Principles for Distancing: Or, When do I Stop Ministering to that Person?

ThirdMill’s Biblical Perspective Magazine featured an article from our own Jason Cherry – check it out at the link below!

Readers of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress will remember when Christian and Hopeful encounter Atheist. Mockingly, Atheist says, “I laugh to see what ignorant persons you are, to take upon you so tedious a journey, and yet are like to have nothing but your Travel for your pains.” After trying to convince Atheist of the error of his ways, Christian and Hopeful make the excruciating decision to leave Atheist behind, reasoning, “As for this man, I know that he is blinded by the God of this world. Let thee and I go on, knowing that we have belief of the Truth, and no Lie is of the truth.” Bunyan then writes, “So they turned away from the man; and he laughing at them, went his way.”

To read the rest of the article, click the link below:

Why Haven’t We Canceled Worship Services?

There was an outbreak of the plague in Scotland in 1645. Roughly half the population died. There was another outbreak in 1647. The local Presbyterians organized a six-day festival of repentance. My, my how times have changed.  There was an outbreak of coronavirus in 2020. Roughly 0.6% of infected Americans died. Churches of all stripes voluntarily canceled Sunday services for months at a time.

The habit of forsaking Lord’s Day worship settles and roots in the habit of Christian families. It’s one problem if tyrants forbid Christians from worshipping. It’s another problem if Christian custom, habit, and society (plus civil law) train people to forsake Sunday worship services. It’s the latter problem that needs addressing.

How is it that four hundred years ago Christians responded to horrific sickness by gathering for worshipful repentance and now they respond to sickness by hiding in homes? What accounts for this change? Or to frame the question biblically, why do Christians today assume they can disobey the Lord and neglect to publicly worship together (Heb. 10:25)? Here are two reasons to consider.

First, American evangelicals care for the physical more than the spiritual

Since the fearful are prone to exaggerate, let’s say (for sake of discussion) that Johns Hopkins doctor Amesh A. Adalja, M.D. is correct and the fatality rate is 0.6% (The exaggeration comes from the fact that there isn’t an exact count on the number of people who have contracted COVID-19 and been asymptomatic). Should churches cancel Lord’s Day services? Many are saying “Yes, the risk is too great, we must love our neighbor and cancel services.” What are they assuming? They are assuming that the risk of someone catching COVID-19 is more perilous than the danger of not attending Sunday worship.

But the assumption isn’t a fair trade-off. Yes, someone might indeed catch COVID-19 if they attend a large group gathering. But it is guaranteed that no one will attend public worship if services are canceled. When church services are canceled, no one has the choice to worship. When church services are held, the high-risk congregants have the choice to stay home.

Many American evangelical leaders are operating with the principle that they can’t be wrong to cancel public worship and keep people from getting sick. The new principle of evangelical leadership is this: Keep people from physical harm. Aversion to physical risk is now the defining principle of evangelical decision-making. Aversion to spiritual risk used to be the principle (remember the aforementioned plague outbreak of the 1640s).

“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is.”

Hebrews 10:24f

In Hebrews 10, the author anticipates Christians will be persecuted, afflicted, and imprisoned (Heb. 10:32-39). Yet they were still commanded to not neglect to assemble (Heb. 10:25). Why is it worth the risk to gather for worship and face imprisonment but it is not worth the risk to gather for worship and catch COVID-19?

Throughout the world, Christians gather for worship under direct physical threat. In Nigeria, Boko Haram looms as a threat to murder, rape, and kidnap Christians who gather for worship. In India, Hindu extremists threaten to afflict and murder Christian leaders who gather for worship. In China and Hong Kong, Christians face a threat of imprisonment and hardship for participating in public worship gatherings. In many places, the risk of being killed or raped is higher than 0.6%. Yet they still gather for public worship! And American evangelicals hold these Third World Christians up as models of faithfulness. So why is it worth the risk to gather for worship and face murder but not worth the risk to gather for worship and face COVID-19?

The seventeenth-century Scottish preacher Robert Bruce famously said, “I think it’s a great matter to believe there is a God.” Which, in turn, means it is a great spiritual activity to worship God. But according to the new principle of evangelical leadership, it isn’t spiritually great enough to risk a 0.6% physical death rate.

Second, American evangelicals live in fear rather than faith

There is not one passage in Scripture that commands Christians to live in fear of death. Cowardice is a sin (Mt. 8:26; 10:28, John 12:42, 1 Pt. 3:14, Rev. 21:8). Why? It’s a Christological reason. The mother of all fear is death, and Christ defeated death (2 Tim. 1:8-14). Through faith in Christ, believers defeat death. So, the person who lives in fear is functionally denying the power of Christ’s death-defeating power.

Practically, then, Christians ought not to suppress their fear, but overcome it. This is done not with ignorant bravado, but with the hope that overcoming fear leads to firmer faith. Christians ought to battle fear with the expectation of a more mature faith, something thicker, something tougher, something battle-hardened.

Does this mean a church member might catch COVID-19 at church? Yes, that is possible. But strength comes through weakness (Rom. 8:26) and weakness comes through wounds (Heb. 11:34).  It’s not that Christians should be irresponsible or cavalier. It’s that Christians need to stop being cavalier with their spiritual needs. What faith will be left when the CDC finally permits Christians to pull their head out of the quarantine?

What if the burgeoning sectarian chaos is a test from the Lord? What if the test is specifically for those who spent decades in church blithely claiming Christ and anemically singing songs? Jesus said people can either stand on a firm foundation or a sandy one. When opinions are abundant—one saying masks are a commie conspiracy, another saying that people are insane to leave their house and worship publicly—it makes church members pick sides. It’s not the job of the elders to hear all the opinions and make a decision that accommodates the spectrum. When truth and falsehood grapple, we can’t call it a tie. It’s not the job of the elders to respond to the whim of the people. It’s the job of the elders to lead the flock to solid ground. There may be causalities along the way. While evangelical leaders are worried about the physical casualties, they have all but forgotten about the spiritual casualties. What’s more important? Saving people’s lives or saving people’s souls? Is it worth it to hollow out people’s souls if it means they can preserve their physical life a while longer?

Meanwhile, the faithful will inquire after a firm foundation. Which sounds more like a house built on sand? Publicly worshipping God with the people of God OR staying home and watching other people worship God on the live stream?

The fearful aren’t supposed to influence the faithful (Dt. 20:8). When Sunday services are canceled, those at high-risk spiritually (i.e. everyone) are forced to neglect their treatment. When Sunday services are held, those at high risk physically are given the choice to stay home. The former choice harms everyone spiritually. The latter choice protects the most vulnerable physically (we understand there are complex medical decisions some people have to make that might lead them to feel conscience-bound to stay home. Maybe they should stay home. But it’s important to realize it’s “maybe” rather than “must.” There is a line and each person must ask where it is drawn). The former choice loves the mortal thing. The latter choice loves the immortal thing.  The fearful have made up their minds to neglect the spiritual, and then turn with relief to state that they have protected the physical.

And so our decision is this: Just as Nigerian Christians continue to gather for worship at the risk of someone being raped and killed, churches ought to hold Sunday services and risk someone catching COVID-19 rather than neglect Sunday services and no one catch COVID-19.

It is because this decision has been neglected by many churches that fearful faith is the new normal of evangelical Christianity. Jesus said this,

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Matthew 6:31ff

In other words, the Christian who publicly renews his soul each Sunday, as God commanded, understands righteousness. The man who despairs of the public, weekly renewal, does not understand righteousness. Worship is life’s primary activity and the Lord’s Day assembly is the primary way to worship (Ps. 87:2). When the church voluntarily forsakes assembling on the Lord’s Day, gone is the primary way souls are renewed. Gone is the primary way Christians are discipled. Gone is the primary way righteousness is established in the political, domestic, and cultural realm. Gone is the primary way to sanctify the arts and sciences.

And this leads to the pandemic’s great revelation: Christians no longer think of corporate worship as the central religious activity during the week. They see little connection between corporate worship and discipleship, little connection between corporate worship and national godliness, little connection between corporate worship and sanctifying the arts and sciences. Church leaders across the nation are worried that once the pandemic is over, church members won’t return to church. Yet by forsaking the assembly, they have taught their people that Lord’s Day worship is optional for spiritual health, and they have taught that the physical matters more than the spiritual.

Once upon a time, Christians took the physical risk to worship amid a legitimate plague pandemic. They saw the death wrought by the pandemic much like Jesus saw the death of those upon who the tower in Siloam fell, signaling the need for repentance (Luke 13:1-5). If the church today is going to turn from their sin, they must return to physical corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. That would be only the first act of repentance necessary.

Heavenly Father, we pray that you would grant us repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:25).

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.

The Danger of a Half-Gospel

Sometimes trying to put things right is when you are most vigorously putting them wrong. One of the current trends of evangelicalism is so-called “Gospel-centered preaching” (GCP). This is a method of preaching that purports—wait for it—to have the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the center. The problem is not the goal. The problem is that many who practice “GCP” put a reductionistic Gospel at the center of their preaching.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news that Christ came to save sinners. Saving sinners refers to salvation. Salvation implies saved from and saved to.

What does “GCP” say you are saved from? The “GCP” I’ve heard has less to do with sin before God and more to do with failure before man. The message is that through Christ you are unconditionally loved, so no matter your failures, shame, or embarrassments, Jesus loves you. You are saved from failure before man. You are saved from not measuring up to the person more talented than you. You are saved from feeling sorry for yourself. You are saved from the guy one cubicle over who personally slighted you.

What does “GCP” say you are saved to? The “GCP” I’ve heard says you are saved to freedom. Freedom to feel no failure before man, freedom to feel like who you are is enough, and freedom to boost your self-esteem. The Pharisees preached a similar message that emphasized justifying yourselves before man. Jesus used the a-word to combat the error calling it an abomination in the sight of God (Luke 16:15).

So you have the damning situation where much “GCP” is nothing of the sort, kind of like how family-friendly programming has a family with two dads. Not so family-friendly by God’s standard. Not so Gospel-centered, by God’s standard.

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

Romans 6:16-18

What does the Gospel save sinners from? Slavery to sin. What does the Gospel save sinners to? Slavery to righteousness. It’s not that Paul doesn’t talk about freedom. He does. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). Notice what “freedom” is contrasted with. A “yoke of slavery” (referring to slavery to sin) and “opportunity for the flesh” (another reference to sin). When Paul talks about freedom, he means slavery “to righteousness leading to sanctification” (Rom. 6:19). In other words, through faith people are saved from sin to righteousness.

What does this mean for preaching that truly has the Gospel at the center? It means that to preach the Gospel is to preach justification and sanctification. It is a message that proclaims forgiveness in Christ’s name, where through faith one is made right with God. But preaching can’t stop there. Preaching must then, as Jesus said, teach “them to observe all that I have commanded” (Mt. 28:20). Teaching the commandments of God is part of preaching the Gospel. It’s the saved to part of the Gospel proclamation. Jesus is very clear that preachers who fail to teach the commands of God “will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” Preachers who preach a full Gospel, including the commands of God “will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:19). While it is true that preaching the doctrine of justification by grace alone should invite the question, “Shall we go on sinning that grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:1), the answer should be a Christo-centric “by no means!” 

Now for a bit of tedious spadework. No one at this fine establishment opposes preaching that truly has the Gospel at the center. We oppose the common practice of talking about grace in such a way that leads people to think they are free from the need for future obedience. We oppose preaching that hopes to change man, yet renounces the right to bring God’s Word to bear on what the new man should look like. There is a problem when justification by faith is less about God accepting you and more about you accepting you. There is a problem when the third use of the law is ignored. Chapter 19 of the Westminster Confession of Faith explains that for Christians the law is “a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly.”

Preaching that doesn’t call God’s people to repentance silences the life-changing Gospel in favor of a puny one. It is common now to think that proclaiming the commands of God and calling God’s people to repentance is the opposite of “Gospel hope.” Preaching repentance is likened to legalism. John Stott had a word of rebuke to such a likening, “To teach the standards of moral conduct that adorn the gospel and insist that our hearers heed them is neither legalism nor pharisaism but plain apostolic Christianity” (Stott, The Challenge of Preaching, p. 35).

Christians are justified by faith, through Christ’s work alone. This means that Christ’s work on the cross—Christ’s work alone—pays the penalty of sin and makes a believer holy and blameless before God. Faith is the instrument that connects believers to Christ’s work. Thus, the Reformation slogan sola Christus—justification is in Christ alone.

In the work of sanctification, while Christ enables obedience (Phil. 2:13), it is the individual believer who carries out obedience (Phil. 2:12). The individual Christian prays (1 Thess. 5:25), loves their neighbor (Mark. 12:31), and resists the devil (James 4:7). Christians walk by faith, depend on grace, and live by the Spirit’s power. The Christian does these things. And it’s Christ enabling the Christian to do it. If the Christian makes a habit of not doing these things, then that is evidence they are not “born of God” (1 Jn 3:6, 9). It is legalism if you call people to obedience without acknowledging divine enablement. It is antinomianism if calling people to obedience isn’t the natural consequence of justification. Notice what Peter said, “[Christ] bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Pt. 2:24).

Preaching that emphasizes justification and sanctification is Great Commission preaching. If the preacher proclaims that Christ is mighty to justify but not mighty to sanctify, then the preacher has preached a half-Gospel, a half-Christ. When the preacher proclaims that Christ saves from sin and to righteousness, he has preached the whole Gospel, the whole Christ. William Gurnall once said, “There is nothing more unworthy than to see a people bold to sin, and the preacher afraid to reprove them.” The shortest way to cultivate presumptuous sin is to relax the least of God’s commandments, and the surest way of refuting brazen sin is to teach all the Christ commanded from the high ground of Golgotha.

Jason Cherry is 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.

A Game Plan for Slumped-Shouldered Christians

If you begin at the root and rise of it, Satan has schemed to war against God’s people from the beginning. Sometimes he slithers up to an unsuspecting damsel. Sometimes he drops the dead weight of a heavy blade onto an innocent neck. Ever since the light of the gospel broke out in the New World, Satan has made war against the Saints in North America. His objective is to stifle the truth of Jesus Christ—the God-man, the anti-Curse, the Savior, the Creator, the Lord.

In days and lands gone past, Christians suffered much persecution. Roman Emperors and Queens named Mary carried out cruel torments against those who professed the name of Christ. The goal was not oppression, but destruction. The goal was to ruin.

And so the phrase “Church Militant” is useful in describing the church’s constant spiritual warfare against the gates of the enemy. In the United States today there has yet to be a Bloody Mary. When someone joined the Christian church from the early seventeenth century to the late twentieth century, they gained social capital. In the twenty-first-century when someone joins the church, they lose social capital.[1] Today, Christianity is a byword, and Christians are mocked. It is a matter of reproach to confess faith in God. Christians today must resolve to sustain mocks and insults from the approved tweets of the “thought leaders.” The revolutionaries are not interested in Modus Vivendi. The loony bin faction is zealous for unreality. They aren’t alone. Too many PCA, SBC, and Acts29 pastors are more interested in a seat at the cool table than the Lord’s Table.

For these reasons and more, there is a bevy of slumped-shouldered Christians who have forgotten about Christianity’s bright future. Christianity is patterned after Christ. He was crucified but then resurrected (1 Cor. 15:20). Likewise, Christians are crucified (Luke 9:23) but then resurrected (1 Cor. 15:23). The Apostle Paul speaks of the resurrection as “victory” (1 Cor. 15:54f). The victory that this resurrection signifies is definitive.

Here’s the point, spelled out in italicized letters: Since we’ve already won the victory, it’s time we started acting like it.

How do we start acting like it?

One of the results of the victory is that Christians are empowered to put to death the deeds of the flesh and bring to life the deeds of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-24). One word for this is holiness. Another word for it is faithfulness. Still another word is maturity.

So, if the church is to begin acting like winners rather than losers, it should begin by living in the power of Christ’s blood-bought victory over sin and death. We need a game plan for faithfulness. Not another game plan of nonspecific Christian teaching typed up and bound in a Zondervan book, but a specific game plan that applies to our context right now, that marks the broad arrow we are shooting right now.

Here are four ways the church needs to gird up their loins into maturity. It is an action plan for the sort of faithfulness that isn’t swayed by voter fraud and doesn’t willingly feed our kids to the godless institutions of the day. Each action point builds on the other, as will be explained at the end.

  1. Faithfulness requires that you not stay immature indefinitely

A great need exists for Christians to begin to live out the ramifications of their faith in both a systematic and practical way. We must put off childish things. We must think and act like men. Christianity is a serious and demanding religion, and this includes the intellectual ramifications of the faith.

It is acceptable for a teenager to think like a teenager, because they are a teenager. It is unacceptable for a 30-year-old to still think like an 11th grader. It’s worse than unacceptable. This is a travesty. Not only that, it is sin (Eph. 4:14). Every mature Christians was once an immature Christian. The process from one to the other is gradual. The Poet Ogden Nash once said, “You are only young once, but you can stay immature indefinitely.” And so, fine Christians, gird up the loins of your faith, or else you too will suffer from the chronic condition found in the church today called delayed onset maturity.

2. Faithfulness requires that you not slightly miss the truth

One of the biggest reasons Christians stay perpetually immature is because they slightly miss the truth. They almost say the right thing, almost believe the right thing, almost feel the right thing, almost do the right thing. But they fail to do it explicitly.

G.K. Chesterton once said that “falsehood is never so false as when it is very nearly true.” In other words, there is a massive difference between saying the truth and missing the truth slightly. Consider Eve’s response to the tempting serpent, “He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” Eve misses the truth only slightly when she adds, “Neither shall you touch it.”

Are you tired of being lied to? How do you stop it? How do you expose the lies that Hollywood, the media, and the peer-reviewed studies spin as true? You begin by defining words in the most careful manner available. Then you make careful distinctions. God has given us abilities of abstraction for a good and honorable purpose. To think maturely is to make careful distinctions. For example, when discussing the state of theological liberalism in America today, we would need to make the distinction that while it has failed as a religious idea—indeed, the pews of such churches are emptier and emptier—it has been influential in politics.

Douglas Wilson has written, “The only person who needs to be more precise than a liar is the person who catches the liar.”

3. Faithfulness requires that our lives match our words

When James said that “faith without works is dead” he meant that the nature of someone’s faith is displayed in the way they live. Jesus defined hypocrisy as someone who outwardly appears righteous, but inwardly they are full of lawlessness (Mt. 23:28).

Hypocrisy doesn’t prove the falsity of the object of belief. It proves the falsity of the belief itself. When climate change alarmists cry out “Emergency! Emergency!” but then live as if there is no climate emergency, that proves they don’t believe it’s an emergency. My response then is to say, “If you don’t really believe it’s an emergency, then why should I?” Likewise, when a professing Christian doesn’t live in a way worthy of the gospel, that doesn’t mean the gospel is false. It means their faith in the gospel is a false-faith. When the world sees Christian hypocrisy, they say the same thing, “If you don’t really believe in the wrath to come, then why should I believe in the Bible?”

4. Faithfulness requires that we restore authority to the local church

American Christians today have lost respect for the local church. Far too many families go to church and get a big bag of spiritual nothing. The preaching is empty, incompetent, and incoherent. The singing is feminine and high pitched. The leaders aren’t qualified to lead.

Christians now know that if they want anything of substance they have to look elsewhere. But it is not God’s design that some pastor across the country with a podcast and blog has more influence over church members than the elders (Heb. 13:17).

Conferences, celebrity preachers, and Internet shepherds have a place. That place is supplemental. Yet for many Christians today who are desperate for something biblical, something meaningful, something substantive, the Internet preacher is the only option. This ought not to be.

The local church needs to provide gospel milk and gospel meat. The preaching needs to be full, clear, and biblically competent. The singing needs to be masculine and formative. The elders need to meet the qualifications.

Restoring authority in the local church starts with the leaders. If an All-Star center is playing point guard, he won’t look like an All-Star. The solution isn’t to kick him off the team. The solution is to move him to center. Likewise, if the pastor of your church can’t preach, the solution is not to run the man off. But neither is the solution to tolerate it. Perhaps he is better suited for another position on the team.

This is important. God’s design in the church is that the greatest responsibility falls to the smallest possible unit. That means that local churches are far more important than celebrity preachers. A healthy American church starts with healthy local churches. It is not the case that a healthy American church makes for healthy local churches. Rather, it is the case that healthy local churches make for a healthy American church. No amount of capable Internet preachers can alleviate what is missing if the local church is broken.

The point is not that celebrity preachers need to go away. The point is that in the life of a Christian, they ought to be supplemental. A large number of Internet preachers is not a sign of health. It is a symptom that something is broken. The church that is closest to the smallest locality is always more edifying than a preacher operating at a larger frame. What if church members began to find something of substance in their local church? What if they obeyed and submitted to their elders and their elders led them with joy (Heb. 13:17)?


Here we have four action points. They are interconnected. To grow into maturity, you must not slightly miss the truth. Albert Mohler once said, “We will not believe more than we know, and we will not live higher than our beliefs.” Knowing truth and living it can never be separated. To hit the truth requires you to live in obedience to Christ. To live in obedience, we need healthy local churches. Since we’ve already won the victory, it’s time we started acting like it.

[1] I borrow the term “social capital” from Glenn Loury, whose books and articles I commend to you.

Jason Cherry is 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.

The Reformation: Why was it tragic?

This is the third of a three part series. Click here to read part one. Click here to read part two.

The What and the Why Behind the Reformation

The late church historian Jaroslav Pelikan said that the Reformation is helpfully understood as a “tragic necessity.” What was the Reformation and why was it necessary? In answering those two questions the magisterial Reformers play the role of hero, rescuing the church from the oppressive grip of the Roman Catholic Church, which had become corrupt with the practice of simony, selling indulgences, the sacerdotal system, and keeping the Bible out of the common language of the people. This is why we are Protestant. This is our inheritance and this is what we should celebrate.

The Loss of Biblical Authority

Yet, what is often left unsaid is that the Reformation turned the Bible into a contested book.[1] Different Protestant groups emerged. The church was splintered. Unity was fractured. The church was divided. The Bible became a contested thing among various groups, from Roman Catholics to Lutherans, from the Reformed to the Anabaptists, and seemingly countless others. As the different groups argued about Scripture, the Bible’s wider cultural authority waned. Disagreement on how to interpret the Bible was a standing invitation for skeptics and atheists. After all, if Christ can’t be divided (1 Cor. 1:13), but the church is internally divided, then maybe there is no Christ at all. It is precisely because Scripture gradually lost its position as culture’s highest authority—especially after The Enlightenment—that David Wells can say that the world now lives with a “crisis of authority” in which any remaining authority has been relocated to the self. The church is not unblemished from these developments.

The Self Becomes god

The church has been tutored by the doctrine of secular culture, especially the doctrine of individualism.[2] Robert Bellah calls it expressive individualism. David Wells calls it “the bloated sense of human capacity.”[3] We live in an age of choices, consumer choices superficially considered, but also religious choices. With the burden of individualism—choices—everyone is expected to realize their humanity apart from outside influences conforming or lording over them. It is worth pointing out that in the matrix of “free” consumer choices, it often goes unrecognized by the consumer that, for example, wearing all black, with black lipstick and black fingernail polish, is conformity to the corporate strategy of skateboard sellers and tattoo businesses. Nevertheless, the dogma of expressive individualism assumes that if an outside authority—like God—dictates a person’s humanity, then they are no longer human. It is a world where the “major remaining value is choice itself.”[4] In the secular scheme, to be authentic, to be authentically human, one’s unfettered libertarian choices must function as the primary value. Libertarian choices provide authenticity for what it means to be human.[5] The implication is displayed in the Star Wars movie series where the characters are often encouraged to trust their own feelings. If libertarian freedom is the supreme human value, then the feelings that arise from within must be followed. It is a failure to see that self-autonomy is not freedom, but a different kind of captivity, namely, slavery to self.

The Scriptures Alone

None of this implies that the Reformation created more problems than it solved. But, as we are careful to observe that the Reformation was necessary, we must also be careful to observe that it was tragic. Anyone who has ever lamented the existence of countless denominations feels the tragedy of division among the people of God. But it was a tragic necessity. Necessary because the Roman Catholic Church had perverted the Gospel of saving grace found in Jesus Christ. Tragic because the unintended consequence of rescuing the Gospel was turning the Bible into a contested book, which, in the view of the broader culture, lowered God down from the tower of authority. This, in turn, transferred authority inward to the self.

Humans are narrative beings. We collect stories to explain meaningfulness. One of the stories that Christians need to have is the story of the Reformation, the story of how the Gospel of Jesus Christ was recovered, and how the Word of God was set free from Rome. As we draw a line from the Reformation to the twenty-first century, we need to be reminded that we are a people designed to live under the authority of God as revealed in the Bible. We can’t forget that we are a people dependent upon God’s self-revelation. For Christians, authority is not derived from the deep places of the inner self, but from God, as he has revealed himself in a Book (sola Scriptura).

[1] Michael Legaspi, The Death of Scripture and the The Rise of Biblical Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

[2] Before we get carried away with describing the influence of individualism on the modern church, Christians must be unafraid to make careful distinctions. Individualism that walks into autonomy is headed for a collision course with the God of the universe. But individualism that emphasizes personal responsibility is virtuous. See Marilynne Robinson, When I was a Child I Read Books: Essays (New York: Picador, 2012), 90.  

[3] David. F. Wells, Above All Earthly Powers: Christ in a Postmodern World, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 52.

[4] Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), 69.

[5] In The Social Contract Jean-Jacques Rousseau says, “Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains.” And “To renounce freedom is to renounce one’s humanity.”

Jason Cherry is 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.

The Reformation: Why was it Necessary?

This is the second of a three part series. Click here to read part one. Click here to read part three.

Justification by Faith Alone

If the formal cause of the Reformation was the restoration of Scriptural authority in the church (sola Scriptura), then the material cause of the Reformation was the recovery of the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone (sola fide).

During the Medieval period, the Roman Catholic Church taught that salvation was earned through participation in the seven Catholic sacraments, which infused grace into the individual. The Medieval Church had a saying that God “would not deny his grace to those who do what lies within their own power.” In other words, they taught that God saves those who help themselves.

In contrast, the New Testament declares that Christians are “found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phi. 3:9). Martin Luther called this “alien righteousness,” the idea that God declares believers just from righteousness outside of themselves, that of Jesus Christ.

The Corruption of the Roman Catholic Church

Ecclesiastical corruption was rampant during the medieval Roman Catholic Church. They engaged in simony—selling powerful church offices to the highest bidder. Bishops and priests engaged in absenteeism, receiving a full salary but never showing up to minister to the people. Immorality was disgustingly common, most notoriously Pope Alexander VI (1431 – 1503), who had ten illegitimate children. Then there was the greed and materialism: Acquiring lots of lands and then renting it out at high prices, charging fees for confession, baptism, and indulgences.

Luther was incensed when he saw Johann Tetzel peddling indulgences. Tetzel traveled around the Holy Roman Empire selling indulgences to knock years off purgatory for dead relatives. The effect was that uneducated peasants thought they were purchasing salvation for their dearly departed. The real intention of indulgences, however, was to raise money for more church building projects. Tetzel’s sales jingle illustrates the absurdity of it all, “As soon as the coin in the coffer clings, a soul from purgatory springs.” In Luther’s ninety-five theses, he puts indulgences in his cross-hairs. Thesis #27, “There is no divine authority for preaching that the soul flies out of purgatory immediately when the money clinks in the bottom of the chest.” Thesis #32, “All those who believe themselves certain of their own salvation by means of letters of indulgence, will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.”

Declared Right with God by Faith in Christ Alone

Justification deals not just with the question of how can people be right with God, but how can sinful people be right with a holy God? Psalm 130:3 frames the problem this way, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” The answer: Apart from Christ, no one could stand no matter how many indulgences are purchased.

Romans 3:23-26 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

And so it is that justification by faith is where God declares a believer just because the righteousness of Christ is counted to their account. Faith is the instrument by which Christ’s perfect righteousness is counted to sinners. People don’t earn God’s forgiveness. Christ earned it for them. It is the doctrine of sola fide, justification by faith alone in Christ alone, which remains as the central affirmation of the Reformation.

Jason Cherry is 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.

The Reformation: What is it?

This is the first of a three part series. Click here to read part two. Click here to read part three.

The Story

It is Wednesday, October 31, 1517. Just eleven years earlier the world saw Leonardo da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa. In the little town of Wittenberg, Germany Martin Luther is about to make history. Luther is an Augustinian Monk who teaches at the local university. As he looks over the city’s preparations for All Saints Day, Luther knows something no one else does: Justification (i.e. becoming right with God) comes by grace, through faith in Christ, not by works. The next day hundreds of people will line up to pay money to see a collection of religious relics. The Roman Catholic Church had taught the people that viewing the relics earned them an official indulgence that would pardon their sins. During the Medieval Period, the Roman Catholic church no longer based their teachings upon the Bible alone.

Not knowing the revolution he is about to start, Luther nails a rolled-up piece of paper on the door of All Saint’s Church. Intending to start a debate among scholars about the practice of selling indulgences, Luther has no idea that one day his actions will cause many to change the name of “All Hallows Eve” to Reformation Day. On this piece of paper, Luther has written ninety-five theses that critique the practices of the Roman Catholic Church. If you are Protestant, this is your story. 

The Others

Luther is not alone in starting the Protestant Reformation. Others came before him speaking with boldness against the heretical practices of the Catholic Church. In the late 14th Century, there was Oxford scholar John Wycliffe who courageously spoke out against the destruction of the gospel by the Catholic Church. In 1415 John Hus was burned at the stake for insisting that people be allowed to read the Bible in their native language. Before being burned at the stake Hus said, “My Lord Jesus Christ was bound with a harder chain than this one for my sake, so why should I be ashamed of this rusty chain?”  Nevertheless, October 31, 1517, is still the day we celebrate as the day the gospel was rescued and the truth of Christ’s free grace was liberated.

The Protestant Tradition

To be Protestant is to inherit Reformational truth. In the year 2020, over 500 years after Luther started the Protestant Reformation, the American church sees denominations piled on top of denominations, not to mention church associations, church networks, and para-church groups. The reason there are so many bizarre forms of Christianity is because of discontinuity of what it means to be Christian historically.

To speak of recovering the past in our present-day is a dangerous business. Be prepared to receive aspersions: Antiquated, irrelevant, unpractical, backward-thinking. Such aspersions in the church are often the conflation of tradition and traditionalism. Jaroslav Pelikan nuanced the difference, “Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition is the living faith of the dead . . . And it is traditionalism that has given tradition such a bad name.”

The Ultimate Cause of the Reformation

“Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” Luther’s words before the Diet of Worms in 1521 clarify the formal cause of the Reformation, namely, to restore biblical authority (sola Scriptura). The Bible has sole authority in the life, faith, and practice of Christians. Not the Pope, but God, through his Word. Not Scripture plus tradition, but God, through his divinely inspired Word alone. So, what is the Reformation? In part, it is an attempt to restore the authority of God’s Word. Salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed in Scripture alone, unto the glory of God alone. This is the tradition we have inherited. This is the tradition the church needs to recover.

The Vindication of Tradition: The 1983 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities by Jaroslav Pelikan

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland H. Bainton

Jason Cherry is 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 if Christians taught the Christian Creed?

G.K. Chesterton once said that “the educationist must find a creed and teach it.” It only makes sense that Christians should be committed to teaching the Christian creed. The creed is a declaration, but more than that, it is an argument that what we believe is true and anything to the contrary is wrong.

For Christians to believe a creed is to be convinced of an argument. And since an argument involves multiple parties, believing a creed is a contest that says one creed is better than another. Everyone must decide between the faith of Paul or the faith of Darwin; the faith of Augustine or the faith of Marx.

The goal of the preaching and teaching ministry at Trinity Reformed Church is to find the Christian creed and teach it. This is a decidedly polemical activity. The goal is not that church members can go to work, dressed all business casual, and win an argument in the board room. The goal is that they see the Christian creed as truer and more beautiful than the secular creed.

Among the masses there is a movement—call it a creed—that wants to dispense with definite religious convictions. Emotions are creed enough, they say. Feeling a certain way is creed enough, they say. The absence of conviction gives the mind freedom, they say. It is the church’s affable agreement with this creed that is accountable for its decline in public influence.

There is much talk of civility today. For most, that means retreating from the Christian creed into the abyss of, “But, I feel . . .” With a stiffened spine the church must remember that the only way to respect another’s creed is to have one of their own.

Jason Cherry is 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 it? Explaining the Gist of Good Preaching

It is hard to swiftly and accurately explain what makes for good preaching. So, for now, it is enough to say a few brief things about it that will push Christians toward an obedient intolerance of the contemporary, trans-denominational preaching that Christians endure today. Here are four ways of explaining the gist of good, God-honoring preaching.

1. When preaching to the choir

When preaching to the people of God, the preacher ought to give more insight into what God’s people already know. This requires depth and precision. The only person in the church required to be more precise than the choir is the person who instructs the choir. The only person in the church required to be more spiritually, morally, and theologically mature than the deacons, is the person who instructs the deacons. This requires the preacher to creatively state old ideas. It also requires the preacher to teach all that Jesus commanded. Beware of the so-called “Gospel-centered preacher” who says that preaching all that Jesus commanded is crabbed, legalistic tyranny from the black pages of Satan’s diary.

2. When preaching to the guy who checks his phone every 8 seconds

Jesus told parables “so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, let they should turn and be forgiven’” (Mark 4:12). Maybe you can tell that the underlines were my addition. But the words underlined were not. Jesus told parables to hinder perception; to hinder understanding. He had his inscrutable reasons. Modern preachers must be careful of what they imitate, and when they are sporting skinny jeans, they need to be extra careful of every utterance. Illustrations aren’t the problem. John Stott says, “Illustrations transform the abstract into the concrete, the ancient into the present, the unfamiliar into the familiar, the general into the particular, the vague into the precise, the unreal into the real, and the invisible into the visible.”* The problem is that modern preacher-stories rarely illustrate. When the Apostles wish to illustrate, they use short metaphors and examples, not long stories. The guy in the pew who checks his phone every eight seconds needs something that has the power to snap him out of the haze of virtual reality. He needs to hear a contrarian to the main movement of the secular age. He needs the word of God preached skillfully (Acts 14:1). This is the ordinary way God works (Titus 1:9; Rom. 10:10-18). When the text is passionate, Mr. Phone-Addict needs the words of the preacher to be passionate. When the text is grave, he needs the words of the preacher to be grave. When the text is hopeful, he needs the preacher to be hopeful. He doesn’t need another story about the preachers’ kids any more than he needs another reference to the preacher’s favorite Hollywood movie.

3. When preaching to the religious know-it-all

Does the sermon have integrity to the Scriptures (Acts 20:27; 2 Tim. 4:2)? Is the sermon content derived from the announced text of Scripture? Did the sermon content give a faithful representation of the passage preached from? Was it the right doctrine from the right passage? One of the newfangled ways to evaluate a sermon is to ask, “Does it have Gospel hope?” This sounds good. Who opposes Gospel hope? But when the text of Scripture is set aside to give hope, the result is that the spirit of the Gospel is preached rather than the Gospel itself. The person who has rejected Christ must leave feeling hopeless. The unrepentant Pharisee must walk away from the sermon uncomfortable. He must listen to how Paul ended his first letter to the Corinthians, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.” Gospel hope is faithful when it is announced from Scripture. But take heed, the Gospel preached from Scripture is filled with the very sort of warnings the humbug pretender needs. When talking to Pharisees, Jesus was not what might be described as tactful.

4. When preaching to the rebel

If a man sitting in the back row is in outright rebellion against his Creator, the central task of the preacher is to give offense. This means preaching towards the conviction of sin. This is why the flighty sermon that prioritizes humor always fails. A sermon should be serious, not in that the preacher takes himself too seriously, but in that he shows the weight and gravity of the truth of the Living God. When people leave Sunday services, they commence their critique of the preacher. They shouldn’t say, “What an authentic and humble man the preacher is.” They should be able to say “That preacher had authority, not as the scribes.” Robert Farrar Capon said it’s better for a preacher to be charged with arrogance than with being a doormat. This is why a sermon should have a bare minimum of personal references. Such references may pretend of authenticity. In truth, they have marginalized the sense of the sacred.

Jason Cherry is 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.

*John Stott, The Challenge of Preaching, p. 63

John Calvin and the American Republic

The Imaginative Conservative featured an article from our own Matt Carpenter – check it out at the link below!

The wisdom of men like John Calvin, who taught that original sin sometimes necessitated resisting tyrants and limiting the power of civil government, was understood by the Founders of the United States. Drawing on the wisdom of Calvin and others, they were prepared when the time came to resist British overreach. In time they founded a new government that would limit sinful men from arbitrarily exercising power at will.

For this John Calvin and our Founding Fathers deserve our gratitude.”…/john-calvin…

Matthew Carpenter is a high school history teacher, having taught American history, American government, world history, and economics. He graduated from Jacksonville State University with a B.S. in Secondary Education (concentration in history), and from the University of Alabama with an M.A. in Educational Leadership. Mr. Carpenter has also served as a pastor and associate pastor.