Men of the Cloth

Tim Bayly is fond of saying that sexuality is the battleground issue of our era, and he is of course quite right. But the way this is unfolding should show us this is just another way of saying that everything is the battleground of our era — this is a time of worlds in collision. We have two rival cosmologies — the faith described in Scripture, and the other side of the antithesis — and all the premises and assumptions present in both worldviews show up in stark relief when it comes to human sexuality. One sees the image of God present and presented in mankind, male and female, and the other sees our flesh as malleable clay through which we may create, according to our own whims, pleasures, and lusts, anything we please. Faithful Christians are essentialists, and those outside the Word are, on this issue, existentialists.

Since worship is the most important thing that human beings do, I want to take a moment to talk about the relationship of sexuality and worship. It is not possible for this issue of sexuality to be as prominent as it is in our day without the noise of battle spilling over into our assumptions about what ought to be going on in a worship service. That is why many churches are roiled with nonsensical battles about women’s ordination, same-sex mirage, the pressing issue of cis-bishops, the hand-wringing of the sob cisters who sometimes write me letters, and so on. Now it really ought to be going the other direction. The church ought to be submitted to Scripture, teaching men and women to live their lives together as the apostles of the Lord instructed us, and this consecrated reconstruction of human nature, under the tutelage of faithful churches, ought to become the model of true sexuality for a lost and pagan world.

So this issue is the real dividing line in the real worship wars. The issue is not directly related to what we wear in the course of the worship service, but it is not entirely distinct from it either. The problem of ministerial effeminacy – the central problem, the glaring problem, the perennial problem of the third sex – can be decked out various ways. Some soft-spoken seminary professor types dress like I do, jacket and tie, but their sermons are full of tsking and on the other handing, preaching with all the authority of an uninspired and day-old chocolate eclair. Some low church beta-male worship leaders in torn jeans and a T-shirt, all gritty and authentic, lead the song with eyes closed while slapping their chest. They look like they’re just one chord change away from climax. And still others decide to wear a white dress up front, trying to look like a virginal bride, and in some lamentable cases, succeeding. They pick up a loaf of bread and for a second there you thought it was the bouquet. Now I trust that I’ve given offense to all in an equitable and evenhanded way here.

Having done so, here are some qualifications. I have seen heard some contemporary worship bands that play nothing but God-honoring scriptural music. And some of the most masculine men I know wear white robes in the course of the worship service. That doesn’t mean that I think – given the nature of the world, the state of our cultural battles, and so on – that such things are good idea. I don’t, but I can nevertheless tell the difference between my general concern about fops in the pulpit and the specific and manly counterexamples that I could name. Some magnificent writers could put 17 exclamation marks into a couple paragraphs too and not seem like they were shouting. I can admit that this can be done without wanting to teach it as a cool technique to junior high students in their English classes.

In the course of the English reformation, there was a vestments controversy between John Hooper and Nicholas Ridley, with Hooper spending a little time in the slammer. They wanted to make him a bishop with vestments, and he didn’t want to become a bishop in vestments. Hooper wanted to be finished with vestments that he believed smelled too much like Rome, and Ridley did not want the pace of reform in the church to be seized by the most zealous among the reformers. It was a long drawn out controversy, which Ridley eventually won, but both men involved in it were men, and both of them were burned at the stake by Bloody Mary.

And so here is the conclusion. The issue should not be evaluated at the level of the cloth. Ministers are known as men of the cloth, but the cloth is not the main thing. Ministers who are men of the cloth must be men of the cloth.

The Church is the bride of Christ, and therefore the Church must be feminine. This means that the Church should model submissiveness. Since God requires that all authoritative leadership in the Church be male, it is feminine and submissive for us to be collectively obedient. The Church is most feminine when its leadership is truly masculine. Since this is lovely in the sight of God, we should strive to make that one of the most obvious characteristics of our services. If that is what you are trying to accomplish with your vestments, torn jeans or white robes, then we are on the same team, even if you are calling a play I wouldn’t call.

But if you are trying to look like the bride, or you actually are going for that Rod Stewart empathetic pastor look, then you are a central part of the problem.

Gather and Go

NB: I am not posting my sermon outline here because Dr. Peter Jones will be bringing the Word to us at Christ Church tomorrow. He is in town for our annual missions conference, which concluded this morning. Below is the outline for the talk that I presented at that conference, with which you will have to make do.

Introduction:

One of our unfortunate tendencies is to think of missions in terms of distance. Mission is something that happens over there, across the sea, on the other side of the mountains. This is unfortunate because mission can only happen when the distance is closed, when there is personal contact. And that contact is occurring wherever the church is present and alive. The difference between foreign mission and domestic mission is therefore a matter of logistics—shots, passports, languages, but not a matter of principle. What then is the principle? The principle is this—new life in Christ is contagious.

The Text:

“And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus. And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:8–10).

A Disproportionate Impact:

Notice in this text that Paul reasoned for three months in the synagogue, and did so until he had generated significant opposition. Sometimes opposition means that you should just move on. But other times it means that you must not. “For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.” (1 Cor. 16:9). Notice how Paul reasons here—an effectual door, and many adversaries. This is in the same city, incidentally, the city of Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:8).

So when that happened, he fell back to the hall of Tyrannus, who must have been one tough school teacher, and Paul taught there daily for two years. As a result of this particular onslaught, the entire Roman province of Asia heard the Word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. In this approach, the apostle Paul was not just “lucky.” He was pursuing a particular strategy.

Gather and Go:

Personal contact is assumed. The disciples were all in one hall. But there is also a rhythm to this. The Spirit was moving in the teaching of Paul, and disciples were attracted to it. They came, they gathered, they heard and internalized it. And, after having been established in his doctrine, they hit the road.

True and Entire

In theological discussions of the sacrament, the distinction between sign and thing signified goes back to the great Augustine. This is a distinction that is essential for us to maintain if we are to keep ourselves out of superstition and idolatry. At the same time, we must make this distinction without dividing or separating the sign and thing signified. If we break the sign and thing signified in two, the only thing we will find ourselves holding is the mangled sign, with the reality long gone. They cannot be there together, except as God has appointed.

The appointed instrument that God has given that enables us to hold sign and thing signified together is faith—the kind of faith given by Him, which means that it necessarily is vibrant, alive, receptive, eager or, to use the word that sums it all up, evangelical.

Simple faith can see at a glance things which unconverted philosophers and theologians with bulging foreheads cannot figure out. Faith does not create mysteries on a table, trying to figure out what is going on inside the bread or inside the wine. Faith receives the mystery into the body of Christ—you are that body—and there sees what God intends when He speaks of greater things under the form of the lesser.

What is offered here, in words and actions, is the body of Jesus, the blood of Jesus. But what is actually being offered is totus Christus, all of Christ, the entire Jesus. This is all about union with Christ, and remember that union with Christ is only effectual when received by faith, and it is not possible for a true faith to receive a partial Christ.

In a similar way, these emblems, these elements, are received by you with your hands and your mouth. But your hands and your mouth also represent something. They are also a lesser thing that represents, necessarily, much more. They represent all of you—body, soul, and spirit—and they represent you resting in Christ forever and ever, world without end.

So true faith receives the true and entire Christ into the true and new humanity, being grown up into the perfect man. So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

Testify or Die

The people of God are the congregation of testimony. We worship and serve the God who intervenes in human history, and we are among those who testify to what He has done. We are to do this with our lives, with our families, and with our collective and corporate worship. We testify, and we are to testify in all that we do. This includes whatever sanctuary we might build. Is the testimony true? If there is no true testimony, there is no true sanctuary.

The ark of the covenant was called the ark of the testimony numerous times (e.g. Ex. 26:34). The two tables of the Ten Commandments were called the “tables of testimony” (Ex. 31:18). The tabernacle was called the “tabernacle of testimony” (Num. 1:53). Our task is always to testify to God’s testimony, responding to it faithfully. God says “I have acted here,” and we say “Yes, He did.” And remember that when we seek to build a testimony, there will be those who don’t want us to—like Sanballat and Nehemiah’s wall.

The philosophers Hume and Kant, in a frenzy of high conceit, helped to banish “testimony” from the modern world as a reliable source of knowledge. We want an idolatrous way of knowing that we think is indubitable. But we are finite, and so it has to be testimony or nothing. Jesus is Lord, so it is testify and live or languish and die.

Financing the Kingdom and Church Debt

A great difference lies between alternative living and eccentric living. As citizens in the kingdom of God we want to live in a way that demonstrates a genuine “third way” without veering off into eccentric overreactions. Living under the financial blessing of God, without adequate fleshly explanations for the provision, is such an alternative.

“Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5-6).

In asking whether debt for a church is sin, let us begin with a couple of disclaimers. When this question is asked in this context, it reveals many assumptions about the nature of sin and financial responsibility. If someone were to splay his fingers on a concrete sidewalk so that he could whack each one with a hammer, we might try to stop him. But what if he asked, pointedly, “Would it be a sin to do it?” the answer would have to be, “Not necessarily.” To answer the question this way shows that debt is not neutral. In Scripture, debt is always something to be avoided if prudent.

That said, in the first place borrowing entrammels.

In Which I Do Not Relent

Relent? I haven’t even lented the first time.

Having arisen this morning, I was greeted with a couple of Ash Wednesday posts in my feed, and so thought that this might be some kind of guidance. I therefore thought I would just outline a few Presbyterian caveats about why I don’t feel the traditional Lenten allure at all. But please keep in mind that these are Presbyterian caveats, not Presbyterian grumps. All I am doing is explaining why I am more than content to sit this one out.

1. Jesus said that when we fast, we shouldn’t put anything on our faces to make us look all penitential (Matt. 6:16). So when a Christian fast developed back in the day, inaugurated by a service in which people put something on their faces to show themselves penitential, this is the kind of thing that makes me think the devil must still have a functional sense of humor.

2. In the Old Testament, there was one public day out of the year where they were instructed to afflict their souls (Yom Kippur, Lev. 23:27). Everything else about their prescribed calendar was made up of feast days. There was always room, of course, for private disciplines (Num. 30:13), just as there is room for that in the Christian era (Matt. 9:15). But for the life of me I cannot figure out why the advent of the Christ would set us so far back. Deliverance should not be commemorated with long faces. The saints of the new covenant have much greater liberty than the saints of the old covenant, and the saints of the old covenant were free. “But, under the New Testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish Church was subjected; and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of” (WCF 20.1).

And the glory of that liberty should feel, taste, and smell like glory, which means gladness and simplicity of heart (Acts 2:46). It does not mean a couple of months with no chocolate.

3. Carl Trueman wrote a good piece the other day on how rootless evangelicals, attracted to this kind of thing, are not actually abandoning their rootlessness, but continuing to display it. This kind of Lenten practice, when done soberly, is an essential part of a community of true discipline. It is not one more food option under the heat lamps of our great ecclesiastical cafeteria. I heartily commend Trueman’s points, which can be read here and here.

4. I don’t observe Lent, the penitential season running up to Easter, but I do observe Advent, the penitential season running up to Christmas. Where’s the consistency in that, Mr. Lenten-foe?

I celebrate Advent and Christmas because it has been successfully highjacked by commercial interests. Not one person in a hundred knows that Advent is supposed to be a penitential season, and not one person in a thousand doesn’t know that you are supposed to “give stuff up” for Lent. There are obviously some things gone wrong with the commercialization of Christmas, but our national frenzy in that direction is much closer to what we should be doing over the birth of a king than what the uber-pious do in the other direction, celebrating as they do the birth of some killjoy homunculus.

So with admirable consistency, I would seriously consider celebrating Lent just as soon as it is possible to get a great Lenten deal on patio furniture at Home Depot. And I would in fact consider it.

Two Adams

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

The Basket Case Chronicles #181

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:20–22).

From the time of Adam on down, the saints of God had been gathered to their fathers. They had fallen asleep. They had returned to the dust. Christ descended to death, just as they had, but after a brief time in the grave, He returned to life again. Paul says here that He did this as the firstfruits of those slept. Those who had slept represented a huge amount of seed in the ground, and the Lord Jesus came back from the dead as the harbinger of what was to come.

It was fitting that a man would bring about the resurrection of the dead because it had been a man who had brought about the problem of death in the first place. What Paul says here makes an implicit comparison between Adam and Christ, a comparison he makes explicit in the next breath. All men die because they are in Adam, and in the same way, and on the same principles, everyone who is in Christ will be made alive.

Tasting a Saving Act

Our God is a Savior, and because our need of salvation is something that is expressed in history, our God is the God of saving acts. God establishes the story, the end from the beginning, but God has also written in the story in such a way that requires Him to intervene in it.

When God told Noah to build an ark, and told him to retreat with his family into it, that was a saving act. When God intervened with Abraham, and pointed him to the ram in the thicket, that was a saving act. When God rained down destruction upon Egypt, and then led Israel through the cloud and the sea, that was a saving act. When God took Israel into Babylon for their sins, and brought them back to the land again, that was a saving act.

All these were precursors and types of the ultimate saving act, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is that saving act that we are memorializing here as we eat the bread and drink the wine. As we do so, we are partaking of God’s great saving act through Jesus, and if we do so in genuine and sincere faith, we are partaking of that saving act.

Now it is not possible to partake of that saving act—really, genuinely—without being saved. If you are in the ark, you are not drowning. If you are on the far side of the Red Sea, then you are not under the Red Sea.

Our intent here is not to partake of a little ceremony. Our intent is to gather, as a people overflowing with faith, in order to partake in the salvation of the world. When you chew and swallow the bread, that is what the salvation of the world tastes like. When you take a drink of the wine, what you are tasting is God’s kindness to sinners.

So we do not call God our Savior because that is a Bible word. We call Him Savior because He saves. We call Him that because we have gathered here to the salvation of mankind.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.