Diversity is Not the Goal

Photograph by Caio

Ethnic diversity in the church is not the goal, holiness is. Although it shouldn’t be, this is a terribly controversial statement in 2020 amid all the racial tensions, but that is precisely why I have decided to write about it. Whether or not I ever publish this article remains to be seen, but like the grey-bearded wizard, Dumbledore, I am anxious to deposit into the pensive, the thoughts swirling around in my head.

So, as we begin, let’s remind ourselves of some fundamentals.
Firstly, what is the mission of the Church?
Jesus answers this question in Matthew 28:19-20:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

There it is, Anton, “all nations”. Good observation. Hold that thought and we’ll come back to it soon.

What is the goal of the church?
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:25-27

By now, many are wondering why I am writing this self-defeating article. I’ve said that we are to disciple “all nations”, which speaks of wonderful diversity to look forward to in heaven, and I’ve quoted a passage which speaks about the church being made holy, i.e. set-apart unto God, pure and free from sin, sin such as pride, partiality (racism) and the like.

Well let me first explain what I am not saying. I am not saying that racial diversity in the church is a bad thing. Quite the opposite, in fact. My own church is more diverse than many, and I can personally attest to the richness, and the beauty that comes from seeing “Jew and Gentile” united in love and worship of Jesus Christ. I, myself have a diverse family, made up of four black members, and two white members. I love having godly black brothers and sisters, along with many other races in my local assembly, for my children to look up to and emulate. One day heaven will be filled with “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes” Revelation 7:9
This will be glorious, as the multitude of heaven stands witness to the power of the gospel to reconcile the irreconcilable, and unite hearts in adoration and worship of our one Creator-King.
So I am not against diversity, in fact, just the opposite. I think ethnic diversity in the local church is a wonderful thing, as is every other type of diversity (1 Corinthians 12:14)

I am also not saying that we should not do our utmost to ensure that the church is a warm, welcoming place for repentant sinners of every ethnicity.
Scripture is clear that we are not to judge with partiality, and although James 2 is addressing socio-economic partiality, the principle can be extrapolated to include racial prejudice too.
Indeed, the very thing which marks us as being a supernatural community is that our unity is founded in Christ and nothing else. In the church, rival ex-gang leaders can break bread together. Murderers, can find forgiveness from the families of their victims and minister the gospel together, Jews can eat and fellowship with ‘unclean’ gentiles, and white and black can certainly be united, singing praises to our God. Our unity cannot, and should not be explainable solely or primarily through natural means.

But, and you knew there was a ‘but’ coming, didn’t you? In an effort to right past wrongs, and in an effort to love our neighbour, and (sometimes) in an effort to appear to be doing so in the eyes of the world and other churches, we take a wonderful by-product of the gospel, and make it the main focus.
How so? Well, we take racial diversity and try to force it. Instead of focusing on corporate holiness, Christlikeness, and unity in the gospel, we try to force diversity and get our quotas right. And if our quotas aren’t quite reflective of the national population demographics there are those with tender consciences and good intentions who get their insides all in a knot about implicit bias, and systemic racism.

Now of course, as sinners, there is always room for us to examine ourselves to see whether there is any sin which has lingered, hidden away in the recesses of our hearts, to which we continue to stubbornly hold. Is there anything in our control which is hindering diversity? That is a fair question and is worth asking and answering honestly. In so doing, we should take the counsel, experiences and suggestions of others (especially those in the minority of that particular congregation) into account. I am not discouraging such reflection and introspection.

Some would have us believe that in a country like South Africa, if our churches are not exactly representative of the population demographics, then there must be something wrong with us. I have seen it tweeted that if the leadership of a church is all white, people should leave that church. It is interesting how this sort of logic always flows in one direction only: If predominantly “white” churches don’t have enough black elders, then it is due to the racism of the “white” church, but if “black” churches don’t have a white elder, or even a white church member, then this is still due to white racism. 1
This sort of foregone conclusion is a classic case of cum hoc ergo propter hoc (correlation being confused with causation). The fact is that although the church is primarily united around the gospel, this is not the only variable at play.
Factors like language, location, doctrine, appearance and a whole host of other factors come into the picture, including the desires, biases and prejudices of those looking for a church. It doesn’t all come back to the local church itself.
The leadership of the church ought to be made up of biblically-qualified men, be they white, black, Asian, or any other ethnicity. We cannot set aside what God has said is important in the name of inclusivity. If there is a qualified, willing black man who is not invested in by the leadership as an elder, this should be a cause for great concern, but if such a man does not exist, then there is simply no issue. God in his Providence has not blessed the congregation with such a leader. Now if there is a growing population of black church members, then most certainly, it would be hugely advantageous to have a black elder, and we should pray earnestly for God to provide such a man. God in his wisdom may well answer such a prayer, or he may not. Who knows what God is doing in the lives of church members in the process?
Many would point to Acts 6 and the appointing of Hellenistic deacons as a pattern, but the text is clear that they chose men “of good repute, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom”, meaning the qualified men had been provided by the Holy Spirit, they were not forced into the diaconate simply in the name of racial inclusivity.

In other words, diversity comes from God – it is not something that we can drum up or manufacture. We see incredible diversity in Creation. Diversity glorifies God, because salvation of sinners glorifies God. Saved sinners from every tribe, tongue and language together display the richness of God’s grace to humanity. But just as we cannot do the saving, but only ensure we are obeying God in the preaching of the gospel and removing hindrances to faith, so we cannot create diversity, only do what we can to remove obstacles to supernatural diversity.
To paraphrase and contextualize 1 Corinthians 3:7 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the diversity. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”

So let’s not be sidetracked by the things which the world tells us are important, but lets rather remain steadfast in our pursuit of the goal God has given us. Growth in holiness and love for one another and the Great Commission is the aim, and the natural fruit of such obedience will be a kingdom made up of people from every tribe, tongue and nation whether that be within our own local congregation, or in the church universal.

1. I am loath to use terms such as “black” and “white” churches. According to Galatians 3:28 such distinctions have no place in the New Covenant regardless of how many members of a particular ethnicity make up a congregation – hence the scare quotes

Sacred Work

I have a terrible confession. Even as many struggle with retrenchments, short-time and pay-cuts, I sometimes feel sorry for myself as I leave to go to work. Some days I know I have some tough cases or difficult patients waiting for me (or both at the same time), and sometimes I am simply struggling against sinful laziness.

Perhaps its just me, or maybe you too find yourself not loving every moment of your job. Your lockdown “work from home” has come to an end and now you are having to brave the traffic to get to the office. Perhaps your particular field was designated “non-essential” during level 5, or maybe you just wonder what the point of it all is.

When such thoughts and emotions find their way into my heart, I realise that I have lost perspective of a tremendously important truth: For the Christian, there is no sacred/secular distinction. For the Christian, in a sense everything becomes sacred.

God is not interested in 1/7th of our lives. God calls us to love him with all of our heart, soul mind and strength, which means that all of life becomes an act of worship.

As Doug Wilson notes – when you sit down to say grace at your dinner table and you thank God for the food, you are thanking God indirectly for every person’s work which resulted in you being able to eat and benefit from that food. You are thanking God for his provision for you, through the agency of other people.

Others sitting down to their own meal, may be thanking God for His provision for them through you.

In addition, Jesus tells us in Mark 9 that as we serve others, by doing something as simple as offering a cup of water to them, we can be serving God.

Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Brothers and sisters, whether your work is orientated towards the world, or towards the home, your work is an act of worship which can result in God’s glory and honour. “Whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord, and not for men.” Col 3:23

Realise that as you deal with that challenging boss, you are dealing indirectly with your Lord, and as you discipline your son for the 75th time for hitting his sister, you are working for God’s glory. As you wash those clothes, only to do it again a few days later, or perform the same menial task, for even less pay than before, realise that it is “from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Col 3:24

Not only that, but you are being made more like your saviour in the process. This is true regardless of whether you are being paid, or not. All work has value, and all work has reward. Of course, we need some of that reward here and now – God knows that, so if you are providentially hindered from working, let us do the work of prayer with you for a fresh opportunity, as you do the hard work of calling, submitting your CV, and job-searching. Whatever your work today entails, let’s be done with just grafting for a salary, and instead live our lives – every part – for the Lord.

Your fellow labourer, struggling with you for the mind of Christ,

Anton

Eternal Quest, Eternal Joy!

I’ve been realising recently how although I spend a lot of time reading and meditating on the Scriptures, I am wasting the opportunity to memorize Scripture. Just as with family devotions – a little bit done consistently, amounts to far more than a lot done sporadically.

Years ago, I and a fellow brother memorized the book of Romans. But because I did it in a hurry. It was a short-term memory project, and today, all that is left is a familiarity with the phraseology and layout of the book.

That’s not what I have been missing. I have been missing out on meditating deeply on a passage, and committing it to long-term memory.
And so I have made it my task to memorize the book of 1 Peter. I’m planning to do it slowly, but consistently. My goal is not “to get it done”, but to be sanctified and matured in the process.

I chose this particular book for two reasons:
Firstly, I am not nearly as familiar with 1 and 2 Peter as I would like, and memorizing the book will ensure that I spend good time in it.
And secondly, because in reading through I1Peter recently, I was blown away by the preciousness of the letter.

Tonight, as my daughter and I washed the dishes (well, I washed, and she redistributed the water and foam over the remaining dishes) I put the audio for 1 Peter 1 on repeat on my phone’s external speakers. We got through the chapter about five times. And during that exercise, once again I was struck by the breath-taking beauty of the chapter. It is so encouraging, so eternal-perspective-giving, Christ-exalting and practical!
I was filled with joy and wonder as I listened and considered all I have received in Christ.

How awesome to realize that unlike every other activity or pursuit, I can give myself fully to God as I immerse myself in His Word. I can afford to be completely obsessed, to spend all my time studying, reveling-in, applying, living out and teaching the Truth. Scripture and the Living Word it points to are not only fully satisfying, but also the most deserving passion I can spend myself on.

Nor will the pursuit end at death! I see now as in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

The Death of Nominal Christianity

“The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it. It began with the forging of the Great Rings.” 

So goes the narration in the opening scenes of the movie, The Fellowship of the Ring.

I’m not sure exactly what began the change that I feel in the real world, but I know that it seems to be changing quickly. There are plenty who now live who remember the world as it was not so long ago. The pace of change is quite dizzying, in fact. If you take the time to trace the moral and cultural revolution, you’ll see that some monumental changes have been taking place in the West within the space of only a few years.

The church has not been exempt from these changes. By “church,” I’m referring to Christianity as perceived by the world. Everything that calls itself “Christian” is included. The “big C” church, while not uniform, remains steadfast and immovable, grounded on the word of God.

But, technicalities aside, the church along with culture, is seeing her share of monumental changes in philosophy and practice. Just think of the rise of women in the pastorate, and the redefinition of marriage, etc.

One of the concerning developments has been the number of prominent “Christians” who have publicly renounced their faith and turned to secularism. Doug mentioned this in his sermon recently, speaking about Judas, who also appeared to be genuine but, in the end, when push came to shove, showed his true colours and apostatised. 

Now, thankfully, we are not God. “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). There are a couple of possibilities for those who have turned away from the faith.

On the one hand, like Judas, they might be showing their true colours. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19). Sadly, as I was reminded at a funeral last week, this leaves them in a worse state than they would have been if they had never heard the truth (2 Peter 2:20–22).

Another possibility is that they are genuine believers who have fallen into tragic sin for a time but will ultimately be restored to the visible church. Let’s pray earnestly that this will prove to be the case! (Think of the man who was committing sexual sin in the Corinthian church, but was later restored.)

But assuming for the moment that their apostasy is final, they are forever rejecting Christ, blaspheming the Spirit, and thus proving that they never truly were sheep. Is this not concerning? Why do there seem to be so many who are turning away these days?

The answer to my first question, is a resounding yes. This is very concerning! We should mourn for the damage that is caused to the reputation of the bride of Christ every time a prominent person turns away or falls into sin. But my concern is for the reputation of the church, and not so much for the numbers of those who seem to be turning away.

That may strike some as very strange. Why would I not be concerned about the upturn in numbers? Let me go even further and suggest that perhaps this increase in numbers turning away signals a good thing. Now that I have your attention, let me explain.

Let’s begin by recapping some of the basic truths we all know. First, as unbelievers, we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Colossians 2:13). Second, salvation is a sovereign act of God whereby we are made alive (Colossians 2:13; Ephesians 2:1–10). Third, our adoption/salvation is permanent and final (Romans 6:10; Hebrews 7:27; Colossians 1:13; Romans 8:30).

Based on these fundamental truths, we can conclude that there has not been any increase in sheep turning into goats. There has not been an increase in those who belong to the kingdom of light returning to the kingdom of darkness. There has not been an increase in those who have been made alive returning to death.

What has happened has been an increase in those who were never truly saved but who are willing now to show their true colours and admit that they are not the real deal.

How is this a good thing?

I believe this is a good thing because the distinction between the church and the world is becoming clearer. There will always be those in the church visible who are not true believers, but I think that gap is getting smaller.

In bygone years, Christianity was in the very fabric of Western culture. To openly deny the faith was an unpopular position, which was met with far greater social stigma, and individuals stood to lose more if they left the “church” than if they continued to play the game. In other words, there were many who were goats trying to live as sheep. There were many dead people in the ranks of the church who sadly died at the end of their days having never been made alive.

Thanks to the current moral and sexual revolution, the stigma associated with secularism has been removed. It is no longer the norm in the West to believe the Bible or to subscribe to the doctrines of the church. Those who never truly believed live in an environment where is it harder to be a Christian than not. Thus, renouncing the faith, although certainly not an insignificant life change, has become a lot easier than it used to be.

Those who are leaving the church are now moving to the popular side of the fence. It is the side of the fence that used to be unpopular and suspicious. This spells the death of nominal Christianity. Of course, there will always be a liberal side of the church. But, increasingly, that side is becoming so dramatically different from biblical Christianity that it is all but unrecognisable.

The space for those who want to pretend to be Bible-believing Christians, but are not motivated by an extravagant, lavish devotion to Christ is becoming uncomfortably small. Three options remain. Either you must take an unpopular stand against abortion and sexual sin and a stand for complementarian gender roles as a believer, or you must invent a religion incompatible with the Bible, or you must turn away from religion altogether.

This is a good thing because there are fewer people who can live their lives deceiving themselves that they are in Christ when, in fact, that are not. This is a good thing because it helps us not to take professions of faith for granted. It is now easier for people to see where they stand before God. They can’t hide in the church anymore.

But it is also a good thing for the gospel because, as people take down their facades and live consistently with their newfound secular beliefs, the good deeds of true believers—the hands and legs of faith—become more conspicuous and (I hope) their attractive witness is improved. The church becomes seen to be a more compelling community because there are fewer fraudsters selling knockoffs, which may be indistinguishable from a distance.

So rather than becoming discouraged, we should be encouraged that we have a greater opportunity to reflect the light of Christ into a world so dark—that the tiniest of sparks is seen for miles around. But we must also realise, as we should have realised long ago, that not all those who say that they believe truly do. Faith without works is dead and always has been dead.

The trouble is that, in a field of dry bones, one more femur hardly stands out. But in a functioning hospital, a random leg lying in the passage should draw some attention! So, rather than worrying that our children will be tempted to fall away as they enter the world, we should endeavour through tears, teaching, example, exposure, and much prayer, to help them to make their calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). We must not take the genuineness of their faith (or our own, for that matter) for granted.

Now, I am not in any way wanting to cause genuine believers to doubt their salvation, but we must constantly be asking ourselves whether we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). Do we have the lavish devotion and extravagant love for our Saviour that Mary had, or are we just pretending like Judas?

If you realise that you are just pretending, don’t turn away! There is still hope! Ask God to change your heart. No one who comes to Christ will be cast out (John 6:37)! Ask him to save you based on his own perfect sacrifice on the cross so that you can experience true, lasting, permanent forgiveness today!

Trust God and Keep Your Powder Dry

“Trust God and keep your powder dry” is a phrase originally attributed to Oliver Cromwell, although it first appears in written form in a poem by Lieutenant-Colonel William Blacker, entitled “Oliver’s Advice.” The words are lifted from one stanza from that poem:


The Pow’r that led his chosen, by pillar’d cloud and flame,
through parted sea and desert waste, that Pow’r is still the same.
He fails not—he, the loyal hearts that firm on him rely—
so put your trust in God, my boys, and keep your powder dry.

Lieutenant-Colonel William Blacker

That phrase was meant to impress upon its hearers the need to trust God but use the means God had given them. As the pre-battle jitters came over them, they were neither to rely solely on their weaponry, not sit on their laurels and pray alone. Wet gunpowder is useless in battle. Cromwell’s advice to his fellows was to display their trust in God by being properly prepared for battle. Trust in God and preparedness for battle go hand in hand. In the words of another leader, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD” (Proverbs 21:31). Trusting the Lord for victory is displayed in preparing the horse for battle.

No doubt, you’ve given much thought to the necessity of trusting God during these strange days. I recently had the privilege of preaching about trusting God from the book of Proverbs. During that devotional sermon, I focused on trusting in God largely from an emotional and psychological standpoint. Our default mode when faced with a challenge is to want to do something. Realising our own impotence and inability to affect the future, we feel anxious, depressed, and hopeless. I still think that our biggest temptation is to worry about tomorrow and try to wrest control of the wheel from the circumstances that afflict us, forgetting that God is the one driving this car.

He loves us and is infinitely powerful to get us to the celestial city along the very best route. I maintain that, for most of us, the biggest challenge is admitting that we are finite, terribly small, and powerless. For most of us, our biggest struggle is living in complete dependence on God.

But, as is often the case, we have a narrow path to tread, and can fall into a ditch on one side just as easily as the other. On the one side we must be careful to avoid the deeper ditch of panic, anxiety, and hopelessness—living by sight and not by faith. But on the other side of the road, we have a shallower ditch, which we must also be careful to avoid. This second ditch is no less dangerous, though it be the ditch less travelled. This ditch is the ditch of inaction. This is the furrow which catches the lazy, the sinful, and the apathetic. The trouble is that, if we are honest, we can all be lazy, sinful, and apathetic at times.

God is working behind the scenes. God is moving all things to work together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. God is working for our good and his glory. But God works through means. We must pray hard and take our medicine. We must pray hard and not play in the traffic. We must trust God and keep our powder dry.

This is fairly obvious on the face of things, but it can be very tempting, and very pious-sounding, to speak about trusting God when we really have no right to be doing so. We can say we are trusting God when, in reality, we are presuming upon his kindness.

In Romans 2:4 Paul cautions, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Many people have “trust” in God for their eternal destiny without having first obeyed the command to repent. As believers, we can often act in a similar way—when we refuse to obey God’s instructions to us, which are his means for experiencing his deliverance. “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1). “[Do not neglect] to meet together, as is the habit of some” (Hebrews 10:25). “Honour your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14). “Train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6). “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak slow to anger” (James 1:19). “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray” (James 5:13).

The above are just a few examples of instructions we must heed in order to be trusting God. To obey and implement God’s instructions is trusting God. This obedience is precisely what trusting God in a fallen world looks like. Fretting and worrying and working without regard to the Lord’s care and protection betrays a lack of trust in God. But so does continual prayer in the absence of concrete obedience.

Let’s consider one brief case study.

The student has an exam on Monday. He has known about it for the last two months. But he also has had other things to do. He has had online games to play and people to see. He’ll get to those books closer to the time.

Sunday arrives and he has hardly begun to learn his work. “No matter,” he says to himself, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” So, he skips church in order to study. Not having enough time, he begins to fret a little. But he reminds himself that he really can only do what he can do. Later when his aunt asks him how he is feeling about his exam, he replies that he would have liked to know his work a bit better, but he is trusting God to help him.

To paraphrase James 2:14, 17, what good is it, my brothers, if someone says he trusts God, but does not execute God’s instructions? Can that faith save him? So also “I’m trusting God,” by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Let’s be done with worrying about tomorrow—with needless fear and anxiety about the future. God’s got this. Let’s say we trust God—say it loud and clear—but also actually trust in God, believing that he can and will bless obedience with gracious results. Let’s trust God and keep our powder dry.

Who Knows?

The last few days have been interesting to say the least, haven’t they? We are certainly living in an unprecedented time of global upheaval and flux.
I don’t mean that it’s unprecedented in terms of severity – certainly in times past the world has faced threats far greater and trials almost incomparably more severe than the one we face today. Yet this is an unprecedented time in terms of where we are as mankind. We are living in a time of unprecedented technological advances. Think of the possibility of working from home for so many people – just a few short years ago, this would have been entirely unheard of. Not to mention the rapid spread of information around the globe, as well as the scientific advances which allow us to understand how viruses mutate, are spread, can be fought and to some extent, be prevented.

All of these things are truly blessings for which we should be thanking God, daily. Just a few decades ago, a pandemic of this nature would have looked markedly different, and our experience of it would have been a lot less comfortable.

The trouble with all this knowledge and access to information is twofold. For starters it means that we are probably the most arrogant generation ever to walk the earth. As a group, we are so enamoured with our progress, so in love with our achievements, that we have cast off all restraints. Anything which would suggest that we are not gods of our own little universes is anathema. Any suggestion that bygone generations may have something to offer, except to serve as stepping stones on our evolutionary ascent to glory, is contemptible in the extreme. We are the masters of our world, and because we understand how something works, we necessarily feel that we are in control of it.
But the bubble is bursting for many with this pandemic.
People are suddenly desperate for direction. Many are, for the first time, feeling a sense of their own impotence, their own lostness and hitherto self-deception. They need direction and they should be getting it from the church. This is a great opportunity for the Gospel. Let’s be looking out for those open doors and be confident enough to walk through them.

The second problem for the average citizen, of course, is knowing where to turn for answers and who to trust. For the man on the street, knowing the difference between news and nonsense, between truth and twaddle is extremely challenging. 

During the past few weeks as this crisis has unfolded, I have had opportunity to observe unbelievers suddenly become very concerned about telling right from wrong, and pontificating about their beliefs quite soon after acquiring them. There has been a mania, a surprising desperation on the part of many to find out what they should be doing – how should they behave?
Otherwise intelligent, educated professionals have been quick to latch onto the opinion of someone whom they respect, regardless of who that person is, accepting their ideas as the standard of all right and wrong.
Those who used to preach tolerance, suddenly became supremely intolerant of anyone who did not conform to their newfound ideas about what should be done to ‘save lives’ and ‘flatten the curve’. (Saving life is, of course, their greatest aspiration, unless that life should happen to be wrapped up in the form of an unwanted pregnancy)

Sadly, I have observed many Christians cave into the social pressure to conform to the world’s newfound intolerance, their novel doctrine of morality.

In light of these observations, I’d like to challenge us, as believers to be careful where we get our information. I’d like to encourage us, that although we may not be experts in some branch of science, that does not make us fools in general. For over 500 years, one of the battle cries of the Reformation has been Sola Scriptura – we stand on the authority of Scripture alone. Now that does not mean that we have no place for any other authority in our lives. Epidemiologists, virologists, public health officials etc are all gifted specialists in their fields and we would be foolish to neglect their counsel based on Sola Scriptura. But in matters of morality, in the weighty matters of deciding right from wrong and knowing how to behave coram Deo (in the sight of God) we can accept no other source but God himself. The only way we can know authoritatively what God has said, is through his revealed, inerrant, infallible Word.
We – the church – are the ones who have been entrusted with the Word, and thus we are the ones who should be helping the world to see right from wrong, and not the other way around. We should be calling people to repentance and showing them what true love for our neighbour looks like, not asking them to do that for us. We should not allow them to call the shots and cower in the shadows when they do. They are blind men leading blind men, and Scripture assures us that they will soon end up in a ditch (Like 6:39). Let’s not allow ourselves to be prodded and poked by their sabres, marching before them to the ditch to cushion their fall.

Rather, let’s read the news, let’s listen to the experts, but let’s do this insofar as they stick to their fields of expertise. They are not the experts on morality. They haven’t the foggiest clue what right and wrong is anymore. Anyone who thinks killing babies is “reproductive health” is someone who you can be sure has no idea what they are talking about, morally speaking.

Let’s not allow ourselves to be bullied, or passively accept the morality of “the experts”.
God gave the Great Commission originally to eleven unqualified simpletons, and two millennia later look at how that worked out.
The mission today is no different. God has called us to go out and make disciples, so let’s confidently stay the course. In our lives and words, directing people to Him. God has opened our eyes and given us the compass of the Scriptures. Let’s not follow the blind man and his fortune cookie, no matter how loudly and confidently he points and shouts. His shouting just gives away his insecurity. He’s desperate for someone to take him by the hand and lead him toward the light. Who knows what’s going and how men should respond? Who will give direction and point the way?
By God’s grace we do, and by his power we will.

The Earliest Possible Age

Every Christian parent wants to see their children grow up to believe the gospel and receive salvation. In fact, for true believers, this should rank quite high in our prayer priorities!

In addition, we would love to see our children saved sooner, rather than later. This way, they waste fewer years living in rebellion to their Creator, have fewer regrets, enjoy a longer relationship with the Lord, grow in their knowledge of Him and His Word, and have fewer opportunities to cause us heartache.

A very common way of praying for a child’s early salvation is, “Father, please save little Benjamin at the earliest possible age.”

I would love to see Christian parent’s dropping this phrase sooner rather than later. Now, naturally, in discussions like this, one can be accused of nit-picking. That is not at all my intention. I fully understand the desire to see one’s offspring serving the Lord from a young age. I also appreciate how frequently we can adopt phrases which roll off our tongues without having given them much thought.

I do, however, firmly believe that we need to ditch this phrase like a stolen getaway car – at the earliest possible opportunity. The reason is that words matter. Whether or not we have given any conscious thought to the words we speak or hear, the fact is that they influence our thinking. My concern is that the more we say, “at the earliest possible age,” the more we may begin to actually believe that there is an, “earliest possible age,” at which God can save our children.

You will search in vain to find a passage in Scripture which teaches that humans can only be born again after a certain age.

Probably the closest you come is Isaiah 7:15-16 which says, “He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.”

But knowing how to refuse evil and choose good has nothing to do with regeneration. In fact, we know that the Law, and being able to choose between good and evil, always results in us choosing the evil. “Through the law comes knowledge of sin.” For an example of someone being saved at a very young age, just look at John the Baptist, who according to Luke 1:15 would be, “filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.”

There are many more texts which seem to indicate that God values children highly and would see them saved (Deut 6:7; Malachi 2:15; Matt 19:14; Luke 17:2)

Children are born into this world as sinners, with a broken, sinful nature inherited from their father Adam, so the need for regeneration is there from the start. There is the truth that, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required…” (Luke 12:48) so moral culpability does increase with age, but the real issue is not how aware you are of your sin, the issue is, who is your representative? The fact is that the Lord is not bound to wait until our children reach a certain age in order to give them new hearts. He can do that whenever He pleases.

God has declared Himself to be, “a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Deut 5:9-10)

And, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Pro 22:6)

By placing your children into your family, a believing home, where the gospel is savored and taught, God has already blessed them with so much grace. God shows steadfast love to thousands of generations of those who love Him. So let’s not be waiting for the magical day when God can now give them a “Damascus Road” salvation experience. Let’s not be wondering whether they are old enough to understand. Let’s be training them to confess and repent of their sin, and ask for forgiveness from a young age. God is the one who saves – Salvation is of the Lord (Rev 7:10), and He can save our kids at any age. As Jonathan said, “nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few” and I would just extend that principle to say that nothing can hinder the Lord from saving at a very tender age, or a wizened old age.

Every age is possible for salvation!

Why Are You So Afraid of Dying?

Most people know the story of Jonah. “Jonah’s that guy in the Bible that got swallowed by the whale, right?”

Well… No. It was some sort of fish, not necessarily a whale, and to make Jonah the story of a fish is to miss the point in a big way.

So Jonah was told by God to go to the pagan city of Nineveh and preach about their impending destruction which was coming upon them because God had taken note of their evil.

Instead of Jonah obeying the command to go and preach, he tries to flee from the presence of the Lord, and lands up on a ship heading to Tarshish.

While asleep on the ship, God, “hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, ‘What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.'” (Jonah 1:4-6 ESV)

As I read this account today, I noticed how these mariners were petrified of death. “Well, obviously, Sherlock – everyone is afraid of dying!” you may be thinking. That’s just what I was thinking, actually. Fear of death is basically a universal human experience. These sailors clearly had a conception of a god and eternity, and so it is unsurprising that they should feel such panic. The strange thing is – in a materialistic world where life is simply a product of time + matter + chance, such as the one we supposedly live in today there really is nothing to fear about death.

Yes, nobody in their right mind wants to experience pain, and we can imagine that many ways of dying must be painful. But let’s separate the fear of pain from the fear of death for a moment. There are many conceivable ways of dying which would be totally painless. If this is the case, and death is simply a complete cessation of an individual’s existence, what is there to fear about that?

After death there is no pain, or regret, or longing, or missing of loved ones. You just cease to exist. Yes, it’s a massive “unknown” which could make one uncomfortable. But fear – that’s actually irrational – a fact picked up by some of the ancient philosophers!

Someone will respond: “You’re forgetting that fear of death and the instinct for self-preservation are basic necessities for the continuation of life, and survival of the human species. Fear of death is an evolutionary advantage.”

This makes a lot of sense at first glance of course, but on further reflection it becomes obvious that a society quite often has a greater chance of survival because of the sacrifice of a few brave defenders who are able to subordinate their fear of death to a higher priority, whatever that may be. Even if we analyse the fear of death as being advantageous on an individual basis, we are still not able to explain the terror. There is perhaps no other fear which has a greater icy grip on the heart of man, than the fear of death. It is a horror, something to be dreaded and avoided at any and all costs.

My assertion in this article is that man’s fear of death is yet another evidence of his absolute certainty of immortality and the existence of God. The knowledge of God is the only plausible, coherent way to explain this undeniable terror of death which arises in the heart of even the bravest warrior.

Man knows, he may have buried this knowledge deep down and spent a lifetime suppressing and denying it, but every man knows that there is a God to whom he is accountable.

He knows that despite the lies he has tried to convince himself to believe, he falls short of the righteousness required by God and will stand naked in his sin before God after death.

He may not know the details, but he has a primal, an instinctive certainty that death is not the end. It is this fact which scares him above all. He may not be able to articulate it, or pin it down, but it is there behind the dread.

Romans 1:18-23

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honour Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling birds and animals and reptiles.”

 

I said that the fear of death is a universal human experience. We have all felt it at some point in our lives. And yet, Christ came, to conquer death removing its sting. Because of the perfect life and sacrificial death of Jesus, there is no fear of death for everyone whom Jesus represents.

Through Adam, our original representative we fell into sin and death, but for all those united by faith to a new federal head, the Lord Jesus Christ, there is forgiveness of sins and an imputation of righteousness. This means that for a Christian there is nothing to fear, because at the judgement, he will stand before God washed clean from his sins and clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

For the unbeliever, one who is still represented by Adam. For the one who refuses to submit to the Lord Jesus – there is no mercy and there remains much to fear about death.

Death is not the end. You may be spending your life trying to convince yourself that it is, but next time you feel that fear, may it remind you that there is a reason for that emotion. That fear may in fact be God’s gift to you – a little goad, or a signpost pointing you to Jesus. Don’t ignore it!

It’s Getting Rather Hot

I watched Trevor Noah’s latest stand-up comedy this evening, Son of Patricia. His views are decidedly to the left. Obviously. He works on TV – and anyone who works on TV in America knows that to stay afloat one must toe the party line. The media is so liberal that they will not tolerate anybody who does not agree. Having said that, I don’t think he is being forced into those views. I think he, like many others has drunk enough liberal kool-aid to begin believing in the craziness.

Anyway, putting that performance together with what I hear of American news and what I see even in South Africa, I can only conclude that the world is going insane and Christians can either stand up in opposition or be swept into apostasy. There is no safe neutral ground. The sad part is that I feel like much of the Church is being slowly boiled alive like the frog in the pot on the stove. The Church is slowly being boiled to death in the cultural water without even realising it. When will we stand up and say, “The emperor has no clothes on and the gospel is the only solution to this mess,” rather than seeing how close we can get to the flame without getting burnt.

We need to believe what we say we believe and allow that truth to animate us. We simply cannot afford – I simply cannot afford to continue to say that I believe the Bible but live like truth is relative.

Pleasure in Toil

I met with a few teenage boys last night, which is something that we do on a monthly basis. We get together to discuss topics related to being a godly man.

Last night we had a guest over and in general, the guest will give something of a biography of himself so that the boys can see how he got from where they are, to where he is currently, and how his testimony works itself out in his chosen profession.

As usual, I think I benefitted more than the kids did, and the discussion left me mulling over (among other things) the nature of work.

The speaker made the point that having worked in his dad’s shop since primary school, and hating every moment, he realised that the more he hated it, the slower the time moved. The experience taught him to find pleasure in excellence, no matter what he found himself doing.

The fact is, he said, there will be times when you are working, no matter what type of work it is, that you will not feel like doing it, but you have to just knuckle down and get the job done. There is much truth in that for teenage boys to hear – even the fighter pilot has to do things he doesnt feel like doing sometimes.

But its not just helpful to teenage boys – I needed to be reminded of that again. There is much in the way of work which requires sheer self-discipline.

Having said that, there is also much reward to be gained from work, if we do it with the proper perspective. If we stop thinking about work as a means to an end, the end of making a living, and simply focus on taking pleasure in the act of creation. As we create something good, we are expressing the image of God far better than a simple wage earner, even in a sin-cursed world where work is… well – hard work!

“…also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.” Ecclesiastes 3:13