Coronavirus Civil Disobedience

civildisobedienceOver at 9Marks, there is a helpful discussion on whether/if a church could ever civilly disobey the various quarantine/shelter-in-place orders.

There are several helpful insights in the conversation. Jamieson gives a rough ‘n’ ready nugget when he points out that Acts 5:29 (“we must obey God rather than man”) is a helpful prooftext and “warranted when Government commands what God forbids, or forbids what God commands.” Listen (even better, subscribe!) to the whole conversation.

Further, host Jonathan Leeman asks in 9Marks Journal, “When Should Churches Reject Governmental Guidelines on Gathering and Engage in Civil Disobedience?” Helpfully, Leeman gives an answer to the “when” aspect. Two criteria are proposed: the “reasonableness” of the government’s rationale, and the target of the government’s actions (“the government cannot single out religious groups”). How well do those criteria hold up? Continue reading

Is Your Good News Good? An Approach to a Reformed response

Gilbert_GospelGreg Gilbert has responded in an article entitled “‘Jesus Is King’ Is Not Good News: A Response to Scot McKnight and Matthew Bates” at 9Marks. This is his rejoinder following the response to his T4G sermon. All the relevant links can be found above.

Rather than trying to suss out whether Gilbert or Bates/McKnight is more correct, I’d like to suggest a alternative, Reformed approach. Back when the Lordship controversy was raging between Zane Hodges and John MacArthur, Michael Horton et al didn’t endorse MacArthur, but instead pointed out inadequacies with both sides, and produced Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Savlation (book). I’ve observed the usefulness of that title elsewhere. I don’t think Hodges=Bates/McKnight, or Gilbert=MacArthur. But it might be useful to consider some Reformed categories, rather than just lumping in with Gilbert, in this debate also.

Distinctio sed non Separatio

Reformed theologians constantly demanded we distinguish concepts without separating them. The persons of the Trinity, Jesus’ divine and human natures, justification and sanctification in union with Christ, and the Church as institution and organism were all concepts that needed to be distinguished as different, but could not ultimately be separated. Like the heads and tails of a coin, they were distinct but indivisible.

The Bates/McKnight camp is fond of emphasizing the Kingship of Jesus, even going so far as to equivocate “Messiah” for “anointed King.” While this is certainly true, and gloriously true!, it leaves out at least two other aspects of Jesus’ anointed work: prophetic and priestly. As Heidelberg Catechism #31 puts it, being the “Christ” or “Messiah” means that Jesus is our Chief Prophet, our High Priest, and our Eternal King. Continue reading

Pastoring In Plagues

Luther_Plague2Or, how historical theology brings hope.

Pestilence and Pastoral Ministry (at Gentle Reformation)

Plague and Providence: What Huldrych Zwingli Taught Me About Trusting God (TGC) Zwingli’s “Plague Song” helps deal with fear, especially amidst physical uncertainty five hundred years later.

Responding to Pandemics: 4 Lessons from Church History (TGC) This has Dionysius and Cyprian, but the other two are Luther and Spurgeon, who are filled out more completely below. Update: For an even deeper look at Dionysius and Cyprian, see this article “Glorifying God In the Midst of A Pandemic” from CTS.

Spurgeon’s Dangerous Mission (Challies) Not specific to plagues, but nevertheless characterizes several instances of ministry in extreme dangers.

Pandemics And Public Worship Throughout History (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship) Twelve instances of plague from the patristic period to the Ebola outbreak to 2015

 Luther: Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague (The Davenant Institute) A fourteen page pamphlet Luther composed when the Black Plague hit Wittenburg. A magisterial treatment from the magisterial Reformation.

5 Lessons from Spurgeon’s Ministry in a Cholera Outbreak (TGC) Spurgeon’s life is simply amazing.

Francis Grimke sermon: “Some Reflections Growing Out Of The Recent Epidemic Of Influenza That Afflicted Our City” (IX Marks) When the Spanish Flu hit America in the early twentieth century, African American pastor Grimke penned this sermon.

Spurgeon: “What Is God Doing?” (Bethlehem College & Seminary) A sermon from the Prince of preachers on God’s aims in a plague. (Bonus: “Lessons from Spurgeon on the Coronavirus” from Christian Concern

“Glorifying God In the Midst of A Pandemic” (CTS)

Do you know of other excellent historical theological perspectives on plague and disease? Share them in the comments below.

Theology as Passion

TheoPassion“Theology carries with it a unique mode of existence. Barth and his followers referred to this as a theologische Existenz (theological mode of existence).

This theological mode of existence involves more than acquiring a substantial amount of knowledge, more than doing theology as creatively as possible. It concerns the cultivation of a certain underlying passion.

This passion is, first, a passion for God and His kingdom. As the word indicates, a true theologian speaks about God. But his or her passion also concerns the people of God and the world of God. This dimension will perhaps not radiate from every page the theologian writes. It is a cultivated passion; that is, it lies in the background and will typically surface in a restrained manner.”

C van der Kooi & G. van den Brink Christian Dogmatics: An Introduction p. 29-30

Holiness In Christ

beeke_livingbygodspromisesA beautiful section from Living By God’s Promises:

That obedience is commanded is clear… On what basis does the apostle give such a command [from Romans 6:12 – 13, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”]?

Surely the apostle does not believe man is able in himself to obey, for he has already given over all men to sin (Rom. 3:9 – 20) and would not contradict that truth here. Neither does he believe that we are able in ourselves to obey, for the very point of Romans 6:1 – 11 is that just as our union with Christ’s death has freed us from sin’s dominion, so our union with Christ’s resurrection has freed us to obey. Therefore, our holiness cannot even be considered outside of Christ, in whom we enjoy it. Holiness, or obedience to God’s imperatives, is not something we enjoy because of Christ, but rather something we enjoy in and from Christ (Rom 6:11 – 12). Our acceptance before God is therefore *in* Him (Eph 1:6) and not *because of* Him. The latter viewpoint suggests that Christ brings us to a place of holiness by which we can stand before God on our own, while the former states that Christ, by redemption, so unites us to Himself as the beloved of God that we stand before God in Him… We obey the imperatives of the gospel because we enjoy the indicatives of the gospel.
p. 130

One small quibble. Why distinguish between in Christ, as if it were opposed to because of Christ? Surely, Beeke et al do not mean to suggest that it is “because of” something else other than Christ. Often, “because of” can suggest the logical or causal ground, and I highly doubt Beeke thinks there can be any other ground than Christ our Lord. Further, I do not think “because of” can mean “[I] can stand before God on [my] own.” I’m perfectly happy with Beeke’s explanation (“The latter viewpoint…”), but I would have never thought to contrast in with because of.

Despite that quibble, there is so much beautiful, life-giving, truth summed up in just a few short verses! What I first learned in Owen, I see with such precise and clear wording here. Far too many Christians today have “found Jesus for forgiveness,” but then labor in their own power & person for obedience. They have not connected Gospel indicatives to the imperatives. I know what joy it has brought to my life, and the transformation He has wrought, to see myself laboring for the Lord in a power that is not my own, but His grace within (I Corinthians 15:10)! And this has come in union – abiding in, dwelling with, meditating on – with the risen Christ.

Athanasius: Christ Drives Out Fear of Death

Sometimes you run out of room or time in your Lord’s Day sermon, and so “Monday Morning Pulpit” is a chance to expand upon or reinforce ideas you didn’t have a chance to finish during the sermon.

On Resurrection Sunday, I preached from Hebrews 2:14 – 15; “that through death Christ might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” The following Athanasius quote is MONEY for the sanctification of the fear of death, but I wasn’t able to read the whole quote in the sermon. Enjoy!

“For that death is destroyed, and that the Cross is become the victory over it, and that it has no more power but is verily dead, this is no small proof, or rather an evident warrant, that it is despised by all Christ’s disciples, and that they all take the aggressive against it and no longer fear it; but by the sign of the Cross and by faith in Christ tread it down as dead. For of old, before the divine sojourn of the Saviour took place, even to the saints death was terrible, and all wept for the dead as though they perished. But now that the Saviour has raised His body, death is no longer terrible; for all who believe in Christ tread him under as no naught, and choose rather to die than to deny their faith in Christ. For they verily know that when they die they are not destroyed, but actually [begin to] live, and become incorruptible through the Resurrection. And that devil that once maliciously exulted in death, now that its pains were loosed, remained the only one truly dead. Continue reading

Rutherford’s Catechism – Prolegomena and Theology Proper

RUTHERFORD-Samuel1

Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) was an important Reformed theologian and pastor. Here’s an accessible biography. Known for his help on the Westminster Assembly’s shorter catechism, Rutherford also penned his own. I have tried to clarify the spelling and make it available in searchable text. Continuing sections will be set out in the future.

Rutherford’s Catechism, or, The Sum of Christian Religion

Q. #1 What is the way to life eternal?
A. To know God and him whom he has sent, Jesus Christ.
John 17:3

Q. #2 Wherein stands this knowledge?
A. In faith and good works, that are the fruits of faith.
Titus 1:16; I Timothy 1:5; Psalms 37:3

Q. #3 Where may we learn the doctrine of faith?
A. In God’s wisdom (I Cor 2:6) in the Old and New Testaments, containing all things to make us wise to salvation.
II Tim 3:16

Q. #4 Then this Word of God is a perfect rule of faith and manners
A. Yes, it is so perfect that they are under a curse that add to it or take from it.
Ps 29:7; I Tim 3:18; Luke 16:29; John 22:31; I Cor 2:6; Rev 22:19; Deut 12:31; Prov 30:6

Q. #5 Who should expound the Word?
A. It is plain, and a light to those who have eyes (Psalm 119:105; II Pet 1:19; Deut 30:11), and in material needful to salvation it expounds itself and those that have the Spirit of God (II Cor 2:11; Psalm 25:9; John 12:12) should expound the Word by the light of the Word.

Q. #6 For what cause should we believe the Word to be the Word of God?
A. Not because men or the Kirk say so, but because God who cannot lie says it.
John 5:33 – 35; Matt 16:17 Continue reading

A Response To The Horror in Florida

FloridaVigilThe recent tragedy at the Florida high school has once again left Americans in agony to deal with the violence within our culture. Christians are often forced to deal with these headlines in a mix of their faith, the latest claims screaming for their attention on social media, their own cultural biases, and more.

I’ve found the following links helpful for thinking about the recent tragedy.

Nikolas Cruz And the Unmasking of Sin and Evil
Tom Ascol writes concisely:
“The reason that people carry out murderous rampages is not because of poverty, mental illness, guns, lack of education or any other social ill. At the root of such actions is the consistent outworking of sin—blatant rebellion against God.”
Founders Ministries Article Continue reading

Milne on the Puritans & Dreams

GMilne-WestminsterConfessionFaithCessationSpecialRevelationCareful studies that cut past stereotypes are incredibly useful today, and G.H. Milne’s The Westminster Confession of Faith and Cessation of Special Revelation: The Majority Puritan Viewpoint on Whether Extra-Biblical Prophecy Is Still Possible (Wipf & Stock: Eugene, OR, 2007) is of terrific use on the cessationist issue. As I’m preaching through the Jacob toledot on Joseph and the dreams God gives him, Milne’s points about how the Puritans saw dreams have been very useful. I might be able to post more on this topic in the future, but here is some raw data from the pages of Milne’s monograph for general use. Pick up his book! Tolle lege!

p. 93
More commonly, as [James] Usher highlighted, God divulged his mind through dreams and visions, such as those granted to Joseph and Daniel, which were instances of “Revelations whereby God signified his will”. Yet, just as with the Urim and Thummim, those divine revelatory dreams which were given to pagans or non-Israelites had a “temporal” salvific significance for the people of God. The dream given to the pagan soldier in the camp of Midian, for example, made Gideon confident of victory, inviting the comment from the Annotations, “Divine dreams are always either clear and evident of themselves, or else opportunity interprised for the benefit of God’s people.” Continue reading

Society’s Need For Hell

“In the fifth place, that endless punishment is rational is proved by the history of morals. In the records of human civilization and morality, it is found that that age which is most reckless of law and most vicious in practice is the age that has the loosest conception of penalty and is the most inimical to the doctrine of endless retribution. A virtuous and religious generation adopts sound ethics and reverently believes that “the judge of all the earth will do right” (Gen. 18:25); that God will not “call evil good and good evil nor put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isa. 5:20); and that it is a deadly error to assert with the sated and worn-out sensualist: “All things come alike to all; there is one event to the righteous and the wicked” (Eccles. 9:2).

The French people, at the close of the eighteenth century, were a very demoralized and vicious generation, and there was a very general disbelief and denial of the doctrines of divine existence, immortality of the soul, freedom of the will, and future retribution. And upon a smaller scale, the same fact is continually repeating itself. Any little circle of businessmen who are known to deny future rewards and punishments are shunned by those who desire safe investments. Continue reading