What Good Will This Do?

Christ has been established at the right hand of God the Father, and He has been given dominion over all the nations of men. This has been established in principle, and the task of the Great Commission is not to go out and try to make this true, but rather to declare to all the nations that it already is true. As that declaration is made in faith, the reign of Christ (an established fact) is made increasingly visible to the eyes of men.

But Christ rules by His instruments, not by ours. He extends His scepter, and it is His kind of scepter, not our kind. His scepter is wielded over the nations of men by means of the Word, the gospel preached with authority, and the sacraments—baptism and this Supper here.

That’s it. Christ’s kingdom will fill the earth because His preachers declare something, pour water on people, break bread and distribute wine. No armies, no lobbyists, no missiles, no goose-stepping millions, no marketing campaigns, no politics, and no flattery at all.

But make no mistake. It is not as though the armies and the governments and the nations (and all the other things we do) are irrelevant in this. They are very much a part of this process. The fact that we do not conquer by these carnal means does not mean that we will not come to see them as objects to be conquered. The Lordship of Jesus Christ must be acknowledged everywhere.

So how do we bring this about? Should we organize? No, we should take and eat, take and drink. But the objections come. “What good will this do?” said the Israelite grumbler, marching with the others around Jericho, just before the walls fell.

God tells us what to do, and He promises us what He will then do. The gospel always does what it does, which is to run free, setting men free. It cannot be bound, and earthly rulers have no countermeasures for it. Believe me, they have spent a great deal of time trying to develop countermeasures. But there are none.

Four Men

The task of exegesis is to unpack from the text what is already there. The task is not eisegesis, to import what it would be pleasant for me to find were I to have my druthers. If I go on a trip without my wife, when I get to the motel room, one of my assigned tasks is to exegete the suitcase, and I only get to take out of it what was previously put into it. This seems simple enough.

But Scripture is an enormous suitcase, with more zippers, cubbies, hidden compartments, and whatnot, than the mind of mortal man can conceive. No one man is up to the task of unpacking the whole thing. Many are involved in taking things out of the text what God in His kindness gave. Now here is the problem. What are we to do with men who are gifted, for whatever reason, at taking out things that were really packed in there, and yet the men who do this have deficient views of suitcase manufacturing, and they have ideas about the practical authority of what is unpacked that are alarming in the extreme? What then?

I say all this as a lead-in to this observation. I am a conservative sola et tota Scriptura guy. And yet, a large part of what I have come to see as the true teaching of Scripture has been pointed out to me by men who do not have an adequate view of Scripture itself. Now what? Should I refuse to take out of the Bible something that God put in there, my grounds for doing this being the worrisome qualifications of the person who pointed it out to me? If someone has deficient views of the inspiration, infallibility and practical authority of the Scriptures, do we all ignore God if His truth gets pointed out by one such?

All this is a build-up to an expression of gratitude — gratitude for four men that I would vote against in a presbyterial ordination exam were they, by some mishap, to find themselves sitting for one. I would vote against them because their views of Scripture range from troubling to outrageous. And yet, I still owe an immeasurable debt to them. These things are hard to quantify, but it is at least clear to me that the shape of a great deal of what I see in Scripture has been radically affected by what these men have pointed out to me. And once they have pointed it out, there it is, right there. Right on the top of the suitcase, with a sunbeam shining on it. These men are, in order, C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, Robert Farrar Capon, and Rene Girard. I owe them all a great deal, as I said, even though all of them say appalling things, especially Capon. But there it is anyway.

Guilt by association is sometimes right, but frequently (in the hands of maladroit accusers) wrong. Guilt by quotation is even more difficult to get right. And this is especially the case when it is attempted by inquisitors who have memorized the Guide to Historico-Grammatical Suitcase Unpacking, but who substitute that for seeing what is actually in there. Ironically, they unpack the wrong suitcase. A troublesome business all around since I heartily agree with the GHGSU, and use it in presbytery exams. Oh well.

How Could It Not?

Just a few things to say about the Ted Haggard mess. For some important background, please check out these posts (here and here) from the Bayly brothers.

There are two important points to take away from this most recent evangelical moral disaster. The first is that this was certainly hypocrisy, but it was not the hypocrisy of someone on the “hard right” of evangelicalism, but rather hypocrisy from the “squishy middle.” Ted Haggard had been telegraphing his serious departure from scriptural authority over sexual matters long before he was busted. But if you tell CT that you are not going to obey the Bible, that just counts as another “interpretive paradigm.” If you buy some meth, you are running out ahead of all our current interpretive paradigms. But give it time. They’ll catch up.

The second sign of trouble (evident long before the recent revelations) was the prevalent evangelical marketing of narcissism and celebrity as though it were a reasonable approximation of humility and ministerial service. What’s wrong with this picture? I remember, many years ago, long before the Jimmy Swaggart meltdown, talking to my wife about his record albums in a Christian bookstore. Album after album showed a close-up photo of his face, and nothing was more apparent than that something was seriously disordered about the whole operation. But that disorder was something that the evangelical market was more than willing to support and praise with their dollars. After it happens, the response among Christians was “how could this happen?” Are you serious? The real question should have been “how could it not?” Contemporary evangelicalism is nothing more than institutionalized narcissicism, and if the tree is rotten, it will continue to produce this kind of fruit.

The thing to take away from all this is not how we must deal with the scandal proper. There are others who must do that. The thing we all need to do is stop putting up with the “acceptable” parts of these scandals. Okay, we don’t put up with gay escorts and drug dealers. But when are we going to stop putting up with mealy-mouthed obscurings of scriptural teaching on sexual matters, and when are we going to stop putting up with the smoke, vanity and conceit of the evangelical marketing machine? Not very soon is my guess.

A Self-Condemning Head Case

The Lord’s Table is the place where we are to overflow with gratitude and thanksgiving. It is not a time for us to curl up into a little ball of sorrow or remorse. If there has been sin in your life, and of course there has, then there are other times to deal with that. You wash your hands before you come to the table, not at the table.

You should deal with sin in your life as it happens. When you sin, confess it immediately. Do not wait for it to accumulate in your life. Do not postpone confession until this service in order to confess in our time set-aside for confession. Confess sin during the week, and put things right with others as soon as possible.

But if you have (sinfully) postponed confession until today, then confess your sins at the beginning of the service. If something occurs to you, and you remember an unconfessed sin this morning, then do confess it at the beginning of the service.

And if you have struggled to the point where you come to this Table, and your hands are still dirty, then of course, confess your sins now. But add an additional sin that you should confess—you have disrupted a time of Eucharistic gladness and sought to make it a time of private penitence and sorrow. Such penitence is better than defiling the Supper, but at the same time, such penitence as a regular feature of this meal is itself another kind of defilement.

It is a particularly dangerous form of defilement, because people think that it is holy. This is always the case. If you have lied, or stolen, or been immoral, and then come here to partake, the whole world understands that hypocrisy. But you sought to come to this meal every time as a self-condemning head case, you would be urged on in this great sin by a good part of the Christian church. Do not do it! Christ has died, and you are forgiven. Christ has risen, and you are justified.

A Remote Control With New Batteries

The Word of God tells us in countless places that we are to live with a view toward everlasting consequences. God tells us that our motivation in this should be hunger for blessing from Him.

The moralistic philosopher Kant tried to teach us that a deed is not really moral unless it is done from a sense of raw duty, with no thought of reward. Unfortunately, this false teaching has permeated the so-called conservative wing of the Church. A better name for this attitude might be neo-Stoic. Afraid of pleasure, afraid of joy, afraid of glory, afraid of reward, such unfortunates are ultimately afraid of their Bibles.

Of course they justify their attitude by the pervasive worldliness in the other sectors of Church, and they are actually quite right about this. Great portions of the modern Church are driven by thoughts of reward, as all creatures actually must be, but their sin is that they have settled for paltry rewards—the praise of men, the comforts of mammon, and the flattery that only a full belly and a remote control with new batteries can provide.

So what must we do?—we must seek the blessing of God. At His right hand is an everlasting river of pleasure. Do we seek His blessing in some hyper-spiritual fashion, showing contempt for earthly blessings? Not a bit of it—we despise worldliness, not the world. The world is not our master, but when we listen rightly to our master, our God in heaven, that same world is converted to our use and made a faithful servant. This is the word of God—but always beware of subtleties.

An Unholy Hat Trick

“When men cease to aspire to the ideal, the good, to self-restraint — whether in their arts or their lives — they do not just stand still, but actually turn the other way, finding self-fulfillment in self-indulgence, and in an obsession with those three ultimate expressions of the totally self-centred life: sex, violence and insanity” (Duncan Williams, Trousered Apes, pp. 14-15).

Embodied Education

“But one of the glories of education is the opportunity to hear the truth come out of a human being with blood in the veins and air in the lungs, and not just off a printed page” (The Case for Classical Christian Education, p. 198).

Instead of “A Life for an Eye, A Life for a Tooth”

“As a matter of fact, the imitation involved in revenge tends toward more violence, for it tends to repay the violence it avenges ‘with interest.’ It tends to escalate the violence. The ancient injunction, ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,’ was an attempt to keep revenge from spinning out of control” (Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled, p. 93).