What is your response to good news?
What happens when you receive good news? You post it on Facebook. You call your friends. You talk to your family. Good news excites you, and it should. Such news you want to spread, not hide.
What is your response to the best news? Not engagement, a baby announcement, or acceptance into a college program,but something much higher, something eternal. The best news in the world is that God’s people—sinners, miserable in their woe and darkness—are saved from their sin in Jesus Christ. The gospel is the best news in all the world.
What is your response to that news? This news ought to excite us more than any other earthly event or accomplishment. But we are sinners. Often this news receives very little response. This gospel good news does not always grip the soul as it should.
Because we know our sin and failure, we go to the light of God’s word and see how the psalmist in Psalm 66:16 responds to this good news: “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul.” His inspired response is instructive for us.
The psalmist declares what God has done for his soul. What God did for his soul is outlined in verses 9–12. This man was tried like silver in the furnace of God’s affliction (v. 10). This was the proving of God that prepared him for heaven. The psalmist felt like a trapped bird or animal, for God had brought him into a net and laid heavy, nearly crushing afflictions upon him (v. 11). God caused his enemies to ride over his head, as the trampling of a horse and chariot; he traveled through fire and water (v. 12). Yet in all these afflictions, God held his soul in life, and did not allow his feet to be moved (v. 12). Not only did God hold him in life, but God brought him through the trials into a wealthy place, that is, heaven, the place of relief (v. 12).
This was God’s marvelous deliverance of the psalmist’s soul. This was not an abstract, disconnected-to-life truth that he declared, but a very personal, real truth. This is what God did for him spiritually, in the very core of his being.
Is not the psalmist’s experience yours? Have you felt the fires of God’s affliction-furnace? Have you experienced the heat of his furnace in the loss of a good friendship – the betrayal of a life-long friend? Have tears streamed down your face as you stood in the receiving line at a funeral home, with a family member lying in a casket only feet away? Have you been persecuted, facing the mockery and ridicule of the world? When these fiery trials descended upon you, perhaps you felt like an animal in a trap, unable to break free. Perhaps the pressure of these burdens was a weight almost unbearable to carry.
Yet, this is the good news: no matter what fire you pass through, God holds your feet so that they do not move. He holds your soul in life, and he will bring you through these hardships to a place of relief – heavenly glory. Though you suffer in this life, in Jesus Christ you have salvation from sin. Though you undergo manifold trials here below, God loves you in Christ, and he will bring you home to be with him. This is good news. This is the best news.
What will you do with this news?
In response to this good news, the psalmist says, “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul.” He beckons over, as if with the wave of a hand, those who are standing around him. He tells them to come near to him, for he must tell them the matter that is weighing upon his soul. He must communicate to them the joy of his heart. The psalmist will declare with his mouth what God has done for his soul.
This, then, is to be your response to God’s work for you and in you: declare it to others! Beckon to others around you to come near and hear what you have to say.
The ones whom you beckon are those who fear God. The text calls you to declare or witness to fellow Christians what God has done for your soul – those you meet and talk to at school, in church, in Bible society. When we say the word witnessing, we usually think of our missionaries in foreign lands, or our duty toward unbelievers in the world. But you must witness of your salvation also to those who fear God. This requires, young people, that you fellowship with and keep good, Christian friends. How will you live in obedience to Psalm 66:16 if you commune with the young people of the world?
The text tells you to declare to others of like faith what God has done for you. Declaring has to do with knowledge – being able to recount or express truth in a logical way. If you are to tell others about what God has done for you, then you must be able to communicate that. If you are zealous for the truth, but your zeal has no content, your witness is almost useless. How do you grow in the knowledge of God’s work and salvation? Diligent preparation for catechism is a must. Faithful church attendance is fundamental. Christian schools, and the instruction given in them, is absolutely key. God uses these means to build you up in the knowledge necessary to witness effectively to others of like faith. Do you value these means?
But declaring also involves zeal. This declaration of what God has done for your soul is not made with a long face, nor is it said in a whisper. But communicating to others what God has done for your soul is a truth that expresses itself on the face – excitement! It is a truth that the voice proclaims, loudly and with conviction! You must be as a pot of boiling water on the stove, ready to spill over! If you know the truth, but do not proclaim it with zeal, your witness will be ineffective.
Is this your zealous declaration after the worship service as you stand in the narthex? Is this mine? We have just heard the gospel of the kingdom preached… but do we talk about sports, hunting, and work instead? Is this our heartfelt witness at Young People’s Society? We have the grand opportunity to discuss God’s word…but do we sit without a word to say, eager to get home for lunch more than anything? You and I must work at this witness. We are witnessing, but we must always be growing in it.
You must know that Satan, the world, and your sinful flesh will seek to oppose you at every point, so that you do not carry out this witness to others of like faith. The obstacles are at least three.
One obstacle is embarrassment. Are you embarrassed to declare what God has done for your soul? This is certainly a problem that people of all ages experience, but it is more acute in the teenage years. As a student in high school, do you want to share with others what God has done for you? It is easy to have doctrinal debate – but doctrinal debate is not what Psalm 66:16 has in mind. Are you ready, without embarrassment, to declare to others what God has done for your soul?
Another hindrance to this activity of declaring has to do with the ones to whom you witness. “Why must I witness to others in the church? They already know for themselves what God has done. Witnessing to unbelievers? That I can understand. But witnessing to believers? Why must I do that?” Nevertheless, Psalm 66:16 is clear: you ought to find it your delight to tell others what God has done for your soul!
Furthermore, social media makes it increasingly difficult to talk about important matters face to face. Let us not allow social media to take away from our responsibility to witness, face to face, what God has done for us. Do not let your witness hide behind screens. Make this declaration personal, as the psalmist’s witness was personal.
But, to make this all concrete, one more question is necessary: what occasions lend themselves to such a witness?
This declaration can be made at times of trial. When you visit a loved one or a fellow church member in the hospital, this is a time for spiritual reflection and conversation about God’s goodness. Visit the widows and widowers in your congregation, and drop by the local rest home where the elderly saints live; you will have good opportunity to hear the testimony of God’s people—how God has been faithful to them in all the periods of their life. Use visitation at the funeral home – whether you stand in the receiving line, or are the one visiting – to talk about God’s faithfulness and grace.
This witness of what God has done for your soul can be made among your friends. You might choose to set aside Sunday nights, when there is opportunity, to discuss the sermon, or to sing psalms. In the summer months when church societies have stopped for a time, consider starting a Bible study with your friends, taking one night each week to discuss the word and declare to others what God has done for your soul.
Be a witness in your writing. Write in Beacon Lights. Write for the Young Calvinists blog. Write for your church newsletter.
God will bless that kind of witness.
What is your response to the best news?
We live in an entertainment-saturated world. To illustrate this, let’s enter into any given home on a relaxing Saturday evening. Dad and son have their feet up on the couch, shouting with glee as two hockey players draw blood at center ice. Meanwhile, mom rests in the living room, taking pleasure in the promiscuous and slanderous behavior of the characters in her fiction book. Another brother sits downstairs, heart racing with excitement as he shoots and mutilates hundreds of enemy soldiers with a controller and TV. Sister is not home—she received free tickets from a friend to listen to the band everyone’s been talking about lately.
Why another article on entertainment, you ask? Have we not long ago lost our battle against movies? Have not the comedies, music, and virtual realities of our world influenced the mind of our young people and young adults to such an extent that renewing the battle is a vain effort? By no means, is our cry! Beacon Lights, with the ancient church, must fight the battle against sinful entertainment. In a day in which church magazines advertise, rate, and review movies, and much of the church-world is swept up by the pleasures of our age, we stand with the ancient church against such worldliness.
Recently, I read a piece called The Shows (De Spectaculis), written by the church father Tertullian (150-220 or 240 A.D.). Little is known of Tertullian, but historians believe he labored either in Carthage or in Rome. You may have heard it said before that our society today, especially Western society, closely reflects ancient Rome. I was taken aback by the application that Tertullian’s warnings concerning entertainment and pleasure in Rome has for today. As you read this article, I hope that you, too, are simply astounded by the richness of instruction by the hand of this man, and apply it to your life as I have to mine. I was also struck how much I, and we all, have become so desensitized to the sinful entertainments and pleasures in our lives. I hope that Tertullian’s piece can serve the purpose that it makes us more sensitive to the sin all around us, and more eager to serve God even in this pleasure-laden world. I want to present Tertullian’s instructive and insightful discussion on entertainment and pleasure in ancient Rome, and then apply his teaching to today. After treating his discussion, we will briefly look at the proper view of entertainment, according to Tertullian.
To start off, Tertullian reminds his readers that the places and things used in the service of sin are not of themselves sinful. God created all things good; it is we who corrupt them. Says Tertullian,
It cannot, then, be thought that what exists by God’s own creative will is either foreign or hostile to Him; and if it is not opposed to Him, it cannot be regarded as injurious to His worshippers, as certainly it is not foreign to them. Beyond all doubt, too, the very buildings connected with the places of public amusement, composed as they are of rocks, stones, marbles, pillars, are things of God, Who has given these various things for the earth’s embellishment.
Perhaps this is obvious, but it is a necessary starting point. Hollywood corrupts with its filth, not your television; Nashville contaminates with its music laced with revenge, fornication, and drunkenness, not the radio itself.
But that which God has created good becomes a medium for sin by depraved man. Tertullian writes that the sport of equestrianism, of itself, was not sinful, but it became sinful when it was brought into the games: “In former days equestrianism was practiced in a simple way on horseback, and certainly its ordinary use had nothing sinful in it; but when it was dragged into the games, it passed from the service of God into the employment of demons.” Various aspects of equestrianism were dedicated to the gods; equestrianism, a good and pure activity of itself, became idolatrous when brought into the context of the games during that time.
Indeed, the games and entertainment of ancient Rome were permeated with all kinds of idolatry, and our entertainment today is no different. People do not dedicate college football games, soccer matches, and Hollywood productions to Jupiter or Mars. Yet, idolatry fills today’s entertainment—the great idol of self. Take a look at entertainment or celebrity magazines in the check-out lanes of your local grocery store—woman X is divorcing man Y; so-and-so is suing so-and-so over some infringement on his rights; at bottom, these celebrities ask, what is good for me? Drug addiction, alcoholism, and scandals run rampant in the professional sports programs. Commercials on the radio and television aim at self-improvement, self-gratification, and self-worship. Take away the names of the gods and goddesses, insert the idols above under the great umbrella of “self,” and the idolatry of Rome once again becomes manifest.
Tertullian not only charges sinful entertainment in ancient Rome for its idolatry, but also warns Christians of their duty to avoid entertainment because of the heathen people themselves in those places where the games and shows take place. Such a command can be found in Scripture. Tertullian states,
Well, we never find it expressed with the same precision [what he means here is that one cannot find this kind of command word for word in Scripture], “Thou shalt not enter circus or theater, thou shalt not look on combat or show;” as it is plainly laid down, “Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not worship an idol; thou shalt not commit adultery or fraud.” But we find that the first word of David bears on this very sort of thing [going to the circuses or theaters and combats or shows]: “Blessed,” he says, “is the man who has not gone into the assembly of the impious, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of scorners.”
Tertullian broadly applies this verse to the shows and games of his day. No Christian ought to be found at the places where the heathen congregate. Tertullian, then, not only has in mind the entertainment itself, but the unbelievers present at the places of entertainment.
What Tertullian has to say about avoiding the gatherings of unbelievers is applicable to us today. What about those with whom we fellowship when we attend entertainment venues? We can be quick to judge the entertainment itself, but sometimes we don’t think of the people watching the entertainment. Are the fans present at country music concerts those who are zealous for the worship of God? But the questions become harder, and involve even our attendance at sporting events, of themselves not sinful: what about our fellowship among those at a hockey game, for example, where swearing, gluttony, and drunkenness can be found? While I believe Christians may watch sports, Tertullian does seem to prick us where we do not want to be pricked. What effect does our fellowshipping with unbelievers have upon our hearts, even if the entertainment is not, for the most part, sinful of itself? It is true—we must live in the world, but our calling is to live not of the world. We must work with unbelievers, shop with unbelievers, etc.; but it’s another thing to entertain ourselves with unbelievers. Let us as young people and young adults discuss this point of Tertullian among ourselves and think about it carefully!
Tertullian does not stop with blaming sinful entertainment for its idolatry and for its erosion of the antithetical life, but makes one more devastating argument against Christian attendance at the shows. He does this by comparing the things of God with the sinful characteristics of entertainment in his day:
God has enjoined us to deal calmly, gently, quietly, and peacefully with the Holy Spirit, because these things are alone in keeping with the goodness of His nature, with His tenderness and sensitiveness, and not to vex Him with rage, ill-nature, anger, or grief. Well, how shall this be made to accord with the shows? For the show always leads to spiritual agitation, since where there is pleasure, there is keenness of feeling giving pleasure its zest; and where there is keenness of feeling, there is rivalry giving in turn its zest to that. Then, too, where you have rivalry, you have rage, bitterness, wrath and grief, with all bad things which flow from them—the whole entirely out of keeping with the religion of Christ.
Place yourself for a moment in the coliseum at Rome. You sit among the thousands of spectators as they yell wildly and shake their fists at two gladiators who are fighting to the death. The men around you have placed bets on a certain gladiator to win the battle; another man curses because his fighter is on the losing end; as you glance behind you, a woman is absolutely transfixed on the scene, unable to take her eyes away for a moment, perspiring heavily in her nervous anticipation. Hardly an environment for Christians!
Tertullian addresses our hearts. He speaks the Word of God when he says Christians must deal calmly, gently, quietly, and peacefully. He makes clear that the Bible forbids us to vex God with rage, ill-nature, anger, or grief. We too, with the church father, must examine the direction of our hearts when we place ourselves among the fellowship of unbelievers in the amusements of this world, as we watch the gruesome horror movie or the comedy with dirty jokes, or as we listen to certain kinds of music promoting an immoral lifestyle. What is filling our hearts and minds? Psychologists are dead-wrong when they judge video game violence, for example, merely by the outward rage it causes in teenagers. Sin starts in the heart. Sin is already found in the ungodly passions of our flesh. It does not matter that rock music does not lead you and me to an outward life given to the service of the devil in sin, for it has corrupted the heart already with its wicked lyrics. We, Christian young people and young adults, may never justify our use of sinful entertainment because we say it has no outwardly sinful effects on our behavior—Tertullian demonstrates that sin starts in the heart.
Because Tertullian speaks of sin present already in the heart, he forces us as Christians to be very strict with respect to what we allow for our entertainment. Sinful entertainment is not a matter of Christian liberty. We must always measure our entertainment against the standard of God’s Word. We may, I believe, and we must, as parents and young people, make definite lists for ourselves: what is acceptable (Christian) entertainment, and what is unacceptable (sinful) entertainment? Certainly, we must then agree, for instance, that all video games with shooting of humans, no matter the enemy and the circumstances, are sinful, because they excite in the heart the lust for blood and murder; much of country music glorifies drunkenness, fornication, greed, and a multitude of other sins, and ought to be detestable to the Christian; books are not exempt from criticism, either—no Christian ought to read literature that glorifies sin, for sin is horrifying to the child of God; the same can and should be said concerning television, movies, the internet, and all other forms of entertainment.
But Tertullian does not end his writing with the negative. I include here a lengthy quotation, simply breathtaking in beauty—truly a treasure from church history! With these thrilling words we positively conclude our treatment of the Christian and entertainment:
With such dainties [the sinful entertainments] as these let the devil’s guests be feasted. The places and the times, the inviter too, are theirs. Our banquets, our nuptial joys, are yet to come. We cannot sit down in fellowship with them, as neither can they with us. Things in this matter go by their turns. Now they have gladness and we are troubled. “The world,” says Jesus, “shall rejoice; ye shall be sorrowful.” Let us mourn, then, while the heathen are merry, that in the day of their sorrow we may rejoice; lest, sharing now in their gladness, we share then also in their grief. Thou art too dainty, Christian, if thou wouldst have pleasure in this life as well as in the next; nay, a fool thou art, if thou thinkest this life’s pleasures to be really pleasures. The philosophers, for instance, give the name of pleasure to quietness and repose; in that they have their bliss; in that they find entertainment: they even glory in it. You long for the goal, and the stage, and the dust, and the place of combat! I would have you answer me this question: Can we not live without pleasure, who cannot but with pleasure die? For what is our wish but the apostle’s, to leave the world, and be taken up into the fellowship of our Lord? You have your joys where you have your longings. Even as things are, if your thought is to spend this period of existence in enjoyments, how are you so ungrateful as to reckon insufficient, as not thankfully to recognize the many and exquisite pleasures God has bestowed upon you? For what more delightful than to have God the Father and our Lord at peace with us, than revelation of the truth, than confession of our errors, than pardon of the innumerable sins of our past life? What greater pleasure than distaste of pleasure itself, contempt of all that the world can give, true liberty, a pure conscience, a contented life, and freedom from all fear of death? What nobler than to tread under foot the gods of the nations—to exorcise evil spirits—to perform cures—to seek divine revealings—to live to God? These are the pleasures, these the spectacles that befit Christian men—holy, everlasting, free. Count of these as your circus games, fix your eyes on the courses of the world, the gliding seasons, reckon up the periods of time, long for the goal of the final consummation, defend the societies of the churches, be startled at God’s signal, be roused up at the angel’s trump, glory in the palms of martyrdom. If the literature of the stage delight you, we have literature in abundance of our own—plenty of verses, sentences, songs, proverbs; and these not fabulous, but true; not tricks of art, but plain realities. Would you have also fightings and wrestlings? Well, of these there is no lacking, and they are not of slight account. Behold unchastity overcome by chastity, perfidy slain by faithfulness, cruelty stricken by compassion, impudence thrown into the shade by modesty: these are the contests we have among us, and in these we win our crowns. Would you have something of blood too? You have Christ’s.
How much do you value your Heidelberg Catechism? You and I have the opportunity to sit under Catechism preaching nearly every Sunday of the year. What a delight! Talk to seasoned ministers and older members in our churches; they will tell you that they have grown in their appreciation for this treasure over the years. Not only is the Catechism very logical in its treatment of doctrine, but it is also written and presented beautifully. Every Lord’s Day is permeated with the comfort that every Christian needs. What in literature can possibly compare in beauty and depth to this monumental work?
To focus on the whole history of the Catechism would be too much for this article. We would, however, do well to highlight some of the important events which led up to the writing of it. I want to especially focus on the work and influence of Frederick III, the father of the Catechism. There is much application for us today in this interesting history. The history of the Catechism takes us to the Palatinate. The Palatinate was the largest and wealthiest province in Germany around the mid-1500s, and Heidelberg was its capital. Frederick III was one of seven electors in various provinces responsible for choosing the emperor. The Palatinate elector was head over all the other electors, and so he possessed considerable political sway.
In order to understand how God’s providential hand brought about the formulation of the Catechism, we should step back in history and briefly examine just a few of the controversies and troubles that Heidelberg experienced. Heidelberg held a mixture of groups—Lutherans, Melanchthonians, Calvinists, and Zwinglians. These varying traditions brought much unrest to Heidelberg. One man in particular, Tilemann Hesshus, a strict-Lutheran, stirred up much controversy. He became the general superintendent of the churches, dean of the theological faculty, and a pastor in the Church of the Holy Spirit. His hunger for power knew no bounds—he wanted all the attention and all the fame. In his mind, he could do nothing wrong. He introduced certain elements in the liturgy that again paved the road back to Roman Catholic practices, especially in regard to the Lord’s Supper. In another instance, he tried to refuse one young man, Stephen Sylvius, from obtaining his doctor’s degree because he would not insert material Hesshus wanted him to include in his thesis. Hesshus’ obnoxious, unrelenting personality could not be tolerated. The university senate barred him from their meetings. He lashed out, saying that the Heidelberg professors promoted godlessness and were not worth a cent. Hesshus also directly attacked another university student, Wilhelm Klebitz, for his views of the Lord’s Supper, which closely reflected Calvin’s views.
More trouble was brewing, especially controversy around the Lord’s Supper. In 1559, a special synod agreed upon the Stuttgart Confession which contained the doctrine of ubiquity, teaching that the human nature of Christ was everywhere present. Applied to the Lord’s Supper, this meant that Christ was present in the Supper. Acceptance of these views only sharpened the differences in Heidelberg, widening the gulf between the strict-Lutheran and Reformed positions concerning the Lord’s Supper. Additionally, in 1560, area theologians engaged in a formal debate on the Lord’s Supper in what is known as the Wedding Debates, during the wedding of Frederick’s third daughter, Dorothea Susanna. As one author humorously adds, “What could be more appropriate during the long week of celebration than a formal debate on the Lord’s Supper?” While the debaters discussed nothing new, the debate did prove to deepen the divide between the parties involved, and Frederick started to favor the Calvinist position on the Lord’s Supper more and more.
Something we should take notice of here before we go on is that Frederick did not come to his conclusions merely from discussions with theologians. True enough, debates and controversies sharpened his views, but more importantly, he became convicted of the biblical position of the Lord’s Supper, as outlined in the Catechism’s treatment of it, through personal study. “He was a diligent student of Scripture and accepted only that advice which his own study confirmed. Recognizing that he was only ‘a poor simple layman,’ he was confident, nevertheless, that patient study, prayer, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit would enable him to understand the Scriptures and reach the truth in the problems faced.”
How important this is today for us, young people! Sometimes I believe we can rely entirely upon our ministers, elders, teachers, and parents to give us all the answers we need. It is good and right that we look up to them and listen to them, but we are also called to study the Word ourselves and to compare their teaching to the teaching of Scripture. We must never blindly follow a man or woman whom we trust; humans make errors, often unintentionally. God’s Word is the final Word in all matters, and we must all become well-acquainted with its pages.
Back to the history. As can be seen, controversy riddled Heidelberg. The unrest and fighting needed to be settled quickly before more damage was done. In early 1562, Frederick ordered the formulation of the new Catechism for the Palatinate. Frederick listed his reasons for commissioning the new Heidelberg Catechism in his Preface on January 19, 1563. Let me allow Frederick to speak for himself:
[Some of the area schools and churches were] entirely without Christian instruction, others being unsystematically taught, without any established, certain, and clear catechism, but merely according to individual plan or judgment; from which, among other great defects, the consequence has ensued, that they have, in too many instances, grown up without the fear of God and the knowledge of His word, having enjoyed no profitable instruction, or otherwise have been perplexed with irrelevant and needless questions, and at times have been burdened with unsound doctrines.
Put simply, schools and churches were not always teaching the Truth of God’s Word, and many of the teachers proved unorganized and sloppy in their teaching. The result? Those who sat under this teaching became confused with perplexing questions, and even worse, lacked the fear of God and knowledge of his Word. Heidelberg was filled with controversy, ignorant and deceiving teachers, and great unrest; God in his providence gave this Catechism at just the right time!
Frederick’s words quoted above should strike us. How similar conditions in Heidelberg are to our day! We live in a church-world full of confusing, perplexing, and unnecessary questions. In addition, the preaching in many churches is more like a lively conversation, more concerned about social ills in the world than teaching about sin, Jesus Christ, the greatness of God, and salvation. Instead of carefully preparing biblically sound sermons from week to week, many ministers hastily type out a couple pages of notes on Saturday night, mostly containing opinions with only a thread of biblical teaching. The sheep in these congregations are starving. Not only is the feeding of the sheep put aside, but the leaders of these congregations neglect to do maintenance to the fencing around the pasture, allowing the wolves ready entrance to devour the sheep. False prophets easily deceive and devour malnourished sheep. Satan smiles.
Returning back to the history, the question must be asked, what was the reaction to the Catechism after its appearance in public? As could be expected, both Elector Frederick and the new Catechism received harsh criticism, especially from Frederick’s Lutheran relatives. One such critic was Frederick’s own son-in-law, Duke John Frederick of Saxony. John Frederick was bold enough to say that his father-in-law was in the grip of satan. Elector Frederick’s answer to his son-in-law is both instructive and beautiful:
You have been unnecessarily anxious, as if I were in danger of being deceived by the devil’s instruments; but thank God, I have attained to such an age, and to such knowledge and understanding of the divine Word that I am not moved about by every wind of doctrine. I would also most heartily wish that all others, setting aside their own feelings and the views of men, might be governed and led by God’s Word alone. In other respects I acknowledge before God, as is proper, that I am a poor sinner, and I pray daily for the forgiveness of my sins, and that by the power of the Holy Ghost I may grow more and more in the knowledge of His dear Son, my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Truly, the Catechism we have today reflects Frederick’s words of being led by God’s Word alone, and not the feelings and views of men! How important this is! We must be young people led, directed, guided, and completely bound by the Word of God. Feelings are real, but they must not be our guide.
Again I ask—how much do we value our Heidelberg Catechism? Knowing the controversies out of which it came should make us more thankful for it. Do we realize the importance of a regular, organized system to study the Word of God? Frederick recognized its importance: “It is essential that our youth be trained in early life, and above all, in the pure and consistent doctrine of the holy Gospel, and be well exercised in the proper and true knowledge of God.” The Catechism is thoroughly biblical, taking its content from the Word of God, laced with the theme of comfort. Its strength is that it takes the various teachings of Scripture and condenses them into a very clear, logical format. The result? A spiritual feast! What a blessing to have this same Catechism taught in catechism classes and preached on Sunday from week to week. May this very brief history, young people, deepen our love for this gift of God to the church of Jesus Christ!
“The carnal mind is unable to comprehend this doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and the certainty thereof, which God hath most abundantly revealed in His Word, for the glory of His name and consolation of pious souls, and which He impresses upon the hearts of the faithful. Satan abhors it; the world ridicules it; the ignorant and hypocrite abuse, and heretics oppose it; but the spouse of Christ hath always most tenderly loved and constantly defended it, as an inestimable treasure; and God, against whom neither counsel nor strength can prevail, will dispose her to continue this conduct to the end. Now, to this one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be honor and glory forever. Amen” (Canons, Fifth Head of Doctrine, Article 15).
Fathers, mothers, grandparents, and young people, are you anxious about the future of the church? Read that first paragraph over again and meditate on it for a while. What a beautiful article in our confession! The first two articles in this series have examined postmodernism in the colleges, and also postmodernism in the Emergent churches of our day. The articles called us to be aware of the spirit of our age around us which despises the truth of God’s Word. When we think of the storms that are and will be sweeping upon the church with increasing intensity, we might become anxious, and even worry constantly about the future of Christ’s body on this earth. As God’s people, we always need to be warned about the error, but at the same time, we need to be reminded of our preservation in Jesus Christ. This, I believe, is a proper conclusion to this series.
Hear Scripture on the preservation of the saints. Jesus prayed for the preservation of his people to his Father: “And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are” (John 17:11). Paul prayed for the Thessalonians that their “whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thess. 5:23). Listen to the promise to Israel: “Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me” (Isa. 44:21). Jesus spoke of himself as our faithful shepherd: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27, 28). The preservation of the saints abounds in Scripture.
This doctrine is our rock-solid comfort in this world. In keeping with the theme of the past two articles, I speak now of our comfort in a world of postmodern ideas. Some Christians today are ruthlessly tortured, imprisoned, and even killed by intolerant governments and religious groups. But in the West, where postmodernism is embraced, persecution at the hands of tolerance-lovers is more subtle, but it exists, and it is paving the way for more severe persecution. How much longer will governments and liberal churches allow ministers to preach the pure Word of God which expresses God’s hatred for homosexuality? How much longer will Christians be able to find employment while holding to an uncompromising position on Sabbath observance? At bottom, how much longer will the world allow the church to stand for truth? Let us not deceive ourselves. The nice, tolerant, accepting world will not always be tolerant toward Christians. Young people, there will come a day, possibly during our lives, in which we will not be able to buy or sell, and when we will be imprisoned, tortured, and killed. In this world of increasing wickedness and intolerance toward God’s people, the bleeding and battered bride of Christ needs to have the comfort of her preservation.
Living as a Christian in this postmodern world is costly. Are you ready for such a life? Am I? We must have a love for the truth as a fire in our bones, the consuming desire of our whole life. Both church history and our daily experiences show the cost of living faithfully in a postmodern world. Christians in ancient Rome died at the mouths of lions and burned in the fiery flames because of their love for Christ and the truth which he revealed to them. In the years leading up to and during the Reformation, men translated the Bible into the tongue of the people, risked their very lives, and lived in constant fear of the Roman Catholic Church. Fast forward to today. What drives mothers to sacrifice so much for the instruction and godly upbringing of Covenant children? What motivates fathers to work tirelessly at their job to pay for the Christian schools and support the churches, many times at the expense of a nice house, truck, and luxurious vacation? Why do our ministers give of their lives in the service of Jesus Christ, even if it means long hours in the study and work which is many times marked with tears and sleepless nights? Love for the truth! Confidence in God’s preserving work in that truth! Because by God’s grace, and entirely by his work in their hearts, these people find it a privilege to work, to suffer, to even die, for the sake of God’s truth.
II Timothy 3 and 4 is a striking passage in regard to suffering and preservation. Paul tells young Timothy in the beginning of chapter 3, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” Especially relevant to our topic is chapter 4, verses 3 and 4: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” This became very real in the Apostle’s life, for he says in verse 16, “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me…” But though we live in perilous times and the cost is great, even cutting into our relationships, Paul speaks confidently in verse 17, as we should, that “the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me…” Paul beautifully connects this to God’s preserving work in verse 18: “and the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
We know that God preserves his church, but this does not imply that God does not use means to preserve his church. He uses you and me. Never should we forget that we are all members in the body of Christ and that we all play vital roles. What work do you perform in the church? Perhaps you think that God would never or could never work through you for the good of his church. That could not be further from the truth. God uses many ways to keep the body of Christ strong; young people, in the strength of youth, contribute largely to this. When young people stand together, hands tightly clasped while standing on the firm foundation of truth, the postmodern winds cannot break their communion. In the college years, when the postmodern winds can be the strongest, it is important that we have very open lines of communication with our friends and with our parents. Are postmodern influences making you doubt some parts of God’s Word? Are you having second thoughts about biblical doctrine and life? Such thoughts are not uncommon to anyone, especially at an age of examination and questioning. Be open and communicate. Help others who you see struggling with this.
But especially pray to our Father in heaven. So often we hear this, but how important it is! Pray that, at those low points when you doubt, he would lift you up and strengthen your faith. Jesus did not pray that we would be out of this world, where wicked philosophies and worldviews constantly circulate, but that the Father should keep us from the evil (John 17:15).
God never changes. God’s truth never changes. God preserves his people in the truth of his Word. That is and must be our confidence in this world! As Protestant Reformed young people, we should, more than anyone, know in our heart and confess that preservation is all of God. Therefore, let us trust in him. He will never forsake those whom he has loved from all eternity. God preserves his church in truth! We respond to this the same way we started: “Now, to this one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be honor and glory forever. Amen” (Canons, Fifth Head of Doctrine, Article 15).
In the past article, we examined the timely and important subject of postmodernism. Many in our postmodern age are teaching that truth is not really knowable. Last time, we considered how many professors in colleges and universities have been swept up by the postmodern tide and how this is so dangerous, especially for students not firmly grounded in the faith.
This time we consider the Emergent Church Movement. If the last article was directed toward the young people, this one is perhaps even more urgently directed toward the young people. Emergent churches, just like many universities and colleges, have surrendered and given way to the popular and widespread ideas coming from postmodernism. I trust that we are all at least a bit familiar with Emergent churches. Emergent churches tend to attract thousands of people because of their ramped-up worship style and watered-down truth designed not to offend anyone. These churches are more like big corporations with complex marketing strategies aimed at giving young people and adults a more flexible and casual worship atmosphere. Leaders in this movement strive to alter, shape, and mold the gospel to fit today’s needs for today’s people.
Why should our young people be concerned about what seems to be such a distant reality? Emergent churches continue to draw in great numbers of people. They beckon young people; young people from conservative denominations; young people who are dissatisfied with the old paths and who seek the new, the hip, the revolutionizing. Perhaps you are more familiar with this movement than you even know. This past spring, Rob Bell, church leader at Mars Hill in Grandville, Michigan, came out with a new book called Love Wins. The book, to say the least, sent shockwaves through the church world. Bell twisted the Bible to such a degree that a wide array of church leaders found problems with the book. Bell has been in the news, and his postmodern colors have shown brightly for the whole world to see.
In order to drive to the center of postmodernism in Emergent churches, I want to give you an excerpt from an interview with Rob Bell and his wife Kristen from Christianity Today a few years back:
The Bells found themselves increasingly uncomfortable with church. “Life in the church had become so small,” Kristen says. “It had worked for me for a long time. Then it stopped working.” The Bells started questioning their assumptions about the Bible itself—“discovering the Bible as a human product,” as Rob puts it, rather than the product of divine fiat. “The Bible is still in the center for us,” Rob says, “but it’s a different kind of center. We want to embrace mystery, rather than conquer it.” “I grew up thinking that we’ve figured out the Bible,” Kristen says, “that we knew what it means. Now I have no idea what most of it means. And yet I feel like life is big again—like life used to be black and white, and now it’s in color.” (emphasis mine, rb)
Postmodern ideas fill the Bell’s language here. Notice a few things from this brief excerpt, drawing upon what you already know about postmodernism in the last article and its attack on truth. First, notice already in the Bell’s first statements how the authority in the Bible is undercut and how human experience is trumped over the Word of God. Secondly, study the tricky language that Rob Bell uses to describe his position on the authority of the Bible—it is a different kind of center. Bell does not throw the Bible away, nor does he call it useless; he confusingly says it is a different kind of center. But, lest you become too suspicious of his language here, he positively says that he and his wife want to embrace mystery rather than lay a definite claim on what they think is the truth. This is the language of postmodernists in the church world today. It is intentionally deceiving and thousands are fooled.
The interview also highlights the importance of tolerance in the school of postmodernism. Postmodernism preaches tolerance, and one of the ways it does this is by rejecting any definite claims on truth, and denying the ability of anyone to draw any definite conclusions. Rob Bell wants to embrace the mystery of the Bible rather than conquer it. To leaders in the Emergent churches like Bell, claiming that you have the truth is the peak of arrogance. To claim that you know and understand what God says in his Word is a most proud statement. How can you, they argue, claim to know what God says? You are entitled to your own opinion about the truth, but you better be open to other opinions, they say! Young people, do you see the extreme danger here? Do you see the arguments that church leaders today will make? Dangerously deceitful! Bell and other church leaders take the focus off themselves by making such statements. They paint themselves to be very humble men by confessing their inability to come to conclusions about the truth.
If postmodernism’s reach into the emergent church is not bad enough, it is also spreading its ideas into many other churches today. While it must be noted that not every problem and error today arises directly from postmodernism, we can say that postmodernism makes old errors and problems that have nagged the church for years even worse. I want to give one example. How many ministers today preach Genesis 1 as a literal six-day creation? How many Christian schools today unashamedly teach their students that the literal account is the only way Genesis 1 may be interpreted? Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with those who wanted to make the days in Genesis 1 thousands of years. “My opinion,” they would say, “is that we cannot take this account literally, but that is just my feeling about it. Other people may differ from me, and that is OK. And, besides, Genesis 1 is not a salvation issue, and whatever way we take the meaning does not matter. At the end of the day, what is most important is that God created the earth—not how long it took him.” Do you see the postmodern elements? Inability to draw conclusions; tolerance for different interpretations on a very clear passage; twisting and stretching the language of Genesis 1. Notice, like Bell’s view of Scripture, how the lie of theistic evolution is part-way dressed in truth: all that is important is that God created the earth, not how long it took him. How many times do we not read and hear similar language to this? As he has done throughout all of history, the devil uses such language to dress the lie in truth-colored camouflage. Satan loves to see the church world in such a confused state.
Satan knows what he is doing; he does not knock at the front of the house, but rather quietly slips in through the back door. Especially in the West, he is watching gleefully as this postmodern philosophy gently lifts the church world from its moorings. Well-known emergent church leaders, and even some supposedly conservative ministers and professors, are leading churches all across the world down the road of apostasy in the name of tolerance and compromise.
Not convinced yet of the danger? Postmodernism, as pushed especially by Emergent churches, creates a warm, fuzzy, feel-good atmosphere. This is appealing to people. Everyone wants to be approved; everyone wants to be accepted. Such worship, however, is man-centered, not God-centered. When this warm and fuzzy feeling is combined with the deceitful and confusing language, a deadly mix is created. As Rob Bell would put it, the Bible is still the center, just a different kind of center. As a theistic evolutionist would argue, Genesis 1 does not have to be taken in a literal sense; what is most important is that God created the world. If I am not grounded firmly in Scripture, I might think that such statements sound pretty good. And the people who say these things are not going to shove them down my throat or force me to believe them—they are open and tolerant of my thoughts too! A church, therefore, where basically anything goes, yet where shreds of the truth are still present, is a place that attracts many people, especially young people.
In a church world where truth is forsaken and replaced by endless debate about key concepts in Scripture, such as the literal creation account (among many other key concepts in the Bible!), it is we, young people, who will stand out. Do not be ashamed for your bold stand for truth. Even if you defend it virtually alone, remember that you stand on the inspired, infallible word of God. What a rock! No matter how fierce the pressure, never yield to the opinions and feelings of men about God’s word. The Bible is not subject to our feelings or their feelings about it. Scripture is logical, clear, and knowable. We read in John 8: 31b-32, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Do not let others try to persuade you otherwise.
Such talk of postmodernism can easily strike fear and anxiousness in our hearts for the future church. To be sure, the spirit of our age is no surprise to us. In Matthew 24:11, Jesus said, “many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.” II Peter 2:1 states, “…there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them…” Nevertheless, we might be anxious about the future. Grandparents, do you worry about your grandchildren in today’s world? Young people, do you as those who love the truth fear your future in a world which hates truth? In the next and final article in this brief series we will look at God’s preservation of his church. We have no need to fear; God is with us and for us! This, Lord willing, we will consider next time.
Parents and young people, we are engaged in a fierce battle. I am not talking about the battle against drunkenness, laziness, or the movies and music of this world, or even about the church’s fight against false doctrine, although we war against those things. The enemy we face lurks in the colleges and universities, the news networks, radio programs, movies, and in certain churches. It dresses up in many different kinds of clothes, so you may not have noticed even if it slipped into your house through the back door.
Satan has been lying for six thousand years. The armor of the church shows the wear and tear of heavy and toilsome battle against numerous lies throughout history: the heresy of Arminius, the deception of evolutionism, the ungodly philosophies of the Enlightenment period, and on and on. Now, one of Satan’s lies is found in what is called postmodernism. As indicated by the word itself, postmodernism comes after the modern period. The modern period was largely brought on by the Enlightenment, and extended roughly to the early to mid-1900s. The modern period concerned itself with being able to come to definite conclusions. In that sense, truth was knowable, and certain conclusions could be made about reality. Then, increasingly more and more, postmodern thought crept onto the scene. While the roots of postmodernism cannot be exactly located, much of its beginning, especially in America, sprouted out of the tumultuous 1960s. During this time, and up until our day, facts and realities of this world have been questioned. What does it mean to live in a postmodern age? It means that people—specifically what people we will get to in these articles—question the ability to come to any conclusions about reality; it questions whether truth is actually knowable; it means asking many questions without having many answers. In this first article, we consider the postmodern threat in universities.
“So,” you might ask, “why does this concern me as a parent or as a student in high school or college”? I am compelled to write this article because, just having finished university, I realize more than ever the threat that postmodernism poses in post-secondary education. Still, you ask, “so what”? This is why the matter is so serious: postmodernism, which attacks truth and the ability to know it, attempts to destroy our worldview which has for its very foundation the truth of God’s Word.
Although postmodernism is a somewhat vague, mysterious force in the universities and colleges, we must not shy away from seeking to identify it so that we can know what we fight against. Let us identify some symptoms. If you are in college, or anywhere else for that matter, have you ever heard someone say, “I feel that…,” instead of “I know that…,” even on relatively clear issues? If you attend a Christian college, has your theology or religion professor questioned basic truths of Scripture, basing what he says upon the changing winds of popular opinion in the church world? If you attend a college or university, have you ever sensed the overwhelming acceptance of all kinds of ideas, behaviors, and opinions? If so – and the symptoms are certainly not limited to these—your school may be suffering from a violent bout of postmodernism.
I do not believe we live in a day yet in which professors try to stuff their agendas down students’ throats. In our day of tolerance and political correctness (cousins, or perhaps daughters of postmodernism), I do not believe the classroom is a very intimidating atmosphere, even for Christians. If you talk about your Christian faith, a response you might receive from your professor is, “That is great you have such strong faith and commitment”! The problem is, the professor, whether forced by the university or not, must say the same thing to atheists, Buddhists, New Agers, homosexuals, and Muslims. Now, this may not be every student’s experience. Maybe you have had a professor that has ridiculed you for your Christian faith. But by and large, in our day of tolerance, Christian students are still somewhat protected and able to voice their faith.
But the warm, inviting atmosphere and free acceptance of ideas in the college classroom is exactly what is so concerning. Tolerance born of the notion that truth is not really attainable is precisely why post-secondary education can be so dangerous. Worldviews are fanned out like a deck of cards. The “card-dealing” professor might acknowledge your truth, the Bible, but he also says, “consider all these other truths. You must not limit yourself. What, after all, is truth”? One author put it this way: “…in our daily experience we are in constant contact, at least at the level of knowledge, with other worldviews, lifestyles, and beliefs, and they tend to negate each other. They rub the corners off each other and make it seem highly unlikely that any one view is uniquely true.” It can be that a Reformed believer attends college, comes into contact with a great number of other belief systems and philosophies, and the result is that the waves of postmodernism gently but steadily lift his anchor from its foundation in truth. Before long, his boat is adrift at sea, facing the terrifying waves and storms of countless worldly ideas. To this student, that which he has been taught his whole life in the home, church, and school is not so unique anymore, and it is hardly believable when placed side by side with all the other worldviews. Perhaps you have seen someone close to you change drastically after college. He or she is much more critical of the truth of God’s Word, and even completely unable to define or identify truth. That is a sad case, and it can be reality. This student tolerates, if not even completely accepts, these other worldviews and ways of thinking.
I do not want to leave the impression that we should not learn about other worldviews in college. Many of our teachers would recommend that students receive a rigorous liberal arts education. It indeed has benefits in that it teaches young people and young adults about the workings of God throughout history, and how He works in the world of science, philosophy, language, music, and so on. College turns out critical thinkers, better writers, and life-long learners.
But the point still stands. Young people, are you ready for college? An important question! Parents, are your children, especially high school children, if they are college bound, ready for it? I am not asking about ACT scores, GPAs, and career counseling; rather, are they spiritually ready? Young people—and this is a question I too had to ask myself—are you using your high school years wisely so that you are firmly rooted in the truth of God’s Word? The high school years are so critical. The world says these years are for partying, drunkenness, constant entertainment, and foolish behavior, but we know better. Do not wait until college to start becoming serious about your spiritual life—by then, really, it is too late. You are then like an immature plant leaving the greenhouse only to face the threatening elements. If you are blessed with a Christian high school, learn and listen closely to your teachers’ wise counsel about college; grow in your understanding and appreciation for God as he reveals himself in the creation, and especially in his Word. Learn your doctrine well in catechism, and strive to live it out and love it; hold the confessions close to you; take in and be nourished by the preaching. Pray that God would make you to grow in the faith and love him more.
The Bible exhorts us often to be strong and to continue in the Word. The apostle Paul said to Timothy, a young pastor at the time, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” And again, “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou has learned them.” Jesus highlighted the importance of truth and continuing in it in his ministry as well: “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” The Word of God is full of such exhortations.
The strong Christian, entirely by God’s grace, is able to stand in the college years. A solidly rooted Christian knows where he or she stands, and never forsakes it. As you are in college, do not be afraid to ask your pastor, parents, past teachers, and friends questions about matters that bother you, especially concerning your experiences in college. Attend your post-high Bible study faithfully, seeking the godly advice of your leader and peers there. Stay connected with your Christian friends as much as possible. The years immediately following high school can be a time in which young people lose touch somewhat with their network of believers at church, so it is important to maintain that communication and fellowship, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together…” God uses those means to keep you strong as you increasingly move from the shelter of home, church, and school to the worldly influences of post-secondary schooling.
Next time, Lord willing, we will consider postmodernism as it is found in emergent churches of our day, partly taking a look at Rob Bell, the focus of recent media attention.
In the first article in this series, we considered how the unity of the church is based on the Truth. In the second article, we delved into the sins of pride and envy, and how they so easily can tear apart the body of Christ. The third article talked about special needs members, how they teach us so many things, and how they play a vital role in the church body. In this final piece, we will examine the role of older members in the body. We will look at the relationship between older members, who are well passed their youth, perhaps with silver hair and a few grandchildren, and young people in the body.
Out of touch with what is going on; too old; out of step with my life. These are some of the judgments that are leveled on older members in the church. These attitudes lead to proud refusal to listen to authority and disobedience. This attitude is not surprising, even among Christian youth. It is not surprising, because, as an adult or young person, you likely remember or see these same thoughts arising out of your heart, as I know they arose in mine.
This attitude is based on a number of things. The first is our own sinful flesh. Our old man does not want the wise instruction of elders, nor does it desire their advice. As happened in the Garden of Eden, our flesh desires to follow only itself instead of heeding the command of God and those he has placed in authority over us. Proverbs 1:5, 7-9 speaks about a man’s attitude toward authority: “A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels…The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: for they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.”
The world we live in also influences our attitude toward the older members. In certain respects, the world honors the grey head. According to laws in government, congressmen and high officials need to be a certain age to take office. The world recognizes that age brings experience. It is unusual to see CEOs of large companies steering such a big ship at a very young age. But, apparent from what we see in the world of broken homes and ruined teens, this same rule does not guide the home-life. Even in homes where parents care about their children and seek their good, young people despise that authority, which is not even saying anything about homes where parents could not care less about the welfare of their children. Instead, the thinking spread by teen magazines, television shows, movies, and books, is that the teenage years ought not be limited or restricted by the instruction and watchful eye of parents. “Besides,” this media says, “your parents were young once, too, and you can bet they did the same things that they are telling you not to do.” Let us expose this rubbish of the world for what it really is: despise the authority of your parents, overthrow the good instruction of your elders, and follow the sins of your heart!
The actual time of youth also develops these kinds of proud and rebellious attitudes toward those in authority. As Proverbs 20:29 states, “the glory of young men is their strength.” No doubt young people are strong physically. David, for example, slew a lion, bear, and an uncircumcised Philistine in his youth. Young people are often mentally sharp. Teenagers and young adults are often optimistic and filled with confidence. This, too, can mean that we as young people reject the wise counsel of parents and other members of the church because we think we know better.
It may be that we do not recognize the experience which the older members of the body, especially our parents, have. The wrinkles lining their face should show us something of the struggles and afflictions they have faced; their grey hair should remind us of the battles they have fought; their strict warnings and admonitions must not frustrate us, make us angry, or discourage us, but must serve to build us up spiritually. If you are blessed to have your parents and grandparents yet on this side of the grave, listen to them. Submit to them. Honor them. Hear their instruction. Heed their warnings. Listen to their experiences.
This is not to say that their experiences replace biblical wisdom. It is only when experience has its foundation on the Bible that it is worthy to instruct others. It may be that wicked men or women have much experience in life. Perhaps they have grey hair and deep wrinkles from the afflictions and sorrows of their life. Perhaps they have learned their own lessons. Perhaps they even diligently talk to their children about living a morally good life. However, if the instruction is not based upon the wisdom of the Bible, it is utter foolishness. The value of the wisdom of our elders is not based simply upon their age or experiences in life, but how they have grown in biblical wisdom. Experience that comes with age, which is rooted in biblical wisdom, is invaluable for us. This wisdom shows its fruits: parents teach their children that the sins of youth can have terrible consequences, and that sin is truly bondage; the older members teach the youth of the church that sin is indeed frightening and must be avoided at all costs; they diligently teach the young people that true joy and freedom is found in following the commandments of God; they encourage the youth and remind them that their present and future sorrows are for their profit; they help the young people, amid all the little problems of life, from difficulty finding a job, to strife in relationships, to keep things in perspective of the cross.
Young people, do you and I seek advice and instruction from our parents and the older members of the body of Christ? One of the reasons that God, in his wisdom, has placed these members in the body of Christ is so that they might instruct us. Talking to our friends and seeking their advice certainly has its place, but do not ever underestimate the value of seeking the advice of those who are spiritually experienced. It may be that your parents, grandparents, pastor, or elders do not know the exact dynamics of your relationships, do not exactly know the nature of your problems at school or work, or do not completely understand the stormy seas you are swimming through, but one thing is for sure—their advice and instruction is based upon the timeless, changeless, and powerful Word of God. Although they seem out of touch, they are not because their teaching is from the Bible.
Young people must be encouraged in these things, but never should we ever brush aside our young people as a group of hopeless hooligans that need to grow up in order to be mature. I had the privilege of chaperoning at the past convention hosted by Hudsonville PRC. I and the other chaperones, and the staff at the camp, noticed the godly walk of the young people and their obedience to authority. A number of camps in the last few years have told steering committees that the young people were well-behaved, spiritually mature, and a joy to have around. May God continue to bless us with young people and young adults that obey their parents and all other authority. Parents, grandparents, and leadership in the church, be encouraged by this and continue to raise and instruct children that are receptive to such instruction and advice. What peace and joy the church body experiences when the young people and young adults walk in obedience to authority!
Let us, then, as young people and adults, pray for the body. Pray for her unity in the truth; ask God earnestly that you might have the strength to love your brothers and sisters in Christ in all humility; beseech God that he would give you a spiritual mind and heart to learn from all the family of God around you, regardless of age and human ability. God gives that people a sweet unity, a foretaste of the perfect unity that we shall have in heavenly glory. Psalter number 371, stanza one, expresses it well: “Behold, how pleasant and how good that we, one Lord confessing, together dwell in brotherhood, our unity expressing.”
Last time we considered the sins of pride and envy in the church of Jesus Christ. The church is severely threatened where these sins are allowed to grow and develop. Instead, we are called to see the church as a body, with many members functioning in special, unique ways, all by the grace of God. This time we take a look at members whom we may think are weaker in the body—those with special needs.
You will not find many articles on special needs, especially in a series about church unity. Special needs members, however, play a very important role in the body. Since I am certainly no expert on what it takes to raise such a child, or exactly the role they play, I interviewed some parents who have raised special needs children. I will weave their responses to some of my questions throughout the article.
As we have seen before in this series, the church is compared to a body. Part of the title of this article comes from Ephesians 4:16, a passage that speaks about the church as a body. I Corinthians 12 is another outstanding chapter on the unity of the church as compared to a body. Here the apostle Paul tells us that God has placed every member in the body as it has pleased him. Paul instructs us further: “the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary.” This idea of a body is extended now into our study of the place of special needs members in the church.
It is clear that the church body of which we are a part accepts and loves special needs children and adults. Although some are confined to a wheelchair, or have less developed motor skills, or have a difficult time learning at the pace of other children, people love these kids and adults. The world, too, has recognized their physical and mental weakness and has changed certain things accordingly—handicap buttons which open doors, wheelchair ramps, and education tracks which match the students step for step in their learning disabilities. The church has realized this need—special needs education programs in the Christian schools, special outings and programs for the children, and a generous amount of love shown toward those with mental and physical handicaps.
Although we love them, there may be a temptation that we think of special needs children and adults as weaker in the church, in the sense that they may not play as much of a role as other members. As long as we live on this side of the grave, we are tempted to think of our usefulness and ability to serve in the church as based on our physical strength and mental abilities. Although we would never dare say that special needs people do not play a role in the body, we might still hesitate to think of a few concrete ways that they do serve. What about a boy confined to a wheelchair? What about a man who lives in a home where he must be dressed every morning and fed by others? In what way might they play an important role in the body?
As God says in his word, he “taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man.” He does not view one’s outward appearance or one’s mental abilities as a standard of a person’s place in the body. We considered this last time a bit with the sins of pride and envy. Man’s standards and man’s judgments on others are often faulty. Instead of taking pleasure in the legs of a man, God takes pleasure in them that fear him, in those of his people that hope in his mercy, as Psalm 147:11 states. And, so it is, God teaches us how to view others in a right way—according to his standards, and not our faulty judgments.
God indeed uses special needs people as vital organs and muscles in the body of Christ. So important are they that they can, in many ways, be our teachers. Below are some spiritual lessons that parents told me their child has taught them over the years.
First, one parent told me that his child humbles human pride. These children as a whole show us that every breath we breathe, every basketball we have the ability to shoot, every shoe we tie, and every math problem we solve, are gifts of God. When we think that we have these things of ourselves, and do not acknowledge God as our creator and sustainer, we are proud of what we have and of what we can do. Special needs children, for example, who cannot walk or throw a ball, remind us that these things are gifts from God, and not things we create ourselves. God gives to each in the body different physical and mental abilities, and to some he gives more liberally than others.
Secondly, according to another parent, just as many of these children are completely dependent on their caretakers, so they teach us to be completely dependent upon our heavenly Father to provide us with all things. So often, as young people, we can find in our lives that we are so rushed and stressed out. Stress in our relationships, stress at work, searching for a college, trying to pay for college, striving to keep the grades up, and trying to squeeze in ten other commitments besides. We worry—“how will I keep afloat? How will I get through this?” And then we look at the young man confined to a wheelchair, barely able to tie his own shoes, and we learn to trust even as he trusts. We learn to look to Father in heaven, who surely provides for his precious people in Jesus Christ, just as he provides for the birds of the air.
Thirdly, one parent pointed out something about his daughter that made me really think. He said that he could see in her physical handicap that she was taken aside in a special way to live in fuller communion with God. If we are completely honest with ourselves, God is not allowed a lot of room in our schedules. Bible reading, prayer, and meditation on God’s word barely squeeze in between texts, wall posts, work, coffee with friends, a biology lab report, and sleep. May we learn from those with special needs the necessity of taking time to commune with God.
Furthermore, this parent told me that his daughter taught him and his wife contentment. She may have never ridden a bike by herself or heroically shot the three-pointer to win the game; she may never live the rigorous and joyful life of a mother, but she has the rich opportunity to live in fellowship with her God! In this way, she has contentment that you and I will likely never know. The pleasures and treasures of this earth do not have the hold on her soul as they have on ours.
Young people, may we learn from those with special needs! May we see their great value and importance in the body of Christ. The reasons listed here for their importance only scratch the surface. Do not hesitate to greet someone with special needs, to talk to them, and to show them by your actions and your conversation that they are very much a vital part of the body. One parent told me that simply saying “how are you” fills them with happiness. Learn from them. Pray both for those with special needs and pray for their parents, too, who sacrifice so much to bring up their children in the fear of the Lord.
Next time, Lord willing, we will consider the place of older members in the body of Christ.
Last time we saw that the church is united in the truth of its head, Jesus Christ. We considered how important it is for all the members of the church, and especially the young people as the rising generation, to love doctrine and the life that proceeds from it, for that knowledge is the very life and unity of the church. Disunity in doctrine is a serious disease that threatens the life of the body.
This time, I would like us to consider another threat to the body of Christ. These are sins that plague everyone. Perhaps they do not manifest themselves as much in childhood, but they intensify in the teenage years. However well they may be masked in the later years of adulthood, they always lurk in the heart, constantly making themselves known in our thoughts and occasionally in our speech and actions. They are pride and envy.
Addressing sins in our lives such as pride and envy is important today. Pride and envy are sins of the heart. We may and must address very outward sins that may be present among the church, such as drunkenness, watching sinful movies, and abusing God’s gift of music. That is right and good to do. However, we must not neglect to address sins of the heart and the evil fruits of these sins. In a series on church unity, I feel it is important to address pride and envy because, while we may not always think this way, these kinds of “subtle” sins of the heart—which often come out in our behavior, too—can do as much, if not more, damage to the body of Christ than can outwardly sinful behaviors. There is not one who can look at his heart and say, “this doesn’t apply to me!” The Word of God convicts us all.
First, then, envy must be examined. In an attitude of envy, we forget the good gifts that God created us with, and desire the gifts in others He was not pleased to give us. When we are envious, we deny our own place in the body, wanting to perform someone else’s function. This brings discontent and anxiety to our lives. Although we would never think it, we are really saying in our hearts that we are dissatisfied with the way that God made us. Envy, and the discontent that it brings, can even lead to anger with our own lot in life, and jealousy with the fact that someone else has something, or can do something, that we will never be able to have or do. In a meditation on I Corinthians 13, the great chapter on love, the late Rev. Gerrit Vos described envy this way:
“Envy is the hatred of the natural man over against his neighbor, either in prosperity or adversity. When the brother prospereth, envy is not to be consoled. It gnaws its heart out in the beholding of success of the neighbor: it should not happen to him. An envious soul cannot see the prosperity of his fellows. All the good things that he hath ought to be mine! All the success he hath should be mine! I cannot see that my brother fares well…our dress, our goods, our person, our children, our all – it is good, praiseworthy, glorious! But the other? It should not be; it should not happen. I, capital I, must be glorious in my little heaven. It is the age-old sin: we are our own little god, and there must not, there dare not, be any god than we!”
It can be said that living in this world is comparable to walking on a balance beam, being careful not to fall into envy, as just stated, but also careful not to lean toward pride. Oh, how pride can be so real in our lives! For young people, pride can come with so-called popularity. Especially in high school, popularity can make a student’s head so big that only a select few can have the privilege of hanging out with him or her, or the “cool group” of which he or she is a part. Inevitably, some are excluded in this kind of environment. Pride can drive a wedge in relationships and tear apart the precious body of Christ. So serious is this sin of pride as it rears its ugly head in high school and in this stage of a young person’s life, that students who are excluded in this kind of atmosphere can and do often leave school and even the church. Young people, do not ever underestimate the power of pride!
The pride that popularity can bring is only one small example. If we young people do not attack the root of our pride when we are young, it will only grow and further affect our lives as a member of Christ’s body. It feeds itself, and if it is not fought against, will fill our spiritual heart with terrible disease. Pride makes a man or woman hardened, unwilling to ever admit wrong in many areas of life—from the floor of synod, to the home in marriage, to the workplace between employees and employers. Pride praises self and looks down on the neighbor. Pride boastfully prays, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are…” Pride is the opposite of Paul’s instruction, “in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” Pride focuses on self’s achievements, self’s accomplishments, and self’s recognition. Such a puffed up person severely weakens church unity.
But what does Scripture say concerning this? That we find these kinds of attitudes in our own hearts should not surprise us because they are as old as sin itself. Pride, for example, arose on the scene of history in the very beginning. Satan said to Eve in Genesis 3:4, 5, “Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Not satisfied with what they had, they wanted more. In the pride of their heart, they desired to be as God. Wanting to be like God weighed heavier in the balance than contentment in the way God originally created them. For us, too, an element of pride and envy can be found in nearly every, if not all, our sins.
The world would say that envious people have a self-esteem problem, and would diagnose a proud person with a case of overconfidence. That is not the Scriptural answer to these sins that divide the church. When we see our many sins against each other, and the disunity they can bring in the realm of the church, we are reminded that God calls us to the picture of a body, and how its parts work in harmony: “From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” That the church is like a body with many different parts working together in unity is something that we already know, but do we live in this knowledge? When I am envious of another person’s ability or personality, am I living in the knowledge that God gave him or her certain gifts to perform in His kingdom in a different way? When I look down my nose at someone in detestable pride, am I remembering that God uses all the members of the body, regardless of my judgment on them, for the strengthening and good of the whole?
Scripture is not done speaking in regard to this. We are reminded in James 2 that God is not a respecter of persons. When we view others through the eyes of envy and pride, we are looking at them from the faulty, biased, and sinful judgments of our mind which cannot be trusted. We are to see our family in the church without respect of persons. That is why we must understand that we are nothing but wicked sinners apart from the grace of God in Christ. We must see and understand that as young people. No matter who I am, no matter what I do, no matter who I know, no matter what I can achieve, no matter how popular I think I am, or no matter how bitter I may feel about my life in comparison to others, I am a member of the body of Christ by grace! No one is worthy of that citizenship in the body! No one may boast! No one may feel lower or less worthy than another! Young people, what a deep, profound truth to always remember in all our relationships. In this way, as was seen in the last article, our identity as a sinner saved by grace directly relates and must be applied to our life in the church.
As those who are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, we do not want to live a life of pride and envy. Instead, let us seek to love one another and build one another up, knowing that we are all of one body. In the next article, we will consider a specific group of people whom we think to be “weaker” in the church—those with special needs—and how they are a part of the body.
What would you consider to be the “glue” of the church? Have you ever given thought to why exactly it is that you, as a young person, live in unity and blessed fellowship with your family and friends in the church? Have you ever wondered why your parents, in the consciousness of church unity, would use up so much money and time to teach you the Word of God and send you to schools that would do the same? Have you ever observed with amazement the selfless and sacrificing life of hard work put forth by your pastors and teachers on behalf of the body of Christ? In an individualistic age, we might be tempted to utter one simple word: “why?”
Lord willing, I intend to write a brief series concerning the church of Jesus Christ. As young people, we must examine how it is that we fit into this body and how we are to relate with other members. In this first article I would like to go about answering the inquiry above—“why?” In the next article we will consider how we as young people can compare ourselves to one another, and how living a life of comparisons can be damaging to the body of Christ. In a couple following articles I hope to address the place of members, whom we judge to be weaker, in the church.
Fellowship and unity among members of the church rests upon the knowledge of Jesus Christ (Col. 2:2; Phil. 1:27). Paul, by the inspiration of the Spirit, writes in Ephesians 4:13: “…we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God…” The Belgic Confession, article 27, brings out an even more striking aspect of this unity as it relates to this knowledge: “Furthermore, this holy church is not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place or to certain persons, but is spread and dispersed over the whole world; and yet is joined and united with heart and will, by the power of faith, in one and the same spirit.” How amazing! The church in this world can be found in many different places, cultures, and walks of life, from the plantations of Brazil to the arid deserts of Saudi Arabia; from the towering skyscrapers of New York to the humble abode of the hut-dweller. Yet, that unifying knowledge of Jesus Christ lives in each and every believer’s heart. Although seemingly separated by a thousand different factors, the catholic church lives as one body in this truth.
This knowledge or truth of God in Jesus Christ is opposed today. We live in an age that despises doctrine. Our world does not have the time to sit down and learn about who Jesus Christ is and what he has done. Such doctrine, according to the world, and even reformed churches, is dry and boring. “Tell us,” they cry, “that Jesus loves us; that is all we need to know.” Love, however, is rooted in knowledge. By doctrine we increase in our love of God. Doctrine reveals to us our great God and how he has sent his Son to die for miserable sinners! As young people, we must swim against the currents of the world’s thinking concerning this knowledge. Let us love doctrine! Let us never allow doctrine to become anything less than the lively, awesome, and exciting truth of our almighty God!
This truth about God in Jesus Christ is vital for the life and unity of the church—both history and our own experience demonstrate this. When we, in our spiritually weak moments, become disillusioned with doctrine, let us think on those who have sacrificed so much so that the church could be unified in the truth. Remember the church fathers who labored tirelessly to maintain right doctrine. Remember those throughout church history who were mercilessly burned at the stake, thrown to the lions, and separated from family and friends for the sake of this precious knowledge. Remember those, like Rev. Herman Hoeksema, who held this knowledge in such high regard that he was willing to jeopardize his career and ruin many relationships to maintain it faithfully. Remember your father and mother who loved this knowledge so much that they forsook many earthly pleasures to pay for Christian schools and maintain a godly household. What a dreadful and arrogant thing it is to despise doctrine and the unity it brings.
Young people, do you and I love doctrine? If we do, this will bring out a number of things in our lives. Because we understand the absolute importance of this truth to the fellowship and unity of the church, we are careful to choose good friends. The teenage years are critical. With whom will you share your time? God is praised when we make friends with those who share our love for the truth. Doctrinal agreement and mutual love for the truth of God’s word must not simply be one aspect of a friendship, but the defining aspect of a friendship. Because we must constantly strive to know God in the purest way possible, and because this completely defines our thinking, we will make sure that love for God trumps every other quality we may seek in others—looks, personality, intelligence, humor, etc. Making friendships with unbelievers places a stress on our unity with the body of Christ. What about dating? Since doctrine reigns at the center of our lives, we ought to ask our boyfriend or girlfriend, right away in the relationship, what he or she believes—whether we think we know or not. Christ must be at the center of any relationship, and love for him demands that Christian couples agree on doctrine first and foremost.
How thankful we may be for this unity in the truth as it is found specifically in the Protestant Reformed Churches. I know that I am often guilty of taking this unity for granted. Many of us were brought up in this environment—unity in doctrine is nothing new to us. Let us never take it for granted! A few weeks ago, a generous person from my church gave me bound volumes of the Standard Bearer which go all the way back to 1993. As I paged through the volumes, I was amazed at the doctrinal consistency and faithfulness to the truth over the years—and that is just a small example of unity in doctrine. Think of all the other blessings that unite us as a denomination: faithful preaching that makes the sheep strong; a wonderful catechism program that nourishes the lambs; countless reformed books that sound out God’s Word; many hours around the supper table reading Scripture. In a day of spiritual drought and apostasy, my head spins when I think of the oasis we live in. The Protestant Reformed Churches have and continue to experience these undeserved blessings from the head of the universal church, Jesus Christ. Indeed, blessed agreement in the knowledge of our head, Jesus Christ, is that glue which holds the church together, both in the PRC and in the church universal.
All of grace! Lest we young people become proud of our heritage, let us always remember those three words. What a dreadful contradiction we make in our lives if we boast of our denominational unity in the truth, for we confess that we are saved by grace. When we witness to others of the truth, we must not proudly present our position, nor should we stubbornly refuse to listen to others when they tell us their views—such actions arise out of pride. As those who sit under the preaching twice a Sunday, sit under years and years of catechism, and for many, attend Christian schools, the question is not whether you and I know our doctrine—we know it; but learning to witness that precious and great knowledge to others in humility takes work. Young people who humbly speak of this doctrine and adorn their lives with it are a powerful witness in God’s hand to show others what it means to walk in the unity of the truth.
Remember, too, that such unity in the truth does not come without work. Church unity is all of grace, but God also calls us to work out of thankfulness for what he has given. Sadly, very sadly, we observe some denominations that have abandoned the truth to accept a watered-down, indeed, lower-case, truth. The young people die spiritually for lack of knowledge. Shepherds do not feed their sheep. Parents do not provide a spiritual foundation for their children. The results can be seen all around. Doctrinal disagreement and disunity splits families and churches—just ask a person alive in 1953. Do not think for a moment that this could not happen in our generation! Pray that God will continue to faithfully bless us. Pray that God will work in your and my heart a zeal for the Word and the doctrine contained in it, and that he will raise us up to be strong elders, deacons, pastors, society leaders, singles, fathers, mothers, and workers in the church.
Working for unity in the truth especially comes through reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word. When we have such a zeal for the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ, we want to read all about it. We will then strive, despite the demands on our time from school, work, Facebook, and recreation, to reserve time in our day to read and memorize Scripture; we will read solidly reformed literature; we will take time to meditate upon the greatness of God and his wonder-work of salvation in Christ; we will pray to our great God daily as part of our relationship of friendship with him in Christ. A denomination full of young people who are disinterested or bored by reading this kind of solid material is a denomination in grave trouble. God uses reading so that his people might boldly, unashamedly, and uncompromisingly, yet humbly, speak in defense of the truth that they love.
Be assured: God will bless that church. Pray for that unity. Ask for that zeal for doctrine. Fall on your knees daily in total dependence upon God, the giver of that truth and unity. God will surely continue to give it.
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