>Living as Dual Citizens

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Ever get confused on how to live the Christian life as one who is a citizen of heaven while simultaneously a citizen of America or the world?

Then here is a book that you ought to read and study. I have been anticipating it for some time now because it seeks to help you learn how to do this from a self-consciously Reformed confessional perspective.

Stellman explores the Christian pilgrimage with deep biblical insight, humor, and relevance to our contemporary context, revealing how Christians are to think of themselves and their role this side of heaven.

Check out a couple of the endorsements.

>Praying for a Rookie President

>Over at Real Clear Politics, Thomas Sowell has an interesting article comparing the costly mistakes that rookie athletes make with the potential for even costlier mistakes that our rookie President has already and may continue to make. Sowell says,

We now have a rookie President of the United States and, in the dangerous world we live in, with terrorist nations going nuclear, just one rookie mistake can bring disaster down on this generation and generations yet to come.

Now, obviously any first term President is in a sense a “rookie.” But this is not what concerns Sowell, rather, he is concerned that President Obama does not have any previous executive responsibility in an organization in which he was personally responsible for the outcome of his decisions. Sowell’s conclusion is, “We can lose some very big games with this rookie.”

Although as a citizen of the city of man, I agree with Sowell’s assessment, and am not in agreement with man of the decisions and policies of our current President; however, as I am also a citizen of the city of God, I have been commanded to pray for those in leadership over me,

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way, (1 Tim 2.1-2).

To me, this is one of truly helpful aspects about the Two Kingdoms perspective–on the one hand I can disagree with our President and stand in opposition to his ideals, and yet on the other I can pray for his success as a govenor without expecting him to change his ideals.

Too many today intertwine their faith with their politics and find themselves confused about how to maintain their faith as pilgrims in a land that that is not their home, while simultaneously wisely maintaining the rights, privilges and responsibilities as citizens in America. This confusion often leads persons who pray for leaders with whom they disagree only to pray that the leaders change their beliefs to agree with them.

If our President is indeed a rookie as Sowell asserts, then we should pray that God provide him the wisdom to govern well, no matter his idealogy, that he not “lose some very big games.”

Read Sowell’s entire post here.

Free Markets, American Consumerism and The Great Commission

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The church must become aware and continue to be aware of the influence that American culture and its free market economy has on it. The free market creates situations that often lead to the abuse of humanity by humanity. Wendell Berry spent much of his time discussing this problem in the essays contained in What Are People For?. He points out that our market driven economy, with its emphasis on technology and efficiency, is producing an urban society in which people are becoming devalued. He asks,

 

Is the obsolescence of human beings now our social goal? One would conclude so from our attitude toward work, especially the manual work necessary to the long-term preservation of the land, and from our rush toward mechanization, automation, and computerization. In a county that puts an absolute premium on labor-saving measures, short workdays, and retirement, why should there be any surprise at permanence of unemployment and welfare dependency? Those are only different names for our national ambitions, (p.125).

 

He quips that the economy and its emphasis on material expansion has led persons to gain from another’s loss and to not feel bad about it, but to rather view it as part of life. He thinks that this is violence. Where our society would never advocate or accept physical violence, such as murder, as being acceptable ethical behavior, we have little problem accepting acts of economic violence,

 

Leaving aside the issue of whether or not murder would be acceptable as an economic means if the stakes were high enough, it is a fact that the destruction of life is a part of the daily business of economic competition as now practiced. If one person is willing to take another’s property or to accept another’s ruin as a normal result of economic enterprise, then he is willing to destroy that other person’s life as it is and as it desires to be, (p.131-32).

 

All of this emphasis on economic development has actually resulted in much destruction, rather than progress, “The centralization of our economy, the gathering of the productive property and power into fewer and fewer hands, and the consequent destruction, everywhere, of the local economies of household, neighborhood, and community,” (p.128, emphasis in original).

 

At the heart of the issue is the consumerism that the free market has created, which it needs in order to survive. Berry states that the consumption is being done irresponsibly, and that it is not only the fault of those involved in the mass production of cheap, worthless products that are meant to only work for a limited time, but that all of us are responsible, “But our waste problem is not the fault only of producers. It is the fault of an economy that is wasteful from top to bottom—a self-indulgent consumptiveness at the bottom—and all of us are involved in it,” (p.127).

 

This problem of consumption has also radically impacted the church and how it functions in society. Ever since the religious disestablishment that took place with the inception of America and its policy of separation of church and state, churches have been left to themselves to survive financially. This has led to an emphasis on numbers and having many members. The more members a church has the more monies it has, which entails more security. This has led to churches incorporating the same methods being used by secular businesses in order to grow their churches. The gospel has become a commodity that must be handled rightly. This has led to churches offering the gospel through many programs—provide people with enough options and choices that meet their felt needs (which are more than their real needs since their felt needs are driven to want more than they actually need—a byproduct of our economy) and they will choose your church.

 

This has also affected how people choose a church. They are smart consumers who look for a good deal, they want the most bang for their buck. So they shop around at the different churches to see which one is offering the best deal. The one that comes closest to meeting all their felt needs wins. What is resulting is that the churches are no longer separate from the world and reflective of the spiritual truth of the gospel and proper biblical ethics, they are now reflecting the world. They have become the world. Berry says that this is tragic because the result is that the church becomes unable to fulfill its calling and mission,

 

The organized church makes peace with a destructive economy and divorces itself from economic issues because it is economically compelled to do so. Like any other public institution so organized, the organized church is dependent on ‘the economy’; it cannot survive apart from those economic practices that its truth forbids and that its vocation is to correct. If it come to a choice between the extermination of the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field and the extermination of a building fund, the organized church will elect—indeed, has already elected—to save the building fund. . . . but the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field can be preserved only by true religion, by the practice of a proper love and respect for them as the creatures of God, (p.96, emphasis mine).

 

My point: we need to become aware of this problem so that we do not perpetuate the evils of society in the process of trying to offer the only solution for evil.The church is to be separate—it should be a place of truth in the world.I am by no means advocating socialism or communism (which are fraught with evil of their own), but I am advocating that the church see herself and her mission as separate from any particular culture in which she finds herself, and therefore, fight to keep herself as unstained as possible.The church in America needs to be aware of these dangers so that she can be a repenting people and try not to perpetuate the agenda of secular society by accident.This will necessitate contemplation about how to live in this world as the church.We must learn how to responsibly handle free markets and American culture, and not fall asleep at the wheel and perpetrate evil that puts other humans in economic bondage for the sake of our own sense of liberty, while offering liberation from evil and the bondage of sin.We must come to grip with the reality that the Constitution and Bill of Rights, as wonderful as they are, make promises to us that the Bible does not.As Edward E. Ericson, Jr has advised, “It is not the case that with common grace anything goes.Some ideas are just plain false and must simply be rejected.”The church must not try to baptize the practices of common grace into her mission of spreading the free offer of redeeming grace.We must remember the antithesis.

Preaching and the Two-Kingdoms

In the fourth chapter of Why Johnny Can’t Preach, Gordon advocates that “Christian preaching should be the person, character, and work of Christ,” (70). Gordon goes on to fill out his understanding of Christ-centered preaching when he says, “Even when the faithful exposition of particular texts requires some explanation of aspects of our behavior, it is always to be done in a manner that the hearer perceives such commanded behavior to be itself a matter of being rescued from the power of sin through the grace of Christ,” (71). He suggests that rather than divorcing behavior from the gospel, that as the “people’s confidence in Christ grows, they do, ordinarily and inevitably, bear fruit that accords with faith,” (78). He then goes on to poetically encourage ministers to feed their people full of the gospel:

Fill the sails of your hearers’ souls with the wind of confidence in the Redeemer, and they will trust him as their Sanctifier, and long to see his fruit in their lives. Fill their minds and imaginations with a vision of the loveliness and perfection of Christ in his person, and the flock will long to be like him. Impress upon their weak and wavering hearts the utter competence of the mediation of the One who ever lives to make intercession for them, and they will long to serve and comfort others, even as Christ has served and comforted them. (78)

The point is that it is only Christ-centered and saturated sermons that can feed and nurture faith in the souls of believers.

Faith is not built by preaching introspectively (constantly challenging people to question whether they have faith); faith is not built by preaching moralistically (which has exactly the opposite effect of focusing attention on the self rather than on Christ, in whom our faith is placed); faith is not built by joining the culture wars and taking potshots at what is wrong with our culture. Faith is built by careful, thorough exposition of the person, character, and work of Christ. (76, emphasis in original)

In the quote above, we find Gordon’s four failed alternatives to Christ-centered preaching: 1) moralism; 2) How-To; 3) Introspection; and 4) Social Gospel/So-Called Culture War. I found his comments concerning all the categories enlightening, but especially the fourth. In his discussion, Gordon does an excellent job of laying out a clear and easy to understand perspective of preaching that corresponds to the spirituality of the church, or the Two-Kingdom theory–that there is a distinction between the city of God (the church) and the city of man (culture).

Gordon argues that preaching should be done in light of keeping the two kingdoms separate and realizing that preaching is attached to the city of God and not the city of man. He supports this position with two main arguments. First, he makes a Natural Law argument that preaching that is devoted to commenting on what’s wrong with our culture and what ought to be done to improve it either by individuals or even worse by the coercive power of government is wrong because it is out of step with the nature of our country. The beauty of the work of the Founding Fathers of the American Republic is that they created a form of government founded upon a commitment to liberty. So important was liberty to them that it was more important than any good thing that individuals or a coercive federal government could force on persons.

The American Republic was designed in such a manner that it could have avoided the extremes represented today by secularist France and religious Iran. . . . The American Republic was designed to enforce neither, but permit both. The so-called culture wars in that Republic today are therefore due to a failure to believe in liberty, and a trigger-happy willingness to coerce others. (85, footnote 14)

In addition to this Natural Law argument, he second argument is biblical-theological. He notes that many in our churches love to live in imagined and self-made worlds of good guys and bad guys, and to think that they are part of the good guys. The problem with this is that Genesis 3 instructs that in Adam, we are all sinners and revolt against the reign of God and that each of us, therefore, prefer our own wills to the will of God. The Bible goes on to teach us that now we are dead in our sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2) and are utterly incapable, in and of ourselves, of changing our situation and our behavior. This inability is also true for government. The government cannot change us or rescue us from our revolt; education cannot enlighten our darkened minds; not even the church can deliver us from our darkened understanding that considers our own way better than God’s way; and surely coercive human governments cannot cure souls. The only answer is Jesus: “Only the God-man, the last Adam, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice and present intercession at the right hand of God, can rescue any of us from our revolt,” (86).

Because his words are so clear and helpful, here is a lengthy sampling:

So the one inadmissible thing to a culture warrior (that cultual change is out of our hands) is the basic subtext of everything the Bible teaches.

The culture warrior refuses to acknowledge that true and significant cultural change can happen only when the individual members of the culture have forsaken their own self-centeredness, and have revolted against their revolt against God. Worse, the culture warrior assumes that coerced change in behavior is desirable–that if we can pass a law that outlaws sin, this will somehow make people and culture better (when, in fact, we just become more devious and learn how to evade detection, adding deception to our other sins). Culture warriors are not content with the two legitimate ways in which humans may exert influence on the behavior of others; through reasoned discourse and the power of example. The power of example is too costly and too slow, and besides, we don’t wish to be around unbelievers much anyway. And reasoned discourse is beyond the capacity of most of us today; most could never explain convincingly to another why one behavioral choice is wiser than another. So we resort to coercion: using the coercive power of the government to enforce external compliance to the ways of God.

Such a view is so contrary to everything the Bible teaches that its prevelance must be accounted for as a kind of blindness that is due to misplaced partriotism. . . . The particular blindness of the culture warrior is that he permits himself to think God is pleased by coerced behavior; by requiring people to say “one nation, under God” even if they do not yet believe in God (which strikes me as an instance of taking the Lord’s name in vain). The culture warrior’s religion and his patriotism are in conflict. His Christianity teaches him that God is not pleased with mere external confession of insincere religious faith; but his patriotism just cannot accept the fact that his culture is movinging in directions of which he disapproves.

. . . Haven’t we already had a historical experiment that is precisely what the culture warriors want? Wasn’t ancient Israel a nation whose constitution demanded obedience to the revealed laws of God, and didn’t its executive branch use coercion to attain such obedience? Did Israel not, effectively, have the Ten Commandments in its courthouse? Yet which prophet ever had anything good to say about the nation? Indeed, as Jesus and the apostles more bluntly put it, which of the prophets did they not kill? If theocracy didn’t work in Israel, where God divinely instituted it, why do people insist on believing it will work in places where God manifestly has not instituted it? (86-88, emphasis in original)

Preaching that is biblical and apostolic will only be recovered through an enduring commitment to Christ-centered, expository proclamations of scripture to the church–not to the culture. There is a proper place for laws and government, but not as the answer for man’s rebellion against God’s rule and his perishing in sin–people need Christ. So give them Christ!

More Trendy, "Authentic" Christianity

Read about it here.

This is not a joke. You have to see it to believe it. I like U2 and I like the Lord’s Supper. But should they be mixed?

This is another example of the problem with trying to mix cult and culture, as well as, offering worship that is not regulated by the scripture.

[HT: Rodney Trotter]

>Electronic Church

>Just prior to coming to Grace OPC for my internship, I worked shortly for Ligonier Ministries answering phones. On more than one occasion per shift, I would speak to someone referring to R.C. Sproul as his or her “pastor.” Now, to be clear, Ligonier’s policy was to promote the local church, so we were trained to thank the person for support, but to encourage him or her to see Ligonier materials as supplementary and to encourage the individual to be a communicant member of a local congregation.

But this does raise an important question. With all the new forms of electronic media that provide access to Christian teaching, is the local church still important? Is it still necessary, or is it a leftover of a bygone age?

Others have answered this question better than I. In his article, “TV Church,” (originally published in Modern Reformation, Vol. 2 No. 6) Robert Godfrey has written, “the purpose of this article is to maintain that all those supplements must remain subordinate to and supportive of the Christian’s commitment to the local church.” Read the whole article here to see how he develops this thesis…

[HT: R. Scott Clark]