Tearing Off the Masks: Celebrating Oceania’s Freedom . . . When Nothing Has Changed

kissOceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.
George Orwell, 1984

But test everything; hold fast what is good
1 Thessalonians 5:21

In preparation for the upcoming removal of masks, the self-congratulations of politicians, and the ticker tape parades of liberated citizens kissing in the streets, I offer this selective reading of 1984. Let the reader the understand: Nothing has changed.

What Covid-19 Has Wrought

As the State of the Union address is presented mask-optional tonight, it is important to remember what has  changed and what has not. Today, the air is the same; immune systems are the same; and threat of Covid is the same. Covid-19 and its various variants are still deadly for those with underlying conditions and it is still innocuous for those with healthy bodies, especially children.

At the same time, masks still do not work. Fauci said as much privately before the pandemic, then he changed his mind publicly during the pandemic, and now he, and the CDC, and others have waffled back to some compromised position. Very presidentially, he was for same-sex marriage, before he was against it, and now he has returned his original position. Just replace Obama’s subject matter (so called same sex marriage) with Fauci’s (masks, mandates, etc.) and you will understand the convoluted logic of a career politician.

Yes, Covid-19 was political before it wasn’t. And how do we know? Because “end” of Covid has come by political fiat, not by a substantial change in the conditions. As the Washington Post reported in early February, governors are changing mask mandates for political reasons. Similarly, Saturday Night Live, that bastion of liberal catechesis, has performed a skit that is not funny but is informative. Watch it here. (This the first and I hope the last time I share something from SNL).

 

For those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, it is not science, nor the man who declared himself to represent Science, that has made the final determination about masks—it is politics. Under threat of losing control, politicians are moving to a position that appears to give freedom to the people. And SNL is helping prepare the masses for the stunning realization that the last two years of draconian mandates were more fiction than fact. And what are Christians do? Should we celebrate with the masses? Or should we realize how farcical this whole pandemic has been.

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What Does Baptism Look Like? Seven Observations from John 3:22–36

baptism_of_st_paul_-_capela_palatina_-_palermo_-_italy_2015-2“Look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him!”
— John 3:26b —

In John 3 a dispute about baptism arose between the disciples of John the Baptist and a Jew. While unnamed, this Jew caused an existential crisis for the followers of John. So great is their concern about purification, baptism, and the rise of Jesus, they run to their teacher and point to his baptism. Verse 26 captures their concern: “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”

In this question about baptism, prompted by a dispute about purification, we find an analogue to modern debates about this biblical ordinance. Today, there are questions related to the mode, the subject, and the place. That is: Does sprinkling or pouring count as baptism? What about sprinkling a believer? Or immersing an infant? (See video below). Does a private baptism between friends qualify? And how should we understand the difference (or similarities) between the initiating rite of the old covenant (circumcision) and the initiating rite of the new covenant (water baptism)? All these questions and more need biblical answers.

[The Greek Orthodox remind us that baptizō means immersion, plunging, dipping].

Over the last few years, I have written multiple articles on baptism in the Bible and its pre-requisite for membership in the church. As an unashamed Baptist, who affirms the historical confessions of London, Philadelphia, New Hampshire, and Nashville, I will continue to write on the subject. Why? Because baptism continues to come up in conversation with visitors and others who are thinking about membership at our church.

With that in mind, I offer another exegetical take on baptism—one that comes from John’s Gospel and the dispute about baptism found therein. Following the imperative to “Look!” we will look at what John says about John’s baptism, Jesus’s baptism, and the conversation in John 3 about the new birth, baptism in the Spirit, and the practice of baptizing repentant believers. So, with this visual approach to John 3, I offer seven things we see about baptism. Here’s the list; explanations will follow.

  1. Baptism is performed in public with a group of witnesses.
  2. Baptism requires biblical discernment.
  3. Baptism is handled by Jesus’s disciples, not Jesus.
  4. Baptism is always by immersion.
  5. Baptism requires people to seek water.
  6. Baptism leads to disputations.
  7. Baptism requires humility.

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Seeing the Literary Structure of John 2–4

close up shot of bible text

The first step in understanding any book of the Bible is to see what is there and especially how the biblical author has arranged his material. In the case of the Gospels, for instance, it is important to remember Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not turn on their iPhones and hit record. While we have plenty of quotations from Jesus, nearly all of them have been translated from Aramaic and brought to mind by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). This means we do not have Jesus’s spoken words in red letters. What we have are the Spirit-breathed words of God penned by the apostles.

In each book, the Spirit leads the authors to present Jesus in a coherent fashion. In Matthew’s Gospel, for example, Jesus is the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, the true Israel, and the prophet like Moses, to name a few ways he is presented. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is introduced as the true tabernacle (John 1:14), in whom the fullness of God dwells bodily. Throughout John’s Gospel, this theme of Jesus as the true and better temple will repeat (see e.g., John 2:19–22; 14:1–3).

Reading the Gospels on their own terms, therefore, becomes imperative for understanding their message. Harmonizing the Gospels (i.e., comparing Matthew to Mark to Luke to John) has its place, but it is far better to let the Evangelist speak each in his own way. When we do that, and stop strip-mining the text to find sources behind the Bible, we see how the Evangelists made their case for Jesus as God’s the Son, the long-awaited Messiah. To that end, this blogpost will consider one section of one Gospel—John 2–4. Continue reading

A Witness Against Wokeness: What Modern Christians Can Learn from an Ex-Communist

moises-gonzalez-e7qDqyaH99I-unsplashIn recent years, interest in socialism has risen and conversations about Marxism, especially cultural Marxism, have permeated public discourse. From the Gallup Poll in 2019 which reported that four in ten Americans saw socialism as a good thing to the rise of Black Lives Matter whose founders openly identify themselves as “trained Marxists,” we are living at a time when Christians in America need to re-learn what past generations knew, and what Christians living in Cuba, China, and Czechoslovakia know, all too well: Communism, and its younger sibling Socialism, are godless ideologies that harm the masses.

As The Black Book of Communism (Harvard University Press) reports, nearly 100 million people died during the twentieth century under Communist regimes. And hence, it was both right and responsible for evangelicals during the Cold War to stand opposed to ideas of Karl Marx and his Communist Manifesto. As Grant Wacker reports in his biography of Billy Graham (America’s Pastor), the late evangelist often included a message against communism in his revivals. And more strategically, many Christians, evangelicals and otherwise, participated in the conservative project known as fusionism, in large part, to stem the tide of communism.

Today, however, with a generation of Americans untouched and untaught about Communism, the ghost of Karl Marx has risen again. In his book, Live Not by LiesRod Dreher addresses this very concern, when he begins by highlighting the concerns many from Eastern Bloc countries have had with modern America. He writes,

What unnerves those who lived under Soviet communism is this similarity: Elites and elite institutions are abandoning old-fashioned liberalism, based in defending the rights of the individual, and replacing it with a progressive creed that regards justice in terms of groups. It encourages people to identify with groups ethnic, sexual, and otherwise and to think of Good and Evil as a matter of power dynamics among the groups. A utopian vision drives these progressives, one that compels them to seek to rewrite history and reinvent language to reflect their ideals of social justice. (6)

What made these men and women flee Europe is now rising in America. The same thing is happening in Canada. Ivan, a trucker from Ukraine, put it like this when asked why he was joining the freedom convoy: “We came to Canada to be free—not slaves,” he said. “We lived under communism, and, in Canada, we’re now fighting for our freedom” (What the Truckers Want).

Importantly, this rise in elite-controlled social justice, woke racism, and identity politics is not something that stands outside the church either. Wokeness is making inroads within the church, too. From calls for social justice (largely undefined) to cries that Christian Nationalism (also undefined) are threatening our country, those in the church are missing something that previous generations did not and could not miss—namely, the evil that comes from a man-centered, God-denying, government-enforced attempt to build back better.

Indeed, while Critical Race Theory has gotten the most attention, one of its underlying promises, a vision of more fair and just society matches up well with Christians who want to do more than talk. In other words, advocates of social justice gain adherents by calling for a better world. And because some of the religious language maps onto Christian concerns, the result is an unholy fusion of Christ and cultural Marxism. 

At the same time, some scholars have defined and denounced evangelicals, especially white conservatives who made a compact with the Republican party during the 1950s and 60s. One example of this is Kristin Kobe Du Mez in her book, Jesus and John Wayne. Expressing concern with the way patriarchal, white males championed the military and stood in the way of civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights, she excoriates evangelicals for using their positions of power to prop themselves up and push others down.

Leaving a full evaluation of her book for someone else, I will simply say that she does not adequately consider the role Communism played in the 1950s and 60s. As Proverbs 18:17 reminds us, she who speaks first seems right, until someone else comes and questions her. And while she mentions Communism in her book, she does not consider the way Communist spies were infiltrating the halls of power throughout our country (see more below).

Like most of my generation, Du Mez has forgotten, or not cared to consider, how wicked communism was and is, and because she and others do not share the perspective that our Czechoslovakian neighbors do (see Live Not by Lies), they cannot appreciate the ways that evangelical leaders and conservative politicians worked together during the middle of the twentieth century. Nor, can she appreciate the fact that all the liberating works of the 1960s were suffused with communist ideas (see Roger Kimball, The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America). Even as civil rights were extended, and racial prejudice became illegal and unconscionable, there remained a set of rules for radicals that derived their origins from Cultural Marxists.

Today, the radicals of the 1960s have become our presidents and leading politicians. And in the church, the demands for egalitarianism, social justice, and gay rights are simply leftovers from the 1960s. Likewise, the progressive ideals of Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, and those who follow them, have shaped the way evangelicals—progressive and conservative—have approached culture. Indeed, thawed by the heat of Twitter, these old ideas are hatching new consequences. And because so many do not see or care to see the evils of Communism (consider NBC’s reporting of the Olympics) or the moral injustices of socialism, many of the radical ideas are facing little to no opposition. And that matters, because when the ideological offspring of Marx are given space to procreate, death not life results.

So with that long introduction out of the way, let me bring a witness to the stand, a man by the name of Whittaker Chambers. Continue reading

10 Things You Should Know About the Priesthood

priestcolorCrossway has a helpful series of blog articles called “10 Things You Should Know . . .” These articles summarize key ideas from some of Crossway’s recent books. And this week, they posted my contribution about the priesthood.

Here are the first three things you should know. The rest you can find here. The book you can find here. And a sermon series on the priesthood can also be found here.

1. The Edenic origin of the priesthood.

In Eden, God created mankind in his image to reflect his glory. In this setting, God crowned man with glory and honor (Ps. 8:5), authorized him to subdue and rule (Gen. 1:28), and gave him priestly instructions for serving in his garden-temple (Gen. 2:15; cf. Num. 3:8). This is the prototype of royal priesthood from which all other priests will be molded. In other words, when the priesthood is legislated in Israel, it will pick up language and imagery from Eden. At the same time, the Law of Moses divided the royal and priestly roles originally united in Adam. Thus, only a second Adam can unite priesthood and kingdom in a manner similar to Eden.

2. The cosmic fall of the priesthood.

When Adam sinned and fell short of God’s glory (cf. Rom. 1:21–23; 3:23; 5:12, 18–19), God expelled him from God’s garden-sanctuary (see Ezek. 28:11–19), destroying any chance of Adam serving God as priest-king. In the fall, Adam’s sin made sacrifice necessary, as indicated by the events of Genesis 4. Because death was the punishment for sin, blood must be shed. To be certain, the full consequence of sin and the need for a priest would require later revelation to explain (see Leviticus), but it is worth noting the original intent and downfall of the priesthood. For the rest of the Bible, we find a search for someone who could stand before God and serve as a mediator (cf. Job 9:33–35).

The Royal Priesthood and the Glory of God

The Royal Priesthood and the Glory of God

David S. Schrock

David Schrock traces the theme of priesthood throughout the Bible and displays how Jesus, the great high priest, informs the worship, discipleship, and evangelism of the church.

3. The fraternal development of the priesthood.

From Eden to Sinai, priestly ministration continued, but in a very ‘itinerant’ fashion. In the days of the Patriarchs, firstborn sons grew up to be mediators for their families. Job is a good example of this (Job 1:5), as is Abraham. In the Abraham narrative (Gen. 11:27–25:18), we find Abraham building altars (Gen. 12:7, 8; 13:4, 18), interceding for others (Gen. 18:22–33), and obeying God by offering a sacrifice (Gen. 22:1–18). While Abraham and his sons lacked the title of priest, these “priests” play an important role in understanding the earthly “priesthood” of Jesus—a priest in function, but without legal title. At the same time, the priestly service of firstborn sons helps explain Israel’s role as a royal priesthood (Ex. 19:6).

For the last seven points, see Crossway’s 10 Things You Should Know About the Priesthood in the Bible.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Preach Hebrews the Next Time You Don’t Have a Preacher, Plus a Post-Script on Answered Prayer

dawn-mcdonald-2RADIf5oR28-unsplashWhat will you do the next time you do not have a preacher? Oh, I am not talking about planning for an upcoming Sunday when you, or your pastor, will be absent, or when multiple teaching elders are unavailable. I am talking about when it becomes apparent 10 hours or 10 minutes before Sunday morning that the man called to preach simply cannot do it.

In such a situation, you have a few options. You could call on someone to preach something already prepared. Such preparation includes having a sermon ready, but it could also mean calling on a “prepared” person who could open a text and give a faithful exposition. Elder-qualified pastors and Bible teachers would fall into this category. And one of the best Resurrection Sunday expositions I ever heard came from a seminary professor who was called to preach 10 minutes before service as the teaching pastor lay ill in his office—literally, he was writhing in pain on the floor. (He’s okay now).

Extreme moments call for extreme measures. And churches shouldn’t be surprised that in a fallen world where clay pots preach the glories of God that sometimes those vessels of dust cannot stand and speak. Yet, knowing that, we can still be caught off guard, or in need of immediate relief. And this last weekend was such a case in our church.

What We Did When the Preacher Couldn’t Preach

As many readers of this blog know, I am not a full time blogger—hence, the regular but not absolutely consistent blog schedule. Day to day, I have the joy of serving at Occoquan Bible Church, located in Northern Virginia. Since 2015, I have been pastor for preaching and theology. So, most Sundays I am the one standing up and preaching.

At the same time, we have a deep bench of gifted preachers. And if you check our website, you will find messages from Ben, Rod, Jared, Dave, Ron, and Jeff. All of our elders have preached multiple times to our church. And by conviction, we do this because we believe the pulpit is the Lord’s, not man’s. It is God’s Word that is preached, not our own. And it is the faithful preaching of God’s Word that builds his church, not the gifting of any one pastor. For that reason, we intentionally share the pulpit. And by design I preach about 40 times a year, not 52.

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Getting Back Into John’s Gospel: An Introduction to Jesus Christ in John 1–2

john03When John Calvin returned to Geneva, after being exiled from the city for three years, he picked up right where he left off. Rather than preaching some preacher-centered ‘I’m Back” message, he simply preached the next verse in the Bible. So great was Calvin’s commitment to verse-by-verse exposition, he made no fanfare for his return to the pulpit. Rather, he preached the next verse in the text and pointed people to Christ.

This week, our church did something similar. In March 2020, we were forced to stop gathering for two months. And though we continued to preach the Bible (online at first and soon after together), we moved from John to Psalms and Joel and other scriptures. In leaving John, we always planned to come back, and by God’s grace we were able to do that on Sunday.

Picking up where we left off, we overviewed John 1–2 to remember what those chapters said. In seven portraits from those two chapters, we saw a beautiful picture of Christ. And in return, we learned two important things about ourselves. You can find those nine truths in this sermon: Getting Back Into the Gospel of John. You can also find our earlier sermons here, plus other resources on John’s Gospel.

May the Lord bless this series and permit us to continue to study the Gospel of John.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

How John’s Prologue Placards the Glory of God’s Son: 10 Things About John 1:1–18

john03Sunday we begin a new sermon series on John’s Gospel. Whereas other sermon series may need an introductory sermon, John gives us his own in his opening “prologue.” In what follows, we will note ten things about those opening 18 verses.

1. John 1:1–18 introduces us to themes that will run throughout John’s Gospel.

In his commentary on John, Colin Kruse paints two word pictures to describe John’s opening verses. He says that the prologue functions like (1) an overture that introduces an opera or (2) a foyer to a theater “where various scenes from the drama to be enacted inside are placarded” (John, 52). With these visual aids in place, he helps us “see” how John 1:1-18 previews many themes in John’s Gospel.

These themes include,

  • Jesus’s pre-existence (1:1a / 17:5, 24)
  • Jesus’s union with God (1:1c/8:58; 10:30; 20:28),
  • the coming of life in Jesus (1:4a/ 5:26; 6:33; 10:10; 11:25-26; 14:6),
  • the coming of light in Jesus (1:4b, 9/ 3:19; 8:12; 12:46),
  • the conflict between light and darkness (1:5 / 3:19; 8:12; 12:35, 46),
  • believing in Jesus (1:7, 12 / 2:11; 3:16, 18, 365 5:24 6:69; 11:25; 14:1; 16:27; 17:21; 20:25),
  • the rejection of Jesus (1:10, 11/ 4:44; 7:21; 8:59; 10:31; 12:37-40; 15:18),
  • divine regeneration (1:13/3:1-7),
  • the glory of Jesus (1:14/ 12:41; 17:5, 22, 24),
  • the grace and truth of God in Jesus (1:14, 17/ 4:24; 8:32; 14:6; 17:17; 18:38)
  • Jesus and Moses/the law (1:17/ 1:45; 3:14; 5:46; 6:32; 919; 9:29),
  • only Jesus has seen God (1:18/ 6:46), and
  • Jesus’ revelation of the Father (1:18/ 3:34; 38; 12:49-50; 14:6-11; 17:8). (52)

2. John 1:1–18 demonstrates a very clear chiastic structure.

In his article, “The Pivot of John’s Prologue,” Alan Culpepper makes a compelling argument for a chiastic structure in the prologue. Continue reading

Seeing is Believing: Returning to John’s Gospel

john03In the Spring of 2020, our church began a new sermon series on the Gospel of John. Little did we know that things would get really weird in March of that year, when the onslaught of Covid-19 led us to stop gathering for eight weeks. During that time and after, we looked Psalm 90–106 and Joel. Thereafter, our church studied Daniel, 1 Peter, and Proverbs 1–9, to name a few. Yet, it has always been the hope to resume our sermon series in John.

Thankfully, and under the Lord’s providence, we plan to restart this series next Sunday. In that sermon, I will give an overview of the whole Gospel. The following week, I will (Lord willing) restart a verse-by-verse exposition of John’s Gospel. That first message will begin where we left off in John 3 with the incredible encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. Today, for those in our church or others who might benefit from a sermon series on John’s Gospel, I share the five messages that we preached in 2020.

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Returning to Romans: An Epistle of Faith, Hope, and Love

kelly-sikkema-GPoh17DxqdM-unsplashIn the Fall of 2019 our church began a Bible study in the book of Romans. It ran through the first seven chapters of Paul’s magnum opus, but in March 2020, when the world shut down, we pushed pause on this book. When we returned to church, our Bible study shifted to Leviticus. But with that study completed, we are now returning to Paul’s largest letter. And for those interested in following along, they can find previous lessons here. New lessons will also be posted on the same page each week through the Spring.

For this blogpost, I want to offer a brief sketch of the book and how Paul’s triad of Faith, Hope, and Love organize his magnificent exposition of the gospel. For those studying Romans (again), this will help acquaint you with the book as a whole. And it also will provide a way of seeing the gospel, and what the gospel achieves, in this whole letter. Additionally, this approach to Romans may also remind us of how Paul brought unity to the church of Rome, when it was facing divisions. Today, we face the same. And thus, we need to learn as much from Paul as we can about what the gospel is and what the gospel does.

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