Sunday, March 15, 2020

4th Commandment or 6th Commandment—Not Either/or, but Both/and

Why was it that more than a month after South Korea had SARS-CoV-2, roughly half of the cases in that nation were from one Christian congregation?

I am passionately devoted to gathering for public worship. I'm not even a "morning and evening" guy so much as a "morning and evening and before and between and after" guy—think Eutychus and such.

I think that the Westminster Larger Catechism got the 4th commandment right, and that there are not nearly so many "deeds of necessity" as people think and that the "deeds of mercy" ought to follow Christ's own deeds of mercy in being particularly aimed at enabling and relieving those whose conditions are hindering them in worshiping Him.

But I still think that if you had the opportunity to know better, being a "patient 31" (see the article) violates the 6th commandment.

There are many types of providential hindrance to gathering that are not tantamount to forsaking the assembly (consider shut-ins, for instance). And, because I also happen to think Westminster got it right on the 6th commandment as well as the fourth, I considered myself providentially hindered today.

If you are wrestling with these things, I encourage you to consider as well as you can from the Scripture and the help of your elders, and out of love to God and brother, just make a decision according to conscience. And let those who have done so be slow to judge others who did the same and came to the other conclusion.

For more on ways I think that we should be responding, you may wish to read yesterday's pastoral letter (with apologies to many pastors and Sessions, whose letters and thoughts informed and shaped my own).

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Rocks in the Tumbler as a Disease Spreads

The disease which I reference in the title is fear, anxiety, and panic. Far more infectious and harmful than COVID-19. Not that the latter isn't plenty of both. Just that the former is plenty worse.

Disclaimer: I haven't really processed much, so these aren't really settled thoughts. More like directions that things are going. You can just see the inertia of the shape and tone.

I mentioned to someone yesterday that I might preach a one-off on a Christian response to plague when I get back (I'm out of the pulpit until at least 22-March), and this was what I gave as the way my thoughts were going. It's still the same direction, despite panic around here having doubled (UMich hospital got its first case yesterday).

I only post here because, in addition to remembering that the Lord continually and completely does to me as a believer according to Christ's worthiness as my Mediator, I think that it is important that our thoughts be proactively shaped by how we ought to respond out of love for Him, our brother, and our neighbor.

I also believe that in addition to the "ordinary" parts of worship and instances (the Lord's Days) of worship, there are those parts (humiliations / fastings / vows / thanksgivings / oaths) and instances that ought to occur upon particular occasions (like a plague) of God's providence. So, a sermon like the one currently tumbling might belong to a special service rather than a coming Lord's Day.

Reminder of disclaimer: this are not settled/fully-digested thoughts.

My thoughts are varied/scattered:
  • Loving your neighbor means not unnecessarily endangering his life (sixth commandment). Precautions have a moral aspect to them.
  • We don't think about our death enough, and if providence surrounds us with some, we shouldn't waste it.
  • In a culture that is dull and even resistant to thinking about death, eternity, final judgment, we shouldn't waste the opportunity when God confronts our culture with plague.
  • Others will panic and operate primarily out of self-preservation; believers who are eternally safe in Jesus have a massive opportunity to love our neighbor.
  • Just as with foreign missions, each believer will be suited to participate in this opportunity in different ways. Not everyone is suited to plunge in among the dying and minister. The young and strong might even seek to acquire it early/quickly and get over it so that they are immune and can safely minister to others. 
  • For many of these reasons, historically, plagues have been opportunities for revival.
  • It would be rather mean in us if we did not take this as an opportunity to be grateful for the health that we have had. When a plague passes there ought to be corporately called occasions of thanksgiving by spiritual shepherds in homes and churches. In the midst of them, there ought to be corporately called occasions of humiliation and calling upon the Lord in fasting and prayer.
I would probably preach a text like the tower of Siloam.
As for origins, I doubt that we will ever know, and really the important thing is God's purposes in it. But my thoughts do wander, speculatively. This is a virus that even more-than-usually singles out those citizens whose long-term cumulative cost/benefit ratio to the state is the highest. It wouldn't shock me to find out that this is by intentional communist government design. Communism and socialism are evil enough that, even if it was not manufactured by them, those who have such views certainly wouldn't mind the outcome. How wicked and scary is that? But that would be unlikely to have a big place (if any) in a sermon.

Friday, December 20, 2019

What about the "righteous lie"?

There are better, more detailed treatments of this that delve into such important questions as the moral law being an expression of the character of God, and whether that character can ever conflict (of course not!). But after seeing this question make the rounds among some whom I love and respect, I wish to add my own informal, comparatively brief summary answer.

A faithful, Reformed pastor over at Purely Presbyterian quotes Dr. Murray in Principles of Conduct:
On Rahab being honored by God despite her lie, John Murray cuts to the heart of the matter:
"It is strange theology that will insist that the approval of her faith and works in receiving the spies and helping them to escape must embrace the approval of all the actions associated with her praiseworthy conduct. But if it is objected that the preservation of the spies and the sequel of sending them out another way could not have been accomplished apart from the untruth uttered and that the untruth is integral to the successful outcome of her action, there are three things to be borne in mind.
(1) We are presuming too much in reference to the providence of God when we say that the untruth was indispensable to the successful outcome of her believing action.
(2) Granting that, in the de facto providence of God, the untruth was one of the means through which the spies escaped, it does not follow that Rahab was morally justified in using this method. God fulfills his holy, decretive will through our unholy acts.
(3) The kind of argumentation that seeks to justify the untruth because it is so closely bound up with the total result would be akin to the justification of Jacob's lie in connection with the blessing of Isaac [Gen. 27]; Jacob's deception in deed and word is integral to the de facto outcome of the episode, and yet we need not and may not justify his lie."
(Principles of Conduct, pp. 138-139).
Murray is excellent on the question of the so-called righteous lie. The "you can lie to save life" idea runs afoul of the doctrine of God's sovereign providence. It was a blindspot of Dabney, so there are many good men who follow him on it today, and there does seem to be an increased tendency to hold the "righteous lie" position among those who have had to participate in war.

There are options in a situation like Corrie Ten Boom's. You only have to give an answer to those who have a moral right to demand it from you, so silence is often an option. In those situations, you can also answer with a different truth than the one demanded, or even a question. Our Lord Jesus models all of these responses in the gospels.

Some will say that in Scripture God Himself deceives. In my opinion, this is blasphemy. What God does do is give information that is seized upon by the wicked to their own destruction. Because of their wicked assumptions and wicked intent, they respond by plunging into being deceived. God will not even send an holy angel to speak a single untruth. Even in His determined providence, only a wicked one will do in that case (cf. 2Chr 18:18-22).

There is not space here to engage the variety of objections that defenders of the "righteous lie" often raise. It should be needless to say that one had better be absolutely sure, and have much more than tenuously arranged moral reasoning, to justify an idea that must stand up against such clear statements as: "God is not a man that He should lie" (Num 23:19) and "God cannot lie" (Titus 1:2). And "when he [the devil] lies he speaks from his own [i.e. his own character, or even language], for he is a liar and the father of it" (Jn 8:44). And especially "all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone" (Rev 21:8).

Oh, and by the way, Corrie Ten Boom told the truth! The Jews were in a trap door under the table, and when asked where they were, she said, "under the table!" Her persecutors laughed and left, and they were safe. Of course, they could also have looked and found them and killed them all. But that is God's liberty in His inscrutable providence. The duty of not lying is ours. The events of what comes of it belong to God.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Praying for Greta and Millions of Children Like Her

This year a 16 year old girl won Time Magazine's person of the year. For what? For being trotted out as an image of youth and innocence to promote the nature-worship that is part of the complex public religion of our day. Truly, they still sacrifice virgins to the pagan nature-gods.

This poor girl is not a hero. She has been abused by her handlers--including, and especially, her parents.

They have put a world of burden on her shoulders, when she should be learning and growing and developing all sorts of skills (mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, etc.) through the work (yes, work!) and play of childhood.

They have taught her that she is wise enough to rebuke her elders, when they ought to have instilled in her a respect for age and experience that is superseded only by that Word which can make one wiser than her teachers.

They have thrust her, immodestly, onto the most public possible display, rather than teaching her the virtues of self-forgetfulness and modesty--that humility that is glad to serve gently and quietly where He who sees in secret observes and rewards.

Sadly, her being declared Person of the Year is symptomatic of the fact that it's not just Greta. Though not to the same degree, this is being done to millions of children in our and other cultures. Even--God forgive and help us!--in the churches.

As I plod along, day by day and week by week, in ministering the ordinary means of grace, it is in hope (in part) that God will use these means to protect the children who are influenced by my ministry from such folly. One of those means is prayer--in which we cry out to God for reformation and revival to come through these means multiplied by a multitude of other pastors and parents.

When I pray for reformation, one of the things that I pray for is an end to this folly. When I pray for revival, one of the things that I pray for is an end to this folly. Won't you work and pray with me? God strengthen and hear us!

Monday, December 9, 2019

How Should We Deal with Adiaphora (Matters Indifferent)?

Over at Purely Presbyterian there's an excellent article, drawing on wise pastors' Scriptural counsel, reasoning through some principles for handling issues to which Scripture speaks less directly or less obviously. In short: aiming at God's glory, in love for the whole church, and in maintenance of the clearest possible conscience.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Glory of Advent Season

Heaven has come down to earth. But let those who love this glorious reality learn to love another marvelously glorious reality: on the first day of each week, the ascended Lord calls an assembly on earth to come up to Heaven! This weekly celebration is Christ's own way of celebrating His advent.
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.
Hebrews 12:21-29

Friday, December 6, 2019

191206FW Proverbs 6:16-19 - "What Does God Hate?"

A family worship lesson in the "Proverb of the day." Scripture tells us what God hates, so that we will take it seriously and hate it too. What does God hate?