Category Archives: Apologetics

Fruit of the Church

“And as they did not study to have knowledge of God, God delivered them to a worthless mind to do what is not lawful, being filled with all kinds of unrighteousness, wickedness, greediness, and evil. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and meanness. They are gossipers, slanderers, and haters of God. They are insolent, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, and disobeyers of parents. They are without understanding, covenant breakers, without affections, and without mercy. They know the decrees of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do them, but also approve of those who do them.”

(Romans 1:28-32)

If one is to judge a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:16), then the fruit of idolatry in a culture is unrighteousness, wickedness, greediness, evil, envy, murder, strife, deceit, meanness, gossip, slander, hatred of God, insolence, pride, boasting, inventing evil, disobeying of parents, lacking understanding, covenant breaking, lacking affections, lacking mercy, and approving of these things in others. As to our culture: guilty as charged. As to much of the church in America: guilty as charged. The fruit of our culture is bad enough but when the fruit of the church reflects the fruit of the culture we have a major problem that needs to be rectified. And, while at times, reform can be brought from within, there is also a point in time when one must “come out of her lest you take part in her sins” (Revelation 18:4, alluding to Isaiah 48:20). 

The Belgic confession drives this point home in Article 28, where it reads: “It is the duty of all believers, according to the Word of God, to separate themselves from all those who do not belong to the Church and to join themselves to this congregation [namely the True Church], wheresoever God has established it.” The True Church, in principle, is referred to in this article as “the assembly of those who are saved.” How can light have fellowship with darkness, Truth with error, righteousness with evil? For the wellbeing of our souls, we must align ourselves with Christ’s church and not with the parodies of it that are so prevalent in society.

Remaining in such a place is at best to content oneself with spiritual mediocrity for the same of what? Tradition? A fancy building to which you are partial? Habit? Safety? Friendships? Fancy dinners? Personalities? All of these are likely answers that would have been given by the people of Laodicea. Yet, when the years of accumulated dust of the false church is finally kicked off the feet, one will discover just how encumbered we were while wearing those old muddy boots. In doing so, one can leave behind the stench of the rotten food described above and taste (maybe for the first time!) fruit that is healthy, good, ripe, and in season for the church. And, while it is true that even the True Church has to face its problems when sin raises its ugly head; when said sin is pointed out, it will be confessed, repented of, and put away; such is not the case of the False Church.

  So, as Peter says, judgment begins with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17). Start with self-judgment so that you may not be judged (1 Corinthians 11:31) and separate yourself from the fruit of idolatry that is so prevalent in the pseudo-church all around us.

Breaking Covenant: A Separation from the Body

“And as they did not study to have knowledge of God, God delivered them to a worthless mind to do what is not lawful, being filled with all kinds of unrighteousness, wickedness, greediness, and evil. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and meanness. They are gossipers, slanderers, and haters of God. They are insolent, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, and disobeyers of parents. They are without understanding, covenant breakers, without affections, and without mercy. They know the decrees of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do them, but also approve of those who do them.”

(Romans 1:28-32)

One of the many results of worshiping the creation rather than the creator is that people become “covenant breakers.” The word in question is ἀσύνθεστος (asunthestos) and is often translated as “faithless” or “untrustworthy” in our English Bibles. Like many words in this particular passage, ἀσύνθεστος (asunthestos) begins with the “alpha primitive,” meaning that it is the negation of the word συντίθημι (suntithemi), which refers to working our an agreement in good order, typically in the form of a contract or a covenant. Thus, those who are ἀσύνθεστος (asunthestos) are those people who either break said contracts or who otherwise ignore them. 

While the making and breaking of contracts is something found all over in the business world, one ought not expect it within the church — covenant breaking of this sort is the result of idolatry! Nevertheless, a brief survey of the American church will reveal that it is rampant within the walls of God’s house today. People commonly see the vows they take as mere conventions rather than as a life and death covenant before the Living God in the presence of witnesses. 

Thus, when attendance is lagging, people will respond by saying, “Well, you know that I have just been busy.” When they are not teaching their children the Christian faith, they say, “Well, I want them to make their own decisions.” When people are not growing in their faith and understanding of God’s Word, they say, “Well, theology is for the pastor and those who go to seminary” (which, by the way, is the death-knell of a church!). When churches do not practice church discipline, leaders say, “Well, if we do, they will just be offended and attend the church down the street.” And when unBiblical ideas find themselves in church services through the songs that are sung or the ideas that are addressed, people say, “Well, cultural views have changed.”

Cultural views have indeed changed, but not God’s views. And a vow is meant to transcend culture. One takes them before the Living God and asks God himself to hold you accountable to said vows. This is indeed true in our marriages, but it is also true with the vows we take to our local church (and in the case of pastors and Elders, to the denomination). As long as that church remains a True Church, one is bound to abide under that church’s authority. When a church descends into teaching false doctrine, failing to practice the Sacraments as Jesus instituted them, or stops disciplining its members, then one is free from one’s covenant to the church because the church has broken and nullified it…not you as an individual. And the church will be judged by God. 

Nevertheless, what we find in much of the visible church today are groups of people who care little about the vows they make and care even less about holding others to their vows. Discipline has almost disappeared from the church…and sadly, when discipline is practiced, it is often practiced with a vindictive spirit rather than with a spirit that seeks reconciliation. This again is a mark of the culture’s desire to worship the creation rather than the creator — a culture that seeks to please itself in worship rather than pleasing God. 

Anti-Regulation: The Church’s Rejection of God’s Decrees

“And as they did not study to have knowledge of God, God delivered them to a worthless mind to do what is not lawful, being filled with all kinds of unrighteousness, wickedness, greediness, and evil. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and meanness. They are gossipers, slanderers, and haters of God. They are insolent, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, and disobeyers of parents. They are without understanding, covenant breakers, without affections, and without mercy. They know the decrees of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do them, but also approve of those who do them.”

(Romans 1:28-32)

Simply spoken, many in the western church today assume that the church is a kind of democracy — or perhaps a democratic republic for those who practice presbyterian forms of government. In a democracy, people have the right to vote or the privilege of voting (depending on the structure of said government). In some cases, voting may need to be earned, but the principle remains the same: the people have a say in the decisions that are made by the body and majority rules. Similarly, in a democratic republic, the citizens elect representatives who, in turn, vote on behalf of those who elected them into office. Contrary to much of the rhetoric in America, our country is structured as a democratic republic, not as a democracy.

Yet, while the church does have elected officers who are charged with various roles and tasks, she is not, nor has ever been, a democracy or a republic. The church is a monarchy with Christ as the King. The role of those elected Elders and Deacons in the church is not to rule but to serve (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-5). Indeed, there is a reason that Elders are called ἐπισκόποι (episkopoi) or “overseers,” for an overseer has the responsibility to safeguard a task or a group of people so that things are done in accordance with the wishes of the King. 

One of the important descriptive uses of the term ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos — the singular of episkopoι) is found in the Greek translation of 2 Kings 11:18. In context, after the death of King Ahaziah of Judah, his mother, Athaliah, ordered that all of Ahaziah’s sons were to be killed, allowing her to assume the throne. Joash, one of Ahaziah’s sons was rescued by his aunt and his nurse and hidden away for six years, until the priest Jehoiada could organize the temple guard and anoint the young Joash to be the King. There is much more to the story than this, as court intrigue fills the pages of the history of the Israeli monarchy, nevertheless, these temple guards (who were mature Levitical priests) played an essential role in protecting Joash (as well as the Temple) and then seeing that temple reforms took place (like the destruction of the altars of Ba’al). 

After the coronation of Joash and the execution of his grandmother, the priest, Jehoiada made a covenant between God, the King, and the people that committed the people once again to being “the Lord’s” (2 Kings 11:17). When the altars of Ba’al were torn down, “watchmen” — episkopoi were posted over the house of the Lord. Further, in 2 Kings 12:11, it is to these same watchmen that the offerings for the temple repairs needed were given and it was by these same men that those funds were dispersed. Thus, what was the role of these overseers? It was not to rule in the manner that they saw fit. Nor, was it to rule in a democratic fashion. They were called upon to protect and facilitate the worship of God. Is that not what Elders in the Christian church are called upon to do? Is this not why Elders are to be able to instruct in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict said doctrine (Titus 1:9)? And note, the doctrine that they protect is not simply that which they happen to like, but it is that doctrine that has been decreed by the King of the Church…namely by Christ Jesus himself. If a church’s Elders are not capable theologians and apologists in their own right, how will the church sail a straight path through the storms brought about by antichrists in this world (Ephesians 4:11-15)? If church Elders simply exist to manage the business of the church, how are they fulfilling their Biblical task?

Friends, if you desire as I do, that the church be a transformative influence on the world around us, as it was during the first three centuries and as it was during the Reformation and the century thereafter, then the church must repent of its worldliness. It must repent of functioning more like a country-club or a civic organization. It must repent of convenience and it must repent of its comfort. It must be willing to obey Christ in each and every manner that the Scriptures set forth and it must call its people to do the same. It must stop thinking like a business and it must start thinking like a military outpost in enemy territory. It must stop worrying about its programs and activities and start asking, “how do these programs and activities prepare us for worship?” They must stop telling people that God loves them just the way they are and start telling people to “repent and believe.” They must begin caring more about God and his decrees and be willing to put self to death. 

Indeed, Elders — real, Biblical Elders, must gird up the loins of their mind not just to refute the errors found in the world, but also those errors found in the church and her worship. Like in the days of Joash, the idols need to be torn down and Biblical worship needs to be rebuilt. Then, maybe, just maybe, the church will stop rejecting the decrees and commands of God, start honoring God in worship (not self), and finally become relevant. 

Ecclesiastical Anti-Nomianism: The Church’s Rebellion

“And as they did not study to have knowledge of God, God delivered them to a worthless mind to do what is not lawful, being filled with all kinds of unrighteousness, wickedness, greediness, and evil. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and meanness. They are gossipers, slanderers, and haters of God. They are insolent, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, and disobeyers of parents. They are without understanding, covenant breakers, without affections, and without mercy. They know the decrees of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do them, but also approve of those who do them.”

(Romans 1:28-32)

Having been delivered up to a “worthless mind,” those who worship the creation rather than the creator do what is not lawful, the end result is that they do those things that are not lawful. One might expect this to be the case with those who live outside of the church, but sadly, it is common to see lawlessness within the church itself, most commonly in the context of Christian worship.

If lawlessness is the result of a “worthless mind,” then perhaps we must ask the question as to what constitutes a worthless mind — or perhaps, more idiomatically translated, a “worthless worldview.” The term in question is the Greek word ἀδόκιμος (adokimos), which is the word δόκιμος (dominos) with the “alpha-primitive.” The alpha simply turns the word into its negative, like “theist” and “atheist” or “moral” and “amoral.” If you have followed along with the essay on anti-gnosis, you will recognize the verbal form of the word in question: δοκιμάζω (dokimazo). Thus, δόκιμος (dominos) refers to something that has been tested and found to be true, reliable, or otherwise genuine. In turn, ἀδόκιμος (adokimos) refers to that which has been examined and found to be false, unreliable, and inauthentic. 

How can a worldview such as that be tested? Shall we not judge a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20)? In the passage above, Paul gives us an extensive list of bad fruit that comes out of a mind that is worthless. These things, in the context of the passage, are things that are unlawful in the eyes of God. Now, when speaking of the law, the Greek word we usually expect to see is νόμος (nomos), hence the word “antinomian” above. In church history, antinomians are those who have rejected the Law of God and have abused Christian liberty as a form of license, permitting any behavior about which their conscience does not condemn in them. 

In the text before us, Paul chooses a different, but related term. Here he speaks of that which is μὴ καθήκοντα (me kathekonta) or that which is “not appropriate” or “not befitting” for a person to do. The nuance is slightly different in that it almost exclusively deals with one’s conduct (where law often extends far beyond conduct to principle). Nevertheless, how does one examine conduct to discover whether it is appropriate or befitting of persons? It is (and must always be) that we go to the law. As Paul will write later in Romans, he did not know that certain things were sins were the Law not to have instructed him (Romans 7:7). One might suggest that these things that are “not appropriate” are more of a reflection of cultural norms and should not be seen as a reflection of God’s Law. Paul puts this notion to rest in the last verse of this passage when he states that those who do things such as that which he has listed are worthy of death. Only Law is capable of assigning capital punishment for its infractions. If we betray a cultural norm, at worst, we shall be looked down upon as an outsider, a persona non grata, or a pariah. Talking too loudly, putting your feet on one’s table, failing to take your shoes off, or eating with your hands may be considered uncouth in many places, but not something worth being put to death. Law, on the other hand, has the power to demand your life in nearly every civilized society. 

Notice, though, in Paul’s writing here that it all stems back to worship. People have chosen to worship the creation rather than the creator and thus, their worldview is corrupted and they refuse to obey the Law. In fact, not only do they do such things as Paul has listed, but they encourage others to do them. They promote lawlessness.

Since Paul’s focus is on worship, we ought to turn our attention back toward the church. Truly, everything that has breath is called upon to praise the Lord, but the church, having been given the Scriptures, is in a unique position to instruct the world in what worship ought to look like. At heart, that means he church most model said worship. David writes that in being forgiven from sin, the proper response is to teach others the ways of God so that they turn back to Him as well (Psalm 51:13). David also writes that when God sends out his light and truth to us, the response is worship as well (Psalm 43:3-4 — note, that as Psalm 43 does not have a superscript of its own in the Hebrew text, but the LXX assigns it Davidic authorship). How shall the world know what worship “in Spirit and in Truth” happens to look like if the church shall not practice such worship itself?

That raises the question as to what constitutes worship in Spirit and in Truth. Sadly, were one to take a poll of pastors from across the United States or even the world, answers would vary greatly. Many people have bought into the notion that worship is a subjective experience that is designed to make them feel closer to God. And, while right worship ought to draw us closer to God, to treat it as a subjective matter makes worship about the individual and not about the God who we are supposed to be worshipping. Further, if worship is about God, then we ought to go to God’s Word to determine what ought to be part of worship and then constrain ourselves to those things.

When the delegates to the Westminster Assembly gathered to tackle this question, they prayerfully searched the Scriptures to determine those things that God commands to be a part of his worship. Their conclusion is that the Scriptures instructs us to worship with six, very specific elements (WCF, Chapter 21). First, we are to pray with thanksgiving as helped by the Holy Spirit. Second, the Scriptures are to be read with godly fear. Third, the Word is to be clearly preached — in the word of many Puritans, the congregation is the “schoolroom of Christ.” Fourth, the preaching is to be heard with understanding; in other words, we are to pay attention to the Word as it is preached so that we may put it into practice in our lives. Fifth, the psalms are to be sung with a grace-filled heart. And sixth, the sacraments are to be practiced as instituted by Christ. Certainly, a window is left open for occasional vows, oaths, fasts, and special thanksgivings, but they were seen as being used (as with Paul’s collection for those suffering in Jerusalem) as necessity dictates. 

All other things, though they might be done with a clear conscience during the normal activities of our week, are not worship and thus, do not belong to the congregational practice when we gather on the Sabbath Day for worship. Reformed theologians refer to this as “the regulative principle of worship,” reflecting on the notion that God orders our worship and regulates it by His word and not by our preferences. Or, to put it another way, God’s Law governs everything we do…especially our worship.

And thus, those who seek to mold worship after their own preferences or likes, those who incorporate elements into worship that do not fit neatly into these categories commanded by Scripture, and those who would incorporate practices found in heathen worship are fighting against the Law of God. They are “ecclesiastical antinomians” and are rebelling against the God of Heaven even as they try and worship that very same God. 

And so, the church faces the criticism from the anti-theist of existing to serve its own needs — being greedy for money and providing opium for the masses. When we worship the way we want and the way that makes us feel good, rather than how God commands, how can we blame the anti-theists for their castigation? More importantly, what will be said to God when those who promote this entertainment and human-centered worship stand before His castigation? That ought to make one’s knees tremble. That ought to drive us to the repentance from those elements we have introduced and to embrace those elements we have ignored. Peter insists that judgment begins at the household of God (1 Peter 4:17). Paul encourages us though, that if we would judge ourselves truly (with the Scriptures as our rule!) then we would not be judged (1 Corinthians 11:31). 

If we wish to have a compelling witness in this unfaithful world, shall we not begin with the examination of our worship? Shall we not begin by ordering our worship according to God’s Word rather than according to our preferences? Nevertheless, there will be many who will not be able to let go of the idols they have created — to their art, their drama, their therapeutic sermons, their entertainment, their singing of human songs rather than inspired psalms, their movie-screens, and the glitz and glamor of performance because they are comfortable. And, in doing so, our witness will remain uncompelling, suspect, and without authority.

Anti-Gnosis: The Plight of the Church

“And as they did not study to have knowledge of God, God delivered them to a worthless mind to do what is not lawful, being filled with all kinds of unrighteousness, wickedness, greediness, and evil. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and meanness. They are gossipers, slanderers, and haters of God. They are insolent, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, and disobeyers of parents. They are without understanding, covenant breakers, without affections, and without mercy. They know the decrees of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do them, but also approve of those who do them.”

(Romans 1:28-32)

Peter writes that judgment must begin with the household of God (1 Peter 4: 17), which means, when salt and light does not pervade a culture where the church is immanent, there is a problem. And the source of that problem stems from within the church. If salt loses its saltiness, of what good is it? And, when light can no longer be distinguished from the darkness around, is it truly light any longer or has its lamp-stand been removed? There is no question that churches are present within communities throughout the United States, most of which proclaim themselves to be Christian. So, where is the salt and light?

It is my fear that three things have taken place. First, many churches that proclaim themselves to be “Christian” are not Christian by any meaningful sense of the term. They have rejected historic Christian Creeds and Confessional statements and have embraced ideas that have been condemned by the Councils of the Christian church going back to the first Century AD. Secondly, many professing Christians are more interested in a promise of heaven than they are interested in what it means to live out an authentic Christian faith. Many assume that they can live however they choose and worship in whatever way they prefer, so long as they have their “Get Out of Hell Free” pass promised by a person who preaches niceties to them on Sunday morning. Third, many Christians have become so busy with life that they presume that knowledge of the things of God is something for pastors and seminary students only. In fact, many are so used to this notion, that they are hostile to the notion that all Christians are commanded to study and learn the things of God.

Psalm 111:2 boldly proclaims, “Great are the works of Yahweh, studied by all who delight in them.” Do you delight in the things that God has done? Then the way you show your delight is by studying them. In fact, it could be argued that you most eagerly study those things in which you most delight. Billy Graham used to say, “If you want to know where a man’s priorities are, just look at his checkbook.” I say, “If you want to know what a man loves, look at those things that most occupy his mind and thought. 

Paul writes here in Romans that one of the results of people seeking to worship the creation rather than the creator is that they do not “study to have the knowledge of God.” The Greek word in question here is δοκιμάζω (dokimazo), which conveys the idea of examining something to see whether it is right or true and then drawing conclusions about said things on the basis of what has been tested and examined.

Conceptually, this is a powerful notion. For without such careful and detailed examination, upon what does one base their Christian belief? Too many professing Christians simply claim that faith is enough, but is faith not something that ought to be substantiated? Without examination, how is our faith in God any different than the heathen’s superstitious faith in their totems and idols? Is not faith a conviction (ἕλεγχος — elegchos — the act of presenting evidence as in a court case — Hebrews 11:1) of things that are not seen? Is not the faith that results in praise and glory and honor at the revealing of Christ a faith that is examined (δοκιμάζω — dokimazo — 1 Peter 1:7)? If God tests our hearts (1 Thessalonians 2:4) shall we also not test every spirit (1 John 4:1) — δοκιμάζω (dokimazo)? How can we make a reasoned defense of the faith if we have first not examined what we believe (ἀπολογία — apologia — 1 Peter 3:15)?

Yet, not only do many (if not most) never bother applying their reason to the faith they possess, many pastors seek to dissuade their flock from doing so. Perhaps they feel as if the reasoned examination will detract from the passion of their worship. Perhaps they do not wish to face such questions themselves. Perhaps they too are blindly following the example of a superstitious faith set for them by others. Worse yet, perhaps they feel intimidated at the idea that someone, upon examination, might discover that the faith and practice inculcated at their church might prove fraudulent and empty.

If this is the state of the American church, then why should we be surprised when the world sees our practice as unintelligent, superstitious, undesirable, and irrelevant to life? They reject the salt and light of the church because the church has lost its saltiness and its light has become so dimmed as to be imperceptible from any other expression of religion or faith? The church in the first centuries did not have a vague witness. They boldly proclaimed Christ’s resurrection from the dead and were happy to have their testimony examined by even the most hostile and critical foes. Shall we not do the same? Yet, we cannot, until we are ready to examine the faith we profess. If we do not do so, then the church will continue to fall into the morass of sin that Paul describes in this passage — indeed, do not many of these sins describe the church of our day (envy, strife, deceit, meanness, slander, gossip, etc…). 

How will Christ be pleased with the playacting that many supposed Christian churches practice week in and week out when the faith therein is never tested? On what basis will Christ say, “well done,” if there is no basis for that statement other than one’s personal preferences? Indeed, many will be expecting to hear the words, “well done,” yet will only hear, “I never knew you.” If the church will not repent of its foolishness, then the lamp-stand will be removed and Christ will spit them out of his mouth. To be ignorant in the church is one thing if one is a new believer. To be ignorant in the church, though one has been in the church for years, is lazy. But to be opposed to the careful examination of the things of God is the work of antichrists (1 John 2:18-19) and should be condemned with the strongest language — indeed, they are preaching a gospel of another kind than what is plainly taught in Scripture (Galatians 1:6-10). 

Antitheism: as a Worldview

“And as they did not study to have knowledge of God, God delivered them to a worthless mind to do what is not lawful, being filled with all kinds of unrighteousness, wickedness, greediness, and evil. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and meanness. They are gossipers, slanderers, and haters of God. They are insolent, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, and disobeyers of parents. They are without understanding, covenant breakers, without affections, and without mercy. They know the decrees of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do them, but also approve of those who do them.”

(Romans 1:28-32)

In discussions of Christian worldview and various forms of non-Christian thought, we usually focus on the two categories of agnosticism and atheism. In this author’s manner of thinking, addressing the first is mostly a matter of convincing a person to take time from their busy schedule to examine the question. In terms of the latter, it is a matter of convincing the person to examine the question on the basis of logic, whether that be through logical proofs or through the evidence in the world around us which points to God. In both cases, it seems to me, that they suffer from the presupposition that God is either not worth knowing or that he is not able to be known.

Yet, there are other categories by which those who are against Christian thought may be classified. One of which is “anti-theism.” This is not simply a question of whether God can or cannot be known, but this is a view that the knowledge of God is harmful to both individuals and to society. Such a view is more than a rejection of the knowledge of God; it is a rejection of those who acknowledge God, and there is a difference.

For instance, in the west, the majority of children are raised with the belief that a large, rotund, sprite from the North Pole sneaks into their home (though a chimney or otherwise) to deliver gifts on the night of December 24th. Were one simply agnostic to this view, they might simply say, “to each their own.” Were one in rejection of this view, one might simply say, “That is a foolish notion” and then shake their head at the silliness of others while not practicing the tradition. Yet, for the “Anti-SantaClausian,” the practice would not only be viewed as wrong, but harmful to practice. Such parents would not only train their children up that Santa Clause was a myth, but would actively encourage other parents to do the same. Indeed, they might even look down on other parents for lying to their children at least once a year, for if they will lie on this matter, what other matters will they lie about?

In this passage from Romans 1, Paul is addressing a wide variety of character traits that are manifested in individuals and societies that reject the worship of the One True God. In other words, they will not study or evaluate the arguments for the existence of God (both atheism and agnosticism fall into this category), but in refusing to do so, God has punished them by giving them over to a clouded mind and debased passions. They know the Law of God, but refuse to obey it.

Over the years, there has been a rise in atheism, not just in terms of a philosophical position, but in terms of those who actively consider theism in any form to be harmful. The late Anthony Flew described such people essentially as those who evangelize atheism (as if atheism could ever be labeled as “good news”). Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens are examples of those who hold such a view. They have made a study of the Bible (though usually from atheistic presuppositions) and they have rejected it (along with the Q’ran, the various Buddhist texts, etc…). Further, they see the presence of those with a theistic worldview as one that hinders the development of society. 

The point is that the normal approaches of apologetics are not well suited for those who hold to an anti-theistic worldview. They are not interested in examining the evidence on the basis of the evidence itself nor are they interested in having a rational dialogue about the reasonableness of theistic claims. They are militantly against these things. For an anti-theist, a balanced dialogue about the theist’s claims is as irrational as a balanced dialogue over whether Santa, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth-fairy exists. It is a waste of time and energy.

My proposition is that apologetics training needs to be re-evaluated in light of the presence of the anti-theist. While I am certainly not advocating the elimination of the many tools of apologetics that are available to us today, I think that we need to improve the toolbox. As we are in a spiritual war, perhaps a better analogy is that we need to improve our apologetics arsenal in light of anti-theism. Too often, we equip our children with little more than a pellet gun when they are sent onto the battlefield of a thoroughly anti-religious, anti-Christian, and anti-theistic world.

The Scientific Method: A Christian Idea

“What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down?”

 — Friedrich Nietzsche, The Madman (1882)

In Nietzsche’s classic parable (one which every Christian should be familiar), he portrays a kind of prophetic madman (arguably Nietzsche himself) running into the midst of a crowd and declaring that God is dead and that they have killed him. The “they” refers to the people of his day, of his culture, and of the formal church which had become ensconced in liturgical monotony and not genuine religion. By their disbelief, by the idolatry of tradition, and by the people’s lack of commitment to genuine faith combined with their commitment to science and rationalism, Nietzsche believed that they had effectively removed God from the society (something that Nietzsche believed was a good thing).

Christians, of course, have been quick to point out during the years that followed, that the notion of God being “dead” or his being “killed” is an irrational concept. By definition, God is eternal and thus cannot cease to exist by any means — he simply is. Further, God’s existence is not predicated on the belief of his people — whether people believe that God exists or not, whether people worship him or not, does not change his state of being. He nevertheless always  and eternally is. He is a self-existent being and all things that exist derive their existent from him. 

Nietzsche’s commentary is nonetheless instructive for us for 19th century Germany is not the only place or point in history where those who claimed the name of God’s people had fallen into idolatry and unbelief. One need only read the book of Judges to see this cycle taking place over and over or to read the prophet Hosea to see God’s judgment upon his people because they have simply gone through the motions, doing the right thing in form but not being committed to it. Isaiah, Chapter 1, is another prime example, illustrating for us God’s dissatisfaction with his people as they are distant from him.

In any time and in any place where people substitute the form of religion for the practice of religion, you find an era where this takes place. Read the letters of Jesus to the seven churches in Asia Minor (Revelation 2-3) — five of the seven were under the criticism of Jesus and two of those five were pronounced to be under judgment. This was a good deal of the reason that a Reformation of the church was needed in the 16th Century and it is the reason that the American and European churches largely need to repent, for very few care at all about obedience to the Word of God , only about maintaining their status quo.

But what has this to do with the scientific method? Nietzsche’s observation was that with the death of God the world would be turned upside down. Now, it can be argued that Nietzsche is using this more as a rhetorical device than as an observation, but let’s run with this statement (quoted above) for a minute. If God is not then there is no authority higher to man to which one can appeal. If God is not, definition becomes entirely human in its manufacture and not eternal. If God is not, then laws really have no meaning other than the meaning which we give to them; and if God is not, there is no reason to assume that the laws of the universe are consistent between one place and another. 

The Scientific Method is the process of establishing a hypothesis, making predictions about the nature of cause and effect based on this hypothesis, and then testing the hypothesis to confirm that the actual results match the predictions made. The entirety of this method is prefaced on the principle that the universe is orderly and predictable. Yet, the assumption of an orderly and predictable universe is a Christian assumption based on the fact that we have a God who is orderly and who has created in a way consistent with his orderly character.

Does that mean that no one but Christians can use the Scientific method — or at least that no one but theists? Of course not. The scientific method properly applied is an essential aspect of doing research and science. But without a commitment to the notion that the universe is rationally structured by a rational God, why bother with the scientific method in the first place? Why be committed to the notion that the laws of physics are set and consistent? It is worth pondering the implication of a universe created by an orderly being and a universe that just randomly generated itself without anything to guide it or to order it. In Nietzsche’s atheistic model, we might as well be plunging in every which direction without any basic points of reference like up or down.

A Brave New World: Ariana Grande, Terror, and God’s War Psalms

I must confess, for me, music pretty much ended in the 80’s. Okay, so I exaggerate, but I am a kid of the era where Styx wasn’t so much a reference to a mythological river, Jethro Tull was not a historic agronomist, and The Boss was not someone you worked for, but all were musicians whose songs formed the soundtrack of my high-school and college years. And, well, yeah, beyond my school years as well.

But this is not so much the case with my children. So when I initially heard about the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert, the event was quickly catalogued along with the many other senseless terror attacks that seem to be more a part of our lives than they should ever be. To me, Ariana Grande sounded like a vacation resort or perhaps a new version of a latte at Starbucks. Not so much to my children. While the “soundrack” of my life is pretty much written, theirs is being written and it seems that an even younger generation is having to be pulled into the conversation about the nature of evil people who live in our midst.

It is a sad truth that terrorism is such a visible part of this world’s reality today. Of course, terrorism is nothing new. There have been wicked men throughout the ages that believed the proper way to express their ideology was to bully, intimidate, and strike terror into the heart of the general populace rather than making a reasoned argument in the world of ideas to advance the ideas or ideals they hold. And before someone accuses me of being an “Islamaphobe,” I do recognize that such actions have been taken in the name of every religious and areligious movement that is known to man, including Christianity. Evil identifies itself under many labels.

Yet, the presence of terrorists in history does not and should not lesson the righteous indignation that one feels whenever one is confronted with such evil. We must never become desensitized to such wicked actions…especially when such actions are perpetrated toward our children. Yet, fear, which is the aim of terrorist actions, should also never be our response. Instead, righteous anger is the response that terrorism should illicit from us.

Through the years, Christians have struggled with the question, “How do I express anger but not fall into sin?” (Ephesians 4:26). Vengeance belongs to God (Deuteronomy 32:35) yet God has also appointed the sword to be wielded by the governments of the world that they might avenge the innocent and bring the wrongdoers to their knees (Romans 13:4). In addition, God has given us a number of psalms that are designed to be prayers by God’s people against their wicked persecutors. These are psalms of imprecation and militant war psalms, calling on God to crush the wicked and destroy every remnant of their people from the face of the earth. Some examples of such psalms would be found in Psalms 5, 41, 58, 59, 69, 79, 94, 137, and others. How do we express our righteous indignation in a Godly and prayerful way? These psalms guide our prayers and direct our righteous anger in holy ways while trusting that God will bring vengeance in his time and in his way. We ought not shy away from these in our public praying in these times of such evil.

When Huxley spoke of a brave new world, he was describing a world where people were dominated by the things that brought them pleasure and entertainment and one could argue for the prophetic insight that he demonstrated. I am choosing to use the familiar phrase in a different way. While this world seems to be filled with terrors, the answer is for all men and women, young and old, to rise up and bravely stare the wicked in the face, declaring as one people, that we will not accept such behavior in our midst. That those who stand for wicked ideologies will be hunted down and crushed by the powers that God has placed to defend the innocent and that our culture will not cave in to the demands of those who would bully or ad hominem to get their way.

What would this world look like if all matters of difference were settled by reasoned debate and where we were confident enough in our own positions that we were comfortable disagreeing with one another, yet still remain neighbors in the wider community? It seems to me that such a world is far closer to what our American forefathers envisioned than what we have today. And such a world would not stand for Radical Islamic Terrorism…or any other kind of terrorism for that matter.

“Let them be overthrown in their pride by the sin of their mouths and the words of their lips and by the curse and by the lie that they make known. Consume them in wrath! Consume them until they are nothing! Let them know that God rules over Jacob and to the ends of the earth! Selah!

(Psalm 59:13-14 {verses 12-13 in English})

Stephen Hawking, C.S. Lewis, and the Saracen’s Head

First of all, I would like to state up front that what I am about to say is not meant as a mockery of Dr. Hawking or of his condition. While many of his ideas deserve to be mocked, he has proven himself to be a brilliant mathematician and cosmologist. I have appreciated his writings over the years and it was Hawking’s A Brief History of Time that instilled in me a passion for theoretical physics nearly 20 years ago. In addition, the disease with which he suffers is horrendous and I would not wish ALS or Dr. Hawking’s debilitated physical condition on any. Though I strongly disagree with his Atheism, I grieve the fact that he is having to suffer as he does and would wish that his body were healed and he released from his bondage to the wheelchair. Though some of what I say below might be misconstrued as a knock on the man’s condition, please know that they are not and that I would welcome the opportunity to meet this man who has so profoundly influenced my interest in science, something for which I am quite grateful.

Having said that, I want to begin my reflection with a nod also to C.S. Lewis. While not a scientist, Lewis has also profoundly influenced my life and view of the world. In Lewis’ case, through philosophy and apologetics (as well as through his fiction). It also strikes me that Lewis, at times, can be quite prophetic as to the situations that we face as fallen humans. Many of the things that he wrote against back in the 1940’s are still as relevant and applicable today as they were during the rise of the Socialist party in Germany and elsewhere.

One of my favorite novels by Lewis is That Hideous Strength. This is the third novel in his Space Trilogy and he sets it in a kind of dystopian England. There, everything is being decided upon by science. Morality is a measure of what is pragmatic and the goal is to remake society according to the empirical models favored by the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments (N.I.C.E). At the head of the NICE is the head — a severed head of a criminal being inhumanly kept “alive” by equipment, pumps, and machines to be a voice for what the people believe to be a superior race of beings from the dark side of the moon, though in realty, they are demons. “The Head” becomes a kind of symbol for a people who have thrown off religion and philosophy and who have embraced nothing but pure science…an idea made prominent in our world by Auguste Comte.

Enter Dr. Hawking. In his book, The Grand Design, he begins with the notion that philosophy is dead because it has not kept up with scientific progress. He then puts forth the notion that metaphysics is now the realm of the scientist and no longer in the realm of religion or philosophy. This would represent a transition from the second to the third stage of knowledge, at least according to Comte. He argues that when mankind looks at the world and cannot answer questions, he first looks to theology for the answers, then to philosophy, and finally to science. In the strictest sense, each of the previous stages become irrelevant when the new stage of knowledge is embraced. This is exactly what Hawking is suggesting has taken place.

Interestingly enough, Hawking goes on to suggest that science, then, can answer not only the question, “how,” but also the question “why” it was created. Of course, even this language is self-defeating, because he essentially argues that laws exist apart from matter and that matter is created out of nothing because the laws of physics dictate it happen. Since science simply describes what does take place, to say that the laws created out of nothing is more than counter-intuitive, it is self-refuting. A description apart from what it describes only makes sense if there is an eternal intelligence who develops those laws that describe and then creates in a way consistent with said laws…such would be the position of Augustine, for example.

My point, though, is not to critique his book. Others have done that and I would commend their works to you. My point is to raise a question of similarity. Much like the Saracen’s head, Dr. Hawking’s life is being maintained by some marvelous science. Indeed, while not separated physically from his body, his body is largely separated from him by function. And those for whom Hawking speaks seem to have the same level of commitment to Comte’s positivism as did the N.I.C.E.

I am not a conspiracy theorist by any measure, but I have wondered, “what if?” What if what Dr. Hawking teaches and writes is being manipulated by others? Given Dr. Hawking’s lifetime commitment to science and what was once called, “The Grand Unified Theories” and is now being presented as “M-theory,” I don’t think that anyone is manipulating his words, but we must recognize just how easy that would be were the right people to be involved. Scripts could be programmed into his speech synthesizer and there would be nothing that Dr. Hawking could do about it…he would be as trapped as the Saracen in Lewis’ novel and could do nothing to stop it.

So, the question that has been rolling about the back of my head is, “Did Lewis, in seeking to fictionally describe the “men without chests” as is found in The Abolition of Man, anticipate Hawking? Did what was meant as a tongue and cheek illustration of the arrogance of scientific man become a reality in Dr. Hawking’s life? And, perhaps, does Dr. Hawking’s wheelchair stand as a reminder of the danger of taking science to the point where the mystery of the human body is sacrificed for scientific understanding? With apologies to a man I admire, I think it may.

God and Evil

“And Gideon said to him, ‘Dear me! My Lord! Yahweh is with us, but to what end has all of this happened to us? Where are all of the miraculous deeds that are repeatedly recounted to us by our fathers, saying, ‘Didn’t Yahweh bring us up from the land of Egypt? And now Yahweh has forsaken us and he gave us into the hand of the Midianites.’”

(Judges 6:13)

Notice how Gideon responds to the presence of the Angel of Yahweh. He does not begin with, “I and my father’s house have sinned,” which would be, for example, how Nehemiah approached God (Nehemiah 1:6), but acts almost as if he is just confused at why God is allowing the people of Israel to face such hardship. And, while that might seem somewhat odd to us when we look in hindsight, it is not so surprising when one listens to how even Christians today respond to the discipline of God.

When God brings hardships into our lives, more often than not, our attitude is “why me?” or “it’s not fair” or “why is God allowing this to happen? The catch is that there is nothing in this world that God simply “allows,” but when we speak of things — both that are pleasant to us and that are challenging to us, we should say, “God has ordained that this takes place.”

Of course, the idea that God ordains that tragedies take place is a notion that is uncomfortable (at best) for many of us…yet, is this not what Isaiah is speaking of in Isaiah 45:7? Is that not what took place in the life of Job? Did God not ordain the rise of kings in Babylon, under most of whom faithful Daniel suffered? Did God not ordain the wicked men of Jerusalem and Rome who put his Son to death? Did God not ordain the terrible suffering that the Apostle Paul would face on account of the Gospel? Be careful how you answer. For if you reject that it was God that ordained this suffering, you will be contradicting Scripture (cf. Acts 2:23; 9:16). Yet, if you affirm Scripture by affirming that God ordained all of these things, you are affirming that God actively ordains terrible things take place, not just good things.

Yet, we shall add one additional qualifier from the Scriptures. That which God ordains and brings to pass, God does sinlessly and for good purposes. So, for His elect, God brings calamity and evil into our lives to mature us and to grow us into the image of his Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29 & James 1:2-4). For the reprobate, the wicked, for those God chose to face judgment from before the foundations of the earth, God uses the evil and calamities of this world to give them a foretaste of their judgment in Hell to come…punishing their sins in this world and the next (Psalm 5:6; Nahum 1:2; Romans 1:18; Ephesians 5:6; Hebrews 9:27).

So, what should our response be when faced with trials? We should examine our hearts. If there is unrepentant sin, we should confess it to God and repent. If the Holy Spirit does not bring unrepentant sin to the surface, then we should glorify God in our time of trouble and discover what God is teaching us through the process of suffering. He is sanctifying us with fire. How should Gideon have responded? “My people and I have sinned and God has brought these Midianites upon us; forgive us of our sins and deliver us from evil.”


“And the people of Israel did the Evil in the eyes of Yahweh. Thus, he gave them into the hand of Midian for seven years.”

(Judges 6:1)

As much as this sounds like a soap opera to many of our ears, this is the story not only of ancient Israel but of peoples, nations, and churches throughout the ages — even today. We would think, having been given the Scriptures, that we would learn from the errors of those who have gone before us, but we do not. Even as individuals, we fall repeatedly into patterns of sin rather than pursuing righteousness.

Midian is to the southeast of Israel and lest we forget, the Midianites too descended from Abraham (Genesis 25:2) and it was to Midian that Moses fled when he was fleeing Egypt (Exodus 2:15). Yet, it was the Midianites who allied with the Moabites to destroy Israel as they crossed the wilderness for the Promised Land, first, by hiring Balam to curse them (Numbers 22:4) and then by enticing the men to defile themselves with Moabite and Midianite woman in Baal worship (Numbers 25:1-6). Finally, Israel defeated them in battle (Numbers 31). Thus, while there is a historical connection between these two peoples (Abraham), there is no love lost between them as tribes and nations.

More sadly, because of the sin of God’s people, those they had once conquered now become the conquerors. Such is the importance of knowing your past and being rooted firmly on the Rock of Jesus Christ. It should stand as a reminder to us today of the importance of remaining ever vigilant against those who would usurp the freedom of God’s people.

Yet, society today seems to have neglected it’s past and forsaken its foundation in Christ. The Christian church still faces challenges to orthodoxy from within as false teachers and cults try and seduce those who do not understand what the scriptures teach about the character of the Triune God. Many protestants are turning their back on hundreds of years of sacrifice for the Truth and are returning to Rome as well. The Muslim hordes who were stopped first at the Battle of Tours and then outside the walls of Vienna. And as a result of us forgetting the wondrous things that our God has done, like the ancient Israelites, our society and culture is being dominated by liberalism, idolatry, atheism, Islam, and cultism in numerous shapes and sizes — and such is being found even in the church.

An Open Letter to President Obama, Governor McCrory, and other Interested Parties: Bathrooms and the Strange Legacy of Sartre

Presuppositions govern our perspectives on life and until we recognize that, we tend toward intellectual dishonesty at best and our debates tend more toward sophism than truth. Once we recognize that, we can engage with much more humility in honest conversation…that is, if we are willing. Sadly, honest and civil conversation around politics and religion, I am told, is a rare thing in our current society. People prefer to yell rather than to earn the right to whisper. My hope for this letter is to whisper.

To do that, I must be up front as to where my presuppositions lie. If you have read much of my blog, that ought to be obvious, but in case this is new to you, know that I am a Christian pastor in an old German-Reformed congregation. I consider the Bible to be the true revelation from God, with every word inspired through many authors across many generations, but all by one God. Thus, I affirm doctrines like that of inerrancy and infallibility when it comes to the Bible. That puts me amongst a group that are often labeled as “fundamentalists,” and that may be accurate, but if it is, my fundamentalism is much more akin to that of Gresham Machen than to that of Pat Robertson. I value intelligent dialogue, not mere rhetoric to gain influence.

As I said, my hope is to whisper, but perhaps it is more than that, my hope is also to interject a perspective into the conversation that I have not heard much of in the news that has covered the debates around bathrooms and who uses them.

The Simple Solution

Of course, I ought to note that there are simple solutions to the question at hand, yet simple solutions are often not what people strive for in American politics. One solution, which would favor the view of the political right would be to change the labeling of bathroom doors from “men” or “women” to “XX” or “XY.” Chromosomes are things with which we are born and they do not change as a result of a “gender identity” decision or even as a result of gender reassignment surgery. The chromosomes with which you are born are chromosomes with which you will die.

The other option, which would favor the political left would simply be to convert all bathrooms to single-use bathrooms to be used by anyone when the need arises. This is certainly how the vast majority of us live when we are in our homes, we could certainly adapt to that in public institutions without that much grief, though obviously there would need to be some remodeling work done to achieve this end. A variation on this can be found in many places in Europe where there are common restrooms for both men and women. In these areas, there are private stalls for use, but common sinks that both men and women share. I confess that as an American raised in the conservative countryside of rural Maryland, the first time I encountered a bathroom such as this, it took some getting used to, but it still wasn’t long before I adapted.

But we don’t want Simple Solutions, do we?

The reality is, this is not really a question about bathrooms, is it? While I do not know the current statistics, I would imagine that the population in America that would identify as transgender is relatively small. That does not mean that the question of how to accommodate those who are “transitioning” should not be taken seriously, it rightly should. But it seems odd that so great a battle has been waged on this matter in our culture. Surely there are overall relatively few people “challenging” which bathroom to enter. As to the other side of the debate, I would imagine that a male who presented himself as a female would receive little attention (if any) for using the ladies room in a public place. I would suggest that the same would apply to a woman who presented herself as a man.

Presuppositions and Principles?

Permit me to suggest that the real question behind the matter of bathrooms is the question of public acceptance. Will we, or will we not, accept the notion of gender choice in our society. Those who are proponents of the LGBT community would say that society as a whole must accept their lifestyle choices as legitimate and thus bathrooms and other public accommodations must be made. Those, particularly, like myself on the Christian right, would say that gender is not fluid, but is tied to biological sexuality (remember the Chromosomes above?). This is the real question at hand, though I suppose it might be easier to fight over bathrooms than to tackle the question seriously (and yes, that is a rebuke of both sides).

Lewis or Sartre?

So, which comes first? In Sartre’s work, Existentialism is a Humanism, he argues that at the heart of the existentialist perspective is the notion that existence precedes essence. In other words, we first come into being and then we are given the awful freedom and responsibility of giving meaning to that existence. Even so, according to Sartre, giving meaning belongs primarily to the individual. Applied to gender, the cultural grandchildren of Sartre would state that defining their own gender identity is part of giving meaning to one’s own existence.

In contrast to Sartre, C.S. Lewis, who is oftentimes claimed by Existentialists as one of their own (though I would disagree with that claim), when discussing gender and sexuality in the novel, Perelandra, describes sexuality as an outward expression of an inward reality (the inward reality being gender). Thus, existence and essence are inextricably bound together, but with essence preceding existence — borrowing the notion of St. Augustine that essence begins in the mind of God.

So, who is right? Clearly, I lean toward Lewis. To be fair, our culture leans toward Sartre. I appeal to the Bible as my ultimate authority; our culture tends to appeal to experience and personal expression as its ultimate authority. Which is right? I suppose that both sides of the conversation are equally committed to their position, but while I have been known in other contexts to vigorously debate the rationality of appealing to the Bible as one’s ultimate authority and in turn, submitting to its precepts, I promised that I would whisper, so I will only point out the different starting points that each side of the debate holds.

Confounding Terms

I will say, though, that one of the problems in the conversation is that terms have not been well defined and are often confounded with one another. Sexuality and Gender are prime culprits. Sexuality deals with one’s biology. This includes, but is not limited to genitalia. It also includes inner organs that are germane to males or females respectively as well as those pesky chromosomes. As chromosomes do not change nor do the actual organs a person has in their body, “gender reassignment” ought not be referred to as a “sex-change” though that is often the term that is applied.

In contrast to sexuality, gender is defined more by societal norms than it is by one’s biology. This deals with our roles, our manner of dress, and the way we interact with one another.  Historically, gender has largely been tied to biology (as Lewis would affirm), but in today’s world, the question that is being raised (largely thanks to Sartre and our Existential culture) is whether we must bind them together or if they can be treated seperately. Curiously, if one separates the idea of gender from that of sexuality, gender then becomes solely a matter of self-expression, and the idea of “gender-reassignment surgery” becomes as much of a misnomer as the phrase “sex-change surgery.” The surgery itself becomes nothing more than a cosmetic modification to make it easier to appear as the gender of one’s choice.


Laws have two purposes. The first purpose is to punish wrong-doing. The second purpose is to discourage people from behavior that is immoral. Herein lies another point of debate. How is immoral behavior defined. Clearly, I would appeal to the Bible. Society seems to appeal to social expectations, a view that I believe is fraught with danger given the fickle nature of said expectations and the sinful nature of man. Each law, though, at its very core, must answer the question, “How am I rewarding moral behavior and punishing behavior that is immoral?” And yes, with that in mind, every law legislates someone’s morality on some level.

From My Point of View

Given that I have already shared my presuppositions, it should be obvious as to where my point of view lies. The Bible is clear that homosexuality is immoral in the first place and it seems to me that much of the draw of Transgenderism is the notion of making homosexual desires more acceptable in the eyes of the culture. Even if not overtly intended to be a gateway into homosexual behavior, living life in gender roles different than those which would normally be bound to one’s sex is a form of deception, which, too, is an immoral action according to the Bible.

Whispering and the Conversation in Front of Us

The real question is whether or not we can have a dialogue on this matter in a productive way while still whispering and not raising our voices or our fists. Personally, I am very concerned that the opening up of bathrooms is little more than a first step — a minor skirmish in a larger campaign — towards something that not only will radically change the nature of the culture around us, but will also invite young men and women to express themselves and their urges in even greater immorality. I fear too, that it will be the loudest voice and not the most sound argument that will win the day and the whispers of truth will be drowned out and forgotten.

Deborah: The Exception, not the Rule

“Now Deborah was a woman, a prophetess, and the wife of Lappidoth. She judged Israel at that time!”

(Judges 4:4)

Now, to all of my friends and acquaintances who would like to suggest that there is a Biblical precedence for women to be in church leadership or serve as Pastors on the basis of Deborah, did you notice the emphasis on the language here in this verse? “Now Deborah was a woman, a prophetess, and the wife of Lappodoth. She judged Israel at that time.” The author of this text goes out of his way to stress the fact that Deborah was a female and she was serving in this capacity — a capacity in which one did not expect a female to serve. The point is that Deborah’s place here is meant to be shocking to the reader. “What!?! A female judge!?! No way, that’s not proper!?!” And it wasn’t proper, but as the account of Deborah unfolds we see the theme arising of men who will not rise to the position of responsibility.

So, the question that one should ask is not, “Does Deborah establish a precedence for female church leadership?” Clearly, she is presented as an exception and one does not establish the normative rule on the basis of exceptions. The question one should ask is, “Would there ever be a context where, as in Deborah’s time, an exception was being made, and if so, what would that look like?”

The answer to that second question is seen by some to be an open door, because I have heard people argue that virtually every female pastor is one such exceptions. And while I want by no means to malign the character of such women, it must be clear that when you have a large number of “exceptions,” they are no longer exceptions. Of the 12 judges in the book of Judges, a book covering a span of more then 300 years, there is one such exception. There is nothing normative about Deborah and her situation. In fact, in her case, there are no men to be found (we will see that in Deborah’s song), the commander of the Army seems to be a bit of a coward, and though Deborah is introduced under Lappidoth’s authority (he is still the covenant head of her household), he doesn’t play much of a role in this account (in fact, this verse is the only mention of his name).

Surely, we don’t live in such a world. Men are able and willing to take up leadership in Christ’s church and to do so in submission to the Biblical mandate of male covenant headship in the church. Further, those pushing for women in church office are often not under the spiritual headship of their husbands (as is Deborah) and thus are trying to achieve an agenda, not humbly serving as an exception. And finally, it is clear in this account that God is doing a remarkable work not only to liberate Israel, but to shame the men who will not stand up and her role is clearly not meant as normative as you never again see another female judge arise. So to answer the second question mentioned above, the answer is first, we are not in such a time where there are no men stepping up to the job and secondly, there would have to be a radical change in the circumstances to bring such a change.

Thus, the power of this account, then, is not one of establishing a precedence for females in church leadership, but instead in humbling the men who should have been the ones rising to the task of leading God’s people.

Learning War…the Christian Life

“And the Sons of Israel once again did the Evil in the eyes of Yahweh when Ehud died. Ans Yahweh sold them into the hand of Yabiyn who reigned in Chatsor; the commander of his army was Siysera, who dwelled in Charosheth-Hagoyim.

(Judges 4:1-2)

Again, note that Shamgar seems to be an overlapping judge as the account of the people’s fall into sin and God giving them into the hands of Jabin follows the death of Ehud. As for names, while we know the king of Hazor as Jabin in the English language (in fact, the letter “J” is more or less a more modern invention, originally being a variant of the letter “I” when “I” was used as a consonant and not as a vowel…). Similarly, the “Ch” of Chatsor would be pronounced as a hard sound, like the ch in “Loch Ness.”

Hazor is in the northern portion of Canaan, just north of what we would know as the Sea of Galilee.  We are also introduced to Sisera, the general of Jabin’s armies and the man who will become the enemy of God’s people due to his harsh oppression and his mighty force of chariots.

As we continue into this account, let us not lose sight of two things…first that the oppression is a direct result of the sin of the people…they continue to do “The Evil” in the eyes of God. And second, we must remember that God is disciplining his people in this specific way so that they will learn the art of war (see Judges 3:2). God could have chosen a variety of ways to discipline his own, but this was what God deemed proper, not only with respect to defending their homeland, but also to the end of taking the whole of the territory that God had promised to the people.

To put this notion into perspective requires us to look at history. At the creation, God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the whole of the world (Genesis 1:28). Of course, after the Fall everything changed. Yet, as God brings Abraham into the land, the promise of dominion is renewed, but on a smaller scale — the land of Canaan is promised, but with much larger borders than we typically think of — these borders extend from the Euphrates river to the Nile and as far north as what we would call modern-day Turkey (Genesis 15:18-21). Yet, once again, the people fell into sin and never took over the land.

Later, after the Resurrection of Christ, Jesus affirms in what we know as the Great Commission that the “Dominion Mandate” of Adam has been renewed in Christ, for “all” authority in “heaven and on earth” was given to Him (Matthew 28:18). We are told in that same passage that the dominion will be enacted through the spread of the Gospel and the process of making disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20). In turn, at the Ascension, the same commission is given to the Apostles — a restored Dominion Mandate, where they are to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Sadly, much like the history of the Judges, the history of the church has been marked by falling into sin again and again and Christians have been unable to fulfill this mandate and commission. We are given the instruction that we are to tear down the strongholds of the devil in this world and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God (sounds an awful lot like the discipleship portion of the Great Commission! — 2 Corinthians 10:4-6), we are given the promise that the gates of Hell cannot prevail against the forward march of the church when we seek to tear down these strongholds (Matthew 16:18), and we are given spiritual armor to fight these battles (Ephesians 6:10-20; 1 Thessalonians 5:8; Romans 13:12). We are even given the weapons to do battle in the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12). This sounds a lot like military language, does it not? Has not God chosen to teach us war as well? Yet, this war is spiritual in nature as we fight against the spiritual forces of evil that have entrenched themselves in this world (Ephesians 6:12).

Ultimately a new Judge will come to restore us to peace…that is the Lord Jesus Christ who will destroy those who oppress his people and who will restore peace and freedom from “The Evil” all of the land that belongs to him — the whole earth. And, just as the people remain faithful during the lifetime of the Judge who delivers them, so too will the people remain faithful to Christ for his entire lifetime…and he lives and reigns forever! Praise be to God!

We are told that the things we find in the Old Testament are meant as shadows of the fulfillment found in Christ (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5; 10:1). Let us not lose sight of that. And let us also not lose sight of the reality that we have been called to a lifetime of war, not peace, as we live out the great Commission in this world…but note something, war is to be had with the enemy, not with those inside of the church body we might not agree with…how often the church has gotten that principle backwards.

Ethics, Apple, and the Future

There has been a great deal of discussion in the news lately that surrounds the legal battle between Apple Computer and the FBI. After the terrorist shooting in San Bernadino, California, the FBI asked the computer company to assist them in breaking into the terrorist’s iPhone. On the surface, this sounds like a pretty reasonable request, but the ramifications of the request are far greater than just the matter of the security of an electronic device or the responsibility (or lack-thereof) of a private company or individual to assist the government.

My point with this reflection is not to say that Apple is the knight in white shining armor nor is it to condemn their actions. My purpose is to raise the question of computers and privacy from a principled perspective, namely as to what Biblical ethics are at stake here. And by the way, Apple was never established as a Christian company nor are its leaders professing Christians in any way that I am aware of, which means that this is not an apologetic for Apple, but rather a reflection from a Christian perspective.

On the most basic level, this discussion in the news is where the balance lies between personal privacy and the government’s right to restrict your activity to “protect” the general populace? Or, perhaps we should simply the question even further: “do the needs of the many  (protection) outweigh the needs of the few (privacy)?”

For the purpose of clarity, we should assert that the protection of the populace is part of God’s design for the government as the government’s job is to praise good behavior and to punish those who do evil (1 Peter 2:14). Yet, how far ought our civil government go in seeking to punish those who do evil? Certainly the Biblical writers would never have dreamed of the technology available to us today, so we need to rely on clear inferences when making application. Yet, as the scriptures are designed to prepare us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17), we ought to expect the scriptures to give us guidance as to matters such as this.

There is one more reason that this court battle is important. For most of us in America, we have been taught that ethics are situational. In other words, right and wrong only apply to the context in which one finds oneself. Yet, situational ethics are not the ethics of the Bible. In God’s economy there are absolute rights and wrongs, proper things to do and improper things to do. And when the Ethic is absolute, there is no “wiggle room” to adjust the ethical rule because of the convenience or inconvenience of the situation.

So, if we return to the question, “do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” how ought we to think as Christians? On the surface, as Christians, we might be tempted to look to the sacrifice of Christ and say, “yes, the needs of the many do outweigh the needs of the few.” But, if we are tempted to say as much, I would caution you to examine Christ’s sacrifice more closely. For, why did Jesus sacrifice himself? It was an act of sovereign grace to redeem the elect (a comparatively small number, compared to the whole of mankind). Were Jesus compelled to sacrifice himself because of the needs of the many, then not only could you argue for a form of universalism, but also, were he compelled, his sacrifice would have been one of compulsion, not grace. Further, while indeed the sacrifice of Christ did provide for the needs of the elect, it was motivated not by our needs, but for the purpose of glorifying the Father.

Jesus was under no obligation to agree to die to preserve a remnant from fallen man, he chose to out of his sovereign grace for the glory of the Father. So, in this case, the need of the few (to glorify the Father) was the reason for the act that benefitted the many (the elect through the ages). And a principle of absolute ethics applied in one context, applies to all contexts because of the nature of absolute ethics.

So, dispatching the notion of the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few, we must go back to 1 Peter and ask, would such an action Apple assisting the FBI in getting access to encrypted data in a person’s iPhone, be an action consistent with rewarding good behavior and punishing evil behavior. Apple asserts that doing so would create a weakness that either the government or a criminal could exploit. The FBI states that they are only requesting access to one phone.

As I stated, my purpose is not to advocate for one side or the other, but simply to ask the ethical question. In a world where electronics track almost our every move, record places we shop, and hobbies in which we engage, at times today’s world feels a little like Orwell’s world in the novel 1984. We must not place our heads in the sand with regard to the rapid advance of technology and must be intentional about applying what we know about Biblical principles to the world around us…even to Apple and the FBI, whose feud has ramifications for the things that follow in our culture.


“And it came to pass that when the bringing of the gift had come to an end, he sent home the people who carried the gift. But he turned back from the idols which were at Gilgal and said, ‘A secret thing is with me for you, O king.’ And he said, ‘Silence!’ And all the ones who stood by him went from him.”

(Judges 3:18-19)

The tribute is brought and here we clearly know that this “gift” is more than just what is at the right side of Ehud. Yet, still, the language of the text is intentionally ambiguous in some key areas. The most important area is that of the “secret thing” or “secret message” or “something secret” that Ehud has for Eglon.

The term that is translated as “thing” here is rDb∂;d (dabar). This Hebrew word can mean a whole litany of things depending on its context. It can refer to a word, an idea, a physical thing, or even to a command or set of instructions. Clearly, here will be a context where Eglon misunderstands the meaning of this word…or at least, he understands it in a different way than Ehud is using it.

This leads us to an important ethical question. Is Ehud lying by being intentionally vague? In argumentation, this is called equivocation, or the logical fallacy of equivocation, where depending how words are used, the sentence that contains them can be understood in very different ways. This, is the thing that puns are made up, but it is also something that kids tend to be quite adept at, particularly when trying to fool their parents while also trying to avoid lying (at least technically so).

The historic confessions of the Christian faith would remind us that the ninth commandment deals with more than just outright lying before a magistrate, thus bearing false witness. The Westminster Larger Catechism, for example teaches that the ninth commandment forbids speaking untruth in any form, forgery, hiding sins, boasting, or concealing the truth. The Heidelberg Catechism affirms the same and also goes on to say that the expectation of this commandment is that we love the truth. So, isn’t this use of double-entendre, though technically not lying, still breaking the ninth commandment?

It seems that we have two directions with which we can take this question. The first, and arguably the simplest, is to suggest that while this subterfuge is sin, and thus not a model for us to follow, God still uses the sins of his people to accomplish his good purposes. Certainly we find lots of examples of this, Samson being one of the first that comes to mind. Samson broke every one of his Nazarite vows, he slept with a prostitute and with a woman who was not his wife, and he was a bit of a terrorist when it came to his assaults on the Philistines (I am thinking about the foxes…). Yet, all of this was part of God’s good design to punish the Philistines for their oppression of Israel. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband, Uriah, killed to hide his sin. That adulterous affair ended up adding Bathsheba to David’s already growing list of wives, again, not what I would argue was the Biblical model established in Genesis 2. Yet, from that relationship came Solomon. So, one might simply argue that such subterfuge was sin and would always be sin, yet God sovereignly uses even our sin to accomplish his designs.

The trouble with that answer is that first, it almost seems to excuse the sin (for God will make good things happen anyhow) and it seems to follow into a matter of the end justifying the means, which the Bible never advocates. Plus, there are times when others seem to lead one down a road that could be construed as misleading before the Truth is revealed.

An example of this can be found in the way that Nathan rebukes David after David’s affair with Bathsheba (see 2 Samuel 12:1-15). Nathan told a parable about a rich man stealing from a poor man to illustrate what it was that David had done to Uriah. To expand on that idea, when Jesus’ disciples ask him to explain why he teaches in parables, Jesus answers that the purpose is to conceal the truth from those who are spiritually blind and deaf (Matthew 13:10-17).

One can easily argue, given the context, that Ehud’s situation with Eglon is much the same as Nathan’s with David. In both cases, the truth is being somewhat concealed (though in both cases the truth was revealed in the end) and in both cases, judgment was being brought (in the case of Ehud, it would be Eglon’s death; in the case of Nathan, it would be the death of David and Bathsheba’s first son). Even in the case of Jesus’ parables, the intention is judgment as well (by Jesus’ own admission).

So, what principle ought we draw from this encounter? Is there now justification for lying? No, there is not justification for lying, it is breaking the ninth commandment. How about justification for concealing the truth? Perhaps, but I would argue that what we find here is that when truth is being concealed in each of these cases, the intent is not to mislead, but instead to position yourself in a situation where truth can be revealed in judgment over sin. In the case of David and Nathan, that is pretty obvious. Nathan is concealing the truth within a parable for the purpose of causing David to condemn himself. In the case of Ehud and Eglon, Ehud is concealing the truth within double-entendre, to give him the opportunity to get close enough to Eglon to carry out his God-given task: judgment on the wicked king. In the case of Jesus, we again see the same principle. Jesus is speaking truth clothed in a parable so that the wicked who are under condemnation do not repent and are held under condemnation until the day they stand in judgment where the truth will be fully revealed.

In most cases, then, we still need to be very careful about subterfuge because it can easily fall into the realm of lying or at the very least, intending to deceive. Yet, in the case of Ehud, there is Biblical president in the way that God works with his people and certainly also in the way that Jesus, who was sinless, commonly taught.

Change the World

“Then the Sons of Israel cried out to Yahweh. So Yahweh raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gerar, the Benjaminite, a man which was left-handed. And the Sons of Israel sent a gift in his left-hand to Eglon, the king of Moab.”

(Judges 3:15)

As I mentioned above, this account is filled with humor if you look for the double entendre, some of which we find here, though it is sometimes lost in English translations. Many of our translations simply state that Ehud is the one who will take the tribute to Ehud. In ancient times, it was common for the conquered people to have to take a tribute either seasonally or annually to the conquering King. And, that may indeed be what Ehud’s assignment is, yet, that is not specifically what the text states. It states that Ehud is bringing a gift for Eglon “in his left hand.” We have already been told in this verse that Ehud is a south-paw, so we know that something is afoot. If we know the rest of the story, then we know that the item that will become most accessible to his left hand will be his long dagger, but that gets ahead of the story. The fact that this man’s left-handedness is mentioned twice in the same verse is meant as an indication that something is coming with respect to the left hand…namely that this gift or left-handed tribute, is not the ordinary kind that we might expect. And certainly not the kind that Eglon will expect.

Ehud’s name means, “He that Praises,” so right up front there is an indication of the kind of man that God chooses to use. He is not predominantly a warrior, though he is clearly skilled in combat, he is a man who praises God first and foremost in all he does. And beloved, if you wish to be used by God in significant ways in life, this is the kind of person that you, too, must be. God will win the battles, build the churches, change the culture, and evangelize the lost, and he will do so through the person whose first aim is to praise and give glory to His great name. There is an old saying that goes, “God does not call the equipped; he equips those he calls.” And those he calls are those who will honor him and not themselves. Ehud is presented to us as such a man.

Too often Christians feel inadequate to change the world. And that is because we are. Yet God is more than adequate and he will work through you if you honor him in all things. The question that we are all faced with is, “will we seek first the kingdom”? God will honor nothing less.

An Undesired Solution

“And he gathered to himself the Sons of Ammon and Amalek and they went and struck down Israel and dispossessed the City of Palms. Thus, the Sons of Israel served Eglon, king of Moab, for eighteen years.”

(Judges 3:13-14)

We tend to have short memories. We want everything in an instant and to move on to the next thing. The notion of being disciplined for 18 years seems like a lifetime for most of us. The notion of having to wait 18 years for a deliverer seems to us to be interminable. And recognize, too, much like today, during that 18 years, the people would have looked to this leader or that leader to lead them out of their servitude. There would have been some “political strategists” who would have advocated blending their society more with that of the Moabites and others who would have been chanting, “Let’s make Israel great again.”

The reality, though, deliverance does not come from politics or from political parties who jockey for power. Deliverance comes from God. That is an important lesson to learn for all of us today who sometimes get caught up in the frenzy of political promises. It is also a lesson to remember within the church as local congregations often look to their pastors to “fix” all of the problems and bring growth. But the role of our governors is to be ministers of God to bring terror to evil-doers (Romans 13:1-4), to punish wrongdoing and praise those who do good (1 Peter 2:14). It is the role of the pastor to train and equip the church to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). The solution to the problems in America today are the same solutions as were the solutions in ancient Israel…repent of your sin, do justice, love God’s mercies, and walk humbly with your God. Yet, much like was the case with Adam and Eve, people today and during the day of the Judges, never want to look to self, but always seek to place the blame on another.

Thus, Moab and their allies move into national Israel and even take back the City of Palms, better known to us as Jericho (Deuteronomy 34:3). And, following the defeat, find themselves under Moab’s yoke. I wonder, will the Christian church today realize their sin before they find themselves under the yoke of a pagan federal government? Maybe we already are and are just too blind to see it.

The Cost of Silence

“And the Spirit of Yahweh was upon him and he judged Israel. And he went into battle and Yahweh gave into his hand, Cushan Rishathayim. And the land was peaceful for 40 years. And Othniel, son of Qenaz died.”

(Judges 3:10-11)

Isn’t it interesting that in this first cycle, the paradigm against which all of the others will fall short, that the peace which God gave to the people lasted the equivalent of one generation. Often when we read this, we focus on the life of the judge — while he was alive the people followed the commands of God, but when he died, the people fell back into their old sins. And it is proper to make that connection, as we often observe in the Bible and in history, the godliness (or lack thereof) of a nation’s leader affects the godliness of the people for good or for ill.

While that is true, may we not stop there because the responsibility to hand down the matters of faith from one generation to the next does not lie with the national leaders. It lies in the family. In particular, it lies with the father, the spiritual head of the households. And if the fathers are silent about the things of faith, the commands of God, and the works of God in history, then the next generation will drift away.

We are seeing the effects of this in America today. In the 1950s, people bought into the lie that spiritual things were private things and not to be talked about in the public sector. Many of the children of that era followed that practice and thus the grandchildren of that era began growing up in a world where godliness became a more or less optional matter (or embraced the notion that one could find spirituality in a variety of places. Today, the culture has almost entirely rejected the authority of God over life in the social square, and the people, much like what we will find here after Othniel’s death, have fallen into idolatry.

So, what is the solution? The solution is not Christian politicians. The solution is not laws that reflect Christian values. The reality is that politicians and laws are impotent when it comes to transforming our culture; at best, having Christian politicians and laws is only a byproduct of getting the more significant problem squared away properly. What is the most significant thing to do? We need to teach our kids the word of God and we need to model obedience to that word in our families. We need to train our children to refute the nonsense that is being taught in the broader and more secular culture and that means we need to teach ourselves not only what is taught but also how to refute it. Wen need to engage the culture with Truth and not be silent, for as we read the book of Judges, we will be confronted over and over again with the cost of that silence.

The Idol of Self

“And the Sons of Israel did The Evil in the eyes of Yahweh: they forgot Yahweh their God. Thus, they served the Ba’als and the Ashtoroth.”

(Judges 3:7)

We have already seen the language that refers to “The Evil,” earlier in the text of Judges, so we understand that the people are not simply doing any old evil thing, but they are doing “The Evil Thing,” which, as we discussed before, normally ties in with idolatry. This verse is worded in such a way that it permits us to narrow the discussion of the evil thing even further, for the evil thing here is “forgetting” Yahweh their God. And what then is the result of this forgetting? Idolatry.

But what does it mean to “forget” God? Is it the same thing as when we forget a fact or a figure or forget to bring home something from the grocery store? One could argue that forgetting includes just that, but when the scriptures speak about forgetting God, it means so much more. Forgetting God is reflected in the way we live our lives. We may remember the things of God, perhaps taught to us when we were children and in Sunday School, but if we do not live our lives in submission to the God we know and even claim as our own, then we are guilty of forgetting. With this in mind, there are many professing Christians (even in our churches!) who have effectively “forgotten” Yahweh because the knowledge of Yahweh has no effect on their lives. In our modern sense, they may not bow before Ba’al or Asherah, but they bow to another, arguably more insidious, idol: self.

When people pursue the idol of self — when church bodies pursue the idol of self — virtually all things become permissible and often those things that the Bible permits, these things become impermissible. The first is a tendency toward antinomianism, the latter is a tendency toward legalism — both are sin. On the one end, churches in America have embraced a model of worship that is built on entertainment and not on thoughtful, Biblical worship. The man becomes the center of the stage and the gathering becomes an event. Theology takes a back seat to passion.

On the other end, we find a pervasive legalism when it comes to pet objections — things that become sin to the church, though they are not sins before God. Some denominations have taken a strong stand against ever drinking an alcoholic drink. While the Bible clearly condemns drunkenness, Jesus was known to spend time with people who enjoyed drinking and even turned water into wine at a wedding. Paul even instructs Timothy to take some wine with his meals as a remedy for his stomach ailments. Other denominations ban gambling, yet where in the scriptures is gambling condemned? Does not God ordain wherever the dice fall (Proverbs 16:33)? Did not Peter choose Mathias through a form of gambling? Certainly abuse of gambling would fall into the realm of theft from one’s own family, but responsible gambling as a form of entertainment surely cannot be condemned Biblically.

In both cases, what often happens is that some sins are condemned unequivocally while others are ignored. It is true that homosexual behavior is condemned in scripture, yet how many church leaders openly condemn homosexual behavior as immoral while ignoring the immorality of heterosexual behavior outside of marriage? Or how many speak of the first, pay lip-service to the second, and then ignore auto-erotica as immoral? Yet are not all sin before God? Isn’t any sexuality outside of that which honors the spouse in the marriage bed immoral? Shouldn’t all be equally condemned from the pulpit? When one makes an idol of self and forgets Yahweh, this happens.

Perhaps the most dangerous side-effect of forgetting Yahweh is the neglect of His word. Pet passages of scripture are upheld, but not the whole. Again, if we are to claim to be Christians, we must be whole-Bible Christians. And so, we could fairly say that much of the church in America has forgotten Yahweh, their God and turned toward idols. That means it is time to repent.


“And the Sons of Israel dwelt in the midst of the Canaanites, the Hives, the Amorites, the Perizites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And they took their daughters to themselves to be wives and their daughters they gave to their sons; and they served their gods.”

(Judges 3:5-6)

And we are still doing the same today. How often our sons and daughters come to us with stars in their eyes because some young woman or man has won their hearts. And what of our response as parents? “Is he respectful?” “Does he have a good job?” “What are her plans for children?” “Does she come from a good family?” Yet, how often, as parents, we fail to ask the single-most important question: “Tell me, is he a born-again Christian?”

In America, we are a nation whose great strength has been augmented by the fact that most of us have the blood of many different cultures running through our veins. My own heritage, for example, is predominantly German with a healthy dose of Italian and English thrown in for good measure. Yet, whether you are Indian (Native American or from India), African, German, Mexican, Russian, Brazilian, Chinese, Philippino, or Aborigine in your heritage (or any combination thereof), it is a wonderful thing to blend our cultures, families, and traditions — there is only one race after all (and that is human). But the first question that must be asked regardless of one’s ethnic background, is whether or not the person is Christian.

Even in the Old Testament we find Boaz taking Ruth (a Moabitess) as his wife and Salmon took Rahab (a Canaanite woman) as his wife…but in both cases, the women had converted to faith before they were married to God’s people. Some will argue for what they call, “missionary marriages,” but most of the time, when intermarriages (of faith) take place, the result is no different than what the Israelites experienced. Paganism thrives and true faith wanes in the families. I cannot think of any grief that is greater for the Christian than to see your children or grandchildren depart from the faith of Christ.

Fabian Tactics in the Church

“These are the peoples which Yahweh caused to remain settled to train Israel by them — all those who did not know all the wars of Canaan. It was only in order that the descendants of the Sons of Israel should know, to teach them war — only those present who did not know.”

(Judges 3:1-2)

Many of our English translations will render hAsÎn (nasah) as “test,” though, in context, it seems like, “to train,” is perhaps the better rendering. Because the people had sinned with idols and disobedience, God is leaving these pagans in the land to train the people in war. But why would God do such a thing? Why not remove the people from the land (indeed, God will do that several centuries down the road)? Why not bring the people peace and woo them while they are free from the shadow of war (certainly, that would be the mindset of the health-wealth movement). No, God trains us through the most difficult experiences we face. God teaches us reliance when we face insurmountable obstacles. God teaches us obedience most often as we are given a taste of what the path of disobedience brings.

Thus, this “testing”, this “training” was never meant to be a pleasant thing, nor is God trying to raise up a warrior nation. God is the warrior of Israel (Deuteronomy 20:4), the victories do not come from the might of Israel’s warriors. God will prove that over and over again. They don’t need to learn war to become warriors; they need to learn war because war is awful and grievous to the heart. The people need to learn that wars take place because of human sin, not for human glory.

The question that we must ask ourselves is, “Will we learn?” In other words, will our own commitment to idolatry keep us from obedience? Will we learn the lessons from hardship and persecution to walk in faith and not by worldly-sight? Paganism is in our midst; how will we respond? Will we engage the pagan world with the Gospel? The promises to the church exist in the context of the church marching in battle (the gates of Hell will not prevail), not to a church that seeks to fight a defensive war — defensive campaigns are losing campaigns anyhow, ask Quintus Fabius Maximus if you doubt that. Fabian tactics delay and frustrate the enemy, but they do not win wars. Sadly, the church has largely practiced such tactics for a generation, all the while losing ground in the culture.

So, what is our solution? We follow the lead of Scipio (and more importantly, the Apostle Paul) and take the battle to the enemy. We tear down every argument that stands against the knowledge of God in our community, in our school systems, in our collegiate environments, and yes, even in our churches (too many churches have compromised so much of the Scriptures that their witness is not effective and hardly even can be considered Christian). We evangelize. And we intentionally disciple with the aim of a church body that both knows the Word and practices the Word in obedience. We create an environment where even the non-Christian benefits from the presence of Truth in their midst. We train, train, train ourselves and our children, we read good books and we utilize good resources so that every Christian Culture Warrior that is sent out is equipped for the battle. We learn the lessons of war so that we and future generations will walk in obedience.

Hearing the Word and Reforming

“But they did not hear their judges, for they prostituted themselves after other gods and prostrated themselves before them. They quickly turned aside from the path which their fathers had walked; hearing the commandments of Yahweh, they did not so do.”

(Judges 2:17)

God sent Judges to deliver the people but the people refused to listen to the Judges. In the translation above, I rendered the Hebrew word oAmDv (shama) as “hear” to make it stand out from the text. In Hebrew, this word carries not only the connotations of listening to someone, but also the idea that you will act in obedience to what is being said. It is not enough to simply listen to what the Judge had to say, but the people were expected to demonstrate that they had listened by their actions…they hear and then respond in obedience.

The sad thing is just how little things have changed over the years and the generations. We might be tempted to critique the people by saying, “when will they get with the program?” Yet, before we say such things, we must first look at the church in America and in Europe and in other places as well. For we do little better than these ancient Israelites. How often Christians hear the word preached and then go away from the sermon living life exactly as they have done so for years. How many Christians enter church on Sunday and simply feign attention while the sermon is being preached, having absolutely no intention of learning about God, being challenged in terms of the application of the text, or of living a life to the glory of God, but instead daydream about the rest of the events of the day during the sermon, politely passing the time until the service is through. How often do preachers even, fail to teach the whole council of God because they do not like what its implications are for their own lives?

Friends, things have changed very little. And we even have the advantage of hindsight, the fully revealed and written down Scriptures of God which explain in detail that which God demands of his own, and we know the end of all things is judgment for those who do not love Jesus. We also know that true love for God is demonstrated in our obedience, and thus, much of the evangelical church today still stands self-condemned whether they will admit to it or not. The church has prostrated themselves before idols of their own making: buildings, programs, human reputations and traditions, wealth, ideologies, leisure, pleasure, and power. And in some cases the idols are still crafted by the hands of men out of silver and gold — they are just given names like “Saints” or “Virgin Mary” or “Eucharist.” Prostrating to these things, though given “sanctified” names, is just as idolatrous, just as much a prostituting oneself, as it was with the Ba’als and the Ashtoroth of the day of the Judges.

May we learn from the error of these Israelites. May we learn from the error of our forebears in the Christian church (remembering that over time nearly every denominational body has drifted toward or into liberalism and apostasy). But more importantly, may we demonstrate that we have learned by the way we reform our lives and by the way we work to reform our churches. And don’t content yourself with simply working to slow the decline or maintain a compromised position; labor to lead a church or your life toward repentance and growing in your obedience to our Almighty God and his design for the Biblical Church.

Forgetting the things of God

“And so all of that generation were gathered to their fathers, but following them arose another generation which did not know Yahweh and also the works which he had done in Israel.”

(Judges 2:10)

The Historian, Will Durant, is famously quoted as saying, “From barbarism to civilization takes a century; from civilization to barbarism needs but a day.” In principle, with many things, it takes a lot longer to build than to tear down, and when the fathers do not think it significant enough to pass down their faith and the knowledge of God to their children; society will crumble.

This verse marks the end of the summary overlap between the end of Joshua and the beginning of Judges. Joshua and the generation that remembers the mighty works of God based on firsthand experience passes away. And in passing away, their witness is lost because their children have not been instructed in the things of God. Remember, that while the written word is available at this point in history (Moses penned the Torah), it is not widely distributed as every scroll must be copied by hand still, and thus people would have only had access to parts themselves and only to the whole through the Levites in their midst.

One might be tempted to think that such access to the scriptures would be enough to preserve the history of God’s work in Israel, but if we use our own nation as an example, it is not hard to see how the people would fall away and forget the things of God. In today’s world, we have access to information and writings that is unprecedented in history. There are more books in print and out-of-print books can be acquired in electronic format from free libraries. We know what our American founding fathers thought about and wrote about. But as accessible as these documents are, we do not read them. We tend to be content to learn only as much as we need to get by. In fact, as much access as we have to the written word today, fewer and fewer Americans read, or if they do, they read only short snippets and not whole works.

Further, the riches of the Word of God, as expounded by the saints of the past, is more accessible than ever, yet a broad swath of the church is spiritually and intellectually illiterate, satisfying itself with a feel-good theology that has froth and foam, but no depth of substance. One of the effects of the Fall of Adam is that the things we most need to know, we struggle the most to dig into. Yet, when we fail to dig, when we fail to study the Scriptures deeply, that which has been built and established crumbles because the people walk and wander astray. And if you seek a testimony about the truth of that statement, look at America today…look at the errors that are being taught about history today…look at the errors that are being taught about God today. Look at the foolishness that passes as Christian orthodoxy today. And then we will see the truth of this statement in Judges as well as Durant’s observation.

We will also see the importance of correcting that error…a task that is as pressing today as it was back in the days following Joshua’s death.

Burial or Cremation

“And they buried him within the borders of his inheritance, in Timnath-Cheres, in the mountains of Ephriam — on the north side of mount Ga’ash.”
(Judges 2:9)

In a day and age where the practice of cremation has become both commonplace and acceptable, it is important to be reminded of the Biblical practice of burying the body in the ground or in a cave, leaving it there intact. While burning bodies was a common practice in pagan societies, it was never introduced to the Christian world until the 1800s. In England, cremation was not legalized until 1902, largely as a result of the influence of a self-professed Druid named William Price. While American Indians had practice cremation of the dead in America for generations, the first European to be cremated in the United States was the Baron de Palm, Joseph Henry Louis Charles, who was a member of the cultic universalist group known as the Theosophical Society. When the society originally sought to cremate the body there was such an uproar by the townspeople that the cremation had to be relocated from New York to Western Pennsylvania.

Today, nearly 40 percent of bodies are cremated according to one source that I read; clearly opinions have changed. Certainly, when Jesus returns, he is quite capable of resurrecting a body from their cremated remains, just as he is able to resurrect a body that had no remains to speak of (for example, soldiers killed in bomb blasts in war). The real question is what are you communicating to the world when you incorporate historically pagan practices into the Christian life?

The Biblical practice is clearly that of preserving the body in the ground in the anticipation of a resurrection to glory (for the believer) and destruction (for the unbeliever). As a pastor, I often use the language of “keeping the body in trust” when I speak to people about burial in our church’s cemetery. Every headstone out in that graveyard serves as a reminder to the world of our anticipation of a resurrection and we look forward to that day when our Lord will return and all those graves will be emptied.

So, as we look back to Joshua’s death, we are reminded of our Biblical heritage. My prayer is that everything we do in both life and in death is done for the glory of God and with the hopes of communicating the Gospel to those who are watching you. I believe that one of the reasons that Christianity is in a more or less visible decline in the west is because Christians have oftentimes not offered a consistent and Biblical witness by life and action and have oftentimes been too quick to incorporate pagan practices into their Christian worldview…let’s not travel down that road any further than we have. And, where God gives us influence, let’s use that influence to change the road we have been on and place us on the road that honors God through his Son, Christ Jesus.