hope. 

So to my brothers and sisters in Christ, be encouraged; be of good cheer, do not fear the inevitability of your death, for it is not the end, but a transition; a transition to glory in the presence of Christ. 

To those who do not know Christ, I give this warning; you do not have forever to decide. Jesus Christ rose from the dead, He is Lord, and He commands all people everywhere to repent. Do not wait, come to Christ this day, and you will find Him to be a perfect savior and you will not need to fear death anymore. 

Soli Deo Gloria 

In no way?

This post is overdue. I’ve been meaning to write on this topic for a while, and I recently received the prodding that I needed. A group of Pastors and church leaders in the Steinbach area wrote a letter expressing their support for our current public health measures, and to my knowledge, this includes the recent dictates to completely close any and all churches, forbidding any and all assemblies for worship, and even small group gatherings in homes. 

“We believe that Manitoba’s current public health orders in no way contravene our ability to obey and worship God.”

https://www.steinbachonline.com/local/23-local-churches-declare-united-support-for-public-health-officials?fbclid=IwAR1GV72ccwys8fe0P16xBX3uVRkbzyFDcGhJ-Lb3K1WQoPJUBdtyG1jbedc

For Realsies?

This honestly baffles me. My hope is that this was simply careless wording that some of the signers overlooked in their desire to show support for our health officers.  I’m more than willing to extend the benefit of that doubt. However, when you’re interacting with something like a letter, you need to interact with what someone has written, rather than what you hope they meant, and in this case what was written is extremely troubling, and, as I intend to demonstrate, patently unbiblical. 

Just consider the implications of this statement; “Manitoba’s current public health orders in no way contravene our ability to obey and worship God.” Considering the scope of the present public health orders, this statement is therefore a claim that (among other things) God does not require the gathering of the body for worship, that God does not require any personal (in-person) interaction between members of a church, and that a Christian is fully able to perform all of their Christian duties while in nearly complete isolation. The list could go on, but we’ll start with these. 

The Gathering

The Church must gather. The very word translated  “Church” in the New Testament is the word Ekklesia, which means ‘called out ones.’ Thayer’s Greek Lexicon gives the definition: “properly, a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly.” The very word itself, describes a gathering, a congregation, an assembly. 

The New Testament assumes that Christians will be gathering together for worship, edification, teaching and fellowship, and Hebrews 10:24-25, contains the command: 

“…Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” 

Now whatever your interpretation of this passage, I think one thing should be very obvious; there is no way to fulfill this command under the current health orders of our province. Hebrews 10:25 specifically says that we are not to neglect meeting together. We are not to abandon the gathering of ourselves, our assembling together. How can we obey this command when we’re not allowed to leave our homes?

The answer of many churches over the past few months has been to say that we can go online. Live stream a service, have people sing along from their living rooms, and listen to a recording of the sermon. Okay, so then I have a question: is “virtual Church” a sufficient replacement for the gathering of Christ’s people on the Lord’s Day? To you pastors, would you be totally satisfied if your congregation never congregated again? No more in-person services ever? 

My fear in all of this, is that many Christians will simply believe what their pastors said.  Imagine the conversation in 2021 after our freedoms are restored (optimistically) as the pastor calls a member: 

Pastor: “Hey brother, how are you doing?”

Member: “Hey Pastor, good! It’s great to hear from you!”  

Pastor: “Glad to hear that! Hey, I’m calling because we haven’t seen you in Church for quite a while, just wanted to see what’s been going on; is everything okay?”

Member: “Yeah, we’re doing fine… why do you ask?”

Pastor: “Well, when you became a member, one of the things you committed to was regular church attendance, you committed not to forsake meeting together with this body of believers.” 

Member: “But Pastor, I haven’t! My whole family gets up, we put on our Sunday best, and watch the livestream of your sermon every week!” 

Pastor: “Well that doesn’t…

Member: “You said yourself that we can still have church, just not in person. When the Church was closed by the government, you signed that letter saying that the closure of church did not in any way contravene our ability to worship or obey God… So what’s the problem?”

Pastor: “umm…”

Not even close

Here’s my assertion: A number of scattered households, who never come together, but happen to watch the same live stream every Sunday are not a Church. Quite honestly this doesn’t even come close to the biblical definition of a local Church. Yet this is all that is permitted under the current public health orders. Taking these pastors at their word when they say that these orders “in no way contravene our ability to obey and worship God,” we are left to conclude that they believe that God does not require His people to gather, and that watching online sermons or live-streamed services in isolation from other believers is a suitable replacement for the gathering of the saints. 

More than Sunday Morning

Read through any of Paul’s letters to the Churches and one thing that becomes quite clear is that the Church is meant to care for one another. In Romans 12:5, the Church is described as the body of Christ, with individual Christians described as “Members individually of one another.” Each member is called to serve the body with the gifts that God has given them. 

“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them; if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving, the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”  – Romans 12:6-8

You, as a unique individual have been given particular gifts, abilities, or strengths by the Holy Spirit. God’s intention for you is that you would serve the body of Christ with the gifts you have been given. Riddle me this, Batman: how will you serve the body with your gifts from the isolation of your home?

The answer comes; ‘we can pray’, and absolutely we should; you won’t hear me for a moment downplaying the necessity or power of prayer. But is that the only thing we’re called to do? Notice the list Paul makes: prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, contribution, leadership, and acts of mercy. Are we to believe that Zoom or Skype allow us to fulfill our duties to perform acts of mercy, service, teaching, exhortation and the like? These technologies certainly help, and I’m grateful to God for them, but let us not claim that they are a suitable permanent replacement for in-service, exhortation, teaching, etc. As anyone who has attempted a zoom Bible study can tell you, it is not the same. 

Is anybody going to try to maintain that they are able to perform service or acts of mercy through zoom? The duties of Pastors to shepherd their flocks, (1 Peter 5:2) visit and pray for the sick, lay on hands, anoint with oil (James 5:14), provide diaconal care, (Acts 6:3) and many other duties require our presence.

The public health orders directly contravene our ability to serve the body in obedience to God. 

Not Required to Sin?

A steady drum beat that I’ve heard from Christians looking to justify and require obedience to the lockdowns has been this refrain that we are not being required to sin. This letter included a similar sentiment:

Since Jesus is our Lord (King) our first allegiance belongs to Him. However, obeying governing authorities whenever the laws of the land do not cause us to disobey God is also every Christian’s duty (Romans 13:1-7).

https://www.steinbachonline.com/local/23-local-churches-declare-united-support-for-public-health-officials?fbclid=IwAR1GV72ccwys8fe0P16xBX3uVRkbzyFDcGhJ-Lb3K1WQoPJUBdtyG1jbedc

I believe this view requires an incredible shrinking down of the duties which God requires of us. People seem to think of “being required to sin” as the government declaring to you that you must assault your neighbor, or steal their jewelry. They seem to be thinking only of the high-handed and obvious sins, (theft, assault, murder, etc.). This however, takes a very narrow view of God’s requirements. To those who take the ‘not being required to sin view’ I would ask; what does God require of you? We’ve already looked at this question in relation to the gathering of the Church, and our duties to one another in the body, but I challenge you to consider; what other requirements do we have? Are there not many responsibilities in the life of the Christian? 

To care for orphans and widows in their distress? (James 1:27). To care for the poor and needy? (Proverbs 14:31). To show hospitality? (Hebrews 13:2). To provide for our families? (1 Timothy 5:8). To visit our parents? (Exodus 20:12). To make disciples? (Matthew 28:18-20).

I heartily affirm Romans 13, and the God given role of civil authority. I heartily affirm the requirement upon Christians to be in submission to governing authorities. Amen to Romans 13! I am not advocating for Christians to become scofflaws or develop a rebellious attitude toward civil government. This being said, I agree with these pastors that there are important limitations placed on civil governments. As they point out, our first allegiance must be to Christ! We must acknowledge therefore, that nobody has the authority to command what God forbids or forbid what God commands, and it cannot be doubted that the current orders have forbidden much of what God commands.

In Almost Every Way

I find the statement baffling, because I believe the exact opposite is true. The current public health orders directly contravene our ability to worship and obey God in almost every way. To say we are not being required to sin is functionally to deny that God requires anything of us at all that we cannot fulfill while under house arrest. This is nonsense! Even one year ago, none of the claims I’ve made would have been even remotely controversial. The Church is required to gather. Christians are required to serve one another (in person) with their gifts. Christians have a whole host of duties which God requires of them which they cannot fulfill while locked in their homes. 

The Benefit of that Doubt

There is a massive difference between the following two statements: 

  1. “We believe that Manitoba’s current public health orders in no way contravene our ability to obey and worship God.”
  2. “We believe that the current health orders are justified as temporary measures given the current pandemic.”

For clarity’s sake, I do believe that in times of legitimate emergency, the church may suspend its gathering for a time without being in sin before God. I do believe that various extenuating circumstances may legitimately prevent Christians from fulfilling their duties to one another or their duties to their neighbor. Pestilence, war, alien invasions, etc. But as we’re huddling in our basements hiding from the little green men, we must not pretend that the state of emergency is not contravening our ability to worship and obey God. 

Even if you agree with the legitimacy of the government’s decision to close churches because of COVID-19, you can do so while maintaining that online services are not a sufficient replacement for the gathering of the saints. I believe it to be a respectable position to close your church in a time of legitimate emergency, while mourning the loss of the corporate gathering. The messaging I would hope to hear from Churches in such a situation is lament, and a longing to be re-united. 

The letter goes on to acknowledge that freedoms are being limited, but then asserts that it is justified in order to serve the greater good. This gives me hope that Statement #2 is what they meant. I would call upon the pastors to clarify their meaning, as the implications from the initial statement are truly troubling. 

I do not intend to split hairs, and so I should mention that this post is not only directed to those pastors and leaders, rather, their letter provided an opportunity to address the broader sentiments that have been common from many churches and leaders. 

The Church is not a Building

Another common refrain is that the church is not a building. To this I say amen! We planted Grace Covenant Church last year in September and we do not own a building. I heartily affirm that statement; I’m very glad that we don’t need a building in order to be a church. We do however need to gather. There’s no meaningful sense in which we are a local Ekklesia (assembly) if we never assemble. We can’t consider ourselves a congregation if we never congregate. The duties which God requires of us are absolutely being contravened by these public health orders. The question I have for Christians who are in favor of the lockdowns, is this: “When does it become time to obey God rather than men?” Food for thought. 

Soli Deo Gloria

Who Cares?

I want to challenge the narrative. The narrative goes something like this: COVID-19 is a deadly pandemic, and the truly virtuous thing to do is to support any and all measures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

It has become the politically correct thing to support lock-downs, masking mandates, social-distancing, and whatever other COVID measures the government may implement. The impression you get in public discourse right now, is that if you don’t support these measures, you must not care about people, or you must be selfish or immature. At least this has been my experience.

I would like to challenge this assumption. There are many reasons to oppose these measures that have nothing to do with immaturity, selfishness, or a lack of care and concern for the vulnerable. The first thing I ask for is grace. In our discourse with one another, we should not be quick to impute bad motives to those who disagree with us. I aim to keep my tone charitable toward those who disagree, in hopes that I will gain a hearing.

Trade-offs not Solutions

If we are to care for people, I am convinced we need to have a long discussion about what that entails. What is the truly caring and compassionate position to take? The narrative says that if you care for people you will be pro-lockdown, pro-mask, pro-whatever measures are promoted next. I do not believe that this is the only caring position. As a citizen who cares deeply for my neighbors, the good of my community and the well-being of all God’s image-bearers, I implore you to consider the many angles.

The lock-downs have been a trade-off, not a solution. Even if we were to grant their effectiveness in slowing the spread and negative effects of COVID-19 (which I consider to be highly debate-able) there can be no question that we have created a whole host of new problems in our bid to solve one. For example, shutting down businesses has had an extremely detrimental impact on the economy. Now before you accuse me of caring more about money than people, let us remember that poverty kills people too.

Dr. David Nabarro from the World Health Organization said in an interview with the Spectator:

 “Lockdowns just have one consequence that you must never, ever belittle, and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer.” He added, “Look what’s happened to smallholder farmers all over the world. Look what’s happening to poverty levels. It seems that we may well have a doubling of world poverty by next year. We may well have at least a doubling of child malnutrition.”

https://spectator.us/lockdown-incredible-vanishing-world-health-organization/

So what is the compassionate and caring position here? Lockdowns harm people. People with families and children, with no less value than you or me. If there is a doubling of world poverty as a result of these lockdowns, as Dr. Nabbarro suggests, then we will very likely see many thousands more die as a result of the lockdowns than we ever would have seen if COVID had simply run its course.

The Great Barrington Declaration is a statement drafted by concerned epidemiologists and public health scientists that similarly warns about the negative effects of the lockdowns:

“The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice. Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.”

https://gbdeclaration.org/#read

We need to ask ourselves these difficult questions; how many people will miss receiving a cancer diagnosis until after it’s too late for treatment because of the lockdowns? How many people having their regularly scheduled check-ups cancelled will have heart attacks which could have been prevented? Again, I am not accusing people of not caring, but I will press for consistency; if we care about people, shouldn’t these all be very serious concerns?

Job losses, business closures, elderly people, dying in isolation, their loved ones trying to communicate to them through the window. What is the caring position to take? A very common sentiment I have heard from the elderly that they would rather die of COVID-19 than die of loneliness. Now please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should not protect the vulnerable, but we must do so in a way that doesn’t create a host of new problems.

Rights and Freedoms

There is no question that the freedoms protected by the Canadian Charter of rights and freedoms have been absolutely trampled to varying degrees for the past 8 months or so. Without entirely re-hashing my last post, my question is whether we as a nation care about freedom? What precedents are we setting right now? We can argue later about how deadly COVID-19 may or may not be to the overall population, but if we could take a step back to a time before all of this happened, where might we have set the bar in regards to something that could justify the suspension of our most fundamental rights and freedoms?

To put it another way, what do we as a nation consider to be a state of emergency? As someone who holds freedom in very high esteem, I would like to see the bar set very high. If the government is going to take freedom, I want to see the kind of emergency that no sane person would be able to dispute, something along the lines of little green men climbing out of spaceships with ray guns and plans for global domination.

A people that values freedom ought to have extremely high standards for the government to meet, if they are going to take away freedom. To this point, our nation seems willing to accept slavery in exchange for the promise of security. If this sounds exaggerated to you, I would encourage you to think about what’s happened in our nation: if you agree that our freedoms have been taken (or at least severely hindered) what is the opposite of freedom? What do we call it when someone does not have freedom? It’s called slavery; a cage, chains, being under the absolute authority of another.

Free men and women don’t have to ask for permission to leave their homes. Free men and women are able to gather unhindered with the saints for worship. Free men and women don’t have a master telling them what they must wear on their faces. The governments of free nations respect the freedom of their citizens. The governments of free nations do not treat their citizens like children or like slaves.

Even one year ago at this time, nothing in that last paragraph would have even been considered controversial.

A people who do not value their freedom will not have it for long.

Turning Neighbors into Enemies

Another concerning development is the COVID tip line. The government is calling on its citizens to report their friends, family and neighbors for any violations of the COVID restrictions. Let us remember that when (or if) this is all over, we’re going to live and work with each other. Employing citizens to report one another in this manner will inevitably breed hostility, suspicion and bitterness in our communities.

The Church

The Church is a free institution. It does not exist by permission of the state, but was founded by the Lord Jesus Christ, the sovereign ruler of the kings of the Earth (Rev. 1:5). The free assembly of the church is not incidental to Christian worship but is an essential component of our worship. The treatment of the Church by our government can only be described as dismissive, if not outright hostile at times. This concerns me for the future of Church-state relations, and the protection of religious liberties.

So Who Cares?

I care about people. I care about people being plunged into poverty, I care about people missing check ups and surgeries because they have been deemed “non-essential.” I care about the people who will die as a result. I care about the people who have lost their jobs, I care about the people who have been forced to close their businesses (I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive the government for running Nora’s Diner out of business). I care about the elderly dying in isolation, I care about the trampling of rights and freedoms, particularly the freedom of the Church. I care about the deterioration of public discourse, and how neighbors are turning on each other, I care for future of our economy and the broad-sweeping, long term impacts these lockdowns will have.

Because I care, I want to challenge the narrative. Public Health is multi-faceted, and we need to consider the trade-offs we are making, and soberly count the cost. Many thousands of people are being harmed by by the measures that have been taken to combat COVID-19, and if we’re going to be truly caring and compassionate, we need to take a holistic view of public health, both locally and globally.

Soli Deo Gloria.