Obeying God and Obeying God’s Servants: Five Truths from 1 Peter 2:13–17 (pt. 2)

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In obedience to God, we gather and sing and testify to the risen Lord.

Yesterday, I began a two-part series on 1 Peter 2:13–17. I am trying to answer the question, What does submitting to governing authorities looks like? Especially, what does submitting to governing authorities look like when they are ruling in ways that oppose God and God’s Word? Previously, I have tackled this subject in Romans 13 (see herehere, and here),, but now I am considering the text of 1 Peter 2.

Yesterday, I began by parsing out the fact that submitting to governors means putting God first and obeying earthly rulers as an application of obeying God. Conversely, we do not define doing good as obedience to our governors (full stop). Rather, we are called to consider what the good is from the unchanging and ever-authoritative Word of God. Then, in obedience to God, we promote the good by obeying good laws. And lest it go unsaid, the goodness of the law is decided by God’s standards, not my personal preferences. I am not advocating a hedonistic approach to ethics: “Just do what feels good.” No, we must obey laws that pinch our desires. That being said, to do the good we will at times need to resist tyrants when they enforce laws, rules, and regulations that directly defy the commands of Scripture or lead us to violate our conscience in following God.

That’s where this argument started yesterday. We must put God first. Today, I will flesh out the idea of God’s preeminence by looking in more detail at 1 Peter 2:13–17. In his letter to the elect exiles of Asia Minor, Peter has much to say about obeying the emperor and governors. And when we read his words in the context of his whole letter, and apply them to our own situations, we will gain much wisdom for walking well with the Lord. To that end, let’s look at five truths about obeying God and obeying God’s servants. Continue reading

Let My People Gather: What We Can Learn from an Ancient Church-State Debate

statues of ramses in abu simbel temple

1 Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the Risen King, ‘Let my people gather, that they may hear my Word, sing my praise, and remember my sacrifice.’ ” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is this Lord, that I should obey his voice and let you gather? I do not know this king, and moreover, I will not let your people gather.” 3 Then they said, “The God who raised the dead has told us, ‘You are to gather every Lord’s Day to proclaim the resurrection and to worship me, lest I bring pestilence or sword on you.’” 4 But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you risk the lives of your people and your neighbors? Get back to your homes and love your neighbors.” 5 And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the cases of COVID are now many, and you want to risk the spread of more diseases!” 6 The same day Pharaoh commanded his health officials and tax officers, 7“You shall no longer let these people open their businesses, as in the past, or receive their stimulus checks. Instead, let them go and provide for themselves. 8Moreover, their annual taxes shall by no means be reduced, for they are selfish. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go worship our God.’ 9 Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.”
Exodus 5:1–9 (A Covid-19 Paraphrase)

Few doctrines are more important for churches today than understanding the relationship between church and state and the proper authority of each. In our church, we have taught from the New Testament what obeying the governor means and doesn’t mean, what love of neighbor entails, and how to walk in freely in society without binding the conscience of another. Yet, as I have been reminded by many other pastors recently (e.g., here, here), we also need to look at the Old Testament to find examples of saints standing up for their faith.

As Paul reminds us on multiple occasions (Rom. 4:25; 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:1–11; 2 Tim. 3:16), the Old Testament is not just for Israel. It was written for new covenant believers, and thus we should consider how men like Moses, David, Elijah and others stood for truth against tyrants like Pharaoh, Saul, and Jezebel—yes, that wicked queen who has been in the news recently.

We need to learn from the faith of the saints, not only because Hebrews 11 tells us too, but because we need courageous models to imitate. As our world continues to press against the church, we need to look beyond the evangelical leaders who tell us to trust that the intentions of government are good, and obey lest we ruin our witness. Instead, we need to look to biblical leaders, who in obedience to God, refused to make decisions based upon some social merit system with the government. Countless Old Testament saints knowingly invited the wrath of the king. Yet, instead of ruining their witness, this became the very means by which God’s power become evident to the redeemed and the unrighteous alike.

Today, we need many lessons in this kind of unqualified obedience to God. And one place where we find great help in this type of obedience is Exodus 5:1–9 and Pharaoh’s refusal to let Israel gather at Sinai. Above I have offered a paraphrase of that passage. Though the whole of the chapter, as well as Exodus 6–7, provides wisdom for walking in our world today. For sake of space, we fill focus on these verses and how they apply to our current world. From them, I will list six ways that the confrontation between Pharaoh and Moses, or really between Pharaoh and Yahweh, instructs us today and why churches cannot simply wait upon the government to reopen the church. We must obey God and gather at our Sinai, the Mountain called Zion (Heb. 12:22–24).

I know that not all will agree with this application, but that’s why I’m writing. I am prayerful that this appeal to Scripture will provide one more biblical argument for gathering, even as governing authorities say not to and many Christian leaders are saying, “Wait. Be Patient. Don’t lose your testimony.” Yet, as our brother in Canada, James Coates, sits in jail for gathering God’s people to worship God, we cannot be silent and pretend that the governing authorities have the best interest of the church in mind. Rather, with eyes fixed on Scripture, it is imperative for Christians to understand what is going on and what has always been going on (John 15:18–25). With this pursuit of applied wisdom in ind, Exodus 5:1–9 helps us to better see the world around us today and how to gather when pressures and politics outside the church hinder the assembly of God’s people.

May the Lord give us the boldness of Moses and Aaron to obey God and stand before our governing authorities and say: Let my people gather![1] Continue reading

A Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ: Why the Sufficiency of Scripture Means Rejecting Secular Sociology

aaron-burden-9zsHNt5OpqE-unsplashBut I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
— 2 Corinthians 11:3–4 —

In his book, Doctrine of the Atonementnineteenth century evangelist and pastor James Haldane wrote about the ways Scottish churches fused biblical doctrine with modern philosophy. In his opening chapter, he makes a case for a pure and undiluted biblical orthodoxy, over against those who unite Scripture with philosophy. He writes,

True philosophy consists in our sitting at the feet of Jesus, and receiving the truth as He has been pleased to reveal it. The Scriptures teach us, that the understanding of fallen man is darkened, and that the Holy Spirit alone can illuminate its inmost recesses with the light of truth. (22)

Though written more than 150 years ago, Haldane’s words still ring true. In his day, various Enlightenment philosophies, especially those arguing for morality sans biblical revelation, were infiltrating the church. As an evangelist, he saw thousands come to Christ who had received instruction in their churches on morality, but had not on Christianity. And in response, Haldane exposed the errors of combining biblical Christianity with worldly philosophies, a pastoral practice we should continue today.

Sociology Can Be a Vain Philosophy

In our day, the fusion of truth and error is equally pernicious, but perhaps more difficult to discern. For, instead of seeing a fusion of Christianity and Enlightenment philosophy, which we have been trained to observe and reject, it is more often the case that we see the fusion of Christianity and sociology. Sociology has become a leading assistant in churches today who are employing diversity training and all other forms of cultural awareness. Continue reading

Let Us Fix Our Eyes on Heaven and the Christ Who Reigns There: A New Year’s Reflection on COVID Regulations and Social Justice

clouds dark dramatic heaven

As we prepare to welcome 2021 this week, this post is meant to consider how the largely unexpected and unprecedented events of 2020 have impacted us, especially the church and its pastors. May the Lord give us wisdom to keep our eyes fixed on Christ and courage to say so.

At the time of America’s founding, heterodox pastors attacked the doctrine of hell, while many of the Founders appreciated religion for its earthly and civic benefits. A century later, theological liberals exchanged the reality of heaven for the earthly message of the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of mankind. In the last century, prosperity preachers have promised heaven on earth, while many pragmatic pastors have made earthly success as important as—and often more important than—entrance into heaven.

Looking from the past to the present, it shouldn’t surprise us that the message of heaven has been threatened. Going back to Eden, there have always been those who have doubted God’s judgment and misjudged God’s eternal gospel. Movements like the social gospel, the prosperity gospel, and liberation theology have, in various ways, exchanged the glories of heaven for “Christian” messages that focus on the here and now. And always, when heaven is lost, the lost suffer.

Today, we are seeing a de-emphasis on heaven in a new way. Unlike theological liberals who might affirm universalism where everyone goes to heaven or deny the reality of hell, some evangelicals are mis-stepping with heaven on the basis of their ministerial focus. Without abandoning their orthodox confessions, Bible-believing churches are veiling heaven by focusing their attention on matters related to earth.

In 2020, you don’t have to be a “liberal” to downplay heaven in your daily living. You don’t have to preach a message of prosperity to illicitly transport heavenly blessings to earth. You don’t even have to deny Scripture to lose the heavenly mission of the church. In fact, you can hold firmly to the faith and lose heaven by doing nothing at all. The cultural winds of 2020 are that strong! Here’s what I’m getting at: Unless you realize how the events of this year are causing pastors and churches to focus almost exclusively on earthly matters, you will lose heaven—if not its doctrine, than its declaration.[1]

In what follows, I will highlight two cultural winds that are blowing Christians off course. Instead of preaching the glories of heaven and discipling the nations to obey all the Lord of heaven has commanded, churches are being tempted to give all their attention to (1) COVID regulations and (2) social justice. As a result heaven is assumed and not asserted. My argument, then, is that without Spirit-empowered effort, focus on these earthly concerns will cause us to mute the message of heaven. And if this is not corrected by faithful pastors, the reality of heaven—not just its emphasis—may soon be lost by some too. Continue reading

A Heart for Excellence: Thinking Biblically about Skill in Singing

sven-read-4yZGWYCul-w-unsplashSing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
— Psalm 33:3 —

They were all under the direction of their father in the music in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under the order of the king. 7 The number of them along with their brothers, who were trained in singing to the Lord, all who were skillful, was 288.
— 1 Chronicles 25:6–7 —

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
— 1 Corinthians 10:31 —

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
— 1 Corinthians 12:7 —

Music is a gift from God. And in the church, those gifted in song are given by Christ to build up his body. To that end, those who lead the church in song should serve with true faith, pure hearts, and skilled hands. For various reasons, the combination of head, heart, and hands is not always easy. But it is something we should pray for and work towards

To that end, I offer the following eight points on the place of skill in song. These eight points summarize a larger article on the biblical necessity of excellence in music. (You can read that article here: True Worship Includes a Heart for Excellence.) Let me know what you think of these eight points, and/or what you would add or improve. Continue reading

A Theology of the Face: How Endless Mask-Wearing Hides the Image of God and Hinders the Church

Christian themed stained glass, Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,
are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
– 2 Corinthians 3:18 –

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
– 2 Corinthians 4:6 –

We are in the season of that ancient of holidays, the one where humans put on masks and pretend to be lions, ghouls, super heroes, and villains. This year, however, Halloween’s game of dress up has become ubiquitous. It has been going on ever since “social distancing” became 2020’s favorite neologism. And there is no end in sight. Masks, it seems, are here to stay long past Halloween, and it is worth asking—to what effect?

What are the consequences of wearing masks? And what are the consequences of not wearing masks? The latter question is easy to answer; just read the regular updates on the CDC website or visit your local grocery store. State regulations, governors’ orders, and local business practices have converged to declare with legal force—no mask, no service.

Following this line of thinking many churches have pursued the same approach. With good intentions, especially in the early stages of COVID-19, many sought to love their neighbor by wearing a mask. Yet, as masking as become the new normal, I want to ask: What are the not-so-hidden consequences of hiding the face for months on end? And what are the consequences for churches who are called to live distinct from the world and who are to proclaim the glory of God in the face of Christ?

While medical experts continue to debate the efficacy of preventing COVID-19 with a cloth mask and doctors demonstrate the inefficiencies of various masks, I want to approach this subject theologically. Opinions continue to change about masks, but with the exception of a few articles (e.g., They Don’t Own Your Face You Know), I have seen little consideration for the theological impact covering the face has on humanity and the church who gathers to worship God.

With that in mind, I want to answer a few questions: What does Scripture say about the face? What impact does hiding the face on a regular basis have on humanity, the glory of God, and the gathering of God’s people? In particular, can we worship God face-to-face with masks constantly on? And if so, what implications do that have on the church?

As we will see from Scripture, the veiling of the face, with no certain change forthcoming, distorts our ability to embrace the knowledge of God, and hinders the community of faith created to reflect the image of Christ. More than that, masking as a normative practice in worship services runs into multiple New Testament commands. In other words, the commands of God are strained, if not violated, by making mask-wearing the normative practice.

What follows is not the only line of argument we need to consider when making decisions about gathering God’s people in these days and wearing or not wearing masks. Loving our neighbor (Romans 12), obeying civil magistrates (Romans 13), and considering weaker brethren and not violating conscience (Romans 14) must all play a part in our decisions. Yet, we must not forget that Romans 12–14 follows an expansive description of the gospel (Romans 1–11), and is followed by Paul’s description of the gospel ministry.

Thus, setting Romans 12–14 in context, it is my contention that in recent application of Romans 12, 13, and 14 for mask-wearing without end, we are picking up habits of heart and face that may interfere with the clearest declaration of God’s mercies (Rom 12:1) in the gospel (Romans 1–11 and 15). In that vein, I offer this God-centered argument, that seeing and showing the face matters. And I ask Christians to consider the impact of endless masking on the spiritual health of image bearers and Christ’s Church.

Continue reading

Seeking the Kingdom of God with the Church of Jesus Christ

three kings figurines

Is the kingdom of God present or future? Is it now or not yet? Could it in any way be both? If so, how? These are important questions for anyone who has read the Bible, and for anyone who is studying the book of Daniel—a book that speaks of God’s kingdom throughout.

In evangelical circles the question of God’s Kingdom has been answered for the last half-century with a view called “inaugurated eschatology.” This view affirms Christ’s present royal position as seated at God’s right hand (Psalm 110), even as he rules the church by way of his Spirit (Matthew 28:20; John 16:7; Ephesians 1:21–23). At the same time, his kingdom has not been yet consummated, and the people who have believed the good news of the kingdom await the day when he will return to establish his rule on the earth.

Among the many names who have advocated this position, few are more important than George Eldon Ladd, the late New Testament professor from Fuller Seminary. During the middle decades of the twentieth century, his books on the kingdom of God engaged Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology alike. And in each, he provided a rich biblical exposition on the subject.

Ladd maintained that the kingdom of God is found in Christ’s reign more than the location of his rule (i.e., his realm).[1] He understood the kingdom as a future reality, but one that had broken into the present. Against a view of the kingdom of God as spiritualized in the individual—a view based on a poor translation of Luke 17:21 (“the kingdom of God is within you,” KJV; rather than “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you,” ESV)—Ladd centered the presence of Christ’s kingdom in the church, without confusing the church with the kingdom. In this way, Ladd opposed both the replacement theology of Covenant Theology and the radical division of God’s people (Israel vs. Church) in some forms of Dispensationalism.

Today, Ladd’s work remains invaluable for students of eschatology. Indeed, those who are unfamiliar with him or inaugurated eschatology, in general, are missing some of the best exegetical research on the kingdom of God for the last two generations. While certainly fallible—as Ladd’s biography shows—his studies have been a major catalyst in evangelical theology.

In what follows, I will offer a summary of five points from a chapter entitled “The Kingdom and the Church” in his A Theology of the New Testament.[2]. In these five points, he shows how the Kingdom of God does and does not relate to the Church of Jesus Christ. As we consider the kingdom of God throughout the book of Daniel, these basic points of theology can help us from going astray from Christ and God’s plan to unify all things in him (Eph. 1:10). Continue reading

Seven Traits of a Narcissistic Pastor

thinking environment depressed depression

Q. What hath narcissism to do with church ministry?

A. Absolutely. Nothing!

As far as the east is from the west, so self-seeking motives for ministry has nothing to do with genuine pastoral leadership. Yet, too often churches find in their leaders tendencies that can only be called narcissistic.

This problem is so great that Chuck DeGroat wrote an entire book about it, When Narcissism Comes to ChurchWhat follows is not dependent on his work, but is the result of watching churches and church leaders over the last few years. It is painful to watch shepherds fleece the flock they are leading, and so what follows is written with an eye to those churches who may be suffering from the effects of a narcissistic pastor.

(Apparently, I’m not alone in my observations. After drafting this list I found this article, Ten Ways Narcissistic Leaders Can Devastate a Church.)

Seven Traits of a Narcissistic Pastor

1. A Narcissistic Pastor habitually turns the conversation back to himself.

Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt. 12:48). Such is the case for all people. It is a principle of human nature: What we talk about reveals what we love, and what we love drives our conversation. And if we love ourselves, we will habitually draw conversations back to ourselves. Continue reading

A Purple Haze: Looking More Carefully at ‘Social Justice’

alexandru-bogdan-ghita-javr3cmXbSE-unsplashYou keep using that word . . .
I do not think it means what you think it means.
— Inigo Montoya —

Have you ever used a word in a sentence, only to discover that the meaning of that word is not exactly what you thought it was? I have. And I’ve had to go back and rewrite the sentence, or admit on the spot, that I misspoke.

I would propose that the term “social justice” is such a word. It is used a lot today, by lots of different types of people. I am sure I’ve used it. Yet, as we seek to define to what it is, we quickly learn that like Clark Griswold’s Christmas turkey, social justice looks great on the outside, but doesn’t contain much meat when we cut into the bird.

Here are five quotations about the haziness, dare I say the meaninglessness, of the term “social justice.” I have tried to capture each quotation in a sentence. And at the end, I’ve included something of a takeaway on the subject—namely, that social justice is not as helpful or value neutral as its contentless definition may first appear.

I am sure you have had some run in with social justice, and I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions. Feel free to add a quote, a question, or comment in the comments section. Continue reading

Social Justice 101: 12 Scriptures, 7 Proposals, and 3 Appreciations from *What is the Mission of the Church?*

nathan-lemon-FBiKcUw_sQw-unsplashIn What is the Mission of the Church?Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert provide two chapters on social justice. The first examines twelve passages often used to support social justice with biblical texts. The second chapter synthesizes their exegetical findings. Under seven “proposals” they offer a helpful introduction to the topic of justice, so often labeled “social justice.”

In what follows, I will share their twelve Scriptures and seven points. Then I will offer three words of appreciation and application from What is the Mission of the Church?

Twelve Scriptures Related to Social Justice

Continue reading