Invitation to the (Devotional) Classics – 1

May 24, 2013

Who knows how many volumes have been written by Christians through the centuries? Spurgeon’s works alone are 63 volumes, which are equivalent to the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Unlike Spurgeon’s works, not every Christian’s writings have been preserved, or been worth preserving.

Wesley said we ought to be people of one book, but students of many. With Scripture being our Book of books, we’d do well to learn from those Christian writings that have seemed to rise to the top, and withstand the winnowing of time. These ‘devotional classics’ span time, denomination or tradition, and genre, for lack of a better term. They come from Ante-Nicene, Nicene, post-Nicene periods, from the Middle Ages, and from Reformation, Enlightenment, Awakening and modern periods. They were written in Africa, Asia, Europe and America. Their authors are early bishops, martyrs, monks, scholastics, reformers, separatists, mystics, puritans, pastors, and missionaries. They are from the Eastern and Western church, reformers who were in the Roman Catholic church, reformers who came out, and reformers who remained in. They are Anglican, Congregationalist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Baptist. And they write sermons, poems, confessions, prayers, autobiographies, letters, and general treatments of the Christian life. I’d like to begin doing a brief description and review of some of these classics, with some choice excerpts from each.

What is the value of reading these dusty treasures? I can think of two reasons.

First, the value of reading some of the best devotional works is of inestimable spiritual value. A.W. Tozer wrote, “After the Bible the next most valuable book for the Christian is a good hymnal. Let any young Christian spend a year prayerfully meditating on the hymns of Watts and Wesley alone and he will become a fine theologian. Then let him read a balanced diet of the Puritans and the Christian mystics. The results will be more wonderful than he could have dreamed.”

Second, to be truly helpful to our generation, we should live with these past saints. Much of modern Christianity has made a host of the non-culture we call secularism, and to the degree that it has become identified with this non-culture, it has become a non-religion, simply an eclectic set of parochial pieties, idiosyncratic moralisms, prejudices and assumptions. Reading these classics is a way of hearing what generations other than our own have said. T.S. Eliot pointed out in Tradition and the Individual Talent that to enter into the stream of historical understanding is to begin to know more than the thoughts of your own generation. “This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity.” You only understand your times, and can speak to them effectively, or dare I say it, with relevance, if you have viewed your own generation from the perspective of other generations. You will only know what is distinctive (for good or ill) about your generation if you have regularly inhabited a world that transcends your particular time and place. Failing this, you are just an echo-chamber for the thoughts of our day, and if they be in error, you are a repeater-station for widely accepted error.

Someone might be understandably skeptical about the notion of orthopathy, or right loves. But let him vigorously work his way through these classics, and he will find a similarity of sentiment across the ages that seems to fit very well with the idea of orthopathy, and in many cases, makes the pieties of our age seem foreign. Don’t take my word for it. Live with Christians from other ages, and then decide whose piety is the odd one out.

A few words about this mixed multitude. The list we’ll be working through includes people from doctrinal traditions quite different from our own. We sit at their feet not because we want to embrace all their errors, nor because we seek to re-make them in our image (or vice-versa). A bee can find nectar in the weed as well as in the flower, said the holiness preacher Joseph H. Smith.

Finally, reading these works will mean some spiritual effort, which I heartily encourage. Again, Tozer: “To enjoy a great religious work requires a degree of consecration to God and detachment from the world that few modern Christians have experienced. The early Christian Fathers, the mystics, the Puritans, are not hard to understand, but they inhabit the highlands where the air is crisp and rarefied and none but the God-enamored can come.”

Neglected Battle Fronts

May 17, 2013

And the most notable era of Scottish preaching was in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, they had great power. In fact, the strongest reformational preaching going on in Europe at that time was in Scotland, the great preaching of the Reformation in Scotland. For two centuries it lasted. And Blakey writing in 1888 points out that what made the difference in the sixteenth and seventeenth century in the preaching in Scotland was that the preachers viewed themselves…I like this, I never heard the phrase before…as warrior preachers…warrior preachers. And he says by that they meant that they believed that they were guardians and that any place where an assault came against the truth, they went to battle. They went to battle. I always wondered where I got this. But I guess some of that warrior mentality got down through the MacArthurs to me because that’s just how I think. If I see some area where I believe the truth is under assault, I feel like I need to run to that area and go to battle. That’s just the way I’m wired. At the same time, Blakey writes about the fact that there were more moderate preachers who wanted more love and tenderness and compassion and kindness and tolerance to be preached. They finally took over in the eighteenth century and you know the history, down went the church. And today in Scotland you’d look a long time to find anybody who preached any gospel at all. They were warrior preachers and they were guardians of the truth. And wherever the truth was being breached, or wherever the truth was being assaulted, they went to that front and engaged in battle. And this is one of those fronts for me. I run from front to front, as you know.

 – John MacArthur, “Personal Commitment to the Church, Part 1”, sermon preached November 18, 2001

John MacArthur has been one of the important influences on my ministry, preaching and thinking. When I was still in college, I found out he was a hot potato amongst independent Baptists, and this made me even more curious about the man. For the most part, his ministry has edified and challenged me.

His approach of doing battle where the truth is under fire has also influenced me. I am thankful for the battles he has fought, particularly against easy-believism, seeker-friendly pragmatism, charismatic chaos, and attacks on the sufficiency of Scripture. In fact, I am thankful for many men who have fought other battles: Mark Dever against aberrant ecclesiology, Wayne Grudem against egalitarianism, Kevin DeYoung against emergence, John Piper against New Perspective, and a host of others who have fought against some threat to the faith. Though I seldom mention them when blogging, this is not because I do not appreciate their efforts. I have benefited from them, and some of their books sit in our church library. Far be it from me to try to say better what these men have already said. I’m happy to let their books and sermons do the most eloquent talking on those areas.

Instead, I have spent my blogging time trying to do battle on that front which seems to get less attention from these heavyweights: the trivialisation of Christian worship, the warping of the Christian imagination, and the secularisation of pulpit and altar. I choose a supplemental approach: I attempt to say what is seldom said, or said so quietly as to escape notice. I know that for those who know only my blogging voice, it can seem as if I have only one string on my banjo, and care to speak of nothing except worship. That’s a risk I’m willing to take, because blogging is not pastoring (though I do not cease to be one when I blog). For the wider Christian world, I would rather go to war on the front I think is most neglected: the Christian affections, and the development of right judgement about these things.

I am not naïve enough to think that worship is a neglected battleground altogether. However, what I see developing is a growing indifferentism to the battle. Some of this may be battle-weariness; some of it may be because some of the recognised names of evangelicalism, with widely divergent views on worship, have chosen to publicly partner in other causes. The message that some take from this otherwise healthy cooperation is that the worship wars do not matter, even though some of these men would not necessarily agree with that conclusion.

This urges me, as MacArthur puts it, to run to that front. And part of the lot of those who do battle on this front is to convince others that this is a real threat, and a real battle. Tough to do, when men of far greater brilliance and influence than this writer are seemingly not exercised over this. When the movers and shakers of evangelicalism don’t discuss the elephant in the room, it’s easy to dismiss people battling on the worship-front as extremists, legalists, hyper-separatists or schismatics. If the growing hegemony of the day is that the worship wars are nothing more than arguments over morally neutral preferences, you start to sound merely alarmist. If people are abandoning the battlefield in droves, you begin to appear pugnacious and belligerent.

I am heartened that I am not alone. On this particular front, apart from the writers on Religious Affections Ministries, men like Ken Myers, D.G. Hart, Paul Jones, Calvin Johansson, T. David Gordon, Ligon Duncan, Calvin Stapert, Peter Masters, and Carl Trueman  are saying some of the same things. No, we are not identical in our criticisms or applications. But we’re on the same side of the trenches, at least.

There are plenty of other battles to fight, and I praise God for the soldiers leading the charge there. I may not be a brilliant marksman, but until convinced otherwise, I’m going to add my limited firepower to the fight for ordinate affections and appropriate worship of our God .

Why We Need The Worship Wars

April 26, 2013

Unless you believe in orthopathy as essential to Christianity, the worship wars are much ado about nothing. They represent the dying thrashes of hide-bound traditionalists, raging against the waning popularity of those songs most familiar to them. They represent the immature clamour of people who do not understand the Romans 14 principle, and want to elevate their preferences to the level of orthodoxy.

If you believe, as I do,  in the very notion of orthopathy, then the worship wars are a natural, and indeed, essential part of church life. While no Spirit-filled Christian delights in conflict, no Spirit-filled Christian doubts that some conflict is inevitable and necessary. Consider how important doctrinal conflict has been.

We should be very thankful for the heretics and their heresies. Without them, we would not know all the ways that Christian orthodoxy can be denied and twisted. Before the heretics come along, orthodoxy is assumed, without clear definition. Through the heresies of Gnosticism, Ebionism, Apollonarianism, Eutychianism, Nestorianism, Arianism, and Sabellianism, the church hammered out orthodox Christology and trinitarianism. The Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds represent responses to heresies, and defining points for orthodoxy. The creeds represent points of definition. After the definition, deviations represent heterodoxy. A certain amount of vagueness or imprecision is expected before the point of definition that becomes intolerable after the point of definition.

For that matter, we can be thankful for the heresies of transsubstantiation, indulgences, baptismal regeneration, Mary as co-redemptrix, and others, for leading to the Reformation with its five solas. In many ways, our propositional statements of faith, as ornate as they now appear, partly represent a kind of timeline of doctrinal combat.

What has been true in the area of orthodoxy, has also been true in orthopathy. The affective domain of the faith, which is not merely what we have said, but how we have felt, how we have responded to those truths, has had its heresies, and its turning points of definition. If we are orthodox in doctrine, we should expect that we will respond to the truth as other orthodox Christians in history have, not an identical reaction, but an equivalent one for our place and time. And in two thousand years of doctrinal development, there has also been two millennia of affective, aesthetic development.

Steve Miller, in his masterful misrepresentation of liturgical history in The Contemporary Christian Music Debate, enjoys surveying the worship wars of previous centuries, in hopes of persuading us that sooner or later, the critics of CCM will get with the times, as did the critics of Watts’ hymns, or the critics of the organ, or the critics of a liturgy in the vernacular. That these debates existed, we do not doubt. That the modern worship wars are simply the contemporary version of these discussions, we do not dispute. That they represent nothing more than initial alarm to what will become standard orthopathy in one generation, we vehemently dispute.

Certainly there have been overreactions and over-corrections. Certainly, novelties are often regarded with suspicion, and once they become normative, the previous objectors seem amusingly alarmist. But what we often miss is that through the debates over orthopathy such as conflict over polyphony, original (that is, non-psalmic) hymns, or the gospel song, the church was doing in the affective domain precisely what it had done in the doctrinal domain. Doctrinal controversies said, “We speak of Christ like this, and not like that.” Affective controversies said, “We respond to Christ like this, and not like that.” And before the nearly wholesale abandonment of traditional worship forms in favour of entertainment at the end of the 19th century, Christian worship represented an inheritance of hundreds of years of corrections and refinements.

We should not be surprised that there exists in our era contention over proper sensibilities toward God. The truly alarming thing would be if there were none. What is somewhat different in our era is the post-modern mood that despises debate and clear definition. This pseudo-tolerance has long ago compromised the doctrinal integrity of professing Evangelicals. The same worldly mood that abhors necessary conflict and clear definition in doctrinal matters, is even more incensed at the thought of anything similar in the more subjective realm of orthopathy. In some ways, the most problematic people are not the combatants in the worship wars, but those who insist there should be none.

Mind Your Manners – 4 – Irreverent and Culpable

April 12, 2013

 Thus far in this series, we have seen several truths about manners and their relation to worship and worship forms:

  1. All cultures have manners. All cultures recognise the importance of appropriate responses.

  2. The expression of these appropriate responses differs greatly between cultures.

  3. These differences do not relativise the affections of reverence or honour. They demonstrate that meaning comes about in different ways for different cultures.

  4. The meaning on the gesture that represents the affection may have come about through use, through association, or through some stipulation by an authority. Furthermore, the culture may have the response wrong through its own idolatries.

  5. Inhabitants of a culture are responsible to understand the meaning of the gestures, forms, metaphors, and expressions in their culture. They are responsible to do so, because they have the obligation to communicate with God and man, and must do so with the tools they have.

This brings us to our last question. If what we have said is true, there are plenty of people committing acts of profanity and irreverence in the name of God. If an act or gesture does not become reverent simply because I sincerely wish it were so, or claim it is, then plenty of people are performing acts of irreverence and disrespect towards God. However, they would deny this, so how do we account for this?

First, some are ignorant of meaning, but still culpable. With today’s public education system, it is quite possible to insult a teenager without his knowing it. The teen’s small vocabulary or ignorance of metaphors does not change the fact that he has been insulted. Furthermore, if he decides to repeat the insult to a superior, his ignorance does not make him polite. Ignorance of meaning still makes one culpable. Quite a few people were apparently ignorant of the meaning of carrying the Ark on an ox-cart as opposed to the prescribed method, but their ignorance did not absolve them. Some may be enlisting in worship those musical forms that embody irreverence and disorder, without understanding that those forms do so. They are not innocent, for if one can tell others what your CCM does not mean, surely you have to be in a position to say what it does mean.

Second, some are desensitized to meanings, but still culpable. People growing up with R-rated rap are unlikely to detect how sensual Strauss’ waltzes are. The meaning of those waltzes has not changed; but the sensitivity to perceive it has diminished with the flood of the erotic. If you are surrounded by the chaos of rock, eventually the chaos seems normal, and you detect no incongruity in using it for worship. Again, this does not reduce culpability, any more than man’s depravity makes him less culpable to believe the gospel. Perverseness does not make us more innocent, but more guilty.

Third, some are dismissive of meaning, and especially culpable. Some are not interested in even considering the meaning of their cherished idols, lest they have to surrender them. They mock attempts to parse meanings, and hide behind the words preference, style, subjective, and non-issue. Again, they pretend the meaning of their chosen expression is open and relative, except when their music is criticized, at which point they become quite dogmatic that their music does not mean that.

In summary, many are rude to God, with more or less culpability for their irreverence. They deny that they are irreverent, but they will have to give account for their posture towards God. The one who did not know his Master’s will will be beaten with less stripes. The one who did – the one who knew that his Master had called him to test all things and hold fast to what is good – but instead suppressed the truth, was willingly ignorant, and a sluggard regarding discernment, he shall be beaten with many.

The Power and Place of Ridicule

April 9, 2013

A post like this may seem to some like those who call evil good and good evil. Can there be anything edifying in ridicule? Is ridicule ever an exercise in saying what is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, virtuous and praiseworthy?

Our aversion to ridicule may not be because we side so strongly with principles of biblical communication. It may be that we have not sufficiently loved what God loves, so as to hate what God hates. Perhaps our dismissal of ridicule as a lawful form of expression for a Christian represents a concession to our culture’s apathy and indifference to right and wrong, and deference to a kind of social equanimity, so visibly manifested in what is called “Minnesota Nice” in that cheerful and chilly State. Courtesy, aversion to argumentativeness or conflict, quiet and modest disagreement, and a generous opinion of all others is seen as ‘niceness’, and of course, Christians are supposed to lead the pack in niceness.

No doubt we could quickly proof-text the importance of being peace-makers, of the courtesy and benevolence contained in love, and of being winsome witnesses to Christ. Who would deny these? No Christian I know of. However, what is often denied is the plain fact that Scripture contains plenty of ridicule, some of it from the lips of the godliest men in Scripture, whose examples we are to imitate.

Elijah is doing nothing less than ridiculing the prophets of Baal when he asks if their God is on a journey or otherwise indisposed. God, through the mouth of Isaiah, mocks the man who uses one end of a piece of wood to bake his bread, and the other end to become his god. Jeremiah does the same, adding that Israel reminds one of camels and donkeys in heat. God ridicules Job’s impertinence in demanding answers from the Almighty by asking him what would be elementary on a Grade One Creator exam. Solomon mocks the sluggard as a squeaky door on its hinges, the lustful youth as a dumb animal to the slaughter, the complaining wife as an incessant dripping on a rainy day, and the fool as a vomit-lapping dog. It’s hard not to see Paul’s descriptions of the Cretans as ridicule, and what else shall we call our Lord’s descriptions of the Pharisees, when He called them blind leaders of the blind, or pictured them praying with themselves thanking God that they were not as other men?

It is the quick-and-easy response of the Niceness Police to point out that these expressions came either from God Himself or from apostles and prophets, and we have no business trying to mimic them. To which I respond, how do you know? On what basis do you place the scorn and ridicule of the Bible as off-limits to God’s people today? Did Scripture teach you that? Do Scriptures such as Ephesians 5:4 or Philippians 4:8 actually indict the verbal behaviour of the prophets and the Lord Himself? It would seem we need to find a place for Scripture’s use of ridicule and scorn, not bowlderise it. We need to harmonise ridicule with principles of godly communication, not embalm it as a historical curiosity.

What does ridicule do? By making sport of the object, we laugh. When we laugh, we know that the object is not to be taken seriously. We are not to lend credibility to Baal worship, or Pharisaism. Such beliefs and behaviours are contemptuous and should be scorned. By encouraging and provoking contempt for what God hates, we may create a simultaneous piety toward what God loves.

Why should we choose ridicule over a less edgy form of expression? In the nature of things, not every opinion needs to be treated seriously, because not every opinion has been seriously considered or seriously articulated. Not every act deserves serious consideration, for not every act has been seriously contemplated for its meaning, or seriously performed. If the speakers and doers were not serious to begin with, do they merit being taken seriously? Should we unjustly lend them treatment they do not deserve? Should I listen to a nonsense rhyme with the scrutiny I give to Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion? If someone is acting like a duffer and a goofball, the perfectly appropriate response is to point out that he is acting like a goofball and a duffer.

Great danger looms here, however. Scripture warns us against the reckless scoffer and the careless mocker. Ridicule is a tool like fire. The trained fireman actually knows a constructive use for fire. He knows the importance of destroying for the sake of conservation: creating fire-breaks to prevent further damage, razing a condemned structure to prevent further injury or death, allowing fires to burn themselves out, lest they persist and spread. The eight-year-old boy is simply thrilled to see something burn. Scorn and contempt in the hands of a youth or a novice usually does little but harm.

Before we take up the flame-thrower of ridicule, we must be deeply committed to conserving the faith. We would not want to destroy anything true, good and beautiful while torching something else. We should demonstrate our deep love for what God loves, and display how much we cherish, the true, the pure, the just, the noble, the lovely, and the virtuous. Let those careful communicators who know what is to be kept, and what is to be incinerated, use the flame of ridicule to create love for what God loves.

Mind Your Manners – 3 – Manners and Meaning

April 5, 2013

What do widely varying manners tell us about ordinate affection? Some reason this way: since some cultures regard eye-contact as respectful, and others regard eye-contact as impudent, these opposite understandings of reverence show the relative and subjective nature of manners. These outward expressions are adiaphora – indifferent, neutral things. The morality lies in the person giving or withholding eye-contact: the person is either seeking to be respectful or not, and this is what gives morality to the action.

No argument that one’s intention to be respectful is a major part of the meaning of the manner in question. But is that all that is needed? If a young Zulu man decides that eye-contact ought to be regarded as respectfulness by his elders, should his sincerity count as reverence in a Zulu culture? However much sincerity the man may have, he still has to grapple with the meaning of eye-contact in his culture at the time.

The fact that one culture regards eye-contact with a superior as rude, and another regards a lack of eye-contact as dishonest evasiveness does not make these gestures amoral or meaningless. It simply means that the meaning of these gestures in different cultures comes about in different ways. Some of it will be stipulative: at some point a particular gesture is simply designated to have a meaning, which the members of the culture will observe. Sometimes meaning comes about through associations and through use: the obscene hand and finger signals are quite different between cultures, but they have come to have a conventional meaning in each culture. In the case of some gestures, something is intrinsic to the meaning of the motion. For example, there is no culture in which bowing or kneeling before someone is a sign of dominance, aggression or suggested superiority.

These various influences shape the meaning of manners, so that their applications can look very different, and even opposite, between cultures. What we cannot miss is what all the cultures hold in common: expressions of reverence, courtesy, and appropriate love. All cultures have manners: and the manners of some cultures have been more influenced by Christian thinking than others. Every culture has its code of gestures, tones, and responses that incarnate its idea of appropriate responses.

This all puts the lie to the idea that in the current melting pot of cultures, any and all responses to God count as reverent, so long as the worshiper feels it is so. Though we are confronted with differing cultures and their manners like never before, these each have meaning. The challenge (and it is a large one) is to understand the meaning of certain tones, gestures, terms of address, surroundings, technologies, musical forms in the culture you worship in. What is their meaning? The meaning may well be in dispute, which should come as no surprise in a world which uses meaninglessness as a cover for its sin. This does not absolve us from the responsibility to find out. If something has obtained a meaning through association or use, what is that meaning? If the meaning is shifting, how is it changing and in what direction? Is it consonant with reverence and respect? If the meaning has come about through its created form, what is that meaning? Among those who believe in meaning, what is the consensus regarding its meaning?

Certainly, the post-mods will want to assign meaning arbitrarily: it means what I want it to mean. But if the Zulu father will not accept the young man’s revision of eye-contact merely because of his sincerity, is it altogether implausible that God may not regard certain actions as reverent, however much we may wish it to be so? Certainly God is omniscient, and not confined to the meaning found in one culture only. He understands and knows the meaning of all things, whether that meaning has come about by use, association or naturally. He knows how meanings change in a given culture. He knows if that meaning is understood by all, most, some, or hardly any in a culture. He understands how sincere a person’s heart is, and He understands how diligent a person has been to understand the meaning of his offered worship. Which brings us to our last question: if a person does not understand the meaning of what he is doing, is he culpable for that action? If he sincerely means something one way, but it means another, which meaning prevails, in God’s eyes? Or to summarise: is it possible to be unintentionally irreverent towards God?

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April 3, 2013

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Before the Cross

March 29, 2013

My Lord, my Master, at Thy feet adoring,
I see Thee bowed beneath Thy load of woe:
For me, a sinner, is Thy life-blood pouring;
For Thee, my Saviour, scarce my tears will flow.

Thine own disciple to the Jews has sold Thee,
With friendship’s kiss and loyal word he came;
How oft of faithful love my lips have told Thee,
While Thou hast seen my falsehood and my shame!

With taunts and scoffs they mock what seems Thy weakness,
With blows and outrage adding pain to pain;
Thou art unmoved and steadfast in Thy meekness;
When I am wronged how quickly I complain!

My Lord, my Saviour, when I see Thee wearing
Upon Thy bleeding brow the crown of thorn,
Shall I for pleasure live, or shrink from bearing
Whate’er my lot may be of pain or scorn?

O Victim of Thy love, O pangs most healing,
O saving death, O wounds that I adore,
O shame most glorious! Christ, before Thee kneeling,
I pray Thee keep me Thine for evermore.

– Jacques Bridaine, 1701-1767
Translated by Thomas Benson Pollock, 1836-1896

Mind Your Manners – 2 – The Strange Silence Around the Third Commandment

March 22, 2013

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”

This command is universally understood to mean that God’s name is not to be used as a curse-word, or as a mere exclamation. And who would deny that? To use the very name of God to express irritation or surprise, to add verbal oomph to a promise, or to simply use His name as a joke would surely violate this command.

How do we know that? Is there anywhere in the rest of the Law of Moses that explains and applies the Third Commandment? Not explicitly, anyway. Apparently, this command supplies a principle, to which believers were, and are, supposed to supply applications.

What is the principle? Since one’s name represents one’s person and character, the name of God represents more than simply the verbal pronouncement or written letters of God’s names or titles. The name of God represents God’s person. To take His name in vain, is to take His person, character and reputation in vain. “To take in vain” is to treat as light, empty, or worthless. It is to misuse something in a fashion that trivialises its dignity, devalues its import, or profanes its uniqueness. The timeless principle of the Third Commandment seems to be: do not treat God in any way that trivialises, devalues, or profanes Him. Positively: fear God, and give Him the glory due His name (Ps 29:2).

One can easily see how using God’s actual name as a swear-word would profane God. But are there not other lawful applications of this command? What about treating His Supper as common? What about treating His Day like any other day? What about making light of God’s Word in a sermon? What of Sunday School songs that make God into something comical or amusing? What about methods of evangelism that ‘theme’ the gospel after some form of entertainment or leisure? What about worshipping God with forms used for revelry, narcissism and entertainment? Are there forms of speech, song, poetry, prayer, dress that would portray God as lightweight, inconsequential or unimportant? Could a certain kind of behaviour drag God’s reputation through the mud, particularly by those who name Him?

We’re probably only getting started with possible applications. The point is, the Third Commandment, like most of them, gives a command which is timeless, and therefore generalised. “Treat God’s Person With Respect”, might be a paraphrase. This broad principle then needs to be worked into differing ages, cultures, and situations. God gives us the etiquette – treat Me with reverence – and expects us to apply it.

And there’s the rub. We can take God’s relative silence about how to flesh out the Third Commandment two ways. We can assume that the only moral aspect of the Commandment is the timeless principle, while the applications, because they may differ from culture to culture, are amoral. What becomes moral, in this way of thinking, is the desire, or the sincerity with which a person wishes to reverence God. The actual forms, habits, speech, dress and musical forms contain no meaning except insofar as they give a moral agent an opportunity to express his sincere desire to revere God.

The other approach is to see morality extending from the timeless commandment through to the applications, even when these applications are not spelt out by Scripture. The applications are moral insofar as they carry meanings. These meanings can communicate, in a given culture, reverence for God or its opposite. This meaning comes about in several ways, but since it is present in every culture, what is needed to keep the Third Commandment is more than sincerity, but discernment. Every moral agent needs to grow in knowledge, to judge the meaning, in his culture, of his acts, habits, gestures and responses to God. I’d like to defend this second approach in the next posts.

Save Them From Secularism

March 20, 2013

Last year, I did a series called Pre-Evangelism For Your Children. I compiled those posts, re-worked them, and added some material on manners and education. The result is this booklet, aimed at parents and pastors, to think through how we create a Christian ‘thinking-grid’ or worldview in our children. While trusting entirely to the decisive work of the Spirit in bringing regeneration, we must not fail to use all means possible to instil in children an imagination shaped by Christian categories, to prepare for and support the gospel and orthodox doctrine.

As a pastor and parent, I’m concerned at how oblivious we seem to be at the many ways that we inculcate a secular imagination. This book is an attempt to point out some of the possible gaps in our thinking and practice.

It’s free for five days at Amazon. If you find it helpful, promote it to other parents, grandparents, pastors, etc.

Save Them From Secularism2