Houston, We Have a Problem

So then, the city of Houston, a true renegade in Texas politics, has started acting like a city in California, the kind of city in CA that has Buddhist wind chimes hanging from the front of city hall. Of course, to say the “front” of city hall is privileging the front over the back, and is an unparalleled example of frontism, the worst I have seen in fact, and so I repent in ashes and dust, not want to privilege dust over ashes, and remind myself yet again of my many failings. But I did not intend to write about frontism. I got distracted. There’s another of my many failings.

Anyhow, here is the Houston back story. The city had passed a non-discrimination ordinance, one which allows men to use the ladies’ restroom and vice versa. A petition to put that little bit of nonsense on the ballot was thrown out over alleged irregularities, despite the petition having over 50,000 signatures, and needing only 17,269. In response to that some folks filed suit against the city, and in response to that, the city issued subpoenas to a group of pastors who had opposed the ordinance, but who were not part of the lawsuit. With me so far? The city wanted copies of any sermons that these men had preached “dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor.”

Now I do get that most of my readers understand that most of the time my descriptions of the lunatic parade that we call contemporary politics is characterized by an admirable and commendable restraint. I try to practice what I call “holding back.” But there are times when holding back is not really what is called for. Holding back is not necessarily safe for the republic, for our cherished liberties, or for the veins in my neck.

Not really. The veins in my neck are fine. But the republic isn’t. The republic is in the middle of an apoplectic attack, and is currently drumming its heels on the floor.

Let me just briefly say what I think about this, using words and images from sages and prophets who have gone before us. Submitting petitions to people like this is like talking to a forty foot wall of cotton. Trying to reform Houston politics with those same people still on the premises is like washing a goat’s head — a complete waste of soap. Houston politics is currently under the control of 40-watt intellectuals, but incandescent heat-lamp despots. The Houston city council is a sebaceous strata in American politics, getting their dirty oil all over everything. The brains behind this naked grab, wanting to avoid the perils of student debt, years ago decided to skip going to college, and so instead they all had their heads blown up with a bicycle pump.

Really? Subpoenas? Sermons? Let the reality of what just happened settle on you. A city council subpoenaed sermons that they thought might be reflecting a little poorly on the king’s majesty. And so let this be a deep lesson to all you seminarians. Whenever you are preaching through Romans do not on any account mention the wart on the king’s nose. He takes it ill. And whatever you do, say nothing whatever about about Herodias wearing her hello-sailor-heels into the men’s room. You might have a promising ministry cut short. In fact, you yourself might be cut short.

My only hope is that if a sermon of mine ever gets subpoenaed I get some kind of advance warning so that I can put some extra zippy adjectives into it.

I have been pointing out the totalitarian impulse of progressives for some time, but they are not totalitarian because they want to impose morality. They are totalitarian because they want to impose an immoral morality. They are not totalitarian because they want to suppress something. All laws suppress something. The problem is what they want to suppress. They want to suppress decency and glorify kink, when they ought to be doing the opposite.

There are only two options — public virtue or public vice. There is no neutral third zone that enables our ruling elites to privatize all virtue and vice, thus enabling them as moderators of our public discourse to make their Olympian decisions in accord with some trans-moral system.

All law is imposed morality, and the only question concerns which morality will be imposed. Either you will impose virtue on the creeper who wants into the ladies room, or you will impose your system of vice on pastors who object to creepers being allowed in the ladies room. You will either punish vice or you will punish virtue. Houston is currently doing the latter.

So I hope that this situation — which, in its legal probity looks for all the world like a disheveled fried egg — provides the requisite levels of inspiration that Texans need. I trust I need say no more.

Essential Translation

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #167

Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified” (1 Cor. 14:12–17).

When it comes to the public meeting of the church, the apostle Paul privileges the mind over the heart. This is not the same thing as privileging the intellect over love because the reason he is doing it is because he wants us to excel in the edifying of the church (v. 12). The Corinthians were zealous for spiritual gifts, but he wants them to press on beyond that—with the edifying of the body in mind. A man who speaks in tongues should (as far as public worship is concerned) pray for the gift of translation (v. 13). Genuine tongues that are untranslated are therefore excluded from public worship. How much more would untranslatable sounds be excluded?

Praying in tongues is a blessing to the spirit, but not a blessing for the mind. As far as the mind is concerned, the whole thing is “unfruitful” (v. 14). Why choose? Paul says that he will pray in the spirit and he will pray with his understanding as well (v. 15). If he does not do this, then someone who is ungifted or unlearned is in no position to say amen when the whole thing is over—which means that it must not be done (v. 16). You had a good time, but your brother was not edified (v. 17). What was the point?

We can see here a distinction between an emotional “blessing” and real edification. As the proverb goes, nothing dries more quickly than a tear. You can have all kinds of sensations, but when the sensation is passed, nothing is different. But when you build an edifice, when the project is done, the building is still there. That is what it means to be edified—the listener is built up, and changed from that point on. It is like adding a wing to your house. When you are done, the wing remains.

When the sermon series is completed, the congregation is transformed. It is like taking a journey—with a good map. When you get there, you have arrived somewhere. Speaking in tongues without true translation is like running in place.

Jitney Messiahs

As the same-sex mirage juggernaut continues to roll through our pathetic little festival, crushing both devotees and opponents alike, a number of conservative Christians have begun to prepare themselves for life in a post-Christian America. Not only so, but they have been encouraging others to do the same. But this is radically unhelpful and unbecoming — nobody much likes seeing the team manager giving up in the fourth inning, and especially when the score is just 10 to 8. And particularly when we are the ones who have 10.

The reason all this is happening is that we are so distracted by the effrontery of the last lie that we are not able to see the current lie being told. We were being told — oh, about ten minutes ago — that there was no reason why individual states could not keep their restrictions on same-sex mirage, and that it was not necessary to have one monolithic approach to marriage within the republic. Anybody remember all that? Ah, good times. And then federal judges started striking down the laws of multiple states as unconstitutional, and you know the rest of the drill.

But that was the last lie. And as exasperating as it is, perhaps making you want to dance in place a little bit, we really need to focus on what lies we are being told now. Our problem then was that we believed them then. Our problem now is that we are believing them now. The current lie is that all of this is inevitable, inexorable, remorseless, relentless, and hell bent. And except for that last one, none of it is even remotely true.

This is a lie that under-girds all progressive thought, all the time, but it has now come to the forefront again, and some out-maneuvered Christians are helping to propagate it. Progressives are the ones that progressives have been waiting for, but really, nobody else has been. Whenever their jitney messiah arrives — and they find a new one every generation or so — I really see no reason for bowing down.

Chesterton once said that the one taste of paradise on earth was to fight in a losing cause . . . and not to lose it.

So let me give three quick reasons, in ascending order of importance, why this myth of inevitability needs to be rejected, along with the horse it rode in on.

First, they really want me to believe it, and so I refuse to. Should I as the batter swing simply because I hear voices emanating from their dugout, telling me that I need to? Try explaining that to your coach. “But they said I had to . . . they seemed so urgent . . .”

Second, sodomy is fruitless, along with all the pale heterosexual imitations of sodomy. Denial of fruitfulness will result — follow me closely here — in lack of fruit. Sodomy can crash a civilization into a wall, but sodomy and its cousins can never build or maintain a civilization. In the long run, in other words, stupidity never works. You run out of money, you run out of children, you run out of ideas, and you run out of gas. You run out.

And third, the Lord Jesus is at the right hand of the Father. All of this is His doing, not theirs. He has brought our nation to this point in time for His good and perfect purposes. They think they are in control, and a number of us even think so. But if American history were that little joggity car outside the supermarkets that they used to have, where you put quarters in it so that your two-year-old could bounce for five minutes, grinning maniacally, turning the steering wheel back and forth, then all our circuit courts are that two-year-old.

The Lord Jesus rules all of history. This means that our folly is His righteous judgment on us, and not our successful revolt against Him. And His righteous judgment of us is being exercised so that His name would be glorified in the earth. Given the circumstances, His name will be glorified in one of two ways. Either our culture will go out in a flash fire of stupidity, and He will be glorified in that event, or we will go down to our knees in repentance, calling on Him by name, and He will be glorified in our cleansing and forgiveness. And just between us, the latter is what I believe is going to happen.

And when God grants reformation and revival, I have no doubt that more than one federal judge will declare it to be unconstitutional. But we won’t get the word because of all the singing.

Treacherous Merit Ladders

A few days ago I told a little story about a justification test being administered at the Pearly Gates. If you missed it, you can find it here. And now comes a magnificent article on the same subject by Mark Jones over at Ref21.

It is not a trivial point. Years ago a woman, talking about D. James Kennedy’s approach of asking people what they would say at the Pearlies if they were asked “why should you be allowed in Heaven?” — with the correct answer being something like “because of the death of Jesus alone” — responded along the lines of “gee, I hope I remember to say that.”

The point is a simple one. We are justified by faith in Christ alone, and that is not the same thing as being justified by correct answers about justification by faith alone.

But in the comments to my post, a worthy objection was raised and it needs to be addressed separately.

“Except Paul says in Galatians that those teaching a Gospel of faith-plus-works are anathema, and says to those following that so-called ‘Gospel’ that Christ is of no benefit to them. Doug is using an extreme no one is playing at here. When the Romanists add works, our complaint is not that they fail to be 100% perfect on the exam, but simply that they add works — that is, they do the thing that makes Christ of no benefit to them, and everyone teaching that message is anathema.”

This point is well-taken, up to a point. What about those who, by advancing false methods of justification, reveal themselves to be false brothers? What about those who craft systems that attempt to lean treacherous merit ladders against the walls of God’s great city of grace? This includes, by the way, those whose systems of merit are entirely confessional and which insist that we deny merit entirely. When the heart is darkened, an adamant denial of all merit ladders is the most treacherous merit ladder of all — that thing is virtually invisible.

But the point I have been making is not that you cannot be damned because of a denial of sola fide. Of course you can. Paul warns the Galatians the way he did because that was a matter of some urgency. But our issue is quite a separate one — whether everyone who is confused or muddled by false teaching is equally damned. In Galatians, Paul is attacking wolves. We have turned it into a justification for attacking mangled sheep. Precisionists often operate as the clean-up crew for the wolves, finishing them off.

Look at it this way, and let us leave Roman Catholics out of it for just a minute. Could a man be damned because of his connection with the circumcision party? Of course. They were dogs and evil workers (Phil. 3:2). They were unruly, vain talkers, and deceivers (Tit. 1:10). That said, could a man be saved and useful to Paul in the work of the gospel despite his connection to the circumcision party? Well, again — because of God’s inexorable grace — of course. “And Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me” (Col. 4:11).

If Paul can pal around with Justus, I can pal around with good Roman Catholics (who are, for that reason, bad Roman Catholics). But — also in imitation of Paul — I reserve the right and responsibility to attack merit mongers wherever they might be, whether in the Vatican or in some high confessional tower overlooking Escondido.

Three Chains IV: Deliverance

Introduction:

We have been considering the ways in which men are held in bondage by fear, guilt, and shame. Fear threatens their safety. Guilt challenges their righteousness. Shame assaults their glory. Given the reality of sin, our response to this has to be true safety, genuine righteousness, and real glory—all given to us by another.

The Text:

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom. 8:1–6).

Summary of the Text:

Those who are in Christ Jesus are described as those who walk according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh (v. 1). For these, there is no condemnation. There are two contrasting laws. One is the law of the Spirit of life and the other is the law of sin and death (v. 2). The former sets us free from the latter. What the law could not do, God accomplished by sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be condemned on the cross (v. 3). This condemnation on the cross did what all the righteous injunctions of the law could not do. This is what enables those who walk after the Spirit to fulfill the righteousness of the law (v. 4). Fleshly minds seek out fleshly things. Spiritual minds seek out spiritual things (v. 5). This means, at the end of the day, the fleshly mind seeks out death while the spiritual mind seeks out life (v. 6).

Eat Your Wisdom

This meal consists of an edible word, a drinkable word. That word is, of course, the Lord Jesus, who is the eternal Word of the eternal Father. This is His body, and this is His blood. We do not just treat the bread and wine as a visible word and as visible drink, but as a word that we are called to take into our mouths, and to swallow it down in faith.

This is not faith in mere bread, or trust in wine. We do not think that any created thing has power in itself to do anything. But God uses instruments. The receptive instrument that He gives us is faith—living, vibrant, evangelical faith. But He also wields other instruments that this faith responds to, seeing the work of God in and through them—sermons and sacraments, for example.

So this meal is an edible word, a drinkable word, and this Word is the Lord Jesus. But what does the apostle John mean when He calls Jesus the Word of God. The Word is not a single mystic syllable of the sort you find in eastern mysticism. No, the Word of God is the eternal and everlasting Wisdom of God. When men reject the word of God, what wisdom is in them (Jer. 8:9)? We are told to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly, in all wisdom (Col. 3:16). The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom (Ps. 37:30).

A Test of Unity

Everyone in the world thinks he understands. That is what it means to think. In order to think, you have to think something. And whatever it is that you think, that is what you think.

So if you are in the grip of an error, you do not understand that error. If you did, you wouldn’t be in error. Who can understand his errors? When Scripture poses this question, it poses a profound question.

Understanding error, and understanding the truth that stands opposite must therefore be a gift of God. Apart from grace, there is no way to comprehend what is happening in the culture around us, in the church at large, in our own congregation, in our own families, or in our own hearts. But when God’s grace is poured out, the people are woven together in likemindedness, and the people have a mind to work.

Getting It Right

Once there was a Presbyterian minister who had made the whole topic of sola fide his special field of study. He had mastered the subject, as far as any mortal man can be said to have mastered anything. After a long and fruitful ministry, he eventually did what all Presbyterian ministers do, which is to say, he died.

As he approached the pearly gates, he was mildly surprised to see that St. Peter was there, just like in all the jokes. But he was, he thought, prepared to roll with it because, after all, he was going to Heaven.

Right next to St. Peter was a long wooden table, of the kind you see in examination rooms. A chair was pulled out for him, and on the table was a thick test, and a pencil next to it. As he walked up to St. Peter, he was greeted warmly and the set-up was explained to him.

“We have prepared a small fifty-page test for you,” Peter said. “Because we believe in grace, we decided to prepare a test for you that is right in your wheelhouse. This entire test is dedicated to the subject of sola fide, a subject you have been studying for forty years, I understand. If you get a perfect score, you may enter into joy.” With that pronouncement, Peter handed the pencil to the minister, and gestured to the waiting chair.

The minister held the pencil for a moment, thinking about it, and then quietly, without a word, he handed the pencil back.

A smile played around the corner of St. Peter’s mouth. “You pass,” he said.