Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Christ and Culture

James writes this, "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." (James 4:4)  From the founding of the church, it has always existed in conflict with the surrounding culture.  Even in Jerusalem, the religious leaders condemned and imprisoned the apostles.  It was by this official and cultural persecution that the church expanded into Samaria, Antioch, and the rest of the Roman world.  Quickly, the center of the church left Jerusalem to become more diffused before settling in Rome.  Even in the Middle Ages, when Christendom became the norm for the western world, the faithful church remained in conflict with the remnant superstitions of the people.  The Reformation brought the faithful church into conflict with the Roman Catholic culture that surrounded it.  The early immigrants to the United States came to escape the cultural oppression of the church.  As the country formed, while there remained a majority of Judeo-Christian assumptions, many of the formative thinkers of the nation did not profess the true faith.

The church ever lives in conflict with the culture of the world.  Paul reminds us of our duty in his letter to the church at Rome. "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." (Romans 12:2)  The world, the culture, the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group, because this mass of humanity is broken by sin, their dispositions, attitudes, morals, and values all reflect their sinful origins.  For this reason, the Bible commands us to guard ourselves against allowing the world to influence us to think and act sinfully.  We face the temptation to conform our morals, values, and attitudes to what we see in society.

How ought the Christian to interact with culture?  This question formed the basis for H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic book, Christ and Culture.  In it, he mapped in history five different approaches to the question.

1. Christ against Culture
The approach seems to have been the original view.  The world is evil.  The Bible warns the Christian against allowing it to inform our understanding.  Culture, as a product of the sinful world system has nothing to offer the believer.  The best option then is isolation from culture.

This idea still has its adherents in some form or fashion.  Monasticism is the most obvious and extreme version.  Others practice some form of protectionism, at least for their children, forbidding access to the obvious influencers of culture, music, movies, television, news, radio, art, and books.  A more refined and influential, at least in the reformed community, version of this appears in the so-called "Benedict Option," popularized by Rob Dreher in his book of the same name.  In it, he argues that the post-christian world has progressed to such a deplorable state, that engagement with the culture is no longer effective.  He compares our present to the final days of the Roman Empire and the need to protect Christianity through the use of monasteries.  While stopping short of total monasticism, he proposes isolating Christian enclaves in which a Christian culture can be nurtured in contrast to the world.

2. Christ of culture
Of this view, not much need be said.  It represents the viewpoint of liberal theology.  Had not Niebuhr been a member of this school, it would probably not have made the list as an acceptable Christian view.  This view posits that God made culture, therefor culture is good.  Providence directs culture as part of general revelation to show us how we ought to live.  Therefor, the church ought to assume the direction of culture to be a good one.  This may be behind the Roman Catholic use of syncretism.

3. Christ above culture - medieval Roman Catholicism
Of all the views, this mediating view appeared and thrived in the middle ages.  The Roman Catholic view of the two swords argued that one sword was given to the church and another was given to the state.  In practice, both swords came from the church as the pope considered his office above that of the king.  The most obvious event that proclaimed the churches power was the humiliation of Canossa, where the Holy Roman Emperor was forced to await an audience with the pope for three days and nights in the snow, in January 1077.

The church assumed not only superiority over the king, but over culture as well.  This led to so-called "power encounters" used in mission.  One well-known example of this superiority involved the felling of Jove's Oak/Donar's Oak/Thor's Oak somewhere in Hesse, Germany.  According to an 8th century work, Vita Bonifatii auctore Willibaldi, a Catholic missionary, St. Boniface, cut down the tree to prove the superiority of Catholic culture to the German.  Oddly, Catholic missionaries to Latin America would later prefer syncretism to this approach.

4. Christ and culture in paradox - Luther/Kierkegaard
The use of the term "paradox" informs us that this perspective can be rather confusing.  It ought not surprise us that its notable adherents Niebuhr credits to Martin Luther and Soren Kierkegaard.  These preferred paradox, leaving unresolved truths hostile to one another.  Like, law and grace, saint and sinner, Christ and culture function within the church simultaneously.  Don't try to make hard and fast decision.  Just live in the tension.

5. Christ the transformer of culture
This view is often credited to John Calvin and the Reformers.  There is a puritan air to this view.  As such, it became the default framework for the Presbyterian and Reformed interaction with culture.  Culture, as a product of the social function of humans, as part of our creation in the image of God, is a good thing.  As communities, we form societies and culture.  This is not wrong, but part of our creation.  The problem is that sin has corrupted the good thing God created.  Culture, like all other parts of humanity needs to be redeemed.  Christ, by redeeming people is redeeming culture.  This is not the primary goal of the church.  Rather, the organization of God's body works to make Christians.  Christians living in culture influence it in redemptive ways.  This indicates that Christians ought to participate in culture in meaningful ways to participate in this redemptive work.

While this fifth description become the assumption of the reformed church, some have questioned the taxonomy of Niebuhr.  D.A. Carson wrote the book Christ and Culture Revisited.  In it he questioned Niebuhr's assumptions.  The framework leaves unanswered questions.  What is Christ?  What is culture?  Are these the only five options?  He argued that a biblical theological approach that remains flexible ought to determine the Christian's engagement with the world.  The Bible, not a general rule, must govern the specific way in which we respond to culture.

There is no simplistic answer to the question of how we deal with culture.  While we may generally prefer the fifth, this preference has led some to inappropriate engagement with culture.  It has led to too much engagement that either ends up looking like the second option, carelessly accepting culture, or a form of the third, advocating a superior alternative culture.  These simple approaches forget the purpose for engaging with culture in the first place.

Why ought the Christian engage with culture?  If culture is stained with sin, broken by mankind's fallenness, or at worst totally corrupt, why should the Christian deal with it at all?  Are the Benedict Option and monastic advocates right?  Should we isolate ourselves from the brokenness?  This approach clashes with the Bible's command to engage with the world.  Matthew 28:18-20 "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."  John 17:15-16 "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world."  The testimony of the Bible reminds us that Jesus left us here to testify to the world, not to retreat from it.

If we are to meaningfully witness to the world, we must be able to understand and speak to its culture.  Culture has a profound impact on the language the people speak, the stories they believe, the things they value, and the questions they ask.  Ignorance of these things leads us to speak without understanding, a futile message.  We will be speaking a different language, one our listeners will not understand.

In order to understand culture, we must first recognize that speaking of culture can often be misleading.  Remember, that problematic question for Niebuhr.  What is culture?  What is it we are engaging?  We often use words without asking if we know what we mean by them.  Do we understand what culture is?  Even the dictionary definition can be misleading.  Culture does not exist in a vacuum.  The word needs modification.  We never deal with culture in the abstract.  It may help to think of culture in concentric circles.  We can argue that there is a world culture.  We can then subdivide this into eastern and western cultures.  We can then subdivide this into English speaking culture and other languages.  We then can subdivide this into North American culture.  We can then subdivide this into the United States' culture.  We may then subdivide this by region, state, state region, county/parish, and city.  Each of these cultures informs the others.  Indeed, our job is not done, or even within these, niche cultures arise and begin to influence the general cultures and other special interest cultures.  Each of these communities come with their own attitudes, values, morals, and conceptions.

Within these subdivisions, you might have considered language a faulty division to make.  Twentieth century philosophy has revealed how language can impact culture.  One example that often arises is the Inuit/Eskimo words for "snow".  The native people of the frozen north have three root words for snow.  This is not inconsequential considering English generally has one.  We can understand why they have more.  This linguistic fact was shaped by culture, but that culture is then shaped by that language.  Language describes reality, and the ease or difficulty of that language to describe a certain part of reality molds the people's perception of reality.

Let's try an exercise in how language proves a challenge to interacting with culture.  Consider Romans 1:16-18.  There, Paul writes, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.  For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness."  Let us begin with vocabulary.  What does "gospel" mean?  Not merely denotatively, but in this context?  What does the "power of God" mean?  What does "the righteousness of God" mean?  What does it mean, "the just shall live by faith"?  What does the "wrath of God" mean?  What does the "unrighteousness of men" mean?  What does it mean to "hold the truth in unrighteousness"?

The Bible has its own language and vocabulary.  Even modern versions struggle with the problem of translation.  A literal translation to the common tongue, without a remedial education in Christian vocabulary cannot be done.  There is no single words anymore that accurately convey what the Bible means with one word.

One interesting anecdote from the history of Bible translations reveals this fact.  We often think of the King James Version, originally called the Authorized Version, as using the archaic English of its time.  In fact, the original public would have found its language foreign as well.  It was designed to be easy to memorize, lyric, and theological, a higher English. Instead of adapting to the language of the day, the translators created a translation higher than the common tongue.  Instead of following culture, their version actually influenced the language.

We come to understand Biblical phrases because through study, we have learned what they mean.  The world has not experienced our education.  It then fall to us to explain the gospel to the world, to tell them that the Bible says in ways that they can understand.  In order to do so, we need to understand how the world uses language.  This is a cultural engagement work.

Not only does the language of the world differ, but its stories differ as well.  Stories influence how a culture sees the world.  C.S. Lewis once called the Bible "true myth."  In a letter to Arthur Greeves, dated October 18, 1931, Lewis wrote, "Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened."  Lewis knew that cultures used stories/myths to explain reality.  The difference with the gospel was that is was more than a mere story.  It was not a fiction to created by the masses, but the truth, the true story that truly explained reality.

Twentieth century philosophy has encouraged this appreciation of the way in which narrative impacts culture.  Consider this example.  In the deserts of Egypt, the sun was worshipped as God, Ra.  In the icy wildness of Norway, the people understood the end of the world, not in burning heat, but in a never-ending winter.  The myths and legends follow the culture and environment in which they were born.

The present age, with all its technological and scientific prowess, is not devoid of its myths and stories.  During the era of modernism, science became the religion of the west.  People believed that scientific discovery would eventually answer all the question and solve all their problems.  People believed the story of the big bang and evolution as the origin story of the universe.

People also have a story of the United States.  Some tell the story of immigrants coming to find religious freedom.  Some tell the story of the fight for freedom, in two wars.  People believe these stories explain reality, at least in the United States.  Are these stories true?  Whose story ought to define the nation?  From these stories, culture in the United States has adopted freedom as a (if not the) core value for inhabitants of the nation.  It no longer remains confined to religious or political freedom.  It means personal freedom that is now pushing the limits of anti-drug laws and definitions of marriage.  This is but one example of how understanding the story of a culture can aid in understanding a people and enabling us to speak the message of the gospel in a clearer way.

Within every culture, you have people who possess the ability to influence the direction of culture.  Some work to obtain this ability, others have it fall upon them.  For many years, the shapers of western culture had some concept of the end or objective of their influence.  We often divide people politically between liberals and conservatives.  These categories may be used culturally as well.  There are some that want to preserve or return to a previous vision of culture (conservatives) and those who want to change to a better or progressive culture (liberals/progressives).  Within the last few years, we have reached a point where, in my observation, both sides have lost a vision of what they want the nation to look like.  What does the final product look like?  What is the vision of the idealized country?

For the progressive, the elements of their end have taken a beating in the recent past.  Philosophically, the dominance of modernism has eroded.  Economically, the dominance of communism has fallen, while socialism merely treads water.  Keynesianism still rules the day, but many are drifting toward Randian objectivism.  Culturally, the progressive is winning on many fronts, but what is the end, a world with no limits?

If the progressive has lost his vision, the conservative has forgotten it.  What nation does the conservative want?  The good ole days are so far behind us, do we even know what they are, when they were, or what they looked like?  What does the alternative nation look like?  What does either nation look like according to either of these approaches to culture?

As we analyze our culture, we have focused on the national influences.  Remember, there are regional, state, and local influences as well.  Some of these stand in contradiction the national trends.

The final question remains the most important.  How do we use our understanding of culture to speak the gospel to the world?  Ironically, those directions of culture most concerning to us, often provide the greatest openings for the gospel.  One of the greatest political concerns of the present day is the uncertainty.  We are so far off the normal course of events that all the accepted wisdom that worked in the past we may no longer rely upon.

If we feel this way, imagine how the world feels.  We have a foundation to stand upon.  We rest in the almighty sovereignty of God, who providentially governs everything that happens.  The world has no foundation.  All the stories that the world used to make sense of the world are proving unreliable.  The origin story of modernity, evolution, though still taught, defended, and professed, cannot stand its dehumanizing implications.  Before people tried to defend their immorality with science.  Now they defend it with love.  This demonstrates a paradigm shift in the underlying story.  There is no metanarrative that explains reality.  There is no end, even for the progressive.  There is merely the present and what must happen now.  There is no truth, merely "optics".

If we analyze culture aright, we see that the general trend shows that people in the United States are looking for some foundation, some story that will explain their humanness, something that will explain and defend love.

The gospel answers all the questions the world is asking.  It gives them the only true story that explains their humanness.  It explains what went wrong.  It explains what culture should be.  It is our duty to put it into words they use and should be able to understand.  We cannot understand it for them.  We cannot make them believe, but we can and should use their language.

I cannot, and should not give you a script.  Each conversation, each society, each culture will require a different approach.  I can give you categories, elements to think through, but the language, story, and assumptions will differ.  Begin thinking through these questions.  What language do others use, not merely english, but idioms that are national, regional, and local?  What stories do they believe?  Little children believe Disney stories.  What stories do adults believe?  How do they explain life?  What do the people value?  What matters to them?  What questions are they asking?  Understanding culture requires understanding people.  We understand people so that we may present the gospel to them.  This is how we live Christian in an unchristian world.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018


Karl Marx was not the first to observe the conflict between economic classes, the war between the "haves" and the "have nots".  The struggle between men for what the other possessed appears in Genesis 4.  There we read, "And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: but unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell." (4:4b-5)  The subsequent murder of Abel arises out of this event, the jealousy of Cain over God's acceptance of Abel's sacrifice and not his own.  Abel had, and Cain had not.

Two qualifications ought be made.  First, one could argue that the original class struggle appeared in the garden when the serpent told Eve that God had something that she lacked.  We restricted our analogy to the struggle between men rather than the futile struggle with God.  There is something about ontological equality that makes inequality of possessions problematic to sinful minds.  Within our culture, we accept as proven the idea that all are equal.  That principle about our personal value causes us to question the rightness of economic differences.  Sin confuses the difference between our person and our possession to use this principle to cause envy.   Second, one could argue that the antagonism over sacrifices is a far cry from clashes over property and wealth.  While the substance of the dispute may be different, the underlying motives, thinking, worldview, and emotions remain the same.

We begin a discussion of wealth as we ought begin all discussions, with God.  God, as the sovereign creator, holds title to all that is.  There it no particle of the universe over which God cannot declare, "Mine."  No possession can be considered that does not have this reality behind it.  All things are God's, even if we call them ours.  This radically changes our perception of wealth as we consider that which is called the traditional class struggle.  Marx saw the struggle between economic classes as the moving force behind history.  While we may credit his observations, we cannot accept his assumption that this as the way things ought to be.  Why should men struggle and envy each other the property that almighty God has given to others?  If all is God's and He sovereignly distributes to each according to His will, have we any cause to envy, to murmur, to strive to rebalance the divine equation?

One caveat needs to be added.  This conception of God as creator and owner of all does not forbid the Christian from the principle of private property and pursuing justice.  The Eighth Commandment forbids stealing.  The law of Moses included punishments and restitution for those who stole.  God's concern for justice demands that those who rob from others give back what they stole.

It warrants noting that the biblical strictures deal only with actual theft, not theoretical theft.  Inequalities will always exist in human affairs.  If a worker makes widget A for his employer who can sell it for X dollars, he will likely not receive X dollars from his employer.  The employer will have to pay for what it will take to get X dollars for the widget, his own efforts to sell the widget, and the risk of not selling the widget for X.  With all these indefinite costs, the exact figure between employer and employee will always involve inequality.  The Bible does not give strict guidelines how these factors are to be resolved.  It does not call this inequality stealing.  It does command the employer to pay the employee promptly and fully the agreed upon wage.  To not do so is stealing.  The failure of the employer and employee to derive a perfect equality of wage, whatever that is, does not constitute stealing in scripture.

For the best example of the Bible's teaching on this, we should examine Matthew 20:1-16.
For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.  And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.  And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.  Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.  And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?  They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.  So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.  But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.  (Matthew 20:1-16)
Jesus tells this parable for the purpose of explaining that there is no time limit to God's mercy.  The parable has a spiritual message, but it is built upon a physical reality that the audience and we should accept as true.  Just as it was right for the employer to make whatever deal was right for his need, to pay the later laborers what he thought right and pay the day laborers what they had agreed to, so the mere existence of inequality does not prove theft or demand equalization.  Indeed, in the divine economy, as the Lord is the one behind the metaphor of the vineyard owner, He dispenses according to His own designs.  It does bear remembering that the Jesus seems to accept the cultural accepted wage of a day laborer as just.

As we remain considering the divine component of wealth, we also remember the First Commandment.  As we are so able to do with all the good things that God gives us, we can make an idol out of wealth.  There is something condemnatory about Marx's observation that economic class struggle drives history.  Even if we conclude that the observation is overstated, we cannot but admit that there is some truth to the idea.  Envy and jealousy over property fuels part of human activity.  In some respects the tenth commandment particularized a variant of the First. (all sin is in some way attributable to a violation of the First)  When property or wealth matters more to us that God, we covet what others have.  Wealth ought not drive history nor the activities of man.  When it does so, it reveals the sin of idolatry.

Another parable of Jesus seems appropriate here.
And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.  And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?  And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.  And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: and he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?  And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.  But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?  So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.  (Luke 12:13-21)
In this parable, Jesus responds to a request to judge an inheritance.  In response, Jesus condemns both parties as placing a value on the property over each other and ultimately God.  This He demonstrates in the parable of the foolish rich man.  While his plans for expansion are not in themselves patently sinful, the Lord reveals their sinful motives in the response of God and His own explanation.  The expansion meant that the rich man valued wealth more than obedience to God, more that using that wealth to honor and glorify God.

One of the hardest applications of our relationship to wealth in consideration of God is the concept of contentment.  If God owns all and give to all according to His will, if God means more to us than what we possess, then we ought to be content with what He has given us.  Paul writes, "Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.  I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." (Philippians 4:11-13)  He writes to Timothy about contentment.
But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.  But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.  For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.  But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.  (I Timothy 6:6-11)
Here, it would be wrong of us to think that Paul criticizes the rich as such, but those who desire riches, who place wealth above their desire to glorify God.

This warning about the dangers of pursuing riches appears also in the Old Testament. "Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die:remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain." (Proverbs 30:7-9)  The word attributed to Agur here reflects the dangers of too much or not enough.  The wise man prays for enough.  Jesus repeats this prayer in the Lord's prayer, "give us this day our daily bread."

The daily bread reflects the manna in the wilderness, but unlike that supernatural provision, the Lord anticipates that we will work for that which He gives us.  Paul writes this to the church at Thessalonica.
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.  For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.  For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.  For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.  Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.  (II Thessalonians 3:6-12)
In this passage, Paul deals with what is called an over-realized eschatology.  People expecting the second coming immediately, stopped work, "preparing" for the resurrection.  Paul corrects this practice using himself and his missionary team as an example.  He tells the church not to enable those who choose not to work to engage in idleness and the sin that accompanies idleness.  From this we learn that we ought to work and encourage work in the use of our wealth.

How this command intersects with our duty to give generously and show hospitality requires discernment and wisdom.  The author of Hebrews writes, "Let brotherly love continue.  Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." (Hebrews 13:1-2)  This verse reminds us how important it is for us to help travelers, especially those who are fellow believers.  Remember, this was in a day before hotels.  Perhaps we ought to be more cautious to request for help in this day, but the general rule still applies.  For ordinary requests for assistance, we must recall that we live in a day where entitlement and welfare have changed the attitude and expectation of many.  Jesus says, "But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil." (Luke 6:35)  Jesus speaks this in the context of the people of God.  It does not permit us to give suspecting that our charity will be used for sinful or prodigal purposes.  Jesus tells the disciples that they must, "be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." (Matthew 10:16b)

There is one final thing about wealth that must be recalled.  Everything that God gives us, we are to receive with thanks. Paul writes, "For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving." (I Timothy 4:4)  In this passage, Paul warns Timothy about the false teachers who forbid marriage and meats.  He responds that everything God created may be received well if accompanied with thanksgiving.  Thanks remembers that these things are good because God gives them.  It fixes our hierarchy that we not let the good things become our idols, remembering that our ultimate enjoyment is found in God alone.  Paul reminds us that it is those who deny the goodness of God's gifts that tempt us to ingratitude.

Wealth has become a dangerous and problematic topic in today's world.  The discussion is not new.  The Bible explains how the Christian should view possessions before God.  The world only sees wealth.  We see the giver of all good gifts, living Christian in an unchristian world.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


In human history, the first recorded declaration of war came from the mouth of God.  You need to remember this, for without it, you are lost.  In the fall, the Adam and Eve allied themselves with the serpent, with Satan.  God could have chosen to let this condition continue, but decided to declare war on the serpent and all his people.  This declaration of war appears in Genesis 3:15.  "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel."  When God says that He will put hatred between the serpent and the woman, He implies that such hatred was not already there.  He also puts hatred between the two seeds.  This results in the war between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent culminating in the crushing blow delivered by Jesus, the ultimate seed of the woman.  Thus, the first war declared in the history of man was that established by God himself.

Now, you could claim that the first war pre-existed this between the rebellious angels led by Satan and the faithful angels.  You can also point out that the fall occurred because Satan brought this war to earth.  All this is true.  Yet the Bible credits God as the establisher of this human part of the struggle for a theological reason.  This declaration of war is not only the beginning, but also the promise of the end, and inevitable end.  The war was over as soon as it started as surely as God's word, which cannot be broken.  Even so, God who ordains all that comes to pass, ordained also this sequence of events for His own glory.

Throughout the pages of the Bible, human wars have spiritual connotations.  Israel's conquest of the promised land through military action, through war, demonstrates what some call "intrusion ethics," the ethics of the kingdom, of heaven, forcing their way into physical space and time.  Thus, the conquest of the unrighteous, pagan nations by the righteous people of God mimic the war between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.  This partly explains why God ordered practical genocide.  There can be no quarter in the war between righteousness and unrighteousness.

The present Christian age sees in these regulations, not a pattern for human conflict, but a pattern for spiritual battle within.  Our greatest war is against the old man, our own sin nature that remains within.  The Spirit wars with the flesh, and in this war, there must be no quarter given.  We must eradicate sin completely.  We are to execute s sin genocide within.  We deplore any genocide of person, for that old age example is fulfilled in Christ.  Now, every nation contains the seed of the women, the people of God.  Genocide, which now arises from racial hatred, violates God's law of oneness in Christ among all nations.

The Christian lives in perpetual conflict.  "For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other." (Galatians 5:17)  We live in combat.  We live at war within.  What we must then consider is the question, "What does the origin of war tell us about the present reality of war between people and nations?"

We must begin with two fundamental and seemingly contradictory principles.  First, that war results from sin.  Second, that war is necessary and right when waged against sin. How we apply these principles depends on a number of factors.

Let us first consider the wrongness of war.  Conflict between people comes from the sin within.  When you see conflict, be sure that there is sin somewhere.  After all, it is two sinners, two groups of sinners, two nations of sinners who orchestrate this conflict.  There is no war without sin, and so war will remain until sin is eliminated.  This understood, we must also recognize that often the idea of the right-side and wrong-side are not so easily discerned.  Is there ever an innocent side in a fight?  There may be a relatively more right side, but not a wholly innocent side.

If war includes sin in its origin, we must also understand the sin in its execution.  Men kill other men.  Even though we do not claim this violates the sixth commandment, "Thou shalt not murder," the killing of another human says something about our respect for one made in the image of God.  That we resort to such tactics shows how lightly we consider human life sacred.  We rush to save the unborn and yet rush to kill our enemies also.  Is this proper?

One of the most sobering thoughts about war came to me by a former employer.  He remarked that in war unregenerate men are sent to an eternity without God, even those fighting for a just cause.  If we cannot have compassion for the lives of those we are fighting, can we not pause to consider the damage we do to our own soldiers?  Can we not count those we condemn to an eternity in hell for our safety?

With these sobering thoughts in mind, can we say there is any such thing as a just war?  Consider these words from the Westminster Confession of Faith. "It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto: in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth; so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the new testament, wage war, upon just and necessary occasion." (WCF 23.2)  The Confession admits the Christian may be called by God to serve as a civil magistrate.  As such, he holds the authority to wage war for right purposes.  The citations to scripture all deal with examples of Christian soldiers in the New Testament and Romans 13 where the civil magistrate bears the sword.  They chose not to fully develop the definition of a "just and necessary occasion," perhaps due to the situation of the state in which they sat.  Remember, this document arose out of the English Civil War.

What then is a "just and necessary occasion"?  In the Larger Catechism, "lawful war" appears in the context of "necessary defense." (WLC 136)  For this reason, we may adduce that the fundamental purpose of national war is in defense of its citizens.  We need not engage in speculative debates about the extent of threat needed to justify war.  These principles must be applied situationally.  In the abstract, just as you need not be shot before you return fire on an assailant, so you need not be physically attacked before acting to protect.  As one may defend oneself from an attacker who is pointing a weapon at you, so you may defend against one who is threatening with a present ability and effort toward attack.  It also need not be a civilian target.  Soldiers' lives warrant protection as well as civilians.  The Bible does not discriminate between people.

In the conduct of the war, the Bible gives us better guidance.  I direct your attention to Deuteronomy 20.  The entire chapter deals with the way in which Israel was to conduct its wars.  Even though the nation state ceased to exist and the exact force of the law does not directly apply any longer, the "general equity" still ought to direct how we are to consider war to be conducted.  This is how Israel was to deal with those who threatened it. "When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it. And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee.  And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it." (Deuteronomy 20:10-12)  Verse 15 makes it clear that these are rules from nations threatening the promised land, not the nations under the "intrusion ethics" described before.  For these, the nation was to go to a war footing and then sue for peace.  If the threat was removed, there would be no war.  If the nation continued its belligerence, the war would be prosecuted.  The ultimate goal of a just and necessary war is the return to peace, the elimination of threat.

Casuistry often appears in the rationalization for war.  It is notoriously hard to identify the attacker and the attacked.  Both sides are often at fault, and a just war is often hard to identify.   We may then conclude that war occurs because of sin.  It is right to protect those under sinful, unlawful assault.  War should be limited to the restoration of peace.  Just war theory also deals with the proper organization to wage war, but this goes beyond our study.

War is a grim business.  We cannot treat it cavalierly, considering its hazards and evils.  Even so, I want to leave you with a joyous thought.  Within the orders regarding war for Israel there is a unique event.  Remember, every able-bodied man of a certain age in Israel was expected to go to war.  Before the prosecution of the war, the officers were required to read the following instructions.

"And the officers shall speak unto the people, saying, What man is there that hath built a new house, and hath not dedicated it? let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man dedicate it.  And what man is he that hath planted a vineyard, and hath not yet eaten of it? let him also go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man eat of it.  And what man is there that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her? let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in" (Deuteronomy 20:5-7)

By these instructions, the Lord demonstrates something to us of His priorities.  Something mattered more to God than war.  He cared about His people enjoying His blessing.  A blessing anticipated, but yet to be enjoyed made you exempt from military service.  A house built, but not yet inhabited; a field planted, but not yet harvested; a marriage planned, but not yet accomplished; the Lord wanted His people to enjoy their lives even in the midst of war.

Even more, that last exception expanded beyond the others.  "When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken." (Deuteronomy 24:5)  The newlyweds were exempted from military service and all business for the space of one year.  It amounted to a one year honeymoon, without the travel.  Note especially the purpose of this honeymoon.  The ESV gets this horribly wrong.  The purpose of this year is not to rejoice with his wife but to bring joy to his wife.  The wives of the men were included in the Lord's concern that His people enjoy His blessing.

In the midst of the darkness and distress of war, the Lord intends for His people to remember His goodness, and to enjoy His blessing.  This separates us from the rest of humanity.  The terrors of war are not to be compared to the blessings of the Lord.  Living Christian in an unchristian world requires us to remember the words of the psalmist in war.  "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies." (Psalm 23:4-5a)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Civil Law

When we hear the word outlaw, we may hear the chords of The Clash singing, "I Fought the Law."  The dictionary defines "outlaw" with, "a person who has broken the law, especially one who remains at large or is a fugitive."  However, this is not the historical meaning of this word.  Historically, this word meant, "a person deprived of the benefit and protection of the law."  In this ancient meaning, Christianity began as an outlaw and its history has kept an outlaw position.

Christianity began as an outlaw.  We needn't go much into the book of Acts to see the outlaw nature of the church.  Acts 4 contains the trial of Peter and John before the Jewish authorities.  The apostles are arrested, imprisoned, and tried in the very next chapter. There, Peter make his famous statement, "We must obey God rather than man." (5:29)  In chapters 6-7, Stephen is arrested, tried, and executed.  Chapter 8 begins with the persecution of Saul that continues until his conversion in the next chapter.  James is executed and Peter arrested in chapter 12.  Saul becomes Paul and faces legal persecution in such towns as Damascus, Lystra, Philippi, Thessalonica, and Ephesus.  In Jerusalem, he is arrested and sent to Caesarea and then Rome.

During the apostolic period and the following generation, Christianity became a true outlaw religion.  To the Roman authorities, Christianity originated as a jewish sect.  Because Judaism was an accepted religion, Christian enjoyed its protected status.  As Rome recognized Christianity's distinct status, many officials saw it as an outlaw religion, not an illegal religion as such, but one that did not enjoy protected status.  The early apologists wrote to the civil magistrates to convince them to permit Christianity based on its own merits.  This condition continued until the Edict of Milan (AD 313).

Christianity did not lose its outlaw footing being accepted by Rome.  That character stayed even into the medieval age, as demonstrated by the character of the reformers.  Famously, Martin Luther was declared an outlaw by the emperor at the Diet of Worms.  He was not to be protected by the law.

The church has always had a tenuous connection to the civil law.  After the exile and fall of the theocratic monarchy of David's dynasty, the people of God have lived as those whose civil obedience exists under a law that is largely disconnected from Scripture.  Even in the Confession, we are reminded that the civil law of Moses only applies in areas of general equity (whatever that is). (WCF 19.4)

As we think about the Christian's relationship to the civil law, it is important to understand what law we mean.  We do not mean the civil law of Moses described in WCF 19.4.  We do not mean the civil use of the law described by Calvin.  We mean the Christian's relationship to the law as laid down by the civil magistrate.  For this, we begin by reiterating the obedience we described in the last lesson.  We are to obey the law of the civil magistrate as far as our duty to Christ will allow.  He has ordered us to obey, yet He remains the ultimate authority.

Here, we touch on two topics that arise especially in democratic societies, but also exist in other types of government as well.  The first we find in I Corinthians 6.  Paul begins this chapter with a warning to the church about what we may presume was a common occurrence, a habit into which the church had fallen in their use of the civil law.
Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?  Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?  Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?  If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.  I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?  But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.  Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?  Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren. (I Corinthians 6:1-8)
Paul exhibits some raw emotion in this passage.  We read him that this entire sequence of events bothers him excessively.  He begins at the end, with the taking of the matter to a judge outside the church.  The members of the church were using the civil law to deal with their problems.  In one sense, Paul would agree that this is part of the duty of the civil magistrate. (Ro. 13:3-4)  The problem is that it is the people of God who go to the world to find justice and not within the church.  If the people of God will judge angels, is there no one in the church who can settle these matters?  Paul goes back to the original problem.  Why can't the people of God resolve their problems among themselves without involving others.  If you are wronged, accept it. (6:7)  If you are wronging others, stop. (6:8)

Paul continues with a description of the world, the judges to whom these Christians go to resolve their problems.  Paul paints this unflattering picture to remind the church of the character of the people upon whom they rely for the solutions to their disputes.
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. (I Corinthians 6:9-11)
This reminds the church of their different morality and spirituality that comes from God.  Why would they, knowing who they were, rely upon these people.  Have they no respect for the work of Jesus upon them?

The next verse reminds the church that they operate by a different law. "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any." (I Cor. 6:12)  In the following verses, Paul will flesh out this reality.  The civil law, the morality of the world, does not define the morality of the Christian.  You can do something legal that is not moral.  For the Christian, the only illegal morality is that which is clearly required of God in His word.  However, we cannot accept that our general duty to the civil magistrate fulfills all our duty to God.  We follow a morality that the world does not.  Even if the world legalizes fornication (6:18), it does not make it moral for a Christian to practice.

The relationship Paul describes has a number of applications.  The first few are the most obvious.  Christians ought not use the civil magistrate to resolve disputes between themselves.  We are different with a different morality from the world.  We must obey Christ and the law of God written and revealed in Scripture.

This does not mean that the civil law and the courts are closed to Christians.  Nothing prevents the Christian from using the courts to obtain justice from those outside the jurisdiction of the church.  (While not on point, something of the parable of the unjust judge seems appropriate here. Luke 18:1-5)  The law exists for our good.  God gave the civil magistrate to protect us and administer justice.  It is not wrong for the Christian to use the court.  It is wrong for the Christian to worship the court, to rely upon it rather than God to bring about justice.  Human judges get things wrong; they make poor and unjust judgments.  Ultimate justice awaits in heaven.

In democratic societies, the citizens participate in the operation of the civil magistrate.  This gives us the ability to consider the nature of the civil law as what it should be.  Christians who God calls to serve as civil magistrates ought to consider this in their deliberations.  What should the civil law be as a Christian?  For this question, two competing theories have emerged: two kingdoms and theonomy.  For the purpose of this discussion, we cannot indulge in an in-depth examination of these theories.  In practical terms, one argues that the civil law ought to arise out of natural law, the law that appears in nature.  The other argues that the civil law ought to arise out of Scripture.  I have no real desire to delve into the niceties of obscure biblical speculation.  I will confess that I have no good experience with two kingdoms exegesis of particular portions of Scripture.  I also confess that extreme theonomy also exhibits poor exegesis.  In the end, one must confess that the content of the natural law must be seen as identical to the moral law.  Christian natural law theory argues that the law of God is written in creation as part of general revelation.  Since general revelation and special revelation (Scripture) cannot differ, originating from the same source (God), the difference between two kingdoms and theonomy ought not seem that pronounced.  I suggest theonomy may have the upper hand for one reason I find profoundly pointed.  Paul reminds us in Romans 1 of the habit of humanity. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness."  Paul tells us that sinful humanity surpasses the truth in unrighteousness.  To expect that sinful humanity, surpassing the truth of general revelation, will be able to identify accurately the natural law, seems to me to be an exercise in absurdity.

Christianity remains an outlaw.  We follow a law that arises from Scripture.  As outlaws, we live in obedience to the law.  Our ultimate authority commands us to do so.  Even so, we must also live above the law, above the morality of a sinful world.  This is the way we live Christian in an unchristian world.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Of the Civil Magistrate

Christianity has a turbulent history with the church's relationship to the civil magistrate.  The apostolic period felt the sting of persecution.  Constantine normalized relations with the church leading to an uneasy cooperation between church and emperor. Later caesars returned to persecution.  During the medieval period, Christendom placed the pope as supreme over the king for many nations.  He sent their armies to the crusades.  The reformation broke the Roman hegemony and led to the democratization of Christian belief.  The inquisition used violence to halt the spread of protestantism.  In England, the denomination of the king led to the persecution of other denominations.  All this led to the flow of refugees to the new world seeking religious freedom.

One of the oddest anecdotes in the history of the United States involves how our conception of religious liberty came to be understood.  The Constitution originally did not include a clause ensuring religious freedom.  The First Amendment promised that congress could make no law regarding an establishment of religion.  It wasn't until the twentieth century that the Supreme Court questioned the force of this statement.  They decided to take a passage out of a letter by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association.  In it, he promised that the First Amendment had erected a wall of separation between church and state.  This phrase was not Jefferson's invention.  He borrowed it from a basic tenet of the anabaptists from the radical reformation, those who believed that the reformation of Calvin and Luther had not gone far enough away from Rome.  Because of their understanding of the connection between Rome and the state, they saw the state as part of the world from which they were to be separate.  Thus, a deist used words he may not have understood to endorse an amendment to a denomination he may not have understood, and the Supreme Court thought this defined the First Amendment.

The evangelical church in the United States spent the latter half of the twentieth century enraged by The Supreme Court's decisions evicting the church from the public square.  This increasing preoccupation with government followed a similar trend within the wider population.  More than ever, people in the United States believe the solution to their problems rests in the federal government.  It has become our national god.

Again, the First Commandment forces us to reckon with our own attitude toward the civil magistrate.  We are not to be those who look to Washington, DC for solutions to spiritual problems.  Our safety, peace, joy, and prosperity cannot depend on government but in God alone.

Again, the Fifth Commandment comes into play as God commands us to submit to the dictates of the civil magistrate.  Paul writes the following to the church in Rome.
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.  Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.  For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.  Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.  For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.  Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.  (Romans 13:1-7)
Before we engage with this statement, we must remember that the Roman government at this time could not be called favorable to Christianity.  Estimates at dating this letter put it around AD 57, early in the reign of Nero, the one who would begin using Christians to light his garden.

This general rule of submission revolves around the concept that God ordains the authorities over us.  This does not give them, as earlier Christians maintained, divine right.  It does not make them infallible in their ordinances.  God may choose to give us wicked authorities.  Nevertheless, those who resist authority needlessly are resisting God.  Rebellion against lawful government is rebellion against God.

Paul reminds us that the purpose of government is the terrorize the wicked, those who do evil.  He is responsible to punish those who do wrong.  This means we ought to obey them, not only because they are God's ministers, but also because they rightly punish the wicked.  Government promotes our safety by their judgment of evil doers.

It takes resources to do this work, therefor God requires us to support the work of the civil magistrate.  Paul concludes with a general reminder that we are responsible to act appropriately to every one according to their position.

Paul gives us a very limited view of the civil magistrate from the Christian perspective.  God ordains government to protect people.  He does this especially for the church.  The church supports the government in this work.

Peter also instructs us in our relationship to the government.
Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.  For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.  Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.  (I Peter 2:13-17)
Peter instructs the church to consider ever ordinance of government to be lawful, to which we are to submit.  Again, he notes their primary purpose to punish evildoers and support the obedient.  He adds to this the testimony the church bears to the world.  He reminds us that the church needs to lead in obedience, not in rebellion.  The civil magistrate should see our obedience as positive character to attract others to Christ.  Those who would condemn the church for insurrection should find no evidence for their vile calumny.

Nevertheless, Peter would be the first to admit that this submission has its limits.  We are always fundamentally servants of God.  Peter himself said, "We ought to obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29)  God commands us to obey government.  He always remain the ultimate one to whom we submit.

In practical terms, the general rule is that we submit to the laws of the civil magistrate with the assumption that they have are lawful for us to obey.  In general, we purpose not to allow our judgment lead us to contradict the judgment of our superiors.  Most of us struggle with obedience to the ordinary rather than the extraordinary.  We struggle with speed, not with murder.

Our relationship to government can be categorized into three parts: duty, right, and privilege.  Duty are those things we must do.  We have a duty to obey the laws of the country, even if we think they are irrational.  We have no justification for disobedience unless the government tells us to believe anything beside scripture or to do anything opposed to scripture.
God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also." (WCF 20.2)
Note the difference.  Believing anything in addition to or alongside of scripture is not permissible for only the revelation of God can instruct us what to believe.  However we regularly do things in addition to and alongside scripture.  Here, government has authority to instruct so long as it is not opposed to scripture.  God commands us to fulfill our duty toward government.

One duty we have not mentioned, the Bible places upon us.  "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." (I Timothy 2:1-2)  If we do not pray for our leaders, we truly have little justification for complaint against their person, morals, or judgments.  After all, "The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will." (Proverbs 21:1)

Rights are those freedoms and abilities that the civil magistrate grants to us.  Our freedom to worship comes to us as a right that government grants to its citizens.  Rights are different from duties for God does not require us to exercise all our rights.  We are required to worship, so that right we must exercise.  The freedom of the press we may choose not to participate in, unless God calls you to be a reporter, editor, or press owner.

Privileges are those abilities government permits upon certain qualifications being met.  Among these are driving on state roads and serving in government.  You don't have a right to be mayor.  You can be privileged to serve in that office upon election.  That privilege can be revoked upon impeachment and recall.

Voting is a privilege that the United States government grants to all citizens 18 years of age and older.  The Fourteenth Amendment allowed the state to revoke upon conviction of a crime.  The Supreme Court has allow felonies to be accepted as crimes warranting disenfranchisement.  The history of voting in the United State suggests that voting is more a privilege than a right.

Christians may choose to pursue these privileges before God.  Christians may choose to vote and hold public office.  "It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto." (WCF 23.2)  They may also serve in the police and military.  "And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages." (Luke 3:14)  Scripture does not support the concept of the world that the anabaptists adopt.  Government is not intrinsically evil, but the gift of God.  Participation in it does not taint the believer or yoke him to the world's system.  That which the Bible warns us against the world refers to the sinfulness of society, not the structures of government God ordains.

Christians will wrestle with their relationship to the civil magistrate, perhaps until Jesus returns.  We ought not adopt the isolationist mindset of the anabaptist.  We ought not adopt the interventionist mindset of christendom or the christian deconstructionist movement.  We appreciate that God ordains government for our protection.  We obey government a far as we may without doing violence to our obedience to God.  We pray for our rulers and seek their good.  In this way we live as Christians in an unchristian world.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Christian at Work

In this lesson, we move from the arena of the Christian's general life to the way in which the Bible instructs us to deal with society.  How ought the Christian to live before the world?  This will broaden into a large number of arenas in which the Bible commands us to live rightly.  However, for these first two lessons, we will follow a trajectory that have directed our thoughts in the previous two lessons.

We have been following the direction of Paul's mind in the second half of his letter to the Ephesians.  We have tracked his instructions through marriage and then the family.  Now we will follow him in discussing the relationship between employer and employee.  How the Christian views his work and how God directs in the choice of occupation, we have already examined in a previous lesson.  In this part, we will consider how the Christian ought to conduct himself at work.  Where previously, we thought about a theology of work, here we go to work.

Paul follows the same procedure in each arena.  He begins with the party to submit/obey and then instructs the leader.  He follows this order with regard to work as well.
"Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free." (Ephesians 6:5-8)
Here, the historic master/servant model has its closest analog to the boss/worker relationship.  Though not a perfect comparison, the example is close enough for these instructions to be applied consistently and accurately.

Paul begins with a familiar instruction that we have seen before.  He reminds servants that the general rule of submission to superiors applies to their bosses as well.  Here, Paul again uses the idea of obedience "as unto Christ."  Christ is our model and foundation for obedience.  As Christ obeyed for us, so ought we to obey.  Our obedience is not for our boss's benefit.  It is our duty, not to our boss, but to Christ.  While the boss is our authority in a physical sense, Christ is our ultimate authority.  For this reason, Paul describes our obedience in such extreme terms. ("with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart" 6:5)  We fear and tremble not at the possibility of punishment from either our boss or Christ, but for the possibility that we would disappoint our Lord and Savior.  Our singleness of heart means that we have no ulterior motive in our obedience, no attempt at duplicity with our obedience.  Instead, we obey to glorify Jesus, to honor our boss, to reveal the excellence of Christ within.

This kind of obedience has a quality that transcends the obedience of other people.  "Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart." (6:6)  We obey even when no one is looking.  We work just as hard when the boss is not present.  We are not working ultimately for our employer.  We work for Jesus, who always sees.  We serve Him and His will with a single heart.

Paul also speaks to the mind of our work. "With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men." (6:7)  Working for Jesus means that we serve with a benevolent mind, and good heart.  We do not serve grudgingly.  We do not serve thinking ill of our boss.  We serve seeking the good of all in our company.

Paul finally gives us a promise of reward for obedience. "Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free." (6:8)  Ultimately, our salary is only part of our compensation for obedience service.  Again, Paul reminds us that our ultimate boss is not our employer, but Christ, that Christ is not only our authority but also the ruler of our employer as well.

One area of obedience that Christians ought to exercise conspicuous attention regards the employer's property.  Theft from one's employer is a constant loss for a business.  This is especially true in retail, where employees resort to theft, but it also occurs in other industries where embezzlement occurs and company property is appropriated for personal use.  Many companies understand the need of employees to conduct personal business at the office and make allowances for this.  Taking advantage of this is not theft.  Theft occurs when a person uses company time or property without the approval of the employer.  Christians ought to have sensitive consciences about this issue, not only for the purpose of obedience to the employer, but for the greater demands of the Eighth Commandment. "Thou shalt not steal." (Ex.20:15)

As with all these commands to obey, our obedience has its limits.  All authority is capable of misuse.  Sin justifies some acceptance of Lord Acton's axiom about power.  "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."  We cannot accept the axiom as stated, attributing the corruption to power.  Rather, we acknowledge that men with power remain men and sinners.  They face the temptation to use that power for sin rather than good.

In the context of the workplace, two major areas challenge the Christian with his obedience to God and man.  The first requires an application of the Ninth Commandment. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour." (Ex.20:16)  As we have examined elsewhere, the Lord requires His people to follow His example of being people of the truth.  Honesty forms a fundamental part of our identity.  We cannot countenance lying as part of our work.

It will not be a big lie that makes a scoundrel of us.  C.S. Lewis was right when he said the following.
To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colours. Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear. Over a drink, or a cup of coffee, disguised as triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still—just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naïf or a prig—the hint will come. It will be the hint of something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand: something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about: but something, says your new friend, which “we”—and at the word “we” you try not to blush for mere pleasure—something “we always do.”  And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face—that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face—turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel. ("The Inner Ring", Weight of Glory p. 115-116)  
Our employer may ask us to misrepresent a minor thing.  Even the best of bosses may ask us to massage the truth.  It is best to resolve before, the moment of temptation, that we will not compromise our integrity, our identity as those who stand for the truth.

Another area where we face the confrontation between our duty to God and that to our employer is in the observance of the Lord's Day.  "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it." (Ex. 20:8-11)  We addressed the topic of the Lord's Day in another place.  Here, we simply remember that this issue must be a matter of conscience to us.  The Lord's Day is special.  It is not like every other day of the week.  It matters to us.  We cannot treat it in a cavalier fashion.  Our employers ought to know how important the Lord's Day is to us.

Speaking of employers, this commandment gives us to opportunity to shift to God's instruction to bosses.  The Christian boss has an obligation to his workers.  As we moved from Ephesians to Exodus, we will move in the opposite direction.  In the Fourth Commandment, the order involves how one conducts his house and workers.  "In it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant." (Ex.20:10)  The head of the household is commanded to give the Sabbath day as a day of rest to his employees.  The example of Chik-fil-a proves a prime example of obedience to this commandment.  The world may scoff at this company's practice in this area, but the believer cannot.  It is what the Christian employer ought to do.

For a manager in a company that requires operation on the Lord's Day, the task of obedience is more problematic.  Nevertheless, the believing manager still must ensure to the best of his ability that provision is made for maximizing the observance of the Lord's Day.

Coming back to Ephesians, we find that Paul has some words for Christian employers as well. "And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him." (Ephesians 6:9)  The "same things" probably refers to the mindset that Paul has used in instructing the servants.  The master is to see his governance as unto Christ, as following Christ's example.  They are to govern their servants as Christ governs them.

This requires the employer/manager to resist the tendency to govern by threats.  Threatening comes natural to us to change behavior or promote productivity.  There is a place for threatening, but a limited role.  Our example is Jesus.  Christ rules predominantly through love and blessing, so ought the master.  The master rules knowing that he serves the same Lord as his servants.  He is answerable to the same authority as the servant.

Here is the heart of living Christian in an unchristian world.  The rest of the world in the workplace acts according to their own law, serving themselves.  The Christian boss and worker serves Christ.  Only as seeing ourselves as serving God, may we truly live Christian in an unbelieving world.

Thursday, February 15, 2018


Next to the church, I submit that the family finds itself the target of the forces of evil.  If Satan hates the church, the family as an organization comes a close second in his rage.  We often think that he directs his animus toward believing families, but the truth is that every family suffers the pressures of dissolution.  The world, flesh, and devil devour families of every stripe.

This calls into question the predominant view of the family.  If the primary benefit of the family is the passing of virtues to the next generation, then we must question why the devil would desire the dissolution of families that follow his path.  Why would he want to hinder the passing of his own values to the next generation?  Here again, we must return to Genesis.  The institution of marriage and family originated with God.  Family is not a social or evolutionary construct, but a divine order, a structure hardcoded into our creation.  An attack on the family is an attack on God, the way he has made us.  The dissolution of the family takes from us a part of our humanity.

For this reason, understanding the family, as the Bible records it for us, matters.  We are born into families, and have responsibilities within those relationships that God appoints to us at every turn.  Here, the Westminster Shorter Catechism lays out for us the positions within the family that we ought to consider: superiors (parents), inferiors (children), and equals (siblings). (WSC 64)  Note, that in the equals category, we do not include spouses, not that we deny their equality, but we dealt with that relationship in the previous lesson.

We begin with the Biblical instruction that prompted the Westminster divines to give us these categories. In the Ten Commandments, the first commandment of the second table, that table that instructs us about our duty to our neighbor, begins with the family. "Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." (Exodus 20:12)  This leads the catechism to conclude as follows. "The fifth commandment requireth the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals." (WSC 64)

The fifth commandment applies to the family at all times.  Its New Testament analog limits itself to children, but the fifth commandments broader command applies continuously through life.  We are born with a special emphasis of this commandment that Paul relates to us in Ephesians 6.  "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right." (Ephesians 6:1)  Paul follows this command with a reference to the fifth commandment.  He understand that the fifth commandment has special meaning for children still in their parent's house.  Honoring their parents requires obedience.

We have previously commented on the concept of obedience "in the Lord."  It means, as unto Christ.  This has two aspects, a broadening and limiting aspect.  It broadens the command, reminding us of the gospel reality.  We are to obey as we would obey Jesus.  We are to remember what we owe in obedience to Jesus based upon the gospel, and live accordingly.  The limiting factor appears in the fact that our true allegiance lies with Christ.  He means more to us than any earthly parent.  We obey them because our ultimate authority has commanded us to obey.  Nevertheless, the subordinate authority cannot override the superior authority.  We must obey God rather than man.  Our parent's commands must be assumed lawful unless clearly against scripture.  Doubt ought be resolved in favor of obedience rather than rebellion.

While the duty of obedience last during childhood, the duty of honor lasts throughout life.  Honoring our parents takes a tricky place in later life.  It requires us to live in ways the bring honor to our parents, to give people a favorable impression about our family.  It does not mean that we must agree with our parents about every matter.  It does mean that we must treat our parents and their opinions that differ from our own with respect and grace.  There are even tragic events that break the parent-child relationship.  Abuse and neglect among the family tear at our heart and cause us to question how we fulfill the fifth commandment at this point.  Sometimes honoring our parents means living righteously without a relationship with one or both of our parents.

Honoring our parents also requires circumspect speech.  We need to be careful what we say about our parents to others.  This generally applies to the entire family as well, but the application of the fifth commandment makes it especially true of our parents.  That is why you regularly may hear me speak about the good things my parents taught me and nothing else.  You may think that my parents never did anything wrong, or else that I am naive about my parents.  Neither is true.  However, it is not beneficial nor honoring to broadcast these matters.  Occasions may arise when one must raise parental wrongdoing, but these should be done circumspectly.  The general rule is that the family is a unit, and fidelity to that family is part of the Christian ethic.

In terms of parental responsibility to the children, we have already addressed one of the largest responsibilities, that of education in a previous lesson.  We will not take time to retread that ground.  Nevertheless, the topic of disciple finds guidance in the Bible.   Paul continues his discussion of the family by turning his attention to the parents in Ephesians 6. "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4)  When I was a child, I memorized this verse and would quote it immediately after any would quote Ephesians 6:1.  I was a little contrarian.  While my motive and method left much to be desired, this verse does remind parents of their responsibility in the course of training.  Parents are to train and instruct their children in the Lord.  That is, they are to teach their children what to know and believe about God and they are to train their children how to live before God.

The Bible has some words to say about discipline.  One of my brother's favorite verses to quote demonstrates that contrarianism may be hereditary.  "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell." (Proverbs 23:13-14)  Western liberalism has challenged Christianity on many fronts, with some benefit.  It has forced the church to reflect on what is truly Christian and what we have kept from the old way of living.  We must answer liberalism from Scripture, stopping its errors with truth and not tradition.  The mounting pressure against corporal discipline challenges our traditional presumption, but cannot overcome the weight of Scripture.  The Bible clearly accepts as proper the use of corporal discipline. "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him." (Proverbs 22:15) "The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame." (Proverbs 29:15)  "I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men." (I Samuel 7:14)

This is not all that must be said about discipline.  Discipline is a discernment matter.  That is, parents must use wisdom in the method and application of discipline.  Remember, the goal is training, not mere justice. (although parents may also teach justice through discipline as well)  Each child is different.  Each child learns differently.  Each child responds to discipline and methods of discipline differently.  Corporal discipline ought to be one tool in the parent's toolbox of training methods and not the only tool available or used.

This task is made manifest in Paul's command. "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath."  Paul calls parents to use discernment so as not to wear out their children with discipline.  This again takes wisdom.  My father would often exasperate his children with his lessons.  He knew that even though we were grumbling, it was important for us to learn.  We didn't like going to school as children and often parents have to exasperate us in order for us to learn.  Learning to balance these duties involves wisdom and experience.

Among siblings, we must return to the general commands regarding kindness and love that proliferate the New Testament.  We note this here because maintaining good sibling relationships proves to be a great challenge.  My mother worked tirelessly to encourage her children to form positive relationships with each other.  I would generally say that the Lord blessed her efforts, but it was hard work.  It is easy for us to hate our enemies apart from us, but it is easier to despise those of our own family.  Our duty to preserve and promote the family requires all members to work at obtaining and maintaining positive relationships.

I must add to the end, a comment that rightly belongs at the beginning.  Christians, sensing the attack on the family can overreact, placing the family at a higher rank than it ought to occupy.  Again, we must remember the requirement of the First Commandment.  Family cannot replace God.  You cannot find in your family, the love, joy, and peace that only God in Christ gives freely.  Do not make your family your God. (In rewriting this series, I would add this caution to many previous topics: occupation, location, and relations)

Make no mistake.  The family is important and is under attack.  If we would live Christian in an unchristian world, we must labor to maintain the unity of our families.