Sanctity of Life Sunday

In addition to the fact that the date Jan 21 already has significance with me concerning issues of life and death, today our church joined churches around the nation in recognizing “Sanctity of Life Sunday”, the pro-life alternative to “33rd Anniversary of Roe v. Wade”. I have to say, I felt a little conflicted about it all.

Let’s just get out of the way the arithmetic error in the bulletin-insert card. I don’t have it on me, but in round numbers, it said “In the U.S., there are 1 million+ abortions per year; 4000+ per day; 148 per hour; 2-3 per second”. If you chase those numbers down with a calculator, you can see they are consistent except for that last leap. 148 per hour is 2.5 per minute, not per second. Not to say that we’re 60x better-off than the proclamations of the doomsayers, because more than a 9/11 per day, more than all coalition deaths in Iraq per day, should be heinous enough for anybody. All I’m saying is, if people run around repeating that erroneous 2-3 per second statistic, then people are going to start to crunch the numbers backwards, show that it’s ridiculously wrong, and it will result in a lack of credibility for the pro-life movement.

Here’s my real question. Our church preaches expositionally (plowing through a whole book, leaving out nothing (except perhaps doctrine-free lists)) — with the three (stated) exceptions: Christmas (OK, I can see how that’s kind of a liturgically important date), Easter (right, yeah, I’m with you), and Sanctity of Life Sunday (wha??). Kind of sticks out, don’t you think?  (To be fair, examination of the “various” category of sermon mp3s shows that there are actually other exceptions — mostly visitors (and some of those were Sunday nights as well).)

On the other hand, should the Church be so intent on staying out of politics that it must be silent on issues just because they happen to be politically charged? Don’t we condemn the church for its silence during Hitler’s reign of terror? Does not the #1 most egregious societal injustice of the day (Hitler then, and I contend abortion now) require some kind of response from the Church? Is there not a way for the Church to address issues in an apolitical way, even though they are also political issues?

Thinking again, I think our pastor actually did a pretty good job of preaching an anti-abortion sermon which was not actually political, and I think that might be the key. I don’t think he mentioned the word ‘vote’ at all, or any political parties or candidates or justices or states or laws (except historically) (I could be wrong — with two young boys I miss a lot). In the application, he focused on the individual: don’t you get an abortion, and if you know someone who is faced with this decision, talk to them, try to help them, stand up for what is right, and also be constructive in seeking alternative solutions. Get to know your local pro-life pregnancy crisis center, and what services are available.

And of course, it was important that the sermon was actually based on scripture (Ps 8), not forcing abortion into the text as the solitary meaning, but letting the text speak for itself (relating the wonder at the glory of Creation to Ps 19, expositing references in the NT).

It’s obviously not something I’m going to pack up and leave the church over, but I’m just wondering, where is the line between issues that are so important that they require the Church to respond (from the pulpit), vs. those best left alone? And when response is called for, where is the line between a political response and a biblical response?

121 Responses

  1. Is the source of your disturbance the fact that the expositional schedule of preaching was interrupted? Might that be a sacred cow for you? (I don’t recall Jesus preaching expositionally.)

    Suppose the church were to respond aside from the pulpit — through small group studies, Sunday school classes, newsletters, word of mouth. Would you be as disturbed? Is this not also a church response?

    I’ll throw out two flippant answers: the church can and should respond to all manner of sin: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians chapter 10). As for political vs. Biblical — the message of Jesus should be preeminent throughout, and should never be made to serve another cause. I would support an anti-abortion sermon as long as the central focus is on God as life-giver and life-redeemer — believe me, I have heard people speak with reversed priorities. He is not on our side, we are on His:

    Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

    “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” (Joshua chapter 5)

  2. Nah, it’s not that expositionality was violated — it’s not like Sanctity of Life Sunday caused us to miss a bit of our current book (Heb 12:1-? is next) — we’ll certainly get to it. And I would submit that Jesus didn’t preach expositionally because he was divinely empowered to focus on his chosen passages of scripture without sinfully riding his own hobbyhorse (or divinely authorized to establish the right hobbyhorse to ride!)

    I would indeed be more comfortable with out-of-pulpit church responses, like the bulletin insert by itself is fine, a session mandate for all home bible studies to devote a common week to a Sanctity-of-Life study, etc.

    I guess I’m just wrestling with my own determination of where the lines are drawn.

    This might be the “gospel post” Echo has been waiting for. Since it’s been a couple of hours, I bet he’s 50K words into his comment about why a Sanctity of Life sermon violates the preaching rule of Sola Gospel… ;-)

  3. Hey RubeRad, it is Matt Simila got turned on to your blog through Daniel.

    “And I would submit that Jesus didn’t preach expositionally because he was divinely empowered to focus on his chosen passages of scripture without sinfully riding his own hobbyhorse”

    Are you inferring that those who do not preach to their congregations expositionally are in sin?
    (by expositionally do you mean passage to passage through an entire book?)

    Also, isn’t it a subjective matter as to which book of the Bible the pastor chooses to work through?

  4. Welcome Matt!

    Well, anybody who does anything wrong is in sin. However, to not preach expositionally itself is not necessarily to be in sin, but to preach your hobbyhorse and ignore what the rest of the bible has to say is a sin (even if it’s not intentional). To ignore part of the bible because it makes your hobbyhorse look bad is a sin. To ignore part of the bible because you are ignorant of it (i.e. to favor only the parts of the bible with which you are familiar) is a sin. And I’m not saying expositional preaching is infallible protection against hobbyhorses, but it’s pretty good insurance.

    And yes, which book to expositionally preach through is a higher-level issue, but I would contend that each whole book has it’s own balance somewhat, and the whole bible has its balance. For instance, if you’re a legalist, you might preach through James, and then 1 John, and then… Ex–Deut? Or if you’re antinomian, maybe you preach Galatians, then Romans (and somehow skim over Rom 6:1 and a handful of other verses like it), and then were do you go?

    Finally, expositional preaching simplifies the question the pastor has to wrestle each week from “What message does the church need to hear from God this week” to “What is God saying in this passage”? (Except for when the pastor has to answer the question “Which book does the church need to hear next?”). The former question flirts with a need for special revelation, while the latter understands that there are messages for the church in every passage of scripture, and we don’t want to miss out on any, so let’s not skip over stuff!

  5. Hahahahaha @ Rube,

    Sola Gospel, that’s funny.

    But it’s true, your post brings up a number of very interesting questions about preaching in general. I guess I should at least be assured that I’m being relatively consistent if I’m so predictable. That’s got to count for something.

    Forester writes:
    “Suppose the church were to respond aside from the pulpit — through small group studies, Sunday school classes, newsletters, word of mouth. Would you be as disturbed? Is this not also a church response?”

    – Echo:
    This is an interesting issue here. The question I would ask is who does the pastor speak for from the pulpit? I’m not sure if Forester means to imply that the pastor speaks on behalf of the church or whatever, but the pastor speaks on God’s behalf. In that sense, what he does is prophetic in nature. What comes from the pulpit is the Word of God, not the word of the church. This can prove to be an important distinction. For example, is the pulpit the place for the church to respond to the world, to the culture of the US or of the West at large, OR is it a place where God speaks to the church? I think anyone will grant that this is at the very least an important question, regardless of how one answers it. I would argue that the pulpit is a place for God to speak to the church, his people. The reformed typically see the worship service as being a dialogue between God and his people, a covenantal assembly consisting of speech acts in which God and his people commune, or communicate. So one of the most basic and fundamental tenets of reformed worship – and thus of preaching, because it is a part of worship – is that the sermon is God speaking to his people through the mouth of his servant, the pastor. Thus Paul’s very serious charge to Timothy in 2 Tim 4:1-4, which says “preach the Word” in a very serious way, makes perfect sense. If you speak on God’s behalf to his people, it better be his Word that you’re conveying. That’s why what a sermon is, is actually explaining the text of Scripture to God’s people. In this way, God speaks to his people in the Word, and he uses his servant, the pastor, to bring that Word to them, explaining it to them and applying it to their lives. That’s also what Paul is referring to in Rom 10, where he says that faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ PREACHED, for he asks how they will hear without someone preaching, and how will they preach unless they are sent? Who sends them? Well, it’s God’s message, so it only makes sense that God would be the one to send them. So while it isn’t NEW revelation that the pastor brings in the sermon, yet what he says is in some sense the Word of God to God’s people. That’s why the reformed take the training of its ministers so seriously.

    So if all of that is true, then the question arises as to how much the pastor should actually interact with the culture. I think an extreme to be avoided would be on the one hand standing up and talking about nothing but our culture and how evil it is, while on the other hand saying little or nothing about our culture at all. How much it should be discussed lies somewhere in the middle, and only wisdom can tell exactly where, being different for each passage, each situation, etc.

    So the first extreme is obviously preaching too much culture, or trying too hard to be culturally relevant. You want to avoid this. You see, sometimes as an orator, there is a great deal of pressure to be well received by the audience, and that drives orators to try to connect to the audience somehow. Perhaps if there is a terrible snowstorm outside and everyone is a little tense from the stressful drive, the pastor might make a comment to let them know that he understands what it took to get here this morning, and that he is sympathetic with their struggle and he appreciates their efforts. But pastors need to be extremely careful here. While it would be appropriate to comment on a big snowstorm, anything much more than a comment or two might tend to be unwise. Preachers need to be careful to preach what GOD says, not what the people want to hear. What do the people want to hear? They want to hear that someone knows how they feel. The best way for an orator to do that is to articulate what the people are feeling. Maybe he says that the snowstorm put him in a terribly tense mood and he’s still trying to calm down. Instant credibility because you’ve connected with them, right? But the pastor’s job is not to preach what is already on the hearts of the people. The pastor’s job is to preach the Word of God. And being sinful human beings, what’s on our heart is vastly different from the Word of God. What’s on our hearts are things like, “I want more money” or “I want a more submissive wife” or “I wish my children were better behaved” or “I can’t wait to go home and watch the NFC championship game.” But the last thing on our hearts in most cases is “I’m a sinner and I need the grace that Christ provides to me”. But that’s exactly what God wants to convey to us, and that’s exactly what the job of the pastor is. So ultimately, the temptation that the pastor needs to avoid here is preaching what he thinks is on the hearts of the people rather than what is in the Word of God. There is a big difference between the two, and he’s only doing his job before God when he’s preaching the Word, not the hearts of men (2 Tim 4:1-4). Just for reference…

    2Ti 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:
    2Ti 4:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
    2Ti 4:3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,
    2Ti 4:4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

    Notice the contrast between verses 2 and 3. Paul commands him to preach the Word of God on the one hand, and to avoid telling people what they want to hear on the other, culminating in verse 4, which contrasts truth (Word) with myth (passions of the heart of man).

    Anyway, the other extreme to be avoided is not talking about the culture at all. This is very important. This is part of why we need pastors. Part of their job is to be faithful to the Word of God, but that’s not ALL they are to do. Granted, it’s the single most important thing, but it’s not the only thing. A sermon doesn’t just explain what the passage means, but it also applies the passage to the people. You aren’t done when you’ve exegeted the passage. When you’ve exegeted the passage, you’ve really just opened your toolbox and pulled out your hammer. You have not yet struck the nail.

    The sermon begins by teaching, for example, how Jesus is sending the message of “repent and believe” in a given passage. But the sermon cannot merely say, “In this passage, Jesus is saying repent and believe.” No, the pastor must go on and say, “Therefore, people of God, YOU repent and believe.”

    In a nutshell, this application (which doesn’t simply mean what many think it means; it is not anti-doctrine or other than doctrine, it’s application OF DOCTRINE; thus it isn’t simply a rule to follow, 10 steps to being a better mother, for example) must have something to do with the lives of the people. I’m not saying that pastors can or should get up there and talk politics, but if you can recognize that the internet provides an occasion to sin for lustful men, then you mention it. The Bible doesn’t mention the internet obviously, but the job of the pastor is to convey the Word of God to the people in a way that they can understand. It needs to be translated into their language. So when you preach on the sermon on the mount, and Jesus says that when a man looks on a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart, then you warn the congregation to beware of the internet, movies and TV, which are all constantly seeking to entice men to look on women lustfully. Remember men, this is the same as committing adultery. Whoa, that’s bringing the past into contact with the present. That’s showing how the Word of God applies to right here and right now in the lives of the people in the congregation.

    In the same way, maybe you’re preaching on the 6th commandment, and you explain that abortion too is murder. This is not a political issue. It’s an ethical/moral issue. God’s Word is moral to be sure. It’s perfectly alright to speak about moral issues of today in the light of Scripture. So you preach, young women, don’t have abortions. It’s wrong. It seems like an easy way out of the consequences of sin, but the only way out of the consequences of sin is to hope in Christ who paid the penalty for your sin on the cross. To look to murdering your child instead of Christ is great idolatry indeed! To have an abortion is to sacrifice your child to idols, to slay your baby on the altar to your own comfort. To even desire to do such a thing is gross idolatry: repent and believe that Christ is your only hope for salvation from your sins.

    I think that the law/gospel paradigm is an excellent one to bear in mind in sermon preaching. The job of the preacher is to expose the sin of the congregation, and then follow that up with an exhortation to trust and hope in Christ and his work, and assurance that this is the only way, and that this is sure and certain.

    If in seeking to fulfill this mission the preacher exposes not the sin of the audience, but the sin of the culture in which the audience lives, then the audience will think “I’m ok.” Whoops!

    See here’s what I mean. If you get up before the people of God and tell them how evil the REST of the world is, and how the WORLD needs to repent, they will likely applaud you. Why? Because you have told them what they want to hear. You have told them how great and holy they are.

    Wait, you object, no I didn’t! I spoke about a great evil that exists in our world, and how we need to call the world to repent of its evil!

    But that’s just it. When you minister to the people of God, you need to expose THEIR sin, not the sin of their neighbor. Because, while you want their neighbor to embrace the gospel, their neighbor is not here listening to you. You want to remind the people in the pews that THEY are sinful and need to look to Christ as their only hope to be healed and reconciled to God. Now, maybe you know that there are a number of troubled teens in your congregation who you suspect are having sex, and you further suspect that the parents are turning a blind eye to this, and you are concerned that girls will get pregnant and turn to abortion as a way out of having to tell their parents that they got pregnant, or at least a way out of having to raise the child, because they aren’t ready for that responsibility. I would hope that the problems in your church are not that serious, but I know that in some churches, they simply are. Well, in that case, you would certainly want to remind the people once in a while that abortion is wrong, because it is murderous and idolatrous and what not.

    However, I think that for the MOST part, abortion is not as big a problem in the church. And at the very least, the belief that it’s ok to have an abortion is probably not all that prevelant in the church – at least not in reformed churches. There probably isn’t anyone in Rube’s PCA church, for example, who really needs to be reminded that abortion is wrong. Now, maybe the idolatrous nature of it is something that people hadn’t thought of before, and maybe that provides a good opportunity to teach people about the nature of sin. I don’t know. But I would guess that in Rube’s church, to preach against abortion is not to cut right to the heart of the people in the pews.

    In fact, most people in the pews, when you preach against abortion, will self righteously condemn our culture and people who have abortions. The pastor will say, “Abortion is wrong, it’s murder!” What will the people think in their hearts? They’ll think, my senator is pro-choice. He’s evil. I know a girl who had an abortion. What a selfish slut. Dirty liberals trying to legalize murder. How dare they!

    Are these the kinds of thoughts that the Word of God is seeking to conjure in our hearts? By condemning others, we seek to elevate ourselves usually. In the sermon, we need to hear that WE OURSELVES are sinners in need of grace. The kinds of thoughts we want to produce are: I’ve done that. I’ve sinned just like that, just the other day. Why do I keep yelling at my wife; why do I keep doing it? Why can’t I control my temper? Oh Christ, please rescue me from my wickedness.

    And then the gospel produces: ah, peace and tranquility. I am forgiven according to the merits of Christ. It is in him that I stand before God, not in myself. God will not pronounce me guilty for the sins I’ve committed and continue to commit, thanks to what Jesus has done for me. I can’t wait to sing the hymn of response and recite the Nicene Creed.

    I think it is better to preach against those sins that we think our own congregation is struggling with. There are plenty of them. To be sure, abortion is a great crime, and so is gay marriage.

    But let’s talk about gay marriage, because perhaps it’s an even clearer example. If the minister stood up there and spoke against gay marriage, you wouldn’t be convicted of your own sin. Put yourself in such an audience. Are you tempted to marry another man any time soon? Maybe you do get a gay man in your church once in a while, but I would suggest that perhaps sin like this is best dealt with in one on one situations. For the MOST part, however, your congregation isn’t struggling with homosexual temptations, and they are quite repulsed by those who are, and they find themselves to be above such people. So when you preach against it, you actually end up only supporting their illegitimate judgment of their neighbor. They see the sin in others, but this only distracts them from seeing it in themselves.

    I don’t know about you, but I am MUCH better at seeing and pointing out the sin of others, but I have a much harder time seeing my own. I strain gnats and swallow camels all the time. I see the speck in my brother’s eye and miss the plank in my own. We all have that tendency. If the pastor is speaking about someone ELSE’S sin, my first reaction – because I’m sinful – will almost always be a smug, self righteous judgment of the sinners that the pastor is talking about. It’d be like the Jews talking about the wicked Gentiles while thinking themselves to be righteous. “I thank you, God, that I’m not a sinner like this man…”

    But let me just add this. A pastor can totally speak about abortion in such a way as it reveals the sinful hearts of the people to whom he is preaching. And it’s not just by showing how sin works, as mentioned earlier. Like this:

    “4,000 babies a day are killed in this country, and you don’t care. I hear you talking about the evils of gay marriage, or how your boss is treating you unjustly by requiring you to work overtime. I hear you talking amongst yourselves about the evils of the Iraq war, and the hypocritical embargo against Cuba because you lust for cheap Cuban cigars. I hear you talking about how evil everyone else is but you. You know, I don’t ever hear any of you ever talking about your own sin. I don’t hear any of you confess to one another that you don’t care about all the babies being destroyed everyday in our country. It is distant from you, so you don’t care. Thousands of innocent unborn children are massacred everyday and you don’t bat an eyelash. Why? Because you’re used to it. But I hear you talking about how evil George Bush is because a few thousand soldiers have died in his misadventure in Iraq, and how we need to pull all of our troops out of Iraq immediately. But of course, in caring about our troops, you don’t care about the Iraqi people, whose country will fall apart if we pull out, and sharia law will be instituted throughout because Iran will take them over, and then Christianity will be illegal. You don’t even CARE about that. And you don’t care at ALL about the 4,000 unborn a day who are slaughtered on the altar of the most important American god, ME. Where is your treasure, people of God? For where your treasure is, your heart will be also. Why not stop looking at the sins of others and take a good, hard look in the mirror? You are wretched, wicked, sinful. You have a deeply rooted problem that you will never root out in this life: sin. Your only hope is the gospel, because the gospel is the only cure for your sin problem. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became man, lived, suffered and died, in order to pay the price for your sin and restore you to fellowship with God. And how have you repaid him? You deny your sin by focusing on the sins of others. Look in the mirror, people of God, and see how deep and mammoth is your need for a Savior. Every fiber of your being is saturated with your need, with your sinful misery. Repent! Turn from your self righteousness and look to Christ to be healed. He is your only hope, etc, etc, etc…”


  6. My short answer is this: I would have been pretty upset had I sat in church and heard that message. I missed church last week (the 14th) due to my Denver trip and thus had gotten quite depressed (and didn’t really know why). What I needed was to hear the gospel. And went 14 days without it. To have been fed a diet of law (a lecture on abortion – or even a lecture on 5 things I can do to be more –fill in your program here– ) would have really killed me.

  7. Also:

    Since the focus of Scripture is Jesus Christ, his person and work, Scripture itself requires us to use the gospel as an interpretive key to unlocking the meaning of both the Old Testament and New Testament for us today. This fact requires us to preach the gospel in every sermon. The first point that needs to be made is that sermons should be exegetical. By exegetical sermons, I mean that sermons should strive to explain what a text means to the hearers. The Encyclopedia of Religion notes the importance of the Word to preaching:

    From [the time of “Justin Martyr (c.155)”] until this, Christian preaching has taken place alongside the liturgy and in connection with the scriptures. Even in those times and places when word and sacrament have been split apart, particularly since the Reformation, there has been at least tacit understanding that preaching is a function of the communing church and responsible to its canon.

    Preaching is “in connection with the scriptures,” and “responsible to [the church’s] canon.” The Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics notes that:

    From the synagogue the Church had inherited the practice of reading aloud the sacred writings and attaching to this reading the word of exhortation…the first form of preaching was homiletical, a homily being a running commentary on a passage read. This is known to have been the form of instruction given at the first college for the training of preachers, the Catechetical School of Alexandria, of which Clement and Origen were the shining lights.

    Clearly, preaching should be “a running commentary on a passage read.” This is a practice that traces back beyond the New Testament into the Old. (Also see 2 Timothy 4:1f. and Acts 20:27.)
    If, however, the gospel is an interpretive key to the Scriptures (Luke 24), and our sermons seek to explain what a given passage of Scripture means, then how shall we escape preaching the gospel in every sermon? It follows naturally that if the goal is for the hearers to understand the passage as it is relevant to them, then the key to interpreting that passage needs to be preached to them. If they are to believe what is being said to them by the minister, then the minister needs to explain to them how he reached the conclusions about the passage that he did, in order that the listeners may see it for themselves in the passage. This only makes sense if we wish the listeners to hear from God, rather than merely the minister.

    The Expository Dictionary of Bible Words says that the common content of Peter and Paul’s sermons recorded in the book of Acts was that “Jesus, the historical person, was crucified and raised in accordance with Scripture. He, the promised Messiah, must be received by faith with repentance.” This is a clear reference to the gospel. The Dictionary of Biblical Theology agrees:

    To preach in our day is to announce the event of salvation as well as to exhort (parakalein) or teach (didaskein). In the NT, however, the verbs keryssein and euangelizesthai restrict preaching to the solemn proclamation (kerygma) of a fact: Jesus is Lord and Savior…the kerygma is…the cry of the herald who officially announces…the victory of Christ over death…

    The proclamation of the gospel is embedded in the very meaning of the Greek words used for preaching in the New Testament. The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible does not depart from this, saying that preaching is, “In NT terms, a public proclamation of this good news: God has accomplished a work of salvation in Jesus Christ and offers a new life to those who believe.” The Dictionary of the Bible also agrees: “Strictly speaking, Christian preaching is the proclamation of the gospel…the NT words rendered ‘preaching’ have this limitation of meaning.” The Encyclopedia of Religion agrees as well: “The preacher sets forth the kerygma, the essential story of the life, death, resurrection, and expected coming of Jesus Christ.” In fact, the consensus on this is somewhat overwhelming among reference works. These are not narrowly focused reformed reference volumes either. They are broad encyclopaedic works on religion in general or religion and ethics or Christianity in general. I did not pick and choose reference volumes that helped me make my point either. I used every volume I looked at in this section. Every volume I opened up to “preaching” said something about preaching the gospel. These are respected theological/philosophical reference works that have only basic information in them. They are written by multiple scholars and overseen by boards of directors.

    Therefore, it is an established, basic tenet of the Christian faith, fully founded on Scripture, that the gospel should always be preached in every sermon. It is what it means to preach. Therefore, without preaching the gospel, we are not preaching at all.
    Graeme Goldsworthy agrees with our conclusion, saying, “If we are not going to proclaim some aspect of the riches of Christ in every sermon, we shouldn’t be in the pulpit.” Without the gospel of eternal life in Jesus Christ (“the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” [Rom 3:22a]), all we are left with is trying to earn God’s approval through works of the law, just like the Jews in John’s gospel (see above, cf. John 5:39f).
    It is important to note, however, that preaching the gospel is not to be understood as a legalistic rule for preaching. For example, I do not advocate legislating that 10 minutes of every sermon ought to be devoted to the gospel. How much gospel is not the point I am arguing for. I am arguing in favor of using the gospel as an interpretive key for all of Scripture, and that means preaching it to the extent necessary for the hearers to properly understand the text. There is no simple formula into which we can plug variables and out pops a sermon. It does not work that way. How much of the gospel must be preached in a given sermon will be a lifelong struggle for any minister. However, the necessity of its being preached is non-negotiable. The Scriptures demand that we look to the person and work of Jesus Christ in order to interpret the Scriptures in the way that they were intended to be interpreted. If the Scriptures demand it, then it becomes necessary to proper biblical interpretation, and we had best practice it. The gospel, then, becomes the most crucial element in any sermon that seeks to preach the Word of God. Anything less is simply not preaching the Word of God.

    – Note: this is an excerpt from a paper I wrote this semester. I’ve edited it a bit.


  8. I love preaching a Gospel message, but you’ve also got to know your audience and be led by the Holy Spirit. If you have a congregation full of “more mature” believers, you need to make sure they are getting more than just basic “milk”. Those theologians among us should recognize that we must never shrink back from declaring “the whole counsel of God”. Reuben makes a good point about expositional sermons forcing us to see the whole panorama of Scripture, and to wrestle with verses that don’t fit neatly into our doctrinal system. But also, I wouldn’t be so afraid of other forms of homilies, like topical, textual or biographical outlines. I also wouldn’t eliminate the African-American “hooping” sermon either.

    I think this passage speaks to moving beyond just presenting the Gospel in every public meeting, especially to those who are already Christians.

    Hebrews 5
    11We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
    Hebrews 6
    1Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death,[a] and of faith in God, 2instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3And God permitting, we will do so.

  9. There probably isn’t anyone in Rube’s PCA church, for example, who really needs to be reminded that abortion is wrong.

    That’s another thing I forgot to mention. As part of the choir that was being preached to, I didn’t feel that I learned all that much.

    Thousands of innocent unborn children are massacred everyday and you don’t bat an eyelash.

    Wouldn’t/Shouldn’t our thankful response to our forgiveness in this area involve positive action? Some kind of societal response to stand up against the tide? When does exhortation to sanctification cross into a legalistic laundry list?

  10. One other point: I think in our holy anger at this legalized mass murder of innocents, we must always remember to extend Jesus’ forgiveness to those ladies who have committed this sin as well. I think you would be surprised at the number of Christian women in our churches who have had abortions and live every day with the guilt and pain of what they have done. I often need to be reminded of Paul’s wonderful words, “There is therefore now NO condemnation…” God will cast our sins “as far as the East is from the West” and “remember them no more”.

  11. Rube,

    Somewhat unrelated article you may find helpful for various reasons:


  12. Albino,

    Re: 12

    That is an excellent, excellent point. Amen.


  13. Rube,

    Re: 11

    I had said:
    “Thousands of innocent unborn children are massacred everyday and you don’t bat an eyelash.”

    Then you said:
    “Wouldn’t/Shouldn’t our thankful response to our forgiveness in this area involve positive action? Some kind of societal response to stand up against the tide? When does exhortation to sanctification cross into a legalistic laundry list?”

    – Echo:
    Some men spend their whole lives trying to answer these questions. They are not easy questions, and theologians of every stripe would probably come down on these questions all over the place. I will try to stick to what I know for sure to be biblical.

    Yes, our gratitude for the grace of God should compel us to pursue justice in this world of all kinds. Since Jesus saved you, aren’t you more willing to stop a woman from being raped if you can? Or to chase down a purse snatcher? Indeed it is so. As Christians, we want to live in a just society. And yes, theonomists, that involves instituting the second table of the decalogue. But we have to be very careful here. As the CHURCH, we don’t want to do things that properly should be done by political parties. We sometimes forget that moral issues with regard to the laws of this country, are actually political issues. True, it’s an ethical issue, but the solution to our having a law that makes killing unborn babies legal must be found in the government. The government must be persuaded to change the laws. But that is NOT at ALL the place of the church. That would violate the separation of church and state every bit as much as if the state tried to influence the church. They must be completely independent powers. So as individual citizens of the US, we should write our congressman, senators, president, etc. It is not the job of the church to reform society, but to be separated from it. Thus, Paul says “slaves, obey your masters.” This doesn’t mean that Paul is condoning slavery – though, frankly, everyone gets all upset at the idea of slavery because the most recent example of it was the blacks in the south of this country, and everyone knows that they were mistreated, and looked upon as lesser forms of life, something that continues even to this day. And while it is true that slavery in the ancient world was somewhat similar, I think modern wage earners are a better equivalent (relatively speaking) of the ancient slaves. I mean, slaves were often given tremendous responsibility and could often earn money and buy their freedom after a while. Being a slave wasn’t like we think of it today. Sure, many of them were mistreated, but surely we don’t think that there aren’t people in this world who are abused, do we? Anyway, so Paul, though he was probably against the principles of slavery, didn’t speak out against it. Why? Because Chris’t kingdom is not of this world. We don’t bring a cure for political problems. The church brings one cure and one cure only for one problem and one problem only. The problem is sin, the cure is the gospel. This is administered to human beings, not governments. Are our government officials sinning by having this be legal? Absolutely. But that’s not to be addressed by the church, except perhaps as an example of sin that we turn a blind eye to. Again, the point of the sermon is to expose the sinful heart of the people listening, so that they can see the need for the cure the preacher is trying to preach to them, namely the forgiveness in Jesus Christ’s once for all self sacrifice on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead. That’s the church’s job. Expose the sin of those under her care, and then give them the gospel. The church is a wetnurse for the people of God. By preaching the law, we show the people of God that they are hungry. When they cry out in hunger, we give them their bottle, the gospel. (But this is not to say that the gospel is milk, and that something more interesting or deep is meat. I recently heard a preacher say that we don’t need more THAN Christ, we need more OF Christ.) Ok, so my whole point here is that yes, as a Christian, you should use God’s laws as exactly that: God’s laws. They should guide you in everything you do, including in how you cast your vote as a citizen of the US. But the church is not to be a political party. That’s not its role.

    Let’s think of an example. Ok, Saddam Hussein. He was brutal. A murderer. Gassed his own people. Should the churches have been preaching that the man should be put to death? Would a preacher be doing the appropriate thing if he talked about why Osama bin Laden is evil one Sunday? Why is that different from preaching the evils of abortion? Yes, it’s all evil. Yes, there should be an outcry against it. But that’s not the job of the church. The church doesn’t have jurisdiction over the whole world, but only over those who have bound themselves to her by baptism/profession of faith.

    The church’s primary instrument that it uses to carry out its duties is the preaching of the Word (Rom 10). By this very definition, it’s only effective to those who are present to hear it. It has no effect on the people at home watching NASCAR or the NFL on TV. The preaching of the Word doesn’t and can’t reach them. Sure, their Christian neighbor can talk to them, but the pastor cannot speak to them on God’s behalf until/unless he comes to church on Sunday to hear the preaching of the Word. That’s the primary mission of the church: preach the Word (2 Tim 4:1-4). Yes, the church must administer the sacraments and discipline, but it doesn’t exercise discipline over those outside the church.

    1Co 5:12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?

    If that verse had occurred to me earlier in this post, it would have been much shorter.

    But getting to your other question: “When does exhortation to sanctification cross into a legalistic laundry list?”

    This is something else that many theologians would differ on. However, I think when once we have analyzed what it means to be legalistic, it will be easier to answer this question. Is it fair to say that legalism is that which was propogated by the Judaizers of Galatians, etc? They were Jews, Pharisees, etc, right? And what were they doing, saying? They were saying faith PLUS something else. Faith PLUS a work or works: circumcision was the big one, but there were other issues of importance as well. (See Acts 15).

    The point is that legalism always messes up the gospel. That’s the definition of legalism. Simply demanding obedience to God’s law is not legalism, because you may be demanding it as the result of the gratitude in the heart for the salvation Christ wrought for us. But when you make works in ANY WAY part of our salvation, whether as a precondition, or necessary in some other way, then and only then are you properly called a legalist.

    Well, that’s with justification, but you asked about sanctification. That’s more difficult. Or at least it would be if sanctification came some other way than justification. But I have good news: sanctification too is by grace through faith, and this is not your own doing.

    But isn’t sanctification a matter of doing good deeds? I mean, isn’t doing good deeds sanctification? I’m glad you asked. The answer is no.

    Sanctification is something the Spirit does in your heart, transforming your desires, conforming your heart to that of Christ – slowly but surely – by working faith in you, giving you faith through the preaching of the Word and the other means of grace.

    Sanctification is not what you do, but what the Spirit does in the heart.

    What is the significance of that? Well, it changes everything when understood.

    But I think I’ll give you the short answer to this one. It becomes a legalistic laundry list when the preacher seeks to affect the heart by deeds rather than the other way around.

    I’ve got a great example for ya. Suppose you are 18-19 years old, and you aren’t married. So I introduce you to my friend, a big fat girl, who is always eating fried chicken. It’s very hard for her to move because she’s so fat. Consequently, she’s always greasy and shiny. She always has pieces of fried batter all over her face because she just loves fried chicken. Meanwhile, she has no clothes that fit, so part of her belly is always oozing over the waistband of her pants and under the bottom of her shirt, so that you get a nice view of the stretch marks on her belly. Meanwhile, being such a fat girl, and since it’s difficult for her to move, she doesn’t bother showering very often. After all, there isn’t much point, because she’s quickly running out of parts of her body that she can reach with the soap anyway. It only adds to the greasy shine. But she smells. And without going completely over the top, let’s just say that there are a lot of ways in which she would not be…clean.

    This is a disgusting picture. Maybe there’s one or two 18 year old guys on the planet who would go anywhere near this girl (and I’m one of them, you uncaring, unloving person! hahahaha) But you’re no different from most men, and you wouldn’t go anywhere near her. No one blames you.

    Now suppose I said to you that if you would just kiss her on the cheek every hour, by the end of 2 weeks you’d be in love with her. Would you believe me?

    See, we all know that outer actions cannot affect the condition of the heart. There’s no way you’d kiss that girl until and unless you loved her in your heart first.

    In the same way, you can do all the good deeds you want, but it won’t change your heart. You can discipline yourself all you want, but you’ll still be the same inside. You can’t will yourself to fall in love, or discipline yourself to fall in love. Same goes for sanctification. The Spirit unites you in love to Christ. The result of this is that you love the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. So the actions you do are done with that motive behind them.

    Conversely, the unbeliever who does not love God, even the deeds he does that appear good on the outside are not good deeds at all. They are so many kisses on the cheek of the fat girl. He does what he does out of a self serving heart. And sin is fundamentally a matter of the heart. See the sermon on the mount.

    Legalism happens when the message (implicit or explicit) is: kiss the fat girl and you’ll fall in love with her. The Bible says that you can kiss the fat girl all you want, but it’s meaningless unless it’s done out of love, and that can only happen if God changes your heart first. Only God can affect your heart. You can’t even affect your own heart. You can’t choose who you fall in love with, after all, you just do. You can’t really help it.

    Legalism says: do this, and then you will be holy.
    The Bible says: you ARE holy in Christ, therefore do this.

    Remember, as Paul says in Eph 2, we are not saved BY good works, but we are saved UNTO good works. Prepositions ARE important.


  14. I think I’ll give you the short answer to this one.

    Now that’s what I like to hear…

    Maybe there’s one or two 18 year old guys on the planet who would go anywhere near this girl (and I’m one of them, you uncaring, unloving person! hahahaha)

    I hope your wife isn’t reading? What must we all think she’s like, if that’s what floats your boat?!

  15. Echo,

    @13: Thx for the article — I may indeed be able to use that for my next article in the TAG series, on the Problem of Evil.

  16. Re: Sanctity of Life,

    My wife and I heard our babies heart beat yesterday! This was especially encouraging since we lost another baby anout 8 months ago.

    Rube, you should go with Gene Cook and I to earth day. They hold it every year at Balboa Park. There you can debate atheists, Muslims, Scientists, wacko cults, and, of course, the big debates are at the pro-life boothes.

    Re 17, Rube, here was an answer I had given to an atheist friend of mine. He said, after reading it, that he doesn’t think there’s a problem of evil anymore within the Christian worldview. He’s still an atheist, though:

    The above is more defensive in that it doesn’t attack the atheist position, showing how they can’t really have a problem of evil. We covered that previously.

  17. Rube, what exactly is your churches stance on abortion? Is it, “wrong in all times and all situations” or is it, “wrong except in special circumstances (the case of incest, rape and endangerment to the life of the mother).”

    I think the political left has done a great job of characterizing pro-lifers as intolerant and irrational.

    Politically it is almost impossible to find anyone who would take an “always wrong” stance. So that may be a safeguard to the sermon being deemed as political.

    I am examining the topic from a totally different approach. As someone entrusted with pulpit ministry I recognize the legal ramifications of what I say from the pulpit(zrim cautioned me on this in regards to my blog even). And the jeopardizing of the 501c3 is a fairly significant reminder of the 1st amendment.

  18. I’m confused. Maybe it’s because I don’t understand a lot of the words you use…or terminologies. But I thought it was important to address the issues of sin that are at large in our culture. Didn’t Paul travel to far places to bring correction/truth concerning specific sins?
    Why is it so wrong to get the church involved in such a huge controversial, yet EVIL sin in our society? Aren’t we to shine the light in the darkness?

  19. Waky, thx for the link — I will definitely read.

    DBalc, I don’t know our session’s stance on exceptions. For myself, I would say that (a) two wrongs (incest/rape + abortion) don’t make a right, and (b) we should not put ourselves in God’s place to arbitrate between life & death (life of mother vs. child — although if a bad pregnancy would with certainty kill both, and abortion would save the mother, then I’d say go ahead)

    On the other hand (b), if a law or amendment, state or federal, came up that outlawed abortion, with exceptions for rape, incest, and danger to the mother (such that “danger to the mother” isn’t established by any old note from a pro-abortion doctor), I would vote for it in a heartbeat. Twice, if I could!

    Andrea: your questions get right to the heart of the issue I was trying to probe. But I have to run right now…

  20. Rube,

    Re: 16

    Well, I tried not to look like the mean guy who only sees women as objects and thinks beauty is only skin deep. I tried to look open minded and modern, like it would be possible for me to fall in love with a fat girl. But I laughed because I know as well as you that that’s nonsense. Your dad can testify about my wife. For my part, I find her to be absolutely beautiful. And she’s not fat or dirty. hehehe…


  21. Rube,

    Re: 17

    No problem. Giddyup.


  22. Rube,

    Re: 21

    Agreed, especially the whole incest/rape thing. I don’t understand why anyone is in favor of abortion in those cases. Well, I guess I do understand it. It’s selfishness that people think is justifiable. People think that if a woman is victimized sexually, that she should be protected from the consequences as much as possible. They think that the evil done to her is so great that she shouldn’t have to suffer by carrying that baby and bringing that baby to term. They call us evil for saying that she should have to, as if we are the ones responsible for her suffering because we don’t let her kill her baby.

    Our society is so distorted on this point. Rather than blaming the rapist for the suffering of the woman, we want to blame people that won’t let her kill the baby. Do we suppose that letting her kill the baby will end her suffering? Not only does she become guilty of a great sin, but this guilt will torment her the rest of her life. Do you think there’s any such thing as getting over something like that? Especially when the nature of the pregnancy is mixed in? No, let her bring the baby to term. Give the baby for adoption maybe, if it’s too much to bear. But the best thing to do is that she raise that baby. Some good can come then from something evil. God can raise sons of Abraham from stones.

    But as society shifts blame, trying to act as judges of the heart, shifting responsibility, we should note well that we do the exact same thing.

    We often look at someone who offends us and blame them for our angry reaction. Someone cuts us off on the highway, and we scream at our windshields. And whose fault is it? The other guy. He had no right to cut me off, driving recklessly, taking my life in his hands and handling it without care. He didn’t care if I lived or if I died; how dare he! And we even think that our anger is righteous. After all, he is acting unjustly toward us, and God would have us uphold justice.

    But aren’t we foolish idolators when we do this? It is not justice we are seeking to uphold, but our own sense of self worth. We think ourselves to be great and valuable. How dare someone make a different judgment! Do you see what’s happening here? We judge ourselves to be excellent and of greater worth than gold and diamonds. This is idolatrous, because if our minds and hearts and opinions of ourselves were really shaped by our standing before God, we would say with the psalmist, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” Or again, “I am a worm and no man!” But because we think we are great and valuable we judge ourselves from an idolatrous standpoint. The Bible reveals that it is astonishing that God would even give us a second thought. But we think differently. We think he owes us consideration. In doing so and believing so, in our heart we have overthrown God from his throne and sat upon it ourselves. WE are the judge, not God.

    And when the other person cuts us off, they are judging us to be unimportant, unworthy of consideration. But since we think we are so important, we cannot tolerate this. This is someone trying to overthrow ME from the throne of my heart! How dare he! We set up idols in our hearts in such cases, and we ourselves are usually the idol. So in our rage, we in turn pronounce judgment upon that person, cursing them, as if we are their covenant overlord. In our hearts we think we are. In our hearts we think we sit upon God’s throne. We think we have the right to pronounce judgment, blessings and curses. So when someone’s behavior reflects a denial of our own judgment of ourselves, we curse them, as if it means anything. We yell at our windshield, and we feel better. We feel as if we have vented our anger. How foolish we are. We feel better because we suppose that our condemnation of that person actually condemns them, when it means nothing. We condemn only ourselves.

    We fail to take the lesson from Jesus, who when accused did not open his mouth in his own defense. Why? Because he recognized the Father as the rightful judge. His accusers were not the judge, and he refused to take that place for himself before the earthly judges of the Sanhedrine. He refused to recognize their legitimacy to judge him. So he resigned himself to God’s judgment. He was content to be silent before his accusers for this reason. They could accuse all they want, but he would be content to let God decide his fate. Do you see how Christ exemplified perfect obedience and worship and submission to God in this? What a powerful example he gives us when he submits to the judgment of the cross.

    But this is not how we behave. We are no better than the woman who gets pregnant and decides that she’s not ready to be a mother, that she wants to continue to live the good life a little while longer, so she kills her baby in cold blood. She sacrifices her own child on the altar of her own glory, for her own convenience. In her heart, she occupies God’s throne, and she figures that she has the right to give life or death to whom she will.

    And we are no different when we curse the other driver who cuts us off! Except perhaps we are actually worse, because we don’t kill him, but condemn his soul to hell! We curse him, saying, “Damn you!” But we do this solely on our own authority! WE think that WE have consigned the person to hell. THAT is why our wrath is appeased when we have yelled at our windshields. We think we have actually accomplished something. That is the self deception of sinful idolatry. It is a fantasy and a lie and we know it, because we know that we don’t sit on God’s throne. But it makes us feel good and powerful and comforted to deceive ourselves for a few seconds, to indulge our fantasy for just a moment, and to think ourselves to be God.

    We are no different from the mother who kills her child for her own convenience. Yet we look upon these women, indeed our society and condemn them, as if we have the right.

    We look at society, and like the Pharisee, we pray, “Thanks God that I’m not like them!” We pat ourselves on the back, very proud of ourselves that we stand proudly and confidently against abortion. We are proud of ourselves that we can see that the fetus is still a life. We think ourselves to be very morally wise. And we condemn our society because we think them to be morally repugnant. But once again, we have set ourselves up as God.

    Here’s the problem. Society is not condemned. People, individual people are condemned by God. And they aren’t condemned for a failure to be morally wise, a failure to recognize when life begins. They are condemned for seeking to rebel against God, for trying to usurp his throne for themselves.

    They are condemned for violating God’s law.

    But when we condemn them for thinking abortion should be legal, and excuse ourselves by implication, swelling with pride because we are wise enough to think abortion should be illegal, we have set ourselves up as God and judge of the world. But we aren’t even upholding the law of God. We have reduced the entire law to one command: thou shalt think abortion should be illegal. So we condemn and justify based on this command. But this is not where God draws the line.

    And evangelicals want to team up with the Roman church on the issue of abortion. That’s a big reason behind this “Catholics and Evangelicals Together” nonsense. Do we know that the Roman church has declared the doctrine of justification by faith alone to be anathema? That’s official church doctrine for them. They officially condemn those who think justification before God is by faith alone in Jesus Christ, the very thing the Bible teaches. They have stolen God’s throne for themselves, or so they think. Yes, the Pope quite literally supposes himself to sit on God’s throne. He has the right to overthrow what the Bible says and declare that God’s standard of justification is wrong, so he can just make up his own.

    And we want to call them our brothers because we both believe that abortion is wrong.

    Now who is redrawing the lines of justification and fellowship? The Pope says that God is a fool and that the Bible is full of lies. But we accept him because he is wise enough to recognize that abortion is wrong? Foolishness, enmity towards God, reckless unbelief, wretched idolatrous monsters are we all, raging against God and putting our shame on display as if it were our glory.

    Truly did Calvin say that our hearts are idol factories.

    We are no better than the woman who has an abortion of convenience, or the Pope who thinks he can rewrite Scripture, when we simply curse the man who has just cut us off on the highway. No better at all.

    But there is a difference. It is for sinners such as us that Christ died. We can be forgiven, despite our continual embracing of sin and misery. Jesus paid the price for even our disgusting hatred towards God.

    But he didn’t just pay the price for our sins. He gave us his righteousness, that we might inherit the blessings that he earned by his own perfect obedience to the law of God. He earned the blessings that Adam should have earned but failed to earn. He earned eternal life, the right to eat from the tree of life, and he has given it to us, his bride, simply because he loves us and has chosen us.

    And we can be sure and rest that though our sins are heaped up like a stench to heaven, yet the stench will always be overcome by the pleasing aroma of the shed blood of Christ on the cross, appeasing the Father’s wrath infinitely, once and for all. We can be sure that our sins, gross and unending though they are, will not stand between us and the mercy of God. He has saved us, and he will forgive us. And we can be sure and certain of it, because it is said over and over again on every page of Scripture.

    Tell me the story, the old, old story.

    Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, proving that he has conquered Death on our behalf, and God took him up to heaven, where he now sits on his Father’s throne. And we will rule and reign with him forever. But not on our own terms, on his.

    He is God, and we are not.


  23. Andrea,

    Re: 20

    See 24.


  24. Andrea,

    Re: 20

    You wanted to know why it is wrong to speak out against the evil in our culture, namely abortion.

    It’s not, strictly speaking, wrong, at least, not in and of itself. I mean that in general, it’s not wrong to say that something is wrong/evil.

    However, the mission of the church, or perhaps, more specifically, the mission of the preacher, is not to condemn the culture for this or that. The mission of the preacher is to expose the sin of the people in the congregation, so that he can then follow up with the gospel message of forgiveness in Christ.

    Now, it’s fine to say that abortion is wrong. But that needs to be said to the people who are doing it. They need to be confronted with their sin, shown their need for Christ, and then they need to be given Christ.

    The job of the pastor is to do exactly this. His mission is to show the church their sin and then assure them of God’s forgiveness in Christ.

    If some in the church disagree that abortion is wrong, then by all means, they need to be confronted. But now we’re not talking about the sin of people outside of the church, but those inside.

    Here’s the problem. The last thing that a pastor wants to do is make the people in the congregation feel like they’re pretty good people; that they’re ok; that God does not rage at their sin. But if we talk about the sins outside of the church, then people tend to think that they’re pretty good, because they will tend to compare themselves with those who are being condemned as sinners.

    For example, let’s travel back in time to the Old Testament. Now say I’m a teacher in a synagogue, and I preach a sermon that’s all about those wicked Gentile sinners. Say I talked about the evils of Alexander the Great and his thirst for world domination, and how that continued with the Romans, and I railed against them and lamented the fact that they now control the Promised Land. Very well, you are dismissed, I say next.

    Now being a Jew, you would walk out of there perhaps a bit enraged at the wickedness of the Gentiles. Maybe you’d even pray to the Lord that he would come quickly to judge them. But you would also be feeling pretty proud of yourself. You’d be proud that you were a Jew, who, in contrast to the wicked Gentiles, obeys God and serves him.

    What happened? Rather than telling you that you were a sinner who needs to repent, and that you can go to heaven based on God’s unmerited favor – grace – I told you that you were a pretty good person. I did this by condemning someone else. By doing this, I have watered down the law of God. I have forgotten to remind you that you TOO have fallen short of the law of God, every bit as much as the Gentiles, but the difference is that God has shown you grace. By forgetting this, I have given you the mistaken impression that you need no further sanctification. You are no longer in need of God’s grace, because you’re a pretty good person.

    What the preacher needs to do – every single sermon – is remind you that you are a sinner in need of grace. And then he needs to remind you that God has promised to give you that grace, and that you are a new creation in Christ. He needs to remind you that you shouldn’t hope in yourself, because YOU continually fail to live up to your duty before God; but also that it’s ok to hope in someone else, namely Christ, who has inherited the promises for us, and has paid the penalty for our sin.

    But if I only talk about how evil everyone else is, you won’t be reminded of your need for Christ. So you won’t be seeking him and the forgiveness he provides. You won’t be reminded of the intensity of your NEED for the grace of God.

    So while it isn’t wrong per se to say that abortion is wrong, it IS wrong to ONLY condemn “those people” from the pulpit. Such a sermon fails in its mission. However, that failed sermon can very easily be turned into something quite powerful indeed, simply by adding the fact that YOU who are sitting in the pews, even though you have not had an abortion, are just as guilty. They need the grace of Christ, but you do just as much. And you in the pews actually have more reason to be ashamed, because despite the fact that God has been merciful to you and forgiven you, yet you STILL continue to fail. At least those who are committing abortion, murdering their babies, don’t really understand how wrong it is. But when YOU who have the love of God turn around and hate your brother, YOU do so with greater understanding of what is required of you. You KNOWINGLY oppose God to his face.

    Yet we are forgiven, and can have peace with God by fleeing to our Redeemer, whose blood can cleanse these and all sins.

    Do you see the point? The point is that it’s not our place to judge those outside the church. The church does not have jurisdiction over those outside, but only those inside. If those inside do indeed need to be reminded that abortion is murder, by all means, the preacher should remind them of the 6th commandment, followed by the assurance that they can and will be forgiven by Christ, and a call to repentance.

    But when we gather together, if we simply talk about “those people over there who are doing this or that bad thing” we forget that we are just like them but for God’s grace.

    This can be very, very easily summed up as: law and gospel.

    The job of the preacher is to preach to the people in the pews. He tells them the law, and helps them to understand it, so that they can recognize that they have in fact violated it. In other words, he applies the law to their lives. Then he follows that up with the gospel, and applies that to their lives as well. This Jesus lived, died and rose again…FOR YOU. It’s not just a series of events in the life of a remarkable man, it is what the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity did FOR US. That’s the job of the preacher.

    And basically, this same basic message can and should be done out of every passage of Scripture. That’s why traditionally, ever since NT times and even before that in the synagogue, preachers have simply preached on the next passage in the book they’re working on. One week is chapter 1, the next week is chapter 2, or something like that. Often not in whole chapters, but portions of chapters. But you still move on to the next portion of Scripture, ideally skipping nothing. This practice is called “lectio continua”, which is Latin for “you preach the next passage.” I’m just kidding. I really don’t know what it literally translates to, perhaps something like continuing lecture. Anyway, the focus is on continuity from one passage to the next. And lo and behold, the same message can be gleaned from that passage too: law and gospel.

    The benefit of doing it this way is simple. The Bible has one message: law and gospel. It has some parts that are only law, and some parts that are only gospel. However, the law parts need to be followed up with the gospel, because the law parts reveal our sin. And we don’t want the congregation to go home feeling guilty. That’s not God’s desire. He doesn’t want to only condemn. He wants to condemn and then show mercy. That’s why he sent Christ, to show us mercy. If he would send his only Son to die for the sake of showing us mercy, then I would say his desire to show us mercy is pretty strong, to say the least. So we shouldn’t preach messages that are only law, because the law only exposes sin.

    However, in those parts of Scripture that are only gospel, we need to remind people of their NEED for this message. The gospel is pretty meaningless to people who don’t think they need it. If you are arguing with someone, and you say, “I forgive you” when they don’t think they’ve done anything wrong, they will probably be pretty upset and call you arrogant. Unless of course you can convince them that they have done something wrong. Unless people think they need to be forgiven, the forgiveness is largely meaningless to them. Though to be honest, most of us, especially Christians, understand that we’re sinners. So for that reason, if a sermon is ONLY gospel, while not advisable, is not that big a deal. We all know that we need forgiveness from God. We know we’re sinners, and whether we realize it or not, most of us feel guilty about it. So when God says that he forgives us, usually we appreciate it.

    But it’s best by far to always have law AND gospel. You are a sinner, and you need the grace of Christ. That’s what a sermon should do. And if the preacher is practicing “lectio continua”, then we in the pews will be continually astonished week in and week out to discover that with a surprising regularity, the message of the Bible is: you’re a sinner, and you need grace. Over and over and over and over again this message is repeated in various ways in the Bible. It is the meaning of the cross itself, which stands at the center and focus of Scripture.

    Law and gospel must be applied to the congregation, so that they understand that they are a sinner in need of grace, and can understand that they have been given grace, and that they may hope in the promises of God, realized in Christ.


  25. Andrea,

    Maybe to say it shorter, I think the purpose of Lord’s Day worship is just that — worship. One way to worship is to preach the word, and that’s the purpose of the pulpit — to glorify God and edify the church through the preaching of the Word. Echo says

    the mission of the church, or perhaps, more specifically, the mission of the preacher, is not to condemn the culture for this or that. The mission of the preacher is to expose the sin of the people in the congregation, so that he can then follow up with the gospel message of forgiveness in Christ.

    I agree about the “more specifically” — it is not the preacher’s job to preach to the culture about how evil it is, but rather to “preach to the choir”, so to speak. To edify the church by continually bringing it Law and Gospel from the Word.

    I might disagree with Echo somewhat that the same holds true for the “mission of the church”. Certainly, the primary mission of the church wrt the culture is evangelism — not coincidentally bringing Law (for conviction) and Gospel (for salvation). But as a secondary mission, I think that the church (as a community of citizens of our earthly kingdom) has a voice in these issues of culture. I hope we all would agree that what a church is all about is not restricted to Sunday mornings. A church is still a community of believers all week long, and that community can do things other than gather for worship. One of our favorites is to gather for fellowship. Another is to gather together to help each other educate our children (think of maybe a homeschool co-op, or starting a Christian School). I see no reason why another of these things couldn’t/shouldn’t be gathering together to act politically.

    For instance, one idea I’ve had that I should probably ask to see whether it’s feasible, is to have a weeknight near an election to open the church to a discussion of propositions and candidates. When I vote, I’m never fully informed about each and every thing I vote on, and if any of my Christian brothers & sisters are more informed than me, I would benefit from that. But you can see how such a forum would be different than preaching on Sunday morning.

    Same deal I think with abortion. If you’re going to address abortion from the pulpit, you have to make sure that it is in line with the proper role of preaching within the greater context of Sabbath worship. There are other venues in which the community of the church can have an impact, but Sunday Morning is for God to speak to his Church, not for the Church to speak to the World.

  26. Rube, “For instance, one idea I’ve had that I should probably ask to see whether it’s feasible, is to have a weeknight near an election to open the church to a discussion of propositions and candidates.”

    Does your church distribute the “Christian” voter guides? I use the quotation marks because they don’t exactly endorse any candidate, but they have the candidates answers to specific questions that are most relevant to Christians. Example: Do you support a constitutional amendment banning homosexual marriage? The funny thing is most republicans say, “yes” and most Democrats say, “No response”.

    It’s pretty stupid but it does help on some of the propositions and such.

  27. I agree they’re pretty stupid, and I’ve never found them to be helpful. As you note, the questions and answers are predictable, and you can achieve the same effect by just voting down the party line.

    Our church does not distribute voter guides (i.e. in the bulletin), but there are one or two individuals to take it upon themselves to hand them out, and to my knowledge the eldership is not interested in suppressing them.

  28. John Piper (my favorite Calvinist preacher) preached an excellent message last Sunday comparing abortion to racism. Enjoy.

  29. I like John Piper.

    I can hear the collective gasp. Yeah, I like him even though he doesn’t believe in infant baptism. Yup. I like him even though his understanding of covenant theology is less sophisticated than the reformed.

    You know why I like John Piper? Because the man refuses to compromise on the gospel.

    Is there anything more important than the gospel?

  30. OK OK I know I shouldn’t but sometimes I just can’t resist.

    Echo, seriously is that what this is whole thing has been about, a “less sophisticated” understanding of covenant theology?

    Had we seen you say that a long time ago the three quarters of the debates on this blog would have been unnecessary.

    And your last question, “is there anything more important then the gospel”? Well judging by your responses to just about everything anyone says I would say you think that a “more sophisticated” understanding of the gospel is more important than the gospel.

    (BTW I don’t want to have to look for it but I could’ve sworn you once said that non-infant baptism undermines the gospel. If you never said that then I apologize, but if you did say that then how can you say about John Piper that he, “doesn’t compromise the gospel”?)

  31. Rube,

    Re: 27

    You said:
    “For instance, one idea I’ve had that I should probably ask to see whether it’s feasible, is to have a weeknight near an election to open the church to a discussion of propositions and candidates.”

    – Echo:
    You went on to say that something like this would be distinct from Sabbath worship, and that is good. However, I would still strongly resist such an idea.

    For example, you talked about Christians getting together to teach children. It’s fine for Christians to get together to do something like that. But when you’re talking about official church activities, we have to be very, very careful that such activities are strictly governed by the Word.

    So let me ask you this: what principles governing church activities can you find in the Word? What does the Word say the church is supposed to be for? One thing that I think the reformed teach is that the Bible positively tells the church what it is supposed to be doing, but doesn’t really get into all the details of what it isn’t supposed to be doing. For example, the Bible doesn’t say that the church building can’t be used as a polling place. In fact, you don’t see much discussion of church buildings at all in the Bible.

    Hmm. Maybe we need to figure out what a church building actually is, putting it in biblical terms. The building is not the church, the people are the church. So what is the building? It’s a difficult question. Many people simply gloss over this question. Some people assume that the building is meaningless, so they say that anything goes. Some churches rent their buildings out to various groups of various kinds. Some allow it to be used for all sorts of things. What does it matter? It’s JUST a building. The people are the church. On the other hand, some people think that the building IS the church. These people might have other ideas. They might think that the church has to be as beautiful as possible, overlaid with gold, marble floors and the like, complete with perfect landscaping that shocks the eye with its beauty. After all, the more beautifully you adorn the building, the more you apparently love the church, because the building IS the church.

    Where do you fit in? Where do the reformed traditionally fit in? What does the Bible say? How should we think of a building?

    I would suggest that while the building itself is not the church, it is still a thing that is set apart for a specific use and purpose. But what are the implications of this? I mean, while the church building is not the church, it also isn’t your home, nor is it the local library, school, mall, coffee shop, etc. It is something different. It is a building that has a different reason for existing than those other buildings.

    Further, I think there is an important distinction to be made between a church activity and an activity that simply takes place at the church building. A church activity is an activity that the church, as the church, undertakes under the oversight of the elders, and as such there are certain rules involved. An activity that simply takes place at the church building, since it is not a church activity, may have different rules. For example, if your church holds a Bible study, and someone is being argumentative and combative with the study leader, the elders need to deal with that. However, if you allow your church building to be used as a polling place, the elders don’t have any say over how someone behaves. That’s the job of the people conducting the polling place to be responsible for.

    I would caution a church – as a church – doing anything political whatsoever. Your dad can probably wax eloquent about sphere sovereignty far more than I, but that’s the principle that’s relevant here.

    To take an extreme example, if your pastor says from the pulpit that everyone who loves God should vote for George Bush, he is binding peoples’ consciences. He is adding to the law of God. There is no law of God that says you have to vote for this guy or that guy. The law of God can guide us as to how to make those choices, and in the last presidential election, Bush was probably the better choice. However, let’s not pretend that voting for Bush is actually a good moral, biblical act, even if he does have the right stand on many important issues. He undoubtedly doesn’t have the right stand in at least some areas. The church does not have the right or the authority to tell people who to vote for. It is an illegal, unbiblical binding of their conscience.

    So now the question becomes, how does the church, as a church, hold political discussions without binding peoples’ consciences? Well, we might say that the views of the candidates can be expounded by whoever knows something about them. But how do you necessarily keep this from being a polemical discussion? Don’t you think such a gathering will almost certainly turn into people taking sides, saying, “I think we should vote for so and so”? Undoubtedly, some less educated folks will be coming to such an assembly for ADVICE. They will be wondering, who should I vote for in order to be true to the Bible? So someone stands up and says that so and so is really bright and has a strong moral conviction, etc. Because this message comes from the church – for that’s how people will interpret it – people will feel obligated to vote for this person.

    Let’s say that you and I attend this discussion. I don’t know anything about the candidates, and I’m seeking information. You stand up and spout off everything you know about candidate X. You talk about how he is against abortion, against gay marriage, etc. Then you say that his opponent, candidate Y, is FOR abortion and gay marriage. Perhaps you talk about some other issues too. But now I have heard from someone at church that candidate X has a more biblical stand than candidate Y. Am I bound in my conscience to vote for him now? What if I thought Y had a better economic plan, or a better plan for dealing with Iraq? Do I sin by voting for someone who is in favor of abortion and gay marriage?

    I say no.

    The guy who is against abortion and gay marriage might pass some law that helps to widen the gap between the rich and the poor. He might be thoroughly corrupt. He might have many affairs with many women that receive a lot of press time. He might be an embezzeler. You don’t know.

    We need to vote for the guy that’s going to promote justice to the greatest extent. We aren’t going to get a candidate that’s a pastor. We aren’t going to get a reformed pastor in the oval office. Being a Christian does not make you more able to govern justly. It just doesn’t. Justice is a matter of natural revelation. You don’t need to be saved to understand it. That’s why crazy pagans can actually be right about certain things regarding justice.

    These issues are super complicated. People will come to such a gathering expecting to be told who to vote for according to certain litmus tests. We reduce the law of God to abortion and gay marriage. If a politician oppresses the poor, we’ll tolerate him if he’s against abortion and gay marriage. And the funny thing is, it doesn’t matter if he actually accomplishes anything in regard to these issues. For example, since 1973, Christians have been insistent that they vote only for anti-abortion candidates. But abortion is still legal. And I suspect we can cast all the votes we want, but gay marriage will eventually be a reality. I think this is to be mourned, but no more than abortion. Both are to be mourned. But they are what they are. There are many, many other injustices that politicians participate in. They are pretty much all corrupt in their own way.

    But, God has given us the responsibility to vote. We cannot simply not vote. That’s unbiblical. That would be like a king who refused to govern, or a cop that refused to arrest people. God gives all the authority that there is. God has given us the authority to vote, we need to exercise it. That’s about as much as the LAW of God says regarding politics. The rest is wisdom. We cannot bind consciences with respect to wisdom. It isn’t law. It’s wisdom.

    So while I think your intentions are very good, and your heart is in the right place – so I’m not trying to be very polemical about it – I think that your idea to have a gathering at the church so Christians can make more well informed choices at the polls is not the best idea. Something like that can and should be done by the community. Certainly, if you know someone in your church who is politically intelligent, you should invite him over for dinner. Certainly you should try to go on websites and read newspaper articles about the candidates. But I think the church is unwise to get anywhere near politics. It’s too complicated, and I find that it must be impossible to avoid binding consciences, deliberately or otherwise.

    But I’d love to hear a counterargument.

    I think the most successful counterargument will be the one that proves me wrong about the whole conscience binding thing. My concern is not to add to the law of God, like when churches force people to vow not to drink alcohol or smoke. Even if we aren’t deliberately adding to the law, we have to be careful that we aren’t interpreted by people as adding to the law. We don’t want to be an occasion for someone’s conscience to be bound.

    My argument of course presupposes the biblical notion that adding to the law is a great evil, which Jesus routinely condemned the Pharisees for. The reformed have a saying: “If you forbid what the law allows, you will allow what the law forbids.”

    The churches that make people vow not to drink alcohol or smoke, for example. They usually don’t make them take a similar vow regarding the 10 commandments. They have elevated their man-made law higher than God’s law. By so doing, they tell people that as long as they don’t smoke or drink (or go to movies or go dancing, etc) they’re good people. This kind of legalism waters down the law of God so that it can actually be adhered to. But of course, if people think that they’re pretty good people, they won’t see their need for the gospel. It’s a vicious cycle. We’re not good. We’re wicked sinners. That’s the whole point of the Bible, and of Christ, the Word made flesh. The whole point is, we’re sinners, and we need grace; and God is only too happy to give it to us. But if we think we’re pretty good, we aren’t driven to look to Christ as our only hope. The people who think they’re pretty good because they don’t smoke and drink, look to their own “righteous” abstaining from alcohol and tobacco to be their righteousness. They suppose God will accept them on this basis. The Bible never says that. Never.

    So adding to the law/binding consciences is a really big deal, and must be avoided at all costs.


  32. Daniel,

    You deserve everything your going to get for this picking a fight here where there was none. Not just in this thread but in the threads to come (to borrow on a phrase that I heard somewhere before).

  33. Daniel,

    Re: 32

    You said:
    “Echo, seriously is that what this is whole thing has been about, a “less sophisticated” understanding of covenant theology?”

    – Echo:
    What “whole thing”?

    You said:
    “BTW I don’t want to have to look for it but I could’ve sworn you once said that non-infant baptism undermines the gospel. If you never said that then I apologize, but if you did say that then how can you say about John Piper that he, “doesn’t compromise the gospel”?”

    – Echo:
    Good question. I’ll save you the trouble. Yes, believer-only baptism undermines the gospel, as does every error. That doesn’t mean he can’t present the gospel ITSELF in an uncompromising way. This perhaps cuts to the heart of why it’s one thing to say that a certain view on a certain matter undermines the gospel, and QUITE ANOTHER to say that someone is compromising the gospel, or that they don’t believe the gospel.

    For example, post-millennialism undermines the gospel. (Let’s allow this to be an example, not a point of contention. Pretend I said “let’s suppose it undermines the gospel.) But the preacher who is post-millennial in his eschatology can still preach a homerun gospel sermon, presenting it in an uncompromising fashion.

    In the same way, classical apologetics also undermines the gospel. But RC Sproul, who is post-millennial, a classical apologist, believes in using images of Christ, and has renounced presbyterianism in favor of some bizarre form of monarchy, and who apparently believes that there should still be priests and bishops (he did a very strange children’s book that made me shudder) – yet the guy can still rock and roll with the best of em when he preaches the gospel. He’s strong on justification by faith alone, and he’ll fight you for it. Meanwhile, he, like John Piper, has done LOADS for the gospel, bringing lots and lots of people into the reformed community. Ask ANYONE who is in a reformed church who had to transition to it at some point (previously having been not reformed), and I can almost guarantee you that they’ll point to either Piper or Sproul as having written the book that somehow ended up in their hands that drove them to seek out a reformed church.

    Believer-only baptism undermines the gospel in a MUCH more subtle way than say, Arminianism, for example. The New Perspective on Paul, the Federal Vision, the Emerging Church, the Willow Creek-seeker friendly movement, Arminianism and the Pentecostal movement are all FAR greater threats to the gospel than Piper’s belief in believer-only baptism.

    You said:
    “judging by your responses to just about everything anyone says I would say you think that a “more sophisticated” understanding of the gospel is more important than the gospel.”

    – Echo:
    Well, if THAT’S the worst thing you can say about me, I should rejoice. Honestly though, I reject the notion that the gospel is milk, and that the meat lays beyond the gospel. As one preacher recently said, “We don’t need more THAN Christ, we need more OF Christ.” There’s no such thing as understanding the gospel too much. But there is such a thing as not understanding it enough.

    Regardless, you may feel free to judge me in whatever way strikes your fancy, according to whatever standard strikes your fancy. Your judgment of me is far less severe than God’s judgment of me. God has condemned me forever to bear the full brunt of his wrath in hell. But he has also given me faith to obtain the merits of Christ, and he has said that I am not now condemned. Even if I think people should understand the gospel better than they do. Even if I think people shouldn’t be lazy and exegetically sloppy. Even if I recognize that the Bible is correct when it says that teachers are held to a higher standard than laymen. I still stand blameless before God.

    I am no one’s judge. God is the only judge. But we all have a right to say, “The Bible says…”


  34. So now the question becomes, how does the church, as a church, hold political discussions without binding peoples’ consciences?

    Obviously, I agree with the church/building distinction. Originally, I just meant “open the church building”. Maybe I’m just strong-willed, but I don’t see how the type of meeting I’m envisioning would make me feel conscience-bound.

    First off, it would be a discussion among equals. Nobody would be standing in the pulpit, expositing on why their voting choices should be everybody else’s.

    Second off, it would be helpful (if the session approved the use of the church building for such an event) to provide a statement (at the event, and also in the bulletin announcing the event) to the effect “It is the obligation of Christians to vote. It would be sinful not to vote. It would also be sinful for this session/pastor/church to tell you how to vote. So don’t go to this meeting expecting to be told how to vote.”

    It would be even more helpful if an elder or two participated in the meeting, in order to properly exercise their authority over the event which they sanctioned — i.e. enforcing that nobody (including themselves) made any statements of the form “Christians are obligated to vote like this…”.

    The discussion might well range into the biblical. For instance, if somebody showed up and thought that abortion was not wrong, everybody would be able to show them biblically how abortion is wrong. But the judgment-call which is up to the conscience of the individual remains: should I vote for candidate or law X? Is the fact that they support abortion outweighed by other positions held by a candidate which promote biblical justice?

    Perfect case in point: what if a law came up prohibiting abortion with exceptions for rape, incest, and danger to the mother. Discussion might include “Is it biblical to allow for abortion in any of these exceptional cases?” “Are the definitions of the exceptions fair and just?” “Does the rightness of outlawing some abortions outweigh the wrongness of allowing other abortions?” And people could express their opinions on all of these. But nobody could/should say “it is sinful to vote (for/against) this law”.

  35. Rube,

    You assume that everyone is as free thinking, independent minded and intelligent as you.

    If everyone in your church were like you, your proposal would be fine. Seriously. It wasn’t your conscience I was envisioning as being bound. I had the weak and timid and shy in mind. You know, the people who are desperately seeking to be told what to do.

    People, in short, will be looking for laws where only wisdom can be found. This reflects that they are unwise. But surely you understand that for the sake of the unwise (which is probably a far larger percentage than most of us realize) we should be careful.

    I guess the conscience binding I have in mind is best described as inadvertent, and no fault of their own.

    But anyway, your proposal can start off as something very carefully done, but before you know it, sin can slip in and destroy it. Before many years have passed, you’d probably see it change into something that isn’t so carefully handled anymore. Maybe not. But it’s risky.

    I wouldn’t touch it, if it were me. I don’t think that’s law, so much as pastorally wise. It doesn’t contribute to the law/gospel motif of Scripture.

    I am in favor, however, of reminding the people to vote. From the pulpit. And to be responsible/informed voters. That’s law. Totally appropriate from the pulpit.


  36. Bruce,

    I’m waiting for sphere sovereignty clarity. Please elucidate.


  37. I’m waiting for sphere sovereignty clarity. Please elucidate.


  38. So should we exhort, “Brother if you are timid, refrain from discussing politics with your Christian brothers, because you might get conscience-bound”? What’s the difference if it happens in a meeting or in ad hoc conversation?

    I agree though, things slip. Starting off careful might end up not-so-careful. But that’s what the oversight of elders is for.

  39. Echo-

    You are all for the members of a given congregation being informed\responible voters, but against members\leaders of the church doing the informing? If the church does not do the informing then someone else will and the proper stance may not be advocated.

    I do not see what is so scary about allowing a forum or discussion on pertinent political issues that DO affect the church. The church does not have to tell people what to do when it comes to politics, but they should feel free to educate people on the issues and give a Biblical perspective to counter all the left-wing propaganda being spewed around.

  40. Don’t want to speak for Echo, but doesn’t this involve Echo’s conviction that we should always and only preach the Gospel in every sermon or Bible study? And to also do so expositionally only? And to make sure to do so with “sophisticated covenantal theology”? Making sure to not show any tears or emotion in the process?

    :-) All in good fun, Echo.

  41. Ok, here we go, now that I’m in a joking mood. Some Presbyterian jokes followed by a few charismatic jokes:


    What is a Presbyterian? A Baptist who likes to drink but doesn’t have enough money to be Episcopalian.


    During a Presbyterian worship service a man began to be moved by the Spirit.

    Out loud he said “Amen!” People around him were a little disturbed.

    Then louder he said, “Hallelujah!” A few more people were becoming disturbed.

    Louder still he shouted “Praise Jesus!”

    An usher moved quickly down the aisle. He bent over and whispered to the man, “Sir!. Control yourself!”

    The man exclaimed, “I can’t help it. I’ve received the Holy Spirit’s infilling!!!”

    To which the usher responded, “Well you didn’t get it here!”


    What did the cannibal do when he swallowed the charismatic? He threw up his hands!


    How many charismatics does it take to screw in a light bulb? 101. One to screw in the light bulb and the other 100 to come against the power of darkness.

  42. I’ve said my peace. No point repeating myself.


  43. Bruce,

    Re: 39

    Please elucidate Kline on cult vs culture. You know more about it than me.


  44. “On the other hand, should the Church be so intent on staying out of politics that it must be silent on issues just because they happen to be politically charged?”

    yep. the chcurch has nothing, nothing, nothing to say about abortion.

    “Don’t we condemn the church for its silence during Hitler’s reign of terror?”


    “Does not the #1 most egregious societal injustice of the day (Hitler then, and I contend abortion now) require some kind of response from the Church?”

    NO. rube, i say this as one who is more conservative than even george W on abortion (i call my views anti-abortion, not pro-life): the church has no duty to say anything about ANY political issue. you say you consider abortion the most important. fine. are there not millions of evils going about in the world? why is the church beholden to one particular opinion about one particular evil? what if i said that labor laws are the most pressing evil? why does abortion get the front and center attention these days by conservative christians? what about darfur? what about the sex slave trade? you see my point…it just never ends. so why do we pick this one thing called abortion and make it tanatamount with that ever popular template for evil, the third reich? no, the church has nothing to say about abortion or any other perceived evil.

    “I think our pastor actually did a pretty good job of preaching an anti-abortion sermon which was not actually political,”

    oh, please. just how is that possible? how do you address such a hot issue and NOT import politics when you should be preaching the unfettered gospel? you know, folks with other moralities claim the same thing.

    it is my opinion that we live in a day rife with moral-political-cultural idols. it’s not that we can’t have our beliefs about all these things, rube, but our conclusions about them on either side are not divine. preachers need to stuff their politics into their breast pockets and get to the task they were called to…preaching the unfettered, uncompromised and pure gospel.


  45. Echo,
    RE: 35

    Cool man. I totally understand your positions much more now. Which is what I meant by saying “this whole thing”. I blame myself mostly for not realizing that what you call an “undermining of the gospel” is not what I heard (a false gospel). I am very content to take upon your labels of “less sophisticated” theology and even an “undermined” but “non-compromised” gospel, that is assuming you would grant me them. I mean technically you are saying that about Piper but I think you might be willing to give me the same grace after having many discussions with me over the course of the past few months. Would you? Because I’ll take it.

  46. “Christianity is not a religion of ethics, morality, or politics. Its central
    message is the proclamation of the death of God’s Son, under God’s curse, dying in unspeakable anguish to turn aside God’s holy hatred of sin, so that all who trust in him and in him alone can be saved
    from God’s wrath and be assured of God’s favor toward them.

    If we lose that message we have lost
    Christianity itself.”

    -kim riddlebarger.


  47. Zrim,
    I understand where you are coming from. But, consider this; If a pastor is preaching on the 6th commandment – would it be wrong of him to mention that terminating a pregnacy falls under this commandment?…leaving out any reference to U.S. law and the particulars of the social debate of course.

    What if he was preaching on (I can’t remember what Psalm it is…139?) the verse with “you knit me together in my mothers womb” Would it be wrong for the pastor to make a quick and passing reference to abortion from that verse? Again, leaving policy out of it.

    I wonder. I’ve never heard anything like my examples above – but I wonder if it could be done…I know it doesn’t really need to be done, most Christians already know these things and are not in much danger of disconnecting murder and abortion.
    It’s an interesting discussion.

  48. Zrim,
    My comment refers to your first post. That Riddlebarger quote is right on.

  49. More to the point: Rick asks whether abortion can have a “quick and passing reference” when the text merits it (6th commandment, Ps 139). But I return to my original question: assuming that some reference is merited (without reference to the length or depth of the reference), should the preacher avoid the topic because it has political ramifications? What about a topic that came to have political ramifications (i.e. abortion before vs. after Roe v. Wade)?

    Zrim, if the pulpit is supposed to be separated from the culture, and not influenced by it, the question of whether an issue is attached to a political hot button should be irrelevant. Surely that would result in the church continually running away from issues at the whim of a culture with a changing political climate.

    I think you go too far. Mind you, as I noted over at Rick’s place, I think Piper also went too far. But I think there is a middle ground where an issue that has political ramifications can be preached apolitically, exegetically, and in proclamation of the gospel.

  50. hey, rick.

    you asked, “If a pastor is preaching on the 6th commandment – would it be wrong of him to mention that terminating a pregnacy falls under this commandment?”

    short answer, no. i have no problem with the church regulating herself per scripture. that may seem an obvious thing to say, but i think we need to distinguish between what we may tell ourselves as covenant people and what we may tell the KOM. i really think any pastor needs to tread lightly and with much wisdom here. and wisdom might say, “don’t say anything that even has a whiff of today’s politics.” let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that such a statement will not scare up political thoughts. i realize the problems involved with such an angle, but that’s my answer.
    your second question still flirts with the idea that we may wink with politics.

    and, btw, i have never understood that verse as some sort fo proof text that settles any and all discussions about abortion. it seems more a proof text to God’s sovereingty and His Lordship over all creation, etc. it is not immediately obvious why the fact that God creates life means a woman cannot end her pregnancy. i mean, even those on the other side of the table on this issue will tell you that an unborn child is a life, but that some lives may be taken justifiably. while, i agree that some life can be taken justifiably, i vigorously disagree with such an application to unborn humans in this way. but let’s quite using that psalm as if it’s the great final word–because it just isn’t.


  51. Zrim,
    “but let’s quit using that psalm as if it’s the great final word–because it just isn’t.”

    You’re right. I hope I didn’t sound like I was using it as an issue settling proof text.

  52. rube asks,

    “should the preacher avoid the topic because it has political ramifications?”

    i realize i am comin goff pretty “extreme.” so let me settle down a bit…there…ok, i am not quick to tell a pastor his work. he must do as he sees fit, i think. but i think, generally speaking, wisdom…well, i already said this to rick, didn’t i?

    “Zrim, if the pulpit is supposed to be separated from the culture, and not influenced by it, the question of whether an issue is attached to a political hot button should be irrelevant. Surely that would result in the church continually running away from issues at the whim of a culture with a changing political climate.”

    really good point, rube. but i still disagree. like i said, i have no problem with the church regulating herself per God’s law. the attachment some issue has to some cultural issue is not irrelevant. speaking without wisdom is just stupdidity. what’s to stop full blown sermons on abortion, per your words here? not much. you yourself have problems with bully pulpits, but what keeps a pulpit from being bullish? wisdom. i sense you still wanting to sneak in your political conclusions in a pulpit by charging cowardice of some sort (i.e. “running away from issues”). that is not what i mean. why would the pastor who makes “passing comment” not be charged with cowardice? shouldn’t he be “strong and resolute” about what is plainly right and wrong? if you are going to allow your politics into a pulpit, i say, do it with gusto. otherwise, shut up and preach the gospel.

    going too far…yes, i am quite ready for such charges. but here i stand and can do no other, so to speak.

    i would ask you, rube, who made abortion so important that it gets all the face and press time by us these days? remember, i have very conservative politics on this issue (i reject the wimpy title of pro-life and opt for anti-abortion), but i never understand why this issue gets the pedastal.


  53. Pastors in Germany should have stood up (as some did) and vigorously preached against the evils of the Nazi regime, speaking truth to power (remember Nathan the prophet?). White preachers should have spoken out in greater numbers against slavery, and then against racism and for civil rights in the 60’s.

    If we see our country and culture careening off into cultural collapse and wholesale extermination of innocents,we have a duty to address it, even if it means naming names.

    I wonder how John the Baptizer would view our lack of courage in addressing the sins of political leaders and our government after losing his head for doing just that?

    We must not be silent, cloaking our fear of losing our 501c3 tax-exempt status in piety. Stand up. Lift your voice. Speak out.

  54. Albino,

    You wrote: “I wonder how John the Baptizer would view our lack of courage in addressing the sins of political leaders and our government…”

    John was the last covenant prosecutor of theocratic Israel was he not? The political leaders were the religious leaders. This is not the case today.

  55. Ok, Rick, so let’s flesh this out further. You do not believe that we, as men of God, have any duty to speak truth to power today? Don’t you agree that White pastors should have spoken up about the evils of racism, and not left Black preachers to do all the “heavy lifting”? Don’t you think that White preachers should have stood up in greater numbers to oppose slavery, not being afraid to name names? Don’t you think that Pastors in Germany should have preached against the evils of the Nazi regime?

    Don’t you think that John the Baptizer (and the prophet Nathan) are examples to us, as men of God, to speak without fear the Word of God, even to leaders, when great evil is being done, and, in our case, millions of babies are being unjustly exterminated?

    I just can’t picture myself one day before God stammering, “But, Lord, I was afraid the Feds would take away our 501c3. That’s why I stood silently by while the babies were murdered.”

    Lift your voice. Stand up. Speak out.

  56. Amen to Albino!

    The Church (not mine personally, but as a whole) I belong to is a Victorious, Powerful, and Relevant entity in today’s society. We should not stand pat as the world around us heads toward decay, but instead stand up for what we know to be the true and right way to live.

    We should not go cowardly into the corner, holding only to the gospel as the only necessary preaching, but let our light shine before men in all areas of life.

    “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” I Peter 2:9

  57. oh, albino, what to say to you?

    do you not realize you are pushing a social gospel? your fundy ancestors beat up those poor liberal christians for doing this. and now see why: it’s because they didn;t have the *right* social gospel. you and the liberals have so much in common it’s reeling.

    Christ’s kingdom is not of this world.


  58. yes, matt, that’s just what the liberals, who denied historic christianity, of the late 20th century said. how are you any different from them?


  59. Jesus himself spoke to many social issues of His day, why should we be afraid to do the same? Taxes in Matt 20:17-21, Murder, Adultery, and Divorce in Matt. 5

  60. Fellas,

    To stand by and watch despots and murderers seize the day is not piety. Would you have lifted your voice in Nazi Germany? Would you have lifted your voice to oppose slavery?

    We have an obligation as men of God to speak truth to power, and stand up for righteousness. You are setting up a false choice of either preaching the Gospel or standing up against wickedness in our culture.

    Lift your voice. Stand up. Speak out.

  61. Jesus himself spoke to many social issues of His day

    Two points: (1)those weren’t social issues for the most part. They were ethical issues that impinged on Israel’s “house disputes”.(2) He spoke to the visible church, not to society.

    Would you have lifted your voice to oppose slavery?

    The Apostle Paul didn’t. You have to ask yourself why it was that he didn’t.

  62. I would argue that a discussion on taxes is a social issue and yes murder, adultery, and divorce are more ethical issues just as abortion is today.

  63. I would argue that a discussion on taxes is a social issue

    Which is why I added the qualifying “for the most part”. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s etc..” is Jesus’ statement on the two kingdom view. So, shooting from the hip (I am at work) I would say your point only reinforces the two kingdom view and doesn’t refute it.

    And Matt, why no comment on the fact that Jesus was speaking to the church and not society? That is the real issue – the audience not the content.

  64. Albino,

    Flesh it we shall. First of all, my simple point was that John the Baptizer came ministering under an old order where the religions and political structures were one in the same. the Religous/Political Israel had transgressed the covenant and John came prosecuting. It’s hard to apply that specific ministry to the pulpit ministry of today. John prepared the way for the Christ -preachers now proclaim that which John could only understand in part.

    But was John’s imprisonment and beheading the result of him speaking out against political injustices? Well, he did call the tax collectors to cease gouging – and soldiers to stop extorting sure but these are simple kingdom ethics right? – Herod had him imprisoned and beheaded because he saw him as a threat to his position. You see, Herod misunderstood the ministry of John and of Christ – he thought that they were threats to his political power…interestingly John misunderstood aspects of his own role and he certainly misunderstood the ministry of the Messiah. John sat in prison wondering why the political order wasn’t being shaken. Jesus responded with the equivalent of: “My Kingdom is not of this world!”

    I don’t question anyone’s bold speach against the ills of society…I applaud it. I just don’t want to hear it from the pulpit on the Lord’s day. Go stand on a box in the public square with a mega-phone. Blog your concerns – shout it from the rooftops, write a letter to the editor, talk to the guy next door. But from the pulpit I want to see Christ clearly portrayed before my eyes as crucified! I want to hear the Gospel and be fed by the ascended ministry of the Son of God. I want to hear a passage of scripture expounded and explained. This is not cowering in a corner – this is doing what the Church is supposed to do – proclaim the Gospel of peace.

    The world finds the cross of Christ more offensive than our political speech.

    And Matt, – Taxes in Matt. 20: This is Jesus again telling us that his kingdom is not of this world. Matt. 5 – Kingdom living – Matt 5-7 is for the Church isn’t it?

  65. Well, It does not sound like you are a propopent (sp?) of the church speaking out on any social or ethical issue whether they are addressing the church itself or society as a whole.

    If I were to concede that Jesus was in fact only speaking to the church (no time to research right now) then shouldn’t that be proof enough that the church today should not refrain from speaking to its own about said issues?

  66. I would argue that a discussion on taxes is a social issue

    And Jesus did not preach on taxes. He answered a question about taxes, and that question itself was a test, motivated by sin.

  67. shouldn’t that be proof enough that the church today should not refrain from speaking to its own about said issues?

    Good. I think we agree here. Yes, the preacher preaches the law (don’t kill your babies) and the gospel. But what he doesn’t do is lecture society from the pulpit. The church, as the church, must keep silent on politics etc. But as Rick B. said, you can personally, out on the street so to speak, say what you want. Just not as church. (See Pat Robertson if you want to see how much damage can be done to the church and the cause of Christ).

  68. interestingly John misunderstood aspects of his own role and he certainly misunderstood the ministry of the Messiah.

    Rick, that’s a bold statement that could use some exegesis. How does this color every biblically-recorded word out of the mouth of JtB?

    The church, as the church, must keep silent on politics etc. But as Rick B. said, you can personally, out on the street so to speak, say what you want. Just not as church.

    And I have argued here and on down that the church, as a community of citizens of our secondary kingdom, can be loud about politics. But Sunday morning worship is not the appropriate context for politicking. There are 166 other hours in the week.

  69. I am comforted by your clarifications that we should all speak out, just not from the pulpit. For a few minutes there, I was afraid I had stumbled into an Amish community (although what would Amish be doing on the internet?).

    Bruce, you made a great point about Paul not speaking out against slavery. I wonder if he lived in a representative democracy, he would have made some efforts in that regard? Not an argument, just thinking out loud (and from silence :-)

    Interesting that nobody mentioned the Nazis. Is that too difficult a question?

    Rick, you also made good points about John the Baptizer’s ministry and confusion about Christ’s mission. But can’t we still use him as an example of someone who fearlessly proclaimed justice to power?

    Again, I believe that you fellas are making a false choice between Gospel preaching and proclaiming justice and righteousness to our nation and leaders. If I proclaim it in my pulpit or proclaim it in the park downtown, I am still Pastor Albino proclaiming the same thing. (the only difference would be fear of 501c3 removal, it seems to me).

    I am embarassed and saddened that more white preachers didn’t stand with ML King in the South against racism and segregation. I don’t think they would have been abandoning their call to preach the Gospel at all to stand and be counted with their Black brothers and sisters. And I hope that, had I lived in Germany under Hitler, God would have given me the Holy Spirit boldness to attack that poison head-on, in the pulpit and out.

    Stand up. Lift you r voice. Speak out.

  70. Rube,
    John the Baptist’s words were true because he was the mouthpiece of God. But he was obviously confused as to exactly how the Kingdom of God would come. I think this was true of every prophet – none of them could really see the big picture – not the way we see it on this side of the Cross and empty tomb.

    John sent messengers to Christ asking if he really was the Messiah. John cleared the way for him – and Jesus didn’t bring the Kingdom immediately. This was confusing to John – the axe was laid – why wasn’t Christ chopping? We gain some insight as to what John may have been thinking in Jesus’ answer to John’s messengers: “The lame walk, the blind see, the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Jesus is calling John to properly understand the old testament and John’s own ministry. So I think it is safe to say that John didn’t fully understand exacly what the Messiah was bringing (or at least how it would be brought- not by overthrow – but by love and mercy). He didn’t understand the delay in Judgment – like the prophets of old he didn’t see “The Day of the Lord” as having an inaguration followed much later by a final consummation.

    But I’m sure he got it when the messengers came back.

    Thanks for calling me out on that one.

  71. I think there is a need to distinguish between what is said from the pulpit by a pastor to a corporate body of believers and what is said on a personal\relational level by any believer, pastor included.

    I would tend to agree that a corporate time of worship is not the best time to soapbox about political issues, rather that time is better spent on spiritual matters (not just gospel btw just my opinion)

    But, subsequently, that same body of believers pastor included should feel it necessary and allowable to discuss and take a stance on the political issues of the day outside of the few hours of corporate worship because we as Christians know what the Bible says and need to stand up for it in the political arenas.

  72. re all this “speaking out” rhetoric…i have another several questions for the other side of the table: where does it end and who gets to decide what the church needs to be speaking against? if it’s not the plain and simple gospel, what gets to share the throne and why? speak out against abortion? fine. when does darfur get its turn at the mic? how about labor laws? how about AIDS issues? when does homophobia need to get wrung out? what about those involved in the biggest racket of all, sex slave trading?

    the list is endless.

    the church does not exist to address any social issue. it is to witness to the gospel. that’s it and that’s all.

    add just for good measure: i think pastors need to be extra vigilant about what they “shout on the street on blog or any other public place.” their office is not ordinary. it is not at all that they cannot have their politics (that would be ridiculous). but they do well to remember that the pulpit follows them in a way it doesn’t the common believer. far too many don’t appreciate that in our day. perhaps they need to start wearing their clerical collars again to remind them?


  73. This brings up a good point, Zrim.

    I (though not a pastor) am still accountable for what I write and ‘shout’ in the public square – just because I’m outside of the church building doesn’t mean I’m outside of the jurisdiction of the elders.

    But there are things our covenant community can agree are wrong…wrong in every sphere. But just because this list of injustices is long, doesn’t mean someone, or some group, can’t focus on a couple of them. I don’t think we should give up on them all because we can’t give them equal time and effort. Close to my heart are the homeless, the hungry, and those in prisons – I take action in these areas (both physical and verbal action) – in the public square.

  74. Let me clarify the above comment by saying we are in agreement as to what the Church should be in the business of preaching and doing. Above are are things I do in the public square – these are not things that I get charged up to do because I heard these ills specifically addressed from the pulpit.

  75. I do not think we need to address or have an answer for all the social wrongs in the world. I do believe that there will be social issues that hit close to home and are pertinent to us as individuals that can be addressed.

    For example, maybe there is a young woman in your congregation that is contemplating an abortion one could speak up and educate her on what the Bible says about the value of life.

    Or maybe an aquaintance, knowing you are Christian, wants your input in a discussion to non-believers about alcohol abuse and one could stand up for what the Bible says about this.

    I believe there are opportunities to help believers and non-believers alike gain some perspective on issues other than the gospel and we as Christians should be attentive for those opportunities and stand up and be heard if given the chance.

    And perhaps by doing so we are able to lead some to the saving knowledge of Jesus because we first addressed their issue with love and understanding.

  76. Rick and Matt,

    You both are beginning to get to a point of mine. There is a world of difference between what the Churhc proper and an individual conscience is compelled to do. That distinction is what is missing in so many of these conversations.

    Rick, your second post is a good one—you are helping me make a point. Matt, same thing. There must be a robust doctrine in place if Christian liberty and individual conscience. What this may mean is that we can have disagreements on just how our call to do justice gets fleshed out. let me be clear: I am not saying—not one little bit—that we cannot have our consciences. Some may assume that I am vanquishing the legitimate place for conscience. But do not put your consciences on the Church’s shoulders! Once you tear down this distinction I am trying to make, now the Church must bear the consciences of individuals. And, Rick, now you must decide who gets the mic. All that is akin to Big Government philosophies, really. But the reality is, one agency cannot sustain such a weight! The Church was ordained to bear the weight of the Gospel ALONE. Leave Her to Her work and live per your conscience. But don’t put it on Her. The work of the Church is simple, don’t complicate it. let those legitimate complications be written on our consciences.

    Let me quote Preston Graham from his survey of Stuart Robinson:

    “Whereas individuals are encouraged to invest themselves in ‘things civil,’ the church, as a visible and constitutional organization, ought to be exclusively concerned for ‘things spiritual.’ This apolitical church resist the marginalization of theology and its subsequent realignment around a cultural agenda. The modern apolitical church serves to proclaim a gospel that transcends social restructuring, macroeconomics and political theory…even by Robinson’s own admission and practice, the line distinguishing things sacred from things secular is not always easy to discern, especially in the messiness associated with congregational life in general, especially when her people are called to participate in the world without being of the world. And yet this didn’t eliminate the responsibility of the church to draw the line all the same as from where scripture speaks and where it is left to human wisdom…His polemic was against the church confusing a political agenda after a reading of one or another political or social theory rather than agenda that still holds to things pertaining to God and faith as important in their own right. For example, such a church might preach justice, albeit to congregates who perhaps endorse opposing theories for the accomplishment of justice as derived from the social, economic, legal, an political sciences. Such a church may foster in its people works of mercy directed toward those who are needy, as an expression of true Christian love and witness, and yet be silent as to which particular program for accomplishing mercy is necessarily preferable given one or another reading of city planning….Robinson’s Scoto-American idea of the church would be distinguished as the ‘mediatorial body of Christ’ acting as an agent of special grace for God the Redeemer, in contrast with acting as an agent of common grace along with the state for God as creator.”


  77. I still don’t think anybody has addressed the Pastor’s legitimate role as a leader to speak out against tyranny, murder and injustice. Not an either/or deal in my view. Would you have stood up and encouraged your congregation not to discriminate against Blacks in the South, for example; encouraging your congregants who owned diners to allow Blacks to eat in the dining room with Whites (Acts 10:34)?

    Would you have attacked the poison of Nazi propaganda head-on, even naming names if necessary, in Germany?

    These are real issues with real consequences and Pastors MUST not wimp out, hiding behind the “social Gospel is for liberals” mantra.

    Stand up. Lift your voice. Speak out.

  78. Stand up. Lift your voice. Speak out.

    You forgot to say “Forced love SUCKS”.

    Another issue that has not been mentioned here yet is church discipline. So whether from the pulpit or no, pastors and elders (shepherds) did have the authority and responsibility to call to repentance any Nazi or segregationist sheep under their care, else face the sword of excommunication.

  79. I read an article about the civil rights movement some time ago, and the writer mentioned that most white churches in the south were silent during the struggle against segregration, often making the same arguments for their silence seen on this thread. They should have stood up with their Black brothers in Christ. White preachers should have spoken out. God help us not to make the same mistakes again. “But Lord, I didn’t stand up for righteousness and against murder of innocents because I didn’t want to be called a social gospel liberal in debate blogs!” (I’ll spare you the tag line, Rube)

    You can see the SBC Resolution apologizing for their lack of action and racism here:

  80. What in the world does politics have to do with any of this? Murder is not a political issue! Who cares that it’s been politicized? Does that matter?

    This whole “avoid political subjects” banter is making me sick. I’m a big exposition guy, myself. But, if a huge EVIL arises in our country, it should not be ignored. Like Albino keeps saying – what about racism (Southern and Nazi)?

    Your arguments about “equal time” for other “social” issues is bunk. These things are about sin. They should all be preached. The fact that Bono talks about it has nothing to do with it. Preach against murderers in Sudan, preach against fornication in AIDS crisis, speak up for the widows and orphans, help those who have been afflicted, and by all means, preach the gospel. But don’t put the light out on Scripture because it happens to intersect with the social issues of the day. It’s not social gospel. The social gospel is trying to save people by helping them. The real gospel is preaching mercy by the blood of Christ and repentance from sin.

    The reason I believe abortion gets most of the press time from Christians in the US is because it IS the #1 evil in our land. Christians aren’t being murdered, AIDS is not rampant, but abortion is startlingly real, as Ruben’s statistics point out.

  81. I think everyone ought to re-read the book of James. It won’t take long. Remember it was one of the first New Testament Epistles being circulated amongst the churches. Consider, would you say James is more about doctrine or action? I find the words of the Scripture screaming at me to put feet to my faith, to have a religion that God accepts means that I look after orphans and widows in their distress (I think abortion falls into orphans in a time of distress) and to keep myself from being polluted by the world.

    How do I hear these words if not from the pulpit? How am i to know the book of James even exists? Indeed, if we are faithful to the admonition to preach the word we will without doubt address both ethical and social issues as well as preaching the gospel.

  82. Everyone,

    Re: 46

    Let the record show that zrim, while articulating a view that may seem similar to mine to some of you, is not articulating my view. His view is different from mine. If you have a specific question about that, feel free to ask. But I think reading my posts and this post should hopefully make the differences apparent.


  83. Daniel,

    Re: 47

    I am very glad to hear that I have finally been able to communicate to you. I’m very glad you see the distinction between undermining (being inconsistent) the gospel and teaching a false gospel. I’m super relieved. No kidding.

    As for you, it’s not my place to judge you. That being said, I really don’t know what you’re preaching/teaching. I know what you have said here, but to be honest I’m not sure I’ve got you all figured out yet. You can still surprise me sometimes. And for that matter, Albino surprises me sometimes. Such as post 12 above. Post 12 has softened me to Albino quite a bit. But I’ll admit it took me by surprise. I’d rather not explain exactly why it took me by surprise, but rest assured it’s not because I thought him cold hearted.

    Anyway, if you have some place on the internet where you have recorded sermons, I’d be happy to listen to one or two of them and talk about it with you. But as it stands now, I think you know that you and I disagree on a number of issues. And I was a little bit saddened by the result of my attempt to nail down what a minimum belief to be considered saved was in the Arminian threads. I really wanted to discover a precise minimum confession, and whether or not we could agree on it (assuming we probably could). Because if we can do that, then we can use that as somewhat authoritative in our discussions. We have this minimal thing that we both agree EVERYONE has to believe, and then we can talk intelligently about what is or is not consistent with that minimal belief. In other words, I was hoping that would be our “I think therefore I am” kind of foundation on which to build mutual understanding on a far larger scale. I figured we should start from the beginning. You made me feel like you weren’t interested in doing that, and I admit that it was somewhat disappointing.

    That said, there is always reason for hope, because God can do anything.


  84. Everyone,

    Re: 49, cf. 84

    Rick has here pointed out the difference between my view and Zrim’s.


  85. Rube,

    Re: 51

    You said:
    “should the preacher avoid the topic because it has political ramifications?”

    – Echo:
    By saying politics should stay out of the pulpit, I want to be clear that it’s not because we’re afraid of offending people. If that were the case, I wouldn’t be going to seminary, I’d be preaching at a Willow Creek type place. The gospel is offensive to people. And the law is offensive to people when it exposes their sin. They don’t like it. So when we go into the pulpit, I think preachers should be thinking “I’m going to probably offend some today, but I have to have courage and speak boldly anyway.”

    Here’s why politics needs to stay out of the pulpit:

    In 41, Matt S said:
    “You are all for the members of a given congregation being informed\responible voters, but against members\leaders of the church doing the informing? If the church does not do the informing then someone else will and the proper stance may not be advocated.”

    – Echo:
    This is precisely what I have a problem with. It is not the church’s place to do the informing. The pastor doesn’t have a political science degree. He is no more qualified, nor are the elders, to figure out who should be voted for than the layman in the pew. The minister is an expert in the Word of God, not politics. The elders govern the church, not the country. The minister and elders are to remind the people, perhaps, that they should vote and be well informed. But the responsibility for being well informed does not fall to the elders and pastor. Otherwise, what responsibility would actually fall to the shoulders of the voter? If I don’t know anything about the candidates, it is because I don’t care enough about my responsibility as a voter to go to the websites, read the newspaper, etc. You don’t fulfill your responsibility simply by voting. You need to be well informed and make a wise decision as best you can. But it’s up to YOU to inform yourself. It’s up to YOU to research the candidates.

    California puts out a great thing in the mail, that tells something about the candidates, and then points you to websites where you can get more information. That’s really all you need. If you have that and a little initiative, and put a little time in, you can pretty much make fairly informed decisions in the voting booth.

    It’s not the elders’ responsibility to keep you from being influenced by liberals on CNN or something, for example. It’s not their job to make sure you understand economics, and why raising taxes is a bad idea. It’s not the pastor’s job to tell you what to think about global warming, the war in Iraq, trade with China and other nations, the European Union or the UN. That’s not his job to comment on those things. Those are not issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the church.

    Now, if you go to your pastor and ask him to help you understand what the Bible has to say about global warming, that’s different. Maybe he’ll tell you that we are called by God to be stewards of the creation, and that if there’s a problem with the environment, we need to be concerned about it, because we’re responsible to God for it. Or maybe he’ll tell you that we’re called to pursue justice as much as possible for everyone, that we shouldn’t treat people in other countries like they’re lesser forms of life. But he shouldn’t tell you to vote for this candidate because of his stance on the war, or that candidate because he recognizes that the environment is important, or whatever. Not his job. Wisdom cannot be simply dictated.


  86. Zrim & Rick,

    Re: 52, 53

    Psalm 139, when properly interpreted within the context of all Scripture, ought to be enough to prove that abortion is wrong. If God providentially cares for the little baby being nurtured and knit together by God, even in the womb, then who are we to say that this life doesn’t matter?

    Yep. It ought to silence anyone who claims to believe in the Bible, yet thinks abortion is ok. If they don’t believe in the Bible, their stance on abortion is the least of their worries.


  87. But it’s up to YOU to inform yourself. It’s up to YOU to research the candidates.

    Where research methods may include organizing a venue for yourself and other Christian brothers and sisters to share information (informedness?) and biblical perspectives on political issues, so that we may all fill in holes in each others’ research (bear one anothers’ burdens) and help to make each other the best, most biblical voters we can be.

    For instance, envision a spot on the world wide web where somebody can pose a question, and brothers in Christ will (as if by magic) apear and engage in fruitful, edifying discussion! If only we had a place like that!

  88. Zrim,

    Re: 54

    Abortion gets lots of face time because it is a gigantic moral outrage! What, 4,000 babies are slaughtered by their mothers EVERYDAY in this country alone! The country was outraged when Osama bin Laden slaughtered 3000 people in the WTC attacks on 9/11, and rightfully so. It was a grave misjustice to slaughter all those people on the altar of OBL’s ego, or on the altar of Islam. But to slaughter more babies than that – EVERYDAY – on the altar of self importance…well, this is just appalling. I’m not sure which is actually worse, the fact that it happens, or the fact that we have become so comfortable with it.

    If it’s 4,000 a day, that’s 1.46 MILLION babies who never get to be born every single year. Since 1973, that means 48 MILLION babies have been killed. Now the 9/11 attacks look MEANINGLESS. In fact Hitler’s execution of 6 million Jews also looks small by comparison. 48 MILLION BABIES!!! There’s only about 300 million people in the whole country! in the last 33 years, we have destroyed 1 out of 6 people in this country. All because “I don’t feel like taking the responsibility of a baby right now.”

    That is appalling. It should make us sick to our stomach. Pretend 1 out of every 6 people in our country right now was executed, just to make someone else’s life more convenient. You don’t want to vomit at the very thought? Who would dare do such a thing? But this is the sin our country is guilty of.

    We scoff at the Israelites who burned their children alive, sacrificing them to pagan gods. But what is done in our country every day, quietly and in private, sterile doctor’s offices, is far, far worse.

    And you wonder why people make a big deal out of it? Seriously?


  89. Rube,

    Re: 89

    You are saying that YOU are the one who puts it together, but if it is an official church activity, the elders, as elders, bear the responsibility and the authority.


  90. Albino,

    Re: 55

    Yeah, if you’ve got people in your church joining the Nazi party, by all means, make sure you preach against it. Or the Masons, for that matter.

    But if you don’t, don’t. Doesn’t do the people in the pews any good to tell them someone ELSE is sinful.


  91. Matt,

    Re: 58

    You said:
    “We should not go cowardly into the corner, holding only to the gospel as the only necessary preaching, but let our light shine before men in all areas of life.”

    – Echo:
    If I could figure out a way to spell out a low whisper on here, I would be doing it now.

    Your statement implies that preaching the gospel requires no courage, but that those who do so are cowardly and hiding in a corner. Your statement further implies that the nature of the light in us that shines before men has nothing or little to do with the gospel.

    Do you think you might want to rethink your statement?


  92. Albino,

    Re: 62

    Does it bother you that Paul didn’t speak out against slavery, but said, “Slaves, obey your masters”? Or that, as some have said, he sent Philemon, a run away slave, back to his master, letting his MASTER decide if he should set him free? Yes, Paul did say that he should set him free – why we don’t know – but he did leave the choice up to him.

    I am not saying that preachers in the south should or should not have spoken out against slavery. But the Scriptures give instruction for masters, to treat their slaves kindly. It also clearly denounces racism, so that too ought to have been preached against, for we are all made in the image of God.

    Nonetheless, it is at the very least something that you should address: why didn’t Paul speak out against slavery as inherently evil? He certainly had the opportunity, and frankly, so did Jesus. But they didn’t.

    What do you think?


  93. Matt,

    Re: 64

    Jesus saying that we should pay taxes is the same as my saying that we should vote. Pastors and elders should encourage their members to vote, but not HOW to vote. They should submit to their rulers. Plain and simple. That’s the law of God.


  94. Albino,

    Re: 79

    The role of the pastor is to expose the sin of those to whom he is preaching, and then minister the gospel to them. If those in the congregation are sinning by being racists, then he should preach against it; not to the CULTURE, but to those in the pews. He needs to speak only to those in the pews. The pastor is not a civic leader. He is a church leader. He is not a check on the power of the civil magistrate. He is a check on the sin and unbelief of those in his flock.


  95. Daniel,

    Re: 83

    No doubt you are correct. My point has been that if you preach against a sin that’s not being done in the congregation, don’t preach against it. You don’t preach against “those people” when you preach. You have to preach TO the people in the pews, and talk about THEIR sin, and then give them the gospel. If they already know abortion is wrong, and they know adultery is wrong, and they know murder is wrong, and the Bible says that these words are written on their heart – what is accomplished by preaching against abortion? What sin is exposed?

    Ah, I’ve said more than enough on this point already. But of course, they were too long, so no one read them. Sigh.


  96. Echo. I much prefer your shorter posts, even if you have to post more of them…good job.

    I told Bruce he made a good point when he asked why Paul didn’t attack the evils of slavery. I guess I assumed everyone understood that I had no rebuttal there.

    Your point about preaching only to the sin of those in the pews presupposes that we know every sin of everyone in the pews, and also assumes that those preaching expositionally will just “happen” to be at an appropriate passage of Scripture to address that particular sin when it is pertinent in the lives of the parishoners. Do I detect the need for a thematic sermon once in a while Echo? Hmmmmmm…

    No, I’m afraid as those speaking as men of God we must not shrink back from confronting the evils of our nation and leaders. We must stand on the side of righteousness and justice. And if this means naming names, let the fur fly.

    Echo, surely you would have confronted the evils of segregation from a Southern pulpit, right? And I wonder, would you have marched too? Would you have encouraged your people to stand with their Black brothers and sisters as well?

    You are starting to grow on me, Echo. I think I really would miss you if you suddenly disappeared from these threads.

    But I urge you to stand up, lift your voice and speak out.

  97. Albino,

    Re: 98

    Yeah, I saw your no rebuttal post to Bruce after I had already written that bit. Sorry for the redundancy. But nonetheless, I’d just like to say that this is why I make the distinction between preaching to the people in the pews and addressing THEIR sin, rather than the sins of others. When Paul spoke about slavery, he spoke to the people he was writing to. “Slaves, obey your masters.” He’s saying, since you are a slave, now obey the authority that God has put over you. (That doesn’t justify the person in authority, only that God in his providence gave him that authority, as Paul says elsewhere, that the authorities that are in place are put there by God. Whatever the authority is.) But he also has quite a bit to say to masters, which essentially says that they should treat their slaves like fellow human beings. He didn’t say it was wrong for countries to take slaves when they conquered people, or that it was fundamentally wrong for one person to own another person. In fact, the Israelites had slaves, but of course, every 70 years they had to set them free, if I’m not mistaken. It was a reminder that people didn’t actually own other people, but that we all belong to God, whose perogative (sp?) it is to set them free. Anyway, Paul also wants to know, “What have I to do with judging those outside the church?”

    And that’s my point. The minister is to bring law and gospel to the people in the pews.

    To be sure, if you think someone in your church is planning an abortion, or if you have reason to think that this MIGHT be a concern, by all means preach against it. Absolutely. But don’t preach against those OUTSIDE the church. I mean, in most reformed churches anyway, abortion isn’t really a problem. I know in some larger churches, you don’t really know, and certainly there are always exceptions. So you do want your people to understand that abortion is wrong. But in a church where that’s largely not a problem, you will give the people reason to be…spiritually arrogant. “I’m not as sinful as someone who would dare to have an abortion.”

    Or maybe gay marriage is a better example. “It’s wrong for a man to marry another man!” Great, and absolutely true. But unless you take the approach of Romans 1-2, which talks about the evils of society at large, but then adds:

    Rom 2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.

    You see, my concern is that a sermon on abortion would be an occasion for people in the pews to judge others, while exonerating themselves. That’s bad, because it at least violates the above verse. After all that business about how sinful man has exchanged the truth of God for a lie, worshiping the creation rather than the Creator, becoming inflamed with lust for one another (homosexuality), etc, etc, etc – that whole time Paul used the word “them” – he then turns the whole discussion on its head. I can just imagine when this letter was read in the Roman church for the first time. The listeners are enraptured to hear about how wicked the Gentiles are, and those outside the church, and how they invent ways of doing evil, and in order to oppose God they abandoned natural sexual relations. I can just imagine them cheering Paul on, until they heard verse 1 of chapter 2. “You are just like them,” Paul says, “so who are you to judge them?” That must have been one shocked crowd.

    But this is what I’m arguing for. Proclaim anything evil to be evil, but always make sure to bring the focus back on the people in the pews. Preach against abortion, tell them how awful it is if you like, but then make sure you do what Paul did here and turn the whole thing on its head, saying, “You are no better.”

    And of COURSE, once you have done that, you need to give them Christ and his gospel, that they might be taught how evil and wicked they are, and consequently how dependent they are upon Christ and what he has done.

    But I am concerned that preaching against abortion, for many in the pews at least, is preaching against the evils of “those people”. And that’s not the way to convict of sin and comfort with the gospel.

    Anyway, you’re right, we don’t know the full extent of the sin of those in the pews. Some might be cocaine addicts, and we don’t know it. But I think the cocaine addict is pretty rare, at least in some churches. You might discover that you have a big problem with pot among your congregation. By all means, let ‘er rip.

    But there are so many other things that are so much more productive to preach against, such as the idolatry that is constantly spilling over out of our hearts into our actions, or the lust that seems to saturate the being of almost every man.

    But one thing I haven’t pointed out yet in this thread, which I think needs pointing out is this: sanctification is not by the law.

    Q35: What is sanctification?
    A35: Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace,[1] whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God,[2] and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.[3]

    1. II Thess. 2:13
    2. Eph. 4:24
    3. Rom. 8:1

    that’s from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. I think that answer is pretty solid, but I’d be happy to entertain objections.

    Anyway, it says that sanctification is the “work of God’s free grace”. Do we really believe that? Or do we believe that we sanctify ourselves by disciplining ourselves?

    You see, if a guy has problems with porn on the internet, let’s say, and he puts a filter-blocker on his computer (such as I have on mine, and I think most men probably should), he does not sanctify himself. He doesn’t sanctify himself by refraining from the sinful act. No, the sanctification took place in his heart, and is a work of the Spirit. The Spirit changed his heart so that the man wants to flee from temptation. The Spirit has changed his desires.

    This comes by grace, through faith, and faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ, i.e., the gospel.

    Hearing the gospel is what reforms our hearts and MOTIVATES us to WANT to flee from sin. Apart from that, we won’t want to flee from sin.

    The law tells us what sin is, but doesn’t give us the desire to turn from it. Only the gospel does that.

    If the goal of the sermon, in the case of believers, is sanctification, then preaching the gospel now becomes of utmost importance, because preaching the gospel is what drives people to turn from sin, not preaching the law.

    That doesn’t mean we don’t preach the law, we do. We do it to expose sin, not to motivate people to turn from it.



  98. Echo,


    On Albino’s page you stated that I had “adopted your tactics”. I haven’t adopted them, I have agreed with them from the start. Yes I agree that something that goes against the gospel is sin and that the purity of the gospel is of utmost importance. I disagree however with your evaluation of what it is that “undermines” the gospel, and now it appears that by “undermining” (in your view, being inconsistent), you really mean a “less sophisticated” articulation of a theological stance.

    Such an articulation will do wonders for your ability to work along with other believers. You call them (or at least think of them) as being less sophisticated in their understanding then you are and they call you, (or at least think of you)an arrogant know-it-all who constantly misses the forest for the trees…

    Can we now work together?

  99. Echo-


    My use of the word “cowardly” was not meant to say that preaching the gospel does not take courage as of course I believe it takes tremendous courage.

    It was in response to what you and others here continue to contend that the “gospel message” is the only message worthy of being preached from the pulpit.

    I would say there are many other topics and themes from the Bible that can and should be preached because of their relevance in today’s society and the help a correct understanding can offer the believer. I do not feel we should back down or shrink from preaching those messages even if it means being labeled a “social-gospel-preaching-liberal”

    sorry for the misunderstanding

  100. hi echo.

    would please show me where you zig when i zag, succinctly. i know that you do but i can’t keep these posts in order.

    like i said, i am very ready to be branded extreme; i think i may be in good company with a figure like robinson (a kentucky presby minister during the civil war who eventually had to skip country for his immediate protection). rick, you just read hart’s secular faith so you should know this little story somewhat. robinson, who had an opinion on slavery (that was kosher) refused to let its politics into the pulpit, etc. the press to take a side for God as being necessary was an assumption he refused. so while not giving up his politics he also refused to steal from the “capital authority” vested into the gospel and lend it to his own politics, whatever they may be. in american religion, even those who agree with you very much that “politics should stay out of th epulpit,” will eventually say “you go too far” when you refuse to give God’s stamp of approval on an issue THEY feel strongly about. they will eventually say, “you must preach against abortion from the pulpit because i think it’s a particularly bad thing in our time and very relevant.” well, so was slavery in robinson’s day, but he refused to address it.


  101. and remember, i have very strong feelings on something like abortion. i am very conservative an di think most reformed have similar conclusions that i do. but i cannot justify lending God’s Gospel authority to my values, as consistent with (Go’ds) natural law as i think mine is.


  102. Daniel,

    Re: 100

    I guess I need to explain this: every doctrine is related to the gospel. A correct understanding of the gospel implies, in some ways, almost everything else. This is not because the gospel is a sort of central dogma, such as Rome’s ecclesiology, but because covenant is the form of revelation, so everything comes in a covenantal context. The gospel is how Christ fulfills the covenants. The gospel tells us how Christ is the focus of Scripture, from whence comes all our doctrines. If Christ is the center of Scripture, and he is the Word incarnate, and doctrines derive from the Word, then it only makes sense that the gospel is the fullest revelation of God. All of God’s revelation to us is consistent with and related to the gospel. Thus all doctrines are related to the gospel.

    So for example, one version of credobaptism (believer only baptism) teaches – perhaps only implicitly – that baptism is a sign of MY obedience to Christ. Now, I’m not saying that every credobaptist believes this, this is just one flavor I’m talking about here.

    What I mean is, if you ask SOME credobaptists what baptism means, they’ll look at you funny. But if you rephrase the question and ask them why they want to be baptized, they’ll tell you that they want to be obedient to the command to be baptized. They don’t really know much more than that. (If anyone reading this doesn’t fit this description, feel free to believe that I’m not talking about you. I’m probably not.)

    Anyway, all they really understand is that baptism is something they’re supposed to do, so doing it is a symbol of their obedience. Without really consciously realizing it, they are seeing baptism as a symbol of their committment to Christ, their personal decision for Christ.

    This is tied in with the Arminian gospel (again, if this doesn’t describe you, assume I’m not talking about you, because I AM describing a particular group of Christians). The Arminian gospel, as I have argued before, turns belief, faith into a work. This is manifested by the fact that some Arminians say that faith comes prior to regeneration. Not all of them do, so this would be a subset of Arminians. If this is not you, that’s fine, we’re talking about someone else.

    Anyway, these people think that they have to do something prior to being able to be regenerated. This makes their salvation dependent upon them doing something FIRST (whether temporally first or logically first, it makes no difference).

    Whatever you think about such people is of no consequence, my only point is that they are making their salvation partially dependent upon themselves.

    In their minds, that little bit that they have to do before they can be saved is what is symbolized by baptism.

    Baptism to them means: I have done that little bit that I have to do to be saved.

    By contrast, the gospel says that your salvation doesn’t depend on you. At all. It is given to you by God. The reformed have tried to focus on taking that very seriously.

    For the reformed, baptism does not signify my committment to God, but his committment to me, such as in the case of Genesis 15, where God pledges himself to be faithful to Abraham. There’s a very similar covenantal significance.

    So the reformed don’t demand a profession of faith prior to administering baptism. This actually is more consistent with the gospel than the credobaptist view that I’ve sketched here, because it is saying that our salvation does NOT depend on anything in us.

    Baptism is a form of the visible preaching of the Word. The other form is the Lord’s supper. Baptism is God holding out the promises to us who are members of the church. The promises are held out to us in the sermon that we sit under week in and week out. This and the sacraments are means of grace. Being continually exposed to the means of grace, and falling under the discipline of the elders makes you a member of the church, so the church confirms that in the visible sign: baptism.

    By the same token, the reformed require a profession of faith before they administer the Lord’s Supper. Church membership is required for baptism (and the children of believers count, since they are being raised by Christians and brought to church every week), but a profession of faith is required before the church will welcome anyone to the Lord’s table, to fellowship with him.

    Credobaptists are often paedocommunionists: they deny baptism to children, but allow them to take communion. The reformed are just the opposite; they baptize children, but don’t let them have communion. Baptism is a sign of being brought into the church, of God’s holding out the promises to you, of God’s committment to you. The Lord’s Supper is your actual partaking (spiritually) of the body and blood of Christ by the Spirit. The Bible says that whom this is administered to should be restricted.

    Anyway, I’m getting way off topic. But hopefully you see that when I talk about a view undermining the gospel, I just mean that when all the implications of something are fully understood, it is either in line with the gospel or it isn’t. If it isn’t, then it is error.

    Something like the Arminian gospel, that makes our salvation just a tiny bit contingent upon us, undermines the gospel to a much greater extent than this form of credobaptism that I’ve mentioned. But they both ultimately are saying something about the gospel. Every doctrine we have says something about the gospel. Wrong doctrines say the wrong things.


    – A low view of the law will undermine the gospel, because it undermines our need for the gospel.

    – A low view of the sovereignty of God, such as in open theism, undermines the gospel, because our salvation is definitely up to us in this case.

    – A low view of the Spirit’s work undermines the gospel, because he’s the one who applies the gospel to us.
    – A wrong view of baptism or the Lord’s supper, because these sacraments are meant to be the preached Word of the gospel made visible.
    – A wrong view of the church, such as that of Rome, undermines the gospel, because it teaches that the church is our salvation rather than Christ.
    – Churches that ordain homosexuals undermine the gospel, because they are saying that sin is tolerable, thus undermining our perception of our need for Christ.

    And on and on and on. You’ve heard my views on countless other matters.

    We all agree that the gospel is important, and nothing in my mind is more important, but everything we believe says something about the gospel. Everything.

    I understand that not every truth is worth fighting for to the same extent that the gospel is. That’s probably why people get so frustrated on this blog, because sometimes they feel roped into arguments about rabbit trails that aren’t worth fighting over. I have felt that way, anyway.

    But the gospel is worth fighting for, and dying for. I know what it’s like to risk my life. I was in Iraq in 2003. I don’t say this out of naieve youth: I will die for the gospel.

    I won’t die for my beliefs on baptism or many other things, but I will die for the gospel.

    Nonetheless, every theological doctrine we believe makes a statement about the gospel. I want to make the right statement. I think all of us do.

    I’m sure I do come across as pretty arrogant at times. Well, there’s a good reason for that. I’m pretty arrogant.

    But no matter how arrogant I am, it is possible that I am right. It is possible that credobaptism (at least in the above sketched form) undermines the gospel. But if it’s possible that it DOES undermine the gospel, doesn’t that necessarily make it wrong? Maybe it doesn’t undermine the gospel. But if it does, shouldn’t we throw it out?

    I mean, if our salvation has nothing to do with us, because we cannot do anything to earn it, doesn’t election look pretty possible? Doesn’t election seem to be true in light of the gospel? I mean, the reformed traditionally don’t deny free will, but neither do they affirm that our salvation depends in any way on an act of our free will. They say that’s sanctification, the fruit of salvation. But if given the choice to believe that our salvation doesn’t depend on us at all but is purely an act of God through election, and the belief that our salvation depends on an act of God AND an act of our will – doesn’t it make sense to embrace the former on the grounds that it’s more consistent with the gospel, and doesn’t that entail that the latter undermines the gospel, because it is inconsistent with it?

    Just wondering.

    This is obviously not just to Daniel.


  103. Matt,

    Re: 101

    I’d like to present two things that I think are true.

    1. Everything we hold as doctrinal truth is related to the gospel somehow.

    2. Sanctification is a work in the heart by the Spirit through the preaching of the gospel.

    So given these, which I have argued for many times, I don’t see how we can avoid preaching the gospel. Related to 1 is the fact that Jesus is the center of Scripture.

    Joh 5:39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,
    Joh 5:40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

    This is what Jesus said to the Pharisees. In this, he is sending us a clear message: all Scripture testifies to the fact that eternal life is found in Christ. Luke reinforces this:

    Luk 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

    This is when the Risen Christ meets his disciples on the road to Emmaus. So in John, he says that the Scriptures bear witness to him. Here he clarifies that it is ALL the Scriptures. This does not mean that he went through the entire Bible, picking out proof texts here and there that referred to him. It means he explained ALL the Scriptures to them, and how they pointed to him.

    Now, you might not agree with that. I don’t necessarily expect that you would. However, if all that I’ve said here is true, would it make any sense to NOT preach the gospel in every sermon?

    It is my contention that the gospel must be preached in every sermon because the gospel is a necessary interpretive key to understanding the Scriptures. Furthermore, if the goal of preaching is sanctification in believers and justification in unbelievers, then the gospel must be preached, because the law doesn’t sanctify or give hope or power over sin. It only exposes sin.

    The job of the minister is not only to expose sin. The Bible doesn’t only expose sin. It exposes sin with a purpose, to cause us to repent and turn to Christ. It doesn’t just say, “You’re a sinner,” but, “You’re a sinner, but Christ died to purchase forgiveness for you.” That’s the message of the whole Bible. Why wouldn’t it be the message of every sermon?

    Any sermon that fails to preach forgiveness becomes nothing more than moralism that waters down the law and the gospel.


  104. Zrim,

    I think you are absolutizing things a little bit. Where you would absolutely refuse to address slavery from the pulpit, Paul DOES address it. He doesn’t say that it’s inherently evil, but he does lay out some rules about how to conduct yourself in a master-slave relationship. Those rules were quite radical at the time, and it boiled down to treating your slaves like human beings, equally formed in the image of God. That idea, in and of itself, undermines slavery as an institution.

    Furthermore, where you would refuse to talk about abortion at all, I would talk about it only insofar as I thought I could avoid the sermon degenerating into a gossip session about how evil the world is.

    Let me be very clear. The job of the minister is to expose the sin of the people in the congregation, and remind them that these sins condemn them. It has to be PERSONAL for them. If they are having abortions: that’s a SIN! It’s MURDER! But if they aren’t having abortions, the message being sent is that “other people” are very sinful. This implies that we can pat ourselves on the back for not having abortions.

    The minister uses law and gospel to condemn and comfort those IN THE CHURCH, because it is they who he is speaking to. We don’t talk about the sins of George Bush from the pulpit anymore than we gossip about our neighbors sins behind closed doors. It’s just gossip.

    Shall we stand in the pulpit and rail against the muslims for being evil? What effect does that have on the listener? It’s not politics that must be avoided at all costs; it’s gossiping about the sins of others, condemning them when they aren’t present, that’s the problem. But of course, you should preach against greed, but not capitalism. But very, very few rules are absolute. There are exceptions to almost every rule.

    I am not in favor of saying that you NEVER talk about abortion. I think for most congregations I’ve been exposed to, it would be unhelpful and would end up being reduced to gossip about the “gentiles”, so to speak. The minister is to focus on the sin of the people in the pews. The Bible must be applied to THEM, not someone else.

    You seem to have absolutized the rule: no politics, or anything political, simply because it’s politics and the church shouldn’t get involved.

    I don’t want to absolutize that. In general, you’re more or less right, but I don’t agree with that based on the rule that it’s always wrong to talk about anything political in nature. I don’t think it is wrong. My more fundamental reasoning has to do with avoiding gossip, judging outsiders for no benefit to the hearers, etc.


  105. Echo,

    1) Paul’s’ day was not like ours. I am not sure how you can pluck Paul out of his context and apply him to ours in this way. He did not live within a liberal democracy and when you say “slavery” to Paul i don’t think you get identical categories that 21st century Americans do, echo. No, i disagree that Paul’s words “undermine the institution of slavery.” Even if it was, you don’t see Paul in Ephesians working against it but rather telling them to “make due with the social structures as they are.”Paul’s slavery was probably more akin to what we know as indentured servitude. Was there abusive slavery that existed for its own debased sake? Sure; but so do some marriages. We all have “Roots” tapes playing in our modern memories, but Paul’s’ day was not such an easy fit. Your idea that Paul undermined the institution sounds a lot like a 21st century American reading back into Paul and doing a bit of eisegesis. From my understanding, Paul was always addressing two groups: Christians to held (non-Christian slaves). To them he said, treat them humanely. The other group was Christian slaves who were held by (non-Christian) owners. To them he said obey the rulers put over you. Then you had Christian holders who owned Christian slaves. To them he said let them go. He was not, as you say, taking of the issue of slavery as we today understand it. Indeed, his message directly has no immediate or direct significance—last i checked no one in North America owned slaves. But we once did, and your rendering (that slavery is inherently evil) seems to show contemporary bias, which when applied, puts the discussions in America about 200 years ago in their own context right to bed without a problem. That’s way, way too easy for those of us this side of 200 years of an established morality.
    2) Which gets me to another point of mine: take views like albino’s. They sophomorically rip themselves from their present contexts and awkwardly place themselves into another. They put themselves square into that favorite template for evil, the third reich, and in polly-anna fashion tell us just exactly what they’d do. Or they transport themselves back into time onto some plantation or the back of a bus and have it all figured out. It’s just plain laughable. The moral self-satisfaction (another word might make the point, but i’ll refrain) is embarrassing. That they can’t see this is even more distressing. I recall upon Christian conversion trying to find my more liberal-leaning politics in Scripture and being frustrated by paul’s seeming gloss over the “inherent evils in an institution like slavery.” be submissive to your master? Huh? It is because something else is going on in Scripture, echo. Our desires to baptize our cultural values and politics in Scripture can be more deceptive than we realize.
    3) What a guy like Piper is doing is to borrow the moral capital from what i call a majority morality in our culture (anti-racism sentiments) and lend it to a minority morality (anti-abortion sentiments). That it’s way too transparent and not a little pathetic is a more cursory set of problems for Piper; the more substantive problem is how it violates the rules of the apolitical church guidelines. He is trying to get away with it by associating the minority morality with a majority so that folks won’t blink twice because they already allow the majority morality into the pulpit. That is, nobody cries foul when referring to certain ideas as racist and therefore evil. They cry foul quickly when the minority morality is discerned. So if he can link up the two he can parlay the momentum of the rule-breakers on the left to an advantage to the right. No matter how to slice and dice it, it’s inappropriate.
    4) So you are saying yours is more a matter of “how” this issue should be addressed, and mine seems to be “that” it is addressed. Again, though, i simply cannot agree that we can be at all divorced from our context and not understand that when we talk about abortion we understand that in our day this is highly politically charged. So no matter “how” you try to talk about it from a pulpit you cannot get away with it being somehow not perceived as having at least some political tone and tenor, whether from one perspective or the other. I have heard enough of those on our side of the table with regard to the abortion issue get peeved at liberal pastors hinting at their politics and getting nailed for “bringing politics into he pulpit,” when what is really being said is, “i am mad because he brings the wrong politics into the pulpit.” However, I really appreciate the larger dimension you seek to bring bring to this discussion. Namely, not using the pulpit to charge the outside world. In fact, i intend on putting your argument here in my own arsenal. 1 Co. 5, especially verse 12 gets at this idea that we are to only judge ourselves and not the outside world. We are to expel those amongst us who are immoral, etc. I think you are right that way too often this is what such sermonizing on issues eventually devolves into. I would agree, of course, that we ought not “talk about the sins of GWB” from the pulpit. But it can be easy to delete his name, for example, from a sermon and say we met this demand, yet imply strongly otherwise (the righties did this without shame when it came to Clinton in the 90’s). My point here is that often we forget that our speech has both direct and indirect dimensions to it. So, you may say you never said “abortion” and got away with not “preaching politics.” but there’s plenty of ways around that, aren’t there?
    5) You say i am absolutize in this discussion. But that sounds a lot like when i discuss Calvinism with Arminians. After they talk and talk i come to realize they have mistaken me for a hyper-Calvinist. Perhaps you have mistaken me for those who argue for the non-political church versus the apolitical church. The former, as i understand it, thinks politics is a non-issue (almost the way gnostics approach the material world, thus different types of gnostics—those who say do what you want with your material existence or resist it because it is evil). But it’s precisely *because* i see something like abortion as a political issue that i say it is off limits from the pulpit. I don’t deny politics, but i see that they must be appreciated in context and dealt with accordingly with care and wisdom—especially in our over-politicized day that has scortched and burned; we could “use a break already.” i am so tired of people’s pet issues and hobby horses and over-realized trust placed into the moralities, cultural values and politics. I am tired of it because, in American religion, we have run roughshod over the rules. There are lines to be drawn and rules to play by. I contend for strict playing by the rules, echo. In this way, i am very conservative…so conservative that i disallow my own conservative politics from being able to circumvent the rules. You must play by the rules. And, quite frankly, your view seems to say, “Hey, you can have a little bit of politics but not a lot.” I am not sure what keeps those who play by your rules from knowing when enough is enough. Meanwhile, the Gospel keeps getting told to take the next seat back until it is sitting in the narthex, so to speak.
    6) don’t you think that “preaching against abortion” as it is being defined here seems a bit askew? The way some have spoken about it is, “There may be someone in the congregation thinking about an abortion; the sixth commandment, etc.” Often i think that we speak in such lofty and unrealistic ways we don’t appreciate the real lives we actually inhabit. The reality seems to me to be that most make up’s of Christian congregations do not have viable sub-populations “thinking about having an abortion.” is it possible? Yes, but not very likely. By this argument that somehow it’s a reality within our midst couldn’t we also say we should experience sermons against murder and adultery? I don’t know abut you, but the congregation i inhabit is likely not full of persons actually contemplating bald-faced crimes against God. I have also heard within such unrealistic hypotheticals the idea that a known situation like this should be addressed from the pulpit? What about private pastoral care? Are we really to think that a pastor who has heard some sort of rumor about Jane Doe should take it to the pulpit? I am no minister, but that sounds like an abuse of power to me and not one full with much wisdom. The contention that a “mention” that abortion is wrong, in our real contexts, cannot be construed as much less than a tiny, wee-bit of a comment upon a political issue and an excuse to sneak our politics into the fray. I would say that there is nothing wrong with referring to the reality of abortion as an evil, just as the reality of racism points to evil. That abortion is evil is far different from saying getting one is wrong. Do you see the nuanced difference here?
    7) Since we are on life issues, what about another dimension? There are certain Christians called Roman Catholics who have very certain conclusions about birth control. Frankly, they rank it up there with abortion. They even have papal pronouncements about its use. Have you ever wondered why we protestants have such a doctrine of Christian liberty with regard to birth control? We allow individuals a conscience when it comes to this while other Christian factions do not. So why do we not allow a conscience with regard to abortion? Remember, i ask as one with very solid conclusions on abortion, an opinion that would be rendered very conservative by contemporary standards. But recall that God allowed for divorce because of “the hardness of their hearts.” *That* divorce existed was evil in God’s eyes, yet He allowed for it and even stipulated the provisions concerning it. One would think that if a God had certain advisers from today’s politics they would have second guessed His conclusion (“uh, don’t You see how divorce is not conducive to society”?). I struggle with this as my politics are quite conservative here: if God allowed for divorce because of the “hardness of heart,” why would abortion be less vulnerable? I hate abortion, but i gather so do those on the other side of the table on this issue, if we are being honest (demonizing them as radical freaks who just want to kill babies, it should go without saying, is not at all constructive). I am ultimately just never persuaded that one segment of our population (women) have the right to decide the life or death of another (the unborn); the former’s rights DO NOT supersede those of the latter’s. Yet i come back to this “hardness of heart” issue with regard to divorce. Thoughts?


  106. Hey, I think I finally found some common ground for all of us. What this lady is doing (filmed by the documentary, “Jesus Camp”) is NUTS! I think she misunderstood my tag line, “Lift your voice, stand up, speak out”, as “Go off your meds, screw up and freak out.” Enjoy…or not…

  107. Zrim,

    Yeah, I, uh, disagree. I’ve already explained myself. I’m not going to go through it all again. Everything you brought up I have already talked about or answered in previous posts. I will add this:

    Gal 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

    It’s no secret how I would interpret this verse. How would you interpret it? What is Paul saying about equality? Where do you suppose this country got the idea that all men are created equal? Did they get that from pagan philosophy or from the Bible? You tell me.


  108. By now, I forget who is on which ‘side’ of this slavery thing, but the verse obviously does not say that there are not (should not be) slaves and freemen any more than there are not men and women. There are men and women, there are slaves and free, these distinctions just don’t exist in Christ.

  109. Rube,

    Right – IN CHRIST – there is no such thing as slavery, because there is no slave or free. That’s what the verse is saying. Now, how does that apply to our lives? What does that mean? What is true in Christ has ramifications for our lives.


  110. ok. sorry, echo, i thought the discussion was progressing more or less. sorry to have bugged you with more questions. but i indeed sympathize with not wanting to repeat oneself (a very huge hole of vulnerability in blogdom!)

    i tend to affirm the wisdom in rube’s interpretation, echo. you seem to jump from this verse to making some sort of case for abolitionist doctrines. the words of scripture are aimed as covenant people, not the non-covenant people. again, 1 cor. 5. how you use that verse to argue for an application in the KOM doesn’t make sense to me. i guess i would say what i did above (at the risk of repetition!): christians probably ought not hold christian slaves, but who is to say they can’t hold non-christian slaves? this feels weird talking this way post-slavery in america!

    nevertheless, i take that verse to be getting at something way beyond the idea that we ought not be divided up and “all the world should join hands and sing koombaya.” sounds a little new age, feel-goodey to me. rather, for covenant people, it destroys the divisions the world naturally sets up. so when we gather around word and sacrament we drop our nataural divisions. in this way, democrats and republicans, men and women, white and black and yellow, rich and poor, well educated and un(der) educated, can all come to the communion rail together. it doesn’t mean they go back out into the world and work to get rid of these natural distinctions. “the poor you will always have with you.” those who want to eradicate poverty, for example, might want to consider those words. the distinctions i menioned above, the ones that the gospel diminish if not detroy, are not to be eliminated in the secular realm, necessarily (unless your conscience compels you thus). the point is that the new covenant points to another paradigm.

    you know, the ordinationists (contra the sub-ordinationists) use that very same verse to argue for women’s ordination. i have never been persuaded by it. but it seems to work for their case (if there are no more distinctions, women should be able to hold office) than for yours (abolition).


  111. just thought of another discomforting conclusion one would have to come to via your grid: “there are no more such things as men and women; those differences should be eradicated.” how would that work in the KOM exactly? are not men and women very different, and are not those differences good in some sense?

    by your grid, how do i “leave word and sacrament” and make sense of the world when i return to it? the world is not, in your words, “IN CHRIST.” how do i legitimately make the “in Christ” application to a world not “in Christ”? i dunno, echo, the dual citizenship/two kingdom model seems to have a ton more wisdom in it everytime i consider it over against these approaches that seem to want to meld the two kingdoms together. it’s a complicated duality; and this seems the very point of revelation! were you not the one who said the stuff of theonomy undermines the gospel on the HB? my point, i guess, is that it is not immediately obvious what the stipulations on the covenant people have on the non-covenent. isn’t that part of the problem within stuff like theonomy? i have heard a lot of theonomists want to reinstate slavery (yeow!); you want to use revelation to eradicate it. are not these two interpretations two sides of the same coin in a way?

    why many seem so ill at ease letting the KOM work itself out via natural law and leave the bible out of it, i do not understand, whether it’s scary stuff (like bringing basck death penalty for homosexuals and reinstating slavery) or more platable stuff like abolition. if you disallow the theonomists their scary conclusions yet allow yours, isn’t that unfair/hypocritical? i mean, you’re both just using the bible to get over your value systems, it seems to me, when the bible is meant for something completely transcending the cares of this age.


  112. Good stuff zrim, especially “i tend to affirm the wisdom in rube’s interpretation”. Flattery will get you everywhere! I’m surprised though, Echo, that you are not sounding very two-kingdoms here, since coming from WSCAL should make you Klinean to the core, no?

    i have heard a lot of theonomists want to reinstate slavery (yeow!)

    My understanding is that they propose slavery as the biblical alternative to prison. Biblical punishments always involve restitution. And if you can’t pay restitution out-of-pocket, then you enter into slavery to pay your debt. Presumably you would usually be able to work off your debt and earn your freedom back — I’m not sure of the details.

    I think that Poythress expresses a similar view in “The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses”, even though he is anti-theonomist (no 1st table laws in the civil sphere), and I have to say that the idea holds a certain amount of appeal with me as well. Prisons, what good are they doing anybody? Crime U. Earn your graduate degree in violent crime. They don’t even make our license plates or break rocks anymore. At least if prisons were labor camps, then they could pay for themselves, you would think!

  113. rube,

    huh. interesting. well, my 2k/natural law ethic is what allows me to say to your ideas of slavery, “um, ok. i can see the merits…not so sure i agree, but ok, i can agree that our present system of imprisonment certainly has its flaws, but the slavery idea just doesn’t comport with me at first blush; but, hey, flesh it out, maybe something could be made of it; i doubt it, but, ok.”

    so much for flattering you, eh!


  114. Zrim,

    I am absolutely astonished at how you have misunderstood my point and how far you have run with it, so that now I’m sitting in the theonomy camp, claiming that Paul had something to say to the world about how they were running it.

    I feel kind of like my point was on the 1 yard line, about to run a quarterback sneak right into the endzone, and you snatched the ball out of his hands somehow and ran it all the way down to the other end of the field for a touchdown. I’m just left standing here scratching my head wondering, “How’d that happen?”

    First of all, indentured servitude is not slavery.

    Second, while American slavery was quite brutal, and many people say that that’s not what slavery in ancient times was like, I say hogwash. How were there slaves in the ancient world? Well, the king said that he wanted a new temple, so he’d conquer his neighbors, take their land and possessions for himself and enslave the people.

    To say that this is wrong is not theonomy, any more than saying that stealing and murder is wrong is theonomy. It would be wrong, according to natural law, and this by no means makes me a theonomist, for the United States to gather its army and march into Mexico and take all its inhabitants as slaves, such that every American household would have its own Mexican slave to do all the housework, etc. That would be wrong, unjust, and a violation of clear natural law.

    Sorry, but saying that the secular government ought to outlaw murder, rape, pillaging, stealing, etc, is not theonomy. You get into theonomy when you say that the secular government ought no longer be secular, that it ought to be subordinate to the church, that it ought to enforce the first table of the law. At no time have I affirmed any of these things, and I never will.

    Now, when Paul says that in Christ there is no more slave or free, he is saying that in Christ these people are equals. This statement implies that slaves are people too. Slavery – which is NOT INDENTURED SERVITUDE – requires the belief that the people being enslaved are lesser forms of life than the ones doing the enslaving. So if the Greeks enslave the Trojans, it’s because they think the Trojans are lesser human beings; they are weaker because the Greeks defeated them, and if they are weaker, the Greeks have the right to take their land and possessions and enslave them. This is not justice. Might does not make right. Even Plato can acknowledge that, and he did in the Republic. In fact, he takes some time to mock that view of justice as being anything BUT justice. And on that point, at least, he’s right.

    There is also in Christ no distinction between male and female, nor between slave and free. Now, how can we understand one in one way without doing malice to the whole thing? You’re right, in a sense, that Paul is saying that in Christ these distinctions disappear. He’s saying that here are the authority structures of this world, but in Christ, those disappear. And when we are glorified, these distinctions WILL all be gone. These are authority structures of this present age.

    But there is OBVIOUSLY a distinction to be made between these two distinctions. Slave and free is a man-made distinction, while God instituted the distinction between male and female. One is evil, one is good, but both are a thing of this present age only, because in the age to come, they’ll be gone.

    Anyway, I didn’t assert that this was a proof text for slavery being wrong. I asked you how you would interpret it. You didn’t, of course, but just went off about how horrible my (unspoken) interpretation of it was.

    If you want a proof text for why slavery is wrong, you need look no further than the 10 commandments, specifically:

    Q75: What is forbidden in the Eighth Commandment?
    A75: The Eighth Commandment forbiddeth whatsoever doth or may unjustly hinder our own [1] or our neighbour’s wealth or outward estate.[2]

    1. I Tim. 5:8
    2. Prov. 28:19; 21:6; Job 20:19-20

    This CLEARLY shows that natural law, which forbids stealing, forbids slavery. Slavery is nothing short of stealing PEOPLE. Sorry. This is natural law here. If slavery is to be allowed, then so should stealing. Since outlawing stealing is kindergarten common sense, then slavery should be too.

    Paul’s best statement that undermines slavery as an institution within the church is when he tells masters, Christian masters, how to treat their slaves.

    Col 4:1 Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.

    Huh. Interesting. Looks like slaves are people too, and they deserve justice just as you do. That means they are equals with regard to natural law. This is for Christian masters, and nothing says that he should only treat his Christian slaves justly.

    But you see, the whole institution of slavery depends on thinking of slaves as lesser forms of life, who don’t deserve justice. They were people who had been conquered in war, their homes have been destroyed or taken, their children have been taken from them or are dead, and they have been deprived of everything they had. All of their rights under natural law have been violated. They must be viewed as lesser life forms in order to justify this. They didn’t count as citizens in Greece or Rome. Aristotle referred to them as living tools. Like a hammer. Lesser life forms. Might makes right. We’re stronger, so our city defeated their city in battle, so we’ll take them as slaves. They will do our dirty work. We will take everything they have because we can.

    Why did Paul have to tell masters to treat their slaves justly if everyone thought that slaves deserved justice? They needed to be told because they didn’t believe it or realize it. They didn’t think of slaves as real people. Otherwise they would have recognized their right to live their lives in peace. Slavery is the result of predation by one city-state upon another. But if they deserve to be treated justly, then they didn’t deserve to be taken into slavery in the first place!!!

    Paul’s statement undermines the institution of slavery within the church. But it is a matter of natural law. Paul is just pointing out natural law. Like when he says to excommunicate the guy that had sex with his father’s wife. That this is an evil act is not restricted only to the church. It is natural law. Assuming this is a step mother, any man would be royally angry if his son had sex with his wife, I don’t care how wicked he is.

    Anyway, Paul didn’t preach against slavery to those outside the church. He didn’t go into the market and start crying out about the evils of slavery. And I’m not in favor of that either. But slavery was something the people in the church were participating in.

    If young women in your church (and you’re the pastor) are having abortions left and right, I’d say you had better get up there and preach against it. If people in your church own other people, and have taken them slaves, you had better speak up and remind them that these are PEOPLE, not things. These people don’t exist for your amusement. They are to be treated justly, fairly. They are human beings.


  115. hey, echo.

    i am really pressed for time so i can’t respond at length. i will try later.

    suffic eit for now to say that i don’t place you in the theonomy camp, bud, so here’s your ball back. i am just wondering about how what you say comports with stuff i hear in theonomy, that’s all. so, let’s put the accusations of accusation to the side for the moment; i am not given to wanting to lable you and run away. i think you are one of the good guys, echo! i just wanted to flesh some stuff out.

    hoping to get back to it but not confient i will,


  116. Hey, my afternoon just lightened up!
    Sorry, but saying that the secular government ought to outlaw murder, rape, pillaging, stealing, etc, is not theonomy.
    Zrim: what about war? Do you think war should be “outlawed”? I have been thinking about this some more and reading more about reformed natural law. One the things I think I discern is that while there is agreement that there is something akin to a substance of moral law (i.e. that there is revelaed in nature a sense that, say, killing is wrong), there can be disagreementas to the application or interpretation of this constant, immutable law. That is to say, “unjustifiable killing” is weong but when is something deemed unjustifiable and when is it justifiable? I, for example, do not believe that all life cannot be taken at any time whatsoever. That is, there are times when takin glife is justified. That is why I call myself anti-abortion an dnot pro-life. were I pro-life I would contend against the death penalty or war, etc. but I don’t. I think there are times when a life may be taken justifiably. But the other side of the table on abortion appeals to my own grounds when they contend that some unborn life may be taken. I disagree, but I must allow them that ground if I am to be consistent. did you see Clark’s recent post where he made refence to ginsu knives? He said “Wait a minute. Who gets to say which laws are applied and how? Oops! Now we need not only Theonomy in Christian Ethics but The Institutes of Biblical Law in 2 vols to tell us the answer. But wait, there’s more. When you call now you get the ginsu knife. As always (read the Talmud!) the rabbis don’t agree among themselves. So the quest for illegitimate religious certainty about civil law and life continues.” His point was that even when you “realize” the theonomists goal there is disagreement even among them as to how the law ought to be applied!
    You get into theonomy when you say that the secular government ought no longer be secular, that it ought to be subordinate to the church, that it ought to enforce the first table of the law. At no time have I affirmed any of these things, and I never will.
    Zrim: my question was simply, when you take from Galatians this stuff about slavery are you not using the Bible to get over a natural law?
    Now, when Paul says that in Christ there is no more slave or free, he is saying that in Christ these people are equals. This statement implies that slaves are people too. Slavery – which is NOT INDENTURED SERVITUDE – requires the belief that the people being enslaved are lesser forms of life than the ones doing the enslaving. So if the Greeks enslave the Trojans, it’s because they think the Trojans are lesser human beings; they are weaker because the Greeks defeated them, and if they are weaker, the Greeks have the right to take their land and possessions and enslave them. This is not justice. Might does not make right. Even Plato can acknowledge that, and he did in the Republic. In fact, he takes some time to mock that view of justice as being anything BUT justice. And on that point, at least, he’s right.
    Zrim: I can see that conclusion, that people enslave people because they see them as sub-human. But I am not convinced that it all boils down to that in human history, echo. I still hear post-slavery interpretations of slavery playing here. if slavery is an inherent evil, as you are contending, why doesn’t paul call for its abolition? Where is the clear “I forbid you to enslave another human being”?
    There is also in Christ no distinction between male and female, nor between slave and free. Now, how can we understand one in one way without doing malice to the whole thing? You’re right, in a sense, that Paul is saying that in Christ these distinctions disappear. He’s saying that here are the authority structures of this world, but in Christ, those disappear. And when we are glorified, these distinctions WILL all be gone. These are authority structures of this present age.
    Zrim: they disappear in the new covenant but not in the present age. I still see you observing a truth about the new covenant and applying it to this present evil age, and I don’t understand on what grounds you may do that, unless you appeal to natural law.
    But there is OBVIOUSLY a distinction to be made between these two distinctions. Slave and free is a man-made distinction, while God instituted the distinction between male and female. One is evil, one is good, but both are a thing of this present age only, because in the age to come, they’ll be gone.
    Zrim: mmmm. My understanding is that there will be male and female in the age to come; ability to procreate will be present but “no giving in marriage” will there be. marriage will be gone as an institution but not because it’s evil (otherwise shouldn’t we abolish it now?). I am not convinced that institutions, then, will be abolsihed because they are inherently evil, but because they are a part of this perishing age. Our morality today abhors institutoions of slavery, I know. But your take on their inherent evil seems a bit simplistic, I think.
    If young women in your church (and you’re the pastor) are having abortions left and right, I’d say you had better get up there and preach against it. If people in your church own other people, and have taken them slaves, you had better speak up and remind them that these are PEOPLE, not things. These people don’t exist for your amusement. They are to be treated justly, fairly. They are human beings.
    Zrim: abortions left and right? Hmmm. Seems not a little contrived. People owning other people? again, it ain’t happening where I live. I am not sure what sort of images you have in mind about things but abortions left and right and people owning people seems a bit odd. What does this part mean exactly? Sometimes folks like arguments for their own sake but end up saying things that just don’t comport with common sense. I still sense a sympathy for social gospel in your words, echo, but you have merely turned down the volume to a more socially acceptable decibal. That is not meant to be accusatory but an obervation.
    You also equate justice with fairness? Hmmm. When my oldest daughter says it’s unfair that her sister got a piece of candy for learning 5 more catechism questions but she herself did not because she neglected her studying I say, “You bet!” but is it just? Yes, it is just because she played by the rules and has every right to her reward. There is nothing wrong with being unfair, Echo. Life is unfair. It is justice we ought to be concerned for. The Bible speaks of justice and mercy and says not a word about fairness. Fairness is what children seek.
    Overall, I still think you seem to be reading your morality into revelation a bit too easily. I share your morality about slavery, of course. But I think we ought to be more careful about how we exegete revelation and not conveneinelty surface with conclsuions that look a heck of a lot like those that white, American, 21st century males predictably do. The point of revelation is not to effect our cultural values but to provide a portal into the age to come, and that not to easily turn around and apply to this present evil and perishing age.
    These are just my responses to you, Echo. I maintain that I could misread you and that I could be wrong even if I don’t. I also tend to think we have more in common than we don’t. I also have little faith in blogdom to effect good conversations, as I have said before. I don’t know why I keep trying! The irony of my blog-behavior, then, is not lost on me. I realize the apparent contradiction and inconsistency; alas, I keep doing it.

    lastly, i think we probably have hit a brick wall, echo. and i foresee repetition, so feel free to respond and have the last word, but i don’t see any need to continue this one.


  117. One last word, then you can have the last one!

    The idea that African-American were made into slaves just because we saw them as sub-human is a real naïve read of history. The idea that “we” tromped over there in search of people that are not as good as us so we can force them into labor” seems as nonsensical to me as the “terrorists attack us because they hate our freedom.” Huh? People just don’t behave that way! There are practical and concrete reasons for how phenomenon happen. It’s just so much more complicated than that.


  118. Yeah, you’re right. Impasse.

    I could say that you’ve misinterpreted some things, and disagreed with others, but I’d rather hear from a third party at this point.


  119. Rube,

    This was a really good post, the original I mean. Good stuff. I’d say now that the problem, in my view, with what your pastor did was that he chose sanctity of life Sunday to preach a topical sermon on abortion.

    1. I’m not in favor of topical sermons, because it opens the door for hobby-horsing, as opposed to preaching the whole council of God, and because it tends to forcing the text to say what you want it to say. But even if it doesn’t, a topical sermon is necessarily the pastor’s message, what he felt he should bring to the people that day, not simply the Word of God.

    2. It is not sanctity of life Sunday, it’s simply Sunday, the Lord’s Day. While he is certainly anti-murder, nonetheless, it’s wrong to declare a certain Sunday a special Sunday. Yes, I am consistent with Christmas and Easter. I don’t think special sermons should be preached on those days either. It should be whatever is next in the Scriptures. Lectio Continua, passage by passage through a book is the best thing to do, and the best way to ensure that it’s God’s message, and the pastor is only the messenger through which it comes, rather than the other way around.


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