It's Only Human Nature


*this blog is the first entry in the new “imagination station” blog series

When we make mistakes or say something downright monstrous, our gut response is to appeal to the imperfection of “human nature.” But have you stopped to wonder if humans have only one nature, like a product that is only offered in one color? Is this “human nature” unchangeable, or can we alter it slightly or even exchange it for a new one? 

The Bible takes the question of human nature seriously, as it gives its own definition of human nature in its earliest chapters. The Bible says that God gave humanity its nature and described it as consisting of God’s own image or stamp (Genesis 1:27). Mankind was created to image God, as a son images his parents (Genesis 5:3). Man reflects God at the creaturely level; we are to “be imitators of God” (Ephesians 5:1). God is not a murderer, so we are not to murder. God is not unfaithful to his own, so we are not to be idolaters or adulterers. God is self-sufficient, so we are to find our satisfaction in Him. God is the Lord of all, so humanity is to rule over the creation as steward-kings (Psalm 8:5, 6). 

Contemporary society may still appeal to a shared “human nature,” and yet the popular culture is waging an aggressive attack on the biblical idea of a received human nature, created to image God. Take the transgender movement as a rather severe example. The idea of changing (“trans”) one’s gender identity is an attack on the very idea of “human nature,” because who we are is no longer fixed, at least in part, by our God-given bodies. The body, in the transgender ideology, is divorced from one’s identity in a way that the unified biblical definition of human nature and individual identity could never justify (Genesis 2:23, 24). 


The 20th century, atheistic thinker Jean-Paul Sartre asserted that humanity has no given nature, what he called “essence,” that can dictate to humanity a particular set of identities, rules and goals. Instead Sartre proposed an unpredictable and endlessly mutable self, governed exclusively by itself (i.e. autonomous). According to Sartre, human nature is not something that humans are born with or that we all have in common, rather human nature is what each individual discovers and creates over a lifetime. To the average cultural observer, it’s not hard to see Sartre’s influence on our own culture.

Think of a few less severe examples than transgenderism: When it comes to romance we are called to follow our heart wherever it may lead. In the arena of child-bearing, we are cautioned to live life freely for as long as we are able before having children; in this view, having kids is a stunting of one’s authentic self-development. Social networks pride themselves on being perfect forums of self-expression. All four examples (transgenderism, romance, childrearing, social media), show us a culture obsessed with self-definition and radical self-governance. 

In contrast, the biblical perspective envisions a humanity created good and inextricably bound in its origin, purpose and identity to the God who formed it. As Herman Bavinck wrote, “We believe that the image of God belongs to the essence of our humanity; humanity apart from God, therefore, is unimaginable” (Reformed Ethics, 33). Human beings, then, are to strive, not to become what we are not on the basis of what we determine, but to become more fully what we already are on the basis of what God has determined. “To be fully and truly human, we must image God” (Bavinck, 33).

Reflection Questions:

  1. Is this a fair assessment of our culture (“obsessed with self-definition and self-governance”), and if so, how do you see the culture’s impact on your own life?

  2. How does a Christian view of human nature as image of God change the way that Christians do romance, child-rearing, and social media?

  3. What is the biblical means of striving to reflect God more fully? (check out Colossians 3:1-11)

Imagination Station: New Blog Series


I’ll be posting a series of blogs where I will be making observations about our surrounding culture from a Christian perspective. I’m calling this series “imagination station” because the goal of these blogs is to help the Christian see or imagine the world through Christian eyes. Kevin Vanhoozer puts it well when he says, “The biblically disciplined imagination sees reality as it truly is: not a mechanical universe in perpetual motion but rather a divine creation in the midst of labor pains, where the new in Christ struggles forth from the old in Adam” (from Hearers and Doers). Allow this blog series to help you form a “disciplined imagination” that “sees reality as it truly is.”

Don't Waste Worship

If you go to church and spend half the time thinking about work, leisure, or household projects, know this my beloved Christian brothers and sisters: you are wasting your worship. 

I know that you live in a fast-paced world and Sunday services require of you a radically different posture and mind-set. 


You may be addicted to screens and, perhaps, your church doesn’t have any, at least none that access SnapChat.

Perhaps your life is predominately about two things: you building up your little empire or you being served within that empire by entertainment services of various kinds. 

So, on Sunday, when the worship service directs you to bow-down to King Jesus and serve God’s Kingdom, your interest, understandably, may not be sparked. 

And be forewarned, if you do switch from Facebook back to your Bible App and begin participating in worship, you just might hear God commanding you to take a sledge hammer to your little empire and to abdicate your throne.

Maybe, my friends, there is a reason church is so different from our everyday lives. Might it be that God is reforming our polluted hearts, redirecting our idolatrous worship, and even refining our dulled intellects?

Maybe there is a reason that some of us find the worship of God so boring. Might it be that we aren't all that interested in God's reformation of our hearts, worship, or intellects. Is that a problem? What are we willing to do about it?

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:22-25)

Pastor Scott

Why I'm Pro-Choice: An Open Letter to Anti-Dispossession Extremists

I am not a defender of theft, as the anti-dispossession extremists claim. Critics of the dispossession movement have fundamentally misunderstood our motives, and it is the purpose of this open letter to set the record straight. 


    It is an uncontested truth that theft is immoral. Dispossession, however, is not theft. The dispossession movement appeals to one’s common sense intuition that taking anything costing less than $20 is not stealing. Dispossession is the peaceful, affordable, and discreet removal of merchandise. This may be difficult for some practitioners of fundamentalist religion to understand, but it is my hope that open minds will prevail.      

    The anti-choice brigade in this country believes that laws can stop dispossession. Before Dough V. Swade, Americans were undoubtedly still practicing dispossession. In those days you could be fined for disppossessing, or worse. Americans were being forced to put themselves in increasingly dangerous situations just to practice dispossession. The statistical reality is plain: legalizing dispossession effectively makes American citizens safer and greatly reduces petty crime, especially in low-income areas. 

    Religious fundamentalists will quote the eighth and tenth commandment on stealing and coveting, as if the Bible has any place in political discourse. It is not often mentioned, but many pro-choice advocates are devoutly religious. They are in your mosques, synagogues and churches. They are practicing dispossession or are supporting the choice to dispossess. These religious individuals see no contradiction between their personal faith traditions and their public, political stance. The question comes down to whether or not you want the country to legislate your theology. For the sake of religious freedom and to prevent the formation of a heavy-handed theocracy, I believe the answer to this question is clear. 

    So, why am I pro-choice on the issue of dispossession? It is not because dispossession is the right choice for every citizen. If you don't like dispossession, please, don't dispossess. I am for legal dispossession because I am for freedom and the American dream. If removing a small clump of merchandise will allow a needy individual to more readily pursue their own happiness, who am I to stop them? There are many extremists today who are working hard to overturn Dough V. Swade. My hope is that this open letter will contribute to the defense of legal dispossession as a choice for all Americans.   


Cleft O. Manniak


NOTE TO READERS: If you are concerned that the satire above fails to notice that "dispossession" would always involve a victim and that this letter never mentions the victim, then it sounds like you missed one of the key points of the satire. 

by Pastor Scott



Christianity "Unhitched" From Biblical Authority

Recapping the Controversy

For those not familiar with the most recent controversy over Andy Stanley, let me get you up to speed. Andy Stanley, an evangelical mega-church pastor, recently in a Sunday sermon, made controversial comments like these:

“[First century] Church leaders unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish scriptures.”

“Peter, James, [and] Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well.”


    Many Christians criticized Stanley for attacking the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures. In response, Stanley dismissed the criticism as coming from people who did not understand the full context of the sermon. Stanley said he would not change anything about the sermon and responded directly to critics saying, “Let’s come together so we can do more. The faith of the next generation depends on it.” His only response to the theological issues raised by his critics was a reaffirmation of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy

Understanding Stanley

    First, let’s respond to what pastor Stanley appeared to be saying in his sermon, and then we will respond to what I think he intended to say. It certainly sounded like pastor Stanley was playing around with the old heresy of Marcionism. Marcion essentially lopped off the Old Testament from the Christian Scriptures. When Stanley called for Christians to “unhitch” their faith from the Old Testament, he sure sounded like a follower of Marcion.

    Unfortunately, many Christians today may not understand what is so wrong with Marcionism. Simply put, the New Testament doesn’t allow for such a division between the Old and New Testament’s “worldview[s], value system[s], and regulations,” to use Andy Stanley’s chosen terms. Just think of 2 Timothy 3:16, 17, where Paul says that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Every reputable commentary says that Paul was clearly referring to the Old Testament text, as well as to the burgeoning New Testament writings. How could the Old Testament’s “worldview, value system, and regulations” be unhitched from the Christian faith, when Paul declares such a profound usefulness for the Old Testament in the Christian life? We could also point to Jesus’ comments on the relationship of the new covenant to the old in Matthew 5:17-19 or to Christ’s own use of the Old Testament law in his battles with Satan (Luke 4:1-13). All this to say, Marcion’s dismissive view of the Old Testament text is nowhere to be found in the New Testament. If Andy Stanley has any affinity with Marcion, he is playing with fire.

    Even while plenty of Andy Stanley's statements could be fairly construed as sympathetic to Marcion, I don’t think pastor Stanley is explicitly embracing Marcionism. I take Andy Stanley at his word when he aligns himself with the Chicago Statement's high view of the Old Testament. Let me paraphrase what I believe Andy Stanley is trying to say in the following paragraph. Remember, I could be wrong, but please listen to pastor Stanley's full sermon before you decide either way. 

    Hey there young educated person who is having trouble buying all of the supernatural, harsh sounding, historically unverifiable, and judgmental stuff in the Old Testament; I have great news for you! Even though I, Andy Stanley, believe all of the stuff in the Old Testament, you don’t have to in order to be a Christian. You don’t even have to believe all of the stuff in the New Testament, though again, I Andy Stanley certainly do! You just need to believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and was resurrected from the dead. Now, I know that sounds unbelievable too, but there is a very rational, historical, and a-biblical, argument to be made for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

The Danger of Apologetics Unhitched From Biblical Authority

    So, if indeed my assessment is correct, what’s the problem with what Andy Stanley is doing? Isn’t he simply lowering the bar of the Christian faith to a belief in the crucified and resurrected Jesus? I’m sure pastor Stanley would even say that a person will likely come to embrace the entire biblical witness, once they have time to mature in the faith. There is something true to all of this. No, a person does not need to have every doctrinal duck in a row or every doubt exorcised before becoming a Christian. Here, however, is the problem: Andy Stanley’s gospel proclamation is unhitched from biblical authority.

    As I said, pastor Stanley’s personal theology appears to be right in line with biblical orthodoxy on the issue of Scriptural authority. Andy Stanley’s apologetic and evangelistic approach, on the other hand, is not. Pastor Stanley does not approach the unbeliever like pastor Paul on Mars Hill who unashamedly proclaims the truth of creation (Acts.17:24, 25), of the historicity of Adam (26), of the importance of image-less worship (29), of the depth of humanity’s sinfulness and of God’s judgment through the resurrected Christ (30, 31). Most of these doctrines are found in the Old Testament text! These beliefs were incredibly offensive to the philosophers of the day, to whom Paul was speaking. The most offensive and unbelievable teaching, however, was the resurrection! Even in the days of the eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Christ, Paul’s hearers particularly mocked him for teaching “the resurrection of the dead” (32). 

    Stanley wants so badly for children of modernism and post-modernism to embrace the resurrected Jesus. He longs to tear down all unnecessary stumbling blocks; for this, I commend him. But to strip the gospel proclamation of its biblical authority, its “god breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16) and “from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4) character, is to empty the gospel of an essential element. The gospel is an authoritative declaration by God, in His Scriptures, through the mouths of Christians, concerning God's gracious work in history, and culminating in Christ (Hebrews 1:1-4).  It is exceedingly untenable, then, to wrench Jesus' resurrection from the context of God's entire, authoritative work and Word, just as pastor Stanley finds it untenable to wrench isolated statements from the greater context of his own sermon.   

    The result of Andy Stanley’s apologetic is, I believe, one of two outcomes. Pastor Stanley’s preaching will either produce hardened unbelievers or anemic Christians. It will produce hardened unbelievers, because those who reject Stanley’s gospel will think they have rejected the most rational and defensible form of Christian belief, stripped of all its religious dogma. It will produce anemic Christians, because if the biblical text isn’t all that important for entering the faith, it couldn’t be all that important for remaining or progressing in the faith either. An apologetic unhitched from biblical authority can only produce a Christianity unhitched from biblical authority. As it has often been said - what you win them with, you win them to.  

What Do People Really Need to Hear Today? 

    I don’t think it’s even an arguable claim to say that pastor Stanley’s sermon fails to leave the listener with a greater appreciation for the necessity, the authority, the sufficiency, the coherency, the clarity, and the majesty of the biblical text. I have no doubt that pastor Stanley holds to such a doctrine of Scripture. I wonder, though, if our apologetic and evangelistic methodology shouldn’t, at least strive, to communicate that doctrine. Certainly on a Lord’s Day morning, the people of God need to be pointed away from their own autonomous judgments and directed back to the very standard and wellspring that defines and fuels their faith. They need a pastor who will stand against the tides of culture and say, as the Bible says hundreds of times, thus says the Lord.

Pastor Scott

Church on Saturday?

     I've seen church after church begin to hold worship services on Saturdays or during the midweek. This would not be an issue if these services were being offered in addition to Sunday worship services. But that is not what has been happening for the past handful of decades. Unfortunately, we in the American church do not have people busting down the doors to hear biblical preaching and to receive the Lord's Supper more than once a week. This is made evident by the near extinction of the, once ubiquitous, Sunday evening service. No, the motivation behind these "alternative" services, that is alternative to Sunday services, is virtually the opposite of a heightened devotion to worship.


    These services are offered on weekdays and Saturdays for the convenience of the worshipper. The typical advocate of theses services will say something like this: "It's more convenient for my schedule to fit worship in on Saturday night or Tuesday evening than to go through the trouble of waking up on Sunday morning." Why is it that these alternative services are relatively new in church history? Surely people of past generations, who didn't have our modern technology, were equally as busy as we are. Were they just not as clever? Or was it that these fathers and mothers in the faith had substantive reasons for worshipping on Sunday? Let's try consulting one of those dusty old catechisms, which have fallen into disrepute but at one time guided Christian doctrine and piety (i.e. Christian living).

In the Westminster Larger Catechism (116), we are told that the fourth commandment (Deut. 5:12-14) requires the "keeping holy to God such set times as he has appointed in his Word, expressly one whole day in seven (Gen. 2:2-3); which was the seventh from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, and the first day of the week ever since, and so to continue to the end of the world; which is the Christian Sabbath, and in the New Testament called the Lord's Day (Acts. 20:7; Rev. 1:10)."

Here is why we worship on Sunday, or the “Lord's Day”:

1. God appoints His own day. Plenty of God's commands are inconvenient, but that is what makes God the Lord of our lives, not us. We shape our lives to conform to his commands, not the other way around. The Lord's Day is appointed by the Lord. It just makes sense, doesn't it? 

2. Sunday, or the Lord's Day, is the Christian, new covenant, Sabbath. The Sabbath day has changed from the last to the first day of the week in order to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sunday is to be viewed as a weekly holy day (aka holiday). This doesn't mean that every sermon is an "Easter sermon" or that every Bible reading mentions the resurrection. Rather, conducting our services on Sunday intentionally orients the church's worship around the powerful reality of Christ's resurrection (read 1 Corinthians 15 to hear Paul speak about the implications of the resurrection).

3. The church should feel no need to shape its message and its practices to fit the sensibilities of the unbelieving world. We Christians must remember that the Kingdom of God will overcome the unbelieving world. Christian worship has historically included a recitation of the Lord's Prayer and the administration of the Lord's Supper. In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray for God's Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. This radical prayer calls on God to rule and reign over human hearts here, in this world. It is not a prayer of escape; rather it is a prayer of dominion. Often, when pastors administer communion, they read 1 Corinthians 11, where the church is commanded to participate in communion "until he [Jesus] comes." We, the church, are waiting for Jesus to come and (re)make this earth into our heaven. The church is the representation of God's Kingdom on earth now. We are the embassy of His Kingdom. Therefore, the worship of the church should confidently participate in activities that come into friction with the norms of the rebellious kingdom of man. God's Kingdom is here and His Kingdom is coming here, on earth as it is in heaven. 

4. The church looks more divided and confused when we worship on different days. As you can see from what has already been said, the day that we worship is inescapably theological. When a local church disregards the deep theology of the Lord's Day, it is making a statement against the historical theology of the church.

Ask yourself, is all of this worth risking for the sake of convenience?

Pastor Scott          

Addressing Our Hyper-Political Climate

    In the previous post (found here), we concluded that hyper-politicization is to be expected, because everything is political. As Jonathan Leeman wrote, “Every position a person might adopt in the political sphere relies upon a certain conception of human beings, their rights and their obligations towards one another, creation and God” (Political Church). If Leeman is right, we should embrace a broader view of politics: “[Politics] is a universal and pervasive aspect of human behavior and may be found wherever two or more human beings are engaged in some collective activity, whether formal or informal, public or private” (Adrian Leftwich, What is Politics). The real problem, therefore, is not hyper-politicization, since everything is political. Rather, the root of our society’s perceived tension is the existing disunity at the religious, moral, and subsequently political levels.

Is there a realistic solution to this genuine problem of disunity? The Christian must propose a threefold answer: 

1. No 

2. But there will be 

3. And, to some degree, yes

    First, no there will not be an end to religious, moral and political differences at this point, before the return of Christ and the establishment of the new creation. Some Christians will cringe when they hear my usage of theological categories in a political conversation. The reason for their discomfort is rooted in those false, enlightenment-era distinctions between private and public, reason and faith, religious and political. Once you release yourself from those constructed categories, you are free to be a holistic thinker, rather than a compartmentalized and thus double-minded thinker. Christian, if your theological view of sin does not substantially affect your political views, you are not functionally worshipping God in every aspect of your life as you are called to do (1 Cor. 10:31). If you are not bringing your political thoughts captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), then you are submitting yourself to some other lord. You may, then, want to ask the all important question: what other god am I worshipping?    


    The second answer is an optimistic one: “but there will be.” The Bible gives Christians a radically positive trajectory for human unity. Sin caused disunity between, most fundamentally, God and man. This relational, or covenantal, break between Creator and creature has impacted all other relationships. Inter-Human relationships, as well as humanity’s relationship to creation, have been severely fractured because of human sin (Genesis 3:17-24). Thankfully, because of God’s intervention, these relationships will be fully restored one day. On that day, God “will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3-4). God tells us that His kingdom will expand to encompass all of the earth, and that this kingdom will be finally unified under the beautiful Lordship of Jesus Christ (Rev. 21:5-8). 

    The third answer, “to some degree, yes,” must be understood in light of the previous two answers. The Christian cannot pretend that the new creation and its unified kingdom can be accomplished now, even though the Christian has a sure hope that this unified kingdom will arrive someday. Even still, the Bible provides us with examples of genuine unity in this fallen world. These examples anticipate the future kingdom. At the beginning of 2 Samuel, David is anointed as king by the “men of Judah.” This passage foreshadows the return of Christ, when God’s people will acknowledge Christ as their sole King. In 2 Kings 19, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, attacks Judah, but God defends his people by striking down 185,000 of Sennacherib’s soldiers. God’s actions caused peace among his people. This event anticipated God’s righteous judgment against his enemies and the total peace (shalom) which will accompany the new creation (Rev. 20:7-10; 21:3-8). 

    The examples continue on into the New Testament. The New Testament church enfolds gentiles into its ranks and no longer identifies itself as a particular nationstate with coercive power. Rather, the church is viewed as an embassy for the coming new creation kingdom. We church members are its ambassadors. The lives of believers, living out their faith from within the church community, are meant to imperfectly personify this approaching paradise. 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:17-20, added emphases are mine).

    The church is the only hope today for the kind of societal unity God desires. This is not a popular position to take, even among American evangelicals. Some on the political right will say that reinvigorating voluntary associations is the solution to societal disunity. They would include participation in your local library, city government, and fraternity groups right alongside participation in church or synagogue; for them church is just another voluntary association. I agree that these associations can be a wonderful way to unify individuals around a common set of interests and preferences. However, I believe that churches, while voluntarily joined, should be categorized very differently than the groups mentioned above. 

    If you are a Christian, you are required, by God’s command to be part of the church (1 Cor. 12:12ff; Hebrews 10:21-25). We can’t say anything remotely similar about the local library or some fraternal organization. If the church, as a whole, is “a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9), and embassy of God’s Kingdom (2 Cor 5:17ff), then we best not view local churches as mere voluntary associations. Local churches are uniquely designed by God to be outposts of his approaching Kingdom. Again, you can't say that about any other institution, even Christian ones! The mission of the church is unique.  

    Jesus' message has not changed: “The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15). In other words, God is taking over, so bow the knee to him by turning to his Son in faith. This gospel message must impact our deepest religious and philosophical convictions, our moral and ethical values, and even our political views. This message is more than a private matter, because it's talking about God's expanding lordship over all peoples. This message has the unique power to transform lives and to manifest the still-future Kingdom of God today.    

    So what? What should you do about all of this? Here is a simple and necessary place to start: Join a church that preaches this deep, comprehensive, and thoroughly biblical view of the gospel. Don’t join and then sit on the sidelines either. Membership in the church is where Christians foster their citizenship in the Kingdom, but apathy, laziness, and inconsistency will prevent the church from having an impact on you. Ask yourself how you can become a more faithful worshipper and more active member in the church. Also, ask yourself how you can become a more compassionate ambassador of Christ to this fractured society - as an individual and as a church. To go through these three categories in more depth check out our vision page (scroll down until you see the three bold categories above).       

Pastor Scott

Understanding Our Hyper-Political Climate

    Is it just me, or is everything political nowadays? Perhaps it’s naive to say “nowadays,” as if this is something new. But you feel the intensity of it too, don’t you? Award shows are political. Movies are political. The beginning of life is political. The end of life is political. Gender, sex, and sexuality are political. Marriage, family, and medicine are too! Even a word that literally means gospel, i.e. “evangelical,” is, believe it or not, political. 

    In response to this hyper-political environment, the political right believes we must work toward de-politicizing everything, with the exception of the explicitly political; such as elections, policies, and law & order. We must, according to the political right, carefully carve out a private realm where politics are absent. An alternative response, often from the political left, is to embrace, rather than to resist, hyper-politicization. If, they will say, all citizens would simply get in line with the correct views regarding, for instance, immigration, abortion and sexuality, all of this hyper-politicization would cease to cause division.  

    On this particular point, I tend to have more sympathy for the latter position of the political left. Unlike many on the political right, the left understands that everything is, in the general sense of the word, political. Certainly it is true that federal and state governments should and do have a limited jurisdiction. Perhaps this is where the political right's desire to shrink or restrict government power gets things right. The government should not tell you who or what to worship. The government should not, under the threat of coercive force, tell you what to say or think. Most people, at least nominally, agree with these limitations. But it gets much trickier, doesn’t it? Of course it does. Just take a look at the following questions, and consider if these would be appropriate for polite discussion at a family gathering.  

  • Should the government take interest in defining, licensing, and rewarding marriage? 
  • Should the government actively provide aide to the poor, and if so, to what extent and through what means? 
  • Should the government act to enforce certain moral views on sex, gender, and/or race, and at what cost to free markets, free speech and free exercise of religion? 
  • Should the government have a duty to implant within its citizenship a certain level of patriotism, and how should they do this? 
  • Should the government protect the life of the unborn, even if a woman’s choices are limited by doing so? 
  • To what extent, if any, should elected officials be moral arbiters for society, and from where should that morality be derived?  
  • Should pastors, speaking from deeply held beliefs, have the right to use their influence to address political matters? How about the same question, only now concerning actors, musicians or whatever other influential, cultural figure you can imagine? 
  • Should the government restrict certain kinds of speech in order to protect the sensitivities of particular individuals and/or of classes of people?
American flag.jpg

    Questions like the ones posed above cannot fit into simplistic bifurcations (this or that): religious or secular, moral or pragmatic, church or state, private or public. Without regard for our desire to compartmentalize, the bulleted questions above penetrate every one of these realms (religious & secular, moral & pragmatic etc.). The bulleted questions talk about government action and government jurisdiction, sure, but that’s not all. These questions engage with every facet of human experience: life, death, morality, love, spirituality, ritual, family, education, sex, and finances. 

    You can understand why everything is political, then, can’t you? Politics inevitably deals with culture, morality and our most basic convictions (religion & philosophy). There is a reason that the ancient philosophers tended to write works on metaphysics, followed by ethics, and then politics. These philosophers progressed from first establishing their basic convictions to then the working out of those convictions in the public sphere. 

    Our society is deeply divided on every level which has led to divisions on the matters listed above. These various issues boil down to one central, moral question: what kind of society do we the people/polis want to build in this world in which we live. If we possessed a basic agreement on the answer to this question, we would not feel the politicization and divisiveness that we feel today. To summarize: we experience a sense of hyper-politicization more or less intensely depending upon the unity or disunity of views held by the general population, by influential institutions, and by those in elected office. 

    Therefore, the root cause of hyper-politicization is found in the disunity of our society at every level. Often we think that hyper-politicization causes disunity, which it does. However, I'd argue that disunity is the chicken before it can become an egg, that is, a result of hyper-politicization. This observation is nothing new, nor is it particularly profound. The solution to our plight of disunity and the resulting hyper-politicization has vexed every civilization. But what about the solution? 

    We ought to deny that the solution to our predicament is to de-politicize the so-called un-political; this is simply impossible. We ought also to debunk the notion that individuals can be simply persuaded or coerced into political conformity, thus alleviating the disunity; to do this would approach the problem in a backward manner, or similarly, it is like chopping off the tip of an iceberg and pretending the whole mass is gone. For Christians, we recognize that the resolution for this disunity that exists within human experience cannot be brought about through governmental coercion, cultural influence, nor through chiseling out a supposedly non-political realm. None of these solutions will suffice. 

I will attempt to write another blog soon with a proposed answer to the problem that, I believe, is richer, more hopeful, and abundantly more true than these other options. Stay tuned!

Luther's 95 Theses

    Today is Reformation Day! On top of that, this is the 500th anniversary of when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg. Luther's list of provocative claims were intended to create a more meaningful academic debate that could lead to church reform. Of course, Luther's actions did a bit more than just that. Celebrate the Reformation by reading through Martin Luther's 95 Theses.

  1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ``Repent'' (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. 
  2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy. 
  3. Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh. 
  4. The penalty of sin remains as long as the hatred of self (that is, true inner repentance), namely till our entrance into the kingdom of heaven. 
  5. The pope neither desires nor is able to remit any penalties except those imposed by his own authority or that of the canons. 
  6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring and showing that it has been remitted by God; or, to be sure, by remitting guilt in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in these cases were disregarded, the guilt would certainly remain unforgiven. 
  7. God remits guilt to no one unless at the same time he humbles him in all things and makes him submissive to the vicar, the priest. 
  8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to the canons themselves, nothing should be imposed on the dying. 
  9. Therefore the Holy Spirit through the pope is kind to us insofar as the pope in his decrees always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity. 
  10. Those priests act ignorantly and wickedly who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penalties for purgatory. 
  11. Those tares of changing the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory were evidently sown while the bishops slept (Mt 13:25). 
  12. In former times canonical penalties were imposed, not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition. 
  13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties, are already dead as far as the canon laws are concerned, and have a right to be released from them. 
  14. Imperfect piety or love on the part of the dying person necessarily brings with it great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater the fear. 
  15. This fear or horror is sufficient in itself, to say nothing of other things, to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair. 
  16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ the same as despair, fear, and assurance of salvation. 
  17. It seems as though for the souls in purgatory fear should necessarily decrease and love increase. 
  18. Furthermore, it does not seem proved, either by reason or by Scripture, that souls in purgatory are outside the state of merit, that is, unable to grow in love. 
  19. Nor does it seem proved that souls in purgatory, at least not all of them, are certain and assured of their own salvation, even if we ourselves may be entirely certain of it. 
  20. Therefore the pope, when he uses the words ``plenary remission of all penalties,'' does not actually mean ``all penalties,'' but only those imposed by himself. 
  21. Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences. 
  22. As a matter of fact, the pope remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to canon law, they should have paid in this life. 
  23. If remission of all penalties whatsoever could be granted to anyone at all, certainly it would be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to very few. 
  24. For this reason most people are necessarily deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of release from penalty. 
  25. That power which the pope has in general over purgatory corresponds to the power which any bishop or curate has in a particular way in his own diocese and parish. 
  26. The pope does very well when he grants remission to souls in purgatory, not by the power of the keys, which he does not have, but by way of intercession for them. 
  27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory. 
  28. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone. 
  29. Who knows whether all souls in purgatory wish to be redeemed, since we have exceptions in St. Severinus and St. Paschal, as related in a legend. 
  30. No one is sure of the integrity of his own contrition, much less of having received plenary remission. 
  31. The man who actually buys indulgences is as rare as he who is really penitent; indeed, he is exceedingly rare. 
  32. Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers. 
  33. Men must especially be on guard against those who say that the pope's pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to him. 
  34. For the graces of indulgences are concerned only with the penalties of sacramental satisfaction established by man. 
  35. They who teach that contrition is not necessary on the part of those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessional privileges preach unchristian doctrine. 
  36. Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters. 
  37. Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters. 
  38. Nevertheless, papal remission and blessing are by no means to be disregarded, for they are, as I have said (Thesis 6), the proclamation of the divine remission. 
  39. It is very difficult, even for the most learned theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the bounty of indulgences and the need of true contrition. 
  40. A Christian who is truly contrite seeks and loves to pay penalties for his sins; the bounty of indulgences, however, relaxes penalties and causes men to hate them -- at least it furnishes occasion for hating them. 
  41. Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other good works of love. 
  42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be compared with works of mercy. 
  43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences. 
  44. Because love grows by works of love, man thereby becomes better. Man does not, however, become better by means of indulgences but is merely freed from penalties. 
  45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God's wrath. 
  46. Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences. 
  47. Christians are to be taught that they buying of indulgences is a matter of free choice, not commanded. 
  48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting indulgences, needs and thus desires their devout prayer more than their money. 
  49. Christians are to be taught that papal indulgences are useful only if they do not put their trust in them, but very harmful if they lose their fear of God because of them. 
  50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep. 
  51. Christians are to be taught that the pope would and should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to sell the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of indulgences cajole money. 
  52. It is vain to trust in salvation by indulgence letters, even though the indulgence commissary, or even the pope, were to offer his soul as security. 
  53. They are the enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid altogether the preaching of the Word of God in some churches in order that indulgences may be preached in others. 
  54. Injury is done to the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or larger amount of time is devoted to indulgences than to the Word. 
  55. It is certainly the pope's sentiment that if indulgences, which are a very insignificant thing, are celebrated with one bell, one procession, and one ceremony, then the gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies. 
  56. The true treasures of the church, out of which the pope distributes indulgences, are not sufficiently discussed or known among the people of Christ. 
  57. That indulgences are not temporal treasures is certainly clear, for many indulgence sellers do not distribute them freely but only gather them. 
  58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the saints, for, even without the pope, the latter always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outer man. 
  59. St. Lawrence said that the poor of the church were the treasures of the church, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time. 
  60. Without want of consideration we say that the keys of the church, given by the merits of Christ, are that treasure. 
  61. For it is clear that the pope's power is of itself sufficient for the remission of penalties and cases reserved by himself. 
  62. The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God. 
  63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last (Mt. 20:16). 
  64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first. 
  65. Therefore the treasures of the gospel are nets with which one formerly fished for men of wealth. 
  66. The treasures of indulgences are nets with which one now fishes for the wealth of men. 
  67. The indulgences which the demagogues acclaim as the greatest graces are actually understood to be such only insofar as they promote gain. 
  68. They are nevertheless in truth the most insignificant graces when compared with the grace of God and the piety of the cross. 
  69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of papal indulgences with all reverence. 
  70. But they are much more bound to strain their eyes and ears lest these men preach their own dreams instead of what the pope has commissioned. 
  71. Let him who speaks against the truth concerning papal indulgences be anathema and accursed. 
  72. But let him who guards against the lust and license of the indulgence preachers be blessed. 
  73. Just as the pope justly thunders against those who by any means whatever contrive harm to the sale of indulgences. 
  74. Much more does he intend to thunder against those who use indulgences as a pretext to contrive harm to holy love and truth. 
  75. To consider papal indulgences so great that they could absolve a man even if he had done the impossible and had violated the mother of God is madness. 
  76. We say on the contrary that papal indulgences cannot remove the very least of venial sins as far as guilt is concerned. 
  77. To say that even St. Peter if he were now pope, could not grant greater graces is blasphemy against St. Peter and the pope. 
  78. We say on the contrary that even the present pope, or any pope whatsoever, has greater graces at his disposal, that is, the gospel, spiritual powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written. (1 Co 12[:28]) 
  79. To say that the cross emblazoned with the papal coat of arms, and set up by the indulgence preachers is equal in worth to the cross of Christ is blasphemy. 
  80. The bishops, curates, and theologians who permit such talk to be spread among the people will have to answer for this. 
  81. This unbridled preaching of indulgences makes it difficult even for learned men to rescue the reverence which is due the pope from slander or from the shrewd questions of the laity. 
  82. Such as: ``Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?'' The former reason would be most just; the latter is most trivial. 
  83. Again, ``Why are funeral and anniversary masses for the dead continued and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded for them, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?'' 
  84. Again, ``What is this new piety of God and the pope that for a consideration of money they permit a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God and do not rather, beca use of the need of that pious and beloved soul, free it for pure love's sake?'' 
  85. Again, ``Why are the penitential canons, long since abrogated and dead in actual fact and through disuse, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences as though they were still alive and in force?'' 
  86. Again, ``Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?'' 
  87. Again, ``What does the pope remit or grant to those who by perfect contrition already have a right to full remission and blessings?'' 
  88. Again, ``What greater blessing could come to the church than if the pope were to bestow these remissions and blessings on every believer a hundred times a day, as he now does but once?'' 
  89. ``Since the pope seeks the salvation of souls rather than money by his indulgences, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons previously granted when they have equal efficacy?'' 
  90. To repress these very sharp arguments of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies and to make Christians unhappy. 
  91. If, therefore, indulgences were preached according to the spirit and intention of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved. Indeed, they would not exist. 
  92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, ``Peace, peace,'' and there is no peace! (Jer 6:14) 
  93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, ``Cross, cross,'' and there is no cross! 
  94. Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell. 
  95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace (Acts 14:22).

The Atheist's (Estranged) Relationship With God

    What does it mean when the Bible claims that your non-Christian family members, neighbors, and co-workers know God (Romans 1:21)? Is Paul off his rocker? Certainly Paul could not have been thinking about your uncle who believes the Bible is a fairytale and has lived with his girlfriend for years. Paul’s cultural context must have been a religious monolith, where everybody was a Christian, at least to some degree, right? Certainly not. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth! 

    Paul, as a Christian missionary in the first century Roman Empire, regularly confronted systems of belief that were in opposition to his own (Acts 14:10-23; 17:18-34). In the same context where Paul says that non-Christians know the Christian God (Romans 1:21), he speaks about those very same individuals reveling in idolatry (1:23, 25), sexual immorality (26, 27), intellectual folly (21), violence (29), and complicity (32). How could Paul have claimed that those individuals knew God?

    Here is what Paul would say about your (and my) unbelieving family and friends (even those sassy atheists): They stand in genuine relationship to God, but that relationship is one of enmity and strife. This shouldn’t be anything new for biblically-minded Christians. The third chapter of Genesis teaches that all of humanity fell into an estate of sin and misery when Adam broke the initial covenant agreement in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:11-13, 23; 1 Corinthians 15:22).

    After the Garden, did humanity cease to be in relationship to God entirely? Not at all. To say so would be like claiming that a divorced couple, who had lived and raised children together, possesses no remaining relationship. Our society rightly uses the terminology of “ex-husband” or “ex-wife" to describe these kinds of situations. The former spouses still have a relationship, but it is a broken relationship. In the same way, Paul can speak of every human being as one who knows God but who does “not honor him as God” (Romans 1:21; see also Acts 17:27-30). To be a Christian is to be in a restored relationship with God through Christ. Those individuals who abide outside of that restored relationship in Christ, remain covenant breakers in Adam (Romans 5:15-19).

    The idea that individuals are either in a restored or a broken relationship with God provides the context for Paul's claim, "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened" (Rom. 1:21). If this is all true, how does it affect the way that we, as Christians, should do evangelism and apologetics?

Three practical points of application to consider: 

1.) You can have confidence in the relevance of the gospel. The good news that God has brought a way of reconciliation between God and sinful humans (2 Corinthians 5:20-21) applies to all of humanity, without exception (Acts 17:30-31).

2.) Your mission as a messenger of the gospel is not primarily to convince, but to proclaim. We often think that the only route to conversion is through a rational procedure — Step One: be convinced of general theism, Step Two: be convinced of the historicity of the resurrection, Step Three: be convinced of the general trustworthiness of the New Testament, Step Four: fall in love with the resurrected Jesus who inspired the writers of the New Testament, Step Five: become a card carrying Christian who repents and believes on Christ. Now yes, this is occasionally how things progress. But, it is often not the way people come to faith, as is the case in every conversion recorded in the New Testament (example: Acts 16:25-34). Our primary source of confidence as evangelists must be the Word of God, not our rational argumentation (though argument has its place as a handmaiden or servant to Scripture in our evangelism and apologetics).

3.) You can show more compassion (instead of frustration) toward your unbelieving friends and family members if they are simply not convinced by your reasoning and don’t accept the gospel that you proclaim. This compassion should flow from your empathetic understanding that sin deadens the heart and mind to spiritual truth (Romans 1:20-22). This was your situation before you came to know the grace of God in Christ. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4, 5).

Recommended Reading

  1. Why Should I Believe Christianity by James N. Anderson
  2. Get Real: Sharing Your Everyday Faith Every Day by John Leonard
  3. Covenantal Apologetics by K. Scott Oliphint 

Pastor Scott 

Confessing our transgressions of the Ten Commandments

For the past ten weeks, we have been referencing the Ten Commandments (found in Deuteronomy 6) for our corporate confession of sin. Here are the prayers we’ve been using:

man praying.jpg

6 “‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 7 You shall have no other gods before me.

Our God of truth and mercy, we admit our rebellion against the first commandment of the law: “You must have no other gods before me.” Forgive us for dividing our supreme loyalties among other gods and worshiping the idol of self. Forgive us of willfully being mastered by the desires of others and of ourselves before even considering your revealed will to us in Scripture. Have mercy on us, O God, for trusting in the power of creatures over your unmatched sovereignty and sure promises. We have found our deepest rest in the comforts of this world before seeking you out in prayer, before reminding ourselves of your mercy, and before nourishing ourselves in worship and Christian fellowship. Our faith has often been misplaced. In the name of Jesus, who is God with us, forgive our trespasses and renovate our souls, for your own Glory and the good of your people.

8 “‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 9 You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

We humbly admit before you, O God, that we have failed to keep the second commandment, “You shall not make for yourself an idol. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.” Our Lord we have transgressed your law by creating imaginary gods after our own likeness, and by living lives in service to them. We have created gods out of possessions, wealth, the outdoors, hobbies, passions & talents, family members, friends, preferences, longings and goals, and all kinds of other things. We have treated these good things as ultimate; instead of using them to bring you glory. We have placed these lifeless idols above the true and living God. Our lives have taken their shape out of reverence for these false gods. We have not heeded your warning which says, “Those who make lifeless idols become like them; so do all who trust in them.” By the power of our King Jesus, release us from the bondage that we have created to these idols. Forgive us for our waywardness and cause us to walk in uprightness before you, O God.  

11 “‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

Our Holy Father, we have broken your third commandment which says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” We have not held your name, titles, attributes, words, sacraments, prayers and actions in a high and reverent manner as we should. We have abused your name by using it in careless, ignorant, superstitious, ambiguous, and wicked ways. By neglecting and misinterpreting your words to us in Scripture, we have attributed to your name those desires which are sinful and should only be ascribed to our twisted hearts. We have opposed your truth by engaging in religious hypocrisy, by professing true religion but practicing a lie. We pray that you would forgive us, by the blood of Christ, for our sins, allowing us to escape the curse of this commandment. O Lord, cause our hearts to treasure, above all others, your most wonderful name.  

12 “‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

“Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” We have allowed this generous commandment to become a burden to ourselves. We have vainly searched for spiritual rest in worldly ordinances rather than in the Lord’s Day. We have failed to guard our observance of the Lord’s Day by neglecting the duties of our work week. We have filled our Sabbaths with ordinary work, inordinate leisure, and sinful behaviors, when we should be tasting heaven by participating in worship services, enjoying Christian fellowship, and engaging in acts of mercy. Forgive us for our failure to keep this commandment, O God. Help us to restructure our schedules and reorient our hearts, so that the rhythm of our lives synchronize with your prescribed rhythm: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” We once were slaves to our sin, but you have set us free in Christ Jesus, “Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” 

16 “‘Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Our Heavenly Father, we have not honored our fathers and mothers, so that our days may be long, and that it may go well in the land that the Lord our God is giving us. We have failed to give proper respect to those in authority over us: our parents, our superiors, our elders, our civil authorities, and our church authorities. We have not obeyed and carried out our duties as we should. We have agreed to obey but failed to follow through on our promises. We have envied the authority of our superiors, failing to be content with the lot that God has given us. We have mocked and shamed those in authority over us, when we should have received them as a blessing from you, O God. Our rebellion against these authorities is ultimately rebellion against you, and for that we are deeply sorry. Forgive us, our Heavenly Father, and cause us to walk in humble obedience.  

17 “‘You shall not murder.

“You shall not murder” is one command we boastfully believe to have kept in full. Oh, how we have deceived ourselves, but we have not deceived you, O God. You know how we have murdered our neighbors in our secret thoughts. You know our hatred, our explosive anger, our brooding malice, and our irritability. God, you see our true desires and our genuine beliefs. We admit that we have not cherished and protected human life in the way the sixth commandment demands. We have not fully valued the lives of those who look, think, and act differently than us. We have dared to look at our image-bearing neighbors with indifference, for we have neglected to preach the gospel to them. We have not applied the gospel to our fellow Christians through biblical fellowship and counsel. O God, what wretched sinners we are! Deliver us through the righteous blood of Jesus. Enable us, through your Holy Spirit, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.   

18 “‘And you shall not commit adultery.

The seventh commandment, “you shall not commit adultery,” forbids not only unfaithfulness, but also impure imagination, abuse of what you’ve created good, wrongful divorce or desertion, looking at images and people we shouldn’t, and other unnatural and unchaste behaviors. Lord we have, in some measure, carried out these forbidden behaviors, or we have given approval to those that do. We have treated those created in your Image as only instruments of our fleeting pleasures. For this, our Holy God, we pray for your gracious pardon. The seventh commandment requires that we love our neighbors, our family members, and our fellow Christians with thoughts, actions, and affections that are suitable for each of these varying relationships. Forgive us for our failure to love in the pure and beautiful way that you command and model for us. Cleanse and strengthen our every relationship with the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

19 “‘And you shall not steal.

Truth, faithfulness and justice are the virtues required by the eighth commandment: “you shall not steal.” This commandment reveals to us your heart, O God. You are always true and always faithful to your word. You, as the perfectly righteous judge, always act in wisdom. As the King of creation, you never steal, engage in bribery, or deal fraudulently. But Lord, we confess that we have broken the eighth commandment, by wrongfully taking what is not ours, by stealing time with our slothful behavior, by desiring to steal through envying the prosperity of others, by being careless or stingy with our own and with other people’s resources, and by failing to keep our commitments. Lord we pray that the abundant grace of Christ would cover these sins and empower us to walk in truth, faithfulness, and justice.

20 “‘And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Your law commands us: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” O God, you say of our tongues, “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” The ninth commandment forbids the use of our speech as a weapon against our neighbors. We are called to carefully and truthfully defend and preserve the reputations of our friends, our families, our fellow Christians, and even of our enemies. We admit that we have a fascination with rumors, to hear and to spread them. We sorrowfully acknowledge that our love for appearing right has come at the expense of the truth and of the reputation of our fellow image-bearers. Lord, may we love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Forgive us for our sins and consider us as righteous in your sight, only for the sake of our righteous Savior, Jesus Christ.

21 “‘And you shall not covet your neighbor's wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.’

Your Word tells us to refrain from coveting what does not belong to us. The apostle Paul says that coveting is a form of idolatry, which is to elevate created things over the Creator. Our first parents coveted the forbidden fruit and they coveted the exalted wisdom and stature of God. We are just like our first parents. We are prone to be dissatisfied with our possessions, with our spouses, with our coworkers, with our friends, with our bodies and with our allotted situations in life. So we envy the situations of others, and we grumble at the good that they enjoy. Lord, we lack contentment! We need your grace, in order that we might turn away from the idolatry of our covetous hearts. Renew us by the power of your gracious Spirit and conform us to the righteous image of Christ. All to the praise of your glorious grace!



Putting Acts of Worship Back in Your Weekly Schedule

    How is your life as a Christian going? In answering this question, what criteria are you using to evaluate? Are you assessing your Christian life by the way you live and worship or simply by how you have felt recently ? James Bannerman (1807-1868) described the faithful Christian as a “man in the closet, man in the family, man in the church…equally bound to the duties of the personal, the domestic [i.e. family], [and] the public worship of God.” According to this theologian, the faithful (not perfect) Christian life is characterized by acts of worship. Could your family’s schedule this week be handed confidently to Bannerman with the expectation that he would say: Yes Christian, your life is defined and governed by the worship of God in the personal, familial, and public spheres of your life? Or would he respond differently, and if so, what do you think he would say?  

    Like all of us, Bannerman was a flawed and sinful Christian. However, I think his comment above on the Christian life is a desperately needed guide for Christians today. Instead of evaluating our Christian faithfulness by how close we feel to God, let’s try picking something more concrete - our weekly schedules. I’m not saying that our schedules are the only important indicator of fruitful Christian living, but it is one important place to start.  


    Bannerman’s claim is that our weekly schedules must reflect the command of Christ to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). This means, for Bannerman, that a Christian’s life is structured around acts of worship within three central settings of life: the personal, the familial, the ecclesial (church). Let me give you a purposefully general description of a Christian’s schedule that takes seriously Bannerman’s three pillars of Christian living:  

Personal Worship:

    When we start our day, we force our slothful selves to set God apart as holy in our individual hearts. This practice is no easy task, but it is worth it. The puritan, John Flavel, said of this practice, “how difficult it is to keep our hearts, how dangerous to neglect them.” The faithful Christian sets aside time each day to come before God as an individually crafted, image bearer of God. Through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, our personal thoughts and desires are lifted in prayer to God as we feast upon the holy Scriptures. Sometimes we trivialize these moments by calling them “me and God time” or various other cutesy names. Why not call it what it is, personal worship? It is a labor, a duty, and, over time, a joy. It is the first line of defense against the “schemes of the devil” (Eph 6:11). 

Family Worship:

    At some point as we faithfully work to provide for our families, contribute to our societies, and love our neighbors, we daily gather together our households to participate in holy acts of worship. While writing to the Ephesian church, as Paul was in the midst of commanding husbands to love their wives, he took time to highlight the issue of worship, not date night or romantic getaways (not that these are bad!). Paul instructed husbands to “sanctify” their wives through the “washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:25-26). Shortly after, Paul told these same leaders of the home to “not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). In Deuteronomy, God commanded Israelite parents to teach their children about the Lord “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut. 6:7). These Scriptures still apply to us today! In our hyper-busy environment, how will Christians heed the commands of these particular Scriptures without intentionally scheduling practices of family worship? If you are unfamiliar with this historic practice, I recommend you check out this little book: Family Worship by Donald S. Whitney.

Public Worship:

    Six days or 144 hours have been gifted to each of us for the express purpose of carrying out our regular responsibilities. On Sunday, The Lord’s Day, we are commanded to rest and to worship. Yes, that’s right, our good God knows that we need a command to rest and to worship. Yet so many Christians fail to prioritize public acts of worship in their weekly schedules. Public worship in the local church has rightly been treated by most orthodox Christians throughout church history as an immovable pillar in their weekly schedules. How dare we so arrogantly believe that public worship is somehow unnecessary for us today? Check out this other blog post to see some thoughts regarding that tricky question. All I will say now, is that every Christian who is unsure as to whether they prioritize public worship may want to begin keeping track of their worship attendance. Mark on your calendar every time you miss worshipping at your local church or show up late to worship. This record may speak volumes about your actual view of public worship.

    Allow me to end this post with a word of encouragement. Some of you may feel like your lives are miles and miles away from having a schedule that reflects a genuine concern for personal, familial, and corporate acts of worship. This feeling is completely understandable. We exist in a culture that considers worship superfluous, embarrassing, and sanctimonious. We must strive to resist this American tendency which ignores the Scripture’s clear command to worship God with our entire selves (Romans 12:1, 2). Take a moment in prayer to recommit your family’s schedule to the Lordship of God, and then take clear steps to put Christian worship back at the center of your week.

Pastor Scott

A Theology of Giving: Seeing Christ In Our Tithes, Offering & Alms

    What does it mean to give financially to one’s local church? Is it merely the equivalent of a gift offered in support of a charitable organization? Churches are, and should be, charitable organizations, but are they not more than that? Malachi 3:8 tells us that the worshiper is stealing from God if he does not give “tithes and offerings.” Certainly, we cannot say the same regarding just any non-profit. We are not “robbing God” by failing to contribute to American Red Cross, Samaritan’s Purse or Kiva. Contributing to charitable organizations is certainly a commendable act of love, but the church is distinct from these organizations. As the embassy of God’s Kingdom on earth, the church uniquely demands tithes and offerings. This manner of difference is analogous to the distinction between voluntary giving and mandatory taxes. To use biblical language, the Christian’s tithe is to be considered holy, because it is for God and commanded by God.

    The tithe, in its Old Testament manifestation, was intimately connected to the holy, promised land. This connection continues to explain the holiness of tithing: “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord” (Lev. 27:30). It was because the tithe was taken from the promised land, not simply due to the agricultural context, that Israel tithed on their agricultural goods rather than on their monetary income. “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year” (Deut. 14:22). Israel was then commanded to use this fruit of the promised land in religious feasting (23). The people literally feasted on God’s fulfilled promises in the Old Testament tithe. Therefore, the holiness of the tithe was derived, not only from the nature of God as the authoritative Lord of creation but also, from its intimate connection to God’s redemptive promises, typified in the promised land.

    Does the connection between the promised land and the tithe denote that new covenant Christians are no longer required to keep the tithe? It is true to say that the tithe, as part of the ceremonial law, is fulfilled (Matt. 5:17) and abrogated in Christ (Heb. 8:1-3,6, 13). Jesus is, after all, the fulfillment of the promised land (Heb. 11:8-10) and first fruits of the new creation (1 Cor. 15:23; Col. 1:15, 18). However, we must remember that Abraham, a nomad with no land, paid a tithe to Melchizedek as an act of Yahweh worship, and this was long before the ceremonial laws were given (Gen. 14:20). This mysterious event in Genesis and the discussion of Abraham’s tithe in the Book of Hebrews (Heb. 7:4-10) are evidence of the abiding appropriateness of giving tithes and offerings to the Lord. Thus, while the New Testament may not explicitly command tithing, the principle of joyfully giving to the Lord in the worshiping assembly of God’s people remains intact. Just consider the following passages: Matt. 6:2-4; Mk. 12:41-44; 23:23; Lk. 21:1-4; Acts 2:42, 44; 4:34-37; 5:4; 6:1-7; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 9:7-8; 1 Tim. 5:17-18. Several of these passages will be discussed or referenced below. 

    The tithe of Deuteronomy was deeply charitable. In fact, if a man was unable to bring his tithe to the worshipping community, he could give it to the poor or to the levites (14:24-27). Jesus assumed that his disciples would be giving alms, or gifts to the poor (Matt. 6:2-4). Christ discussed alms during his teachings on prayer. For this reason, Hughes Oliphant Old asserts that Jesus viewed almsgiving as “an auxiliary discipline to prayer.” Old's position is supported historically by the fact that jews tended to give their alms during their time in prayerful worship in the temple or the synagogue (Mk. 12:41-44). Additionally, Paul spoke of compensating the preachers and teachers for their labor (1 Tim. 5:17-18). This concern mirrors the Old Testament’s interest in preserving the welfare of the levites. Paul also mentioned special contributions for needy Christians (1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 9:7-8). Gifts given within the context of new covenant church-life are reminiscent of the intent and practice of old covenant giving. 

    In Acts 2:42 the life of the new covenant church is described like this: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship [κοινωνία, “contribution” or “sharing”], to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” This passage is best understood as a description of the general life of the church that would have culminated in formal acts of worship. In these worship services the church would have participated in preaching and teaching, contributing to the church body (tithes, offerings, alms for the poor), administering the sacraments, and praying. To fail to contribute to the church through one’s resources was a failure to fully participate in the life and worship of the church community.

    We are still left with one practical question: how much should the new covenant worshipper contribute to their local church? It is difficult to say decisively that the ten percent figure of the Old Testament tithe remains binding on the Christian. However, believers should be careful in their consideration of this traditional percentage, for several reasons. First, consider that the percentage of the tithe may still be binding today, though it is an area of contention among biblical scholars and theologians. We do not want to be guilty of robbing the Lord our God. Second, why would we assume that the amount would vary due to the advent of Jesus? After all, we still await the eternal city which is yet to come in Jesus' triumphant return (Rev. 21:9-27). Lastly, as mentioned above, Abraham tithed (ten percent) to Melchizadek (Gen. 14:20; Heb. 7:4-10). Are we really so bold as to contribute less as we approach Christ in worship, under the blessedness of the new covenant era?  

Practical Points of Application: 

  • In their contributions, Christians should be reminded of the sufficient offering of Christ’s blood to deliver and redeem sinners, of the guarantee of an eternal dwelling place with the Lord that the Holy Spirit affords believers (Eph. 1:14), and of the Lordship of God over all his creatures. 
  • Tithes, offerings, and alms are a means by which the Christian joyfully participates in the life, ministry, and worship of the church (Mal. 3; Matt. 6:2-4; Acts 2:42). 
  • Because giving should be a joy, it is the church officers’ responsibility to handle the offerings in a timely manner, in order to prevent giving from being a frustration.
  • Likewise, the giver should graciously understand checks may take a while to process through the banking system.
  • The Christian has a responsibility to both prayerfully determine the amount of one’s contribution and to carefully deliver it to God in corporate worship (Deut. 14:24; Acts 5:4). 
  • The leadership of a church has the responsibility to encourage their members to regularly contribute tithes, offerings, and alms as part of godly worship (1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 9:7-8). 
  • The fruit of tithes, offerings and alms should not be hoarded. Rather, the church ought to use its shared resources in faithful, Christian ministry, including but not exclusively for the pastor’s salary. 
  • The entire church has a responsibility to wisely utilize the church’s funds for the glory of God, the good of the church, and as a blessing to the nations.
  • With the oversight of the elders, the deacons are ordained, in part, for the wise handling of the church’s shared resources (Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 3:8).   

Pastor Scott 

What Good Is An Imaginary Savior?

    It is true that fictional stories have the power to awaken consciences and inspire action. Satires, like Animal Farm, can teach us about certain truths in a way that a textbook never could. However, when we make fiction the governing principle of our lives, we label it insanity at worst and quirky at best. Think of the person whose life revolves around playing video games or dressing up like movie characters. There is nothing inherently wrong with video games or movies, but they are certainly not worthy of our deepest loyalties. The power of fiction lies in its ability to creatively and, at times, subversively highlight truth which exists in the real world. That power is lost when we confuse fact from fiction.  

    In the nineteenth century, many biblical scholars began to toy with the idea that some of the Bible is simply fiction. They weren’t referring to the parts of the Bible that were intended to be read symbolically, such as parables, poetry and apocalyptic literature. These biblical scholars looked at a scriptural character like Abraham and said that he was “simply Israel’s projection of its ideal self into the unknown past” (B.W Bacon, 1860-1932). These sentiments were not so slowly transferred to the New Testament as well. Scholars of the twentieth century essentially said: If Jesus was a real person, the historical Jesus has been lost and replaced with the theological Jesus of the New Testament. Christianity, then, became nothing more than a fictional tale with kernels of profound truth, like any other good fiction. Is this a Christianity that ought to organize, inspire, and instruct our entire lives? B.B Warfield, reflecting on this fictional Jesus, once said, “How dreadful to have only an imaginary Savior and an imaginary salvation.”   


    Many evangelical Christians believe that they have avoided the kinds of problems described above. They go to Bible-believing churches, after all. They hold to the truthfulness of Scripture! Yet, many evangelicals, while paying lip service to the “literal approach to the Bible,” nonetheless live their lives as if Jesus were nothing more than an idealized version of themselves. The Jesus of evangelicalism has become indistinguishable from the fictional Jesus of the preceding paragraph. Evangelical Jesus is merely an idealized human who inspires us to “be all that we can be.” The evangelical Jesus motivates and spurs us on, but he doesn’t truly demand anything of us. The evangelical Jesus is worthy of our occasional reflections, but not of our entire lives.     

    The worship services of many evangelical churches portray this very reality. Churches may as well promote their services this way: Come and receive nuggets of ethical advice while being emotionally stirred and surprisingly entertained! If Jesus and his ministry is simply a fiction, then we can practice this kind of truncated Christianity and engage in this kind of self-serving worship. But if the Jesus of the New Testament is non-fiction, then we are dealing with a far more transformative kind of Christianity. We are dealing with a Christianity where God truly interacts with and exerts authority over our world. 

    This non-fictional Jesus entered into our world and lived a life of perfection, conforming to the standards of God’s character, so that we might know God. He died on a wooden cross, upon Golgotha, to rid us of our sins. His feet left this ground as he ascended to heaven and sat down in victory over death. This Jesus will return, in the flesh, to bring about a resolution of all things. This Jesus is the God-man who calls us to follow him by faith. Indeed, this Jesus demands our very lives! 

*B.B Warfield (1851-1921) remains one of America's greatest theologians and defenders of "non-fictional Jesus." In his selected shorter writings, Warfield addresses some of the issues raised above in his article entitled "How to Get Rid of Christianity." 

Pastor Scott

I Believe...In...What Again?

   Everyone believes in something. In fact, everyone believes in many things. I believe that the computer I’m typing on exists, or else I wouldn’t be moving my fingers in the manner I am moving them. I believe that chocolate tastes delicious, or else I wouldn’t take every opportunity possible to consume it. But of course, I also have foundational beliefs that we sometimes call convictions, because we hold them more strongly than we do our beliefs in the taste of chocolate or the existence of our laptops. 

    Foundational beliefs guide us in how we approach the world. They include beliefs about God, good & evil, how we come to know things and the nature of the cosmos. It's “big stuff,” I know, but we all have beliefs about the “big stuff” of life. Sometimes we haven’t thought through our big, foundational beliefs, as much as we probably should, but that doesn't discount the fact that we have them. Whenever you try to explain human motives, you are relying on your big beliefs. Whenever you attempt to speak meaningfully about tragic events or give advice to someone in need of perspective, again you are relying on those big beliefs. 

    This all brings me to traditional Christian worship. When I say traditional, I don’t mean outdated. I am simply referring to practices that the Christian church has made use of for many centuries. One component of this kind of traditional, Christian worship has been the corporate confession of faith. Christians, since the time of the apostles, have been reciting summaries of the Christian faith (Matt. 10:32; 1 Tim. 3:16). The corporate confession of faith often looks like this: the pastor says “Christian, what do you believe,” and those gathered respond in unison by reciting a summary of the Christian faith. One summary used by many churches is the Apostle’s Creed.

The Apostles’s Creed

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, And sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; The holy catholic Church; The communion of saints;The forgiveness of sins; The resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

    So, why do it? Why participate in this old practice? Well, I can think of a handful of very good reasons: to remind, to check, to separate, to motivate, and to unite

    First, to remind yourself. We are a forgetful people. I forget what I’m doing all the time. I forget what I’m supposed to be working on or what I’m trying to say or where I am supposed to be. Something tells me that you may be able to relate. We humans are forgetful about the little things and, regrettably, the big things too. Honestly, we are probably apt to forget the big things even more than the little things. We have calendars and apps designed to help us remember our routine tasks, and yet we tend to neglect practices that remind us of our foundational convictions. The corporate confession of faith is a weekly reminder for the church and those watching of what the Christian truly believes. It's a needed opportunity for church members to stand in front of the mirror and be reminded of their Christian identity.  

    Second, to check yourself. It is one thing to hold a belief and a wholly different thing to act upon that belief. A college freshman who philosophizes his way into believing that his chair doesn't really exist is not likely to impress or persuade anyone until he stops relying on the chair to bear his weight. Sometimes Christians are the inverse of the college freshman but no less hypocritical. Christians say that they believe in the God of the Bible while refusing to trust that He can "bear their weight." The weekly confession of faith allows the Christian to evaluate whether or not their lives match up with the faith they claim to inhabit. 

    Third, to separate yourself. This one may be the toughest for (post)modern people to stomach. Confessing the Christian faith means that your basic beliefs about the world are distinct from the beliefs of others. The Apostle's Creed speaks of foundational issues to the Christian faith: God as Creator, God as triune, salvation in Jesus alone, judgment, and eternal life. These beliefs act as clear boundaries, distinguishing the Christian from the Buddhist, the Hindu, the Mormon, the Muslim, the Jew, the secularist etc. By stating what you believe, you are also declaring what you do not believe.

    Fourth, to motivate yourself. While some would see it as divisive or arrogant to separate oneself from others on the basis of religious beliefs, many Christians have viewed it as fundamental to evangelism. When we embrace the exclusivity of the Christian message, we realize that Christianity is more than a result of personality and culture. The biblical claim is that Christian faith is necessary for anyone to enter into the fullness of human life as God intended it - "life everlasting" as the Apostle's Creed states. Christianity isn't just true for me, rather it is simply true, whether or not you believe it. The reason for this, according to the Apostle's Creed, is that truth is located in the triune, Creator God, not in the human individual. So, the corporate confession of faith should motivate the Christian church to take their confession into the world with a renewed confidence that it is universally true and therefore always relevant.

    Fifth, to unite the church to one another and to God. To speak the words of the confession is to bind yourself to the covenant of grace; this is a covenant summed up in God's promise: "I will be your God, you will be my people, and I will make my dwelling place among you" (Jer. 32:38; 2 Cor. 6:16). It is very much like taking wedding vows: "I take this God to be my God and his church to be my church." You are not simply saying the words of confession into the air, rather you are declaring them as an oath to God and to your fellow Christian. In essence, you are saying, "these are words to which God and my local congregation can hold me accountable." 

    Why is it then that so many churches no longer participate in this ancient and biblical practice? Perhaps churches have abandoned it without sufficient consideration. If you go to a church that still practices corporate confession, rejoice for you are greatly blessed! If you go to a church that doesn't, maybe it's time to humbly suggest that your church leadership recover the practice. And if you are looking for a church home, perhaps you should seek out a church that allows you to confess the faith weekly.

Pastor Scott


Compromise: Dirty Word or Christian Duty?

    It is well known that Jesus addressed taxes during his ministry. Typically we think of the famous line, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17). In a lesser known text, recorded in Matthew 17:24-27, Jesus addressed the payment of a temple tax. This wasn’t a tax paid to the ruling nation but to religious authorities at the temple. The tax collectors were interested to see whether Jesus would pay this tax. Jesus basically said: I’m not obligated to pay the tax because I’m the Son of God, but I’ll pay it so as not to offend. The direct quote from Jesus in Matthew 17 goes like this: “From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?And when he [Peter] said, ‘From others,’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them…[Jesus went on to pay the tax for himself and Peter].’” 

    What is Jesus up to in this passage? Is he compromising? Yes. Did Jesus always compromise in order to avoid offending others? Clearly the answer must be a resounding no. Jesus had no problem characterizing the pharisees as little devils (Matt. 12:34), and he wasn’t talking about cakes. Also, we should remember how Jesus upended tables within the very same temple that he was sponsoring in this Matthew 17 passage. So, what was it that allowed Jesus to compromise regarding the temple tax but not to compromise in other situations? And how does this question relate to Christian life and ministry? 

    The tax in question finds its origins in the Old Testament, in Exodus 30:11-16. The tax was taken from every jewish citizen for the upkeep of the temple, originally the tabernacle. Ultimately, though, this tax was spiritual and theological in nature. Exodus 30:16 even refers to the money collected for the tax as “atonement money!"

    This tax was supporting the sacrificial system of the temple. The sacrificial system reminded the people of Israel that they were morally tarnished and were therefore estranged in their relationship with God. Yes, that’s right, the temple reminded the “chosen people of God” that they were far from God because of their sin. And the temple also pointed the jewish people to the fact that a bloody death was necessary to wash their sins away and re-connect them to God (i.e. atonement).

    Jesus is, as John the Baptist put it, “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The sacrifice that forgives sin once and for all had arrived in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore the sacrificial system of the temple would no longer be necessary. Who needs a sign that reads “This Way to Disney World” when you are standing in the park? Likewise, who needs the blood of bulls and goats when the only begotten Son of God has spilled his blood on the cross for sinners?

Let’s go back and talk more about Jesus’ compromise in Matthew 17.

    In the Matthew 17 passage, Jesus says that he is not obligated to pay the temple tax. This makes sense, as we heard from Jesus’ quote above, because he is basically the issuer of the tax. Not only that, but Jesus knows that the days of the temple are drawing quickly to their end. In fact, the temple would be laid to waste in just a few short decades after Jesus’ death. But in order not to give unnecessary offense, Jesus, here, pays the tax. 

    Had Jesus not paid the tax, the people would have thought that Jesus didn’t embrace what the temple was all about. Ironically, the temple was all about Jesus! Also, the people may have responded by delaying Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and ultimately to the cross. since the cross was central to Jesus' message and mission, Jesus decided to pay the tax.

    It was not a sin for him to pay, because Jesus had immense freedom in his standing as the Son of God. He was not obligated to pay, but he was free to pay. So, Jesus paid a small tax to a temple system that could never absolve the full debt of human sin. He pays in order to continue his march to the cross, where, as one hymn puts it, “Jesus paid it all.” On the cross Jesus far and away surpassed the greatness of the Temple and of it’s sacrificial system by making a costly deposit as the means of liberating sinners from their enormous debt.

    Obviously, it’s no stretch to say that compromise is not always a dirty word, because Jesus compromised. This Matthew passage is a great example of that. How can we learn to compromise like Jesus did? First we need to make some important observations about the way that Jesus compromised:

    1. Jesus avoided unnecessary offense, which reminds us that sometimes Jesus was necessarily offensive.

    2. Jesus did not and would not sin in order to compromise for the sake of avoiding offense.

    3. Jesus’ compromise allowed him to move on to the cross and eventually fulfill and do away with the very tax that he paid.

With these observations in mind, let’s try to apply Jesus’ compromise to compromises that we must make. Let these three instructions, derived from Jesus’ own actions, form a helpful set of guidelines for your Christian life and ministry:

    1. We must make compromises in order to avoid unnecessary offense, even if this means surrendering our Christian liberties.

    2. We must never let compromise be an excuse for our sin.

    3. Significant compromise in Christian life and ministry must be a means of communicating the gospel, not of protecting our pride.

Defending the Biblical Canon

Dr. Michael Kruger is one of the leading evangelical scholars in the area of biblical canon today.  He has some wisdom for us as to how we can answer questions like these:

  1. Why are these sixty-six books the right books to call "Scripture" and not other books?
  2. What separates Protestants from Roman Catholics on this issue?
  3. How do we answer skeptics?
  4. Should the differences between greek copies of biblical books bother us?

If you want to read more from Dr. Kruger, check out his website and some of his books, listed below.

Recommended Reading

  1. Canon Revisited
  2. The Question of Canon
  3. The Heresy of Orthodoxy 

Why Do You Need Your Pastor?

    While boarding a plane in St. Louis, I noticed that the man in front of me was oddly dressed. He was wearing a long brown robe with a rope belt. The man looked like a monk from an age long past. The woman taking tickets gave the man a big smile and said “Hello Father.” as if she knew him. The medieval-monk did not know the woman, but he noticed that she had addressed him with the title “Father,” so he asked if she was a Catholic. She replied hesitantly, “Well, yes, but I have not been to mass for a long time.” The monk gently chided her for her idleness as he moved on to board the plane, and then the woman, still laughing nervously, turned to scan my ticket.

    Why did this woman call the man “Father,” if she had no real connection to the institutional church anymore? Why did this priest, and supposedly priests like him, garner a measure of her respect while having little to no impact on her behavior, specifically regarding church attendance? These questions, I think, all revolve around one larger question, “Why do you need your pastor?”

    Christians in our country tend to view pastors as noble holy men who fill a niche role in our society. They are seen as servants of the people who push us to better ourselves. In this way, pastors and priests are the original self-help gurus, in the eyes of many Americans. They are also understood to have some form of authority, because they are in touch with the “big guy upstairs.” And so, like the woman taking tickets, we instinctively know that they deserve a measure of our respect.  Yet, whether a pastor wears an archaic robe or not, the profession of pastor is also viewed as old-fashioned, a remnant of times gone by.

    Is the role of pastor really so superfluous? The answer is probably yes, if pastors are merely what the previous paragraph describes: self-help gurus and holy men with a direct line to the “bearded man in the clouds.” But this isn’t what a pastor is supposed to be. If American Christians genuinely understood and embraced the biblical vision of pastor, they would likely be more active in their local church.   

What is this vision? I’ll be brief, but I will also list a few books for further reading at the bottom, in case I spark your interest. 

    Here are three descriptions of a pastor that fit the biblical bill but, unfortunately, are not the descriptions many Christians would ascribe to their own pastors. I’ll begin each description with “your pastor,” so that you can think about these descriptions and how they fit or, unfortunately, don’t fit your pastor. 

1.  Your Pastor is a Local Theologian

    In the age of podcasts, religious television, and YouTube, many Christians consult “the experts” for their theological questions rather than their own pastors. While not every pastor has been adequately trained in biblical studies and theology, for the most part, I think this trend is a mistake. The local pastor is called to shepherd the local church, and this includes shepherding our biblical and theological viewpoints. By this I mean our most basic, fundamental beliefs about the world around us. And the reality is, only your local pastor can give you this kind of theological counsel in the personalized way that we so need. 

    Let me put it this way: the pastor is meant to be your metaphorical ophthalmologist (eye doctor). When I was twelve, I went to the eye doctor to get glasses. The ophthalmologist used her expertise to fit me with the correct lenses and frames that I needed. These glasses allowed me to see the world as it really was, rather than as the fuzzy mess my eyes beheld, based on their own strength. In the same way, pastors are meant to fit a congregation with a biblical framework that allows each member to see the world for what it truly is: a broken, fallen creation of God in deep need of redemption through the God-man, Jesus Christ. 

    Christians should be in the process of being formed by the local theologians that are our pastors. These pastors should be intentionally shaping their sermons (formal Sunday sermons & informal biblical counsel) to instill in their particular congregations a thoroughly and extensively biblical worldview (Rom. 12:1-2). Sunday morning sermons are not mere self-help talks to give you techniques to achieve personal happiness. Sermons are one of the most powerful means by which God cleanses you of your default selfishness and re-orients you for the sake of His own Kingdom purposes.

2.  Your Pastor is a Liturgical Waiter

    We often picture pastors as relatively benign individuals. As I use the word “pastor,” you may picture a man in a suit or a black robe standing in a church pulpit, delivering a sermon. You may see him playing baseball with the youth group or praying at a fellowship meal. But sometimes the ordinary and familiar nature of pastoral work causes us to overlook the, dare I say, “epic” role that the pastor holds. Picture this: a man with an oversized Bible boldly standing in a storm at the edge of a seemingly endless sea. The expansive mass of water is being violently stirred by the storm. And on the other side of the man is a magnificent, wooden table, set for a feast. 

    This man is a pastor, ready to be an administrator, a liturgical waiter of sorts. He stands between the Lord's table and the seas of baptism, in the midst of the brutality of this fallen world. This picture reminds us of the divine, Spiritual power which stands behind the seemingly ordinary pastoral ministry of Word and Sacrament. Every Sunday we get to partake in the Spiritual benefits of the “means of grace” that are found uniquely in the reading, preaching, singing, confessing, seeing, tasting and “amen-ing” of the Word of God. Your pastor gets to be the minister or waiter of these most gracious means. Epic, is it not? 

3.  Your Pastor is a Specialist in the Art of Dying Well

    In theology there is a term that is often misunderstood. The term is “eschatology,” or the study of the end. Sometimes we think that eschatology can only be associated with Armageddon, predictions of approaching catastrophic events, and the final return of Christ. What we tend to forget is that eschatology is deeply practical, because eschatology is also about how we live our lives now. The end of a well-crafted story will determine the identity of the good guys and the bad guys and will evaluate the worth of the choices and events that took place during the earlier parts of the story. Christians, in the Scriptures, have been given a glimpse into the end of the story (Rev. 21 & 22), and therefore we have been given great wisdom about how to live now. 


    Pastors are trained to tell the story of Christianity, the great narrative of God’s redeeming his creation through Christ (Col. 1:19-20). Our life now is not all that there is. Jesus will win and his beloved church will live on into eternity. Death acts simply as a door through which we all must walk. The only question is: “Will we die well”? Will our lives be geared in such a way that ignores the reality of death and the afterlife or will our stories be shaped by the biblical picture of the end? 

    Therefore, pastors are called to be our own personal “specialists in the art of dying well.” A pastor will welcome a newborn infant into the world with joy and into the church with baptism one day. While that same pastor, on the next day, will accompany, comfort, and counsel a grieving family in a funeral home. The work of the pastor as "specialist in the art of dying well" has just begun for this little baby and it has come to its completion for the one who has "passed on." Only the Christian pastor is equipped by his training and his office to play these privileged and humbling roles in the great story of God’s redemption as we anticipate the end.

    “Why Do You Need Your Pastor?” Well, perhaps the descriptions above have brought more substance to the calling that is the Christian pastorate. If this has made you curious to learn more, try reading one of the books below.


1.  The Pastor As Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision by Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachen

2.  By His Spirit and Word by Cornelius Venema

3.  Becoming a Pastor Theologian: New Possibilities for Church Leadership edited by Todd Wilson & Gerald Hiestand 

Pastor Scott

A Country of Religious Fanatics

I live in the mid-west now, where everyone claims to be a Christian, but the churches are empty. 

Old Man in Church .jpg

    A fellow pastor and I agreed that we’d much rather have a discussion with a hard-nosed atheist about spiritual matters than have the same conversation with a nominal Christian. Part of our reasoning had to do with something we both admire in atheists and have trouble finding in most Christians. Atheists, we agreed, at least know what they believe or don’t believe. They even attempt to structure their lives in light of that belief or unbelief. But can we say the same about many American Christians? 

     An early protestant, pastor-theologian, John Calvin, once spoke of “fanatical men” who thought corporate worship and preaching were unnecessary. They are not what we tend to think of when we hear of "religious fanatics." But, they were “fanatical” in Calvin’s view, because they were both wrong, biblically, and a minority within the society. But now, our country is filled with such “fanatical” men and women who share the very same beliefs. 

    Another protestant, theologian, Herman Bavinck, called this same group of people “spiritualists.” They were “spiritualists” because they thought that God would ordinarily work in their lives directly through the Holy Spirit, apart from such means as preaching, fellowship, the Lord’s Supper and the like. To put it differently, if asked how a Christian should grow in godliness, the spiritualist would simply say “God will make me godly.” This is true enough, but when asked how God would make them godly, the spiritualist would say, “through my own personal, private and direct interactions with God.” 

    It seems that most American Christians have adopted a religion that is, if nothing else, personal, private, and lacking in outward spiritual disciplines. Today, many self-proclaimed Christians roll their eyes at the idea that joining a church and faithfully attending that church’s worship gatherings is essential to Christian living. This is an idea that would have been taken for granted not many generations ago. It is an idea that is clearly taught by Christ himself (Matthew 16:18; Luke 22:19; John 13:34-35) and by the authors of the New Testament (Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 14:40; Hebrews 13:16-17). 

What is at the heart of this revival of Calvin’s “fanatical men” and Bavinck’s “spiritualists”? 

    The answer to this question is, I think, an old answer, not a new one. The answer is not ultimately tied to ever changing societal preferences or to recent technological advancements. Rather, the answer is this: In the hearts of many American Christians, God has taken a back seat to idols. Christians have allowed for the idols of our day to supplant the true God of Scripture. One might think that idolatry is a sin of older societies, but that is not at all the case. Let me update the language, so to speak, to illustrate my point.

    If I were to say that Jesus is the hero and central character of the Bible, most Christians would gladly agree. But if I were to say that Jesus is the hero and central character of your life-story, while many Christians would politely nod in agreement, any evidence to support such a statement would, in most cases, be desperately lacking for American Christians. How could Jesus be considered the hero and central character when most people treat him like a supporting role, at best, and a brief, on-camera cameo at worst!

    This is because all Americans, including American Christians, have been taught that we are the heroes of our own lives. The "pursuit of happiness" is defined by our own affections, desires, and goals, or so we are told. If that's not idolatry, I don't know what is! We have been taught to seek the “high life” and to marginalize anything that stands in the way of our pursuits. So, when Jesus bluntly says, “seek first the Kingdom,” most of us are forced to explain away the meaning of Jesus’ annoyingly clear words. “But, ‘first’ can’t actually mean, well, first!” 

    What would it look like if Jesus and the things that Jesus held to be of first importance came first in our lives? What would it look like if the quality of our life-stories were judged by their compatibility with the grander story of Christ and his Kingdom, instead of the other way around? What if Jesus became the hero and was given the on-camera time that he so deserves? Maybe Christians would see a radical spike in their holiness and their feelings of closeness to God. Who knows, maybe Christians would be as interesting to talk to as atheists. 

Pastor Scott

Do You Believe in Demons?

    Do you believe in demons? If not, you are in good company. Well, if not “good,” at least you belong to a densely populated company. Even many self-proclaimed Christians have no trouble dismissing the reality of demons while embracing a messiah who spent plenty of time battling them. For instance, in Matthew 8:16, we see Christ casting demons from their human hosts. Just a handful of verses later, Jesus allows demons to inhabit the bodies of swine and then rush off the side of a steep bank to their own demise. 


    For atheists who claim that non-material entities are unreal by definition, it is understandable why they balk at the concept of demons. But why have Christians in the west ignored or denied the existence of demons? And by the way, does it really matter all that much to the gospel of Jesus? Does the average Christian lose something by denying the reality of demons?

    During a conversation I had with a Christian psychologist, it was suggested that the presence of demons in the Bible is simply due to the ignorance of biblical times. In other words, Jesus and the people of his day were ill equipped to understand the abnormal behavior of people who were really suffering from un-treated mental illnesses. Of course, this explanation doesn’t account for why Jesus claimed to speak with demons, or cast demons into pigs or successfully healed individuals of these ailments. If Jesus was unaware of “mental illness,” how was he such a successful physician in ridding his clients of them? On the other hand, if Jesus did understand the categories of mental illness, why did he lie? Jesus was not one to treat his friends, or his enemies for that matter, with kid gloves. This psychologist's explanation may feel like a reasonable middle ground between outright secularism and full-blown biblical literalism. However, in reality, it creates more problems than it solves.

    Maybe at this point the Christian reader is thinking, “Ok, I’ll just believe that demons exist. But, honestly, I’ve been a Christian for years, and it’s not made a big difference either way.” Certainly, I agree that demons don’t cross my mind all that often, even as a Christian pastor. The existence of demons is not central to Christian living, and this is without a doubt. But Christians really do lose something important by denying the existence of demons or by ignoring the biblical significance of demons.

    The Christian psychologist above was trying to explain away the existence of demons by pointing to mental illness. For this psychologist, individual brain and behavioral malfunctions replaced the biblical category of demons. Why is this a colossal, theological problem? Because, demons are not simply personal disorders or afflictions. Demons are a cosmic problem. They are more analogous to Germany invading Western Europe than to your grandmother contracting cancer. In our evangelical climate, the gospel of Christ has become hyper-individualized, to a dangerous degree. The central goal of the gospel of Christ is not that Bob or Sally “get saved,” and have an existential feeling of wholeness as a result. The central goal of the gospel is that the Kingdom of God would come on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 4:17; 6:10). The goal is for God to reconcile all things to Himself, for His own glory (Eph. 1:5, 6; Col. 1:20). 

    John's understanding that currently “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one [Satan and his demons]" (1 John 5:19) should remind us of the grandeur of Christ’s redemptive work. At the resurrection, Christ “disarmed” Satan’s kingdom of darkness, putting them to “shame, by triumphing over them” (Col. 2:15). So, Jesus has not merely delivered us from our own “personal demons,” rather he has “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin” (Col. 1:13-14). When Christ returns, he will bring the final deathblow to the kingdom of darkness. 

    This is the story of the cosmos that should shape and direct our entire lives. Too many Christians are living off of the truncated story of American evangelicalism that has radically over-emphasized personal conversion. As important as our conversion to Christ certainly is, we ought not to confuse our being welcomed into the Kingdom with the Kingdom itself and its larger, cosmos-sized, goals.

Pastor Scott