Liars R Us

Liars gonna lie. That’s what we do. I, having been known to tell a lie from time to time, quite understand the temptation and the reality.  What is harder for me to understand is why lying is so effective, why it is that we are so susceptible to believing lies.  I believe one reason we are lied to so often is because lying works. What I don’t get is why it works, especially after we have been lied to so often.

The internet seems to attract liars. I understand, for instance, that sundry north African countries are having a hard time getting anyone to serve as oil minister. These poor guys seem to die every other day. And wouldn’t you think, with all the care they take to leave millions for their wives, that they would have found a way to actually get those millions home without needing my help? In like manner were I you I’d sell any Apple stock you might be holding. Sure their products are great, but their business plan is just crazy. Apparently, based on the pop-ups I keep seeing (or would if I used a pc) they think they can make a killing by giving away their phones, pads and laptops, you know, if you’re lucky enough to win.

Direct mail, however, however outdated it might seem to be, hasn’t given up either. Yesterday I received in the mail an official looking envelope from Motor Vehicle Services. In blaring red letters I was warned that this was my last notice.  Were my tags expired? Was I past due for an inspection? The other thing I noticed on the envelope was that it was sent presorted. That is, cheaply. It was direct mail. Turns our Motor Vehicle Services isn’t after all a government agency. It’s a private business offering warranties on cars.

I remember the same basic trick being played on my by a Christian ministry. This envelope was oversized with snazzy red stripes, and a profile of an eagle. It said EXPRESS DELIVERY, and DATED MATERIAL on the front. It too, however, confessed to being direct mail by the pre-sorted sticker in the corner.  It was an appeal for donations.

As I said, I understand that people lie. But why would that work? Who would trust any promise from any business that started the whole business relationship with a lie? “I know I just tricked you into opening this envelope, but now I want you to trust me on this warranty deal. You’re going to love it.” Who would make a donation to a ministry that introduces themselves to you with a lie? “We lied to you about this being an overnight package. But we will take good care of any money you send us for this worthy project. Honest we will.”

The sad truth is not just that we lie, but that we accept lying. We are not put off by it, nor are we driven to a fitting skepticism. We take the view that if a business isn’t lying to us it isn’t really trying. The sad truth is that we have lost the capacity to blush when we lie and lost the capacity to object when we are lied to. We have no shame and we have no dignity. And that friends, is the truth.

Ask RC: Should women be permitted to serve communion?

Symbols can be tricky things. They are often a great help to us, communicating difficult to express truths in difficult to forget ways. They can, however, get a touch uppity from time to time. Sometimes the symbol loses all sense of proportion and thinks itself more important than the thing symbolized. Remember that the children ofIsraelthought themselves safe, chanting “The Temple of the Lord, theTempleof the Lord.” The temple should have been a symbolic reminder of God’s presence with His people. But once the people looked to the temple, rather than God Himself, trouble was coming and quick.

The Bible doesn’t tell us who ought to serve communion. We can take a sound step toward keeping our symbols in mind if we remember first they are only our symbols, not God’s law. The reason most churches, including the church where I serve, have elders serving communion is to connect symbolically their calling to guard the table, with the actual service of the table. That is, the elders are called to determine if the claim to faith made by those under their care is legitimate or not. If a man is living in gross and unrepentant sin, and still claims to be a Christian, it is the job of the elders to say to that man, and to the church, “This man, until he repents, does not look to us to be a Christian. Therefore he is not welcome at the Lord’s Table.” It is good and appropriate then, to connect the office of the elder with the Table of our Lord. If elders are serving the sacrament, then of course women should not serve the sacrament, not because of the sacrament, but because women are not to be elders. That is, if you are in a church with women elders, the trouble isn’t that a woman is handing you the body and the blood. The problem is that a woman is ruling in the church, something not just symbolically wrong, but forbidden by the plain language of Scripture (I Timothy 2:12).

On the other hand, if a given church is unconcerned about connecting the call of elders to guard the flock with the call of elders to guard the table, it is not such a big issue. God never said, “Though shalt not receive the tray from a woman, unless she is the woman sitting beside you in the pew.” There are some wings of the evangelical church that are just flat uncomfortable with the symbols God Himself gave us. What is so interesting to watch is how man’s symbols always sneak in to fill the void. Some churches celebrate the sacrament only once a year. Every week, however, they have an altar call. Every week they call on the lost to repent, and the found to repent and recommit. Which is just what is happening when we come forward to the table. The Lord’s Table the Lord commanded the altar call He did not. These same kinds of churches are often uncomfortable with the clear lines of authority God has established with deacons and elders. So instead they begin worrying about whether so and so’s walk is good enough for him or her to be a choir member, or Sunday School teacher, as if these are offices in the church.

“Serving communion” is neither an office, nor a calling in the church, according to God’s Word. Would the symbolism be more fitting for a man to serve? Perhaps it would. Would it be more fitting for an elder to serve? Almost certainly it would. Is it fitting to judge one another on our differing guesses about what is fitting and what is not? Of course not. Instead let us encourage one another to submit to all that God commands. In short, in essentials we should have unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.

Five Bad Ideas Birthed From Fear

There are, in the end, essentially only two forms of ethics. One approach is pragmatic, the other principled. Pragmatism on its own, of course, is always incomplete. That is to say, we can’t answer the question of what works until we know what it works for. Ethics, for instance, in Soviet Russia affirmed that the good is that which promotes the interests of the party. Utilitarian ethics affirms that the good is that which promotes the most happiness for the most people.  Whatever you plug in as the goal, pragmatism then picks what best serves the goal.

The principled approach, on the other hand, does not look to the future and guess what will come to pass. It affirms that we are called to do what is right because it is right, not because it will create a hoped for outcome. Indeed it would go so far as to say we ought to do what is right even if it were to bring a bad outcome.

Most Christians naturally lean toward the principled approach.  Paul tells children, “Obey your parents in the Lord for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). It’s true enough that the Bible does speak to the blessings of obedience. Ephesians 6:2 reminds us that the command of children to honor their parents is the first command with a promise, that it would go well in the land. We start, however, with “for this is right.”

While Christians instinctively lean toward the principled approach we also find ourselves pulled toward the consequential. We don’t like seeing bad things happen, and so begin to strategize. And that’s when the wheels start to fall off. Below are five common ways we find ourselves misled by trying to peer into the crystal ball.

5. The economic safety net. Most Christians know that it is wrong for the state to take money from one person to give it to another. Most Christians oppose socialism in principle. And most Christians believe we need to take some money from one person and give it to another, that we have to have a little socialism. If, these good people seem to reason, we don’t have a social safety net, people will starve to death.  Therefore we need to set aside the principle and be more reasonable, realistic. Except that it’s still wrong. As is usually the case, what the consequentialist thinks he knows about what will happen is wrong. People in free economies did not starve before there were safety nets. But that’s not the point. It is wrong to take what belongs to one person and to give it to another, whatever might happen.

4. Legal abortion. Most Christians know that it is wrong for the state to protect mothers and doctors who murder babies. But most Christians are willing to support candidates for office who think otherwise in order to keep worse candidates out of office. If we don’t support exceptions, these folks argue, we will lose elections, justice nominations, and will end up with more dead babies. Again I believe we will have no abortions when God’s people insist that all abortion is murder. But even if that were false, it’s wrong to negotiate over the deaths of little babies, no matter how many might be lost.

3. Government schools. Most Christians know that it is wrong to educate children in a context in which the Lordship of Christ cannot even be mentioned. But most Christians are not only willing to accept the existence of state schools that tax us all to educate children in that context, but are willing to send their children there 180 days a year. If we don’t, we’ll lose the wife’s income. If we don’t the children will not be able to get a good job. If we don’t how will we evangelize the other children there? I believe the complete dismantling of the state education system would be a profound blessing to the nation. I believe Christians taking their children out of the system would lead to the greatest revival the nation has ever seen. But none of that matters. God commands us to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. If that means we obey Him, and we lose income, our children get lousy jobs and unbelievers are evangelized somewhere else, so be it.

2. Seeker sensitive worship. Most Christians know that it is wrong to design our worship so as not to offend unbelievers. But most Christians believe the lost are brought in this way, that church is more comfortable for everyone. Now I believe that if we were to establish a strategy, this is the worst one possible. One man, preaching to a bunch of stiff-necked unbelievers preached this basic message, “You stiff-necked Jews. You crucified the Messiah.” 3000 were brought in the day Peter preached that sermon. That, however, isn’t the issue. That same essential sermon, given by Stephen, led to his martyrdom. Both sermons honored God, not because of the consequences, but because of the obedience.

1. The Mother of them all. Most Christians know that it is wrong to disobey a direct and clear command of God most high. But most Christians also believe it would be great to be more like God, that it is desirable to be made wise. And so, the very first consequentialists, believing their disobedience would bring blessing, ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They thought it would be better to disobey than to obey.

It is not my intention here to open up a massive debate over worship, schools, abortion and the welfare state. The point of this exercise wasn’t to knock those things. Rather, the point is the meta-point. Consequentialism is no way to make moral decisions. And arguing the awful consequences of not doing so is just begging the question. God promises that if we obey Him He will bless. If not, He will curse. We don’t have access to the future. We do have the law of God. Ours is not to strategize, but to obey.

Return to Liberty – Return to Christ

Written 2008

As we race up to election day many of us are wondering what ever became of the land of liberty in which we were supposedly born. Stories of our heritage speak of independence, personal strength, faith in God in the face of trials and of all those manly traits that inspire our souls. Our nation, like no other, filled the hearts of nations with admiration. Like Israel before us we were the ones of whom even our enemies knew “surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” The French writer Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that it was the Biblical faith of the American people that made us great (Note: If you decide to read de Tocqueville make sure to get an unedited version since the new edited versions remove all his comments on the benefits of Christian civilization).

Now, here we are about four-hundred years from the arrival of the Pilgrims and two-hundred thirty four years from the Declaration of Independence sensing we are no longer living under the government they once established. Government ABC agencies control every dollar we earn and every breath we breathe. Whenever we want to do anything the first question we always ask is “is that legal?” “Will I be breaking any law?” Personally, I live in the complete middle of nowhere and I still have not figured out if I can get in trouble for shooting deer on my own land or the legal method to dispose of a paint brush. My greatest fears have little to do with Islamic terrorists blowing us up. The more immanent danger appears to be from those deputized terrorists that will get us for uttering a hateful word or ‘hoarding’ (means having some) cash or gold against future troubles. We knew our liberties were gone when they gave them black masks.

So, it seems that God’s judgments are upon us. We have lived in gross defiance of God and His law and are now seeing our liberty evaporate like a mist before the morning sun. We have rejected God and His commandments. Through socialized give away programs we have eaten our neighbor’s bread. We have become a nation of thieves. By aborting our offspring we have become a nation of murderers, not even granting our children the liberty to live. When our past President celebrated Ramadan in the White House we said nothing and became complicit in his false worship. How then are we surprised when heaven’s chastisements remove from us our liberties? Why do we complain when like ancient Israel our lives “hang in doubt”? We are the disobedient people and to us the curses fall.

Yet, God’s word calls to us promising that liberty is found in Christ. Paul wrote that “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17). This is still true today. Liberty of soul, liberty from sin, liberty from national financial ruin, liberty from worry, and liberty from judgment all come from the power of Christ. If only we will return to obedience to our Creator we will once again have liberty returned to us. Repent then with me, and believe that freedom can be restored.

Ask RC: What are your thoughts on Genesis 6: 1-5, the sons of God marrying the daughters of men?

“Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. And the Lord said, ‘My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’ There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.”


There are several competing theories on this admittedly peculiar text, a few of them fantastic, at least one of them rather pedestrian, ordinary. Some suggest, for instance, that what is happening here is that angels, typically fallen angels or demons, are intermarrying with human women. My position is the far more pedestrian one, but one that carries with it an important lesson.

First, why I reject this more fantastic view. Angels, whether fallen or not, and though I am happy to concede they can appear in human form, are spirit beings. They have no bodies. Most of the time most of us remember this, though here some seem to forget. Because angels are spirit beings they are not equipped to consummate a marriage and to sire offspring.  Demons can do all sorts of shocking and even frightening things. This, however, is not one of them. They can’t bring forth giants because they simply can’t bring forth.

When we consider the context of this text we can better understand what Moses is explaining. In previous chapters we are given a glimpse of two competing lines, the godly line of Seth and the wicked line of Cain. Having established the antithesis in the garden, after affirming that there would be a constant struggle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent we are given snapshot pictures of each of these armies. We see Seth’s line about the business of exercising dominion, in submission to the Lord. We see Cain’s line dishonoring the law of God and making names for themselves. But the future is not mere co-existence between the two lines. The drama builds toward the great crisis of Noah’s flood right here in chapter 6. The great change, what creates the great downward spiral of humanity on the earth is that the two lines come together as one. That is, the godly line of Seth, the sons of God, seeing how attractive are the daughters of men, the wicked line of Cain, decide to take them as wives. The end result, however, isn’t mere dilution. It’s not that the now joined line becomes morally lukewarm, but that evil spreads, grows, deepens.  This shouldn’t surprise as for as Chuck Swindoll reminds us, if you drop a white glove in the mud, the mud doesn’t get all glovey.

What we see is salt losing its savor. We see what becomes of intermarrying not with a different race, but a different covenant, or a different faith. What we see is what happens when we are unequally yoked. Nothing, of course, has changed. When the children of God find the world attractive, when we determine to yoke ourselves to it, calamity comes. The world does not get any better, but the church, no longer a light on the hill, becomes much worse, and darkness falls upon the land.  We are no longer useful for anything and find ourselves trampled upon the ground.

Judging We Are Judged

No one likes to be judged, but everybody does it. Outside the church, of course, are those who embrace a relativistic ethic, wherein there is no objective right or wrong. Suggest otherwise to these good people, however, and you will know they believe you have embraced something objectively wrong. The one iron-clad moral law of our age is “Thou shalt not say there are any moral laws.” Inside the church things happen a smidge differently.

Here too we judge those who judge, citing, usually wrongly if I might make a judgment, Matthew 7:1, Judge not, lest ye be judged. Worse still however is not that we judge judgers, but that we judge non-judgers, simply on the basis that we “feel” judged.

Consider this account I once read on a blog. Woman A is bemoaning the awful, evil, stench straight from hell judgmental-ness of hardcore, conservative homeschoolers. She explained how she was out doing some shopping, dressed in pants. She walked into a store, and there, doing her shopping, was Woman B, a member of Woman A’s church, dressed in a skirt. Woman B always wore a skirt or a dress, and so Woman A retired to her car, unable to shop, crying her eyes out because she was being judged by Woman B for wearing pants. Now if you think it a bad thing for women to never wear pants, chances are you sympathize with woman A. Even if you believe women shouldn’t wear pants, chances are you wish Woman B wouldn’t be so judgmental. But what, friends, has Woman B done? She dressed herself, and she went shopping. She said nothing, and as far as we know thought nothing at all about Woman A and her pants. Yet, Woman A is alone in her car casting all manner of judgment, all manner of private, secret (until she wrote the blog piece) bile against her sister. We know this not because we are free to guess what others might be thinking, but because Woman A told us in her own blog, without the least hint of irony.

Somehow we have come to believe that believing and practicing this belief or that is tantamount to practicing the inquisition against those who don’t so practice. That my wife covers her head in worship makes me want to lop the heads off women who don’t. That we believe children are a blessing now means that we look down our noses on those whom God has not so blessed.  How do I know they think these things? Because people admit these things, not to confess their own judgmental spirit, but to convict those who have neither said nor done anything. I’m not in my car crying because I’m guessing the woman in the pants is judging me for judging her. I’m shopping, not even thinking about the woman in the pants. I’m not judging the family that has only been blessed with one child. I’m praying that God would be pleased to bless them with more.

This is what Matthew 7:1 is all about. When we do have a judgmental attitude, that is, not having a view on what is right and wrong, but rather being quick to convict with little or no evidence, we can rest assured that we will be judged in like manner. If you are judging people for what you guess they are thinking in judgment of you, turn around. There is someone secretly judging you in their heart. And you deserve it.

Instead why don’t we all try to practice a judgment of charity? Why don’t we move through our days assuming that other people actually like us? That they mean and wish us well? That we can disagree about this issue and that without either side being unduly nasty about it. Maybe we in the church could all dial down the rhetoric, without dialing down our passion for His Word.

Compassion on the Cheap

We all think in shorthand. That is, we carry with us sundry mental shortcuts that move us from one thought to another swiftly. These give us license to dismiss some ideas quickly so that we might be free to mull over others. Which is why these shortcuts, when they are wrong, can be so wrong and destructive. This in turn explains why we are called to be deliberate in our thinking.

Consider this nugget of conventional wisdom: Free markets are fueled by greed, whereas socialism (sometimes called social justice, progressivism, leftist thought) is fueled by compassion. It is bad enough that non-Christians think in these terms. Christians, however, too often find themselves caught up in this folly. We, after all, in submission to our Lord, rightly oppose greed. We, in submission to our Lord, rightly cultivate compassion.  Given a sound heart on greed and compassion, and a misguided mental shortcut we will find ourselves turning into the ditch every time. Perhaps we should take a closer look at this nugget, to see if perhaps it might be fool’s gold.

First, is it true that free markets are fueled by greed? No, not true.  I am more than happy to concede that one can find greedy people where one finds free markets. On the other hand, one will also find greed in controlled markets. Greed exists not because of this economic system or that, not because of great wealth, but because of sinful hearts.  In short, the problem is in our hearts. Getting rid of liberty, or getting rid of wealth will not rid the world of greed.  Only ridding the world of us will do that. A free market is not fueled by greed, but by service. That is, the only way to succeed in a free market is to serve your customers better than others. You can only win insofar as you help your customers win, by meeting their needs and desires.

But what of compassion and socialism? Don’t they go together? Nope, not in the least. Here are three simple reasons. First, taxing one group of people to give the money to another group of people is bad for the people who receive the money. When Paul says, “If anyone will not work neither shall he eat” (II Thessalonians 3:10) he isn’t being mean, but gracious to those who would not work. When we subsidize not working we get more of it. And when we don’t work we become less what we are made to be as God’s image bearers. It is also harmful to the recipient because it is damaging to the economy, which hits those on the lowest rungs first.

Second, taking from one group to give to another fails the compassion test because it is not compassionate to those who are having their wealth taken.  We tend to be okay with this, however, because of the shortcut we’re examining. We think it’s okay to not show compassion to the person with more than us because their having more than us is a sure sign that they are greedy.  But we are all wealthy compared to someone. If we want to keep what is ours, being understanding of others would mean we would want them to keep what is theirs, no matter how much they have.

Finally, and most importantly, asking the state to take from one group to give to others isn’t compassionate because we are not the ones making the sacrifice. I am not demonstrating a giving heart if I steal my neighbor’s car, and give it to a struggling single parent. You can’t, in short, be compassionate on someone else’s dime. Christians are called to be compassionate, which means we give what is ours, not what is our neighbors’. We give in the name of Jesus, not in the name of Uncle Sam. Christians are those who sacrifice themselves, not who use the state to sacrifice others.

The next time you are tempted to take this mental shortcut, remember that the Bible is our map. It says we all struggle with greed. And it says we are called to give of our own wealth, not the wealth of others. This in turn, leads to prosperity, for those who have less than we do, for us, and for those who have more.

Those Mean People in the Church We Just Left

Written 2009

I am asked a fair number of questions. Most of those questions are about the convictions I hold, and how I would respond to those who don’t agree with me. Sometimes, however, I am asked to explain how those who disagree with me reach their conclusions. Sometimes in such situations I am able to help. Other times I am utterly befuddled.

Take for instance professing evangelicals who decide to become Roman Catholic, or eastern Orthodox. Why would someone do such a thing? I once gave a lecture at a conference seeking to answer just that question. My title was “Back to Egypt?” I believed myself equipped to answer the question in part because of my proximity to some of the most celebrated “converts.” Franky Schaeffer I have never met, but I have lived his life. He and I both are the sons of iconic Reformed thinkers. Both of us have been known to wield a sharp pen from time to time. And he went Orthodox. Gerry Matatics for many years served as a Roman apologist at Catholic Answers, having been ordained first in the Presbyterian Church in America. He, while still thoroughly Reformed, discipled me when I was in high school. The most famous “convert” was Gerry’s best friend in seminary, Scott Haun. Scott too had been thoroughly Reformed, but was secretly planning his departure to Rome while working at Grove City College, where, surprise surprise, he discipled me.

I argued in that talk that Rome and Orthodoxy seem to offer some things we seem to be sorely lacking in the evangelical church- history, unity, community, and beauty. I went on to suggest that in fact they do not have history, nor unity, community and beauty. I suggested that despite all appearances, the evangelical church does have history. It does have unity. It does have community. And it could have beauty. I concluded, however, that even if Rome and Orthodoxy are chock full of these things, and evangelicals utterly bereft, it is in the evangelical church that the gospel is preached, where salvation can be found.

All of the above is simply to explain that I do understand why people would leave the evangelical church. I don’t, of course, agree. But I can see how a person could so err. What I don’t understand, however, is why they still want to be friends. Well, I sort of understand. I mean, I have had people I loved deeply, including members of the flock of Saint Peter where I serve, take this journey. One young man that went Orthodox lived in my home for a year. I loved him as a son. I have had my own heart broken. I understand the personal feelings and connections. What I guess truly confuses me is how they can leave, and then get mad at those of us who stayed.

They join, in the case of Orthodoxy, an institution that affirms that the evangelical church is not a true church. They join, in the case of Rome, an institution that formally and unchangeably affirms that people who affirm that a man is justified by faith alone (that’s me, for those of you keeping score) should be damned. What makes no sense to me is that these folks leave us for the one true church, and then, because we affirm what they affirm, that we are not together all part of the one true church, point fingers at us for being insufficiently ecumenical. They are venerating Mary, or kissing icons they are seeing us as at best schismatics and at worst damnable and want to know where we get off shunning them.

Friends, if you’re going to go, go. Don’t look back. Do know, however, that if you should ever come to remember that it is our faith alone that brings to us the perfect life and atoning death of Christ, when you are ready to proclaim your trust in His finished work alone, when you are ready to come to the one true church, we will kill the fatted calf and rejoice. In the meantime, however, while you lie in the bed you made, don’t expect us to crawl in with you.

Ask RC: Is it permissible to hold a communion service without an ordained minister being present to administer the sacrament?

Probably not. There are two separate and related issues tied together in this question, one easier, the other less easy. First is the question of the authority to celebrate the table. The Reformers argued that the three marks of the church, that which tells us what is a true church and what is not, where these- the gospel rightly preached, the sacraments rightly administered and discipline rightly practiced. The first two are intimately tied to the third in this way- if the Word is not rightly preached, or if the sacraments not rightly administered, discipline must take place. Only when there is no discipline to correct errors in the first two do we cease to be a church.

Discipline, historically understand, has come under the purview of the elders of the local church. They bear the “power of the keys,” the power to bind and to loose. They are called to determine which professions of faith are credible and which are not. This is one reason why I fight so vigorously against the modern Anabaptist notion that one can have a credible profession of faith without being under the authority of local, specific elders. It isn’t my assertion of my faith that makes it credible. It is the agreement of my elders, those who know me, that makes it credible. In like manner, the sacraments ought not to be administered in any context separate from the authority of local elders.

A group of Christians, on their own, then are not to administer the sacraments. With no mechanism for discipline the sacraments cannot be rightly administered. I understand, and have even felt that desire when gathered together with beloved brothers and sisters outside the context of a local church. But I also understand the danger of severing the sacraments from the visible church. Those who have no authority to excommunicate have no authority to incommunicate, so to speak.

I suspect, though I could not say for sure, that the practice of only allowing ordained ministers to administer the sacrament is grounded in the same principle I have already articulated. That said, I would argue the case here is weaker. That is, while it is symbolically fitting and appropriate for the elders of the church to administer the sacrament, because of the authority inherent in their office, I am not comfortable saying it should be required that they administer the sacrament. Symbols can be good things, insofar as they remember their place. When they become the grounding of law, however, I start to get a bit nervous. (In a similar way I dislike the symbolism that is communicated when fathers receive the bread and the wine and distribute them to their families. That I dislike the symbolism, however, doesn’t mean I’m prepared to call such a sin.)

On a broader note, I would encourage us to be slow to jettison the wisdom of our fathers. That is, just because we don’t know why they did things the way they did doesn’t mean they didn’t have good reason, reasons we ought to know and understand. A smug assurance that whatever reasons they must have had must be stuffy, stifling and sectarian is silly, self-righteous and, well, smug. It may just be that we have something to learn from them, and that their caution is grounded in biblical wisdom.

Skinny Jeans, Narrow Minds

“I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (I Corinthians 9: 22).  From the beginning this great nugget of gospel wisdom has been the bedrock of every form of contextualization. From Hudson Taylor adopting the local garb to Willow Creek’s strumming guitars we rightly see Christians with a passion for the lost aspiring to remove every unnecessary obstacle out of the way.  We are, after all, hoping to see the lost brought into the kingdom, not laboring to see the different adopt our cultural habits. Some of our fathers forgot this from time to time, such that we are told of intrepid missionaries bushwhacking their way into the African interior, carrying an organ so worship could be done properly.

Other times, however, I’m afraid we lose sight of what is necessary and what is not. We sometimes think we are removing offense, when what we are actually doing is pandering.  When we treat the unbeliever as our market, and the gospel as our product I’m afraid we remove the offense of the cross. For central to the meaning of the cross is this- You are not in charge; you are in trouble. God has no need to satisfy your demands, but you must satisfy His.

Too often our worship wars- the disagreements, arguments and even church splits we endure over just how much we ought to contextualize- miss the point. Sometimes the more conservative object to calling the hip pastor with the skinny jeans, the day old stubble and the common vocabulary because they think the staid pastor with the business suit, the helmet hair and the elevated vocabulary is part of a culture closer to God. Sometimes the less conservative object to the square pastor because they think either that one has to be cool to win the lost, or worse, that only the cool are worth saving. So we end up arguing about whose cultural expression is more biblical, more effective, more kingdom building. Whichever side we come down on however, we have already compromised the gospel, already denied the Lordship of Christ.

When we make our decisions about how we “do” church on the basis of demographics we implicitly deny the Lordship of Christ, and keep ourselves on the throne. The message of the cross isn’t “Come as you are.” The message of the cross is “Consider the cost. And it will cost you everything. You will have to give up your favorite sins, your closest friends, your most comfortable culture. You have to die with Christ.”

When we pitch Jesus we in turn miss the real promises. We fail, when we refuse to call the lost to consider the cost, to invite them to consider all that they will gain. They will inherit the world. They will cultivate the greatest virtues. They will gain brothers and sisters. They will enter into a culture as old as the garden, as deep as the ocean, as broad as the planet. We fail to tell the stuffy that they are going to come to love the tattooed because Jesus died for them and indwells them. We fail to tell the trendy that they are going to come to love singing the music of the ancients, that the guy with the comb-over is the bomb because he’s spent his life meditating on the Bible. And the blue haired lady that sings The Old Rugged Cross off key- she has done more the kingdom than all the hip preachers on your ipod combined.

We don’t get to bring our cultural markers with us into the kingdom. No, we are citizens of a different nation. We do not count noses to decide what to sing and how to dress, but we practice the democracy of the dead, following the ancient paths of our fathers. We don’t write this liturgy for this group, that liturgy for that group. We instead renew covenant as it has always been from the days of Abel.  We do not come as we are. We come as He is. All of us, together.

Stand on the Word. Walk by the Way. Run to the Battle. Rest in the Son.
Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr. teaches at Reformation Bible College and Ligonier Ministries in Sanford, Florida.
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