Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Let's Begin With Worship

Doug Wilson hits the nail on the head with his comments on reforming worship. This is where it must begin, on Sunday morning, which inspires and informs all of the rest of our worship on a daily basis. If the gathering with the saints, past, present & future, on the Lord's Day is a mess, no wonder American Christianity is impotent.

Reforming Worship---by Doug Wilson

Our motive for all that we do is to be the glory of God -- even if it is something as mundane as eating or drinking (1 Cor. 10:31). How much more should we be seeking the glory of God when we are in the act of worshipping Him? Certainly, most Christians would agree that we should sing in order to glorify God -- but is there a snare? Yes, when we assume that whatever we like is suitable as an offering to God, for no better reason than that we like it. This was the error of Cain, of Nadab and Abihu, and of those guilty of "self-imposed religion" in Col. 2:23. In other words, how do we know what glorifies God? We must seek to answer the question through Bible study. Our motive, therefore, must be to glorify God in our singing, according to the pattern found in His Word. We should want to do this with regard to our manner of singing, and with regard to the content of our songs.

We should begin with the need for purity. Music does not stand alone as a separate entity. Men and women express themselves to God through music of public worship. This is why it is important for those who sing (whether individually or congregationally) to have hearts prepared to offer the sacrifice of praise. "Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name" (Heb. 13:15). If we do not prepare our hearts for worship, God is not pleased with our musical offerings. "I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard you fattened peace offerings. Take away from me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream" (Amos 5:21-24). We must note this carefully -- God evaluates worship services. And He takes a dim view of musical hypocrites.

As we sing, certain characteristics should be obvious to all who hear the singing. Our congregational singing should have at least the following characteristics. First, it should be reverent. The flippancy with which some address God is truly frightening. "The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble! He dwells between the cherubim; let the earth be moved! The Lord is great in Zion, and He is high above all the peoples. Let them praise your great and awesome name -- He is holy" (Ps. 99:1-3). We should note the KJV translation of awesome -- terrible. Moreover, this requirement to be God-fearing was not an Old Covenant thing -- notice Paul's teaching in Philippians, which is to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (2:12). Do not sing to the Lord with your mind somewhere else, or while entertaining various jolly thoughts. Worship of God needs to be acceptable, which means it must be offered in reverence and godly fear. This is because God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:28-29).

In the second place, the music should be done well. Beautiful and appropriate music exists. What is beautiful and what is not is not simply a matter of personal taste. The Scripture says, "Play skillfully with a shout of joy . . ." (Ps. 33:3). In Col. 3:16, we are required to have the word of Christ dwell in us richly, and the result of this is to be music. The music that comes forth should reflect the richness of the faith, not the poverty of the faith. If the faith is rich, then the music should be be rich as well. Scripture teaches a correspondence between tree and fruit, fountain and water. This does not mean that the music should be overly complicated or ornate, but it should be good.

Third, congregational music should be loud. Scripture does not require the people of God to come before Him in order to mumble. "Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy" (Ps. 33:3). In another place it says, "Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises" (Ps. 98:4). We must spend more time trying to find out what the Bible requires, and less time reacting to the excesses of others. If some worship God through chandelier swinging, we must not react by worshipping God by means of a muffled meandering through weekly dirges.

And last, the manner of our congregational music includes instrumental accompaniment. "Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises. Sing to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of a psalm, with trumpets and the sound of a horn; shout joyfully before the Lord, the King" (Ps. 98:4-6).

But more is involved with music than just the music. Music is adorned poetry, and the Scriptures have a lot to say about that as well. The apostle Paul says that we should teach and admonish one another in our singing. This means that the lyrics of our songs must meet a certain standard -- a standard similar to that which is set for all teaching within the church. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Col. 3:16). The teaching in congregational song must therefore meet the following criteria.

First, the lyrics must have Christ at the center. "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing" (Rev. 5:12). Just as the teaching of the church should reflect the whole counsel of God, so the singing should do the same. This means that the singing should be focused on Christ (Rev. 5:9,12), the One in whom all things come together. Scripture hangs together, not in a system, but in a Person. We must avoid two errors here -- one emphasizes that Scripture hangs together and ignores the Person; the other praises the Person, and denies that He speaks consistently.

Second, the lyrics must be biblically balanced. "All Your works shall praise You, O Lord, and Your saints shall bless You" (Ps. 145:10). In another place, the psalmist says, "Bless the Lord, all His works, in all places of His dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!" (Ps. 103:22). This means that the lyrics should never be used in the service of a hobby horse, or "favorite truths." Just as sermons should be connected to the text, so should the songs.

In the third place, the lyrics should be pastoral. As they sing, the saints should have opportunity to meditate on the truth of God's revelation (1 Cor. 14:15); confess sin (Ps. 32:1); receive comfort (Ps. 46); find assurance (Ps. 74:1); express the unity of saints (Ps. 133); demonstrate gratitude (Ps. 100); and confess faith in the Lord Christ (Phil. 2:10-11).

It is not enough that the lyrics should be simply true; they must also be edifying. Because they must be edifying, the lyrics must be well-written. If they are not, then they will only confuse, distract, or mislead the saints. How words go together is not irrelevant to the effectiveness of the communication. The lyrics should express the doctrine of God's people in a clear, balanced way. This is simply another way of saying the lyrics should be creedal and systematic (Phil. 3:16). The lyrics should also express God's truth with the same aroma as found in Scripture (Ps. 95:1-2). Our joy and thanksgiving may not be counterfeit, but rather have to be the real thing. Certain expressions of happiness do not ring the same way that scriptural expressions do.

Fifth, the lyrics should be able to function in a corporate setting. Individual testimonies -- although wonderful in themselves -- are not the point of corporate worship. Even David's personal testimonies in his psalms are sung by all Israel. We tend to fall short of this in several ways. First, we gravitate toward individualism as opposed to corporate testimony in song. Consider Ps. 22:25-31. The worship of God must be seen in the assembly of His saints. We also veer toward individual testimony as opposed to historical testimony in song. Consider the words of Psalm 44:1-8. The psalmist is not just singing about the history of God's people (v. 2), he is even singing about his history lessons (v. 1).

So music matters a great deal. Moreover, this music will not "take care of itself." In order to sing rightly, the leadership and membership of the church must pay attention to the Scriptures, and think biblically as we sing. Related to all this is the obvious need the modern church has for trained musicians who are grounded in the Scriptures -- we need a great army of men who understand how to cultivate high musical standards for congregational worship without becoming persnickety prima donnas. That has unfortunately done as much to chase regular church goers from biblical praise as anything else.

Monday, February 25, 2008

No Escaping It

All culture is religious, and the only question to consider is whether it is faithfully religious or idolatrously religious. It has been said that "all culture is religion externalized," but even this helpful insight can be interpreted in too weak a fashion. All culture is religion. Turning Henry Van Til’s insight around, we should say that all religion is culture internalized. So the question is not whether our culture has a god, but rather which god it has. The question is not whether we will impose morality, but rather which morality it will be. The question is not whether we will restrict blasphemy, but rather which blasphemy. ~ Doug Wilson

Currently the god of America, (and his\her worshippers,) says it's blasphemy to speak of Creation instead of Evolution, to say that sodomy is sin, (especially in California, where the terms "dad" & "mom" have been outlawed) that abortion is murder and that the science behind global warming is hot air. And it's all the Church's fault.

(Mat 5:13) "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

Modern American Christianity is plagued by an overly individualistic outlook, by entertainment instead of worship on Sunday morning, by the notion that religion is exclusively a matter of the heart, by a belief that religion is private, and by an insistence that religion must be chosen (else it is an act of tyranny). Yes it is vital that we go after the hearts of men, but as Abraham Kuyper said, "there is not one square inch of this universe to which Jesus does not make the claim, 'Mine!'"

A.A. Hodge, Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Seminary in the latter part of the 19th century, made the case that the Kingdom of God on earth is without borders:

“but aims at absolute universality, and extends its supreme reign over every department of human life. The implications of such a view are obvious: It follows that it is the duty of every loyal subject to endeavor to bring all human society, social and political, as well as ecclesiastical, into obedience to its law of righteousness."

He continues,

“It is our duty, as far as lies in our power, immediately to organize human society and all its institutions and organs upon a distinctively Christian basis. Indifference or impartiality here between the law of the Kingdom and the law of the world, or of its prince, the devil, is utter treason to the King of Righteousness. The Bible, the great state book of the Kingdom, explicitly lays down principles which, when candidly applied, will regulate the action of every human being in all relations.”

"There can be no compromise. Jesus The King said, with regard to all descriptions of moral agents in all spheres of activity, “He that is not with me is against me.” If the national life in general is organized upon non-Christian, non-Biblical principles, (and let's face it folks, the reason that it's not in the national life, is that it's not in the church,) the churches which are embraced within the universal assimilating power of that nation will not long be able to preserve their integrity. Compromise is impossible. Conflict is inevitable. Neutrality is inconceivable. Escape from the battle is treason! In other words, if we don’t contend for a Christian culture, we will eventually cease to be Christians!" ~ Monte Wilson

But it must start with & within the Church.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Necessary Evil

“If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired. … So evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature’s happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect.” ~ Jonathan Edwards

If He Could, Even The Fly Knows

God knows absolutely everything, because he planned everything, made everything, and determines what happens in the world he made. So we describe him as omniscient. One interesting implication of God’s omniscience is that he not only knows all the facts about himself and the world; he also knows how everything appears from every possible perspective. If there were a fly on my office wall, my typing would look very different to him from the way it looks to me. But God knows, not only everything about my typing, but also how that typing appears to the fly on the wall. Indeed, because God knows hypothetical situations as well as actualities, God knows exhaustively what a fly in that position would experience—if such a fly were present—even if it is not. God’s knowledge, then, is not only omniscient, but omniperspectival. He knows from his own infinite perspective; but that infinite perspective includes a knowledge of all created perspectives, possible and actual. ~ John M. Frame

Friday, February 15, 2008

This Too Pleases Him

---by Douglas Wilson

Many Christians acknowledge the sovereignty of God as a necessary doctrine, but they do not feel that they have to like it, or even talk about it. But when the full biblical vision of this doctrine is given to us, it opens up a world of sweet consolations -- and this is good because we live in a world where very hard things happen, and sweet consolation is not really a luxury.

"Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your mercy, because of Your truth. Why should the Gentiles say, 'So where is their God?' But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; eyes they have, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear; noses they have, but they do not smell; they have hands, but they do not handle; feet they have, but they do not walk; nor do they mutter through their throat. Those who make them are like them; so is everyone who trusts in them" (Ps. 115:1-8).

We really only have two choices -- God or idols. Either we worship God as He has revealed Himself, or we turn to the worship of idols. When we do that, we are on the road to darkness and confusion of mind. The point of true religion is this -- glory is to go, not to us, but to His name. Idolatry always winds up somehow giving honor and glory to man. That is the point of idolatry.

We know from the catechism that our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. But this is so because it is also God’s chief end. "'Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.' Then a voice came from heaven, saying, 'I have both glorified it and will glorify it again'" (John 12:27-28). And of course this not divine narcissism because God is triune -- self-glorification is not what it would be in a unitarian set-up. In the former situation it is fully consistent with John's observation that God is love, and in the latter scenario it is just raw, ultimate selfishness. If we want to see what triune self-glorification is, we should look at the cross. How does God's self-glorification work? We see at the conclusion of John that it works by ultimate self-giving.

The Gentiles taunt -- "where is your God?" But we reply, "Where is He not?" Enthroned in heaven, He does whatever He pleases, whether in heaven and on earth. This is the only answer we can give which does not reduce our God to the same level, in principle, as their idols. They are externally constrained; our God is not constrained by anything other than His own pleasure, which is in turn the expression of His own nature and character. God is constrained by what He is, but by nothing else.

Contrast this with the idols -- they cannot see, speak, hear, smell, handle, or walk. This is the case despite the appearance of their sense organs, very carefully carved. And our God has none of the organs, but all of the functions. He has no eyes, and sees everything. They have eyes and are blind.

As an idol is blind and deaf and dumb, so are those who serve such idols. There is always a family resemblance between the god and the worshiper of that god. So just as we should not expect an idol to see, neither should we expect an idolater to see. Only God can make an idolater see.

Our God does as He pleases in the good things, in the pleasant things. This is an important mark of our piety -- we must always remember to thank God for our food, and drink, and marital love, and health -- the continued list of blessings is greater than we can even imagine. But our duties here are also obvious. For what we receive, we do give thanks.

But God also does as He pleases in the hard things. We live in a world where wicked things happen, and we profess to serve a good God who is omnipotent. Be a thinking Christian and stand up to the implications. The heart of our faith, the center of our faith, is the death of Jesus Christ, which was nothing less than a predestinated murder (Acts 2:22-24; 4:27-28). And yet it was the greatest act of love our world ever saw. How can a murder be an act of envy and hatred from one agent, and an act of love from the orchestrating, predestining Agent? While we are not able to do the math, we know that this is true because Scriptures tell us.

When Job was severely afflicted by Satan, he attributed it all to God. When his wife wanted him to hand it in, cursing God as he did so, he said her theology was like that of the foolish women (2:10), and in saying this he did not sin with his lips. "Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that woe and well-being proceed?" (Lam. 3:37-38). Far too many Christians today have adopted the theology of the foolish women, and they need to quit it.

And last, we are eternally grateful that our salvation is one of the great things which it pleased God to do. The ground of His pleasure -- the divine approval from heaven was given to Christ, and all His works. He is the Son of God, with whom God is well-pleased (Matt. 3:17). And it was God’s pleasure to bruise His Son (Is. 53:10). Because God was pleased with Him then, He is pleased with us now. And God sent a preacher to declare His good pleasure to us. This is the instrument of His pleasure -- God sent a preacher to proclaim the Word because faith comes through hearing. This appointed process of saving sinners was His good pleasure (1 Cor. 1:21). And the result of His pleasure is more pleasure. The end of all this was our justification, which means that God now delights over us with singing (Heb. 13:11-16). That too is His sovereign good pleasure.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Such a Coercive Play!

---by Douglas Wilson

Most Christians do not have a problem in acknowledging God’s control over the physical creation. Not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the Father, and He knows the numbers of atoms that make up the planet Jupiter. Not only does He know the number of atoms there, He also knows the position and velocity of each one.

But this means we should spend our time considering the two areas that give us the most problems. Either we have trouble accepting God's control over these areas of our lives, or we accept it with no problem -- but have trouble explaining it to those who ask us about it. Does God control the free actions of human beings, and does God control sinful actions? The biblical answer to both questions is yes.

First let us consider how God controls free actions. To some this sounds nonsensical. How can you have controlled freedom? Isn't that like squaring the circle? No, because the Bible describes God drawing square circles. It does describe Him controlling free actions.

"'But Micaiah said, 'If you ever return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me.' And he said, 'Take heed, all you people!' Now a certain man drew a bow at random, and struck the king of Israel between the joints of his armor. So he said to the driver of his chariot, 'Turn around and take me out of the battle, for I am wounded' (1 Kings 22:28,34).

In this situation, God had said that something particular would occur. He then used the random act of an unknown archer to accomplish His purpose for Ahab.

"Since his days are determined, the number of his months is with You; You have appointed his limits, so that he cannot pass" (Job 14:5).

Until the time comes which God has established, every man is immortal. As far as God’s determination is concerned, we cannot lengthen and we cannot shorten our lives. Humanly speaking, can we? Of course. People commit suicide and people quit smoking. But whatever we do will not alter God’s decree, settled before the foundation of the world -- whatever we do will be His instrument for accomplishing His decree. We have the same teaching in Ps. 139:16 in different words. Before we existed, our biography was written.

"The preparations of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD" (Prov. 16:1).

What is more indicative of a man’s freedom than that which he wills to speak? When you ask me a question, I answer you the way I wish. Is God somewhere else? No, of course not.

Now the reason we have a problem with God’s control of free actions is that we do not want to say that men are nothing more than puppets. But the assumption of "puppetry" is a false inference. God's relationship to us is not that of a bully on the playground making others do what he demands. It is more like Shakespeare and Macbeth -- the more Shakespeare writes, the freer Macbeth gets. Macbeth never wonders how he wound up in such a coercive play.

Objections to this illustration come quickly. Yes, but we are much greater than two-dimensional literary characters. What about that? Well, God is much greater than Shakespeare. And His greatness surpasses that of Shakespeare much more completely than ours surpasses that of the characters in the plays. So the analogy does break down, but not in the way we would like. And further, the analogy of the playwright and play is in no substantive way different than the scriptural illustration of the potter and the clay, and the same objection can be brought, and answered the same way. We are greater than a lump of clay. Yes, but God is much greater than a Potter.

And besides, if God's control of human actions annihilates the freedom of those actions, then this means that the orthodox doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture is destroyed. Is Romans the word of Paul or the Word of God? You have, by this objection, established the fact that it can't be both, right? So which is it?

What about sinful actions? Another false inference lies behind our objection to God’s control of sin. We think that this would make God sinful Himself, or the author of sin. First, the teaching of Scripture:

"But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive" (Gen. 50:20; see also Is. 45:7 and Amos 3:6).

"Jesus said to him, 'Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times'" (Mark 14:30).

"And truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!" (Luke 22:22).

"For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done" (Acts 4:27-28).

When we ask the Lord for traveling mercies on the road, He doesn't reply to us, "Yes, I will protect you as best I can, but drunkenness is a sin, and I don't 'do' drunks. Good luck with them."

We must always remember that the objections which crowd into our minds here are not textual objections -- they are philosophical, as much as anything driven by bruised egos can be philosophical. Nowhere does the Bible say, "Thus saith the Lord, 'Do not think or say in your hearts that the Lord God controls the behavior of the wicked, for I, the Lord your God, am a holy God'" (Hez. 8:2).

So what does real freedom mean? In Matthew 12:33-37, Jesus teaches two fundamental truths about human choices. The first is that choices are determined by nature. The second is that this is fully consistent with our exhaustive responsibility for what we say and do. The will is that which reaches into our hearts and brings out the strongest desire we have in order to act upon it. This is what it means to have creaturely freedom. Given this definition we see that we are free in Baskin-Robbins to choose whatever flavor we desire. There is no coercion. How this freedom can be reconciled with the exhaustive sovereignty of God is a question we cannot answer. The Bible simply tells us that we are free in this sense, and that God controls every detail of history. Man as a creature has creaturely freedom. We are not puppets, and no, we can't do the math.

But moral freedom is another thing altogether. Consider the teaching of Romans 6:6-7 and 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. What this amounts to is the fact that man as sinner is not free at all. The place where we most want "free will" is the one place where it is excluded in Scripture. We are dead in our sins. We are slave to sin. Apart from Christ, we have no freedom, and consequently, God's sovereignty in salvation doesn't have to be reconciled with our freedom, because we don't have any with which that sovereignty needs to be reconciled.

We kick against this because of the idol of "autonomous free will." But where Scripture has spoken we must bow down. And if our hidden (or not so hidden) idol forbids it, we must topple that idol.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

To Hell With The Dole

---by Tristan Emmanuel

In the second epistle of Corinthians, chapter 6, the Apostle Paul lays down a very important rubric for all Christians: "Do not be unequally yoked."

Traditionally, the church has understood this command to refer to marriage.

Christians are prohibited from marrying non-Christians.

Fundamentally, Christians are not to subject themselves to a relationship in which they will be repeatedly called upon to compromise their faith commitment to Christ.

Christians need to be reminded that they were bought with a price – the blood of Christ – and that therefore they are simply not entitled to unite themselves to whomever they want, especially if such a union impedes their ability to remain true to the one who died for them.

All this to say that as I work through the necessary strategies to revive and reform the church so that we can see a revival and reformation of the broader culture, I must point out that one of the reasons the North American church has failed so miserably in its task to be "salt and light" is because it has unwittingly allowed itself to be compromised by being unequally yoked.

How has it done this?

By embracing 501(c)3 charitable tax status, that's how.

Now, invariably this issue raises the broader and more fundamental discussion on whether or not churches should be incorporated. Space does not permit me to deal with that debate, as important as it is. But regardless of where we come down on the "incorporation" issue, the question of whether churches should seek a charitable tax exemption can be discussed on its own merit. Actually, the way I see it, there's really only one issue of concern here.

I believe that churches must maintain absolute autonomy and enjoy maximum freedom from the State. And that means that the Christian church must resist State coercion at all cost, even if that coercion comes in the form of financial benefits. To fall prey to the influence of the State over matters that belong to the superintendence of the church is to become unequally yoked – it is to lose one's saltiness and to quench the light of the Gospel.

But I want to be clear here.

I am not saying that having 501(c)3 status is unethical in and of itself. I know that some theorists and theologians would say this. I am not. After all, I believe in limiting the influence of government. And I can't think of a better way to limit government than by starving the beast, by cutting its food supply – taxpayer dollars. Moreover, I can't think of any group of people with which I would rather leave more personal wealth than Christians; I know that generally, they'll spend it more wisely than many others. So I'm all in favor of every legitimate means of leaving more money in the pockets of Christians and giving less to the government. And if that means using 501(c)3 to do that, more power to the church.

But if it's a choice between fulfilling the mandate of the church, maintaining our autonomy and exercising maximum freedom from the State, or compromising these benefits so that we can pad our bottom line, I say to hell with the government dole.

The State simply does not have the authority to dictate to the church what it may teach or preach, and it has no business telling the church how it should disciple the people of any nation. But here's the problem. Governments by their very nature will always end up trying to exercise this kind of control; the State has a predilection for tyranny.

But for a Christian church to surrender its freedom for the sake of a bowl of government pottage makes us no better than Esau – and yet this is precisely what has happened to many churches.

The French philosopher Baron de Montesquieu understood way back in 1784 that the best way for the State to get a handle on the church was by showing it favor:

A more certain way to attack religion is by favor, by the comforts of life, by the hope of wealth; not by what reminds one of it, but by what makes one forget it; not by what makes one indignant, but by what makes men lukewarm, when other passions act on our souls, and those which religion inspires are silent. In the matter of changing religion, State favors are stronger than penalties.

If IRS operatives are going to use the notion of charitable status as a billy club to silence pastors and force congregations to concede the moral high ground, or to compromise the message and stop them from defending a public witness, then I say again: "To hell with the public dole."

No State favor should ever interfere with the church's divinely instituted mandate, and if we have difficulty with the choice of maintaining our liberty as opposed to maintaining our "budgets," then we've become a bunch of Esaus.

My organization – Equipping Christians for the Public Square – does not have charitable status in either the USA or Canada precisely because we did not want either government to have any leverage over us. We wanted to maintain absolute freedom – to be able to speak to the issues that affect us the most; to talk about those things the State finds politically incorrect, and we didn't want the constraints of a charitable noose around our neck. But that's just us.

If you and your church can remain true to the call of the Gospel and continue to be a public witness for Christ, to speak in defense of life and marriage and defend Christian values in the public square, then more power to you. As long as the State isn't threatening you, and that 501(c)3 status doesn't become a stumbling block, I say keep peeling off those tax receipts.

But if it's a choice between freedom or mammon, I say yet again: "To hell with the dole."

Friday, February 8, 2008

How The Church Has Emasculated Men

---by Tristan Emmanuel

Ever wonder why Christian men are so emasculated? Or why most normal red-blooded men find it absolutely impossible to relate to today's clergy? You're not alone.

I use to think the problem was me, that I was old fashioned – at least that's what I was told.

But then I had an epiphany.

God didn't send girly-men to preach the Gospel, build churches and reform society back in the days of the early church. And He certainly won't do that today either.

I've been writing a small miniseries on the state of our culture. I've predicated everything on one strategy: If we reform and revive the church, we'll see reformation and revival in society as well.

Last time I touched on worship. This time the focus is masculinity. As a part of a strategy to change society we need to stop emasculating maleness in men.

The solution is simple. Start encouraging men in the church to be men – not women in drag.

I'm not the only one to say this.

Author David Murrow has written a very important book on the subject: "Why Men Hate Going to Church." He confirms my theory. Men don't feel welcomed in churches anymore because Christianity has been feminized.

Murrow relates several important statistics in his book:

The typical U.S. congregation draws an adult crowd that's 61 percent female and 39 percent male. This gender gap shows up in all age categories.

On any given Sunday there are 13 million more adult women than men in America's churches.

This Sunday almost 25 percent of married, churchgoing women will worship without their husbands.

Midweek activities often draw 70 to 80 percent female participants.

As many as 90 percent of the boys who are being raised in church will abandon it by their 20th birthday. Many of them will never return.

More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five out of six call themselves Christians. But only two out of six attend church on any given Sunday. The average man accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, but fails to see any value in going to church.

These are absolutely frightening statistics, but they are not surprising.

J. Grant Dys argues on his blog that the spinoff effects of this reality can be seen in our families (or at least what's left of them), our schools, our clubs and in the prisons of our society. And ironically, with the death of genuine masculinity, an increasing number of young men are seeking to reclaim their manhood in homosexuality.

On a cultural level, we all know that the idea of a "real man" has almost been beaten out of our social consciousness. Men are objects of scorn and vilification. Watch any TV commercial or sitcom and you'll witness a barrage of attacks, all designed to assault the dignity of real masculinity and the historic male role model as provider and protector.

I'm not saying anything new here. Many have already made this point, some much better than I. But what concerns me isn't that broader culture has rejected masculinity, it is that the church has aided and abetted this concept of manhood as a pariah. And it's not just the liberal churches that are guilty on this score.

All too often the pastoral "role model" in evangelical circles mirrors that "Simpson's" character, the Rev. Love Joy. Our pastors are either quaint, odd, harmless pushovers, or they are slick metrosexual types who can cry at the drop of a dime – literally – but have absolutely no courage to stand up against real evil or teach the unequivocal truth with authority.

They've suppressed godly male assertiveness, opting instead to "be nice." They have abdicated their calling to "speak the truth" in the interest of political correctness. And they have decided that manipulating people with emotional self-help books and anecdotal sermonizing is better for the bottom line than training and teaching the men in their congregations to be leaders and warriors for Christ. And as a result, the evangelical church is suffering from a dearth of real men.

Is feminism to blame?

No doubt feminism is a force of evil in North American society. It is evil not because it has tried to establish equality. Rather it is precisely because it hasn't established equality that it is guilty of perpetrating a fraud. What feminism has succeeded in doing is to convince both sexes that the only masculine identity that is valuable is an effeminate male. That in fact, the only way for equality to exist is for men to be like women, or simply not to exist.

Now, we can blame the feminist movement all we want – but it won't change a thing because in the end, men have embraced their own feminization. As Dys points out, men have done this to themselves because they have become soft and lazy.

Men are far more interested in accommodating the women's movement than in asserting their masculinity. And whether that's because we want to be "popular with the girls," because we are too insecure and unsure about leading, or if it comes out of sheer exasperation – "You want to take over the leadership? Go ahead, I just don't want to argue anymore" – we've conceded our role in family, church and the state.

But let's be clear about one thing: We had no right to abdicate that responsibility.

The solution is very simple: Men need to be men again. They need to take up their responsibility the way God intended them to behave. And the church needs to re-learn how to help them do that again.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

What's Needed: 'Total Christianity'

---by Tristan Emmanuel

My last column obviously hit a nerve. Many wrote to concur with me that what is needed is virile leaders in the church. But let's face it; it is always easier to point out the problem than to outline a concrete solution.

So what follows is part one in what I hope will be a short series of columns that will attempt to outline a general strategy for cultural renewal. I've also outlined some of this in my latest book, "Warned." Get it. You won't be sorry.

The first thing we need to do is recognize that our fundamental problem isn't a lack of education or money. And neither does the answer lie in the appointment of a "political savior." I think the Bush presidency has cured everyone of that silly notion.

Clearly the problem goes much deeper; at root it is spiritual. But while that may be true, I don't want to offer up a trite platitude here – like "if we'd only turn back to God everything would change." The fact is that in the past 50 years, North America has literally seen an explosion in church growth. So people have been, at least in some sense, "turning to God."

Even so, the recognition that the problem is "spiritual" needs clarification, because with so much "Christianization" happening in our countries, we might legitimately expect to see some residual impact on the broader culture. Instead, the opposite has happened; there has been a steady decline of Christian influence.

So, the problem isn't spirituality per se, but a truncated spirituality.

Let me explain. The tension between private and public faith that is created by the challenges of secularism has forced too many Christians in the "mega-church" movement to make unnecessary and godless compromises. In too many of the populist churches the message has shifted from a God-in-Christ-centeredness to a focus on people, their "emotions" and their "felt needs." It's as though Oprah Winfrey has become the patron saint of the mega-church establishment.

Feel-good preachers spend a gazillion dollars promoting the myth that Jesus' sole purpose in coming to this earth was to ensure our happiness, our health, our wealth and our good looks, and that a "spiritual how-to guide" can be had in exchange for a simple contribution.

Now, I'm all for feeling happy, and believe me, Christianity should not be a journey down melancholy lane. But there is a serious flaw in the "me-centered" worship of the seeker-schmoozer churches.

There is no doubt a deeply personal component to the Christian faith. One of the cores of the faith is the ability to say, "Jesus Christ died for me." But the problem is that elevating the personal and individual to the exclusion of all other matters has had the detrimental effect of turning church services into a celebration of people as objects of worship, rather than God. Not only that, but it has also taught an entire generation of young Christians that Christianity is not concerned with public expressions of their faith – such as standing for the defense of the unborn, promoting the sanctity of marriage and parental rights in education, or even defending the notion of liberty and "free speech."

Which brings me to the nub of it.

If Christians are going to turn this cultural ship around, there is one clear imperative that must be obeyed by all – pastor and lay-person alike. We must all insist on God-centered worship that spills over into the public square. Total Christianity demands nothing less.

The biblical adage that applies here is very clear. "Therefore whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32-33).

Christ wasn't just talking here about a public witness or an aggressive evangelistic campaign, all laudable and necessary activities. His statement was a clear condemnation of any tendency to truncate Christianity, to relegate it to personal and private realms while we let Satan, as it were, freely roam the streets of the public square.

Total Christianity means that we assume the public responsibility of exhorting those in the home, church and, most importantly, in the broader society to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ. Total Christianity doesn't allow for two different standards of truth and morality, one for the Christian and a different one for the unbeliever.

King David, a public and political figure, wrote: "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free Spirit. Then will I teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will be converted to you."

The salient failure of the mega-church phenomenon, with its emphasis on seeker-friendly liturgy and numeric growth, is that it has refused to teach a total Christianity. People walking into the front doors of these churches who are looking to have their emotions titillated may be getting that, but they're not having their moral consciences confronted, and they probably aren't finding any real answers in the cross of Calvary either; nor are they getting a sense of God's greatness.

That is why if we want to change our culture we firstly need to change the way we do church. We need a total Christianity, not a truncated version of seeker-individualism. It may be good for the bottom line temporarily, but the long-term effects are spiritual bankruptcy, both for the Church and the culture.

"Saint Oprah" notwithstanding, we need a Christianity that acknowledges God for who He is and is cognizant that man meets God on His terms, not the other way around.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Church Leaders: Culpable

---by Tristan Emmanuel

I've just spent a week in a conference with some of the top social conservative minds in North America. It was a truly remarkable experience. But there was also something sad about the event.

In repeated discussions with conference attendees over coffee, lunch and during other social times, I was struck time and time again by how inept the leadership of the evangelical and conservative Catholic strains of Christianity have become when it comes to defending the faith.

Not only was it clear from my conversations during this week that church leaders are not defending the faith – they are also not equipping their congregants for the daily battle of ideas in our culture.

Unfortunately, too many Christian leaders have deliberately made peace with the creeping socialism and the rampant secularism that are all around us. Instead of teaching their congregations the important truths that extend beyond the pabulum of having a "personal relationship" with Jesus, the leaders in today's seeker-sensitive churches have avoided inculcating a full Christian world and life view.

That's not to say that the "personal relationship" isn't important. Of course it is. It's fundamental. But that "relationship" doesn't exist as an end in itself. It is supposed to bear fruit, including fruits of personal responsibility, public morality and other cultural out-workings.

But too many of today's church leaders are reluctant to talk about this. We have been repeatedly told that "doctrine divides." But what is really behind this sentiment isn't so much love for the "lost" but fear that the "bottom line" will be affected. Unfortunately, the real horror behind the leadership vacuum is that the modern church has become a "big corporation" in which the standards of political correctness, and not truth, drive the marketing arm of most seeker-sensitive churches.

Of course, it's not just the leadership class. The Bible tells us that people will discard sound teaching and itch after falsehood. But I think it's more than just a lack of interest in sound teaching or a concern for bigger collection plates.

Christians have become lazy. While the leadership may be falling down on the job, individual Christians aren't exactly engaging the culture either. There are several reasons for this. One is apathy. Laziness. Many people literally can't be bothered to get their minds outside the comfort zone of a "me-and-Jesus" brand of Christianity that is so intensely personal it has no broader implications for issues of justice, public morality and civil governance. These are the people, for example, who have bought the lie of "separation of church and state," the ones who chastise other Christians for trying to have an influence in the culture. (And if you don't believe these people exist, I would invite you, metaphorically speaking, to have a look at my e-mail inbox.)

But the final, and saddest reason people don't engage – as Christians – in the culture wars raging around them is the fact that they don't know how to. They're not getting the training. They're not being "equipped." They don't know how, for example, to counter the argument that Christian thought should have no influence in civil government. They stand with mouths agape when their critics tell them that Christians are no different from the Taliban when they try to "impose their values" on the rest of society. They don't have a clue how to mount a coherent response to the tautological tripe and polemic piffle of poseurs like Richard Dawkins and his "God Delusion."

And simply put, the reason for this lack of knowledge and understanding is that too few of the pastors in the church today possess either the intellectual acumen or the necessary zeal to meet the challenges of secular humanism head on.

I worry for the future of Christianity in North America. While of course I acknowledge that God is in control, the Bible does say that the Lord will not be kind to religious leaders who fail to take their responsibilities seriously. In Hosea, the prophet utters the familiar words: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." But he is addressing the religious leadership of his day when he continues that thought in the very next line: "Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me."

That's one of the reasons I do what I do. I don't want to be rejected by the Lord of life, and I couldn't care less about the "bottom line." It may be nice to be popular with the masses, but at the expense of Divine rejection? I think not.

But even more fundamental than my own spiritual preservation is the concern I have for the modern church. I run an organization in Canada called "Equipping Christians for the Public Square." One of the ideas behind the organization is to advocate on behalf of beleaguered Christians who find themselves the object of Human Rights investigations because they have spoken truth in the public square.

I have often thought that in an ideal world – where the church was doing its job – my ECP Centre shouldn't be necessary. After all, churches should be advocating for brothers and sisters who find themselves on the wrong end of the law simply because they have spoken truth. The price of political freedom is free speech that gives offense. After all, what can be more offensive than the Gospel's call to unrepentant sinners – be they abortionists, homosexuals or philanderers?

Unfortunately, last week's event again convinced me that there's a crying need out there for the kinds of things the Centre does. In fact, it has set me to thinking of expanding the work into the United States of America.

The fact that so few pastors are actually equipping their congregants with a consistent Christian world and life view that manifests itself in "salt and light" activity – or in advocating on behalf of those who are subject of hate-crime investigations – tells me there is room for this Canadian to start equipping the saints in America.