Anger, Consumerism, and Big Government

I’m very much enjoying Chuck Colson’s My Final Word, which is a collection of his previously unpublished short articles.  While I don’t agree with everything Colson wrote, much of it is wise, timely, and helpful.  For instance, in one short article from around ten years ago he noted a puzzling fact: even though the United States and Britain both were doing quite well economically, their leaders were detested by so many of their citizens.  Why is this?  Why are so many people so angry? Colson wondered.  Here’s his two part answer, which I’ve edited for length:

1) The more people have, the angrier they get.  Witness the fact that America is regarded as one of the most unhappy nations on earth, according to recent studies.  We take more tranquilizers than any other people, and yet we have an extremely high standard of living.  The happiest people, according to the same survey, turned out to be Nigerians, who have one of the lowest standards of living.  The problem is, we are spoiled rotten.  We’ve got everything we could possibly want.  But we’re not happy and we don’t know why, so we get angry at everybody else.

2) The second problem is that we have politicized everything.  We think nothing is going to happen that isn’t proposed in Washington, argued by the talking heads at night, and then voted on, and if they can’t deliver, then we know that we should have thrown the bums out anyway.  If you once get the notion in your head that there’s a political solution to everything, and you don’t have to do anything except let those people take care of everything for you, you will eventually be controlled by those people.  But in the meantime, government will get so big and cumbersome it can’t even function.  And that’s the point we’re at.

Excellent points!  True happiness does not come from possessions or political programs.  Elsewhere Colson notes that true joy and happiness only come in Christ and from being part of his body, the church.

The above quote was taken from pages 122-123 of Colson’s, My Final Word (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015).  [Note: as with some other books on this blog, I received this one for the purpose of blogging/reviewing, and I am not compelled to give a positive review.]

shane lems

The Privilege and Responsibility of Following Christ

Who Am I?: Identity in Christ Being loved, chosen, called, changed, and kept by Christ is a privilege that comes with a responsibility.  Jerry Bridges puts it well:

Privilege: Our positions of being justified, adopted, and a new creation in Christ are ours, but they are basically privileges.  God has done it all through Christ.  We who used to be in Adam – with our guilt and bondage to sin – have died, having been crucified with Christ.  We are now alive unto God through his Spirit who dwells within us.  We do not have to sin.  We can say No to temptations from our flesh, the world, or the devil.

Responsibility: Our right and proper response is to believe these truths about ourselves, rejoice in them, and live in the reality of them.  We must not let sin reign in our bodies (Rom. 6:12).  When we do allow sin to get the upper hand we must immediately confess it, repent of it, and take it to the cross to experience the cleansing power of the blood of Christ.  We cannot deal with the power of sin unless we have first dealt with its guilt.  And we deal with it at the cross.

I appreciate how Bridges balances these two biblical themes.  We have been saved from sin, and out of thankfulness we seek to serve the Lord.  By grace we’ve been delivered from guilt, and our duty then is to (by grace!) live a life of gratitude to God.  Following Jesus is a privilege and comes with a responsibility.

The above quote was taken from Who Am I? by Jerry Bridges.

shane lems

The Two-fold Aspect of God’s Kingdom (Witsius)

Sacred Dissertations on the Lord's Prayer  In Reformed church history, theologians have generally made a distinction when it came to discussing God’s kingdom or kingdoms.  Simply put, historic Reformed theology distinguished between God’s general kingdom (his kingdom of power/nature) and God’s saving kingdom (his kingdom of grace/glory).  Here’s how Herman Witsius spoke about this distinction in his discussion on the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer: Thy kingdom come.

The kingdom of God must be viewed by us in a twofold aspect, as universal and as special. I use the phrase, universal kingdom, to express his boundless greatness, majesty, authority, and power over all. “The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.” This is the kingdom to which the sun with all the stars, the sea with her waves, the winds with all their tempestuous fury, the seasons of the year with their various changes, the alternate returns of day and night, all the empires of the world, though engaged in acts of mutual hostility—are subject….

…Besides this universal kingdom, or, as it may be called, the kingdom of nature, God has constituted a special kingdom over his people, expressly elected for this purpose. This, again, is either the kingdom of grace in this world, or of glory in the world to come.  The kingdom of grace may be likewise subdivided into the two economies of the Old and New Testaments.  Under the Old Testament God was certainly the king of the people of Israel.  …The form of political government established among the children of Israel was entitled in every way to the name of a theocracy.  …In the Gospel…the kingdom of God is scarcely ever used in any other sense than as denoting that state of dignity and freedom which belongs to the church of the New Testament under the reign of the Messiah.

[In the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, the kingdom] is neither the universal kingdom of God, nor that kingdom which he had in a peculiar manner over ancient Israel, but the kingdom of God as it was to be manifested under the economy of the New Testament.

For Witsius’ entire discussion of “Thy kingdom come” see “Dissertation 9” in his Sacred Dissertations on the Lord’s Prayer. 

shane lems

Gladiator Games, Abortion, and the Early Church (Athenagoras)

The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols.   -              Edited By: Alexander Roberts      Just over a week ago I highlighted a section from Athenagoras (an early Christian apologist from the end of the 2nd century AD) in which he defended Christian morality since many were accusing Christians of immorality.  Specifically, Athenagoras said Christian sexual ethics were much better than those of non-Christians, since Christians upheld purity in marriage and avoided homosexuality.  You can read the article here.

In the same context, Athenagoras also explained how Christians detested all sorts of cruelty, abuse, and bloodshed.   Apparently some had accused Christians of being murderers and cannibals because of the Lord’s Supper (eating/drinking the body/blood of Jesus), so Athenagoras refuted the accusation as completely untrue.  The truth is, he said, that Christians are against brutality and murder:

“[Which Roman citizen] does not reckon among the things of greatest interest the contests of gladiators and wild beasts, especially those which are given by you?  But we [Christians], deeming that to see a man put to death is much the same as killing him, have abjured such spectacles.  How, then, when we do not even look on, lest we should contract guilt and pollution, can we put people to death?

In other words, since Christians renounced things like the brutal gladiator games, how can someone accuse them of being murderers?  [As a convicting side note, although Christians aren’t murders today, we typically no longer “abjure” watching the spectacles of brutality and death like our Christian forefathers did.]  Athenagoras goes on:

“And when we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder?  For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very foetus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care, and when it has passed into life, to kill it; and not to expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child-murder, and on the other hand, when it has been reared to destroy it.”

Athenagoras is arguing that since Christians were against abortion and exposing a child (letting it die soon after birth), how can one accuse them of murder?  Christians in the early church believed a fetus in the womb and newborn children were created by God and under his care, so they would never kill them.  The were against murder, not for it (think of the 6th commandment)!

In a brilliant way, Athenagoras turns the tables on the accusers: Christians are not the ones who are murderers, since they detest gladiator games, brutality, abortion, and the exposing of children.  The non-Christians do those things, but not Christians – therefore no one can accuse Christians of being immoral murderers.

The entire apology by Athenagoras is worth reading: A Plea for the Christians.  The above quotes were taken from paragraph/chapter 35.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Free Justification and Holiness (Buchanan)

The Doctrine of Justification: An Outline of Its History in the Church and of Its Exposition from Scripture James Buchanan (a 19th century Scottish theologian) wrote a helpful book on justification through faith alone by grace alone: The Doctrine of Justification. In it, he well explained the truth that those whom God justifies he will also sanctify.  I’ve edited the formatting of the quote to make it easier to read:

The charge against those who maintain the doctrine of a free justification by grace through faith only, that they deny either the reality of good works, or their necessity to salvation, is a mere calumny;

1) For while the Reformers rejected many works which were considered ‘good’ in the Romish Church — such as works of supererogation, works done in fulfillment of counsels of perfection or monastic vows, works of penance and self-mortification for the pardon of sin;

2) And while, moreover, they denied the merit of all works, whether performed in obedience to the commandments of men, or even to the Law of God itself —

[Yet] the Reformers never denied the intrinsic excellence either of those inherent graces which are ‘the fruits of the Spirit,’ or of those external actions which flowed from them in conformity with the requirements of God’s Law;

And so far from teaching that they were not necessary to salvation — in the case of all who are capable, and have opportunity, of manifesting their faith by its proper fruits — they represented the sanctification of the believer as an indispensable, a constituent, element of his salvation — since Christ came to deliver His people, not only from the punishment, but also from the power, of sin — and to ‘present them to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that they should be holy, and without blemish.’

It may be safely affirmed that those who have most strenuously defended the doctrine of a free justification by grace through faith only, have also been the most earnest, and the most successful, teachers of the doctrine which affirms that ‘except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven;’ and that ‘without holiness no man shall see the Lord.’

James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867), 362.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Definite Atonement and The Free Offer of the Gospel

Sometimes people wrongly think that the doctrine of limited/definite atonement means we can’t preach the gospel to all people because we don’t know if Christ died for them or not.  In hyper-calvinistic circles this might show up from time to time.  However, in solid Reformed theology, we don’t focus on God’s hidden decree and will, but his revealed decree and will.  God’s revealed will (Scripture) tells us that Jesus died for sinners, and that whoever repents and believes in him will be saved.  While we don’t look people in the eye and say, “Jesus died for you, believe in him and be saved,” we do look them in the eye and say, “Jesus died for sinners, believe in him, and be saved!”

Louis Berkhof talks about this well in his book Vicarious Atonement Through Christ.  In the paragraphs below, Berkhof quotes William Cunningham.  It’s quite helpful:

It is very evident that our conduct, in preaching the gospel, and in addressing our fellow men with a view to their salvation, should not be regulated by any inferences of our own about the nature, extent, and sufficiency of the provision actually made for saving them, but solely by the directions and instructions which God has given us, by precept and example, to guide us in the matter — unless, indeed, we venture to act upon the principle of refusing to obey God’s commands until we fully understand all the grounds and reasons of them. God has commanded the gospel to be preached to every creature; He has required us to proclaim to our fellow men, of whatever character, and in all varieties of circumstances, the glad tidings of great joy — to hold out to them, in His name, pardon and acceptance through the blood of the atonement — to invite them to come to Christ, and to receive Him — and to accompany all this with the assurance that ‘whosoever cometh to Him, He will in no wise cast out.’

God’s revealed will is the only rule, and ought to be held to be the sufficient warrant for all that we do in this matter — in deciding what is our duty —in making known to our fellow man what are their privileges and obligations — and in setting before them reasons and motives for improving the one and discharging the other. And though this revelation does not warrant us in telling them that Christ died for all and each of the human race — a mode of preaching the gospel never adopted by our Lord and His apostles — yet it does authorize and enable us to lay before men views and considerations, facts and arguments, which, in right reason, should warrant and persuade all to whom they are addressed, to lay hold of the hope set before them….

William Cunningham, quoted in Louis Berkhof, Vicarious Atonement through Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1936), 173–174.

shane lems

Helping Young Children Learn the Heidelberg Catechism

The Heidelberg Catechism is a real gem. Thoroughly biblical, deeply compassionate, wonderfully comforting – the list could go on. Often times, however, I struggle with teaching it to my kids. Though the answers are rich and wonderful, they are sometimes quite long. Because of this, I have tried some different tactics.

When my older two daughters were starting out, I used the catechism for young children with each of them. Since the answers are so short, and since the catechism covers so much ground, I felt I was able to start cementing a broader range of categories in their little heads early on.

When my oldest daughter was finally able to memorize portions of the Heidelberg catechism, I began using the wonderful Graduated Memory Program for the Heidelberg Catechism written by my colleague in the URCNA, John Bouwers. (Click here to download this woefully under-priced – i.e., FREE – resource!) This has allowed both my girls to recite portions of the catechism together. Even though the older one can recite more, the younger one enjoys being able to participate. I especially like that this tool helps them to learn the Heidelberg itself with only a minimum of relearning as the answers expand.

Recently, a friend at my church gave me a copy of a resource called The Young Heidelberg Preparatory Catechism, written by Stephen Rhoda (this can be purchased here). This is similar to Bouwers’ version in that it pares down the catechism answers. Unlike Bouwers’ version, however, it does not retain the word order of the Heidelberg itself, but instead tries to capture the main points for young children. In this sense, it reminds me of the catechism for young children, though the answers tend to be longer.

While (as you can probably tell) I am definitely sold on Bouwers’ Graduated Memory Program for the Heidelberg Catechism and have found the most success using it, I am very pleased with the possibilities Rhoda’s book offers. Different families will find different things that work for them in teaching their children the Heidelberg Catechism. What is more, each family will find different ways to teach that same catechism to the different children in their family. Thus I wanted to pass this along for those who, like me, always like to know when someone has found another resource out there to consider.

If you know of other resources like this for the Heidelberg Catechism, feel free to chime in down in the com box!

R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA