July 4, 2015

John Calvin on the American Revolution

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, finished 217 years before the American War for Independence, John Calvin wrote a chapter on the concept of Civil Government and how Christians should think and behave with respect towards government authority.

In this chapter, he explains from numerous teachings of Scripture that believers are to be obedient to the authorities that God, by his Providence, has placed over them. Civil governments are instituted by God and designed for the good of people, and the institution should be respected as such. He argues forcefully that this principle even applies to unjust governments, and should guide Christian behavior even under severe tyranny.

Christian citizens are to leave vengeance to God and not to revolt against established authorities to right injustice, but instead should look to the Lord for deliverance and mercy, which he will often bring through the course of events.

The one exception to this nearly absolute injunction is in the case where the reigning authority mandates something which God has forbidden  or prohibits something which God has commanded. In that case, it is our duty to obey God rather than the unlawful command of the government, suffering whatever consequences may come as a result. Even in this case, however, we are not to attempt to overthrow or replace this government, but simply to obey God above it.

According to Calvin, all popular uprisings of people against their government would appear to violate these scriptural dictates. He summarizes by saying that "if the correction of unbridled despotism is the Lord's to avenge, let us not at once think that it is not entrusted to us, to whom no command has been given except to obey and suffer."

So, what would Calvin say of the American Revolution? On the surface, it would seem that the colonial revolt against imperial rule would be forbidden on the basis of these principles. However, in the next paragraph, he adds a clarification that adds a whole new dimension to the discussion:
"I am speaking all the while of private individuals. For if there are now any magistrates of the people, appointed to restrain the willfulness of kings…I am so far from forbidding them to withstand, in accordance with their duty, the fierce licentiousness of kings, that, if they wink at kings who violently fall upon and assault the lowly common folk, I declare that their dissimulation involves nefarious perfidy, because they dishonestly betray the freedom of the people, of which they know that they have been appointed protectors by God's ordinance."
In other words, while private individuals have no place opposing the tyranny of unjust rulers, lesser authorities within a government, whose responsibility is to protect and govern the citizens, are not only authorized but obliged to resist the oppression of their subjects by the higher authority. Failure to do so would be an abdication of the responsibility placed on them by God.

It is this last scenario - the lesser magistrate opposing the unjust greater magistrate - that I think applies to the situation surrounding the American Revolution. Rather than an insurrection of citizens against their government (a la the French Revolution), the lawful authorities of the 13 states recognized the tyranny of the British government and acted on behalf of their subjects to free them from that oppression.

This is certainly a debatable perspective, but is the only way I see that the American Revolution could be understood to cohere with biblical principles regarding government.

July 27, 2014

Peeling Potatoes to the Glory of God

There is no sacred vs. secular distinction when it comes to glorifying God in our work. All work is pleasing to him, provided it is done in love and service to our neighbor and with a view towards excellence. 

"As Eric Liddell's missionary father exhorts him in Chariots of Fire, "You can praise the Lord by peeling a spud, if you peel it to perfection." Your daily work is ultimately an act of worship to the God who called and equipped you to do it - no matter what kind of work it is." (Keller, Every Good Endeavor, 80)

June 2, 2014

A Personal Mission Statement


Core Purpose
  • To display God's excellence by doing good for others to God's glory.
Core Principles
  • Overall Principles
    • Seek to understand the true sense and teaching of Scripture.
    • Do all things with a mind to pleasing Christ.
    • Be honest and always keep your promises.
    • Live every day as if you will stand before God tomorrow. 
    • Ask God for every need and want, but trust his judgment to provide what is best.
    • In all things, whether work or recreation, make the most productive use of the time provided, not squandering it.
    • Forgive, as you have been forgiven.
    • Apart from Christ, you can do nothing.
  • Doing Good
    • Strive to consider others more important than yourself.
    • Be as understanding with the faults of others as you are of your own. 
    • If there is a genuine need, and it is within your power to help, then do it.
    • Seek the things that are truly for the good of others, not just the things that please others or satisfy your conscience. 
  • Work
    • Work as if you are employed by the Lord.
    • Strive for excellence as a reflection of He who is most excellent.
    • Always keep in mind those who will be inheriting your work after you, and act in love toward them.
    • Do the right things right, the first time.
    • Care for those under your supervision as you would your own kin.
  • Family
    • Model and teach godly character.
    • Be consistent in discipline.
    • Fill our house with love and laughter.
    • Say yes as much as possible.
    • Strive for patience and not yelling.
    • Work for a marriage that reflects Christ and the Church.
  • Church
    • Always strive to be active in a community of believers.
    • Attempt to use the knowledge and abilities given to me in service to the Church.
    • Seek genuine relationships that go below the surface, founded on our common grace in Christ.
  • Money
    • Be generous and eager to lend.
    • Remember that all that you have belongs to the Lord and you are a steward of his things.
    • Don't try to "keep up with the Jones'."
    • Be responsible in saving and investing, but don't trust in riches.
    • Be frugal but not cheap.
  • Suffering
    • Trust that our Heavenly Father is sovereign over all things, knows our pain, and will not allow anything that is not for our good.
    • Know that the furnace of suffering cleans away filth and produces fruit of righteousness.
    • Never allow trials to draw me away from Christ, but strive to press in deeper through them.
    • Maintain a constant remembrance of the hope that awaits us in Christ.
Core Beliefs
  • God is a Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit existing eternally in loving fellowship with one another.
  • Humans were created in God's image to reflect his glory by ruling over creation, but we disobeyed his commands and have fallen into rebellion and wrath.
  • Through his promises to Abraham and Israel, God has begun a mission to deliver the world from bondage to sin and to reverse the curse.
  • This mission culminates in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God born in human flesh, our Messiah and Lord, who lived a life of perfect obedience to the will of God, and by his death on a cross paid the penalty for our sins, and by his resurrection became the first fruits of the new creation, being exalted to the right hand of God the Father, he is Lord over all creation and intercedes specially for his church.
  • Those who place their trust and allegiance in Jesus have been given a mission to bring the message of salvation and forgiveness of sins to all nations, teaching them obedience and baptizing them into his name.
  • Jesus dwells in His Church by the Holy Spirit, who brings conviction of sin, understanding in truth, and growth in fellowship and holiness of life.
  • On the day appointed, the Lord will return to judge the living and the dead and to bring salvation and eternal life to all who have hoped in him.
  • He will bring about a new creation, a restored heaven and earth, in which we will live and reign with God as vice-regents over all creation, worshiping and working in righteousness and peace forever and ever.

November 9, 2013

Bavinck vs. the Pelagians (or, Foreknowledge = Predestination)

The common Christian approach to reconciling God's predestination with human freedom is to say that God predestines based on his foreknowledge of free human actions. In his discussion of Pelagian views of divine providence, Herman Bavinck argues that divine foreknowledge must either be redundant, being fundamentally identical to predestination, or nonexistent. The choice, then, is between Predestination or Open Theism. He writes:
"Pelagianism, however, does not yet marshal its full strength when it opposes the general and special providence of God. To some extent it even recognizes this doctrine. But it comes out fighting especially when the eternal state of rational creatures, the particular decree of predestination, is at issue. Now, predestination is only a particular application of the counsel or providence of God. Just as we cannot separate the natural from the moral world, so neither can we point to a boundary line between the temporal condition of human creatures and their eternal state. With respect to the latter, however, Pelagianism has traded predestination for foreknowledge and described foreordination as the decree of God in which he determined either eternal blessedness or eternal punishment for people, depending on whether he foresaw their persevering faith or their undying unbelief. Now, however generally this view has been adopted in the Christian church (is it not the confession of all Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Remonstrant [Arminians], Anabaptist, and Methodist Christians?), it is nevertheless firmly contradicted by Scripture, religious experience, and theological reflection.
"In the first place, Scripture clearly teaches that faith and unbelief, salvation and perdition, are not just the objects of God's "bare foreknowledge" but especially also of his will and decree. God's foreknowledge (πρόγνωσις: Rom. 8:29; 11:2; 1 Pet. 1:2; c.f. Acts 2:23) is not a passive form of recognition, not a state of consciousness, but...a self-determination of God, prior to its realization in history, to assume a certain specific relation to the objects of his foreknowledge. It is most closely related to God's purpose (πρόθεσις), foreordination (προορίζω), and election (ἐκλογή), and is an act of his good pleasure (εὐδοκία). 
"Second,  it is the teaching of Scripture that faith cannot arise from within the heart of an unspiritual person (1 Cor. 2:14), that it is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8; Phil. 1:29; 1 Cor. 4:7) and therefore does not precede election but is its fruit and effect (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4-5; Acts 13:48). Third, it is the unanimous witness of all religious Christian experience that salvation, both in an objective and a subjective sense, is solely the work of God. Though in theory a person may be Pelagian, in the practice of the Christian life, above all in prayer, every Christian is an Augustinian. In that connection all glorying in self is excluded, and God alone is given the honor. Augustine, accordingly, was right when he said that the ancient church's faith in God's grace expressed itself in prayers rather than in its "little works." 
"Fourth, divine foreknowledge is certainly of such a kind that its object is known in advance as absolutely certain, and then it is identical with predestination. However, if its object is totally accidental and arbitrary, it cannot have been foreknown either. According to the teach of Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran churches and even according to the Remonstrants - all of whom attempt to substitute foreknowledge for predestination - the number of those who believe and will be saved is just as fixed and certain as it is according to Augustine and Reformed theologians. Said Augustine: "The number of the elect is certain; it can neither be increased nor diminished." This is also the teaching of Lombard, Thomas Aquinas, and all Catholic theologians, although they differ among themselves in that some derive the certainty of the outcome from the will, while others, such as Molina (et al.) derive it from the knowledge of God. In later years Lutheran theologians indeed made predestination depend on foreknowledge, yet they never questioned the certainty and immutability of the outcome. In numerous passages (Dan. 12:1; Matt. 24:24; 25:34; John 10:28; Rom. 8:29-30; 1 Pet. 1:2-4) Scripture speaks in language so clear and strong, after all, that they can hardly deny this immutability.
"Formally, as well as materially, both in terms of quantity and quality, the number of the saved is unalterably fixed, according to the confession of all Christian churches. But when theologians recognize this fact and think it through, they have to equate foreknowledge with providence and predestination. In advance, with a foreknowledge that is eternal and immutable, God has known those who would believe. Given this foreknowledge, these people will also most certainly and infallibly come to faith and salvation in time. On this position there nowhere remains any room for "freedom" in the sense of chance and caprice. Foreknowledge, then, by definition includes predestination. If...one says that God foreknew the fortuitous precisely in its fortuitous character, one has reverted to Augustine's line of thought and consequently has no problem harmonizing freedom with predestination. The central question is this: Can these free and fortuitous events be know from eternity with absolute certainty?
"If the answer is yes, Augustine is right and the entire doctrine of foreknowledge is redundant. If the answer is no, one has to go on and also reject foreknowledge. In that case the outcome of world history is strictly fortuitous and as such remains incalculable and unknowable. Cicero, seeing this, denied foreknowledge as well. In later years he was followed by the Socinians, Remonstrants, Vorstius, and numerous modern theologians, who in the interest of maintaining the freedom of the human creature, adopted a kind of divine self-limitation in knowledge, will, and power.
"Christian churches, however, shrank from this conclusion. All of them confess God's providence and foreknowledge. All things happen in time as God eternally knew they would. The final result and the ways and means leading to it are established in God's providence. Thus considered, the doctrine of predestination is neither just a confession of the Reformed churches, nor a private opinion of Augustine and Calvin, but a dogma of the entire Christian church. Though there are differences in the name by which it is called and the manner in which it is presented, materially there is agreement: all Christian churches and theologians confess that all things exist, happen, and reach their destiny in accordance with God's eternal knowledge. In that sense, Augustine could rightly say: "There was never a time when the church of Christ did not hold the truth of this belief in predestination, which is now being defended with fresh concern against new heretics." Although the confessions differ in the degree of attention paid to this doctrine, they all have it. In fact, it can be said that, whether one thinks along Pelagian or Augustinian lines, the matter about which one thinks remains the same. History does not change. The facts are their interconnectedness in world history are as they are regardless of the true or false notions we entertain concerning them. The sole difference is this: Reformed Christians, with Scripture in their hands and Augustine as their leader, did not stop at the consideration of secondary causes but ventured to push on to faith in the primary cause, that is, the will of God, in which alone they experienced rest for their mind and life. The doctrine of predestination finds its invincible power and severity in the facts of world history interpreted by God's Word as the implementation of his eternal counsel. Although the doctrine itself is not harsh and severe, awesomely serious are the facts on which it is built. Pelagianism fails to satisfy the human mind for one reason alone: at every point in life and of the history of humankind it conflicts with reality - a reality that is awesome indeed. Pelagianism is a veneer that, though highly deceptive, in no way changes reality." (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol II, 377-379)

October 29, 2013

How Deep The Father's Love For Us

 For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, HCSB)

How do you apply a passage like John 3:16? For starters, you believe. But beyond that, consider the love of God which is made manifest in Christ Jesus.
  1. The Father loved me and gave himself - his one and only Son - up for me. "How deep the Father's love for us, how vast beyond all measure, that he should give his only Son, to make a wretch his treasure..."
  2. The Son loved me and gave himself - his own life - up for me. "Oh, how he loves us so, how he loves us..." "Amazing love, how can it be, that thou, my God, shouldst die for me? ..."
  3. The Spirit loved me and gave me new life, opening my eyes to behold the beauty and the majesty of Christ. "Holy Spirit, living Breath of God, Breathe new life into my willing soul. Bring the presence of the risen Lord To renew my heart and make me whole. Cause Your Word to come alive in me; Give me faith for what I cannot see; Give me passion for Your purity. Holy Spirit, breathe new life in me."
  4. We are humbled, and grateful, and deeply loved. The depth of this love is manifest in who we were and what he gave up. Sinners, such a commonplace word. Rebels of the crown, enemies of the Most High...those upon whom his judgment justly rests. Yet, he leaves the glory and honor of his heavenly throne and condescends to the form of a Servant, suffering the brunt of that rebellion and enmity in his own flesh and simultaneously taking upon himself the judgment due to us. 
  5. We have hope. If our God did this that we might be saved, what shall we fear? If in his death we have been reconciled to God, how much more shall we be saved by his life? (Rom. 5:6-10) "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him freely give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32)
  6. We love because he loved. "This is how we have come to know love: he laid down his life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has this world's goods and sees his brother in need, but closes his eyes to his need - how can God's love reside in him?" (1 John 3:16) "God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins...if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another." (1 John 4:9-11)
  7. We become vessels of his love. The love of Christ, which was manifest in his death for us, controls us and compels us forward, making us his ambassadors. "For Christ’s love compels us, since we have reached this conclusion: If One died for all, then all died. And He died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the One who died for them and was raised...if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15,17-21, HCSB)

August 14, 2013

Where is Wisdom Found?

Lost in the darkness of night, where fog hides the way
I can here the voices calling, pleading that I come
Who then will I trust? Who will answer when I say:
Where is wisdom found? Does someone know where he stays?

Follow me and I can show you, you need not fear
Just over the yonder hill, wisdom calls this his home
Enter in through the gate, as wide as it is near
Enter and celebrate, we will dry your every tear

No, no, do not heed that voice, it will lead astray
Though a tempting choice, there wisdom is not to be known
No room for wisdom, though ease and comfort make play
Where is wisdom found? Does someone know where he stays?

Yes, you see ever so clearly, I'll be your guide
The way of learning you see, follow me through the deep tome
Words of wisdom to be found, mysteries they hide
Study, learn and know, we will satisfy your mind

No, no, do not heed that voice, it will lead astray
Ships frequent her shores, captains retire in her deep tombs
Wisdom knows his knowledge, but that is not the way
Where is wisdom found? Does someone know where he stays?

Take heed, poor traveller, lay aside every care
Wisdom's search is long, and your resources are near gone
Come in and be filled, lest you fall into a snare
Abundant provision awaits, to help you get there

No, no, do not heed that voice, it will lead astray
Many lodge to refresh but are never away gone
Wisdom is light in travel, keep on in the way
Where is wisdom found? Does someone know where he stays?

Wisdom's light never to be found wandering the night
You must search for day, then with light you make him known
Strike a match, light a lamp, wait for sunrise to bright
Then you'll see clearly to find wisdom your delight

No, no, do not heed that voice, it will lead astray
Enlightenment brings a wisdom, but not as you had hoped
Nay, wisdom is light and brings with it true day
Where is wisdom found? Does someone know where he stays?

Dear friend, you tremble in fear and do rightly so
Wisdom is not to be found and he names no home
You search and grope and wander but still do not know
Pay no heed to those calling, voice of many foes

Wisdom you won't find, because it is you he seeks
Standing in your midst, though ever humble and meek
No doubt you know my voice, and the words that I speak
Dressed as folly to foes, I bring strength to the weak

Dear friend, you tremble in fear and do rightly so
Wisdom begins with fear of him whose name you know
He entered your dark, died your foes to overthrow
Life dressed in death, and wisdom in folly clothed

Here wisdom is found, and with me ever to stay
Guiding through the dark, he brings me to the true day
Every rhyme is off beat and every chord misplayed
Until he enters and brings healing to decay.