So Define “Old”

“This desire to belong to an old church is certainly a noble and scriptural one. ‘Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased of old; the rod of thinke inheritance, which thou hast redeemed; this mount Zion, where thou hast dwelt’ (Ps. 74:2). But at the same time, caution is in order. Someone with a pressing need, even if the need is legitimate in itself, is someone with low sales resistance. If an historically naive American wants to belong to an old church, it does not take much to impress him. We must remember that we Americans think Sears is old” (Mother Kirk, p. 27).

As the Crowd Turns

“The mystery of Job is presented in a context that does not explain it but at least allows us to situate it. The scapegoat is a shattered idol. The rise and fall of Job are bound up in one another. The two extremes seems to be connected . . . The one thing in common between the two periods is the community’s unanimity; first in worship, then later in loathing. Job is the victim of a huge and sudden reversal of public opinion that is obviously unstable, capricious and void of all moderation . . . Members of the community influence each other reciprocally; they imitate each other in fanatical worship and then in even more fanatical hostility” (Girard, Job, p. 13).

Braying Contests

In these days of web slander, what should a ministry’s rule of thumb be in responding to such things? There are two basic principles to remember.

First, if a charge has any surface plausibility (or possible “traction”) at all, do not let it go unanswered. The Scriptures are full of vigorous replies to various saucy coppersmiths. But it is not necessary to spend the rest of your life doing this, answering every detail, because the kind of heart that does this sort of thing is good at spinning out details, frequently ex nihilo, and then you have hopped on the little squirrel cage run. But if you answer the central charges forcefully, cogently, and scripturally, then this gives any fair-minded individuals who hear about it all that they need. “Okay, this is clearly a Proverbs 18:17 situation.” This is what Doug Phillips’ church recently did — and a well done to them, incidentally — and the result is that strife has now broken out between the Sunni and Shia factions of the web insurgency. To change the metaphor, when cannibals run out of missionaries, they sometimes start looking at one another sideways through squinty eyes. And this is not, incidentally, a sign of disinterested objectivity. A cannibal should not expect to be praised for his impartiality in this.

The second principle is the flip side of this. Don’t be so hasty or eager to answer critics that you create opportunities or venues for them that they would not otherwise have. There is a way of answering an opponent that establishes him as an opponent.

These sorts of questions are fluid, and constantly changing. Someone might need to be answered at one point, but three years later, he needs to be completely ignored. Or vice versa.

So don’t answer when it gives irrational critics access to your microphone. Don’t refuse to answer when they have some sort of microphone of their own. And when you answer, give an answer that is sufficient for any honest reader, and don’t trouble yourself over the dishonest readers. Never get into a braying contest with donkeys.

A Heart That Turns to the Right

To repeat the same things over again is a protection. Those who struggle against sin must be reminded again and again. If we start to chafe at the warnings, it simply shows how much we need them. “Therefore thou shalt love the Lord they God, and keep his charge, and his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments alway . . .” (Deuteronomy 11).

Love God. Do what He says (v. 1). He is speaking to those who have seen His works (v. 2). This is a call to obedience with two historical examples given—one positive and the other negative. The first is the Exodus itself (vv. 3-5) and the second is the rebellion under Dathan and Abiram (vv. 6-7). God has given them the law in order that they might prolong their days in the land (vv. 8-9). That land is a good land, watered from heaven (vv. 10-15). They are to guard their hearts lest they dry up the land with their idolatries (vv. 16-17). Since these things are true, inculcate the law (vv. 18-21). And if you obey, the dread of you will be on all the nations (vv. 22-25). The blessing and cursing are before Israel (vv. 26-32).

Loving God, in both testaments, is manifested through doing what He says (v. 1). This is love, that we keep His commandments. The desire to separate love from law, or grace from law, is an anarchic desire.

God showed His love to these people by destroying their enemies, both foreign and domestic. God is speaking to a people who have seen His deliverances (v. 2). In Egypt God destroyed the land with great miracles (v. 3). Following this, He destroyed their armies, and caused the water of the Red Sea to flow over their faces (v. 4). He did many things to Israel during their forty years as well (v. 5). Within the covenant nation, God dealt with Dathan and Abiram. This story is told in Numbers 16. The challenge of God’s appointed leadership was a challenge of God Himself. It did not matter that the challenge came from within Israel. Their destruction was as total as it was for Egypt (vv. 6-7). We also need to know that the apostle Paul refers to this incident when discussing how false teachers challenged his apostolic authority (2 Tim. 2:19). Some things don’t ever change.

Unlike Egypt, the land of Canaan did not need irrigation. And this is an indirect answer to the charge made by Dathan and Abiram (Num. 16:13). They are to keep God’s commands, with one eye on the clouds. They are to receive the great blessing of a land which does not need irrigation (vv. 8-11). God cares for this land; His eyes are upon it (v. 12). But disobedience will affect the rainfall (vv. 13-17).

This means that they must teach their children well. Moses returns here to the great themes of chapter 6. This being the case, education in the Lord is a fundamental priority (vv. 18-21). If these commandments are obeyed and taught to the next generation, then the Lord will sweep all their enemies before them (vv. 22-25).

What is set before Israel (v. 26)? A profound choice is given to them—do they want blessings or curses? A blessing is promised for obedience (v. 27), and curses for disobedience (v. 28). As they face the east (which would be “north” on their “maps”), the mount of blessing would be on the right, on the south side of the road (v. 29). The curse was on the left. These two mountains are a memorial in the heart of the land (v. 30). Cross over into the land (v. 31), and do what God says (v. 32).

What are the applications for us? We are the true Israel of God, and it is through faith that we inherit the promises. The dread of the Lord—if we are to rejoice in a great victory, it will be the result of the Lord working through the instrument of our obedience. This is particularly true with regard to teaching our children. Prolong your days—God loves to prolong the days of His people (v. 9; cf. Prov. 4:10). Disobedience means we must “perish quickly” (v. 17). Obedience means that days will be multiplied (v. 21). Remember again the first commandment with a promise. Blessing and cursing—stand on the road and face east. The mount of blessing is to your right, the curses to your left. The wise man’s heart, Ecclesiasties tells us, inclines to the right. Seek out blessings from God. Pursue them. Covet them. Be like Jacob wrestling with the angel—don’t let go until you have received the kindness of His blessing.

The Companionship of Saints

In taking part in this meal, we are the Lord’s companions. The word companion originally meant to share bread together with someone. The com means together, and panis is the word for bread. We are the Lord’s companions.

This sounds wonderful to us, but there is a hitch. Everyone else who comes to this Table is His companion also, and it follows from this that we are companions one to another. If we walk in the Light, as He is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another. In other words, our companionship with one another is dependent upon our companionship with the Lord. Moreover, it flows necessarily from that first companionship. If we love Jesus Christ, whom we have not seen with our eyes, then we must love all His brothers and sisters, whom we have seen with our eyes.

This includes everyone in your family, whether husband, wife, children, or parents, everyone in your row, in your section, in this congregation, in the congregation of our sister church, in this town, everyone throughout the world, and everyone throughout the history of the Church. We believe, as we say every week, in the communion of saints. Let us confess it gladly.

The Mere Fact of Worship

The efficacy of worship goes far beyond the intentions of the worshippers. It is fitting and proper that all worshippers of the triune God fix this in their minds. We are worshipping God in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. We are doing so in faith, and are offering up a right worship of God, a worship that is received by Him as justified and perfect.

This means many things, but among them it means that the simple fact of this worship being rendered presents a threat to all our local principalities and powers who still want to cling to their unbelief. But the church is not a human agency, and cannot be reduced to one. Every time we worship God, we glorify His name in the heavens, where we are assembled, and He in consequence glorifies His name on earth, where we live. This means that every time we assemble we are taking another swing with the battering ram, hammering at the gates of unbelief. Faith that is aware of this process is able to swing with enthusiasm. Anyone who does not see this happening in the world around us is simply not paying attention. The wood is already splintering.

This worship has a reformational impact within the covenant people of God as well. There are believers who are unsettled by all this, and want to leave well enough alone. They instinctively understand the potency of this undertaking and pull back for a variety of stated reasons, but the central reason is to get us to stop our siege. There are unfortunately Christians who desperately to believe that worship can be made into an impotent thing, some sort of playing at church.

But whether we have faith or not, worship remains what it is. God cannot deny Himself. But if we have faith, worship is the means of accomplishing mighty, visible things—on earth, as well as in heaven.

Co-Signing

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

Growing Dominion, Part 103

“A man void of understanding striketh hands, and becometh surety in the presence of his friend” (Prov. 17:18).

The book of Proverbs famously takes dim view of co-signing a note. But before we absolutize this, we should take note of the context. A man void of understanding strikes hand (in a bargain). A man void of understanding co-signs a note in the presence of his friend. This is a world of hale, hearty laughter, clapping one another on the back, and helping one another buy four-wheel drive pick-ups that nineteen-year-old boys ought not to have. The context here is one of impulse commitments, and when a group of friends do this kind of thing, a by-standing idiot is often swept into the mix. Don’t do that, Solomon tells us.

The same kind of trouble can occur when this kind of context is not immediately present, and so we should not conclude that outside this context co-signing a note is always wise. It is frequently foolish, regardless of the context. But when someone loans something they are willing to give, this is certainly a scriptural thing to do. I think of an older, established couple co-signing a note to get their (very responsible) kids into their first home. Here the context is different.

Aesthetic Puritanism

“Even in the plastic arts, then, the Puritans were willing to record the truth as they saw it and to appreciate the beauty of that record. On gravestones, in meeting houses, and in the works of over two hundred poets, they were not, in Moses Coit Tyler’s words, ‘at war with nearly every form of the beautiful.’ Their practice clearly does not reflect a belief ‘that there was an inappeasable feud between religion and art'” (Daly, p. 8).