Studies in Reversal

This is a companion article to “A Game Plan for Slumped Shouldered Christians,” which can be found by clicking here

God is up to something. The tumult of the present moment is setting up for a great reversal, which just happens to be God’s specialty. When God grows his Kingdom, things aren’t always what they seem. God can reverse trends. This is how God often works. The dead carpenter from Nazareth was dead. Then he wasn’t. It’s a pattern for the church. Consider two other biblical examples of reversal.

First, the town of Bethlehem

The first biblical reference to Bethlehem is Genesis 35:19-21 in association with the death of Rachel, who died in childbirth (Gen. 35:16f) and was buried in Bethlehem (Gen. 48:7). The next time Bethlehem appears is a macabre story in Judges 19 about a “certain Levite” who “took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem” (Judges 19:1). As they are traveling, the concubine is raped and murdered (Judges 19:16-26). The Levite responds by dividing her “limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel” (Judges 19:29). Bethlehem is also the place of famine resulting in a tragic death for refugees in the book of Ruth (Ruth 1:1-5). Needless to say, Bethlehem is not the site of fond memories for Israel.

But the God of reversals inspires the prophet, Micah, to write these words, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel.And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.And he shall be their peace” (Micah 5:2-5). God’s plan meant reversing the reputation of Bethlehem from the least of Israel’s cities to the birthplace of the Messiah.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, Bethlehem was notorious. It was associated with tragedy and wickedness. Now, because of the birth of Christ, we associate it with Christmas trees, gifts, and “good news of great joy which will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).[1]

Second, the church

The two witnesses—also known as the two lampstands and the two olive trees (Rev. 11:4)—appear to be defeated by the beast that rises from the bottomless pit (Rev. 11:7). But when all seems lost, they come back to life. What was the cause? “A breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them” (Rev. 11:11).

Revelation 11 teaches us that we shouldn’t be surprised when the church encounters hostility. More importantly, we learn the church shouldn’t give up when it seems like the beast has won. God still has a plan for victory. If the church looks like a corpse, it will soon stir. What will be the cause? The breath of life from God will bring the witnesses to their feet.

The hour of opportunity is before us, not behind us. God is up to something during these bizarre times. Don’t misunderstand. The foolishness of the wicked won’t disappear overnight. There is a great deal of credulity in the world. Absurd deceptions (e.g., a man can birth a baby) have a history of persisting longer than plain reason merits. But it’s not going to disappear while the church carries on in a state of doom and gloom. Faith in the promises of God is our part to play. Then God will play his part in fulfilling those promises. Mark’s Gospel establishes this pattern. Those who have faith are healed. We see this pattern in the life of the bleeding woman (Mark 5:34), Jairus (Mark 5:36), the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30), and the sick boy’s father (Mark 9:14-29). In Nazareth the locals reject Jesus and he could do no mighty work there (Mark 6:1-6). It’s not that Jesus’ power is limited by a lack of faith. It’s that Jesus will not force his miracles on a hostile, skeptical audience. God chooses to give grace in response to faith (Rom. 4:16).

During World War II, after the massive German counter-offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge, the Allied forces were on the run. Eisenhower met with the brass in a cold, damp room. Stephen Ambrose picks up the story, “Eisenhower’s lieutenants entered the room glum, depressed, embarrassed, as they should have been, given the magnitude of the intelligence failure and the faulty dispositions of their troops … They kept their faces bent over their coffee cups. Eisenhower walked in, looked disapprovingly at the downcast generals, and boldly declared, ‘The present situation is to be regarded as one of opportunity for us and not of disaster. There will be only cheerful faces at this conference table.”[2]

This is exactly how Christians should view the present situation. It looks like the enemy has punched a hole in our defenses. Evil is everywhere. Wickedness laughs. There have been major intelligence failures among the evangelical thought leaders. But according to the history of how God operates, we should see this as an opportunity. We can’t keep our faces bent over our coffee in glum despair. We can go to the prayer meeting with cheerful faces. We can go to the cultural apologetics group (talk to the elders or Bijan for more details) with optimism in our voices. We can go to Sunday worship with loud singing. Why? Because the God who makes all things new is also the God who wins in the end.

There is a pit reserved for Satan and his minions. And there is a throne upon which Christ is seated. God is up to something. He has a plan that’s better than your imagined plan. And he has a victory that’s bigger than your imagined victory. So, what is God up to? He is growing his Kingdom. It started as a mustard seed. Now it’s something bigger. And when God is finished, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Is. 11:9).


[1] Jerry Bowyer, The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said about Social Justice and Economics (New York: Fidelis, 2020), 23ff.

[2] Stephen Ambrose, Citizen Soldiers (New York; Touchstone, 1997), 207f.


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. 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.

Straightening our Path

The month of Thanksgiving means we are obligated to think about the Plymouth Pilgrims. But instead of reflecting on the First Thanksgiving, let’s remember the wise words from the first pastor of the Scrooby congregation.

When the Pilgrims decided to leave Holland for the New World, more than half the congregation stayed in the Netherlands, including their pastor, John Robinson. This prompted the beloved pastor to write a departing letter filled with six admonitions for the saints traveling to New England. It’s remarkable how applicable Pastor Robinson’s words are even 400 years later.

  1. “Daily renew … repentance with our God, especially for our sins known, and generally for our unknown trespasses.”
  2. “We are carefully to provide for peace with all men so far as in us lieth, especially with our associates.”
  3. “We must be watchful that we ourselves neither give, nor easily take, offense.”
  4. “And if taking offence causelessly or easily at men’s doing should be so carefully avoided, how much more is it to be heeded lest we take offence at God himself,—which we do so often as we murmur at his providence.”
  5. “Join affections truly bent upon the general good, avoiding, as a deadly plague of your comfort, all retiredness of mind for selfish advantage.”
  6. “Whereas … you will elect some to the office of government, let your wisdom and godliness appear, not only in choosing such persons as will entirely love and promote the common good, but also in yielding them all due honour and obedience in their lawful administrations … of … God’s ordinance for your good.”*

This letter is full of wisdom for those settling a new colony. It’s also full of wisdom for us who live in the nation since formed. The temptations of God’s people who tamed a wilderness and those who live in the tamed wilderness are remarkably similar.

They were prone to neglect daily repentance. So are we.

They were tempted to discord rather than peace. So are we.

They were liable to give and receive easy offense. So are we.

They were enticed to blame the hard providence of God for life’s difficulties. So are we.

They were inclined to consider their selfish ends over the good of others. So are we.

They were subject to the situation of choosing and then submitting to their leaders. So are we.

Their temptations to sin are cheek by jowl with our own. If the Pilgrim’s had heeded Pastor Robinson’s warnings more closely, the colony’s crooked path to the future may have been straightened. If we heed the warnings, especially the wise words about avoiding the deadly plague of selfish advantage, the church’s problems caused by sin might be avoided.

*William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation 1608-1650 (San Antonio TX; The Vision Forum, 1998), 54-55.


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. 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.

Christian Reflections for Veterans Day

This week is Veteran’s Day and there are distinct Christian reasons for honoring our military Veterans. Christians are commanded to give “respect to whom respect is owed” and “honor to whom honor is owed” (Rom. 13:7). Notice, we “owe” it to them. The world has respectable people and honorable ones. How do we love these people (Rom. 13:8)? The way you love a respectable person is to respect them. The way you love an honorable person is to honor them. And we are commanded to “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10).

On Veterans Day, Americans honor those who have donned the uniform of our nation’s military. This is different from Memorial Day, where we honor those who gave their lives serving in the military. Why does American military personnel deserve honor? Because they willingly gave up certain cherished comforts to preserve the way of life we cherish. Some have served tour after tour and some have never seen combat. Both deserve honor because they served others—the nation—sacrificially. This doesn’t mean we honor every soldier for the simple reason that they wore our nation’s uniform. Lieutenant William Calley, who served in Vietnam, should get what he is owed for his role in the My Lai massacre, namely, the sword (Rom. 13:4). Those troops who served with dignity should get what they are owed, namely honor.

To honor someone is different than worshipping them. To honor a veteran is to hold them in high respect. It requires “recognition” (1 Cor. 16:18), which is the publicly promulgated good opinion of the local community. Even in heaven, the martyrs receive special honor when they are “each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer” (Rev. 6:11). It is altogether fitting that we pause and pay tribute to the honorable. We must practice this, for when we do, we train our hearts to love what God loves. The honorable soldier’s life is marked by sacrifice. It is the duty of those who receive the sacrifice to reflect on those who did the sacrifice. This helps us imitate them (1 Cor. 11:1) and lead our own lives of sacrifice. In this sense, honor expresses a part of our original desire for glory.

Over three hundred years ago Dr. Samuel Johnson was on to something when he said that “Every man thinks meanly of himself for never having been a soldier, or never having been at sea.” If being a soldier is a badge of honor, then all of us civilians have missed out on a certain measure of honor. Our only recourse is to give honor to whom honor is due. But it doesn’t stop there. The man who never honors is never honored, and this means more than just the downtown parade on November 11. “Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before me forever,’ but now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed’” (1 Sam. 2:30).

But not all forms of honor are equal. There is a way to celebrate Veteran’s Day rightly and a way to celebrate it wrongly. The way to muddle Veteran’s Day is to send our thanks out to nameless, faceless soldiers. In Scripture, honor is always of local quality. It must never become a generalized abstraction. When it does, honor takes the degraded form of virtue signaling. And since virtue signaling is about self-promotion, that means abstracted honor-giving becomes dishonor for the same reason that selfishness is shameful. We have to get honor right. C.S. Lewis warned that a culture that laughs at honor finds traitors in their midst. Maybe this helps explain what happened to the church in the last 24 months.

Honor communicates a standard by which we judge human behavior. This is why Christians must make it their business to honor those who are honorable, not according to the standard of Disney, but according to the standard of God. When we publicly honor the honorable, we participate in the great work of protesting the new standards of honor that glorify rappers and Kardashians. Honor is due to those who willingly subordinate their individual benefit for the greater good. It is not due to those who are famous for being famous. Christians should honor those who embody the traditions, stories, virtues, and habits of the Kingdom of God.

In practice, here is what that means. If you are a child, you need to train your heart to honor the honorable. So, that means you need to find a veteran in your family or church and tell them “Thank you for your service.” If you are an adult, you need to do the same. But you also need to see that if honoring the honorable is a virtue, it doesn’t stop with veterans. Children should honor their parents and grandparents. Citizens should honor their leaders. Christians should honor “such people” as “Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus” because of their devotion to serving the church (1 Cor. 16:15-18).

So, Christians have distinct reasons for honoring our military veterans. It’s a chance for us to pause, pay tribute, and learn about those honorable gents who preceded us. To those veterans who are part of Trinity Reformed Church—of which there are not a few—we thank you for your service and sacrifice, which reflects the more perfect sacrifice of the One who deserves all honor and glory and worship.


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. 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.

Covenant Renewal Worship: The Steady Work of Formation

Christians no longer agree that Sunday worship is centrally important to the Christian life. This was proven when worship services were cashiered in favor of “online worship” in response to COVID. But the dye was cast before COVID when it was argued that the church’s mid-week community groups, not Sunday worship,[1] were the thing that mattered the most.

While we agree that fellowship is an important part of the church, we can’t go along with the trendy downgrade of Sunday worship. Worship ought to be more than a few songs, a video, and a sermon that is forgotten by 2 pm.[2] Lord’s Day Worship should be a matter of covenant renewal, where God’s people are shaped through affirming their covenant vows.

Covenant Renewal Worship is how Christian formation happens. The more we hear the truth, the more we respond to it. The more we respond to it, the more it satisfies. The more it satisfies, the more we believe. So we must commit ourselves to joyful worship of the Lord. We must not devalue it. We must not ignore it. We must not close our eyes to it. Lasting formation is not quick and easy. It’s a work of creation that is slow and steady.

The church must retain the high calling of worshipping the Lord on Sunday. In the case of those who treat the Lord’s Day Service like a side dish, it needs to be recovered. Whether you are retaining or recovering, consider three encouragements for why Covenant Renewal Worship ought to be a central part of your family’s life.

  1. During Covenant Renewal Worship, Christians inhabit a sacred space

There is holy ground in the Old Testament, for example, the burning bush (Ex. 3:5) and the tabernacle (Ex. 25:8, 29:42; Numbers 9:15; Josh. 6:24; 2 Sam. 6:17; 2 Chron. 1:3-4; Mic. 4:1-2). But these concepts didn’t abscond when Christ came to earth. In the New Testament, Christians are holy space. Paul says “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God” (1 Cor. 6:19). But it’s not just that each individual Christian is an individual temple. Paul tells the church, “You are God’s temple” (1 Cor. 3:16). “You are” is plural. The church collectively is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Paul reinforces the point in Ephesians 2:19-22, “You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Again, the language is plural, not singular.

There is no longer one physical structure—a tabernacle or temple—where God resides. Jesus told the Jews, “Destroy the temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). He “was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21). Jesus is the new temple. He dwells, by his Spirit, within the church (2 Cor. 6:16).

The church is the temple of God (1 Pt. 2:4-9)—the tent of God (2 Cor. 5:1). For Paul, this is not an abstraction. Consider the practical application of this concept. When a member of the “household of faith” (Gal. 6:10) committed grievous, unrepentant sin, Paul commanded the church to “Purge the evil person from among you” (1 Cor. 5:13) and “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (1 Cor. 5:5). In other words, the person was removed from the church. That is, the unrepentant sinner was removed from the temple of God—the sacred space of God. This mirrors the Old Testament understanding of holy ground. Michael Heiser explains “that the Israelites viewed their land as holy ground and the territory of the non-Israelite nations as controlled by demonic gods. Israel was holy ground because that was where the presence of Yahweh resided. The opposite was true everywhere else.”[3] Just as God’s presence was in the Jerusalem temple, now it is in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 3:16f). The church is holy ground. To be put outside the church is to be on unholy ground, indeed, Paul says it is to be delivered “to Satan” (1 Cor. 5:5).[4]

Jesus said that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them” (Mt. 18:20). Wherever the church is gathered, whether it be for church discipline or not, they occupy sacred space. When the church gathers to worship on the Lord’s Day, they inhabit a sacred space and engage in a sacred activity. It isn’t flippant. It isn’t secondary. It is no more “take it or leave it” as was for Jews going to the temple. Christ demands that we worship him (Jn. 5:23), which means worship is a joyful duty, not just for humans, but for angels (Heb. 1:6). Lord’s Day worship is preparation for the day all will bow before the name of Jesus (Phil. 2:10) and worship the Lord for all eternity, singing hymns to Christ (Rev. 5:11f; 7:10) because of the salvation he accomplished (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Every local church physically gathered for worship is a holy celebration and a holy pledge of allegiance within a sacred space.

The Christian ambition is to make all the world sacred space. That doesn’t start with international missionaries. It starts with the weekly gathering of the holy assembly.

2. During Covenant Renewal Worship, Christians train their children how to worship

Our children learn how to worship the Lord based on what we teach them. If children are separated from corporate worship, what does that teach them? It teaches them something untrue, namely, that they are separate from the people of God. When God commands his people to return to him, he says, “Gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber” (Joel 2:16). During the covenant renewal service at Moab, Moses said, “You are standing today, all of you, before the Lord your God: the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, 11 your little ones, your wives, and the sojourner who is in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water” (Dt. 29:10f). During the reign of Jehoshaphat, the king assembled the sacred assembly to stand before the Lord, including “their little ones, their wives, and their children” (2 Chron. 20:13).

Children are more than a begrudged addition to the assembly. They are supposed to be there with their parents, gathered to worship the Lord. Since they are part of the gathering, their role is more than just watching the adults participate. The best learning comes through doing. The children are to participate as much as able. This is part of how children learn to desire the pure milk of the word (1 Pt. 2:1ff), receive nourishment through the sacraments (1 Cor. 10:16), and sing vigorously to the Lord (Ps. 30:11f).

The most destructive pandemic currently affront is the wimpy singing from males on Sunday mornings. This is a sickness of the churches making. Churches have willingly separated their children from the sacred assembly. Think about the insanity. People are at their most exuberant when they are children. People are also most impressionable when they are children. Christian parents should be directing that impressionable exuberance to belt out songs, hymns, and spiritual songs to the Lord. Before the first hymn, Dad should say to his son, “Watch me. Do it like this.” By keeping kids in the nursery, we’ve taught them all the wrong things. Could it be that the pandemic of wimpy singing started when we put our kids in the nursery? And could it be that to revive the stentorian alacrity of hymn singing, we must reinstate the exuberant children to their rightful place in the assembly? How else will they learn to sing to the Lord?

3. During Covenant Renewal Worship, Christians practice activity rather than passivity

The average church service today puts the congregation in a fundamentally passive role. The audience watches the band perform, then watches the videos, then watches the speaker. It’s training for how to be a passive husband, a passive citizen, and a passive church member. What do passive people do? Complain. So on the drive home from a passive worship service, people complain about the length of the service, the song choices, and Mrs. Tuffin’s outfit.

Passivity is inactivity. Most people today work indoors, in a cubical or home office, behind a desk, in front of a computer screen, sitting for eight hours a day. Passiveness hopes to add together temporary things into a sum of permanent things. But it doesn’t work that way. Passiveness doesn’t produce the permanence of eternity. It’s sluggishness that leads to nowhere, going from one situation to another, one relationship to another, and one location to another until you end up in oblivion.

That’s why Covenant Renewal Worship requires purposeful activity from the congregation. We sing hymns congregationally, followed by hearty amens. We confess our sins on our knees before God. We rise to our feet and confess our common faith in the Apostle’s Creed. We lean into the sermon. We feast on Christ by taking the bread and the wine. We raise our hands to sing the doxology and then put our hands out to receive the benediction.

Passivity is all around us. But it must not be that way in the Christian life. To those who would make us passive, we must not submit for a moment. Covenant Renewal Worship is the weekly repudiation of the passive life. A vibrant Christian life starts with how you worship on Sundays.


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. 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] Jeff Vanderstelt, Saturate Field Guide (Bellevue, WA: 2016), 4f, 45.

[2] I recently heard a pastor explain that sermons weren’t important because they were forgotten by 2pm.

[3] Michael Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), 342.

[4] Why is the unrepentant person purged from the church and delivered to Satan? Paul says, “for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5). The destruction of the flesh refers not to the destruction of the physical body, but to the destruction of the ungodly behavior. The person is being put out of the church so they can live in the consequences of their sin, which may destroy the self-destructive sinful behavior.

Grandparenting and the Transcendent Summons

Introduction

Imagine the stereotypical American grandparents. Once you have the outline, start filling in the details. What picture emerges? Maybe something like what Ogden Nash said, “When grandparents enter the door, discipline flies out the window.” Or maybe the oft-repeated assertion that it’s the grandparent’s job description “to spoil the grandchildren and send them home.” This philosophy of grandparenting is to give the grandchildren whatever they want. If the children want more candy, then more candy they get. If the children want more fast food and TV, then they get that too. If the child wants a certain toy for Christmas, the grandparents buy it with no other considerations.

The reason these grandparents give the grandchildren whatever they want is that they want to be beloved. They want to be the child’s favorite. They want to be at the center of the child’s affection. This is why the stereotypical grandparents buy so much stuff for their grandkids, often against the pleading of the parents. This is why some grandparents insist the grandkids are perfect and incapable of wrong, offering excuses for their sin. The only time grandchildren don’t get what they want is if they play in traffic or touch the stove. Then they are told “no!”

If there is to be a generational advance of wise and faithful Christian grandparents, we must construct a definite vision of what kind of grandparent God prefers. And that vision must be right, thereby making other visions wrong. It’s time to publicly admit that there is a distinction between stereotypical American grandparents and a Christian vision for grandparenting. The former sets goals solely on a horizontal plane. The latter is living according to a transcendent summons.

The Biblical pattern is covenant succession. It’s not only in the Old Testament where God’s covenant is passed through the generations (Gen. 15:5, 18:19, 22:15-19). The New Covenant promise is also “for you and for your children” (Acts 2:39). Prosperity “is to see your children’s children” (Psalm 128:5-6). This means that the ordinary way God’s Kingdom advances is through covenant families handing the faith to the next generation. This is an intergenerational project that has implications not just for parenting, but for grandparenting.

Grandparenting is part of fulfilling God’s promise of covenant succession. Christian families should expect Christian grandparents to have an active role in passing on the faith.[1] All the love that grandparents give should flow from the goal to bless the grandkids not just materially, but also spiritually. This is the pattern Moses gave the Israelites in Dt. 6:2, “That you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long.” So, not only should the church love grandparents, but equip today’s parents to become tomorrow’s faithful grandparents.

Is the stereotypical image of American grandparenting a Christian image? What would it mean for Christian grandparents to conscientiously scrap the American vision of grandparenting? What would a biblical vision of Christian grandparenting look like? What would be the long-term result of such an iconoclastic vision?

The responsibility of grandparents is distributed across two spheres: (1) Their relationship with their children (2) Their relationship with their grandchildren

Relationship with their children

The influence of grandparents is different than that of parents. Parents are in the front seat. They have control of the wheel and decide which turns to take. Parents have the responsibility to keep the car out of the ditch. They have to keep their eyes on the road and decide when to stop for food. Grandparents need to be in the backseat. Their hands are not on the wheel and their eyes don’t have to be fixed on the road. They can look out the window and perceive the terrain. They might even recognize a few of the landmarks because they’ve driven down this road before.

Grandparents are equipped as resources for raising the next generation. But they must stay in the backseat. Parents are in charge of raising their children in the Lord. Grandparents are given to help, but not interfere. A mother shouldn’t have to contend with critical in-laws. Nothing good results from meddling grandparents.

Even when parents and grandparents share the same Christian goals for children, the details of how they carry out their parenting will look different. In the relationship with their children, grandparents must show restraint and not offer advice without solicitation. In a moment we will see that wisdom is the quintessential virtue of grandparents. The wise soul knows that uninvited counsel is usually scorned. Aesop said to “distrust unsolicited advice” and most people do. It’s best to wait until guidance is requested. The avuncular manner will prove winsome in the end.

Relationship with their grandchildren

It’s appropriate that grandparents are smitten with their grandkids. After all, “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged” (Prov. 17:6). One of the felicities of a child’s life should be their grandparents. It is a special relationship. Grandparents cheer for their grandchildren and take them to lunch. They display outward affection for them and revel in bringing joy. Grandparents attend games and recitals and use their home as a magnet point for family gatherings. But all this must rise higher than the goal of being the center of the grandchildren’s affection. The goal should be to influence the grandchildren so that Christ is the center of their loyalty.

Grandparenting is a different responsibility than parenting. But it is still a responsibility that ought to be fulfilled “unto the Lord” (Rom. 14:8) and “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14). The righteous person will “still bear fruit in old age” because “they are ever full of sap and green” (Ps. 92:14). Bearing fruit as a grandparent means influencing the grandchildren. Not the sort of influence that is bought and paid for with expensive gifts, but is earned through the gravitas of gray hairs.

In many cultures of the world, the elderly are esteemed. This was once the case in the United States. People exaggerated their age upward to gain the honor of old age. Now, people exaggerate downward. Now, young people’s fresh ideas are privileged and old people are obsolete relics.[2] Young people are recommended as the model of Christian living. The virtue of their zeal is contrasted with adult apathy. When the cultural ethos values the young over the old that is because they value strength over wisdom (Prov. 20:29).

Not only do young people value strength over wisdom, but when they seek advice, they default to their peer group. Grandparents are fighting an uphill battle. They must make wisdom more attractive than strength. This won’t happen when their lone job is to indulge the grandchildren, forgetting the sage words of novelist P.D. James, “If from infancy you treat children as gods, they are liable in adulthood to act as devils.”

Wisdom can be made attractive when grandparents have profound and attractive things to share. The hope is that the grandkids are drawn to those sages who see through the fashions, who see life for what it is because they’ve caught glimpses of the deeper significance of things. Jordan Peterson draws large audiences by telling people “Pick up your responsibility, pick up the heaviest thing you can and carry it.” Why are young men grabbed by Peterson’s countercultural message? Because their father and grandfather never taught them these things. The Peterson phenomenon proves that given the option, scads of young people will trade in the brassy sounds of their peers for the golden wit of many years. There is something winsome about a life where righteousness looks normal and sin looks strange. If grandparents want to be more than a year-round Santa Clause, they have to manifest wisdom.

God commands grandparents to share their wisdom with their grandchildren. Deuteronomy 4:9 says, “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” While it’s sensible for grandparents to avoid dispensing advice to their children until invited, they have expanded leeway to share their treasure trove of hard-earned wisdom with their grandchildren.

This doesn’t mean they should impose upon their grandkids, or seek to subjugate them to the olden days. Dispensing wisdom is a matter of prudent moderation, and moderation is the way to maintain the dignity fitting for old age. A wise Christian of many years ought to have storehouses of wisdom to share. This might be sorted into two categories. The first, we might call the knowledge of nature. This is the knowledge of God’s world, including science, history, and literature. While this type of academic knowledge may be useful, it is unequal in importance to the second category, what we might call the knowledge of virtue.

In the Bible, age signifies wisdom. Job 12:12 says, “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.” This is why we are to “Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom” (Job 32:7). “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair” (Prov. 20:29). This is why Solomon sought the expertise of older men (1 Kings 12:6). Wisdom is not the accumulation of facts, but following the path of right living. Christian wisdom is the fruit that results from interaction with the truth of Scripture, reflection on its meaning, and the virtuous life that grows hence. The person of wisdom knows how to act in a variety of situations, pray in all circumstances, rejoice in suffering, love the weak, and enjoy the mundane simplicities of life. The collective wisdom of many generations is shared through a life well-lived.

But old age doesn’t automatically produce wisdom, as the old English proverb says, “There is no fool like an old fool.” Some men of age habituate the speculation of jaded years rather than the hope of the Lord. Some gray heads haven’t increased in learning (Prov. 1:5) or cultivated self-control (Prov. 25:28). Some octogenarians want to give advice having never received it (Prov. 12:15, 13:10, 19:20). Some golden-agers despise their neighbors (Prov. 14:21) and fear the wrong thing (Prov. 9:10). There is something deeply wrong when the church is filled with senior citizens whose stock of wisdom is small. Being a faithful grandparent starts long before the blinking eyes of grandbabies are looking back at them. It takes years of accumulated wisdom.

Faithful grandparenting starts with a wise person. The young are unlikely to appreciate the outcome of their grandparent’s way of life (Heb. 13:7) if they lack wisdom. Grandchildren should see that their grandparent’s life has substance. Substance means maintaining joy while the body breaks down due to age. It means giving words of hope in Christ and eliminating the entire wasteland of hyper-critical words about neighbors, waiters, and relatives. It means accumulating godly habits and customs: daily prayer, writing letters, taking time for people, and treasuring their spouse of fifty years. Grandchildren should see their grandparents faithfully live by everything they know to be true. And for Christians, that means to live as God-fearing saints.

Conclusion

The topic of grandparenting is an oak tree with many branches. And in the real world, many of those branches have an ugly case of canker disease. The various ways Christian families have withered during previous generations tell us that not every situation is ideal. There are scores of statistics about absentee fathers. That is a multiplier statistic because today’s absentee father is tomorrow’s absentee grandfather. It’s a double hit. Undoubtedly even some Christian parents who were raised in Christian homes think, “I don’t want my kids overly influenced by the parents that raised me.” In the grandparenting ethos proposed here, the point is to cast a vision for the future. It’s not written mainly for existing grandparents, but future ones.

Fish were designed to swim, the stars to twinkle, and grandparents to leave indelible marks. Your concern can’t be to point the finger of judgment at the grandparents around you. Rather, look to the future. Look to the day you will be a grandparent. Set out this day to leave a spiritual legacy for your family. If you are a parent of school-aged children, your transcendent summons starts with stewarding your little platoon. And as you raise the next generation, don’t forget to think at least two generations ahead. One day you will be in the fraternity of Christian grandparents. What kind of grandparent will you be? The answer to that question starts with a continuous advance in a definable direction. Let’s start asking, What does it mean for grandparents to “bear fruit” (Ps. 92:14) and fulfill their responsibility “unto the Lord” (Rom. 14:8) and “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14)? But let’s not just ask the question. Let’s prepare to live out the answer.


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. 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] There are numerous questions this short essay doesn’t address, for example, what role non-Christian grandparents should play in the Christian home and what to do when the parents are delinquent and the grandparents have to raise the children.

[2] Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2014), 18.

Catholicity and what it is not

Introduction

Over the past eighteen months, you’ve watched the embers of latent disaffection fanned into flames of revolt. The revolutionaries triangulated their notions of equity, tolerance, and diversity into a particular interpretation of the world, one rejecting the Nature of Things. A thin consensus about love, race, and sex animates local mobs and well-tailored media. But what is lacking cannot be counted, so the consensus penetrates only as deep as the outer surface of life. After observing the flummeries of the revolutionaries over the previous years, one gets the sense that the actual thing—the real thing—is purposefully kept in the background. That’s why it’s not only needful but refreshing to be in the company of Christians with whom you can speak words that correspond to the actual thing—the real thing.

There exists the need for a renewed and deeper Christian unity among the saints of God. The need is as old as the church itself and it is especially pronounced now. It is precisely for this reason, plus many more, that catholicity is one of the distinctives of Trinity Reformed Church (TRC).[1]

Catholicity refers to unity. In practice, it means that we want to bring Christians together rather than separate them. We will not divide over socio-economic status—white collar and blue collar are welcomed. We will not divide over dietary restrictions—organic only and meat and potatoes are welcomed. We will not divide over competing definitions of “Reformed”—some label themselves “truly reformed,” others as “reformed Baptist,” and so on. All are welcomed, even if you don’t identify as “reformed” at all. We will not divide over COVID. You don’t have to agree to one predetermined opinion about masks or COVID. All are welcomed here. We will not divide over the credo vs paedobaptism question.Even though confessionally we are paedo-baptist, for those who wish to delay the baptism of their children until there is a confession of faith, the session will defer to the head of each household.

Some Christians hear this vision with skepticism. To them, it sounds like another spineless church without a distinct flavor. It sounds generic rather than convictional; tepid rather than courageous; wimpy rather than strong. Indeed there are different visions of ecumenism. One calls for lowering all peaks to ground level lest anyone think Christianity has hills to die on. Another wishes to keep the hills, thinking clear confessionalism and catholicity make for a better vista. The first tends toward a short bullet-pointed list of beliefs inclusively worded. The second embraces the historic confessions of the church. At TRC we are decidedly the latter, which means we don’t feign unity with just anyone who wears a Jesus t-shirt. We define ourselves as “Reformed catholic,” which means we uphold the distinctions of the Reformation while seeking unity with all Christians who fall within the parameters of the ancient ecumenical creeds (i.e. “orthodoxy”).

G.K. Chesterton was right when he called it an error “to suppose that absence of definite convictions gives the mind freedom and agility.”[2] The only way to respect another’s convictions is to have some of your own. As J. Gresham Machen said of Harry Emerson Fosdick’s relativism, “Since he does not believe in the objective truth of his own teaching, we might be pardoned if we failed to be interested in it.”[3] Robust catholicity rejects indifferentism in practice and theory. Within the circle of orthodoxy, catholicity requires deep exploration of the differing beliefs. There is freedom when you learn to acknowledge the strengths of other positions without fear of a shouting match.

What catholicity is NOT?

First, catholicity is not relativism

At TRC, we use a “Book of Confessions” to state what we believe the Scriptures teach. This includes:

  • The Apostles’ Creed (ca. 200)
  • The Athanasian Creed (ca. 361)
  • The Nicene Creed (325; revised, 381)
  • Definition of Chalcedon (451)
  • The Thirty-Nine Articles (1562)
  • The Three Forms of Unity (including The Belgic Confession [1561], The Heidelberg Catechism [1563], The Canons of Dort [1619])
  • The Westminster Standards (including the Confession of Faith and [1646] the Shorter and Larger Catechisms [1647]; American revision [1789])

The Westminster Confession of Faith is our primary confessional document. That means it is the tie-breaker and the standard for doctrinally examining elders. We are also Presbyterian in our church government. That means, among other things, we function with a plurality of elders. We seek both the peace and purity of the Church, without compromise. We deny that catholicity requires us to sacrifice our convictions that are rooted in Scripture and the historic Christian tradition.

Second, catholicity’s standard is not the “least common denominator”

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. Are we to do this with the Word of God? I say, No! 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.[4]

With the advent of the internet, then the smartphone, then social media, the problem of everything being “brought down to the same level” has worsened. Catholicity is not about appealing to the hollowed-out version of evangelicalism that dominates the landscape. It does not appeal to the gradual turn that’s occurred, where people, even church members, take pride in their ignorance rather than their knowledge. God opposes the proud either way (1 Pt. 5:5). We shouldn’t be afraid to know what we believe and talk to others about it.

To be educated up to the things of God is not a call for stuffy Christian academics who cough in ink. Rather, it is to confess that the tastes and preferences of the natural man need to be put to death (Rom. 8:13), the inner self needs to be renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16), and Christians ought to grow up in every way into Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:15). To “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt. 3:18) requires confessing the ecumenical creeds together and admitting these are hills worth dying on. It also requires acknowledging that not every point of doctrine is an equally tall hill.

Third, the Church’s catholicity is not like the world’s

In 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, Paul brings the principles of unity and diversity together by using the human body as a metaphor for the church. The unity and diversity of the church are entirely different from the world’s idealistic pursuit of unity and diversity. Some may object that it doesn’t seem all that different. Look at UNICEF. It unites people from different countries to provide aid to starving children. Look at the European Union. It strategically unifies all the diverse European countries economically as a way to discourage war. Look at our public schools. They are strategically rezoned to unite different socioeconomic groups for education. Look at sports and all the diverse fans who unite to cheer on their teams. They may not be Christian organizations, but look how they set their differences aside for the greater good. They are seeking unity and diversity just like the church seeks unity and diversity.

There are at least two key differences between the church’s catholicity and the world’s. First, in the sphere that matters supremely, UNICEF, the EU, and sports teams have no unity or diversity. These groups have a naturalistic moral understanding that organizes social cooperation strictly for human benefit. They do not operate with reference to their Creator. They don’t serve for the glory of God. Their unity and diversity are flattened to a purely human level. It is meaningless.

Second, the church’s unity and diversity are based entirely upon the unity and diversity of God. God designed the church to be one body with many members because God himself is One God existing in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each person of the Godhead has a different role. For example, in redemption, God the Father planned salvation, God the Son accomplished salvation, and God the Spirit applies salvation.  When the church functions as the body of Christ, they are reflecting the loving triune God who forgives and saves. But when the church inappropriately divides itself they are living in a way that runs counter to the unity of the triune God.

Conclusion

As the world is increasingly aligned against the church, it is our conviction that we are stronger together. If the church is chopped and sold for parts by an ochlocracy trying to redefine the world, then we too will be redefined. There is what is seen and there is the reality behind it. The current cultural revolution is remaking cultural commonplaces so that the nature of existence appears different than God intended. In the end, it’s a project that will fail. Reality eventually trumps appearances. Many in the church talk about unity. Few do anything about it. Once the church unites around Christ, the Real Thing will return to the foreground. Words that correspond to reality will once again be privileged and the chuffy mob will become nothing more than an ambient cultural anomaly.


[1] This has nothing to do with the Roman Catholic Church. The word “catholic” comes from a Greek word that means “universal.” The word “catholic” simply refers to the whole body of Christ.

[2] G.K. Chesterton, Heretics (Nashville, TN: Sam Torode Book Arts, 1905), 22

[3] J. Gresham Machen, What is Christianity and Other Addresses (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1951), 194.

[4] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times: Addresses Delivered on Various Occasions 1942 – 1977 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2001), 112.


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.

How to fight a spirit of self-satisfaction?

Introduction

There are many reasons Christians might find themselves with a spirit of self-satisfaction—anytime God permits them to participate in a great achievement. This month we celebrate the first anniversary of Trinity Reformed Church. In our wish to stay humble and give God the credit, we don’t deny that the planting of this church is a great achievement. God will build his church. As Christians, we become accustomed to our great God doing great things. But we do deny that we should be self-satisfied, or that we are the cause, or that God is finished with his work.

We’d be wise to strategically fight a spirit of self-satisfaction, which is when someone is too pleased with themselves and their accomplishments. Self-satisfaction seeks fulfillment independent from God. It manifests as smug complacency. In addressing this question, the application is broader than Trinity Reformed Church. The temptation toward self-satisfaction comes in many shapes and sizes: When parents raise godly children, when entrepreneurs start successful businesses, or when young athletes win victory.

Three facts to review

There are three facts to review that make God’s work of planting Trinity Reformed Church (TRC) a remarkable achievement.

First, God planted TRC in an expanding secular age. By “secular” we mean a view of life in which God is not referenced. The secular world is framed by immanence rather than transcendence. In this frame, tall and thick walls are built around the human imagination such that the natural world points to nothing more than nature, and human rulers are grounded in nothing more than social sciences. The world is closed and self-sufficient. Meaning is relocated from the external to the internal. Secular society is a collection of individuals free to believe the promises of their private lusts. The good life is reduced to wellness, equity, and endless entertainment. It is a milieu where the expectation of eternity and God are disappearing. People everywhere are discharged of reverence for transcendent things. Such an ideal is the exact opposite of Christianity.

Second, God planted TRC in a world that has played fast and loose with the definition of sin. This expanding secular age has a convenient scapegoat. People are now preoccupied with the sins of others. Entire ideologies now seek to whip up the masses into a fervor of white-hot indignation against the so-called injustice of statistical inequalities among groups. By peddling invented sins, and then ascribing those sins to everyone else, people have lost sight of, first, the definition of actual sins, and second, the presence of those sins in their own lives. This is how people miss the glory of the Gospel. If only their sin earns punishment, then I don’t need a savior.

Third, God planted TRC in a “pandemic” and the church grew while many others shrank. We may be tricked into thinking we are responsible for great achievement. We may neglect to thank the Lord for the favor he has shown. Churches everywhere put down their weapons (Eph. 6:11-20), forsook gathering for Lord’s Day worship (Heb. 10:25), and unwittingly made common cause with the world. When they finally began worshipping again, in many cases, they were fewer in number. Because of God’s favor, TRC had the courage and faithfulness to continue worshipping (John 9:31). This fact alone may be enough to tempt the members of TRC into self-satisfaction.

How do we fight the spirit of self-satisfaction?

First, remember who we are and who God is

Self-satisfaction is the result of a deadly combination where man thinks more highly of himself and less highly of God than he ought. This deadly combination needs to be replaced with a living one where we see the majesty of Jesus Christ and the sinfulness of man. The deadly combination produces self-congratulatory pomp. The living combination produces the conviction of sin. The deadly combination is such because it makes one forget his dependence on the Savior Jesus Christ. The living combination is such because it reinforces dependence on Jesus.

Second, remember the nature of the Kingdom

Since another characteristic of self-satisfaction is a sense of completion, we would do well to remember that God’s work carries on for a thousand generations (Dt. 7:9; 1 Ch. 16:15). He is not done growing his church or his kingdom. It starts small and grows big (Mark 4:30-32). God’s been expanding his Kingdom for two thousand years. As TRC looks back upon our first year with thankfulness, we turn eagerly to the future. As we look back, we pray with gratitude for what God has started. As we look forward, we pray with anticipation for an outburst of the Spirit’s power, confident of the continued expansion of the influence of Christ’s church in North Alabama.

What will that influence look like? That part of the story is yet to be written. In the meantime, we must not fritter away what God has built. We encourage you to use the depth of your sanctified imagination to ask God to expand Christ’s influence in North Alabama. As you pray, don’t forget that you pray to a God who “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph. 3:20f).

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.

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. In John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, the man in the iron cage can’t get out, confessing, “I have so hardened my heart that I cannot repent.”

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.