Herod the Great and Jesus’ Birth

Jesus’ birth as intersection of the mighty powerful and the humbled Almighty

Herod the Great

The day has come in many places when speaking the Word of God will constitute a hate-crime against the new purveyors of morality. The threat is looming against religious liberty. People are threatened not to speak for Jesus and His claims, or a prosecution of Herodian proportion might just take place.

 

Of all the characters of the birth narrative of Jesus, none is more notorious than King Herod. The Herodian dynasty was begun by Antipater. He was appointed by Julius Caesar as procurator of Judea in 47 BC. His son Herod exceeded him in infamy. As the patriarch of the other Herod’s in the biblical narrative, the first Herod came to be known as Herod the Great. His greatness lies in his great building projects. But the Herods, being Edomites, and loyal to Rome, were never fully accepted by their Jewish subjects.

Herod’s place in the birth narrative of Jesus is to be that King who took the coming of Jesus as a rival kingly claim. That the coming Son of God has a kingly claim is true enough, and is thus announced in the counterpart birth narrative of Luke.

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end. (Lk. 1:32-33 NKJ)

Herod’s blunder was to misunderstand this as a challenge to his earthly kingdom and dynasty. He did not pull any restraint to make sure of the extermination of the rival king. It will become an icon of terror in biblical history – the infamous massacre of infants in Bethlehem and neighboring towns. A stark contrast is intended by this narrative that exposes the sinfulness of man and the kingdom mission of Jesus. There certainly was a guiding star that guided the magi to the place of Jesus – but it was no lantern ornamentation. Children had a significant role – but not to receive gifts, but to suffer martyrdom. The advent of Jesus was only a celebration insofar as the sin of the mighty is exposed, and the humbling down of the Son of God is duly acknowledged. The humiliation of the Son of God exposed the sinfulness of the mighty in the world.

 Humiliation in the last sentence is used in its theological sense of the becoming-low of the Son of God from His highest position. He became Man, and in thus becoming man, He shared the nature of man-the-sinner, and be a fit substitute for man’s sinful standing. This without Jesus sharing in human sin at all.

The Sin of the Mighty

Thus, the first Advent of Christ is a story of the heinous sin of the mighty on earth represented by Herod. He could not accept the implication of the coming of Jesus. As the prophecy was read to him, based on Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.” (Matt. 2:6 NKJ), he could only draw one conclusion – that this Jesus is out to seize his rule.

He first chose to deceive by pretending to worship the Child. When an angel exposed this subterfuge to the wise men, Herod shred off all scheme and instigated a cruel massacre.

It is easy to distance oneself from such cruelty of Herod. But the same principle lies in the scheme of professing to worship Jesus, while yet refusing His Lordship in one’s life. Is this not rampant in this season when everything is done on the pretext of the birth of Jesus? Every indulgence; ostentation; lavishness – all to celebrate the One born in a manger, and prosecuted by the powerful!

But Jesus is not interested in the celebration of His birth. His call is for men and women to bow down for the reason He was born – to become King of a kingdom that will never be destroyed. The best way to remember the birth of Jesus is to repent of sin, and to cast oneself under His supreme Lordship. This is conversion by faith and repentance.

The most powerful man in Judea who made himself famous by his built structures is remembered today with disdain. His sin was exposed. And the coming of Jesus today through the preaching of the Word still has the same effect of exposing sin. You have the choice of justifying it in Herod’s way. Or repent of it and be saved.

The Claim of the Almighty

The name of Jesus is still under persecution today. No longer by a procurator in Judea. The persecutor is no longer known as Herod the Great. But they are still among the great of this world. They belong to the powerful – in institutions of authority and wealth; in parties of power; among instigators of the sexual revolution that will impose the LGBTQ as the new normal. The noble tradition of believing in God who has a weight in social directions is in retreat against the onslaught of erotic liberty.

The day has come in many places when speaking the Word of God will constitute a hate-crime against the new purveyors of morality. The threat is looming against religious liberty. People are threatened not to speak for Jesus and His claims, or a prosecution of Herodian proportion might just take place.

But the claim of Jesus from the time of the Annunciation of the angel has not changed. He came to inaugurate a kingdom. That kingdom has been inaugurated when He rose from the dead; He sat on His throne beside the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:36; Heb 8:1). The Herodian dynasty is long gone. Even the Roman Empire. But Jesus is still King and someday, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Rev. 11:15 NKJ).

Do not make this Christmas just a time of celebration – of eating, indulging, decorating, and exchanging gifts; or kris-kringle and Santa Claus.

Jesus came to claim a kingship that is now His. Herod did not succeed denying Him that kingship. Do not fail to bow down to the King of Kings – the Lord Jesus Christ!

Blessed Advent Reflection to all!

The Epidemic of Ritual Confession of Sin

Psa 130 3f

In ritual confession, the offender may demonstrate deep emotion, but it is often dictated by fear of the consequence of sin, rather than sorrow for the gravity of the offence. So different is the contrast of the Apostle Paul between two sorts of emotions. “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” (2 Cor. 7:10-11 NKJ). The sorrow of genuine repentance is really a cluster of dispositions all conspiring to oppose sin and to renounce it for its evil and gravity, not merely its dreadful consequence.

 

 Sorry na! (‘I am sorry already!’). To which the expected reply is Ok lang! (‘It is fine!’). This is the common exchange that transpires among Filipinos, between the one at fault and the one wronged. An easy apology with commensurate ease of exoneration. If the fault were due to natural limitation – mistaken information; late appointment due to traffic; etc. – the clemency that follows is just about regular.

But it is a far different issue when we are dealing with moral faults – what we, Christians, still call sins. A sorry na and Ok lang exchange, when it comes to sins, is exposing a very serious epidemic in the impoverished spirituality that is the mark of this generation of Christians. This is the epidemic of ritual confession.

A ritual, in the concise definition of Merriam-Webster is “the prescribed order and words of a religious ceremony.” Further, a more extended meaning denotes, “any practice done or regularly repeated in a set precise manner so as to satisfy one’s sense of fitness and often felt to have a symbolic or quasi-symbolic significance.” One can easily see how this fits the practice that is performed of confession of sin among Christians. This is observable in two orientations of confessing sin.

Ritual Confession of Sin to God

A precious verse of the New Testament has become the basis of so much ritual confession by Christians. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn. 1:9 NKJ). The call to confess is sufficient for many sinning Christians just to invoke the cliché of confession, and then claim that forgiveness is theirs as a gift in glossy wrapping.

This is isolating 1John 1:9 from the richness of John’s appeal to his readers to be in a serious fight against sin. Every believer who will invoke the promise of forgiveness to the confessing sinner in 1John 1:9 must have come to grips with John’s description of a serious believer in 3:8, 9 “He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose, the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” (1 Jn. 3:8-9 NKJ). It is not teaching that believers no longer sin. It is saying that believers do not continue sinning without the break of repentance and renewal.

Unfortunately, many professed believers may be continuing sinning, and the only break they have is a ritual confession that is without genuine repentance that is followed by practical renewal. The Puritan John Owen has a most helpful treatise on this subject that expounds Psalm 130, focusing on those words, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be feared.” (Ps. 130:3-4 NKJ). He warns against the general assurance of forgiveness without having the contrition that is the prerequisite of it, and the fear of the Lord which is the fruit of it. He warns,

This notional apprehension of the pardon of sin begets no serious, thorough hatred and detestation of sin, nor is prevalent to a relinquishment of it; nay, it rather insinuates into the soul encouragements unto a continuance in it. It is the nature of it to lessen and extenuate sin, and to support the soul against its convictions… The doctrine of forgiveness is this grace of God, which may be thus abused. From hence do men who have only a general notion of it habitually draw secret encouragements to sin and folly.[1]

God is willing to forgive. But He can distinguish between contrite confession appealing only to the merits of Christ, and ritual confession that is satisfied with the motion and manner. We must confess our sin in the spirit of David’s own confession: “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart – These, O God, You will not despise.” (Ps. 51:16-17 NKJ). David knew the distinction between ritual confession of ceremonial burnt offering, and the acceptable confession of a broken and contrite heart.

Know that distinction yourself. The next time you confess your sin to God, examine if it is a broken one – or an empty ritual.

 

Ritual Confession of Sin to Neighbor

The greatest commandment of ‘Love God,’ is followed by ‘Love your neighbor’ as the second of the greatest commandments. This should apply to confession of sin when it comes to people Christians sin against. Sin must be confessed with brokenness to God. So with the neighbor, especially brethren in the faith. The greater the offence the deeper the contrition.

But if ritual confession is something that is epidemic among professing Christians in their approach to God, it is all the more so in confessing to brethren. After all, it is easier to resort to subterfuge and pretense with someone without divine omniscience. That is why it takes an uncompromising inner honesty for the person confessing. He must confess without minimizing, without forgetfulness, and without pretext.

We see shallow confession of sin in biblical characters such as Pharaoh (Exo 9:27); Saul (1Sam 26:21); and of course, Judas (Matt 27:4). They invoked the proper vocabulary – a reference to personal sin; they even demonstrated sorrow and shame – but they were still ritual confession.

In ritual confession, the offender may demonstrate deep emotion, but it is often dictated by fear of the consequence of sin, rather than sorrow for the gravity of the offence. So different is the contrast of the Apostle Paul between two sorts of emotions. “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” (2 Cor. 7:10-11 NKJ). The sorrow of genuine repentance is really a cluster of dispositions all conspiring to oppose sin and to renounce it for its evil and gravity, not merely its dreadful consequence.

The stain that will not wash away[2]

There is a particular offence that is often covered over with ritual confession, but its effect is deep and lasting. This is the sin of sexual abuse. The figure pertains to one guilty of sexual misconduct and is drawn from Proverbs 6:33 “Wounds and dishonor he will get, And his reproach will not be wiped away.” (Prov. 6:33 NKJ). One who has committed this sin is often able to hide because the victim chooses to hide – in shame.

It does not help that some, with a sincere desire to help, end up charging the blame on the victim. We have often heard suggested: She is dressed so sexy, she must be asking to be raped! She is so at ease in the company of men, this is flirtation! Every woman fantasizes sexual assault. These are all myths – and among believers, a painful deception.

Thus, victims often have to grapple with self-blame. Why did I allow myself in that situation? It was supposed to be only innocent fellowship! Did I give any suggestion? But the blame is only on the abuser. He must have used an invitation to fellowship – coffee; chit-chat; movie; music; and so many more. But even before the invitation are the calculated moves that would ensure, the woman is in the snare of unavoidable intimacies and touches. And when it is done, it is made to appear that what happened is normal fellowship between Christian man and woman. The woman, often of very young age to understand fully, is left confused. She knows something went wrong but it all seems alright according to the man.

It is time that it is called for what it is – sex abuse of the cruel kind. And for professing Christians, thoroughly hypocritical. One day, the woman grows up and discovers what all the while she has been made to go through, and accountability time comes.

When confession is to be expressed, ritual confession is at its cruelest in this kind of offence. More than the consequence, it is the sense of gravity of the offence that matters. More than the fear of the abuser, it is the hurt on the victims that must be reckoned with. The healing of the victims matters more, without eliminating the restoration of the offender.

Going back to the stain that does not wash away, the text clearly attributes the stain to the one guilty of misconduct, not to the victim. He will carry the stigma.

By the grace of God, the victim can move on because God’s grace fixes what has been broken. By the same grace of God, the offender can also move on, but only after he has gone through the sorrow of true confession, of brokenness and repentance.

Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound (Rom 5:20). Grace will abound so much more when we reject the shallow peace of ritual confession.

[1] John Owen, Works: Temptation and Sin VI: 397

[2] This is a variation of the title of the book by John Armstrong, The Stain that Stays: The Church’s Response to Sexual Misconduct of its Leaders

Forgiven to Forgive

Christ came to forgive. How do I forgive?

Mat 6 12

Christians are as much weak as human nature in granting forgiveness.  But they have in them something that transcends human nature.  It follows from being a beneficiary of God’s gracious forgiveness in Christ.  Whatever the sins of others may be against us, we have sinned multiple times more against God – multiple times more in frequency, in gravity, and in apathy.  But when we come for Fatherly forgiveness, He forgives.

 

In this season, so it is professed, that Christendom remembers the becoming-man (incarnation) of the Son of God, the issue of forgiveness presses hard on my mind.  After all, according to the Scriptures, “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” (Heb. 2:17-18 NKJ).

Two questions press upon my mind that should resonate in every serious believer.  The first: Should Christians continue to ask forgiveness from God for their sins?  And the second: How readily and radically should Christians forgive those who sin against them and ask for forgiveness?

Prior to answering the question, we must be sure we know what we mean by forgiveness.  The Greek word aphiêmi in its literal sense denotes ‘to leave a particular location’ or ‘to dismiss a crowd’ [ Louw-Nida Lexicon ].  But used in the legal sense, its cognate word aphesis pertains to the removal of incurred guilt and its consequent punishment.  The contrast is clear in Acts 13:38, 39, “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38 ESV).  This is the forgiveness every believer receives upon faith in Christ.  What a glorious salvation blessing a believer possesses all because of Christ!  “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7 ESV).

First Question: Should believers still seek forgiveness from God for their sins?

Only extreme perfectionists will dare to claim that they no longer sin – worse than an error, it is smug delusion.  Even as an object of Christ’s salvation, Paul still thought of himself at the time of his writing, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – and I am the worst of them all” (1Tim 1:15 NLT).  There is in every humble believer a resonant note of the same confession.

I just came from a conference in a far-flung area.  It became obvious during the discussion time that the participants, mostly pastors and church leaders, sincerely believed that, while admitting the continuing sins of believers, Christians need no longer ask forgiveness for their sins.  One explained that all he would do is to express gratitude to the Lord that whatever sins he committed, they have already been forgiven in Christ – past, present, and future.  So there is no place for genuine repentance and contrition, just claiming the forgiveness already possessed.

At the root of this notion is a deeply twisted confusion between justification and sanctification.  They are claiming justification reality of God’s judicial forgiveness of all sins for the day-to-day issue of sanctification which must clear one’s fellowship with God as the Father.  Justification is about God as the Judge.  Sins – past, present, and future – have been settled in His judgment court.  But it is not that we ask forgiveness for our daily sins.  It is about a disturbed fellowship with the Father.  And we are seeking the forgiveness of God as our Father – not as our Judge.

The New Testament makes clear that there is continuing forgiveness that the believer should seek and may experience on a day-to-day basis.  That is why in the Lord’s Prayer, following the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread” is the petition, “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Mat 6:12).  There is the stern warning of John against self-deception, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” (1 Jn. 1:10 NKJ).  Deriving from this reality is the duty, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn. 1:9 NKJ).  That there is such an experience of post-conversion experience is unambiguous in the exhortation to the sick, “And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” (Jas. 5:15 NKJ)

Beyond the error of this notion that believers need not ask for forgiveness, it deprives the believer of that posture that cultivates humility and the exuberance of joy in God’s gracious forgiveness.

We have all heard of the Reformer Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses.  Perhaps, it is time we memorized the first thesis: Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, in saying, “Repent ye, etc.” intended that the whole life of his believers on earth should be a daily repentance.

 

Second Question:  How readily and radically should Christians forgive?

The difficulty of this question is highlighted by CS Lewis: Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.[1]  His reflection on this is worth quoting at length:

Just when Christianity tells me that I must not deny my religion even to save myself from death by torture, I wonder very much what I should do when it came to the point.  I am not trying to tell you in this book what I could do – I could do precious little – I am telling you what Christianity is.  I did not invent it.  And there, right in the middle of it, I find ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.’  There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms.  It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive, we shall not be forgiven.  There are no two ways about it.[2]

Christians are as much weak as human nature in granting forgiveness.  But they have in them something that transcends human nature.  It follows from being a beneficiary of God’s gracious forgiveness in Christ.  Whatever the sins of others may be against us, we have sinned multiple times more against God – multiple times more in frequency, in gravity, and in apathy.  But when we come for Fatherly forgiveness, He forgives.

Jesus gave a hard-to-swallow rule on forgiving brethren.  “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying,`I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” (Lk. 17:3-4 NKJ).  In the face of such requisite readiness to forgive, the apostles could only respond in entreaty, “Lord, increase our faith!”

I know how to be hurt, to be betrayed, how to nurse the pain that demands a satisfaction of double retaliation.  But then, I myself fall into sin… How terrible is this?  Just when I received a mercy-gift from the Lord, and I sinned!  Just when I had been spared, I used the sense of freedom to yet sin again?  Am I a hardened sinner?  The heart made tender by grace tells me I am not for I find myself crying to my Father for yet another forgiveness only on the basis of Christ.  He forgives me yet again.

Then comes my offender with a broken heart asking for my forgiveness.  Every fiber of my being cries, “Hang!”  Only to be reminded, Someone hanged on the Cross for me – and for him.  Moist with tears of compassion, I hear myself say willingly, “I forgive!”

 

[1] CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 3. 7

[2] ibid

Freedom of the Press

Press Freedom quote

It is the press that has the mandate of not only informing the people of events in society, but also to check official announcements and policies.  This it does by having competent people who check the facts and report on views other than that of government.  In the course of doing this, as human beings they make mistakes.  News can be faked by irresponsible journalists.  There are laws that the press may not violate in the name of freedom of expression.  Defamation law covers false statements made in writing that destroy the reputation of the innocent.

 But this is not a reason to muzzle the press.

 

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte imposed a ban of coverage on Rappler News, a news social media sharply critical of the President.  More than ten cases were filed against Maria Ressa, Rappler’s chief editor and her staff – cases that many perceive are at the instigation of the president.  The President threatened to suspend the writ of habeas corpus to arrest his media critics.  The ban on Rappler has been in effect for fourteen months when its correspondents filed a petition to the Supreme Court seeking to end the ban.  The petition argues that the coverage ban violates constitutional guarantees of a free press, free speech, equal protection and due process.  This is now a significant press freedom test case.  Should Christians care?

Christians should very much care.  Intimately linked with freedom of the press is freedom of religion.  Because Christians care very much about the latter, they should care as much for freedom of the press.  The battle for freedom of religion was a long and bloody history.  The American Pilgrim Fathers crossed the Atlantic to escape persecution in England.  They founded New England in America.  America became the birthplace of the concept of separation of church and state.  It was the Baptists who had led in the advocacy, and had suffered most in the cause, of freedom of religion.  18th century Baptist theologian Andrew Fuller summarizes the Baptist position thus,

In former times liberty of conscience and the right of private judgment in matters of religion were denied both by ecclesiastics and politicians.  Of late they have been very generally admitted, and much has been said and written in their defense… The right of private judgment in matters of religion appears to be the right which every individual has to think and to avow his thoughts on those subjects, without being liable to any civil inconvenience on that account.[1]

Freedom of religion can only be sustained where there is freedom to express oneself.  This is where freedom of the press matters most.  It is the press that has the mandate of not only informing the people of events in society, but also to check official announcements and policies.  This it does by having competent people who check the facts and report on views other than those of government.  In the course of doing this, as human beings they make mistakes.  News can be faked by irresponsible journalists.  There are laws that the press may not violate in the name of freedom of expression.  Defamation law covers false statements made in writing that destroy the reputation of the innocent.

But this is not a reason to muzzle the press.  There is a 1964 landmark legal case in the US Supreme Court known as New York Times vs. Sullivan.  The New York Times published a report that ultimately was proved false.  L.B. Sullivan, the city official who was the aggrieved party, sued the newspaper and a local jury awarded him a big sum.  It was raised to the Supreme Court which reversed the local court.  It established that even false statements by the press should not be liable to prosecution, if the statement is made in good faith, and not out of malice.  Establishing malice made it almost unprosecutable.  But this right to make a false statement in good faith must be protected if the basic right of public discourse is to have the “breathing space” it needs to survive.[2]

This is similar to freedom of religion in that even those who teach false doctrines should have protected freedom to do so.  Even as Christians detest what is taught, we counter it with the truth of the Scriptures.  But to prosecute religious teachers because their teachings are deemed as damning will only come back later to the teachers of the truth.  False teachers will have their judgment from God.  But let society have freedom for all religious discourses.  That way, truth will have its converts.

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:1-4)

Using the enormous power of the presidency to harass his critics in the press is demeaning of the President and of his office.  He does not have the principled stance of Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, who said: Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.

These are trying times to endure a presidency that has lost decency.

[1] The Works of Andrew Fuller (First published in 1841; Banner of Truth edition, 2007): 829

[2] Michael Trachtman, The Supremes’ Greatest Hits: The 37 Supreme Court Cases That Most Directly Affect Your Life: 162-165

Providence – not Superstition – for 2019

Providence

Trust is believing that ultimately God’s purpose will prevail – even amidst the apparent triumph of evil and when good seems so overwhelmed.  God is working out His purpose.  Even when we are hard of seeing and hearing how it happens, it will have its victory.

 

It is that time of the year – the old one concluding, and a new one beginning – when superstitions and pseudo-sciences are at their peak of influence and following.  Polka dots and round fruits to represent wealth.  Preference for pasta to symbolize long life.  Feng Shui to manipulate good energies.  Zodiac and Chinese calendar-cycle to divine the secret charm of the coming year.  The options are numerous.  Each is an exercise in false hope.

A well-instructed Christian will not give credence to any of these superstitions.  It is not because the Christian’s alternative is fatalism.  A what-will-be-will-be attitude is not Christian at all.  Certainly, it is not according to the Word of God.  A Christian is as much concerned as anyone else for the new year’s prospect.  He has his expectations.  He hopes.  But he holds steadfastly to something more certain than superstitions.  It is called providence of God.

Concept of Providence

It is not a word that is commonly used in the English Bible.  In the KJV, it only occurs once (Acts 24:2), and there it only means the foresight of Felix’s leadership.  The one time it occurs in the NIV is closer to our sense, in Job 10:12, You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit. But while sparse in occurrence, the idea pervades biblical thought.  In systematic theology, providence is put under the category of the works of God – after His predestination and creation.  Where predestination is the plan of God from eternity past (also called decrees), providence is the execution of the plan in time and history.  In the simple assertion of Reformed theologian Hermann Bavinck, “according to Scripture and the church’s confession, providence is that act of God by which from moment to moment he preserves and governs all things.” [ Hermann Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol 2: p. 596 ]

The pervasive “all things” in the coverage of providence is intended to spare nothing from God’s governing control.  All created things are in the two modes of either remaining in the same state, or changing into another state – in philosophical language, being or becoming.  Belief in providence holds that all states of being remain as they are by the preservation and provision of God.  As Nehemiah exalts God: You alone are the LORD; You have made heaven, The heaven of heavens, with all their host, The earth and everything on it, The seas and all that is in them, And You preserve them all (Neh 9:6).  Even the changes, the becoming, are directed by the purpose of God.  In contrast with the pagan deities, the prophet asserts, The LORD of hosts has sworn, saying, “Surely, as I have thought, so it shall come to pass, And as I have purposed, so it shall stand…”  For the LORD of hosts has purposed, And who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, And who will turn it back? (Isa 14:24, 27).

Theologian GC Berkouwer summarizes, “All things, having once proceeded from God’s creative hand, are still utterly dependent upon his omnipresent power… all things are indebted for their existence to the preserving act of God; let God cease to act and the universe will cease to exist.  This concept of sustenance opposes every claimant to absoluteness in this world – gods and idols, and any who would autonomously and sovereignly pretend to a self-sufficient existence.” [ G.C. Berkouwer, The Providence of God: p. 50 ]

The assertion of Scriptures is as emphatic when it pertains to God’s providence in the affairs of mankind – human actions and intentions.  This happens without any infringement of man’s moral accountability and responsibility.  When men do the evil, the culpability is theirs; but even the evil does not happen outside God’s providential purpose.  Sometimes, God restrains the evil (Gen 20:6); and at other times, He lets loose man’s own evil devices, So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices (Psa 81:12).  In this, humans remain ‘free agents’ in their actions.  Their will is not coerced contrary to their nature.  Providence must not be stretched to the denial of human freedom and moral responsibility.  In the language of the Confession, “God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty and power of acting upon choice, that it is neither forced, nor by any necessity of nature determined to do good or evil.” [ 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: IX. 1 ].

Use of Providence

How are we to use the concept of God’s providence in facing the prospect of 2019?

It is a corrective to the heavy emphasis on the miraculous and spectacular.  A dominant faction in Christian circles has inculcated the expectation that God’s acts of power are to be seen in the miraculous and supernatural.  Its effect is the impoverishment of faith – reducing it to a magical formula that is more pagan than Christian.  Many are blind to the wonder of providence that is often hidden in ordinary motions – human or natural.  The 19th century English preacher, CH Spurgeon, puts it eloquently:

Everything is in the Divine purpose, and has been ordered by Divine wisdom. All the events of your life – the greater, certainly; and the smaller, with equal certainty.  It is impossible to draw a line in Providence and say this is arranged by Providence and that is not. God’s Providence takes everything in its sweep- all that happens. Divine Providence determines not only the movement of a star, but the blowing of a grain of dust along the public road. God’s Providence knows nothing of things so little as to be beneath its notice, nothing of things so great as to be beyond its control. Nothing is too little or too great for God to rule and overrule. [ Spurgeon’s Sermons “The Hairs of Your Head Numbered” #2005. Mt.10:30 ]

It is an inspiration to the real challenge of faith – to trust in God.  In his book, Trusting God, author Jerry Bridges makes an impressive comparison between obeying God’s commands and trusting God in our circumstances.

Why is it easier to obey God than to trust Him?  Because obeying God makes sense to us… But the circumstances we often find ourselves in defy explanation.  When unexpected situations arise that appear unjust, irrational, or even dreadful, we feel confused and frustrated.  And before long we begin to doubt God’s concern for us and His control of our lives. [ Jerry Bridges, Trusting God: ch 1; from the back cover ]

Trust is believing that ultimately God’s purpose will prevail – even amidst the apparent triumph of evil and when good seems so overwhelmed.  God is working out His purpose.  Even when we are hard of seeing and hearing how it happens, it will have its victory.  As Stanley Grenz confidently assures,

Despite appearances to the contrary, the world historical process is going somewhere.  God is directing human affairs to the final revelation of his sovereignty and reordering of the universe in the new heaven and the new earth.  In his time, God will act decisively.  And even now he invites us to orient our lives around his ongoing program.  By means of allegiance to God revealed in Christ we can exchange the disorder of life for a new order marked by community or fellowship with God, others, and all creation. [ Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God: 123 ]

Believing in God’s providence, we can own the language of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563):

Q28:  What does it profit us to know that God created and by His providence upholds all things?  

A28:  That we may be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and for what is future have good confidence in our faithful God and Father, that no creature shall separate us from His love, since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move.

What a comfort the providence of God truly is!  May it be the foundation of your hope in 2019.  A God-blessed New Year to all!

Born of a Virgin? Why?

Isa 7 14

The wonder is not how finite man is made into a divine; rather, it is the infinitely divine becoming genuinely human – new-born infant!

 

In what could be the earliest confessional statement of the Church outside of the New Testament, the Apostles’ Creed affirms of Jesus in its third line, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. This is a confession that goes back to the two birth narratives of the Gospels – Matthew 1:18 – 23 and Luke 1:26 – 38. All of orthodox Christendom affirms the virgin conception of Jesus. Why is this significant?

Roman Catholics use this as a basis for the exaltation of Mary in their hierarchy of saints. One must not dismiss this lightly. The recognition of Mary is pronounced in the Lukan narrative. The angel called her, from the well-known KJV translation, blessed among women! (Luke 1:28). Mary herself, conscious of the implication of her favor, said: behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed (1:48).

What must be rejected is the excess to which this Mary-exaltation in the Roman Church was carried. Dogmas developed that gave Mary a position contrary to her original status as a humble maid of Galilee. This includes Pope Pius IX’s declaration of Immaculate Conception as church dogma in 1854. This certainly is against Mary’s confession of God as my Saviour in the Magnificat (Luke 1:47) – owning her need of salvation as herself a sinner. She acknowledges herself as beneficiary of God’s mercy (1:50). One should also deny the tradition of perpetual virginity – to which even some reformers subscribed. It is expressive more of the medieval disdain for sexual union than a serious theological deduction. The time-reference of Matthew should be significant: Joseph took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son (Matthew 1:24, 25). Mary’s role as a dutiful wife would have normalized after the birth of Jesus.

So why was Jesus conceived of a virgin? Jesus’ was not the only miraculous birth. Even Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ birth was preceded by the account of the conception of Elizabeth leading to the birth of John the Baptist. But all other such miraculous births were of married women who could not be pregnant, or of mothers past their pregnancy age. Such was Sarah’s birth of Isaac. The case of Jesus was unique as the only case of conception by one who was a virgin. Was it necessary? For what?

Continuity and Discontinuity

As the Son of God was to become Man, his humanity must be continuous with the humanity that then existed. He cannot be like Adam, created from the dust, without human parentage. The becoming-Man of the Son of God was to be an act of sharing with flesh and blood (Heb 2:14). Thus, the conceiving by Mary gave him his human substance. The begetting was by the Holy Spirit, but all the conceiving was by Mary. Everything in the process of conception followed the natural human development. This is a marvel in itself. God became everything that humanity undergoes from embryonic to fetal development in the womb! He was, in every way of his human nature, born of a woman (Gal 4:4).

Ancient art has attempted a variety of ways to portray Jesus as super-human: the child with a halo on the manger! Even Martin Luther’s carol says, the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes! Why not? The wonder is not how finite man is made into a divine; rather, it is the infinitely divine becoming genuinely human – new-born infant!

While in every way human, this God-made-man is virgin-conceived, and thus, without a human father. As theologian, GC Berkouwer, puts it:

The human procreation of a human life is not the way of incarnation. At the end of such a way we shall not find Jesus Christ. In analogy with what Jesus says concerning Abraham, we might summarize the relationship with: before Joseph was, Christ is. This is no biological explanation nor does it eliminate the fatherhood, but it recognizes the uniqueness of this birth, which may also be described as a coming into the world. [1]

Lutheran theologian, Robert Duncan Culver, adds his own take:

The virgin birth provides a reasonable explanation for how a divine Being who is without beginning might take to himself a human nature without the procreation of a new person. [2]

In being born, Jesus is like any human being. In being born of a virgin, Jesus is not like any human being. He is continuous with humanity, but at the same time, is the Inaugurator of a new humanity.

Humanity without Corruption

The virgin conception of Jesus spares him of that corporate connection with Adam that grounds the imputation of sin. This seems to be the point of contrast in 1 Corinthians 15:47, The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. Both the first Adam and Jesus, as second Adam, are possessor of the divine Image of their respective humanity. In contrast with the first Adam’s humanity as earthly, Jesus’ is heavenly. The latter’s divine image is not just inherited from Adam, but all his own as a man from heaven. While it has nothing explicit to say of the virgin birth, it does corroborate the idea of a different origin of Jesus’ humanity. Says Gordon Fee,

Paul urges that since believers have borne the image of the man of earth, they should also now (because they will) bear the image of the man of heaven. The christological significance of this text is its certain emphasis in context on Christ’s humanity and thus on his being the second Adam, the one who has most truly borne the divine image in his human life. [3]

This significance of the virgin birth is underscored by Reformed theologian, John Murray,

The Son of God was sent in that very nature which in every other instance is sinful. The Son came by a mode that was supernatural, by a mode consonant with his supernatural person, and by a mode that guaranteed his sinlessness. But he came in a way that preserved fully his organic and genetic connection with us men who are all sinful flesh. He was made of the seed of David, of a seed that was sinful, and of a woman who was herself sinful and afflicted with the depravity incident to fallen humanity. He came into the closest relation to sinful humanity that it was possible for him to come without thereby becoming himself sinful. This is the incarnation that actually occurred. [4]

William GT Shedd affirms,

The doctrine of the sinlessness of Christ is, thus, necessarily connected with the doctrine of the miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit. The one stands or falls with the other. [5]

Test of Supernatural Presupposition

If for nothing else, belief in the virgin conception of Jesus tests the supernatural commitment of any theologian. J Gresham Machen spent his life and ministry contending against the Liberals of his day. He saw in the issue of the virgin birth a test case.

It is perfectly clear that the New Testament teaches the virgin birth of Christ; about that there can be no manner of doubt. There is no serious question as to the interpretation of the Bible at this point. Everyone admits the Bible represents Jesus as having been conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the virgin Mary. The only question is whether in making that representation the Bible is true or false. [6]

To return to Culver,

In a practical way, the virgin birth tests whether a theologian or a theology is approaching Christianity with wholly naturalistic assumptions or is open to the supernatural… This does not make the virgin birth central to the structure of Christian doctrine and the plan of salvation, but it is a useful test. [7]

Conclusion

Ultimately, the uniqueness of the birth of Jesus is grounded on the uniqueness of his saving mission. It is not the manger that has become the central symbol of the Christian faith – but the Cross. It is those who see the need of a Saviour from sin who will see the necessity of sinlessness as prerequisite to His saving work. It is those who see their need of salvation from sin who want the One born of a virgin. The Saviour of sinners must Himself be a Man – but not like any man.

Endnotes:

[1] GC Berkouwer, The Work of Christ: 122

[2] Robert Duncan Culver, Systematic Theology: 48

[3] Gordon Fee, Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study: 119

[4] John Murray, Collected Writings II: 133

[5] William GT Shedd, Dogmatic Theology: 639

[6] Gresham Machen, Virgin Birth: 382

[7]  Culver, 481

 

Social Justice – Common Grace or Saving Grace?

Rom 3 26

This is the good news that is to be proclaimed by the Church, as the agent of the kingdom of Christ.  It is imperative that the Church should not lose sight of this mission as one of saving grace.  It must not be confused with common grace.  The task of proclamation for salvation cannot coalesce with militancy for a just society.  Preaching is not protest.  Justification is not social justice.

 

A heated debate is currently raging among evangelical brethren in America.  The subject is the place of social justice as a theme of gospel proclamation, and as a mandate of church mission.

Concerned evangelical leaders have publicized their position in “The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel.”  Its key negation states, “We deny that political or social activism should be viewed as integral components of the gospel or primary to the mission of the church.  Though believers can and should utilize all lawful means that God has providentially established to have some effect on the laws of society, we deny that these activities are either evidence of saving faith or constitute a central part of the church’s mission given to her by Jesus Christ, her head.”[1]

Predictably, those on the opposite side have criticized this position.  One critic says of this statement, “At worst, it represents a toxic agenda to discredit and undermine godly men and women crying out for biblical social justice, national and ecclesiastical repentance, and meaningful reconciliation.”[2]

Each side of the debate has legitimate concerns, seeking fair assessment and response by the other.  Both sides must resist polarizing their position, while demonizing the other.  It is my humble submission that the subject can be addressed by appeal to an old pair of perspectives of grace – as common grace and as saving grace.

 

God’s gracious dealing with mankind can be categorized as common grace or saving grace.

While God’s grace is a clear concept of the Bible, differentiating it as ‘common’ grace and ‘special/saving’ grace is a theological construct.  It is not biblical vocabulary as such.  But the legitimacy of such categorization arises from the need to see God’s favor even on unbelievers who do not have the blessing of salvation.  Thus, such favors are described as common grace, because even if they are not saving, they are still undeserved by sinful man.  Whereas, salvation blessings on believers, and the Church, are called saving grace.

Theology traditionally includes under common grace such blessings as morality, civilization, human vocation, and prosperity.  In his address to the farmers of Lystra, Paul affirms that “(God) did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17).  It is impressive that even amidst their pagan idolatry, Paul is not restrained from recognizing the hand of God in the blessing of their vocation.  Common grace also includes good works of unbelievers.  Cornelius, even as an unbeliever, was commended for his ‘prayers and alms as… memorial to God’ (Acts 10:4), and yet he still needed to know the way of salvation.

The concept of common grace acknowledges that there is blessedness and goodness in the human community that does not constitute their salvation; but they are still God’s favors that remain undeserved by man – and hence, grace.  John Calvin acknowledges that God honors even the morality of unbelievers:

Hence this distinction between honorable and base actions God has not only engraved on the minds of each, but also often confirms in the administration of his providence. For we see how he visits those who cultivate virtue with many temporal blessings. Not that that external image of virtue in the least degree merits his favor, but he is pleased thus to show how much he delights in true righteousness, since he does not leave even the outward semblance of it to go unrewarded. Hence it follows, as we lately observed, that those virtues, or rather images of virtues, of whatever kind, are divine gifts, since there is nothing in any degree praiseworthy which proceeds not from him.[3]

The significance of this distinction can have a telling effect on the way we weigh God’s various dealings with people.  Michael Horton warns against this confusion,

When we confuse these two categories, it is easy to see success in business as a sign of divine favor and floods in a particular region as the sign of divine reprobation… The ungodly mistake God’s common grace for saving grace by presuming that because things are not so bad right now, they are not under God’s displeasure, while believers wonder, ‘Why do the wicked prosper?’ (Psalm 73).  Unless we understand the difference between common grace and saving grace, unbelievers will be led to presumption and believers will be led to doubt.[4]

This is where we need to rightly place social justice and the gospel in the category of grace each belongs.

 

Social Justice is in the realm of Common Grace

The equality of all mankind is a principle based on God’s creation.  All are equal, regardless of ethnicity and social class, because we are all human beings by virtue of God’s creation.  “The rich and the poor meet together; the LORD is the Maker of them all” (Prov. 22:2).  Upon the equality of all stands the imperative of justice that must treat all equally.  There should be no innate advantage of one race/class over another.  Where racial advantage is obtained, it is unjust because it vitiates the equal creaturehood of every man and woman.

This equality is to characterize society as human society – not Christian society.  Equal treatment is to be extended to all as human beings, not as a believer or unbeliever.  In other words, one does not need to be a gospel believer to receive equal treatment as a human being.  It is his as one created in the image of God – as much as every other man and woman.

It is for this purpose that human government was put in place to have oversight of justice in human society.  “The king establishes the land by justice” (Pro 29:4).  Such a ruler need not be a believer in order to rule with justice.  Nero was the cruel emperor of the Roman Empire when Paul wrote of such rulers, “he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4).  Peter makes it imperative for Christians, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Pet. 2:13-14).

It proves a point material to this debate – that social justice can be obtained, not by necessity of the gospel, but the right application of the truth of creation of all mankind.  Even unbelievers can be instrumental to the promotion of justice and the reformation of society so that equality of all is the order that prevails.  It does not take a Christian president to reform society to become more just, and its people socially moral.  The Christian mission does not depend upon human government to pursue its goal.  Social justice is common grace and not of the essence of the gospel.

 

Church Gospel Mission is in the cause of Saving Grace

 Because individual Christians live in the two realms of common grace and saving grace, they have the responsibility of actively supporting causes and policies that promote social justice.  But the kingdom that Christ brought about by His death and resurrection is about saving grace – salvation of sinners by the grace of God through gospel faith.  This is the kingdom in which Jesus began to sit upon His throne from the time of His resurrection (Acts 2:30-33).  This kingly reign is yet of a priestly nature for the purpose of mediation and intercession (Heb 8:1ff).  This is not to be mistaken for any human government which has the mandate of justice in society.

The justice that concerned most the saving work of Christ is the justice of God that demands the vindication of His broken law.  That vindication demands the punishment of sinners.  This creates that great mystery expressed of old, “How can a man be righteous before God?” (Job 9:2).  What the redemptive work of Christ has done is to solve that mystery through His death.  It was a substitutionary death that satisfies the justice of God.  The result is that God “might be just and the justifier of the one who believes in Jesus” (Rom 3:26).

This is the good news that is to be proclaimed by the Church, as the agent of the kingdom of Christ.  It is imperative that the Church should not lose sight of this mission as one of saving grace.  It must not be confused with common grace.  The task of proclamation for salvation cannot coalesce with militancy for a just society.  Preaching is not protest.  Justification is not social justice.

We commend the usefulness of social action; but the Church has weightier matters in its hand.  Kenneth Myers warns,

Although one might respect the intentions of people who promote them, the use of boycotts in the name of Christ is always liable to distract attention from the authoritative proclamation of truth and repudiation of error that is the first duty of the church of Jesus Christ.  It suggests that Christians are to be identified essentially as part of a political movement, rather than as a spiritual body… If public protest gives the impression that Christians are principally concerned about power in the political order, it will become that much more difficult to take thoughts captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ.[5]

The cry for justice by the oppressed is real.  Christians must be decisive voices to arouse the collective conscience of society.  But the Church is to be another voice, or better, Another’s voice – that of Christ through the preaching of the gospel.  Through living the truth of the gospel, the Church is to be a demonstration of that new humanity that learned to “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” – a precursor of the time when “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore’ (Isa 2:4).  It envisions the kind of earth it will someday become when “the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord” (Rev 11:15).

But while that is not yet, the Church must be on the mission of saving grace.

 

[1] “The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel” VIII. The Church; https://statementonsocialjustice.com/

[2] “Why I cannot and will not sign the ‘Social Justice and the Gospel Statement’” RyanBurtonKing.blogspot.com

[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion: III. 14. 2

[4] Michael Horton, Where in the World is the Church? (Moody): 189

[5] Kenneth Myers, “Proclamation Instead of Protest” from Michael Horton (ed.), Power Religion: 46f

Christian-Turned-Mocker


Gal 6 7

It is rightly said, Mockery is the result of a poverty of wit.  I dare say that the real intention of resorting to mockery is not to disprove the Christian faith.  The mocker is often without a rational answer to the Christian apologetic.  His mockery is intended more to alleviate a harassed conscience.  The mocking laughter has the sound of whistle in the dark.

 

“Ridicule is the tribute paid to the genius by the mediocrities,” says Irish poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900).  This applies very aptly to the Mocker-in-Chief, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.  After the much-publicized meetings with Christian leaders – first with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), and then, with the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) – he promised a moratorium, only to break it in subsequent public meetings.  As always, he only displays his mediocre knowledge of religion in general, and of the Christian faith in particular.

This leads me to reflect on a particular type of a mocker of religion.  This is the person who mocks the Christian faith out of his supposed knowledge of it.  He may have been himself a former professor of that faith.  Or more usually, he may have spent his childhood years under Christian parentage, until he came to adulthood and chose “freedom” from his religious tutelage.  Now he feels qualified to scoff on the faith that he once professed.  We can call him a Christian-turned-Mocker.

To mock is to treat with scorn or contempt.  The idea of mockery is to make its object a laughingstock.  It betrays a deep bitterness that may not be present in ordinary resentment.  The Christian faith seems to elicit the most bitterness when it provokes opposition.  Christianity, of all religious faiths, is the most vulnerable to the treatment of mockery.  After all, Christian advocacy of freedom of religion and speech guarantees that there will be no reprisal against the mocker.  Try to mock Islam.

What makes one mock the Christian faith that he once espoused?  The most obvious answer is disenchantment.  The impression of failure on the part of those he once respected for their Christian faith disillusioned him.  Whether the failure is real, or just a misconstruction, a string of the same will create an increasing imprint.  It leads to the wrong conflation that the failure of its followers proves the falsehood of the faith.  No wonder that it creates a bitterness that is turned into mockery.  That such a process of disenchantment is going on should be a sobering reminder for Christians to be mindful of their testimony in the eyes of the world. 

But to the disenchanted, I must appeal.  Christians do not pretend to be perfect.  Indeed, it is a part of our conviction about holy living that we can never attain perfection on this side of glory.  We appropriate by faith the redemption of Christ in His atoning work.  By that, we are forgiven of our sins – but that is not sinlessness; far from it.  Our struggle with sin is real, and perhaps, even more fierce, given the standard we seek to meet – to be like the Lord Jesus.  And if you have witnessed such outbreak of sin in our words and ways, it is one of those failures, of which we will have many in this life.  But that does not mean the spiritual change is not for real; it is not just anywhere near complete.

Our argument for the Christian faith does not stand on any false claim of perfection on our part.  It stands or falls on Jesus of Nazareth who died in time-and-space history, and who rose from the dead alive also in time-and-space history.  In the language of the Scripture, “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4).  If you will object to the Christian faith, conceive your apologetic against Jesus. It is He Who we claim to be perfect, Himself God, but became Man to redeem sinners – including mockers.

If your way out is by mocking Christians, you prove nothing, for we already admit our flaws and sins.  The question confronting you is the same with which Jesus confronted the mockers of His day, “What do you think about the Christ?” (Matthew 22:42).

It is rightly said, Mockery is the result of a poverty of wit.  I dare say that the real intention of resorting to mockery is not to disprove the Christian faith.  The mocker is often without a rational answer to the Christian apologetic.  His mockery is intended more to alleviate a harassed conscience.  His mocking laughter has the sound of whistle in the dark.

Mocking the Christian faith, however, has the tragic consequence of being its own punishment.  When mocking becomes a habit, it is self-confirming.  The mocker will justify his sin.  As the Bible warns, “There will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions” (Jude 1:18). That is why a plea such as this one will likely engender only more mockery.  So warns biblical wisdom, “Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse… Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you” (Prov. 9:7-8).  But the worst mocking was endured by Jesus on the Cross.  Why not by a poor follower?

If one becomes a Mocker-turned-Christian, it will not be the first time.  CS Lewis once called Christianity a “false mythology” and became one of its staunchest defenders.  Such is what grace can do even to a mocker.

There is a truth that you can mock but can never overturn.  “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:7).  If you choose to persist in the lie of your own mockery, I will lament for your soul in this life.  But even in eternity, I cannot mock on your mockery turned to wailing!

Blasphemy of the Arrogant

Dan 5 23

The only way to ensure that Christians can exercise freedom to proclaim the message of the gospel is if they are willing to grant that freedom to those religions whose teachings they detest.  The president’s blasphemy makes my blood boil.  But I believe in freedom of expression – alas even a blasphemous expression!

 

“Who is this stupid God?”  Thus, challenged Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte at the opening of the National ICT Summit in Davao City last June 22, 2018.  There is no graceful way of evaluating it.  The president is guilty of blasphemy.

Blasphemy is defined as “expressing through speech or writing that which is impious, mocking, or contemptuous toward God.”[1]  That is what Mr. Duterte did.  It was uttered in the middle of his ranting against the idea of original sin.  His remarks were riddled with his usual cuss words.  But what made them obnoxious was the gross ignorance that characterized them.  He obviously did not know the story of the Fall of Man in the Genesis account, but he proceeded to narrate it anyway.  His narration was colored by his patented risqué, telling his salacious version of a grave biblical story.

What compounded the whole spectacle was the arrogance of Mr. Duterte’s pretentious conclusion.  He ridiculed the whole subject of the Fall and original sin as not worthy of any belief.  And that a very sensible man like him can pronounce on such stupidity.  The president is, of course, not aware that original sin is a theological concept that has exercised theologians, philosophers, and biblical expositors for many centuries.  And they are not a bunch of insensible people.  Many of them were geniuses, and I am sure, possessed more integrity and morality than this president.

The fact is, the concept of original sin gives better sense of the condition of man – his propensity to evil and why human life, in its natural condition, as the Enlightenment philosopher Thomas Hobbes puts it, is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”  But with the concept of original sin is the message of redemption.  For if Adam is the one man by whom “sin entered into the world” (Romans 5:12), there is a second Adam by whom there is righteousness – the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 5:18-21).

It is not my intention in this piece to explain and defend the Christian doctrine of original sin.  That will have to wait for another post.  My intention is only to show that Duterte’s comment was way beyond his mandate as president, and certainly, very short of his personal qualification.

I know many Christians were deeply offended by the president’s blasphemy.  I was.  I can understand why many are calling for radical measures to call the president to account.  The president should apologize to those he offended, if only because that is the mark of humility.  Probably the president does not have it, and he will not apologize.  I am sure that he would have, if his insult were directed to the Islamic religion.  He might have had to deal with what happened to the French magazine Charlie Hebdo just for making a caricature of the prophet Muhamad.  Duterte calculated that Christians are easier to insult because of their commitment to freedom of religion.

I rest in the Lord for the accounting of the president’s dishonoring of God.  Daniel’s rebuke of Belshazzar, the regent of Babylon, fits this president: “the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified” (Dan. 5:23).

I also happen to believe in freedom of religion.  We do not live in the days of Oliver Cromwell who had King Charles beheaded in 1649 for being on the wrong side of a Civil War of religions in England.  The only way to ensure that Christians can exercise freedom to proclaim the message of the gospel is if they are willing to grant that freedom to those religions whose teachings they detest.  The president’s blasphemy makes my blood boil.  But I believe in freedom of expression – alas even a blasphemous expression!

He is also a lost soul that must evoke compassion from Christians.  His was an arrogant and ignorant blasphemy.  Because of his blasphemy, may God have mercy on his soul.  But because of his arrogance and ignorance – and he is our president – may God have mercy on us!

 

[1] Donald McKim (ed.), The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms (Westminster John Knox Press): p. 34

The Home-Focused Mother

Pro 31 29

 

Put in such a negative way, who will not lose the joy of living?  But it is spotlighting the struggle side, which all vocations have share of, while dismissing the triumph side of home-keeping.  What about a stable family, well-reared children, a well-ordered house fit for hospitality, and with all these, a fulfilled woman?  Definitely this latter side sees no torture, but enjoys family life.

The sheer patience and determination is born of a principled belief in the value of motherhood.  It is not the torture of Sysiphus with its endless cycles.  Motherhood sees its triumph in children who become crowns for their generation… I submit without question that the mother has contributed more to society than any female roles.

 

 

The emancipation of women, it is claimed, is the noble cause of Feminism.  If by this emancipation is meant deliverance from the oppression of male-dominated society that has treated women as mere sex-objects, Christians should stand to be counted.  But it appears in their discourses that feminists mean something more radical.  Their cause is emancipation of women from the “bondage of the home.”

Leading feminist champion, Simone de Beauvoir, makes this vivid description of the woman’s domestic bondage,

Few tasks are more like the torture of Sysiphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day. The housewife wears herself out marking time … The battle against dust and dirt is never won … Severe, preoccupied, always on the watch, she loses the joy of living…1

Put in such a negative way, who will not lose the joy of living?  But it is spotlighting the struggle side, which all vocations have share of, while dismissing the triumph side of home-keeping.  What about a stable family, well-reared children, a well-ordered house fit for hospitality, and with all these, a fulfilled woman?  Definitely this latter side sees no torture, but enjoys family life.  It should applaud the sentiment of Edith Schaeffer,

The mark of Christian families should be the demonstration of love in the day-by-day, mundane circumstances of life, in the many moments of opportunity to show that love suffereth long… What is a family? A formation center for human relationships — worth fighting for, worth calling a career, worth the dignity of hard work.2

Is the home a woman’s torture chamber from which she needs eman­cipation, or is it a relationship center upon which the woman must focus?  The Bible has a very definite side to this issue.  One may wish to be a feminist and reject Scriptures, she must do so openly and honestly.  But no one can honestly subscribe to Scriptures as the Word of God, and espouse the feminist view of the home as domestic bondage.

DEFINED ROLE

The rationale for the woman’s creation is stated in Genesis 2:18ff.  She is to be a “helpmeet” to the man.  This word has provoked misunderstanding.  It is often employed by those who hold the view that women are inferior to men by nature.  And in reaction to this view, the opposite side do everything to wrest this word of its sober intent.

Perhaps, before setting forth the defined role that is contained in this text, let us take a look at the whole of Scriptures.  Two clusters of Scriptures must govern our understanding of women.

(a) Scriptures giving dignified place to women

The classic representative is Proverbs 31:10ff.  It is unique in contemporary literature in its exultation of the virtuous woman. [ See separate article by Steve Hofmaier in this issue ]. Women in the Old Testament played prominent roles in the central events of Israel’s history.  This led Old Testament scholar, Walter Kaiser, to observe:

Women were not chattel to be ordered about and used as men pleased in the Old Testament, ranking slightly above a man’s ox or donkey! They were fellow heirs of the image of God, charged with tasks that exhibited the originality, independence and management ability of the ‘woman of valor’ in Proverbs 31 and were called to enter holistically into sharing all of the joys and labors of life.3

(b) Scriptures safeguarding the rights and worth of women equal with men

The feminist favorite text of Galatians 3:28 is as vigorously asserted by Evangelicals who do not espouse feminism.  This is a text that shows the absolute equality of all under the blessing of the grace of God.  This equality is acknowledged in what traditionally was male-dominant privileges.  In Matthew 5:27-32; 19:3-9, Jesus’ permission of divorce in case of adultery, which the Jews understood and practiced as a male prerogative, notably was extended to women.  Jesus accepted that they can be (and often were) the aggrieved party.  Following this train of thought, Paul’s pronouncement in 1 Corinthians 7:4 establishes the woman’s mutual right and authority on her spouse’s body.

The cause of biblical womanhood is not served by unwise pro­nouncements on the supposed superiority of the man over the female.  The common assumption is the supposed physical superior­ity of the male.  But it is only a one-dimensional measure.  Science has established that women have a greater pain-threshold than men.  There is always another dimension whether one uses the intellectual superiority or emotional superiority argument.  The structure does not stand on gender superiority.  Man and woman are equal.

Back to the ‘helpmeet’

While equal, man and woman are distinct.  Equality does not lead to interchangeability of roles.  And from its origin, the man-woman relationship in the home have clearly defined roles.  The woman is to be the help meet (= matching, comparable, corresponding to, etc.) for the man’s incompleteness.  The word does not indicate inferiority.  Recent research into the Hebrew root of ‘ezer reveals connection with the idea of strength. (cf. Deut. 33:26, 29)  Kaiser goes so far as to suggest the translation for Gen. 2:18, “I will make a power [or strength] corresponding to man”.  Rather than male superiority, the word reminds us of male inadequacy!  The woman is the strength that man needs to complete his life.

But now that much has been admitted, this text mandates the female focus in marriage.  From the very beginning, there is a role-hierarchy that God mandated in the house.  Paul affirms this in 1 Corinthians 11:9, “Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man”.  Also in 1 Timothy 2:12, 13 [ see my separate article, “Evangelical Feminism?” ].  We must agree that this text sees in the order of creation a principle mandatory upon all.  So says Lenski,

God could, indeed, have created both man and woman, Adam and Eve, in one undivided act.  Today many think and act as though God had really done so. But the fact is otherwise. Nor should we think and say that at this late date God’s creative act, which lies far back in time, makes no difference. The facts of creation abide forever. They can be ignored without resultant loss or harm as little as can other facts of nature.4

The resulting hierarchy structure from this order is the mandato­ry authority of the male partner and the subordinate submission of the female partner.  James Hurley observes the consistent appeal of New Testament discussions to the creative act of God,

Our examination of New Testament arguments concerning marriage has shown that the marriage relation was viewed as ordained by God at creation, with a particular structure as a continuing element of that relation. With the exception of 1 Peter 3, the major apostolic discussions of marriage all appeal to the divine institution of marriage at creation as a ground for the present ordering of it (1Cor. 11:7-12; 14:34; Eph. 5:31; 1Tim. 2:13-14). These discussions not only prescribe the institution of marriage, but also demand a particular structure within it.5

DEFINITE PRIMARY SPHERE

The mandated role defines the primary sphere of the woman’s vocation in marriage.  That sphere is the home.  This position will throw feminists into a fit of protest.  “Bondage!”  “Domes­tic oppression!”  As though, secular career has no bondage and oppression all the more cruel?  Why not the emancipation of women from the primary concern of the secular to have her primary freedom at home?  Is this not why the woman was created for the man.  Indeed, her mandated role requires her, under normal circumstances, to devote her primary efforts to being a wife.  Many a home is broken because the wife sees more the ‘well-watered plain’ of career advancement than the laborious task of home-building.

Exalted vocation of Home-building  

Our protest against feminist denigration of the home must be passionate.  Scriptures direct the moral assessment of woman in what she makes of the home.

Every wise woman builds her house,

But the foolish pulls it down with her hands.                                Proverbs 14:1

Here the wisdom (in Proverbs, a moral/spiritual attribute) of the woman is measured in terms of its impact upon the home. Note that woman is the modifier in the original, and might better be translated, ‘womanly wisdom’.  The wisdom that is uniquely femi­nine is exercised in the field of home-building!

The New Testament re-affirms this focus.  Where Paul anticipates marriage to occur, this is his instruction to the woman partner, “… bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully” (1 Timothy 5:14).  His language indicates how Paul takes this issue as crucial to the interests of the gospel cause.  And in the collection of virtues that he urged on women in Titus 2:3-5, Paul revolved woman’s duties and graces on the concerns of the home: “… love their husbands, to love their children… home-makers… obedient to their husbands,” capped by the now familiar warning, “that the Word of God may not be blasphemed!”

In this connection, we must raise the serious issue of mother­hood, a calling without substitute.  But, perhaps, motherhood is the most unappreciated of human vocations.  This is the age of the career-woman.  It is much easier to feel valuable where there is regular salary and certain promotion.  On the other hand, educated women cringe at the thought that their BS and BA or higher will end up with changing diapers and breast-feeding.  It is thought embarrassing, and at any rate, inferior.  But is it?  Is motherhood the dumping ground for the ill-educated?  We must protest against this with every fiber of our being.

Walter Chantry corrects this sentiment,

Proverbs 10:1 tells those who are children that ‘a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother… Motherhood could not be a part time hobby… Godly women do not live for kisses and nice little gifts, but to see their children walking with the Lord in right­eousness. All of a godly woman’s hopes in this world are bound up with the children of her motherhood.6

To say that only those who can do nothing worthwhile in society should just become mere mothers is tragically foolish.  The infant life deserves the best qualified woman, qualifications that put the stress on patience of character and reliable stock of knowledge.  Of course, education contributes greatly to her knowledge and character, and with whatever livelihood she can render without robbing the home of its primacy.  But the sheer patience and determination is born of a principled belief in the value of motherhood.  It is not the torture of Sysiphus with its endless cycles.  Motherhood sees its triumph in children who become crowns for their generation.

I submit without question that the mother has contributed more to society than any female roles.  Multiply the number of children yet in their crib.  They will make up the fiber of society tomor­row.  What type of fiber that will be, depends on the hands that rock their cradle.  Some of them will end up in the gutter, largely because of slack mother (and a father who is no better).  Others will become pillars of the nation and society.  Let us not forget that behind them are patient motherly hands.  Here lies the value of motherhood — not in salary or degree, but in the life that it builds.

If for this reason alone (there are more!), it is enough to espouse this as a cause for reformation: Home-focused Mother!

Happy Mother’s Day!

NOTES

  1. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, (trans. by H. M. Parshley) [1952]: p. 425
  2. Edith Schaeffer, What is a Family?; Baker Book House [1975]: p. 81
  3. Walter Kaiser, Toward Old Testament Ethics; Zondervan Publication [1983]: p. 207-8
  4. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of I and II Corinthians; Augsburg Publsihing [1963]: p. 443f.
  5. James B. Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective; Zondervan Publication [1981]: p.160
  6. Walter Chantry; from the tract The High Calling of Motherhood; Banner of Truth