Identity Politics Shouldn’t Dictate Your Virtue

caesar-gaius-julius-137100-15344-bc-roman-politician-assassination-BA7XAB

When I heard that a group of white supremacists had assembled in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend, my first instinct was skepticism. “A large, visible gathering of actual racists? The media is obviously exaggerating again. I’m sure it’s just a bunch of mislabeled conservatives who are sick of political correctne—Oh. Wait. They are white supremacists. They are professing Nazis. They are KKK members.”

I admit, I didn’t want to believe it. The media is so dramatic and lopsided these days, and with more and more conservatives being unfairly labeled “fascists” and “neo-Nazis,” acknowledging the reality of the situation in Charlottesville would feel like a concession to the left. I could not have that. Peter has whined about a “wolf” for so long that I couldn’t stand the thought that there might actually be one. But after reading multiple sources, listening to various news reports, and watching actual videos from the protest, I had to not only admit the truth of the present situation but also repent for allowing identity politics to cloud my judgment of right and wrong.

What is identity politics? It’s when people of a certain race, religion or social background form an unswerving political alliance based on their common interests. It’s when every event or story must be filtered through that group’s particular agenda rather than absolute truth or morality. It’s self-seeking subjectivism on a tribal level. The right and the left have been devolving into identity politics for quite some time, and the tragedy in Charlottesville has exposed both sides more than ever. For Christians, this can be confusing. If we speak out against white racism, we fear sounding like liberals. If we fail to agree with all leftist logic, we fear sounding like defenders of racism. Which side do we choose?

The problem is found precisely in that false dilemma—that we must choose a “side.” As Erick Erickson points out, “The country seems headed down a path between right wing authoritarianism and leftwing totalitarianism. Those of us who want nothing to do with either should be willing to call out both sides.”

THE SIN OF RACISM.

Like myself, many conservatives may try to tone down the story or shift the blame. I was reading the headlines of a popular “alt-right” news site yesterday, and I got the gist that they were angrier about liberal reactions to Charlottesville than they were saddened by what actually happened there. Such excuses are probably not the results of conviction or deep thought, but attempts to keep the liberals from “winning.”

The press might be wrong about a lot of things, but our anger at them must not prevent us from calling out evil for what it is. Christians, in particular, must be first to affirm the dignity of all people made in the image of God, and the worldwide gospel call to every tribe, tongue and color. Racism is an affront to the image of God, the finished work of Christ, and a hindrance to the church’s commission (cf. Mt. 28:19).

In the aftermath of Charlottesville, Albert Mohler and Timothy Keller both posted fantastic pieces that I recommend every Christian read. Mohler, writing from Germany in the shadow of the Third Reich’s memory, says: “Seen from Berlin, the news from Charlottesville is alarming. Seen as a Christian, the images are heartbreaking. The ideology of racial superiority is an evil anti-gospel that leads to eternal death.” Keller, meanwhile, warned against identity politics: “Christians should look at the energized and emboldened white nationalism movement, and at its fascist slogans, and condemn it—full stop. No, ‘But on the other hand.’ The main way most people are responding across the political spectrum is by saying, ‘See? This is what I have been saying all along! This just proves my point.’ The conservatives are using the events to prove that liberal identity politics is wrong, and liberals are using it to prove that conservatism is inherently racist. We should not do that.”

We cannot refrain from speaking out against injustice for fear that it will make our own platform look weak. The truth of God’s Word is the strongest platform you can stand on.

SIN IS SIN, NO MATTER WHO DOES IT.

On the other side of the political coin, the left’s reaction to Charlottesville has been nothing short of a collective hernia. When President Trump denounced “hatred, bigotry, and violence—on many sides,” he was accused of refusing to call out white supremacists by name. Even when he issued a follow-up statement clarifying, “Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups,” it was too little, too late. Swarms of protestors met him outside Trump Tower on Monday night, waving signs and chanting “New York hates you!” A CNN commentator even went so far as to say he’s unfit to be human. Regardless of what the President actually said, the left is more concerned with feeding the theory that Donald Trump is the hellish light who’s summoned all fascist cockroaches to the surface. Trump could personally shoot James Fields in the head, and that still would not be enough to get him off the hook. Why? Because it doesn’t fit the left’s story, that Trump and his White House (pun intended) staff of neo-Nazis are out to breed hatred and prejudice. Acknowledging that he legitimately denounced racism would be like getting water in their gun powder. If Donald Trump is not an evil, minority-hating, slave-driving racist, then the entire liberal story about him and the Republican Party falls apart.

This determination has perhaps blinded many to the reality that, yes, there was unnecessary violence coming from both sides in Charlottesville. Both sides were looking for a fight, and we should be saddened that they both got one. The counter-protestors did not kill anyone, while the supremacists did (which conservatives must admit, because remember, we shouldn’t be trying to defend the supremacists anyway), but the left must also admit that both sides raised havoc with force.

What the white supremacists did in Charlottesville is evil, and without excuse. But so were the Black Lives Matter riots in Ferguson, Baltimore, and London, where people were beaten, stores were looted, and cars and buildings were torched. James Fields is a murderer and a terrorist, and must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But so was Micah Xavier Johnson, a sniper who responded to the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by shooting and killing five police officers in July 2016. To deny, soften, or sidestep any of these, on either side, is to play identity politics, and it is a moral failure. We can, and should, affirm all instances of evil without worrying whether it makes “our side” look bad or not.

ABHOR WHAT IS EVIL, WEEP WITH THOSE WHO WEEP, OVERCOME EVIL WITH GOOD.

Am I just trying to insult everyone? Am I intentionally trying to have zero Facebook friends left by tomorrow morning? Not at all. I hope that the church can act and react beyond what’s expected of 21st century American conservatives or liberals, and be a truthful, biblical, convictional, compassionate voice. We need to practice the commands of Romans 12:9-21: “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good…Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep…Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly…If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

The two sides in this country, which are splitting further and further apart every day, have each written their own script that we’re supposed to recite and act out. But I encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to stay Kingdom-minded. The problem with claiming allegiance to a party or ideology, rather than moral principles, is that you must make every event and news story support your “side,” and you must make sure that the “other side” is never, ever right. When that happens, you just might end up defending people and actions that should never, ever be defended.

THE LORD’S SIDE.

In Joshua 5, as Joshua is overlooking Jericho and contemplating the battle to come, he saw “a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand” (vs. 13). This figure is identified as the commander of the army of the Lord, and commentators debate whether this is a pre-incarnate Christ or an angelic captain. Either way, he means business. So Joshua, still strategizing for war, immediately asks: “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” He wants to know what side this commander is on. Which side do you identify with, Israel or Jericho? Are you with us, or our enemies?

The commander’s short, grammatically humorous response must have been confusing and perhaps disappointing to Joshua: “No.” Whose side was he on? No. Whose campaign did he pick? No. “But,” the figure clarified, “I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come” (vs. 14). In other words, his business was to do God’s business. His agenda was not any particular race or empire. He was there to carry out God’s goodness and God’s justice.

Christians must be the same way in our cultural involvement. It is not our business to promote any race or party above another, but to always seek the goodness and justice of God in every situation. Even if that means not conforming to a certain group’s identity. We cannot let the fog of platforms and agendas cloud our morality.

Racism and violence are never acceptable, regardless of the culprit’s skin color or political affiliation. If you denounced the Black Lives Matter riots, you should be the first to condemn what happened in Charlottesville. And if you’re angered about what happened in Charlottesville, you should carefully reconsider any Black Lives Matter or “antifa” movement that involves vandalism and violence. If we’re raging against one on social media but ignoring (or even justifying) the other, we’re guilty of identity politics, and hypocrisy, and we need to repent.

As citizens of this world, we must be ready to recognize wrongdoing regardless of whose “side” it seems to help or hinder. And as citizens of heaven, the church must be ready to preach that all people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and may be justified by grace alone through faith alone in the gospel of Jesus Christ alone.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Advertisements

How to Avoid Apostasy? Belong to a Good Church.

wanderer

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12-13)

One of the recurring themes in the book of Hebrews is the caution against apostasy. Believers are admonished over and over again to guard themselves, to persevere, and to not abandon the faith (2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; 12:14-29). These “warning passages” confront us with the reality of our own weakness and remind us that the new birth is not a one-time prayer or easy-believism. The Christian life is a daily war.

Christ freed us from the dungeon of death and set us on a pilgrimage to the homeland we forgot about. But our former captor, bitter and scheming, is still trying to drag us back into chains every step of the way. Although Scripture elsewhere assures us that God will preserve His true church until the end, Hebrews makes it clear that many who claim to profess the name of Jesus can, and have, and will, abandon the journey.

This results from what Hebrews 3:12 calls “an evil, unbelieving heart”, which causes us to “fall away from the living God.” “Evil” and “unbelieving” are connected here. Unbelief isn’t a simple disbelief in the existence of God but a lack of trust in the promises of God, particularly those found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Trust and obedience are knitted together. A lack of trust in God produces a lack of obedience to God. Back when our enemy first sought to enslave mankind, he provoked rebellion by getting our first parents to doubt what God said (Gen. 3:1-6). That is the sequence of the serpent’s seduction. Doubt what God promises, and we neglect what God commands.

Fortunately, the author follows up the warning with the solution. Christ has divine means by which He guards and sanctifies His church, and the text encourages us to stay aligned with those means. Hebrews isn’t meant to leave us in a state of eternal uncertainty. It’s meant to challenge us, and then equip us with the tools we need to be victorious.

So what are these tools? How do we keep our faith strong and vibrant? Verse 14 provides the answer: we need to be reminded, rewashed, and refreshed in this faith “every day.” A body without food becomes sick. A building without upkeep falls into disrepair. A flower with no water or sunshine will shrivel up and die. Our faith, likewise, must be nurtured on a regular basis.

And the conduit of this nurturing is found in the author’s charge to “exhort one another” (vs. 14). Faith is more than just me and Jesus walking together down the beach. It’s more than a one-on-one dinner date with divinity. Faith in Christ puts us in the context of a community, the people of God, and it’s through the corporate community that each individual is kept strong.

The perseverance of our faith is tethered to our involvement with the people of God, the church. The church is where the gospel is preached, praises are sung, prayer is offered, the sacraments are received, discipline is administered, and confession is made. Each of these resharpens our focus on the object of our faith, Jesus Christ, and brings us into closer relation to Him both corporately and individually. Through preaching, the truth of Jesus is taught. Through worship, the beauty of Jesus is adored. Through prayer, the intercession and provision of Jesus is pleaded. Through the sacraments, the gospel of Jesus is dramatized and the presence of Jesus is manifest. Through discipline and confession, the people of Jesus are kept from straying towards the cliffs of apostasy and rerouted back onto the straight and narrow.

Through the ministry of the church, the Holy Spirit continually immerses us in “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude :3). It keeps us grounded. It keeps us strengthened. It keeps our hearts from straying into unbelief and sin. As long as it is called “today”, which is every day until Christ returns, we must “stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25)

If you want to avoid apostasy, join a biblical church. Be involved. Regularly participate in its services, outreaches, events, Bible studies, and home fellowships. Be a part of the beauty and blessing that is the local church so that you will not “fall away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12).

MTV’s Gender-Neutral Award is Actually Disrespectful to Women.

landscape-1494232201-emma-watson-asia-kate-dillon

Emma Watson and Asia Kate Dillon at the MTV Awards.

Emma Watson made headlines last weekend by receiving the first gender-neutral acting award at the MTV Awards for her performance in Disney’s live-action adaption of Beauty and the Beast. The win is being called “historic” because it’s the first major movie award to combine “best actor” and “best actress” into one category.

Many on the right are upset about this, while many on the left may think the right is overreacting. What’s the problem? Does everything have to always be divided into male and female? There are many awards that could be given to a man or a woman, and these awards have been around for years without controversy. We conservatives should certainly be careful to avoid hallucinating liberal boogeymen (sorry, or boogeywomen; wait, is it boogeyperson?) in every closet. We shouldn’t be oversensitive to politically correct oversensitivity.

But in this case the boogeyman seems pretty real. For starters, the award was presented to Ms. Watson by gender-neutral nonbinary actor Asia Kate Dillon. That’s a huge statement in and of itself. Asia was a symbol, a manifestation, of MTV’s agenda. Simply merging “best actor” and “best actress” into one may not seem like a big deal, but having someone who doesn’t identify as male or female present this “historic” award makes the motivation rather obvious.

Then came Ms. Watson’s acceptance speech, which confirmed exactly what’s at the heart of the issue: “The first acting award in history that doesn’t separate nominees based on their sex says something about how we perceive the human experience. MTV’s move to create a genderless award for acting will mean something different to everyone. But to me it indicates that acting is about the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and that doesn’t need to be separated into two different categories.”

Ms. Watson’s comments imply that it’s unfair to judge male and female performers separately, and that a gender-neutral award will tear down some wall to create a more level playing field. If you think separate awards exist because of gender inequality, that would be true. This new award would be a monumental defiance of cultural injustice.

But inequality is not why separate categories exist. The distinction of male and female awards doesn’t degrade anyone the way racially segregated bathrooms and water fountains used to. It’s not meant to prioritize one over the other, but to uphold both as valuable in their own right. It actually shows a greater appreciation for men and women, not less.

Ms. Watson is an outspoken feminist, which supposedly means she believes in gender equality. But modern feminism goes further than that by assuming the only way to have equality is to eliminate all distinction. Modern feminism isn’t about women’s dignity—it’s about erasing all lines of difference between men and women. That’s the opposite of women’s dignity. That insinuates women don’t have value unless they’re exactly like men. If you think having “male” and “female” categories is automatically sexist, that means you don’t think each sex has inherent value in and of itself. So even though this new award is being applauded as a female victory, perhaps MTV is actually robbing actresses of what makes them, and their performances, so special.

To some degree, a movie or TV role should be judged in light of the performer’s sex. And that’s not a bad thing. When an actor portrays a character they must utilize their own unique experiences and tap into the unique experiences of that character. Those experiences are usually different for men and women, and that’s due precisely to the fact that men and women are different. Their feelings, reactions, struggles, and triumphs, as well as those of the character they’re portraying, are directly related to whether they’re male or female. That’s not something to be despised, but applauded.  “Diversity” used to mean the recognition of a group’s uniqueness, value and contribution. Not anymore. Now it means we must all be the same.

Ms. Watson said an award “that doesn’t separate nominees based on their sex says something about how we perceive the human experience”, and she’s right. It says a lot. Unfortunately, in this case, it actually cheapens the human experience by downplaying the unique experiences of men and women. If progressivism is trying to make gender “equal” it’s doing so by making male and female equally meaningless and equally worthless.

Instead of trying to downplay the distinction between men and women, we should be able to recognize, appreciate and celebrate it. Does every award need to be divided into male or female categories? Not at all. But in some cases it certainly gives validation to the stories and skills of both.

Zerubbabel: A Picture of Christ

e29612224b342c72005ea422af4e3df1

The Bible is full of names most of us would instantly recognize, like Noah, Moses, David, Mary, or Peter. But here’s one person you probably won’t hear about in Sunday school anytime soon: Zerubbabel. I know, I know, that name doesn’t exactly conjure up images of divine heroism, but Zerubbabel actually plays quite an important role in the overarching story of redemption. His historical contribution, his bloodline, and his salvific foreshadowing all make this man with the zany name quite the herald of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Kingly Descendent of David

In 2 Samuel 7:12-16 God promised King David that one of his own descendants would be the special, Messianic ruler of God’s kingdom. Almost five hundred years later that royal line was jeopardized when Babylon captured Jerusalem and hauled off King Jehoiachin, David’s offspring, into captivity (2 Ki. 24:15). It would have been customary for the king of Babylon to kill Jehoiachin as a sign of victory, but for some reason, he didn’t. He threw him in prison instead, and for decades the flame of God’s covenant seemed ready to be snuffed out at any moment. Finally, after thirty seven years of imprisonment, Jehoiachin was mysteriously freed by the new king of Babylon. He was treated kindly, he was given a place of honor, and he was taken care of for the rest of life (2 Ki. 25:27-30).

Jehoiachin went on to have a son named Shealtiel, and Shealtiel had a son named, you guessed it, Zerubbabel. He was living proof that God would not let the Davidic line go extinct. In Zerubbabel’s blood he carried not just the royalty of Israel, but the hope of the entire world. After King Cyrus allowed Israel to return to their homeland, Zerubbabel was leading the way. The prophet Zechariah proclaimed that God would use Zerubbabel to lay low the mountains (Zech. 4:6-8), while the prophet Haggai announced that God would vanquish the kingdoms of the world and Zerubbabel was the “signet ring”, the chosen sign, of this promise (Hag. 2:21-23). Zerubbabel carried the torch of God’s covenant. God was about to do a great work in Israel, one that would ripple through all mankind, and He would use Zerubbabel to play a vital part.

Many years later, when the promised King of kings was finally born, the Gospel writers provided the genealogies of both His biological mother and legal father, both of whom were descended from David. And there on both sides, smack dab in the middle of the Messianic family tree, blazes a name we should now be very familiar with: Zerubbabel (Mt. 1:12-13; Lk. 3:27).

Leading the Exiles

God’s people had been dispersed through Babylon, and then Medo-Persia. Their sin had resulted in captivity. Their rebellion against the law of God had separated them from the land, city and temple that God had promised as a reward for their obedience. They were no longer a people. They were slaves. But in God’s perfect timing He raised up Zerubbabel to lead them back to the Promised Land (Ezra 2:2; 3:1-2). He was the conquering hero who led the captives back into their heritage as God’s people.

Similarly, all mankind has broken God’s law (Rom. 3:9-20), has been banished from the land of paradise (Gen. 3:23-24), and has gone into the captivity of sin and Satan (Jn. 8:34; Titus 3:3). We are not a people (1 Pet. 2:10), but a fractured, scattered, desolate race of rebels who are cut off from the presence and holiness of God. But in God’s perfect timing (Gal. 4:4) He sent the offspring of Zerubbabel, Jesus Christ, to free the captives (Lk. 4:18), reassemble them as a people (1 Pet. 2:10), and lead them as a conquering hero (Eph. 4:8) away from the spiritual whoredom of Babylon (Rev. 17:4-6) and into the freedom of the true Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22).

Rebuilding the Temple

The first priority of Zerubbabel’s mission was to rebuild the temple that had been smashed to pieces (Ezra 3:8; 5:2; Hag. 1:1-11). That was where God’s holiness dwelled, where sin was atoned for, and where men met with God. But this new temple couldn’t measure up to the glory of Solomon’s original temple (Ezra 3:12-13; Hag. 2:2-3), so God promised that another, better temple was still to come (Hag. 2:6-9).

Jesus also came to repair the temple, the middle ground between man and God. But He surpassed Zerubbabel by establishing the true temple that had been promised: Himself. In His broken body, Christ offered a once-and-for-all sacrifice to atone for the sins of men by shedding His own blood (Heb. 9:11-14). The pierced, slaughtered temple was raised again in His resurrection (Jn. 2:19-21) so that man can once again fellowship with the Creator through the living temple of the risen Christ. For all eternity, the earthly temple is done away with and is replaced by Jesus Himself, mediating God’s glory and God’s presence to us (Rev. 21:22).

Protecting the Purity of God’s People

In Ezra 4, as Israel began to work on the temple, they were approached by the people who had taken up residency in the land during their captivity. These residents seemed friendly at first, professing to worship the God of Israel and offering to help build the temple (Ezra 4:2). Yet Zerubbabel quickly declined the offer and ran them off (4:3). Why the harsh response?

Because even though these inhabitants had indeed learned to worship the Lord (2 Ki. 17:24-28), they had also continued in their former idolatry (2 Ki. 17:29-41). They didn’t repent of their false religion and turn to the living God; they simply incorporated Him into their diet as one of many gods. If Zerubbabel had accepted their offer, he would have put Israel into an alliance with the very idolatry, paganism and false doctrine that had gotten them exiled in the first place. By driving them away, Zerubbabel protected the flock of God from spiritual and moral compromise.

Similarly, Jesus is the great Shepherd who drives away the wolves in sheepskin. The church has been historically bombarded with an onslaught of teachers, sects, cults and religions that try to claim an alliance with Christianity. Jesus is the one who not only builds His church but protects it from the volleys of hell (Mt. 16:18). It’s through His lordship, teaching, Spirit, doctrine, and discipline that all imposters are called out and chased away (Acts 8:18-23; 20:28-30; Rom. 16:17-19; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Cor. 11:3-4, 12-15; Gal. 1:6-9; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; Jude :4-23) in order to present the church to Himself as a pure and spotless bride (Eph. 5:25-27).

When we read about Zerubbabel in the Old Testament we’re not just learning a dry history lesson; we’re seeing a picture of God’s story for mankind—our own story—which finds its climax in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is the descendent of David who brings back the rebellious exiles, who establishes the temple where the sacrifice is made to reconcile God and man, and who protects His people until the very end. He is our King, our Savior, our Mediator, and our Shepherd.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Four Reasons to Stay Out of ‘The Shack.’

The-Shack

If you’re reading this, you probably already have an opinion about The Shack, the film adaption of William P. Young’s best-selling novel of the same name that hit theaters last weekend. Most Christians I know fall into one of three categories: they think it’s inspirational and they love it; they think it’s heretical and they hate it; or they think it’s a flawed yet potentially edifying story that we shouldn’t be too quick to endorse or condemn.

I’m going to admit up front that I haven’t seen the movie and I don’t plan to. I’ve seen enough trailers, clips, and reviews to know that it’s a pretty faithful adaption of the book, and that is not a good thing. I read the book and I think it’s dangerously wrong about many things, four of which I’d like to elaborate on here.

#1. It Gets God Wrong.

The Shack’s initial problem is its initial premise: a man named Mack has a personal encounter with all three members of the Holy Trinity, with God the Father as a matronly African-American woman named “Papa,” God the Son as a middle-eastern handyman, still called Jesus, and God the Spirit as a gentle Asian woman named “Sarayu.” All gender arguments aside, this portrayal of the Godhead is deeply problematic.

God is spirit (John 4:24). He is invisible (1 Tim. 1:17). To see Him with mortal eyes would be instant death (Ex. 33:20), and no human has ever done it (1 Jn. 4:12). He does not have a physical, material body like we do, nor can He be contained within any spatial radius (1 Kings 8:27). It is inappropriate, irreverent and impossible to portray Him as a man, woman, beast, or object.

This is a basic doctrine, and God warned against violating it in the second commandment by forbidding the making and worshipping of images (Ex. 20:4-5). Although this specifically forbids the worship of false, graven gods, it also forbids the casting of God Himself into any material form. We see this application in the story of the golden calf, when Israel molded an idol but believed by worshipping its image they were actually worshipping the Lord (Ex. 32:4-6). This was a blasphemous insult to God.

There is only one true, accurate and acceptable image of God and that is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), His Son, Jesus Christ. In Him alone does the deity dwell bodily (Col. 2:9). In Him alone can the radiance of God’s glory be tangibly seen and felt (Heb. 1:3). No mortal can see the Father except by seeing Jesus (Jn. 14:8-9). Although no man has ever seen God the Father, He is made known through the incarnate image of God the Son (Jn. 1:18). Even when prophets in the Old Testament saw visions of God (Isa. 6:1; Ez. 1:26-28), the New Testament reveals that they were actually seeing the image of the invisible God, Jesus Himself (Jn. 12:41).

God the Son is the only visual by which God has revealed Himself to man. He is the infinite taking on the finite. No one on this side of eternity can accurately depict the mystery of the Godhead in all its fullness or precision, and we’re commanded to not even try. To portray God the Father or God the Spirit undercuts the significance of Jesus and disobeys God’s own commandment about Himself. What you end up with is a confused and confusing depiction that oversimplifies and misrepresents the incomprehensible reality of the triune God.

#2. It Gets Suffering Wrong.

In this story, God is a helpless bystander limited by human freedom. He (or is it she?) weeps and grieves over the pain in the world, yet can’t really do anything except try to make some good out of it. Fallen mankind is driving the train and God is stuck laying down the tracks as we barge along, trying to ensure a safe destination without intruding on our free will.

This seems well-intentioned, but it comes up short. The Book of Job offers a very different view of suffering: that all things are given and taken away by God (Job 1:20-21), that God does no evil in His dealings with mankind (Job 1:22), and that God’s purposes can never be thwarted (Job 42:2). The rest of Scripture teaches that God is actively involved in every aspect of creation (Ps. 104:5-30; Mt. 10:29-30), that He is the one writing history (Ex. 9:16; Prov. 16:33; 19:21; 20:1; Isa. 14:24; Dan. 2:21; 4:35; Acts 4:27-28; Jam. 4:13-15), that He ordains everything that comes to pass including tragedy (Gen. 45:7-8; Isa. 45:7), yet without being the author of sin (Jam. 1:13), and that He has predestined every detail for the good of His people (Rom. 8:28-30).

In an attempt to display God’s goodness, The Shack tosses out God’s sovereignty. It tries to offer comfort by saying that suffering is never God’s plan or intention, but for those who experience constant suffering that’s actually quite disheartening. That would mean God is removed from the majority of our experiences in this life, and all He can really do is give us a pat on the back and tell us to hang in there. But the Bible teaches something better: that even suffering falls beneath the reign of God’s dominion, and every little thing that He brings to pass serves His holy, perfect purpose, even if we can’t understand it right now. He is Lord even over our deepest pain. The child of God, living in a world of tribulation, can trustingly proclaim along with King David, “Behold, here I am, let Him do to me what seems good to Him” (2 Sam. 15:26).

#3. It Gets Sin (and therefore salvation) Wrong.

The Shack makes light of sin when Papa states, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.”

This contradicts Scripture’s constant warnings against the wrath of God. This wrath isn’t passive, but active. God doesn’t just sit back and leave us to our own sad choice, but He will eternally inflict sinners with punishment for their cosmic treason (Mt. 13:42; 25:41; Lk. 12:5; Jn. 3:36; Rom. 2:5; 2 Cor. 5:10; Col. 3:6; Heb. 10:26-27; Jam. 3:6; Jude 1:7; Rev. 20:11-15). Certainly it is an act of judgment when God hands someone over to their own devices, and the results are always tragic. But The Shack takes this idea too far by suggesting that no future judgment will be required outside of sin’s natural consequences within this world.

If that were true, then there wasn’t a whole lot riding on Christ’s death. If an eternity of divine punishment was not at stake, then Jesus was not actually our “propitiation” (Rom. 3:25; 1 Jn. 4:10), He did not give His life “as a ransom” (Mk. 10:45), and He did not need to be “pierced for our transgressions” (Isa. 53:5). If wrath and judgment are non-existent, Christ’s bloody death at Calvary doesn’t do much of anything. When you downplay sin, you downplay the Savior.

Once again, in an attempt to soften the blow and administer comfort, The Shack actually removes the very foundation of hope we so desperately need. If God doesn’t punish sinners, then no one needed to be punished in our place. If no one needed to be punished in our place, then Christ’s death was for nothing. And if Christ’s death was for nothing, then the entire foundation of our faith falls apart. By trying to highlight God’s love, The Shack actually eradicates its greatest triumph.

#4. It Gets Scripture Wrong.

At one point the book observes, “In seminary [Mack] had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects…Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book.”

The Shack assumes that deriving our understanding of God chiefly from Scripture is a bad thing. It limits Him. Puts Him in a box. Instead, our knowledge of Him should come through personal, subjective experiences and the Bible should be read through the filter of those experiences rather than vice versa. Throughout the book, God makes remarks that catch Mack by surprise precisely because they contradict many traditional biblical teachings. The point is that God works in unconventional ways that defy our religious limitations, specifically the limitations of a dry, impersonal Bible.

That’s a tragic view of God’s word. In direct contrast, Scripture describes itself as “living and active”, sharper than a sword and piercing to the deepest parts of a man (Heb. 4:12). Every jot and tittle is the breath of God, beneficial for all areas of life (2 Tim. 3:16-17). It never fails to accomplish God’s grand purpose (Isa. 55:10-11). It’s eternally enduring (Mt. 24:35). It indwells us (Col. 3:16). It’s more delightful than riches (Ps. 119:14), it’s a wellspring of wonder (Ps. 119:19), it gives life to the soul (Ps. 119:28), and it’s sweeter than honey (Ps. 119:103). The Bible is presented as a vibrant, dynamic channel of intimacy with God. It’s spoken about as though it were a living, engaging, relational being. If we want to encounter God, we encounter Him through the power of His revealed Word. He’s in every line of every page.

By trying to take God out of the objective, theological box of Scripture, The Shack puts Him in the foggy box of subjectivism. Instead of the clarity we’re given in Scripture, God is actually reduced to an imprecise mystery that we can only discover through an esoteric encounter. In an attempt to free God, The Shack binds Him. In attempt to bring Him closer, The Shack makes Him more distant than ever.

I’m not interested in ripping apart The Shack’s author, readers, or viewers. It’s a heartfelt attempt to deal with the question we all wrestle with at some point: how do you reconcile the reality of evil with the goodness of God? Many people who appreciate the story (including the author himself) have been bruised by this fallen world and they desperately seek answers. I have no desire to insult or ridicule them.

But I am concerned with making sure we get the right answer to that question, and from the right source. We must redirect our opinions and sentiments to be in line with what God has revealed about Himself. When we do, we find that the triune God in all His sovereign, terrible, wonderful holiness is far better than any softened-down version we can create for a novel. The Shack may warm our hearts, but a God-honoring story must do more than that—it must fill our hearts with truth. Comfort is only valuable when it’s rooted in truth, and the truth of God’s word is better than any emotionally-charged tale we can concoct.

How aliens and grammar made me appreciate the Bible.

arrival

Last week my wife and I watched Arrival, a critically-acclaimed sci-fi drama about a group of people trying to communicate with aliens. Okay, I admit, that doesn’t sound like a very riveting synopsis. If you want an alien blockbuster with lots of explosions, go rent the new Independence Day sequel. But Arrival is a smart, well-crafted film with a few surprises along the way, and the whole bit about people trying to talk with aliens is actually what makes the story so profound.

Why? Because language matters. That’s true no matter who you are or what you believe, but Christians should believe it more than anyone. Our entire religion is hinged on it. Our eternal hope is predicated on the faith that God has truly and accurately communicated Himself to us through His word. And that need for accurate communication is what drives the whole plot of Arrival.

The story centers on Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams), a linguist who is recruited by the U.S. Army to communicate with one of the twelve UFO’s that have landed at various spots across the globe. The process is slow and frustrating. How do you begin to understand the linguistic basics of a species that is literally from another world?

At one point in the film Banks and her physicist partner Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) trade jabs about which is more central to human civilization: language or science? The whole thrust of the film seems to side with Banks. After all, the humans and aliens are both intelligent life forms who have cultivated science to great benefit, but science can’t produce a meaningful exchange between the two species—only language can do that. The gap between the two sides is unbreachable as long as a language barrier exists. This reminds us of the necessity of communication, of the transmission of meaning from one party to another. Without an exchange of some kind between two sides there is no possibility of moving forward in a relational sense.

Banks tries talking to the aliens, but the noise is just babble to them. The aliens write out their language, but it looks like gibberish to the humans. There cannot be just hollow sounds or random symbols—there must be a clear, comprehensible sharing of ideas. So what do they do? They learn to understand the meaning behind the sounds and symbols. They must grasp the structure of the other’s language and then communicate at their level, in their terms, in a way they can understand. This is the only way to bridge the relational gap between the two foreign parties.

But what if we took the same idea and swapped aliens with God? Since the beginning of time man has wrestled with how to have meaningful interaction with the divine. How can we communicate with someone so foreign to us, so “otherly”? Like Banks and Donnelly, countless men and women have felt confused and frustrated in their attempts to reach up to heaven. Without real communication between man and God, you’re left with two alien sides staring at each other and no relationship to show for it.

Arrival reminded me that if indeed God exists, and if we are to know Him who is so other-worldly, there would need to be some bridging of the language barrier between our two sides. If He is a spiritual, infinite Being, how could we know the mind of someone so unlike us unless there was a clear impartation of information from one side to the other? As the apostle Paul pointed out, “Who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:11).

Just as the aliens in Arrival are concealed behind a wall of fog in their spaceship, God often feels hidden. Perhaps general revelation allows a peak or an outline, but there seems no way to truly see Him, know Him, or have a meaningful point of contact with Him. As the Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin supposedly said of his experience in outer space, “I looked and looked but I didn’t see God.” God is an incomprehensible mystery. So He would have to talk down to us. He would have to communicate with us in our terms and in a way we could understand. He would have to express the truth about Himself within the limited framework of our language and our comprehension. We cannot ascend to God, so He would have to descend to us. We cannot find Him, so He must reveal Himself to us.

As it turns out, that’s exactly what the Bible claims to be. Our knowledge of God doesn’t come through sensationalism, emotionalism, or mystical spirituality. It comes to us by God transmitting truth about Himself through words. Paul went on to make the point, “If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played?…So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said?” (1 Cor. 14:7-9) That’s why Scripture refers to itself over and over again as the word of God—not the energy of God or the force of God, but the clear and specific articulation of God’s communication through language. The word makes it possible to bridge the relational gap between man and God. Language matters.

The Bible is God’s self-revelation, communing with us through human authors and in human terms to explain Himself at our level. We can understand God because God has spoken our tongue and made Himself understandable. That doesn’t mean we can know everything there is to know about God, but it does mean that He’s articulated to us everything we need to know and everything He desires us to know, and He’s done it in way that is clear and comprehensible. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deut. 29:29).

Arrival was a great piece of filmmaking, but it was more than that. It was a reminder to me that language matters, and that God uses language to meaningfully communicate with us every time we open His word. If we neglect Scripture, God will continue to feel like an alien hidden behind a foggy wall of uncertainty. But when we trust in His self-disclosure we can know who He is, what He is like, what He has done, what He expects, and how we can enjoy a meaningful relation to Him through the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

Lady Gaga, the Super Bowl, and when postmodern progressivism shoots itself in the foot.

halftime

Lady Gaga dropping in on Super Bowl 51.

It seems like everything is a political controversy these days. Even sports. Prior to Sunday’s Super Bowl, reporters kept baiting Tom Brady on his support for Donald Trump. Then, prior to her halftime performance, it was speculated that Lady Gaga would use her worldwide platform to make a political statement against Donald Trump (à la Meryl Streep).

Fortunately, Brady didn’t bite and Gaga didn’t lecture. Both did what they’re paid to do—entertain—and both did it exceptionally well (I don’t understand or care for Lady Gaga’s, shall we say, artistic vision, but there’s no denying she has immense talent). It was nice to enjoy football and music without political controversy.

But if the controversy doesn’t come to you, then you go to the controversy. Many on the left are now criticizing Lady Gaga precisely because she didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to criticize the President in front of the entire planet. As Mitchell Sunderland at Complex lamented, “She failed us.” It was, in the minds of many, a wasted platform from which she could have spoken up on what they consider to be an important cause.

Curiously, the liberal worldview is known for its secular postmodernism. Religious authority is oppressive and bad. Truth and morality are not absolutes. Whatever feels good for you is good for you. If something makes you happy you should pursue it and no one should tell you otherwise. After all, we’re temporary, material beings and nothing more, and we must enjoy life while we can. It’s a worldview that promotes moral autonomy, the pursuit of pleasure above all else, and the rejection of objective right and wrong.

But then you come to the Super Bowl halftime show. And suddenly you must have indoctrination. You must have conviction. If you are an entertainer you must use your platform to preach “truth” before the whole world. The gods of political liberalism must be appeased, or else. They demand your allegiance.

A worldview that rejects enforcing absolutes on everyone is criticizing one of its own for not preaching right and wrong to the whole world. A worldview that cries for freedom from religious authority is commanding its adherents to visibly profess faith at every opportunity. Do you see the disconnect?

If we’re just matter in motion, the product of neural-chemical reactions in the brain, then there’s no true higher cause. And if there’s no true higher cause, then one opinion doesn’t deserve to be preached to the world any more than another. The only truth is that there’s no absolute truth. So at the end of the day progressivism cannot consistently hold to its own worldview while also espousing that worldview with any real conviction or urgency.

So when progressives criticize Lady Gaga for just performing and not seizing the opportunity to speak against Donald Trump, they betray their own worldview. If enforcing your beliefs on others is the unpardonable sin, and if right and wrong are purely a matter of personal preference, then why would you expect pop singers to hammer their audience with a liberal profession of faith every chance they get? The outrage at Lady Gaga contradicts everything progressivism claims to believe. So perhaps there is such a thing as right and wrong, and perhaps it’s not always bad to express that to others. Perhaps truth does exist, and it should be shared.

Granted, the divide between conservative and liberal definitions of truth has never been larger. But only one side has an objective basis for believing in truth, and in the end only one side can make any sort of demanding truth claims without contradicting itself. Once we realize that life is more than meaningless matter in a temporary pursuit of pleasure, and once we realize that there is good and evil in this world, and once we realize that there is truth worth standing up for, then secular progressivism is left dangling like Lady Gaga over the arena, without a leg to stand on. When objective, worthwhile truth has the homefield advantage, we find ourselves on God’s turf.

Revival is good. Reform is better.

reform

I hear the word “revival” thrown around in a lot of churches. Seeking revival. Praying for revival. Singing about revival. Even trying to schedule revival. It’s one of those buzz words that gets people excited and makes them feel like they’re doing big things for Jesus, and it’s often made to seem like “revival” is the pinnacle of the church’s effectiveness.

But I can’t help but think that if we want genuine cultural change, revival alone isn’t the answer. Most “revivals” suffer from being a flash in the pan—an electrifying encounter or movement that burns really bright but quickly fizzles. It gets a lot of attention and gets a lot of people pumped up, but often fails to do much more than that.

“Revival” is the initial act of bringing something back to consciousness, or back to life. Like when a lady is revived after fainting. Or when doctors revive a man whose heart stopped beating. Similarly, a spiritual revival is meant to bring dead sinners to life in Christ. Which is a wonderful thing, and something we should strive for.

But Jesus didn’t just send us to make converts, He sent us to make disciples (Mt. 28:19). The Great Commission calls us to train people in a whole walk of life; to build men, women and children on a gospel that infiltrates every area of thought, emotion and practice. Revival is a good thing. But it’s only the starting point—what we really need is something deeper. Something that moves beyond a fleeting moment or one-time experience. We need something that transforms the entire way people see life and alters the whole of their worldview.

What we need is reform.

While revival is an act of resuscitation, reform is a thorough and ongoing change. It is, in its technical sense, “the amendment of conduct, belief, etc.” Reform is a total overhaul of the way we see life. The issues in the world, and even in the church, are not magically fixed by getting people to say the sinner’s prayer. That starting point of revival and conversion must lead to an all-around transformation in the way we perceive things, the way we think about things, and the way we respond to things. In order to see real, lasting change, our theology, politics, personal conduct, work ethic, family structure, priorities, entertainment choices, and day-to-day habits must all be conformed to the image of God’s Son.

This is called reform. It’s to reshape the way we look at life, thus reshaping the way we live. That’s why the work of men such as Martin Luther and John Calvin in the 16th century is known as the Reformation. These men didn’t just seek converts (which, I cannot stress enough, is a good thing), but they went above and beyond that by biblically reshaping the whole of how the church viewed every area of life.

Scripture says, “Turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.” (Jeremiah 18:11) Scripture also discusses the reforms of King Josiah (2 Kings 23:1), King Asa (2 Chr. 15:1), King Jehoiada (2 Chr. 23:16), and others who led the people in a godly shift that called for loving God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. And when Jesus sent His apostles to advance the kingdom of God, He did not just send them to revive people, but to reform their lives.

Was there revival? Certainly. But it was a part of a much greater process. It was a part of reform. Today, as the kingdom of God continues to spread, He calls us to do the same.

Recommended Reading from 2016

593dadc5-1237-4d91-9072-353ad2a62c0e

I had the privilege of reading some great books in 2016. Here are five that were particularly impactful, which I recommend you to consider for your own reading list in 2017.

Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will by Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung has been one of my favorite speakers and writers for several years now. Personable, practical, humorous, and always theological, he brings a fresh energy and relatability that reflects his pastoral spirit. In Just Do Something he addresses an issue that I’ve personally struggled with and that, as a youth pastor, I’ve seen countless young people struggle with: what is God’s will for my life?

DeYoung avoids the sappy, emotionally driven approaches you often hear. Instead of encouraging his readers to sit in a quiet place and wait to feel God’s direction, DeYoung proposes several principles that involve holy living, searching the Scriptures, seeking counsel, and applying the wisdom of God to make informed, Christ-honoring decisions. He claims that sitting on our hands and doing nothing while we wait to “hear” from God often produces laziness and ineffectiveness in our kingdom work. He’s absolutely right, and it’s a message more people need to hear, especially as we begin a new year.

In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture by Alister McGrath

My wife came from a KJV-only background. I did not. In fact, I was the exact opposite. I was so upset by the KJV-onlyists that I held a bit of a grudge against the King James Bible itself. It wasn’t until the past couple years that I began to appreciate the historic, linguistic, and even doctrinal significance of this translation.

I happened to stumble upon In the Beginning at the library last summer, and in light of my recent appreciation, I gave it a shot. McGrath is a master historian, and he goes into great and valuable detail about the background of European religion, politics and culture to set the stage for the creation of the KJV. He discusses the evolution of the English language up until that point in history. He deals with preceding English translations, like the Geneva Bible, and how these forerunners impacted the KJV. He provides a helpful background on King James himself, and he goes into great detail about the extensive interpretive process and even the backstories of the interpreters involved.

Even if you don’t use the King James Version, it has unquestionably played a good and vital role in English Christianity. In the Beginning helps us to better appreciate that role. It also reminds us how God providentially works through the means of history to both preserve and spread His Word.

The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace: More Than a Memory by Richard C. Barcellos

In an effort to avoid the Roman Catholic error of transubstantiation, we often downplay the spiritual significance of the Lord’s Supper. For many churches, communion is little more a commemorative nod to Christ’s death. Richard Barcellos seeks to bring balance to this error by reminding the church that the Lord’s Supper is “more than a memory”; it is a very real, very sacred process whereby Jesus is spiritually present with His people as the benefits of His finished work are administered by the Holy Spirit. This is a short read, but a much-needed one for the church today.

Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ edited by Thomas R. Schreiner

I’m a Reformed Baptist. Which must seem like a contradiction to my Reformed friends (many would prefer I use the term “Calvinistic Baptist” or “Particular Baptist”). After all, Reformed theology historically goes hand-in-hand with infant baptism. Although the majority of my theological views have shifted in a thoroughly Reformed direction over the past decade, including eschatology, soteriology, and ecclesiology, I still fundamentally disagree with the theology behind infant baptism.

This terrific read reminded me why. Believer’s Baptism is an anthology from various Baptist heavy-hitters (most of whom are Calvinists) like Thomas Schreiner, Shawn Wright and Mark Dever that deals with the systematic, biblical and historical theology of credobaptism. It examines the examples of baptism in the Gospels and Acts, the statements about baptism in the epistles, the relationship baptism plays between the old and new covenants, what the early church believed about baptism, what issues have surrounded baptism over the years, and, finally, the significance of baptism in the local church.

Whether you’re a credobaptist who wants to explore the background of your church’s practice, or you’re a paedobaptist who wants to better understand your credobaptist brothers and sisters, get “immersed” in this one (see what I did there?).

Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation by Dennis E. Johnson

After growing up in staunchly dispensationalist churches, I reached a point in life where I was sick of eschatology. I didn’t necessarily know what I believed about it, but I knew what I didn’t believe. Dennis E. Johnson helped change all that. I had developed an interest in the amillennial, idealist interpretation of Revelation but I was unsure if it had any real merit or biblical support. So I gave Johnson’s idealist, amillennial interpretation a try. I must say, he makes his case quite convincingly.

Revelation is a book of imagery. It makes constant use of symbols and pictures, the majority of which actually have their basis in earlier portions of Scripture. Whereas many preachers try to see these images fulfilled in news headlines or technological inventions, Johnson draws from the biblical sources themselves to reach a conclusion. He interprets Scripture with Scripture. Rather than some distant, seven-year period, he argues that the apocalyptic “tribulation” represents the cosmic battle between good and evil inbetween Christ’s first and second coming. He portrays the church as both persecuted and yet victorious throughout history, physically, economically and socially suffering but spiritually advancing the kingdom of the risen, reigning Christ, until at last Christ returns and consummates His kingdom once and for all.

If all you’ve ever known is a Hal Lindsey or Tim LaHaye version of the end times, or maybe if you’re not sure what to believe and you’re looking for some clarity, this is a phenomenal resource. As another year begins, Triumph of the Lamb reminds us that history belongs to Jesus and will culminate in the total victory of Jesus.

Why Sunday?

puritanworship2

Christmas fell on a Sunday this year, which means that on a holiday when everything usually shuts down, churches had to decide whether or not they would still assemble. Not everyone came to the same conclusion. Some churches cancelled their services. Some held a Christmas Eve service. Some held normal services just like they do every Sunday. I also observed different reactions from different believers, as some indignantly asked, “Why would we go to church on Christmas?” while others incredulously wondered, “Why wouldn’t we?”

I’m actually grateful for this, because it’s opened the door over these past few weeks for some very important points of discussion: Is there ever an appropriate time to cancel church on Sunday in observance of another holiday? Must services always be held on Sunday? Why do we hold church on Sunday? Is it a binding practice, a preferred practice, or just an optional practice? Is there any real biblical basis for it, or is it simply a man-made date that can be subject to our changing schedules? Although most Christians acknowledge that, yes, we’re generally supposed to go to church on Sunday, I’ve observed over this holiday season that perhaps it’s seen as more of a general guideline than a rule.

I hope to challenge the church on that point. Starting with myself. I was actually in support of moving our Sunday morning service back to Saturday night so that our Christmas calendar would be free. But in hindsight, as I thought and prayed and studied the opinions of older, wiser men in the faith, I believe I was wrong. Having church on Sunday is a biblically ordained practice that deserves our attention and honor, and I’d like to take some time to examine why. And like most areas of theology, we’ve got to start with the beginning:

“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:1-3)

Sometimes we wrongly assume that the “Sabbath” is only a part of the Mosaic Law. But according to Genesis, the seventh day was set apart as holy right from the start. Indeed, the Ten Commandments (also called “the moral law” or “natural law”) were not invented with the Mosaic covenant. They were instituted from the start, before the Law was even given. The apostle Paul said this natural law is written on the hearts of even the most heathen Gentiles (Rom. 2:14-15). That includes the Sabbath. Certainly there were stipulations for the Sabbath that came with the administration of the Mosaic Law, but it was already stitched into the fabric of creation long before the establishment of Israel or the giving of the Law.

Saturday, the Sabbath, marked the completion of God’s creative work. It was finished, and God rested. Of course God does not get tired, so to say He “rested” simply shows the finality of His work. As an expression of this rest, God called the physical descendants of Abraham under the Mosaic Law to cease from physical labor (Ex. 20:8-11; Mk. 2:27) and dedicate the day to worship, teaching, the reading of God’s word, and fellowship (Ps. 92:1; Ez. 46:1-4; Mk. 6:2; Lk. 4:16; Acts 13:27, 44).

But the resurrection of Jesus on Sunday, the “first day of the week” (Mt. 28:1; Mk. 16:2; Lk. 24:1; Jn. 20:1, 19), marked the completion of God’s redemptive work. In the words of Jesus, it is finished (Jn. 19:30), and just as God “rested” upon the completion of His work, Christ sat down at the Father’s right hand upon the completion of His (Heb. 1:3; 10:12). We can now cease trying to earn God’s favor by our works and rest in the work of Christ (Mt. 11:28-29; Heb. 4:1-11). As an expression of this rest, God now invites the spiritual descendants of Abraham to also dedicate the day to worship, teaching, the reading of God’s word, and fellowship, as we’ll see the texts below.

So the Sabbath was originally on Saturday, as a picture of God’s finished creation work. But it is now on Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead, as a picture of God’s finished salvific work. The Apostolic Constitutions, written in 390 AD, describe it like this: “Keep the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day festival. The first is the memorial of the creation; the second is the memorial of the resurrection.”

And according to the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689: “He hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a sabbath to be kept holy unto Him, which from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ was the last day of the week, and from the resurrection of Christ was changed into the first day of the week, which is called the Lord’s day: and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath, the observation of the last day of the week being abolished.” (2LBC, 22.7)

If this is correct, we would expect to see it played out in the New Testament. Do we have any examples of the early church treating “the first day of the week” with such importance? Do we see Christians treating Sunday as a special, set-apart day? The answer is a definitive “yes.”

In Acts 20:7, Luke informs us that it was “on the first day of the week” that the early church “gathered together to break bread” and to receive a sermon. The term “break bread” is a reference to taking communion, and we see earlier in Acts that it was typically accompanied by “teaching”, “fellowship”, and “prayers” (Acts 2:42). So on the first day of the week we see the early church sharing communion, being taught from Scripture, praying together, and fellowshipping with one another. That’s a church service if ever I’ve seen one.

Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 16 Paul is addressing “the collection for the saints” (vs. 1), which was the charity taken up for Christians in need. It would be the equivalent of our tithes and offerings today. We should not be surprised to learn that this designated time of giving was also to be “on the first day of the week” (vs. 2), which makes sense, since believers were already assembled on that day to hear Scripture, worship, pray, and take communion.

We also find out a bit more about this day from the first chapter of Revelation, where the apostle John comments that he “was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (vs. 10). This first day of the week came to be known as “the Lord’s day” because it was His day, even as Jesus referred to Himself as “the Lord of the Sabbath” (Lk. 6:5). Of course Jesus is the Lord of every day, but on the day that He rose there is a special prominence given to Him. It’s a highlighted day where believers set aside their affairs from the rest of the week and focus chiefly on the risen Lord. The context of Revelation 1 supports this, as John says that on this Lord’s day he “was in the Spirit.” He was communing with the Lord in a special, set apart way on a special, set apart day.

Of course, both the Sabbath and the Lord’s day are pictures of the true, eternal Sabbath rest awaiting the church (Heb. 4:9), when all Christ’s enemies are finally defeated, His people are gathered into paradise, and He declares once and for all, “It is done!” (Rev. 21:6)

Until then, let us faithfully assemble on the Lord’s day as we rest in His completed work. May we heed God’s command to His people in Old Testament times: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8); and may we honor God’s encouragement to His people in New Testament times: “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25).

Why Sunday? Because what started as a sacred day instituted at creation, and what was observed by the Old Testament church through the Mosaic Law, is now celebrated by the New Testament church across the globe on the first day of every week. As we gather to hear Christ’s word, sing His praise, offer Him prayer, partake in His sacraments, give to His people, and fellowship with His people,we rejoice in His resurrection and the rest we have in Him.

I think, upon weighing what Scripture says, that the questions I asked at the beginning of this post are pretty self-evident. I encourage you, make church a priority. Especially on Sunday. Even when other man-made festivities seem more appealing. May we realize that it is not a burden, but a blessing, and may our hearts echo that of the Psalmist; “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Ps.84:10).