Theocracy – the Christian Hope

The word “theocracy” carries a lot of baggage today. A term of derision for many, it conjures up visions of dictatorial governments, strict rules, and forced conversions. The literal meaning, “rule by God”, isn’t very helpful. The modern definition of theocracy is “a country ruled by religious leaders.”[1] Current examples are Saudi Arabia and Iran, both of whom are Islamic theocracies. The LDS, aka Mormons, had something like a theocracy in Utah under Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders in the mid-eighteen-hundreds. These examples do nothing to commend theocracy to us. Yet despite our negative conceptions, theocracy is treated as the hope of God’s people in the Old and New Testaments.[2]

Scripture doesn’t directly use the word “theocracy”, although the idea of Yahweh ruling is present throughout. The most specific reference to being under God’s rule is during the period of Israel’s judges. They served in a military and judicial function for the people as God’s representative after they possessed the Promised Land. This period was marked by its overall moral and spiritual decline. As often happens in periods of decline, Israel had a populist uprising and called for a change in government. They wanted a king like the surrounding nations. When they did so, God told Samuel – who was both a priest and a judge at that time – that by doing this they had rejected Him as their ruler.

“And the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them’” (I Samuel 8:7).

During the reign of David, God promised that another king would come who would establish His reign throughout the earth (Psalm 72). Centuries later Jesus proclaimed a soon-coming kingdom that will grow throughout history. In His resurrection and ascension, Jesus was exalted as priest and king. Scripture shows Him ruling at the Father’s right hand, ruling the nations despite their ornery defiance. Paul says that Jesus will reign until all enemies are put under His feet (I Cor. 15:25) and the book of Revelation displays Jesus as the priest, prophet, judge, and king.

But this raises a question. How can we say Jesus is King when we see so many terrible things in the world? Would a good king allow death, famine, war, and other evils? Why doesn’t He put a stop to it all? Part of the answer is that there is a difference between God’s providential rule over all things – which has been since He created the world – and the reign of Christ in His promised kingdom. When God gave men and angels free will, He providentially allowed evil into the world. Though this is a tough theological and philosophical issue we can rest in the promise that God is sovereign, all-powerful, gracious, and He works all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.[3]

This enhances the question. If God is sovereign and Jesus reigns as our King, why doesn’t He eradicate evil right now? Because He doesn’t use power like that, at least not right now. We have a particular view of power that’s different from what’s found in Scripture. We understand power as a simple force that requires people to bend to do our will. When two opposing powers meet, one will be stronger and subdue the other by force. But the reign of Christ does not work like that.[4] When Jesus defeated death and Satan, He overthrew the power of the adversary and the most powerful tool Satan had – the fear of death. He rules the nations through His Spirit, working in and through His people (His body). The New Testament picture is of a kingdom that extends gradually, rather than all at once (Matt. 13:31-33). He reigns as the kings of old would reign over colonies, through governors, representatives, and stewards. His great commission is the call to declare the gospel: the good news of the reign of Christ, His victory over His enemies, and His pardoning grace to all who submit to Him. As the author of Hebrews says in Hebrews 2:8-9,

“You have put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.

We don’t yet see all things subdued under the reign of Christ, but by faith, we see Jesus, who came as a man to take upon Himself all the evil that the cosmos could dish out, and make a way for us to come to God through Him. Even though evil exists in the world still, our Savior absorbed it for us that we might be His instruments of grace in this world.

Part of God’s grace to us is the gift of civil leaders, those who rule, enact, and enforce laws. He appointed them to “execute wrath on evildoers,” (Rom. 13:4). As God’s appointed servants, every time they carry out justice, they are fulfilling the work of Christ the King. It doesn’t matter if they do so knowingly, although it’s better if they do. For many centuries Christians agreed that rulers had an obligation to rule in submission to the moral law revealed in Scripture.[5] Believing that Christ is Lord requires that you obey Christ, whether you are a mayor, police officer, artist, engineer, or dog-catcher. Rulers are in a unique position as they have a greater ability to implement the moral/natural law, and they have to do so.[6]

What then does this mean for us? On a local, practical level, the rulers of Huntsville, Alabama should honor God in the way they rule. They should act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before God. They should remember that Jesus Christ rules over them as king and they will give an account to Him one day for how they ruled. Because we love our city and seek its peace, the church should remind our city fathers of these things, whether they want to hear it or not. But the church as an institution does not bear the responsibility of forming and trying to implement a detailed political agenda. Trying to do so risks compromising the mission of the church and turning Scripture into a political manifesto.

But is that a real danger? Would people ever do that? Yes, they would.

In the 1530s, the Reformation was in full swing. Many German towns and villages were excited about casting off the yoke of papal tyranny. Soon the fervor of freedom led some to turn against their local magistrates, viewing them as too strict and oppressive. A tailor named Jan Bockelson believed that the theological and social reforms throughout the Holy Roman Empire (what is today Germany) were neither swift nor thorough enough. He had been a Lutheran but now believed that the Lutheran church remained in bondage to tradition.

Believing that the millennial reign of Christ was immediate, the charismatic Bockelson joined other radical reformers in the city of Münster. He proclaimed it “The New Jerusalem” and himself, who had taken the name “John of Leiden,” its king. He and other city leaders emphasized the theocratic nature of their city, saying they ruled under God and directly from Scripture. They abolished many laws deemed oppressive and redistributed property democratically. They legalized polygamy, citing Old Testament law regarding multiple wives; John himself had sixteen wives. Soon they began killing supposed criminals without a trial (the main crime was criticizing John or his “holy” rule). In an early example of cooperation between Catholic and Lutheran armies, outside forces laid siege to the city for several years, and in time Bockelson and his comrades were tortured and killed.[7] 

While this event does not discredit theocracy, it should teach us the danger of idealistic, political zeal, even towards Christian ends. We don’t establish God’s kingdom by force; we pray, prepare, teach, plan, and take opportunities as they come. In the light of eternity, we live in the dawn of the reign of Christ over the nations. We can afford to be patient but not lazy. We must not shrink back from the task of gradual, thorough discipleship.

In conclusion, theocracy is not just a good idea – it is God’s plan. Thankfully the church isn’t given the task of establishing theocracy – Jesus already did that. Our responsibility as disciples is to manifest submission to Christ in every sphere: home, church, business, politics, entertainment, technology, etc. As we pursue these goals together, the Kingdom of God grows and we anticipate one day seeing all things transformed in Christ.


[1] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/theocracy

[2] Psalms 2, 72, 110, Daniel 2, Isaiah 9:7, Luke 11:2, I Corinthians 15:25,

[3] Daniel 4:34-35, Romans 8:28-29; for a more detailed account of the doctrine of God’s providence, see the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 5, “Of Providence.” https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/the-westminster-confession-of-faith-1647

[4] This is beautifully illustrated by J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings. See “Let Folly Be Our Cloak: Tolkien on Power in Lord of the Rings,” https://apilgriminnarnia.com/2013/09/17/power/ 

[5] This includes Paul (Rom. 13:1-5), John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo, and Thomas Aquinas, just to name a few examples.

[6] For a good summary of this see John von Heyking’s Augustine and Politics as Longing in the World

[7] For a shorter article on this, see https://www.thelocal.de/20180503/muenster-theocracy-history-anabaptists/. If you’d like to read greater detail, see The Tailor King, by Anthony Arthur.


Matt Carpenter is the Associate Pastor for Shepherding at Trinity Reformed Church. He has been in ministry for ten years and was a school teacher for fifteen years where he taught history, government, and economics.

How Should Christians Respond to Censure?

If you found this article helpful, you might enjoy reading our article, “What to do when your boss encourages you to join the moral revolution.”

Introduction

This is not the time for Christians to retreat to a hidey-hole and say, “The world’s going to hell and a handbasket and I can do nothing to stop it.” This is not the time to dispense with care for what goes on outside the wall, or outside the street, or outside the boundary of your neighborhood. The enemies of the Lord wish to squelch the church (Mark 4:4; 1 Pt. 5:8),[1] all in the name of tolerance. It’s a tolerant censure, which is as gentle as a meat-ax.

It increasingly feels like the only thoughts permitted are those prescribed by the “experts” of the ruling class. It’s more than a feeling. It’s the sad denouement of the work of Herbert Marcuse, the radical philosopher from the 1960s and 1970s. Marcuse called for intolerance toward those who wouldn’t tolerate everything. It was a new kind of tolerance—totalitarian intolerance. If that sounds like something’s been turned upside down then you understand exactly what Marcuse was aiming for, namely, the overthrow of the entire moral order of Western Civilization. Marcuse’s scheme for liberating people from the morality of Christianity was to realign intolerance as tolerance. Marcuse distinguished between two kinds of tolerance: false tolerance and liberating tolerance. In D.A. Carson’s excellent book, The Intolerance of Tolerance, he refers to this as the “old tolerance” and the “new tolerance.” The old tolerance is what undergirds free society. It presupposes that objective truth is real and we should all want to find it and believe it. Thus, society needs to be arranged so that people can freely argue that one idea is better than another.[2] The new tolerance Marcuse defines as “intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left.”[3] Functionally, this means that when Christians voice opposition to the new moral order, they are automatically suppressed under the condemning label of “intolerant!”[4]

The enemy loves it when Christians are quiet. Why? For the same reason that burglars don’t like doorbell cameras and poachers don’t like game-wardens. A censor buries ideas. A censure harshly criticizes ideas. To be censored is to be prevented from saying your ideas. To be censured is to be chided after you’ve said it. Both censure and censor come from the Latin censura, which means judgment or assessment. Modern methods of censuring (and censoring) are as diverse as a Community College billboard. Sometimes it involves the state, but oftentimes it is exercised through sundry forms of economic and social pressure. Christians may be tempted to speak only in whispers to avoid antagonistic attention.

How Should the Church Respond?

The church’s duty is this: First, to have Christian convictions. Second, to live and speak those convictions publicly. In 1863 William Marsh articulated this duty in a letter to J.C. Ryle, “Controversy, with meekness and wisdom, in the present day is a bounden duty; silence would be too much like neutrality, and neutrality is treason.”

Since oppression tends to drive the wiseman into madness (Eccl. 7:7), Christians must remember at least three things as they deliberately resist the world’s censure.

First, you have to disagree with someone

You can’t please all the talking heads. You must disagree with one party or another, with one idea or another. There’s no use in trying to avoid it. It isn’t the job of Christians to stand in the middle and help good compromise with evil. Such a compromise invites incoming fire from both sides. As the saying goes, the one who attempts to please all pleases none. Somehow Christians now think it is a virtue to find praiseworthy things in false teaching. This new habit runs counter to 2 Peter 2 and Matthew 23. The biblical pattern establishes that proclaiming truth requires challenging error. The church continued this pattern throughout its history. For example, the church challenged Gnosticism in the second century, Augustine challenged Pelagius in the fourth century, and Luther challenged the Roman Catholic Church and restored the Bible to its place of authority in the sixteenth century.

Besides, why would Christians want to win the applause of a world living by lies? Before the Soviets expelled Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1974, he wrote this to his countrymen, “But let us at least refuse to say what we do not think.” This is largely the situation Christians face today, where they are pressured to say things they don’t even think—that statistical inequality is evidence of injustice (socialism), that those with more melanin in their skin have elevated access to truth (critical theory), that man evolved from goo (Neo-Darwinism). We must take courage and not mindlessly repeat the ideas of government school curriculum writers. We must, as Rod Dreher exhorts, “Live not by lies.”

Second, your conduct is seen by unseen beings

The average modern person lives in an immanent frame. For them, this world is all there is. It has to be seen to be believed. In contrast, Christians inhabit a far bigger world. For them, the meta-reality is unseen. Paul tells Timothy, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality” (1 Tim. 5:21). You are seen by God the Father, who you do not now see. You are seen by God the Son, who you do not now see. You are seen by angels, who you do not now see.

We must understand why Christians are swayed by the world’s censure. It’s not primarily fear, though fear can be persuasive. It is, as Jesus said, because people love the praise of man more than the praise of God (John 12:43). Why do people love the praise of man more than the praise of God? It has to do with delayed gratification. More specifically, it has to do with the difficulty in delaying gratification. When you obey the Lord, God and the angels see it. And they will praise you when you are in heaven. When you obey the zeitgeist, people see it. And they praise you now. You exchange future glory for immediate glory. You cannot be praised by men unless you are seen by men. Yet Jesus tells us that many good deeds consist in not being seen by others. Fret not, God and the angels see it (Mt. 6:3-4).

The reason the world’s judgment should be of no account is that your soul will be judged by him who made it. The Lord will not be impressed with a resume filled with the applause of wicked creatures and blind judges. You respond and say, “But the shame of the world is too great to bear. The ridicule of the Twitter mob is too much to endure.” This, however, is short-sighted. Will not the shame of God be much greater to bear? Will not the ridicule of God be too much to endure? Jesus warned, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 10:32f).

Third, you must join with the church of Jesus Christ

If you are dissatisfied with the world, if you thirst for truth and righteousness, if you wish to see the truth of the living God, then join a faithful local church. If it is a true church of Jesus Christ, then it will see the orange barricades of the secular censure and drive right through them (Col. 2:8). Only then will you receive a message from God.

Conclusion

J.I. Packer wrote, “Ease and luxury, such as our affluence bring us today, do not make for maturity; hardships and struggle however do.”[5] Are you fearful that if you don’t comply with the censure, you will be less successful in this world? Are you worried it will hinder promotion at your job? Or that it will limit you politically or socially? Are you anxious that becoming a citizen of another world will make you less fit to move up in this one? Do you wonder how Christians will advance if they don’t play by the world’s rules? And if they don’t advance, how will they have power enough to solve the world’s problems?

In response to this flurry of unease, we must learn that the world’s problems will never be solved by those who censure God’s truth. This world will not be bettered by those who hate God. To restore the world, you must stand with the God who made it, which means testifying to the truth of the Bible: That the world is hopelessly lost in sin (Rom. 3:23); that there is a holy (Lev. 11:44), infinite (Ps. 93:2), living (2 Cor. 3:3), Creator-God of the universe (Eph. 3:9) who patiently upholds the universe by the word of his power (Heb. 1:3); that he has revealed himself to the world in nature (Rom. 1:20f), in his written word (2 Pt. 1:21), and his Son, Jesus Christ the Lord (Gal. 4:4f); that salvation from the guilt of sin is found in no other name but Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12; 10:43; 13:38); that this salvation is a free gift (Rom. 5:15) to be treasured (Mt. 13:44).

In today’s world it is risky to stand boldly on our Christian convictions, because, as J. Gresham Machen says, it is, “An unpopular message it is—an impractical message, … But it is the message of the Christian Church. Neglect it, and you will have destruction; heed it, and you will have life.”[6]


[1] https://sovereignnations.com/2019/09/19/democrat-party-passes-resolution-against-christianity/

[2] Roger Scruton says this of the old tolerance, “The freedom to entertain and express opinions, however offensive to others, has been regarded since Locke as the sine qua non of a free society. This freedom was enshrined in the American Constitution, defended in the face of the Victorian moralists by John Stuart Mill, and upheld in our time by the dissidents under communist and fascist dictatorships. So much of a shibboleth has it become, that commentators barely distinguish free speech from democracy, and regard both as the default positions of humanity.” How to be a Conservative (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 169.

[3] https://www.marcuse.org/herbert/pubs/60spubs/65repressivetolerance.htm

[4] For a history of political correctness, see Michael Knowles book Speechless: Controlling Words, Controlling Minds (Washington D.C.; Regnery Publishing, 2021).

[5] J.I. Packer. A Quest for Godliness: A Puritan Vision of the Christian Life. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1990), 22.

[6] J. Gresham Machen, What is Christianity? And Other Addresses (Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans, 1951), 287.


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

What is the relationship between apostasy and blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?

Introduction

In our recent sermon entitled “Whiteness is not the unforgivable sin,” (which can be found by clicking here) we defined blasphemy against the Spirit, AKA the unforgivable sin, as attributing to Satan the work of the Spirit. We also saw that blasphemy against the Spirit is more than a rejection of the gospel. It is the obstinate refusal to acknowledge that Jesus’ power comes from God, even after seeing the truth of Jesus.

A common question is: What is the relationship between the unforgivable sin (Mark 3:22-30) and the apostasy described in Hebrews 6:4-6 and Hebrews 10:26-29? Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is distinct from apostasy. Apostasy is deliberately turning against God and renouncing the faith. It presupposes that the individual was once a sincere believer. Yet, there are at least three similarities between apostasy and the unforgivable sin (Mark 3:29), even as the sin spoken of by Jesus in Mark 3:29 is not apostasy in the ordinary sense.

Similarities between apostasy and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit

First, the unpardonable nature of the sin.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is said to be an “eternal sin” for which someone “never has forgiveness” (Mark 3:29). In the case of apostasy in Hebrews 6:4-6, “It is impossible … to restore them to repentance.” In the case of apostasy in Hebrews 10:26-31, “There no longer remains a sacrifice for sin.”

Second, neither can be done accidentally

Jesus’s teaching about blasphemy of the Holy Spirt is applied directly to the Scribes (Mark 3:22, 30). After watching Jesus’ authority to preach, heal sickness, forgive sins, and cast out demons, the Scribes attributed Jesus’ power to Satan rather than the Spirit. This was done after they watched Jesus carefully (Mark 3:2) for some time. Their sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is a thoughtful, willful, and circumspect rejection of the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a settled condition of the soul. It is not an isolated act done accidentally.

The same is true for apostasy, which is when someone goes “on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth” (Heb. 10:26). This person has tasted the heavenly gift (i.e. participated in the Lord’s Supper), partaken of the Holy Spirit, and tasted the goodness of the word of God (Heb. 6:4-5). The clearest example of individual apostasy in the Old Testament is Saul, whom Samuel anointed as king over Israel. He was filled with the Spirit and prophesied (1 Sam. 10:6, 10), yet eventually fell away from the Lord and committed suicide.

Neither blasphemy of the Holy Spirit or apostasy is a one-time event done accidentally. It is when someone deliberately and actively hates Christ while knowing the truth. This condition doesn’t develop overnight. There is a difference between active and passive sin. Some sin in ignorance (Heb. 5:2) and Yahweh made provision for the person who commits unintentional sin (Num. 15:28). No such provision is made for the person who sins with a high hand (Num. 15:30f), which leads to our final similarity.

Third, each is sinning with a high hand.

Numbers 15:30-31 describes sinning with a high hand when it says, “But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. 31 Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.” Sinning with a high hand has three parts: (A) reviling the Lord (The Hebrew word gā·ḏǎp̄ means blaspheming), (B) despising the Word of the Lord (The Hebrew word bā·zā means showing contempt), and (C) breaking his commandment (the context indicates that the person sins presumptuously). In sum, it is an “evil heart of unbelief” that results in “deserting the living God” (Heb. 3:12).

Both blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and apostasy are “sinning with a high hand.” The Scribes, in Mark 3, desert the living God by rejecting his Christ. The apostates in Hebrews 6:4-6 and Hebrews 10:26-30 desert the living God by renouncing Christ. In both cases, they spurned the Son of God in a way that goes beyond mere rejection. Each has, what James Moffatt describes as, “contempt of the most flagrant kind.”

Conclusion

So we see that even as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit and apostasy are different things, they are of the same quality. It is a difference in degree rather than a difference in kind. Apostasy is more common than blasphemy against the Spirit. It always has been. The question people have about apostasy is: When is someone ‘too far gone?’ While that is a natural question given the subject, we should be slow to answer it. Ordinarily,it is not our job to pronounce people ‘too far gone.’ We know the sinner excommunicated in 1 Corinthians 5 could have repented and been saved (1 Cor. 5:5). We know in the story of the prodigal son he repented and was saved (Luke 15:31).

Hebrews 6:4-6 and Hebrews 10:26-30 are teaching that first, human beings can develop a hard heart (like the Scribes) such that they can no longer repent, and second, those who intentionally forsake Christ after sharing in the privileges of the covenant community are the most difficult people to restore to the faith. Apostates are like the sour grapes of Isaiah’s vineyard song (Is. 5:1-7). Even after receiving the farmers’ care (Is. 5:1f), harvest time yielded nothing but sour grapes. Some plants don’t respond to nurture. Instead, they become a field of “briers and thorns” (Is. 5:6).[1] To repudiate salvation through the cross is to find no salvation elsewhere. There are times when God gives sinners up to their sin (Rom. 1:24), “sends … a strong delusion” (2 Thess. 2:11), returns “your deeds … on your own head” (Obad. 15), and no longer mediates for them (1 Sam. 2:25). That is not to deny that God welcomes all repentant people. Jesus said, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).

The author of Hebrews has not written these things so we can judge whether or not others have irrevocably backslidden. Judgments about who is beyond the pale are outside ordinary human wisdom. At his betrayal, Jesus told Judas, “Friend, do what you came to do” (Mt. 26:50). Jesus didn’t preach repentance or reason with him. Satan had entered into Judas’ heart (John 13:27) and Judas fell away from Christ. But when it came to Peter rejecting Christ, Jesus welcomed him back. In the case of Acts 8:22-23, Peter called on Simon the Magician, whose heart was “in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity” to “Repent … of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.”

Sometimes the heart is hardened beyond repentance, like Saul, Judas, and Simon the Magician. And sometimes the apparently hardened heart repents, like Peter and the Prodigal Son. We must leave final judgment about these things to God and God alone. It is our job to point out the straight, high road that leads out of the Slough of Despond to the City of God.


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.


[1] F.F. Bruce, Hebrews, The New International Commentary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s, 1990), 144-150.

Are all sins equal and why does it matter?

Introduction

Since theology is more like music than calculus, imagine theology is a harp. The more strings that are in tune the more celestial the song. When Christians derive theology from the Bible, they are tuning their instrument. The Bible starts with God (Gen. 1:1) and then moves to his relationship with man. Defining sin is necessary to explain God’s holiness. Defining God’s holiness is necessary to explain his relationship with man.

As to sin, some people argue that all sins are equal before God. They point to James 2:10, which says, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” James is saying that if you commit one sin you are guilty of all sins. Some argue that this must mean that sins large and small are equally damning, thus all sins are equal before God.

We must train ourselves to turn to Scripture on all topics and apply its teaching deeper and broader than we are accustomed to doing. In addressing the issue of whether all sins are equal, we are not attempting disembodied theology. We are re-locating human beings—and human sinfulness—in the framework of the Bible.

Are all sins equal?

To set forth the Bible’s teaching on this issue, it is necessary to identify at least six of the biblical principles on the subject.

First, ultimately all sins are against God.

Consider the sin of David against Bathsheba and Uriah. While David’s troops were off fighting the Ammonites, David was at home, taking it easy. He noticed his neighbor’s wife, Bathsheba, bathing. Filled with lust, David ordered Bathsheba to be brought to him, where he then committed sexual sin against a married woman. After David learned she was pregnant, David ordered her husband, Uriah, placed on the front lines to ensure he was killed (2 Sam. 11). Later, God used the prophet, Nathan, to convict David of his sin (2 Sam. 12), at which point David wrote Psalm 51. He confesses his sin to God by saying, “Against you, you only, have I sinned” (Ps. 51:3). David intended harm against another human being. He didn’t intend to sin against God. Yet, by sinning against Bathsheba and Uriah, he sinned against God (Rom. 3:23).

Second, sin that is intended against God is worse than sin intended only to harm another human being.

Consider the sin of Eli’s Sons in 1 Samuel 2. They were “worthless men” (1 Sam. 2:12) who transformed the house of God at Shiloh into a Canaanite shrine of Baal worship, corruption, and immorality (1 Sam. 2:12-17). We are told that “the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord.” Why was it “very great”? Because “the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt” (1 Sam. 2:17). Eli then rebukes his son, “If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death” (1 Sam. 2:25). This means, then, that sins against the first five commandments are worse than sins against the next five. Blasphemy against God is eviler than lying about your neighbor. Idolatry (i.e., spiritual adultery) is more wicked than adultery. Some sins will receive the double repayment of the Lord (Jer. 16:18).

Third, some sins against people are eviler than other sins against people.

The principle throughout the Mosaic Law is that the punishment should fit the crime (i.e., “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” Ex. 21:24). This reflects the justice of God. The Lord says in Obadiah 15, “As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.” Thomas Aquinas explains, “Some sins are graver than others in respect of their species, as murder is graver than theft. Therefore, the gravity of sins varies according to their objects.”[1] The Westminster Shorter Catechism question 83 asks, “Are all sins equally evil?” The answer is, “In the eyes of God, some sins in themselves are more evil than others, and some are more evil because of the harm that results from them.”

Augustine’s little book, The Enchiridion, is a handbook for the Christian life. He distinguishes “great” sins from “small” sins. One way to distinguish great from small sins is the intention and consequence of the sin. He uses the example of lying, saying some lies are worse than others based on the motive of the lie. He says that “every crime is a sin” but “every sin is not a crime.” Great sins are not part of the normal pattern of Christian life, but small sins are. Augustine says that we ought to pray the Lord’s Prayer daily. When we pray “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mt. 6:12) we are praying about our small, daily sins where we fall short and need forgiveness.

Fourth, sins committed by leaders are judged with greater strictness

James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” People follow the examples of leaders. When a leader sins (2 Sam. 16:22), people see and think they can do the same (1 Kings 14:16). Jesus pronounced woe to the Pharisees, saying, “You shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in” (Mt. 23:13). Micah denounced the rulers and prophets, saying, “Then they will cry to the Lord, but he will not answer them … Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who lead my people astray” (Micah 3:4-5). Similarly, Jesus says the scribes “will receive the greater condemnation” (Lk. 20:45-47) because to whom much is given much is required (Lk. 12:48). (See also Romans 2:23-24).

Fifth, sins in knowledge are more wicked than sins in ignorance

Jesus concludes the parable of the wise manager by saying “And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:47-48). This principle helps explain Hebrews 10:26-31, which discusses how the person raised in the covenant home earns “much worse punishment” when they reject the Lord (Heb. 10:29; see also Heb. 12:25). Jesus denounced the cities that refused to repent even after they had witnessed his mighty works,“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (Mt. 11:21-24). Similarly, Jesus said of those who refuse to receive his apostles, “It will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (Mt. 10:15).

Jesus said to Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore, he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin” (John 19:11). Whether “he who delivered” Jesus to death refers to Judas or Caiaphas, the point is that they are committing “greater sin” than Pilate. Why? Because Pilate was not prepared to comprehend the truth about Jesus like the Jews were. To the Jews belonged “the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all” (Rom. 9:4-5).

And so it is that some sins are more heinous than others (Lev. 18:24-30), and sins in knowledge are worse than sins in ignorance.

Sixth, there is an unforgivable sin

Jesus taught, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Mt. 12:31-32). Notice the distinction. What sin can be forgiven? Speaking “a word against the Son of Man.” What sin will not be forgiven? Speaking “against the Holy Spirit.” The point, for our purposes, isn’t to explicate the distinction but to merely point it out and in so doing point out that one sin is treated as worse (unforgivable) than the other (forgivable).

So, in summary, what shall we say? Are all sins equal? The answer is no. All sins are not equal. But it’s not that some sins are evil and others are not evil. It’s that all sins are not equally evil in God’s sight.

Why does it matter?

It teaches us about discipleship

When Augustine distinguished between great sins and small sins, he taught that great sins should be rare in the ordinary life of a Christian. Nevertheless, in the Old Testament, God warned against “greater abominations” (Ez. 8:6, 13, 15). In the New Testament, we see the Corinthian church so hardened to heinous sins that they not only tolerate but boast in them (1 Corinthians 5:1-8).

We ought to talk about sin like God talks about sin. God’s language about sin is designed to train and jolt us to detest that which God detests. This training is necessary to counteract the fleshly tendency to explain away sinful behavior with plausible excuses.

If we talk, like Jesus, about “greater sin” (Jn. 19:11) that leads to “greater condemnation” (Lk. 20:47), won’t some enterprising sinners justify the lesser sins? Indeed, there is always a tendency within human beings to make light of those vices which are concealed. However, this tendency isn’t justified by Scripture’s greater/lesser sin distinction. For instance, anger is a sin that can be concealed. Murder is not. Jesus saw it fitting to call each by its own name (Mt. 5:21f). In so doing, it’s not that anger is identical to murder (Mt. 5:21-22) or that lust is identical to adultery (Mt. 5:27-28). Jesus’ point is that when each sin is forbidden under the category of “murder” or “adultery,” we are trained to see that anger and lust are both sinful in God’s sight. This helps the aforementioned ‘enterprising sinner’ see the gravity of his concealed sin which he previously justified. It’s important to understand our sinful condition because, as John Owen wrote, “The man that understands the evil of his own heart, how vile it is, is the only useful, fruitful, and solidly believing and obedient person.”[2]

The distinction between greater and smaller sins is also helpful in the practice of church discipline. The church administers discipline differently depending on if it is a private sin or a public sin. For private sins (i.e., “If your brother sins against you” Mt. 18:15a), Christ says “Go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (Mt. 18:15b). For those in persistent sin, Paul tells Timothy, “Rebuke them in the presence of all” (1 Tim. 5:20). Paul modeled public rebuke in the case where Peter sinned openly. Rather than admonish Peter privately, Paul rebuked Peter “before them all” (Gal. 2:14). To correct the greater sin of which the Corinthians boasted, Paul doesn’t just exhort but punishes with excommunication, saying, “Purge the evil person from among you” (1 Cor. 5:1-13).

It’s also the case that some principles of God’s law are more important than others. In Matthew 23:23, Jesus admonishes the Pharisees for neglecting “the weightier matters of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness.” Jesus defines the lesser matters of the law as tithing mint and dill and cumin (Mt. 23:23a). Jesus affirms that the Pharisees “ought to have done” the more important things “without neglecting the others.” Hosea 6:6 is another example of God giving one part of the law precedence over another. God says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Yet God also desires burnt offerings, as we see from the detailed instructions on how they ought to be performed (Leviticus 1). This means that God desires love and sacrifice. But that doesn’t mean they are equal. God desires steadfast love more than he desires sacrifice.

It teaches us about the gospel

We saw earlier that sins in knowledge are more wicked than sins in ignorance. In particular, if you’ve received the means of grace in the preached Word and Lord’s Supper, if you’ve learned the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, if you’ve been washed in the baptismal waters, yet still reject Jesus Christ, then this is a sin in knowledge. The day of judgment will be more tolerable for Sodom than for you (Mt. 11:21-24).

Yet Christ still says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). Why would Jesus say this even to those who commit the greater sin (Mt. 11:24)? It’s because even when sins are unequal, they have the same remedy. Even when sinners are different, they are saved in the same way, through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

All sins are mortal sins, indeed, “The soul who sins shall die” (Ez. 18:4, 20). Sins great and small earn God’s just wrath (Rom. 6:23); sin is rebellion against the will of God. God’s judgment is pronounced upon all violations of His law. The point of James 2:10, quoted earlier, is that even a lesser sin is against God. Yet, the Lord declares, “As I live … I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel” (Ez. 33:11)? When a sinner puts faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and His righteousness, and His promises which are fulfilled in the New Covenant, “whoever believes in him is not condemned” (John 3:18). “For therein the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). “The Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Gal. 3:22).

A final word of wisdom from Augustine, “Let us not bring forward false balances to weigh what we please and as we please, according to our own opinion, saying, ‘This is heavy’: ‘This is light.’ But let us bring forward the divine balance of the Holy Scriptures, as from the Lord’s treasury, and in that balance let us weigh what is heavier. No—not weigh; rather, let us recognize what the Lord has already weighed.”[3]


[1] Summa Theologica II: 73:3

[2] John Owen, Sin and Temptation, xviii

[3] Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists II. Vi. 9 (MPL 43. 132; tr.NPNF IV. 429).


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

All Culture-Making is Local

Introduction

Culture-making is one of the ways we change the world. But we should think small before we think big. Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local.” What if we thought of culture-making in the same way? What if all culture-making started locally? What if we started by establishing a Christian culture in our family, our church, and our schools? Also included in this list are our businesses, if we own them, our youth soccer teams, if we coach them, and our book groups, if we host them.

Jesus said that they will know we are Christians by our love for one another (Jn. 13:35). The center of Christian love is sacrifice. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (Jn. 10:11), and “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). Paul said, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8) and “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2). John said, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:9-11).

I once heard it said that love is so powerful it can be neither measured nor seen. The Bible disagrees. Christ’s love for the church is that he gave himself up for her (Eph. 5:25). This is love for all to see, in the willing sacrifice of Jesus Christ for his bride. Love is not some mystic notion that dances just beyond our senses. It is seen. It is done. Love is Jesus willingly sacrificing his life for his bride. It was a sacrifice seen by people with eyes. It was followed up with a resurrection that was seen by people with eyes. And it is the love Christians are called to emulate.

Sacrifice is the visible and tangible expression of love. If we are going to establish a truly Christian culture in our families, churches, and schools, we need to establish a culture of sacrifice. The work of establishing is hard. We need somewhere to begin. To create a local culture is to steer an association in such a way that patterns emerge over time and are passed down from generation to generation. This happens through discussions, allusions, and actions. It happens through institutions, laughter, and singing. And it needs to happen on two levels.

Two-level Culture Making

First, the instinctive level

The word “instinctive” comes from the Latin instinctus, which means “impulse” and from the Latin instinguere, which means “an inward prick.” Something instinctive is something natural, something automatic, something innate. You might think that intuitive ways of acting or thinking are inborn. In truth, they can be trained into the soul as something deeper than valid syllogisms or animal desires.

Sacrifice must never be mere theoretical knowledge. For it to be believed is for it to be practiced (Phil. 2:5-11). When sacrifice becomes instinctive you know what to do in a world of ever-changing situations. In this way, sacrifice becomes a form of knowledge, the best kind of knowledge, the kind that comes out of your fingertips before you even realize it. This kind of knowledge is caught, not taught, as they say. It is not ordinarily acquired in a classroom, but by full immersion in a community.

The word community is overused today. In the Christian sense, community is made up of people bound together by their common faith in Christ, unified by the Spirit of Christ, and sealed by their one baptism into Christ (Eph. 4:4-6). Paul called those people “members” of a body where some are feet, some are hands, some are eyes, and some are unpresentable parts (1 Cor. 12:12-31). Christian community is not only made up of the living. It is between the living and our long-passed grandmothers (2 Tim. 1:5) and between the living and those who came before as examples for our instructions (1 Cor. 10:11-12). It is also between the living and those yet born who will receive the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

Because the covenant community is bound together in Christ, its binding principle is the sacrificial love of Christ. This is our shared inheritance. We receive it. Then we give it. But it’s more than a line of obligation. It’s the reflex of Christian love that develops by osmosis. More practically, it develops when dads, moms, elders, and teachers live sacrificially day by day in the Spirit’s power rather than their own. Children, church members, and students are absorbed into the ethos of sacrifice. They learn that babysitting for isolated and struggling church members makes for a joyful day. They learn how to love sacrificially when they have a conversation, when they have an elderly neighbor, and when the day is stacked against them. They gather an instinctive sense that the best obligations aren’t the ones freely chosen, but the ones joyfully received.

Second, the personal level

A culture of sacrifice must reflect that we are not only bound to Christ and his body, but we are loyal and caring toward actual living, breathing people. Devotion to a particular group of people creates a sense of responsibility toward those people. This develops through face-to-face interaction. Here, more than text messages or tweets, we learn to interact with others in a way where we have responsibility for their well-being. Gathering together, fellowshipping at the park, and sitting around the table, is another form of knowledge. This is where you learn to exchange promises and sacrifices and say, “These are my people. I have a responsibility toward them.” They aren’t a name on a prayer list, but a friend who is hurting.

The personal level is about re-establishing the virtue of duty. It’s not that one member ought to be held responsible for the behaviors of another member. Its that members have a duty toward the community. Duties differ depending on if they are conveyed to the weak, the unborn, or those who came before. It’s a duty that rejects false desires and embraces true ones, counting others more significant than yourself (Phil. 2:3). Duty means that we go together. It means that together we are, as John Williams has written, “ready to slog the road that ends all roads.”[1] But how do we get to slogging? How do we shape a culture that gets to the personal level?

First, whether at home, at church, or school, small routines of service can be incorporated into the community. Parents may assign their children chores around the house. Elders may encourage members to use their gifts to serve the body. Teachers may stipulate sweeping floors as part of the class routine. These subtle acts of sacrifice and service build a social knowledge of responsibility toward others. The children learn the home is ours. The members learn that the body of Christ is interdependent. The students learn that wisdom requires people to get out of their chairs.  

Second, culture-creation on the personal level happens through the stories we tell, which is why Christians must collect stories that model our aspirations. We must tell stories of God and his people, including the stories of the Bible and church history. These stories are rooted in the covenant loyalty of God to his people, a loyalty where God sacrificed himself to save his people. The Christian story is a product of sacrifice. When it’s told over and over it produces a culture of sacrifice—one where last means first and loss means gain; where sacrificing your life is a rite of passage into maturity.  

Third, a culture of Christian love is active, not passive. When children drift through childhood according to the defaults of the zeitgeist, too often they emerge as children in adult bodies lacking a sense of duty, responsibility, or hard work. Where does perpetual passivity come from? Excessive screen time creates distracted and drifting souls. Continual consumption with no thought of production creates entitlement. Bubble-wrapped kids don’t learn the lessons taught by skinned-knees. Age segregation and peer culture don’t build wisdom, character, or self-control. If we are going to cultivate a culture of people that see themselves as God’s children called to love and serve their neighbor, we must overcome these worldly patterns of passivity.

Conclusion

The culture of sacrifice is not calling its members to become doormats. Sacrifice has expansive application. It’s sacrificial love to mow your neighbor’s lawn when he’s out of town, or to host several families for dinner, or to refuse to sign the corporate “diversity” pledge.[2] In each case, something was sacrificed, something was given up, and someone received the love of Christ through what was given up. It’s not that love is the only virtue. Love sums up the whole law (Mt. 22:37-40), which means that no command in Scripture can be followed if we don’t love God and neighbor.

A culture of natural selection, the survival of the fittest, and what Richard Dawkins calls, “the selfish gene,” inevitably reproduces itself. Which is another way of saying it destroys itself. A culture of sacrifice, the interaction of others-centered beings made by a God of loving sacrifice in a culture defined by what Paul calls “living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1), inevitable reproduces itself, which is another way of saying the mustard seed grows into a tree (Lk. 13:19).

A culture of sacrifice is not a utilitarian ploy for leaders to manipulate people. It’s not about merely producing a certain outcome—i.e., the kids stop fighting, the church members cease gossiping, and the students quit complaining. It’s about living in such a way that reflects Ultimate Reality, namely, God himself, his character, his becoming a curse to redeem those who were under the curse (Gal. 3:13). When you live every day under this Ultimate Reality, and those around you do the same, belief in God locks into the soul in a way where it can’t be unlocked.


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.


[1] John Williams, Augustus (New York; New York Review of Books, 1971), 239.

[2] https://www.city-journal.org/raytheon-adopts-critical-race-theory

The Forgotten Requirement of the Dominion Mandate

God made human beings in his image as people who require knowledge (Prov. 18:15). To argue otherwise, to argue that we don’t require knowledge, is to spit in the face of the doctrine that says that human beings are made in the image of God. When we say otherwise—that people don’t require knowledge—we treat people as if they are less than image-bearers of the God of all knowledge. C.S. Lewis wrote, “One of the things that distinguishes man from the other animals is that he wants to know things, wants to find out what reality is like, simply for the sake of knowing. When that desire is completely quenched in anyone, I think he has become something less than human.”[1]

Image-bearers are called to be “knowers.” Consider God’s instructions to Adam in Genesis 1:28-30, “God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ 29 And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so.”

In verse 28 God tells Adam to do three things: (1) To be fruitful and multiply on the earth (2) to subdue the earth (3) to have dominion on the earth. When God tells Adam to have dominion, He is telling Adam to rule as a vice-regent. A vice-regent is a person who acts in the name of another, notably, the Regent. Who is the Regent?God is the Regent! So, when God tells Adam to be a vice-regent, he is telling Adam to act on behalf of the Regent—to act on behalf of God.

Can you act on behalf of someone if you don’t know them? The answer is no. Can Adam act on behalf of God if he doesn’t know God and what God wants? The answer is no. So that means the role of earth’s vice-regent starts with knowing the Creator of the earth—the Regent. It means being suffused with a rich and personal knowledge of God.

Adam is to rule God’s earth, something that can’t happen without knowing about the earth. For a vice-regent to rule the earth he must know the Creator of the earth and he must know about God’s created order. With these two things—knowing God and knowing the created order—image-bearers have dominion, and by having dominion they bless God’s world.

When you know the Creator and the created order, that means you can express something of the reality of the Rock of Ages and his richly varied creation. This involves speaking words that construct the true reality. That is the vocation of the image-bearers. When image-bearers embrace their vocation of dominion over the earth they are embracing a rich vocation of knowing. And the vocation of knowing is about reaching out for pieces of reality, because the more you know about God’s world, the more you know about the God who made it.

Therefore, when we constantly dumb it down, we treat people as if they were made to stare at the glowing screen. When we constantly oversimplify, we treat people as if they are evolved from primates. When we retreat “from the cultivation and celebration of learning,” we treat people as if they were less than God made them. God created us to be inquisitive, to seek knowledge, to pursue the truth. This is why when the church projects a generalized contempt for learning, they are failing in the duty to deal with people soul to soul.[2]

Paul said, that “what can be known about God is plain . . . So they are without excuse.” When we suppress “what can be known” we are “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). Suppressing knowledge is inexcusable for human beings; it devalues life itself. Aristotle said, “All human beings by nature desire to know.” Thomas Aquinas said, “There is in man an inclination to good, according to the nature of his reason, which nature is proper to him: thus man has a natural inclination to know the truth about God, and to live in society: and in this respect, whatever pertains to this inclination belongs to the natural law; for instance, to shun ignorance.”[3] Mark Lilla says, “To most humans, curiosity about higher things comes naturally, it’s indifference to them that must be learned.”[4] 

In 1961 Martyn Lloyd-Jones lamented the problem that “Everything is being brought down to the same level; everything is being cheapened. The common man is made the standard and the authority; he decides everything, and everything has got to be brought down to him. You are getting it on your wireless, your television, in your newspapers; everywhere standards are coming down and down.”

The solution isn’t to teach over people’s heads in a way they can’t understand. The solution isn’t to leave people behind or form some elitist cult of knowledge. Lloyd-Jones’ solution is as follows, “What has always happened in the past has been this: an ignorant, illiterate people in this country and in foreign countries, coming into salvation, have been educated up to the Book and have begun to understand it, and to glory in it, and to praise God for it. I am here to say that we need to do the same at this present time.”[5]

It is the enemy who wants to turn us into low-information people. Satan has a game plan for destroying ignorant souls. The enemy wants to hinder knowledge because he knows that embracing ignorance, neglecting insight, slighting knowledge, and despising the truth, is the highway to hell. The Puritan, Thomas Brooks explains: “Ignorance is the mother of mistake, the cause of trouble, error, and of terror, it is the highway to hell, and it makes a man both a prisoner and a slave to the devil at once. Ignorance unmans a man; it makes a man a beast, yea, makes him more miserable than the beast that perisheth. There are none so easily nor so frequently taken in Satan’s snares as ignorant souls. They are easily drawn to dance with the devil all day, and to dream of supping with Christ at night.” [6]

Why is it that lack of knowledge is the enemy’s snare? It is because, as G.K. Chesterton said, “Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man of no ideas. The man of no ideas will find the first idea fly to his head like wine to the head of a teetotaller.”[7] In other words, without a full complement of mature ideas, people are more susceptible to embrace the first notion of meaning and significance that flies into their heads. Ignorance makes people an easy mark for Satan’s snipers.

Why would Thomas Brooks and G.K. Chesterton say such things? Isn’t passion the important thing? Isn’t zeal and excitement the most important thing? While modern man may prize zeal over knowledge, Proverbs 19:2 says, “Desire without knowledge is not good.” Why is it not good? Jesus explained that “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light” (Mt. 6:22).

So, desire without knowledge tends toward dark desire. This is why Paul lamented the Jews’ “zeal for God … not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:2). If a person is all zeal without knowledge, that often means they will zealously do evil. But if you think Paul is anti-zeal, think again. He instructs leaders to lead with zeal and Christians to love and serve with zeal (Romans 12:8-11). Thomas Brooks said that “a leprous head and a leprous heart are inseparable companions.” Ignorance deforms the soul, making it like a workman without hands, or as a traveler without legs, or as a ship without sails, or as a sofa without cushions. When zeal is directed by knowledge it leads to service to the Lord. When zeal is disconnected from knowledge, it leads to self-centered display.

Ignorance is a sin that leads to all sins. In Matthew 22:29, Jesus told the Pharisees, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” All sins are seminally in ignorance. Jesus explained that the world will persecute Christians because they don’t know Jesus (Jn. 16:2f). Paul persecuted the church in ignorance (1 Tim. 1:13). The Jews and Roman soldiers crucified Jesus, knowing not what they were doing (Lk. 23:34; 1 Cor. 2:8). Thomas Brooks says, “Sin at first was the cause of ignorance, but now ignorance is the cause of all sin.”

But the point isn’t merely to acquire worldly knowledge. Hebrews 3:10 warns, “They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.” Paul warns in 2 Thessalonians 1:8 that God will inflict “vengeance on those who do not know God.” Isaiah 27:11 warns, “This is a people without discernment; therefore he who made them will not have compassion on them.” These warnings prioritize the type of knowledge Christians seek. It is a knowledge of God’s ways, without which, we go astray. It is a knowledge of God himself, without which, God inflicts vengeance. It is a knowledge that rightly discerns, without which, God will not have compassion.

Consider, three concluding clarifications. First, we don’t require knowledge for knowledge’s sake. We don’t require knowledge merely to say we know. We require knowledge because the human mind requires enlarged horizons. This includes the horizons of desires and wants. The need for knowledge goes deeper than facts. It must prepare the soul for satisfying legitimate wants within the order of the universe God made for us to live in.

Second, the fact that God made humans as creatures who require knowledge doesn’t mean all knowledge is the same. Knowledge of grace ought to come before knowledge of nature, just as knowledge of faith, virtue, and poetry ought to come before evidence, science, and life-hacking. In other words, God made human beings as creatures who require knowledge, and that knowledge is not primarily utilitarian.

Third, neither does it mean that partial, earthly knowledge won’t pass away (1 Cor. 13:8). It will. Much of what is required on earth will “pass away” in the light of the presence of God. Seeing Christ face to face will bring a new knowledge that transforms and transcends earthly knowledge (1 Cor. 3:18). We might dream of knowledge on earth that has the purity of eternality. Certainly, those with a curated reading list of good intentions have such illusions. Better if our pursuit of knowledge in this life comes to peace with the assaulting diversion of ephemerality. We might conceive of entire wisdom in this life, yet at the end of the long years, knowledge is turned to ignorance. What else? you wonder. What other frictions exist between us and what we require?

One thing we know, answering that question won’t come with a direct and simple vision or with a glance. It will come through the mental process of stacking one thing on another, accumulating, and then walking around what we’ve accumulated with the Bible in hand. We were made to do this. It’s part of what it means to take dominion. So, Christians shall go on and try to comprehend God, God’s Word, and God’s world to the furthest limits the Holy Spirit illuminates the finite human mind.


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.


[1] C.S. Lewis, God in the God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970), 108.

[2] See Marilynne Robinson, When I was a Child I Read Books (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), 5, 30.

[3] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologicae, Part II, I, Q. 94 “The Natural Law.”

[4] The Hidden Lesson of Montaigne (NYT review, March 2011).

[5] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1989),112.

[6] Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1968), 211.

[7] G.K. Chesterton, Heretics (Nashville: Sam Torode, 1905), 130

Why do teenage boys start cussing?

Do you remember when you were 13 or 14 years old and your friends started cussing? At first, it was like they were test driving a car. Not a new luxury vehicle, but a hail-damaged Yugo that was missing its front fender. Six months ago, they weren’t cussing. But now they are. Why the change? It’s a fascinating thing. Why do teenagers begin cussing? Especially teenage boys.[1]

To cuss is to use language that is profane, crude, vulgar, obscene, or curst.[2] Profanity is that which devalues the sacred. The word ‘profane’ comes from the Latin profanus which means “outside the temple, not sacred.” That which is profane doesn’t respect religious practice. It’s turning the sacred into the secular, dragging the high down low, putting the queen in a Dodgers hat rather than a crown. Words like “damn” and “hell” are important realities that reflect a sacred order, which is why it is profane when they are used in a way that belittles the weightiness of damnation or hell. 

Crudeness mocks the pure. The word ‘crude’ comes from the Latin crudus which means “raw, rough.” Course joking is often sexual, mocking the marital bed. Crudeness perverts what God has made smooth, turning it rough.

Vulgarity exalts the ordinary. The word ‘vulgar’ comes from the Latin vulgaris which means “common.” Ordinary language is appropriate when the grease monkeys are installing a new flux capacitor, but not when they are sharing their condolences with the widow in the receiving line. The sin of vulgarity happens when the common is used in the wrong setting.

Obscenity lauds evil. The word “obscene” comes from the Latin obscaenus which means “ill-omened or abominable.” It is that which is offensive to public decency. It is promoting evil in the public square for praise, for example, depicting adultery as something commendable.

Cursing wishes affliction upon another person. The Hebrew word for curse is ʾārar. It is an appeal to God to inflict injury on someone. In the Bible, it is the opposite of blessing. God pronounces curses in response to sin (Num. 5:21; Dt. 29:19f) as a judgment (Is. 24:6). Paul tells Christians to “bless and do not curse” because vengeance belongs to the Lord (Rom. 12:14, 19). Yet Paul announces a curse upon unbelievers, saying, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!” The imprecator Psalms also contain curses against God’s enemies (Psalm 5, 17, 59, 70, 71, 74, etc.), which suggests cursing does have discriminate use.

We know that bad words should not be part of the ordinary language of Christians. Paul wrote, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). Also, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place” (Eph. 5:4). Elsewhere, “put away … obscene talk from your mouth (Col. 3:8). It’s rather straightforward even if there are biblical exceptions to using foul language.[3]

If we are going to train our children for godliness (1 Tim. 4:7), we need to understand why teenagers, even Christian teenagers, begin cussing. Consider three reasons that are far from exhaustive.

First, to appear macho

Take a moment to reflect on Richard Millhouse Nixon. In the American memory, Nixon is a cartoon monster replete with arms and torso that are out of proportion to the rest of his body. This monstrous image is largely derived from the White House recordings where Nixon said some monstrous things, including anti-Semitic slurs. He also cussed a lot. When you compare the Nixon tapes to those of his predecessor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, you find that Johnson also cussed a lot.

Part of the reason Nixon cusses so much is that he admired LBJ. He thought LBJ was a manly politician and Nixon aspired to be as much. When LBJ cussed it was clear he knew what he was doing. He knew how to drop a high-powered “S” bomb for maximum effect while lacing the rest of his speech with a scatter-bombing of hells and damns. Cussing was natural to LBJ. He was a crude, macho guy. A brute, as the historians tell us. And like most brutes, he was good at cussing.

When Nixon cusses it sounds awkward. Samuel Clemens might say of Nixon, he had the right words but the wrong tune.  Deep in his heart, Nixon was a shy, introverted intellectual. But Nixon looked at LBJ—the long-time Senate majority leader, then Vice-President, and finally President—as someone who was winning at American politics. Nixon felt like if he was going to win in the beltway, he needed to be macho like LBJ and JFK. He saw how they played dirty and got away with it. This is where Nixon gets himself in trouble, trying to be something he is not. All his swearing and profanity was an attempt to appear macho. It was the attempt to exaggerate his manliness and assertiveness.

It’s the macho conceit to think that cussing demonstrates maturity, manliness, and might. When boys become teenagers, they want to appear to be independent and masculine. Still in their salad days—green from lack of experience—they think shortcuts work. Cussing seems like a shortcut to masculine respect, signaling that they have more freedom and fewer boundaries. But there is no shortcut to maturity. Growing into maturity happens by seeking responsibility—showing up to work on time, turning in assignments on time, mowing the lawn, bringing interesting questions to the dinner table, and befriending the new kid. Responsibility is not the gloomy albatross it’s made out to be. It’s the ‘hopeful position’ because it says that immaturity can be corrected. Personal responsibility not only honors the Lord but wins the respect of others. But, as Richard Nixon learned, when you cuss to appear macho, it’s hard for people to respect you.

Second, to mimic what they think is cool

We mimic those we admire. As children grow up, they tend to pattern themselves after those people who impress them. Children imitate their behavior and reproduce their speech. When children are young their family is their entire world of meaning, so they mimic their parents and siblings. As they grow up and gain a sense of the larger world around them, their mimetic focus shifts to creative people who are known for pioneering accomplishments and challenging the status quo.

Societally, it was once the case that the lower class admired the learning and style of the upper class. As the proletariat has gained affluence, the upper and middle class have come to admire the unrefined manner of the lower class. Arnold Toynbee and Christopher Dawson have studied this phenomenon in application to art. The mark of culture’s decline is when crude art is seen as progress. Think, for example, about how many more middle-class teenagers sing along with the profanity and sexually explicit lyrics of a rap song than those who listen to Bach or Vivaldi.[4]

The same is true of ordinary speech. The vernacular of the lower class was once a plobby sound. Now it’s an imitated one. Historian Will Durant has commented on how the upper class now tries to imitate proletariat speech by using “language that used to be confined to the gutter.” This pattern has seeped into popular entertainment and made it a verbal mudscape of profuse profanity. Yet teenagers don’t see themselves as mimicking the culture of ugliness. They see themselves as mimicking the avant-garde.

Third, to explore their Christian freedom

Imagine a young Christian has started to grasp that Jesus paid it all, that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works (Eph. 2:8f), that we were saved to freedom, brothers (Gal. 5:13)! They start thinking that this freedom in Christ means that God doesn’t care about fringe moral issues—of course, they reason, foul language is among the fringiest of them all since language is just a social construct and bad words are just linguistic taboos that are ever-changing. They think that with these changes there is a new intellectual openness to foul language such that if we don’t embrace bad words, we might not be taken seriously.[5] Besides, so many young Christians now use foul language.[6] What’s the harm?

The harm is that Christian freedom is not about freedom to sin. Christian freedom doesn’t allow us to neglect righteousness, peace, and joy in favor of adapting to the customs of Canaan. Christian freedom means that by faith in Christ we are free from the guilt of sin (Rom. 8:1), free from the power of sin (1 Cor. 15:56f), and free from the fear of death (1 Cor. 15:55). It is true that by faith in Christ we are free from the law as a way to justification. But freedom ought not to be turned into license (Gal. 5:13-26).

Young Christians often memorize 1 Timothy 4:12, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” There may be great glee in the first part of the verse. In isolation, the opening phrase empowers young people. But when Paul’s instruction is taken on the whole, it implies that young people who don’t set the prescribed standard in speech will be looked down upon. 

Conclusion

When you ask questions about what the ordinary use of foul language means, it boils down to rebellion. Cussing is rebellion (Ps. 12), which makes it folly. Wisdom writes her songs and folly writes hers. We need to make it the business of life to be in the grip of the right songs. Young men in particular are told that “the beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight” (Prov. 4:7). In the book of wisdom, we also read this:

“Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you” (Prov. 4:24)

“A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech” (Prov. 6:12)

“The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate” (Prov. 8:13)

Application Activity

When you have the kids around the dinner table, explain the difference between profanity, crudeness, vulgarity, obscenity, and cursing. Have them come up with their own examples. Then ask them how taking the Lord’s name in vain is profane, crude, vulgar, obscene, and curst.


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.


[1] This is not an essay over whether profanity is permissible or not. If that topic interests you, it is easy to find many articles addressing that topic.

[2] https://theopolisinstitute.com/how-to-use-bad-words/

[3] It is true that in Philippians 3:8 the Apostle Paul used off-color language to shock the Philippians when he said skybalon, which means dung. It is also true that in Galatians 5:12 Paul wished some would emasculate themselves. Ezekiel used obscenities to get people’s attention. Therefore, there are limited contexts in which foul language may be used for effect.

[4] Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction, (Wheaton, ILL: Crossway, 1990), 269.

[5] https://stevehickey.wordpress.com/2009/08/03/the-cussing-pastor-do-we-have-to-swear-to-reach-people/

[6] https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2009/09/swearing-as-the-new-intellectualism

What to do when your boss encourages you to support the moral revolution

This article was originally published at The Theopolis Institute and can be found by clicking here.

Many Christians find themselves working for businesses or corporations that encourage compliance with the moral revolution. Perhaps their company wants them to participate in gay pride month. Perhaps they require employees to use the preferred gender pronouns of their co-workers. Or maybe they require them to sign a statement affirming critical race theory, homosexuality, or some other perversion.

The question then becomes, how are Christians to faithfully respond to employers who are pressuring employees to abandon their convictions. Many Christians know it is wrong to capitulate to such requests but might have difficulty articulating why or formulating a strategy to do so. We acknowledge that every situation is different and should be handled differently. Nevertheless, there are several principles on how to faithfully approach the issue.

First, we must register a protest at some level.

God does not expect his people to be swayed by conventional wisdom, mobs, or groupthink. God’s exact words were, “You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice” (Ex. 23:2).  When you hide from the mob, they are going to find you eventually. When they do you will have to either comply with their demands or not. Eventually, Christians will be forced to show their cards or compromise.  T.S. Eliot warned that the subtle pressure of intellectual conformity was a bigger threat than outright persecution.[1] The nature of the current moral revolution is that the mob isn’t satisfied until everyone conforms, indeed until everyone celebrates their cause.

That being said, that doesn’t mean we should be more zealous than the situation calls for. There may be some cases where it is wise to keep your head down and mind your own business for a time, especially if you aren’t being forced to lie or to sin. For example, imagine your company periodically sends you so-called “social justice” propaganda emails that make no claim on you. For the most part, you can delete these emails with silent disgust. But you should begin formulating a plan. The emails may be phase one of a larger operation.

Second, we must prepare to speak the truth.

The time will likely come where we need to speak the truth, recognizing that the chips may not fall where we prefer. We should be prepared and ready to make the best arguments for our position, spoken in love. For more on this point see our companion article One Little Word Shall Fell Him.

Third, we are being asked to submit to a religious view.

Some might think it’s best to hide out as long as possible in hopes that the mob will trample someone else. The problem with this is that the new notions of inclusion and diversity are not neutral. Not everything is included. Real diversity is not desired. Rousseau made it clear in The Social Contract that Christians are welcome in society only as long as they submit to the General Will—as long as they subordinate the opinions of God to the opinions of the majority. He thought that Christianity was most contrary to the “social spirit.” This is how inclusion excludes other religions and all with a straight face. Pluralism and Christianity’s faith claims are not compatible. The moral revolution is trying to sacralize a new order.

Fourth, we need a strategy to register our disapproval

It’s hard to be the oddball, so begin by discussing your concerns with your closest coworkers. From there seek out co-workers that acknowledge the moral bankruptcy of the moral revolution. Find a group of like-minded employees, band together, and fearlessly stand on your convictions in a winsome and joyful way. This may mean writing a thoughtful email, though sending an email to the top will likely be less impactful than first sending it to your immediate supervisor. It might also mean calling a meeting to voice your unified opposition.

At The New York Times, 150 out of 1200 employees demanded that Donald McNeil be fired. Why? Because he used the N-word in describing why not to use the N-word.[2] The voices of a mere 12% of employees caused a man to get fired. This can happen in your company too, but in which direction? What if you organized the other 1,050 people to push back? They wouldn’t all join you, but many would. One of the felicities of this approach is that principled obstreperousness would be put in the right direction.

Fifth, we shouldn’t do this alone

A church that swallows up self-sufficiency in favor of mutual dependence (i.e. the hand needs the foot and the foot needs the eye) can be a powerful force. For the church to become what sociologists call a “deviant subculture,” it needs to support church members when they register disagreement at their job. The church needs to see that one of the best ways to subvert the poisonous values of society is for Christians to offer resistance when their company joins the moral revolution. When Christians resist, they demystify the moral revolution and help others see evil for what it is.

But voicing displeasure with the cultural revolution may put you in the crosshairs of your company. Since you risk losing your job, the church should have your back. No Christian should feel like he is fighting this battle alone. Christians should know in advance that the church will be there to provide for them. And if it ever comes to it, Christians should know that if they are thrown in jail for speaking against evil, the church will care for their wife and kids, provide legal aid, and visit them often. We know that all who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12). The faithful should not suffer alone.

Sixth, we must make backup plans

There is a risk that you’ll lose your job if you resist.[3] This is the primary reason Christians keep silent. So, we must begin formulating backup plans and asking the question, “What will I do if I lose my job?” But more than making backup plans, we need to be proactive and create alternatives. What would it look like if more Christians became entrepreneurs? What if local churches offered training on entrepreneurship? This would give more Christians the opportunity to take risks and speak out, or to proactively pull out of corporations and government jobs. In other words, it would enable Christians to become antifragile.[4] It’s not that every Christian should abandon corporate America or their government job. Corporate America has culture-shaping power and we need Christians in those jobs, fighting the fight of faith. But neither can Christians allow their moral conscience to go silent because they fear losing their job.

Seventh, we must see that the enemy isn’t always as strong as we perceive him to be

The powerful forces of corporations and government look terrifying and unbeatable. In truth, they are often brittle. When Daniel prayed in defiance of King Darius’ order (notice that Daniel prayed with windows open for all to see, Dan. 6:10), the King reversed (Dan. 6:26) the irrevocable law (Dan. 6:12) after seeing Daniels’s faithfulness to Yahweh. Daniel’s resistance exposed the impotence of the King’s wicked requirements. While it’s not always the case that the merest resistance will reverse unrighteous decrees, the resistance of Daniel is a biblical example that gives us hope that enemies will crumble when we are faithful.[5] 

The economist and financial researcher Jerry Bowyer has provided a model for what resistance can look like. He has attended several virtual shareholders’ meetings for large corporations and challenged their progressive stances. Most of the corporations ignored or dismissed his questions. But what if an entire block of shareholders and employees were asking these questions? The questions Bowyer suggests asking are, “Why in the world would large publicly traded companies endorse such divisive legislation that is clearly incompatible with the sincerely held beliefs of half of the country? Is it mainstream to force girls to compete in sports with athletes who identify as females, but are, biologically, boys? Is it mainstream to force shelters for battered women to accept biologically male applicants? Is it mainstream to compel churches into accepting new gender ideologies in their hiring practices?”[6]

Eighth, we need to understand why many corporations support the moral revolution

The reason is fear. Sasha Issenberg has admitted that those advancing the revolution shame corporations to coerce them to comply.[7] Those in the moral revolution threaten boycotts and bad publicity if the company refuses to meet their demands. So, companies give public signals that they are obedient to the whim of the revolution, signals such as encouraging their employees to support gay pride month.[8]

While companies are afraid of the woke tidal wave, the majority of Americans don’t want corporations involved in politics.[9] What happens when big business antagonizes most of the country, their shareholders, and a block of their employees. Well, if all those people are silent, nothing happens. But if a block of those people intelligently resists, then King Darius may reverse course. Never forget that the convictions of your faith and what you do with those convictions influence the direction history takes.


[1] T.S. Eliot, The Idea of a Christian Society and Notes Toward the Definition of Culture (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Harvest Books, 1940), 18.

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2021/02/12/donald-mcneil-new-york-times-fallout/

[3] For example James Damore of Google was fired for merely suggesting there are non-sexists reasons why there are more men than women in STEM jobs.

https://thefederalist.com/2017/08/08/read-the-google-diversity-memo-that-that-everyone-is-freaking-out-about/

[4] Nassim Nicholas Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (New York: Random House, 2012).

[5] https://soundcloud.com/user-812874628/episode-440-daniel-chapter-6-part-1-series-on-the-prophets

[6] https://www.nationalreview.com/2021/05/a-shareholder-asks-some-inconvenient-questions/

[7] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/05/opinion/gay-marriage-boycotts.html

[8] https://hbr.org/2020/02/how-do-consumers-feel-when-companies-get-political

[9] https://scottrasmussen.com/59-believe-companies-taking-political-positions-adds-to-divisiveness-in-america/

https://scottrasmussen.com/43-say-they-know-political-positions-of-companies-they-buy-from/


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

C.S. Lewis on the Christian Household

There is a lot of talk about the household in Christian circles these days, much of it good (On this note, we heartily recommend C.R. Wiley’s two books, Man of the House and The Household and the War for the Cosmos. Also check out Matt Carpenter’s recent interview with C.R. Wiley by clicking here).

C.S. Lewis, too, shared some thoughts about the Christian household, thoughts which I will now paraphrase for your reading edification.[1] At the very least, it might spark some interesting conversation on the topic. Consider this paraphrase both an announcement and an exhortation. The announcement is that we will preach a summer series on the household (the information for that series can be found at the end of this blog post). The exhortation comes from Lewis, which is broken into four parts.

Part One

It is not the case that living in a “monogamous family life” (in other words, the nuclear family) will automatically make one “holy and happy.” There are many “dangers” that are obscured by the “sentimental illusion” of family life, that neglect the fact that things can go wrong. “Domesticity is not a passport to heaven on earth but an arduous vocation—a sea full of hidden rocks and perilous ice shores only to be navigated by one who uses a celestial chart.” So the first thing to keep in mind, says Lewis, is that the family, like every other institution involving humans, “needs redemption.”

Part Two

In part two Lewis says that the need for “conversion or sanctification of family life … must … mean something more than the preservation of ‘love’ in the sense of natural affection.” Lewis issues this warning because the love of “natural affection” demands sympathy before giving it. Lewis calls the “greed to be loved” a “fearful thing.” When this is the type of love exchanged in the household, it produces “incessant resentment.” The household must have a higher love.

Part Three

Next Lewis comments on the common maxim about a home life that “It is there that we appear as we really are: it is there that we can fling aside the disguises and be ourselves.” This invites a common pitfall. When we are at home, we do appear as we are, which is the very thing that should trouble us. Outside the home, we behave with “ordinary courtesy.” Inside the home, we interrupt, talk “confident nonsense about subjects of which” we “are totally ignorant,” and otherwise trample “on all the restraints which civilized humanity has found indispensable for tolerable social intercourse.” At home, Lewis says, we behave with “downright rudeness … selfishness, slovenliness, incivility—even brutality.” The freedom to indulge in this way is the reason many want to go home.

Part Four

Lewis’ fourth point responds to the question, If a person can’t be comfortable and unguarded at home, where can he? Lewis’s answer is “there is nowhere this side of heaven where one can safely … be ourselves.” His point is that until you are a fully glorified son of God, it isn’t lawful to be yourself. There is just too much sin left in yourself. It’s not that there are no differences between home life and public life. But the difference is not that at home you can be yourself. The real difference is that home life “has its own rule of courtesy—a code more intimate, more subtle, more sensitive, and, therefore, in some ways more difficult.”

If you find these observations helpful, you can read the full essay in C.S. Lewis’s book God in the Dock.

An Overview of our Summer Sermon Series

DateSermon
June 13The Household: Introduction and Overview
June 20The Household: The Noonday Woman
June 27The Household: Rehabilitating Submission
July 4The Household: Christian Men
July 11The Household: Singles

[1] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970), 282-286.


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

Difficult to Believe: An Introduction to Summer Sunday School

We live in a day and age where it is difficult to believe. For many Christians, maybe even for you, faith is fragile and feels outdated and immature. The Christian worldview is continually bombarded with a tornado of objections to Christianity, seeking to destroy our faith and offer competing claims for best understanding the world. In this type of world, people of faith fight against doubts. While God patiently and lovingly endures faithful doubting (Mark 9:24), he wishes for his people to have the full assurance of hope until the end (Heb. 6:11).

Yet the enemy seems intent on making it difficult to believe. There are many challenges to the Christian faith. Some are physical—like the draw of two-second carnal pleasures. Some are intellectual, like the rise of modern science. Those who are seduced by scientism usually abandon the faith not because of scientific evidence, per se, or because of the consistency or coherence that science provides. Charles Taylor explains scientific-based deconversion happens because of the appeal of science in general. People report that they turn from faith in Jesus to faith in science because they think of the Christian faith as immature and scientific thinking as mature. They become convinced that science is the stance of maturity, courage, and manliness, over against the childish immature fears and sentimentality of the Christian faith. Abandoning the faith is growing up and facing reality.[1]

It is because of this all-too-common deconversion pattern that we have invited Bijan Nemati to teach our Summer Sunday School. Bijan Nemati is a member at Trinity Reformed Church and a physicist at UAH. He was born in Iran and came to the US at the time of the Islamic revolution. He converted from Islam to Christianity while getting his Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Washington. His scientific work includes the study of elementary particles using accelerators, and the development of advanced instruments to study exoplanets (planets around other stars). He worked on space telescopes at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for about twenty years before coming to UAH four years ago, where he continues in the same work. He is currently part of the team building NASA’s Roman Space Telescope (to be launched in 2025). He has been giving talks on the scientific evidence for a created universe for the past twenty years.  

The church has tremendous intellectual resources to respond to the world’s objections. In our Summer Sunday School, we desire to teach that Jesus Christ is the Truth, which means, the best explanation for the world and human experience is in a robust understanding of the Christian worldview that is founded in Scripture. We also wish to show, especially to those young doubters, that the church does have rich resources to respond to the intellectual challenges of the world. More than that, we wish to show that it is Christianity that is consistent, coherent, and intellectually satisfying; it is Christianity that speaks the truth that corresponds to the raw emotions of life and offers the true (and best) explanation for human existence.

Our Summer Sunday School Schedule is as follows:

June 6 – Rob Hadding (special guest teacher)

June 13 – We’re now discovering all these planets around other stars.  Eventually, we’re going to find life in one of them. Won’t such a discovery show the Earth and mankind are nothing special?

June 20 – Stephen Hawking said, “because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself out of nothing.” Hasn’t physics made creation unnecessary?

June 27 – Over the last 170 years, we have learned an enormous amount about how evolution works. Isn’t it outdated to still hold to the idea of the special creation of life?

July 4 – Aren’t truth claims nothing but rationalizations of economic and class interest?


[1] James K.A. Smith, How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014), 76-77.


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.