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Office of All Believer: Ruling a Kingdom

Philip Rainey

 

The previous article dealt with the idea of office in the kingdom of God. We saw that, being created in Adam to be officebearers, we shared the dreadful consequences of his fall, but that our office is redeemed in Christ. Christ is thus the officebearer in God’s kingdom, and sharing his anointing we now function again as prophets, priests, and kings. Nothing less than being rulers in God’s kingdom is the astonishing privilege and calling of every believer. Young person, do you realize that as you do your schoolwork, learn your catechism, relate to your siblings, listen to the sermon, in fact in everything you do and everywhere you go, you are ruling a kingdom? That is exactly what Peter tells those Christians to whom he wrote — all of them: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation . . .” (1 Pet. 2:9). Every believer is a royal priest, a priest-king.

But now the question arises, “What is this kingdom over which I in the office of believer bear rule?” We have spoken much of the kingdom of God, but what is it? First of all we must say what it is not. The kingdom of God is not an earthly kingdom. It exists in time and space and is found over the face of the earth, but it is not earthly. This means that its source is not of this earth. Originally, the kingdom of God was centered in a physical garden. As such, its king was the man Adam. But Adam was of the earth, earthy; now the second man, the Lord from heaven, is its king, and so the kingdom is heavenly in character. The kingdom is made up of those things that “(e)ye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). The kingdom is made up of those things that God has revealed to us by his Spirit, and thus it is a spiritual kingdom (1 Cor. 2:10).

At this point, you might be saying to yourself, “Hmm…a spiritual kingdom…is it then a real kingdom?” And the answer is most definitely. In fact, the kingdom of God (or the “holy nation”) possesses every characteristic of a kingdom. Think for a moment of the things that make up a kingdom or nation; all of these the kingdom of God possesses. It has a land: the heavenly Canaan. It has a king: Jesus Christ. It has a constitution: the Bible and the Reformed confessions. It has laws: the ten commandments. It has a government: the elders of the church. It also has an army: God’s people are soldiers who, clothed with the Christian’s armor, wield the sword of the Spirit, the word of God. O yes, the kingdom of God is a real kingdom all right. In fact, we may even say it is the real kingdom of which all the nations of the world are pictures; pictures not in the spiritual, ethical sense, but insofar as they exhibit the elements of rule.

The Bible identifies the kingdom with the church. Ephesians 1 tells us, in the context of his position at God’s right hand, that Christ is exalted to be head over the church (vv. 20–22). Here the idea of “head” is ruler or king. The kingdom of Christ is the church. Christ rules the church by his word and Spirit. This applies first of all to the local congregation, what we call the church institute. Your congregation is the kingdom of Christ, where the special offices represent Christ: the elders are kings, the deacon priests, and the minister functions especially as prophet.

As the kingdom of God, the local congregation is that “royal priesthood,” or kingdom of priests, of which Peter speaks. But we make a huge mistake if we see that kingdom and its work solely, or even mainly, in terms of the special offices. That would be a huge mistake for the simple reason that the fundamental office in the church is not that of minister or elder, but of believer. This is evident when the Bible calls those who serve in the special offices servants. They are, of course, servants of Christ; but they serve Christ by serving the people of God. We may even say that Christ gives the special offices to the church precisely in order that the office of believer may properly function. The special offices are Christ’s gift to the church so that the kingdom is orderly and functions as a royal priesthood.

The kingdom of God is the true church of Jesus Christ wherever she manifests herself in the world. There Christ rules by his word and Spirit. There you have a royal priesthood where every believer in his or her office joyfully serves in submission to their King. But that rule of Christ is over every aspect of the lives of the citizens of God’s kingdom. It doesn’t end with our worship in church on the Lord’s day. And so we live as prophets, priests, and kings wherever we are and in whatever we do: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). And so we carry that spiritual principle and reality (the gracious rule of Jesus Christ) into all our life in the world.

That spiritual principle of the kingdom is all embracing for our lives. Just as an ambassador carries the word of his king or president into another country and there plants the flag of his country, so we carry the word and rule of King Jesus into the foreign country of this world. In all our life as a citizen of the kingdom of God, we take our stand on the side of the living God. As faithful prophets we speak his word over against the lie; as righteous kings we rule ourselves and all that over which he appoints us; and as holy priests we consecrate ourselves and all things to our God.

But you might ask, “How do I apply all of this in my life at Covenant Christian High; how do I manifest my office as prophet, priest, and king?”  Or one could say, “Sure, I believe all this, but what difference does it make?”  The answer is it makes all the difference in the world.  The answer is found in the fundamental Reformed principle that what we believe about something governs our behavior towards it.  The question of how we apply this doctrine in our lives could yield some very profitable discussion.  Let me suggest a few ways.  I will take as an example the young person attending Covenant Christian.  How do you live there in the office of believer every day rubbing shoulders with other believers?

As a king (or queen) in God’s kingdom, you take responsibility for your actions.  You do this as one who bears rule.  You have the anointing of Christ so that you can (and do) bear rule in his kingdom.  You rule yourself and all those things over which God has set you.  Included in those things is your time and how you use it; your body and how you care for it; your friends and family as good gifts of God.  You take responsibility for all these things and use them for the glory of God.   That means, for example, you will have your assignments in on time.  Your teacher should not have to get after you about them being late.

A prophet is one who knows the word of God and out of that knowledge he or she speaks.  The root meaning of the word for prophet in Scripture is “to bubble over”.  The picture is of a fountain that gushes up and cannot be contained, so that the idea of prophet is one who bubbles over with the word of God.  Practically, young person, that means you need to study the word of God.  Your calling as a prophet is to have a deep knowledge of the Bible.  And yes, this needs to be a theological knowledge; theology should not be a scary word for you; theology is not just something for seminary professors or your pastor.  This is your calling and out of that knowledge you confess God in the world as His prophet.  There is a particular temptation here for covenant youth.  That temptation is peer pressure, just to go along with the majority.  But as a faithful prophet you must confess the truth of God even when you do so alone on certain issues.

It remains to say something about how you live practically as a holy priest at school.  The basic idea of a priest is one who devotes himself (or herself) and all things to the service of God.  The apostle speaks of this calling in Romans 12: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (v. 2).  Part of the service of a priest is sacrifice.  The Old Testament priests were always sacrificing animals of one kind or another.  Today, however that function is fulfilled in us as we offer spiritual sacrifices of praise and service.  Another element of your priestly office is compassion.  Frequently in the gospels we read the Lord was moved with compassion (Matt. 9:36, Mark 1:41).  This is because Jesus is our merciful High Priest who is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Heb. 4:15).  As a priest you reflect Jesus as you show compassion to your fellow students.  There are many opportunities every day to do this.  Perhaps there is a student who is socially awkward; the kind of person who finds it hard to fit in.  Out of the great love and mercy the Lord has shown you why not go up to that person and say, “I’ll be your friend.”  In so doing you have compassion upon him.

Yours’ is a high and blessed calling.  We spoke a little earlier of how we carry the word and rule of Jesus into this world as his representatives.  The flag of his kingdom that we plant in the foreign and hostile country of this world is emblazoned with a red cross.  It is the cross of Jesus that is all the power of your life as prophet, priest and king.  It is to that cross that we must all come every day to seek grace for our calling.

Philip Rainey is a member of Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church in Byron Center, MI. The first article in this series appeared in the February 2019 issue of Beacon Lights.

 

Originally published February 2020, Vol 79 No 2

Question and Answer 32 occupies a blessed location in our Heidelberg Catechism. It comes in the middle of a section that is all about our Savior.  Q&A 31 asks, “Why is He called Christ, that is, anointed?”  Q&A 33 asks, “Why is Christ called the only begotten Son of God?” But between them is Q&A 32: “But why art thou called a Christian?” What a wonderful truth the location of this question and answer expresses. It is hidden in the doctrine of Christ! As such, we may see it as a beautiful picture of our union with Christ: “and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). 

Q&A 32 expresses the truth of the office of all believers: that by virtue of sharing Christ’s anointing, every believer is a prophet, priest, and king. Do you realize, young person, that you hold office in the kingdom of God? Yes, God has ordained and anointed you with his Spirit to a lofty position in his kingdom. That means you have important work to do. It is the work of that kingdom which Jesus established with his own blood, in which you are a member by regeneration, and in the interests of which kingdom every event in all the history of the world must serve. Yours is a high calling. 

At this point, however, there is a grave danger. It is that you might reply in this fashion: “Yes, I see what you mean. Of course I believe there is such a thing as the kingdom of God; that I have some kind of part to play; but really, the idea of me—a fourteen-year-old—being an officebearer in the kingdom is kind of remote stuff. It’s all very well learning this stuff in catechism class (and maybe even in an article in the Beacon Lights), but really, me a prophet, priest, and king!?” It may even be the case that we think about office in the church exclusively in terms of minister, elder, and deacon. That is a mistake and one that these articles are intended to correct. 

From time to time we hear our ministers preach on Q&A 32. We will have learned it in catechism class. As covenant youth redeemed in the blood of Christ and with his Spirit dwelling in us, we do begin to function as prophets, priests, and kings in God’s kingdom. But it is my conviction that we need to become a good deal more conscious about this matter. I believe we can too easily regard our calling at this point as something of an optional extra. By this I mean that we can have the idea that we can be good Christians, living a life well-pleasing to God, without consciously living as prophets, priests, and kings. That is a serious mistake, one with grave repercussions for our spiritual lives. If we do not understand our office, we will never function in it properly. May God give us to see the blessed privilege and high calling of our office in his kingdom. 

The Idea of Office 

Perhaps one reason we find it difficult to think of ourselves as officebearers in the church is because the very idea of office is despised today. One only has to look at society to see evidences of this. We hear that it is well-nigh impossible to teach today due to the absence of classroom discipline in many places.  What is this but a despising of the office of teacher? Or what of the obvious disrespect to the office of parent that we regularly witness in public today? Do we not rather too frequently see children, some of them very young, screaming their refusal of parental authority? And what of the highest public office in our land—that of president? Surely I need not draw attention to the constant, daily stream of slander, mockery, and vitriol flowing in that direction.   

Behind all this despising of office is sinful opposition to the authority of God. Office is a position in which one holds and exercises authority over others. And since the source of all authority is God, it follows that a despising of office is an attack on the authority of God. This is the meaning of the apostle in Romans 13:1, where he declares that all authority is God’s: “For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” It is to be feared that this general denigration of office we see around us affects our view of office in the church. 

In this connection, we should also draw attention to the widespread and wicked despising of office in that which calls itself church today. The so-called Bible churches are built on the rejection of biblical office. There you have either the exercise of every-man ministry or one-man ministry, namely the pastor. This is not even to mention the widespread and abominable spectacle of women in the special offices. But enough of the abuse and denigration of office. We shall now turn to office as God conceived it. 

The first thing we have to say about office is that man was created an officebearer. Adam, as he came forth from the hand of God, was created precisely to be God’s officebearer over his creation. And before we go any further and speak of the work of Adam, we need to pause. Yes, pause. And let it be a lengthy pause. For what an astoundingly unspeakable act of grace! We are always too ready to ask, “What does this mean for me, or for man?” But the question for a Reformed man or woman should be rather, “What does this mean for God?” God had no need of a world or of man. If there had never been a world, God would still have been infinitely happy and blessed in his own triune being. As Jehovah, the I AM THAT I AM, he is unchangeable, never lacking anything. Man, the world, and everything it contains, including all of the countless galaxies, never add anything to God. That God chose to reveal himself to another, namely man, is an act of pure grace. 

This is a crucial point to establish, for it expresses a fundamental truth about our relation to God — always and everywhere grace precedes works. And not only so, but grace is always the reason for works. Oh yes, Adam was busy in his office in paradise. Opening his eyes on a new day, Adam went to work as God’s king, ruling and consecrating all things in love to Jehovah. What a wonderfully significant and meaningful job! But Adam’s work was only ever fruit. He never earned anything, never merited anything. If you had said to him, “Adam, you’ve worked so long and hard today that you really deserve to be paid overtime,” he would have looked at you with furrowed brow. Adam would have said, “What in the world are you talking about? The very idea is altogether out of the question. I can never earn anything with God. I am only doing my duty; I can never go beyond it. In all my work God requires me to love him with all my mind, heart, soul, and strength. He created me in his own image so that I could love him and do all this work in love. I love my job as officebearer in God’s kingdom. It’s a delight to me. I don’t need any payment for it. The work is payment enough. For what do I have that I have not received?” With arms outstretched and the palms of his hands open, Adam would have concluded: “Don’t you see, it’s all pure grace!” 

That all the works we perform in our office, which is just to say all the good works we do, are only ever fruit is something we must establish, and establish emphatically. About this there must be no confusion or hesitation. Protestant Reformed young person, this principle you must believe and maintain at all costs. And you must do so precisely because this is the principle that has recently been under attack in our churches. A recent synod had to defend this principle against a certain teaching that said our obedience was necessary to gain something more, something extra, namely our experience of fellowship with God. But this simply cannot be the case for two reasons. First, although it is true that we  do many good works in our office (as Adam did), those works are only ever the fruit of God’s work in us. Furthermore, it cannot be the case that our obedience is the reason for or gains experience of fellowship with God for the simple reason that, like Adam, functioning in our office with all the works we do in it is experience of fellowship with God. To put it simply, fulfilling our office as a Christian is our life with God; it can never be that which brings us into the possession of something more. For what more can there possibly be than living as God’s friend-servant in the midst of the world? 

Having now established the Reformed and biblical principle that our office is all of grace and never anything by which we merit, gain, or receive anything from God, we need to see the only ground or basis of our office. That ground is our union with Christ. Jesus Christ is the officebearer in the kingdom of God. The idea of office is a position of authority to which one is ordained and qualified by God so that one functions as a servant of Jehovah. The Old Testament frequently refers to the promised Messiah as the servant of Jehovah: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles” (Isa. 42:1). See also Matthew 12:18. 

As a king, God’s first officebearer failed. Willfully disobeying God by eating the forbidden fruit, Adam turned traitor in God’s kingdom, transferring his allegiance to the devil. Adam remained in office, but no longer as God’s officebearer; he became a prophet, priest, and king of the devil. And now we must pause again. Once again a lengthy pause, for the spectacle is truly dreadful. God’s officebearer and son — bearing his own image — plunged himself and all creation, over which he was king, into ruin. Thus Adam made himself subject to the curse of God, and God cursed all things for his sake (Gen. 3:17). And not the least of the horrors of our first father’s treachery are the consequences for all his children. For we too now bear the image of the devil, whose children we are by nature (John 8:44). And what of our office? With father Adam, we too have become prophets, priests, and kings of the devil. And he is a cruel and hard taskmaster. 

But God will not allow the kingdom to be wrested from his control. Christ remains God’s “elect.” He is always at the heart of God’s decree of election. As such, all God’s eternal purpose for creation and history center on him, for “all things were created by [Christ] and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Col. 1: 16–17). This means the fall, with all its ruinous consequences for our office, was no accident. God was not taken by surprise, wringing his hands pathetically, then picking up the pieces in order to make the best of a bad job. The very idea is blasphemous! Rather, it was always God’s purpose that the first Adam make way for the last Adam; that the original officebearer function as a type of the true officebearer (Christ); and that in Christ our office be restored, and not only restored but raised to a higher level than could ever have been possible in Adam. For the first man is of the earth, earthy; but the second man is the Lord from heaven (1 Cor. 15:47). In him, our office is redeemed and will one day soon be perfected in the heavenly kingdom.     

This is the glorious gospel of the kingdom—not the miserable earthly kingdom of the cultural mandate of common grace so proudly proclaimed in local Reformed colleges, but the triumphant proclamation of God’s officebearer, who as prophet, priest, and king exercises his office in the redemption of the creation with the elect at its center. Thus does the apostle John speak of him as “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 1:5–6). Do you see it, young person? This is why you are called a “Christian.” It is exactly the answer of the thirty-second  question and answer of our Heidelberg Catechism. 

What an amazing privilege is yours—to hold office in God’s glorious kingdom! What lengths has not Christ gone to to make you kings and priests unto God! It is the price of his own blood. How can we not then serve God with all our hearts!?    

(to be continued) 

Originally published in September 2019 Vol 78 No 9 

 

Each era of world history has not only its own notable personalities and events, but also its own leading ideas.  These ideas shape every sphere of man’s life in the world so that the religion, ethics, politics, literature, and music of each historical period are all governed by the intellectual side of man.  We are well acquainted with the sixteenth century Reformation and how the recovery of biblical truth transformed both the religious and political life of Europe.  Or we think of the seventeenth century Enlightenment and how European society was largely restructured according to the ideas of that movement.

The leading ideas of each historical epoch also have their own terminology.  Widely accepted ideas must be formulated, and thus they come to be expressed in certain phrases and statements that assume universal form.  For example, the leading ideas of the Reformation came to be expressed in such terms as justification by faith alone, the sufficiency of Holy Scripture, and the priesthood of all believers, to name but a few.  Alternatively, one of the great terms or watchwords of the Enlightenment was rational enquiry (by which was meant that human reason alone would decide every question).

Our day too has its leading ideas with their own terminology.  You know the terms; they include diversity, inclusiveness, tolerance, equality, and LGBT rights.  These are the watchwords or slogans of the Western world today.  It is my contention that as Christians we need to become a good deal more self-conscious about these terms; specifically we need to do so in order to appreciate the dangerous, deceptive, and wicked thinking that lies behind them.

Before proceeding, it is well to point out that we have no problem with such terms as diversity and inclusiveness in themselves.  As Reformed believers we understand, for example, that in the very being of Jehovah God there is both unity and diversity: there is one divine being and yet three distinct persons.  We understand also God’s command that man should disperse over the face of the earth, that there be a diversity of nations (Genesis 1:28).  From this rich diversity our God gathers a catholic church.  Oh yes, we believe in diversity.  The diversity that God creates and which we see in the “one, holy, catholic church” is a beautiful thing.  Neither do we have a problem with inclusiveness.  We include in our fellowship all those who confess the truth and live a godly life.  I am taking issue with the current use of such terms by the ungodly in the advancement of their anti-Christian agenda.

The terms mentioned above are applied to every aspect of life today.  Public and national life, we are told, must respect diversity and promote inclusiveness.  Thus, for example, the US military recently dropped its ban on practicing homosexuals and lesbians serving in its ranks.  Thus a small bakery in one US state that refused to bake a cake celebrating a sodomite “marriage” was prosecuted and forced out of business.  Recently on a Saturday the leading English soccer teams displayed the rainbow colors on armbands and boot laces as a very public display of support for LGBT “rights”.

All of these things have been done in the name of diversity, inclusiveness, and associated terms. Obviously such terminology is very powerful; after all, our whole society is presently being transformed in line with it.  My reason for drawing attention to this is that these terms are not neutral.  That is how those who promote these concepts like to portray things; and that is how, wittingly or unwittingly a majority of people in our nation have come to see things.

As Reformed Christians, however, we must subject all beliefs including their associated terminology to the judgment of the word of God.  In doing so we will see that the terminology of our day and its application to every area of society is by no means neutral, but is the expression of a rabidly antichristian and wicked idea.  The controlling idea behind every sphere of western society today is the philosophy of postmodernism.  I have come to believe that postmodernism is one of (if not the greatest) of the devil’s lies.  It may even be the culmination and goal of all Satan’s false ideas by which he deceives countless millions today.

If you are not familiar with the term, you are certainly familiar with the central claim of postmodernism: there are no absolutes.  By this is meant there is no absolute right or wrong; everything is merely a matter of individual perception.  You do not like same-sex marriage and may even think it wrong; I am completely fine with it; both are a matter of perception and therefore neither is right or wrong.

I would be confident in saying that every Protestant Reformed believer reading this article would recognize and reject the example I cited above.  You would say quite rightly that same-sex marriage is contrary to the Bible and is therefore wrong; you would go farther and declare it to be grossly sinful, an abomination; and in this you would be absolutely right.

But let me take you to the college classroom, a far cry from the safe confines of your Protestant Reformed family.  Or let me take you to your new job where you are surrounded by youthful zealots of postmodernism thoroughly indoctrinated by the public school system.  When you let it be known that you believe same-sex marriage is wrong you are met with howls of protest and sentiments such as these: “What right have you to make such a claim?”; “you do not accept diversity”; “your position is bigoted and long out-of-date”; “you should really be ashamed of yourself and learn to be more tolerant.” How are you going to answer?  In such circumstances, and let me tell you I have experienced them, we can easily be put “on the back foot” and become defensive.

And speaking of the college classroom, lest anyone reading this article is tempted to think that I am engaging in mere quibbles over words—that I am playing a game of semantics—let me take you to a college classroom in which at least some of you may even be sitting.  Let me take you to Calvin College, Grand Rapids.  If you go to their official website and open the page on “Diversity and Inclusion,” you will see the terminology of diversity that I have outlined; you will also see that this terminology has exactly the meaning that I described.

On one of the webpage links you may read a lengthy report adopted by Calvin College in 2014 which fully commits the college to the wicked diversity agenda.  On page eleven, the report declares that a proper definition of diversity “should recognize the existence of differences other than race and ethnicity including difference of gender, ability, socio-economic status, and sexual identity.”  Sexual identity refers to homosexuality and heterosexuality.  And, of course, gender now refers not only to feminism, but also to trans-genderism.

It is clear from the webpage that Calvin College implements its diversity agenda across every aspect of college life.  For Calvin College, diversity includes LGBTQ “rights”.  This is clear from the report just quoted; but it is also clear—shamefully so—from the upcoming events listed on the webpage: there the college promotes “A Primer on LGBTQ” rights.  This event, to be held on campus in March 2017 (and for which you may sign up on the webpage), will introduce participants to LGBTQ rights and assess how welcoming Calvin is for LGBTQ students.  Does someone still say that I engage in mere quibbles, that I play a game of semantics?

It is my fervent prayer and desire that especially the youthful readers of Beacon Lights be able see today’s diversity language for what it is—a great delusion; or to put it even more simply, a big lie.  To quote the writer of Proverbs: “For [as a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (23:7).  If we think a lie in our hearts, we will also speak lies.  The terminology of diversity is a deceit and is rooted in the false thinking (philosophy) of postmodernism.  Hence, we need to be able to debunk this false thinking, showing that it is both intellectually incoherent and unethical.

Postmodernism is the idea that there is no such thing as truth.  By truth is meant any statement or belief that is absolute and universal.  Accordingly, truth is not and can never be objective; truth is always a matter of individual perception.  Perhaps an example will help: recently I overheard a conversation between two people in which it was the burden of one participant to say that we really should stop arguing about Calvinism and Arminianism.  Calvinism and Arminianism are both true; they are two sides of the one coin; one teaches the sovereignty of God, the other teaches the responsibility of man; they are merely different perspectives of the one truth.  Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth: Calvinism and Arminianism stand in a relation of outright contradiction, so that Calvinism is the truth and Arminianism is the lie.  But the position of the debater described above makes truth relative—one may be an Arminian and hold to the truth, or one may be a Calvinist and also hold to the truth.  The mind boggles, but this is precisely the kind of nonsense to which postmodernism leads.

Of course if there is no such thing as truth, then neither can there be any absolutes, for nothing is absolutely true (or false).  It is not hard to expose the incoherence of this position: If there are no absolutes, then the statement “there are no absolutes” cannot be absolutely true! Postmodernist philosophy is logically absurd—it asserts there are no absolutes at the same time claiming that this assertion is absolutely true!  And to think that all of this passes for the most profound wisdom—and is by far the majority opinion in every public college today—only shows how the devil has blinded the mind of those who believe not the gospel.

But postmodernism is not only intellectually incoherent (to put it simply, it is nonsense); it is also a wicked rejection of Almighty God and his truth.  Postmodernism is no different from any other false philosophy in that it has its roots in the totally depraved mind of man: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” Genesis 6:5.

Furthermore, every false way of thinking and every rejection of God’s truth is implied in our first parents’ sin.  The sin of eating the forbidden fruit was a sin of both mind and will.  The devil appealed to the mental faculty of man when he suggested to Eve that by disobeying God’s command both she and her husband would “know good and evil” and that “your eyes shall be opened” (the eyes of their understanding).  The devil is very clever, and he knows full well something that we ignore at our peril, namely, that the light of God’s truth enters a person via the mind.  The mind is the faculty by which either the light of truth or the darkness of the lie dwells within the whole man.

In effect, the devil’s lie was that our first parents could have true knowledge of God and themselves in relation to God without divine revelation.  In other words, they could dispense with the authority of God’s word and still have true knowledge of God and all things.  By their own unaided reason they could investigate the world and themselves and thus create their own system of ethics (“knowing good and evil”).  The knowledge thus acquired would be “truth” for them; but it would not necessarily be truth for anyone else; consequently truth becomes subjective—a matter of individual perception—and subjective truth is no truth at all.  My point here is that postmodern thought is not new; it was essentially the lie of the devil already at the beginning: truth is not something absolute reflecting the mind of Jehovah God who has all knowledge and is thus the arbiter of truth, but is rather something subjective and relative.

Since the thinking that lies behind the terminology is incoherent, so also is the terminology itself.  Those who promote such concepts as diversity and inclusiveness today like to make us believe they mean them absolutely.  If you were to question such people about their advocacy of diversity as to whether they mean every religious belief and every sexual expression, none excepted, they would answer without hesitation, “Yes, of course! Every religious belief is equally valid and every sexual orientation is legitimate”.  This all sounds very tolerant and broadminded.  But what about biblical Christianity which holds that Jesus Christ is the only way to God and that every religion that denies this is by definition false and is consequently under the condemnation of God?  Is that view also “equally valid”?  In other words, can those who promote diversity accept as equally valid that belief which alone claims to be right?  Their answer will be “we cannot accept this belief because it denies diversity?”  And so you see their high-sounding claim for diversity is a sham and a fraud: they loudly proclaim how they accept and tolerate every religious belief and yet here is one—biblical Christianity—they will under no circumstances respect nor tolerate.

Protestant Reformed youth are, thankfully, shielded from the wicked philosophy of postmodernism.  Our churches still hold to the inspiration and authority of the Bible; for us the Bible is truth regardless what men may think of it: “thy word is truth” (John 17:17b).  The same belief in the authority of Holy Scripture is held in our Christian schools and in our homes.  For this we are thankful.  We love the truth of God and are determined not to sell it.  But our young people need to be prepared for the day when they will attend college and/or enter the workplace.  There they will most certainly be confronted with the terminology of diversity and inclusiveness.  I should rather put it more urgently: our covenant youth need to be readied for battle; we must see to it that they are skilled in wielding the sword.  That sword is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17).

Protestant Reformed young people, make sure you are skilled in the use of that sword!  You are going to need it.  The battle lines are sharply drawn today.  The wicked philosophy of postmodernism and its associated corrupt terminology represent a frontal assault of the enemy.  The assault is all the more dangerous in the form that it assumes—it wears the garb of tolerance, diversity, and broadmindedness.  Its disciples want you to think that any opposition to the diversity agenda renders you intolerant, bigoted, and narrow-minded.  They mean to put you on the defensive; and in this way to have you give up the antithesis (the sharp opposition to the lie).  You are engaged—as perhaps never before in the history of the church—in mortal combat for yourself, your church, and for the truth of your God.  In the strength of our God, may you do exploits.

Have you noticed how frequently the word strategy is used today?  Corporate, public, and ecclesiastical life are strategy-driven.  Politicians tell us we must have strategies to alleviate poverty, to fix failing schools, and to advance minority rights.  The list is seemingly endless and, of course, they all involve spending more of your and my money.  Churches have strategies for “outreach” (one of those nebulous words which can mean just whatever you want it to mean); for attracting and retaining “the youth” (who seem to be a special group who require special attention); and for cultural engagement, to name but a few.  At all costs we must have a strategy, or so we are told.  Without exception, the strategies not only ignore the word of God, but flatly contradict it.  They are all a series of humanistic answers to humanistic problems.

An example of this approach came to my attention recently as I listened to a news broadcast on the problem of sexual misconduct on American college campuses.  Recent government-sponsored surveys have found that over 20% of female undergraduate students have reported being the subject of sexual assault.  Numerous American colleges have legal judgments pending in cases brought by students aggrieved by what they consider to be colleges’ failure to protect them.  The news segment ended with a proposal from public colleges to counter the problem of sexual misconduct.  Yes, you’ve guessed it, they need a strategy: specifically a strategy to protect students from sexual assault.

Some colleges have already sought to address the problem of sexual misconduct.  The University of Michigan, for example, has instituted what it terms “healthy sexual relationship training” for all students.  The official in charge of the university’s program, Holly Rider-Milkovich, commenting on research data said the answer to sexual abuse is “changing our cultural expectations, so that sex is something people engage in when it is equally desired, not a goal ‘that someone strives toward, regardless of objection’”.  In her view sexual intercourse among students is legitimate and good when it is consensual; it is only when one of the partners feels obligated that it is bad.

Holly Rider-Milkovich’s answer is no answer at all, but is part of the problem in that it is a deliberate and wicked rejection of the word of God.  The Bible is very clear in its condemnation of all sexual activity outside the bond of marriage: “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4).  Her position is representative of colleges, student bodies, and students who simply assume the goodness and legitimacy of sex outside of marriage.  They call it good, but the Bible calls it fornication and warns those who continue in this sin that they will not inherit the kingdom of God, (1 Cor. 6:9–10).

The state is also leading the charge in developing such wicked strategies today.  One state-sponsored higher education website begins its section on campus life this way: “College provides an environment for many students to explore intimate relationships with casual partners or serious relationships” (Best Colleges.Com).  Forget the euphemistic language: they are promoting college as an environment for students to fornicate and bring upon themselves the judgment of God.  That is their strategy and it is one which Protestant Reformed youth must reject outright.

In the place of such wicked strategies, our young people need to know and practice the Bible’s program for sexual relationships.  Specifically, in view of the statistics cited above it is necessary for those of our daughters who attend college.  In this article, I would like to address the obligation of our youth in this respect; I would also like to address the responsibility of our fathers.

The calling of covenant youth regarding sexual relationships can be summed up in one word: chastity.  My dictionary defines chastity as follows: the state of being pure in body or conduct; modesty; purity of taste and style; simple, unadorned, unaffected.  This definition embodies two distinct but related ideas.  First, there is the idea of sexual purity.  Chastity involves purity of conduct with respect to our outward behavior.  It also involves purity of desire with respect to the inner desires of our hearts.  The Bible commands purity of conduct in 1 Corinthians 6:18: “Flee fornication.  Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.”  Purity of desire is commanded in Matthew 15:19: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.”

Closely related to sexual purity of heart and conduct is the second part of the dictionary definition, namely, to be simple, unadorned, and unaffected.  While these virtues or qualities have to do with our attitude to life in general, they are closely related to sexual purity.  This relationship is made clear in the Larger Catechism of the Westminster Standards (the historic confession of Presbyterianism).  In its explanation of the seventh commandment it lists as some of the duties required “modesty in apparel” and “diligent labor in our callings”.  In its description of the sins forbidden by the seventh commandment it lists among other things “wanton looks, impudent or light behavior, immodest apparel” and “idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, unchaste company.”

The relationship of these qualities to sexual purity is this: modesty and simplicity are inner attitudes or dispositions born out of contentment with who we are as a person and with the circumstances in which God has placed us.  God has given to every one of his children special gifts and a wonderfully unique personality.  And to you—godly teenage girl—God says you are beautiful.  It may be that no one else tells you that and perhaps you would not say that of yourself; but beholding your meek and quiet spirit which is in his sight of great price God says you are stunningly beautiful.  With such inner attitudes the Christian young person is able to live a life of devotion to God and consequently is better able to avoid the sinful pleasures of the world, one of which is fornication.

In addition to the obligation of chastity to which a covenant young person is called, there is also the need for support and accountability.  It is essential for those of our youth who attend college to have the support and accountability of family, friends, and church.  Covenant youth must not be in a position to “do their own thing” during their college years.  Sometimes in our circles I hear it said that we cannot forever shelter our young people from exposure to the world.  After all, so the argument goes, we shelter them for seventeen or eighteen years; there comes a time when they must stand on their own two feet.  Really!  Where do we read this in the Bible?  Where do we read that at seventeen years of age we open the door some morning, give our child a pat on the back and say, “Well, we’ve done our bit, now it’s up to you; it’s time for you to stand on your own feet and make your own decisions.”

One of those life decisions our young people will have to make (and may even have made before attending college) will be when and whom to date.  I believe this is a question that is especially relevant for our young women ( advisedly I refrain from using the term “teenager” since I believe the whole concept of the modern “teenager” is completely unbiblical).  The prevailing idea today is that when a young women gets to be around sixteen or seventeen she becomes autonomous in the matter of relationships with young men and may make her own decisions about whom and in what way she will date.

It is not my purpose in this article to address all the issues involved in biblical dating as opposed to the widespread practice of recreational dating (in which young people form a relationship, or indeed a series of relationships, without any scriptural accountability or protection).  I am seeking to describe God’s program for sexual relationships over against the wicked strategy of sexual awareness training promoted by many American colleges today.  I want to do this with specific reference to our young women; not that our young men do not need guidance in this matter, but our daughters are particularly vulnerable, as I hope to demonstrate.

That our young women are particularly vulnerable to sexual attention, unwanted or otherwise, in their college years is borne out by the statistics I quoted at the beginning of this article: some 20 percent of female undergraduates have reported sexual assault in a recent survey.  This is not a statistic in which we may take any comfort.  Perhaps some of us are tempted to respond, “You speak of sexual assault, which is a crime and therefore not something for which the young woman is responsible.”  However, the designation “sexual assault” includes unwanted sexual attention and sexual attention and activity that was initially consensual but which the young female no longer wants.  The statistic is therefore important more generally as an evidence of the sexual attention and pressure to which our college-age daughters are subject.

Our young godly women are vulnerable.  They are especially vulnerable at college, not least because they very often live away from home.  They are vulnerable to unwanted sexual attention, but they are also prone to the danger of forming romantic relationships with minimal or without parental supervision.  What is the biblical method for their protection?  In addition to the practice of personal chastity, it is parental supervision.  And it is specifically fatherly supervision.  To put it simply, it is dad’s job.  It is a role that dad must not delegate to mom; indeed he delegates certain of his responsibilities to the Christian schoolteacher as he undoubtedly delegates some to his wife.  But in the matter of protecting the sexual purity of his daughter and overseeing her romantic relationships, a Christian father takes the lead.

Fathers, you need to take your responsibility in this area seriously; much is riding on it, not least the establishment of godly, stable marriages in the church.  Dating ought to be with a view to marriage.  That means that if you want to know whom your daughter should date you need to start with the doctrine of marriage and work back.  Is the young man someone who would meet the biblical requirements for a godly husband?  Is he one who is diligent in his callings; showing himself to be submissive to his parents, someone with a work ethic who will be able to support your daughter?  Is he one who knows and loves the precious truths of particular grace, the unconditional covenant, and the antithetical life and who will therefore be able to lead your daughter in the doctrine to which she promised to adhere when she made public confession of faith?  These are questions that you as father, and really you alone, must answer.

That fathers have both the calling to protect their daughters from unwanted sexual attention and the authority to oversee the relationships they may form with young men follows from the father’s position within the family.  A father is the head of his home.  That God gives a father this position in his home is clear from 1 Timothy 3.  There we read that a father ought to be “One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity”.  What is true for those who desire a special office in the church is true for all fathers, namely, that they are called to rule their homes.

There is one passage of scripture to which I want to refer in this connection.  It is a passage which specifically addresses a father’s rule of his daughter while she is still in his home and it is found in Numbers 30.  The context of the passage is the necessity of keeping our vows unto the Lord.  In this connection we read the following: “If a woman also vow a vow unto the Lord, and bind herself by a bond, being in her father’s house in her youth; And her father hear her vow, and her bond wherewith she hath bound her soul, and her father shall hold his peace at her: then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she hath bound her soul shall stand.  But if her father disallow her in the day that he heareth; not any of her vows, or of her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul, shall stand: and the Lord shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her.”

That this passage refers to a young woman is clear from the words, “being in her father’s house in her youth”.  So even though this young woman may be attending college fifty miles, or for that matter one hundred and fifty miles distant from home makes no matter; the word of God says she is part of the home and thus under her father’s headship.  These verses emphasize unmistakably the degree of authority a father possesses over his daughter.  We are told that a father has the right to annul (or cancel) a vow that his daughter makes, even one that she makes to the Lord.  Now it ought to be evident that if her father can annul a vow she has made unto the Lord, he can certainly cancel any promise or agreement she may have made with a young man.

A father’s right to cancel promises that he deems injurious to his daughter, including any agreement to enter into a romantic relationship with a young man, is an implication of his solemn calling to be her head.  Numbers 30 is also important in that it speaks of the cancellation of vows by a father over his daughter and by a husband over his wife.  Scripture knows of no period of autonomy for a young woman—that at the age of 16 or 17 she suddenly becomes her own head.  Immediately after teaching that a father may cancel promises made by  his young daughter, Numbers 30 teaches that if this young woman had a husband, then may he also cancel (or annul) any promises she has made.  A young woman is under her father’s headship or that of her husband: the scriptures repudiate the notion of the young autonomous female.

The scriptures repudiate this notion for good reason.  The reason is the wisdom of God for the welfare of our godly young daughters.  They are precious to him; they are beautiful in his sight; he has made them beautiful in holiness, for in eternal love he elected them and by the blood of his Son he redeemed them.  They belong to him and in his wisdom he protects them and leads them in love through the rule of godly fathers.  This is an awesome responsibility for fathers; it also requires humble submission of godly daughters to their fathers.  Such submission on the part of daughters is well pleasing to God.

In contrast to the strategies promoted by colleges for dealing with sexual abuse and unwanted sexual attention directed towards female students—which strategies arise out of unbelief and the rejection of God’s word—I have attempted to set out the biblical principles that should govern our behavior.  These principles apply not only to the threats posed to our daughters at college, but also their vulnerability to unwanted sexual attention and improper romantic relationships generally.

The days are evil!  The threats are real!  Our covenant daughters are in danger!  Not only so, but the threat of unwanted sexual attention and improper romantic relationships among our covenant daughters threatens the church.   For a Reformed father the church is precious.  He loves the church; he sacrifices time and money for the church; he works two jobs in order to pay Christian school tuition for the sake of the church; and he will fight for the church.  Protestant Reformed fathers, you have both the solemn calling and exciting privilege to protect and lead your precious daughters.  God gave them to you; they are the precious seed of the covenant who will produce and nurture the next generation.  Keep them in our Protestant Reformed churches!  You will do this as you exercise your calling to protect their sexual purity and to supervise their courtship: not just any young man will do; he must be one who knows and loves the Protestant Reformed faith.

It is that same Protestant Reformed faith that will enable our fathers to fulfil their calling.  Of ourselves, by our own strength, we could never fulfill this calling.  But our faith teaches us that God “hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations” (Ps. 105:8); and that our help is in the name of Jehovah who made heaven and earth.  With much prayer, love, and not a few tears fathers do this.  And the blessed result is that they “shall see their children’s´ children, and peace upon Israel” (Psalm 128:6).

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One of this year’s “mini conventions” was hosted by Grace and Grandville Protestant Reformed Churches at Quaker Haven Camp. Located just over two hours away in northern Indiana, the camp was a perfect fit for the 120 kids and 15 chaperones who attended. A total of twelve different churches were represented: Byron Center, Faith, First […]

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Editorial, November 2021: Catechism Season

At the point that this edition of Beacon Lights arrives in the homes of our subscribers, most young people in the Protestant Reformed Churches will have been sitting under the catechism instruction of their pastor or elders for more than a month. If our readers are honest, that observation probably comes with a (quiet) sigh […]

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