Hannah Ascol

Reassembling the Wreckage of Religious Freedom: Why Now *Is* The Time For Urging Liberty of Conscience and Supporting Those Seeking Religious Exemptions

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.— Romans 14:4 —
On the backside of a Sharp Top Mountain in Southwest Virginia lies the wreckage of World War II vintage air craft. On a training mission in February 1943, five airmen lost their lives as they flew a “low-level nighttime navigational” mission, a mission that ended with tragedy and the debris of a B-25 littered throughout the wooded hillside.
Today, if you leave the trail on Sharp Top and look for the fuselage, engine, wings, and other parts of the crash site, you will find a plaque memorializing the event. On an otherwise unmarked hillside, this memorial is the only sign explaining the mangled metal left standing in the woods. Yet my point in bringing up this piece of atlas obscura is not to focus on the plane crash, but to liken it to the state of our religious liberty today. Today, we can find scattered pieces of religious freedom in our country, but by and large most Christians do not know how they got there, how to assemble them, or how to make them fly. For instance, the recent TGC article undermining the sincerely held beliefs of Christians is a prime example.
In that article, Christian lawyer, John Melcon, explains “Why Your Employer Can Deny Your ‘Religious’ Vaccine Exemption.” In the article, he explained the way “religious exemption laws” work and cited three bad arguments for seeking a religious exemption: (1) personal autonomy, (2) my body is my temple, and (3) abortion complicity. In his estimation, the abortion argument “is perhaps the strongest case,” but by comparison to the welcome use of other drugs (e.g., “Tylenol, Claritin, or their favorite anti-aging skin cream“), he insists that this argument is most likely an example of great inconsistency. (N.B. For a quick response to the Tylenol retort, see this Liberty Counsel post).
In his other two arguments, however, the claim is not inconsistency, but denying that personal autonomy or bodily choice is a truly religious reason for seeking a religious exemption. For Melcon, this leads him to reserve religious exemptions for later, greater threats to the Christian faith. It is this argument that I want to address. Instead of addressing his three examples, which are presented with a striking likeness to someone headed for the Emerald City, I want to consider whether waiting for some later crisis is the best strategy. Even more, I will argue that the increasing statism of our country is coupled with a religious fervor that does not call for patient endurance, but bold witness to the truth.
This Really Is a Religious Liberty Issue
As I have written recently, the presidential mandate for Covid vaccines is one motivated by religious interests. With a religious belief in science, those in power are using the force of the state, the threat of job loss, and the fear of disenfranchisement to coerce public and private employer and employees to get the vaccine. Instead of convincing the public of the vaccines beneficial effects, the state is taking a page from Nike’s playbook coercing people to “just do it.” And sadly, Christians thought leaders are playing right along.
Last week, John Piper made the argument that Christian freedom should lead those who are fearful of getting the vaccine to get the vaccine. But ironically, that fear focused not on the anxiety caused by the adverse effects of the vaccine, or the medical concerns, or the uncertain side effects or long terms effects. The fear focused on those who feel pressured to not get the vaccine. But what group of people is putting fear into the heart of Christians not to get the vaccine? I am sure there could be some, but those individuals do not have the force of the federal government behind them.
In this case, I think Piper is misreading the field. The pressure mounting upon Christians is going in the other directions. And Piper’s article is only, if unintentionally, contributing to that pressure. Still, his article is benign compared to that of John Melcon who calls to question the arguments some are putting forward in an attempt to seek a religious exemption.  Indeed, Melcon’s article is one of many Christian hit pieces putting pressure (read: binding consciences ) on those who conscience is bound to not get the vaccine. With sophisticated legal speech, Melcon gives cover for employers and the powers that tax them, as it persuades Christians that it is fool’s errand to seek a religious exemption. But is it? Is it really out of bounds to seek a religious exemption for the Covid mandate? And should we strategize to hold off on seeking a religious exemption now, in order to seek it later?
I wouldn’t be writing this article, unless I disagreed. And I am not the only one. In a short string of tweets, lawyer, professor, and ERLC legal fellow Sam Webb had a few things to say in response to Melcon’s article. Stripping out the Twitter formatting, here’s what he said in response:
Article XVI of the New Hampshire Confession—a Baptist confession used 150+ years—states: “We believe that civil government is of divine appointment, for the interests and good order of human society, and that magistrates are to be prayed for, conscientiously honored, and obeyed, except only in things opposed to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only Lord of the conscience, and the Prince of the kings of the earth.”
If a Christian who holds no settled convictions against this Confession … cannot in good conscience—or, put differently, in good faith—submit to a government-mandated, employer-enforced vaccination because that Christian believes such mandate, action, or vaccination is “opposed to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ”for any number of reasons, then such objection is, in fact, a sincerely held religious belief and an exemption is warranted.
To cause such Christian to act contrary to conscience—even if ill-formed conscience!—is to claim lordship over the conscience which is further violation of that Christian’s sincerely held religious belief that “Jesus Christ…is the only Lord of the conscience.” Even more, what cannot be done in good faith is sin (Rom. 14:23) and so to force vaccination against conscience is to cause sin.
Let’s end the crusade of binding the consciences of brothers and sisters in Christ on disputable matters and let’s love our neighbor by advocating for the freedom of conscience—even if we disagree with the exercise of such conscience.
This is the exactly right! As I have counseled and signed off on multiple religious exemptions, I have not necessarily agreed with every one of the arguments being made, but I have, after listening to the formulation of the believer’s argument, perceived what their sincerely held, biblically-informed belief is. And because of that recognition of sincerely held beliefs, I have supported those Christians who have put their livelihoods in jeopardy in order to follow their Lord. I have urged them to count the cost, but I have not tried to shame them or bind their conscience. This, after all, is what Romans 14:4 calls us to do, and this is what John Melcon has failed to do.
Let’s end the crusade of binding the consciences of brothers and sisters in Christ on disputable matters and let’s love our neighbor by advocating for the freedom of conscience—even if we disagree with the exercise of such conscience.
With no appreciation for how Romans 14 works or any concern that he might be binding his brother’s conscience, Melcon’s argument results in a pressuring Christians to drop their sincerely held beliefs, because after all, it hurts the rest of us. Unfortunately, this is the same logic that governments are rolling out in this country and across the world (think Australia): “You need to think of the collective good and stop resisting on personal grounds. After all, there is no religious reason not to get the vaccine. It’s just medicine.”
For those who are most sensitive to the issues of religious liberty, however, all coercive arguments will fail. And should fail. As Lutheran writer Matthew Cochrane has observed, “Our government has forgone convincing us and has instead resorted to bullying, censorship, abuse, and coercion. But threats and propaganda do not absolve us of the God-given responsibility to make our best judgment based on the information available to us—even the information government bureaucrats, Big Tech, and corporate interests hide because it casts reasonable doubt on the vaccines.” And unfortunately, many Christian leaders are not far behind them in their tactics or persuasion. And this, I believe, is because they don’t see the bigger picture.
The Bigger Picture: Our Secular State Is Not Irreligious  
What’s the bigger picture? Namely, the way that the vaccine mandate—not the vaccine qua vaccine, i.e., the vaccine as a medical prophylactic—is a religious sacrament and a by-product of America’s growing statism.
For the last decade, Charles Taylor’s magnum opus, A Secular Age, has been a constant reference for understanding the “immanent frame” of our world. The Gospel Coalition even published a book in Taylor’s honor, and for good reason. Taylor, in his terminology, has explained how the secular world has lost its sense of divine transcendence and God’s place in our world. Accordingly, the modern secularism has made it is easier to disbelieve than to believe. Whereas Christendom explained the world in spiritual terms and religious practices, the five hundred year project which resulted in today’s secularism has left a vacuum where God once stood.
Christians know that God is not absent. As Francis Schaeffer put it, he is there and he is not silent, but in today’s naked public square, arguments for God are not permitted and this partially explains why religious exemptions are not appreciated. It was a different day when the language of the first amendment was penned. At that point, religion still possessed honor as a civic good. Today, however, religion, and especially Christianity, is seen as a nuisance and a source of bad behavior. This is why the Equality Act and SOGI policies are on a collision course with Christianity. Sexual liberty has become the new religion and that means that religious protections are now being transferred from people of faith to their secular offspring.
If we are to enjoy any religious liberty going forward, we cannot take a strategy that waits for worse cases to arise.
This is also why Melcon makes the case the way he does. He thinks that by playing our religious exemption card later in the game we will be better off. But what he doesn’t consider—in addition to binding consciences—is the fact that the government is not a religiously neutral or interested in well-timed religious liberty. Rather, it is actively carrying out a religious crusade, albeit one that speaks with scientific and not sacred speech. This is the point that needs to accompany Taylor’s observations. Our world has not only adopted a secular worldview, but in the absence of Christianity, and its secular offspring (i.e., civil religion), secular individuals have deified the state to celebrate and support their hedonistic desires. As Zygmunt Bauman has noted in his book Liquid Life, modernity is not only “presented as a time of secularization (‘everything sacred was profaned,’ as young Marx and Engels memorably put it) and disenchantment.” It is also a time where the enlarging state has adopted and enforced religious values. He continues,
What is less often mentioned, however, though it should be, is that modernity also deified and enchanted the “nation,” the new authority—and so by proxy the man-made institutions that claimed to speak and act in its name. “The sacred” was not so much disavowed as made the target of an “unfriendly takeover”: moved under different management and put in the service of the emergent nation-state. (Bauman, Liquid Life, 44; cited in Peter Leithart, 1 and 2 Kings, 64)
This is what most of our Christian leaders have not sufficiently appreciated. With the election of Joseph Biden, we have seen an unending array of executive orders and economic decisions that have further tied the citizens to the state (think: government bailouts) and forced the state on the citizens (think: all the policies of the CDC). Topping the list of government intrusions is the vaccine mandate. And because this mandate have come with all the trappings of a religion, we now have a state that is forcing its religion on its citizens.
No Religious Liberty Without Liberty of Conscience
If you don’t see how the secular state is instantiating its religious point of view, I encourage to open your eyes. Again, I have outlined this point in a previous article. For now, let me simply connect the dots from religious liberty to liberty of conscience.
Returning to the wreckage on Sharp Top Mountain, we should consider that it would be impossible to know what it was or why it was there without a memorial explaining the crash. Such is the case with religious liberty as well. Many can see the fuselage, the wings, and the engines of religious liberty scattered throughout our country. But very few can put all the pieces together and understand how it works and how it got here.
How many who have read the Bill of Rights, if they have read the Bill of Rights, know what it took for James Madison and the Founding Fathers to make a place for religious liberty? How many critique a religious exemption understand the connection to Romans 14? Evidence for our inability to understand Romans 14 has been seen for the last year. Too many evangelicals have interpreted Romans 13 as a divine imperative to do whatever the government tells you, without considering first who gives the government their authority. Then, interpretations of Romans 14 continue in confusion, because Christians are not trying to protect their brothers freedom. In Melcon’s case, he is (unintentionally) siding with the state to bind other’s freedom. And why? Because now is not the time to raise religious concerns.
All in all, we have lived off the rations of religious liberty for nearly two and half centuries, and it is time to relearn how all the pieces got there and how to reassemble them so that that religious liberty might fly again. Unfortunately, arguments like the one offered by John Melcon and John Piper and countless other Johns demonstrate that even the most lucid among us still don’t quite know how this thing flies.
If we are to enjoy any religious liberty going forward, we cannot take a strategy that waits for worse cases to arise. Rather, we need to reintroduce, rewaken, and reinforce the arguments for religious liberty. This must be done in the public square and in countless conversations with Christians and their neighbors. In fact, this is one of the growing benefits of the religious exemptions. In our local church alone, I can report countless opportunities Christians have taken to share the gospel and their religious convictions about the vaccine.
And you know what? It has had effect, not just on other Christians, but on atheists, and agnostics who have seen the merit of personal liberty of conscience and the demerit of forcing people to get a vaccine against their will. This is what it will take for religious liberty to gain a hearing in public, as well as Christians being willing to suffer for their beliefs. This is what turned James Madison’s heart, when he saw the six Baptist pastors jailed for their faith. And this is likely what will turn other hearts today, witnessing people willing to suffer for the sake of conscience.
Yet, such conversations and suffering will not come if we continue to bind the consciences of other Christians. And this is the other place we need to talk about religious liberty: in the church.
In the church, we need to encourage Christians to form their consciences around God’s Word. But we must also permit Christians to form their consciences differently. When we fail to do that, however, we fail to follow Romans 14, and we further fracture the witness of the church, not to mention hurting individual members who are trying their best to follow God with all their heart.
We must make biblical arguments on the subject, learning afresh how Christians have resisted tyranny, so that we can recognize and resist tyranny in the present.
In such cases, the path of another might not be your path, but it is the path that some servants of the Lord have taken and will take. And in that time, we should as Sam Webb put it, “end the crusade of binding the consciences of brothers and sisters in Christ on disputable matters and let’s love our neighbor by advocating for the freedom of conscience—even if we disagree with the exercise of such conscience.”
This is what Melcon’s argument does not do. It may understand the legal ramifications of religious exemptions and it purports to know what will happen if people seek them. But it does not demonstrate an appreciation for liberty of conscience itself. And the point I am making is that if we are going to see religious liberty in public, it will require the church in America to grow up in its understanding of liberty of conscience among its own members. This means pastors teaching on the subject, Christians standing firm for the truth, and other Christians—whether they share the same conviction about Covid vaccines or not—supporting others who are willing to suffer for their beliefs. Indeed, there have been many Christians in church history who have held different beliefs on different Christians practices. But one thing that has benefitted the Church in America has been the freedom to exercise their religion without the coercion of the state.
Today, with the state taking on its own religious practices, we are not in a place where we can wait for a better time to exercise what remains of our religious liberty. No, teaching the church and our neighbors how to recognize the scraps of religious liberty is where we must begin. We must make biblical arguments on the subject, learning afresh how Christians have resisted tyranny, so that we can recognize and resist tyranny in the present. Indeed, now is the time for us to connect religious liberty with liberty of conscience, and to stop making arguments that aid the state by leading Christians to sin as they ignore their consciences.
If we fail to do that now, we will have little hope of standing later. And for that reason, for those who are standing up and submitting religious exemptions, we need to pray for them and promise them that we will hold them up as they follow their Lord and our Lord—whether or not they are doing it in the same ways that we would. Such is the way of liberty of conscience and the way Christians need to truly affirm the faith of their brothers and sisters.
Soli Deo Gloria.

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The Century that Banished God

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. . . . And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” (Romans 1:18, 28, ESV).
It is worthy of more than passing notice that some quite capable minds have seen the twentieth century—a century which could be seen as particularly characteristic of the modern era—as one which sought to banish God from human consciousness and human life. The first phrase of Romans 1:28, quoted above, could be said to provide a fitting epigram for the century, a phrase aptly rendered by Greek lexicographer J. H. Thayer: “they did not think God worthy to be kept in knowledge.”[1] The significance of such a designation is that the twentieth century has perhaps been—among all the centuries of human history—the most willfully destructive of human life, the most stridently expressive of the human rebellion against the moral order instilled by God in the universe, and the most perversely detrimental to human culture and human flourishing. The twenty-first century is merely seeing the continued outworking of these tendencies.
Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield, writing in the first decade of the twentieth century, describes the influence of the “modern naturalism” which had arisen in the late seventeenth century with English Deism and had recently come to full fruition (“it has at length run to seed in our own day”).
It has invaded with its solvent every form of thought and every activity of life. It has given us a naturalistic philosophy (in which all ‘being’ is evaporated into ‘becoming’); a naturalistic science (the single-minded zeal of which is to eliminate design from the universe); a naturalistic politics (whose first fruits was the French Revolution, and whose last may well be an atheistic socialism); a naturalistic history (which can scarcely find place for even human personality among the causes of events); and a naturalistic religion, which says ‘Hands off’ to God….”[2]
In retrospect, Warfield’s observations seem prophetic of the entire century.
No less an intellect than the great Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, attempting to identify the salient characteristic of the twentieth century, put his finger on human forgetfulness of God. In his Templeton Lecture (delivered in London in 1983), after mentioning the disaster which had befallen his homeland in the Russian Revolution, Solzhenitsyn continued: “if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entiretwentieth century, here too I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: ‘Men have forgotten God’”—a Russian saying recalled from his youth. He went on to affirm, “The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century.”[3]
Solzhenitsyn’s suggestion finds support in the later work of Peter Conrad, an Australian literary scholar, lately of Oxford University. Conrad defines the project of the twentieth century, displayed in its art, as the banishment of God and God’s replacement by man. As the twentieth century began—under the influence of the mighty changes of the nineteenth century—“its plot seemed radiantly clear: in the future, men would replace God.” But along the way, it became apparent that “The older version of human nature . . . was far from obsolete, and history seemed to demonstrate that man remained a savage.”  On the last page of the book, Conrad concludes, “Modernity had a single, simple project, carried through in all fields of mental endeavor. Declining to give God credit for creation, it took the world to pieces.”[4] It is striking that a cultural historian, with no apparent religious axe to grind, should identify anti-theism or the “death of God” theme as the central feature of twentieth-century culture. He mentions it not merely at the beginning and the end of his account, but repeatedly throughout.
That this anti-theistic outlook was the driving force of the twentieth century is lent credibility by a review of the origins of the disastrous and destructive events of that century. The first half of the century was marked by two horrific world wars and communist revolutions in Russia and China. Both world wars (1914-18; 1939-45) arguably originated with Germany, which in the preceding century had adopted and advanced a destructive intellectual movement, historical criticism of the Bible, which was based on naturalistic premises and required the elimination of a personal and infinite God from any explanation of the origin of the Bible and the events it records. The second of these wars involved the explicit effort to eradicate European Jews, the people who were instrumental in giving to the world the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament), including the Ten Commandments. The two communist revolutions (Russia in 1917, China in 1949) were both explicitly atheistic, as Marx’s ideology prescribed. Taken together, these two wars and two revolutions resulted in the deliberate deaths of untold hundreds of millions of human beings, making the twentieth century the most deliberately deadly in all human history. All this was undertaken against the background or in the interest of the banishment of God—the God of the Bible—from human consciousness.
The same tendency was evident in the internal cultures of the nations of the West during the first half of the century. Historical criticism of the Bible became the accepted mode of removing the biblical worldview from serious engagement by educated people in both Europe and the United States. Its advance was somewhat delayed in the U.S. by the broad and common acceptance of biblical authority by large portions of the American population, but by the 1920s and 1930s the naturalistic view of the Bible was beginning to prevail among educated Americans.
The second half of the century was marked by a cultural and intellectual revolution (motivated by the same anti-theistic impulse) which now runs the risk of destroying Western civilization. A personal account of this cultural revolution, fitting nicely within the latter half of the century, is provided by Alvin Kernan, an academic who was the product and employee of elite educational institutions. Kernan (who does not at all seem to have been operating from a Christian perspective), writing at the end of the century, reports beginning his academic career believing in something like absolute truth: “I did not think that truth remained to be discovered; I believed that in the main it already had been found and that I had not yet been informed of the results.”[5] He records his personal journey through academia, observing in the process the decline of higher education from rationality, absolutes, objectivity, and political liberalism into the irrationalism, relativism, subjectivity, and revolutionary radicalism which now reigns on most American university campuses. Kernan was arguably more optimistic about the outcome than the situation warranted, as witnessed by the events of the quarter-century since his book was published, leading to the current state of higher education in the West, which might aptly be described as indoctrination in radicalism.
The significance of all this is not difficult to discern: it is not accidental that a century which sought to banish God also saw the callous destruction of human life, a precipitous decline of Western culture, and a culminating (and continuing) rebellion against historic moral standards.
This briefest of surveys suggests some appropriate conclusions.
First, these historical developments arguably represent the outworking of the logical and natural consequences of the anti-theistic ideology. As J. Gresham Machen argued in 1923, “the true way in which to evaluate a spiritual movement is in its logical relations; logic is the great dynamic, and the logical implications of any way of thinking are sooner or later certain to be worked out.”[6] The banishment of the God of the Bible from human consciousness and from all practical and social considerations leaves the Western world without the metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical foundations on which it was built. The “death of God” resulted in the loss of the unifying center of the Western worldview, the loss of a sure basis of knowledge, and the loss of absolute morality (as the scientific concept of relativity was improperly transferred to the moral concept of relativism). Without the foundation of the Bible’s authority and intellectual content, the result was that the Western superstructure of ordered liberty, self-regulating behavior of the populace, and limited government was bound to collapse in due course. This is precisely what has been observed during the twentieth century. While the underlying intellectual developments which shaped the twentieth century were framed in the nineteenth (destructive biblical criticism; Marxism; Darwinism; the humanistic triumphalism of Nietzsche; Freudianism), and their roots may be traced back to the Renaissance (“man the measure of all things”) and the Enlightenment (rationalistic materialism), yet their fruit was borne in the twentieth century. During that era we observe humanistic society organized into mass movements in opposition to biblical theism (symbolized in the Bible by “Babylon”) for purposes of national aggrandizement (World War I) and for the perpetration of evil (Germany under the Nazi regime in World War II) or subjugated to the atheistic ideology of revolutionary utopian deceptions (Soviet and Chinese communism), or in the current setting, the promotion of a Neo-Marxist vision of “social justice” through the division of humanity into competing power blocs which vie against each other for political and social control. The result has been the collapse of humane values and the loss of both civilized behavior and millions of lives. We continue to see the increased influence of socialistic ideologies and the diminishing of human liberties. All this has been enabled by the culture-wide loss of the authority of the Bible and the resulting collapse of acknowledgment of the biblical worldview and moral standards, and by the absence of the influence of the biblical gospel of human reconciliation with God as churches fell (and continue to fall) into promulgation of a “social gospel”—in short, in all this, by the attempted banishment of God from human life and society.
Second, given the truthfulness of the biblical account of things, this leaves the world exposed to the judgment of God. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…” (Rom. 1:18). What biblically informed person can deny that the devastations we are currently observing (and those of the twentieth century) have likely come at the hand of an omnipotent and holy God who is exercising his wrath?  Paul’s statement continues: “…who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” The root cause of the exercise of divine wrath is human rejection of the truth of divine revelation and the resulting belief of “the lie” (the attribution of divinity to the creature; Rom. 1:25, NKJV) and corresponding corruptions of human worship and life. The root of culture is “cultus,” the worship and religious life of a society. If the latter (the cultus) is corrupt, so will be the former (the culture), making it ripe for God’s judgment. In Romans 1, the judgment of God takes the form of judicial abandonment in which God “gives them over” (1:24, 26, 28, NASB) to the effects of their own idolatrous tendencies, as we are witnessing in our own day.
Third, this anti-theistic outlook pervades the cultural atmosphere and provides the context in which we must minister. Practically, this means, first, that the secular elites of our day continue to seek the banishment of God from the public square, thus making the environment more hostile toward faithful Christians who seek to base their stance upon the God of the Bible and his revelation. There will be opposition to an openly theistic viewpoint for which we must be prepared and which we must be determined to resist. This atmosphere means, secondly, that many among the secular ruling elites (even at the local level) cannot begin to grasp or even imagine that some of their fellow-citizens would base their actions upon theological considerations or upon high ethical principle. This is inconceivable to them and will lead them to conclude that these poor (Christian) people are either ignorant or are irrationally acting against their own best interests or are trying to establish a theocracy; such deluded people must of course be stopped and re-educated. Those who seek to be consistently Christian will be met with an attitude of condescension and hostility, in response to which will be required a significant measure of fortitude, patience, and grace as they seek to communicate the gospel and to live accordingly amidst a perverse culture.
Fourth, God alone can pull Western societies out of the abyss into which they have fallen. Recovery is beyond human grasp and ability. There is a great need for the beneficial effects of the gospel (the humbling of human pride; a sense of dependence on God; conformity to divinely-given ethical standards) and the shaping force of the biblical-Christian worldview. But typically the latter (the culture-wide influence of the biblical worldview) does not prevail without the former (individual renewal), requiring the conversion to a Christian stance of a critical mass of the population who will then impact the whole of their society. This type of conversion has often occurred in the past as the result of revivals (the Reformation; the Great Awakening or Evangelical Revival; the 19th-century awakening). In the present, it appears that nothing short of a divinely-wrought revival, fueled by prayer and the preaching of the gospel, will prevail to effect the changes needed to overcome the deleterious ideologies of the nineteenth century and their disastrous consequences as exhibited in the twentieth. Such is the direction and outcome, Solzhenitsyn reminds us, of a century which forgets God.

[1] Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976 [reprint edition]) 154.
[2] Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, “The Present Day Attitude toward Calvinism: Its Causes and Significance,” in Calvin and Augustine(Philadelphia, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1956), 504.
[3] Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “Templeton Lecture,” in The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings, 1947-2005 (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2006), 577.
[4] Peter Conrad, Modern Times, Modern Places (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), 13, 736; originally published by Thames and Hudson as Modern Times, Modern Places: Life and Art in the Twentieth Century.
[5] Alvin Kernan, In Plato’s Cave (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999), 2.  While Kernan provides a telling description of this cultural decline in an academic setting, the potential reader should be aware that the book contains accounts of his sexual escapades and some vulgarities of language.
[6] J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1956 [reprint edition]), 173

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Ruminations on Revelation: Job – The Desperate Need for Revelation

The book of Job consists of waves of expressions that indicate a desire for and the necessity of divine revelation for true knowledge. The entire book is a plea for knowledge from God. God cannot be known if he does not speak and his ways and purposes remain a mystery until he speaks. We find this expressed in several key points in the progress of the discussion in Job.
Something totally unexpected happened to Job. Having conducted himself with punctilious religious observance (1:5), purity (31:1) compassion, generosity (29:12-16; 31:16-23), and wisdom (29:7-11), he finds himself under a severe scourge-“God has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes . . . You have turned cruel to me; with the might of your hand you persecute me” (30:19, 21). Though clear on the sovereign prerogatives of God (26:7-14), Job declares that God “has taken away my right” (27:2). Job was desperate for a word from God. He knew he could not understand his situation apart from God’s meeting with him. “Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden,” Job asked, “whom God has hedged in?” (3:23). Only God knows. “Let me know why you contend against me” (10:2).
Why God sends suffering to the lives of saints calls for revelation. Zophar knows that the answer to Job’s protests lies in the mind of God himself: “But oh, that God would speak and open his lips to you, and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom.” It becomes clear that Zophar believed that such revelation would reveal a peculiarly deep guilt and hypocrisy on the part of Job. Job’s call was for a revelation as to why the innocent, godly, sincere, and compassionate are put to the test in such sufferings. Dealing with the ways of God with men calls for a wisdom that dwells only in the mind and purpose of God. The way to understanding is “hidden from the eyes of all living” and only “God understands the way to it, and he knows  its place” (28:21, 23). If sin lies at the basis of Job’s suffering, he asks for a revelation from God of it: “Let me speak, and you reply to me. How many are my iniquities and my sins? Make me know my transgression and my sin” (13:22, 23).  Elihu affirmed that only by revelation from God could the entire situation and questions surrounding Job’s suffering be resolved: “It is the spirit in man, breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. . . . God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it, in a dream, in a vision of the night” (32:8: 33: 14, 15).
In the midst of a desire for revelation of God’s purposes, we find that the language of Job is a marvel of revelatory inspiration.  Several speeches manifest the Romans 1:19-21 grasp of revelation in that God’s power of creation and his control of nature in its every particular is affirmed. The moral implications of such power and wisdom are extended into the ongoing discussion—both sides of the encounter seek particular applications. In the narrative of these observations and arguments, we find some of the most picturesque and striking linguistic images in all of literature. It is not just a literary triumph, but the substance implied behind the images gives powerful insight into the ways and wisdom of God, laying the foundation for Paul’s revelatory affirmation in Colossians 1:15, 17, “By him all things were created, . . . and in him all things hold together.” Elihu expressed the dependence of all creation on the initial creative power of God and his continual and immediate operation of sustaining: “He covers his hands with the lightning and commands it to strike the mark. . . .  By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast. He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning” (36:32; 37:10, 11). Job emphasizes his sense of utter despair and helplessness by comparing himself negatively to a dead tree: “For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grow old in the earth and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant. But a man dies and is laid low; man breathes his last, and where is he?” (14:8-10). Also, we find beautifully crafted language in service of a plain expression of the central moral issue involved, another point of revelation given in conscience (Romans 1:32; 2:15). “God is clothed with awesome majesty. The Almighty–we cannot find him. He is great in power; justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate” (37:22, 23).
As the interchange proceeds and becomes more sarcastic and acerbic, we find the necessity of revelation to clarify the assumptions of both sides of the contest. The friends hold some propositions that are true but apply them in a wooden way as if the immediate manifestations of this present life will perfectly consummate God’s displays of both justice and reward. They are careless in their examination of the phenomena involved—Job is quick and thorough in pointing that out (21:29-34)—and  are unfailingly confident in their applications of general principle. They fail to recognize that further revelation would unveil some of the mystery that surrounded Job’s wrenching dilemma. God said that the disasters were “without reason” (2:3), that is, without any particular act of outrage or injustice to provoke immediate divine reprisal,  but Job’s friends increase throughout the book in the certainty of their knowledge of the “reason” that calamity invaded the life of Job. Applying the true principle of punishment for sin and life for righteousness, Eliphaz instructs Job, “If you return to the Almighty you will be built up, if you remove injustice far from your tents” (22:23). In a particularly vicious speech against Job, Bildad said, “Shall the earth be forsaken for you? [Will the immutable principle of iniquity-brings-judgment be suspended because of your complaints?] . . . Indeed the light of the wicked in put out . . . He is thrust from light into darkness, and driven out of the world” (18:4, 5, 18). Zophar used graphic language in his obvious disdain for Job’s contention of innocence: “He will suck the poison of cobras; the tongue of the viper will kill him . . . a fire not fanned will devour him;   . . .  This is the wicked man’s portion from God” (20:16, 26, 29).
Throughout all these, and more, Job was in a state of resistance to their “empty nothings” (21:34). “Surely there are mockers about me, and my eye dwells on their provocation” (17:2). He assaulted them with sarcasm (“How you have helped him who has no power! How you have saved the arm that has no strength!”). His clear-headed and determined rejection of their extrapolations of principle did not solve the mystery. He addressed God, “I cry to you for help and you do not answer me” (30:20). He knew that wisdom to discern the meaning of the ways of God with man lay in the deep recesses of God’s mind: “God understands the way to it, and he knows the place” (28:23). Job knows that God has given a summary of all wisdom that should prevail in every situation: “And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn from evil is understanding’” (28:28).
Job’s struggle led him into a provocative engagement with the justice and goodness of God. By an infusion of the Spirit with his reasoning, Job, and to a greater clarity Elihu, came to set forth the need for a ransom. This revelation came through reasoning from settled truths and a particular existential situation to a proposal consistent with both. God is just and will not compromise the standard of absolute righteousness as the qualification for eternity in his beneficent presence. Throughout the discussions and recognized perplexities, therefore, we find real advances in revelatory truth that prepares for a more comprehensive grasp of gospel realities. Job had asked, “If a man dies, shall he live again?” (14:14). In the gargantuan struggle with the seeming meaninglessness of righteous-living in the face of God, with the specter of suffering pressing him more harshly every moment, he edged forward with a confident assertion of something apparently revealed: “Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! . . . For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold and not another” (19:23-27). And indeed, they were written! This came as a further manifestation of revealed insight that had been stated in 16:19-21: “Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and he who testifies for me is on high. My friends scorn me; my eye pours out tears to God, that he [my witness] would argue the case of a man with God, as a son of man does with his neighbor.” By the secret and painful operations of God’s revelation, Job knew that he must have one who was in sympathetic harmony with man and ontologically identified as man but could speak familiarly with God. Elihu provided another step of revealed truth wrought in the context of this heaven-ordained turmoil. “If there be for him an angel, a mediator,” Elihu proposed, “one of a thousand, to declare to man what is right for him [the revelation of the just way out of the experience of wrath] and he is merciful to him, and says, ‘Deliver him from going down into the pit;’ [He has delivered us from the domain of darkness] I have found a ransom.” Certainly, the Son of Man came to give his life a ransom for many.
When the Lord himself confronts Job with the impertinence of his resolute confidence in his ability to question God and provide succinct and credible answers to him, he provides no answer other than the magnificence of his presence and the impenetrable nature of his doings. Job understands the series of questions and concludes that indeed he “hides counsel without knowledge” and uttered what he did not understand. The experience brought renewed perspective to Job and changed his insistence into repentance. God told the three friends “You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” Job’s resistance to their incorrect and simplistic conclusions was right and, by revelation, his knowledge that he needed a mediator who could plead his case was an insight to be fulfilled only in the incarnation of the Son of God.
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Grace Baptist Church Statement on Religious Exemption to Mandatory Medical Procedures

The elders of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida have produced the following documents to serve the members of our church as an increasing number are facing vaccine mandates at their places of employment. We have drawn on the wisdom of many others in this process and have particularly benefitted from the labors of other churches and elder bodies. Due to the unique responsibility to shepherd this particular flock in which the Lord has made us overseers we have written the following document with specific consideration to our context, confessional documents, and commitments as a church. We are happy to share the fruit of our work with others who might benefit from it and encourage them to use and/or adapt it for their own purposes with or without attribution—whatever serves them best. We view this document as the result of the collaborative efforts of many. Special thanks is due to Pastor Chad Vegas of Sovereign Grace Church in Bakersfield, California for sharing helpful insights from their elders. Pastor Graham Gunden of GBC, Cape Coral, did the bulk of the research and original drafting of this statement in behalf of all of the Grace elders.

The members of Grace Baptist Church stand within the two-thousand-year Christian tradition. We are committed to the doctrinal standards of our church constitution and the supremacy of the Holy Scriptures. Because of this, we affirm our religion’s principles of liberty of conscience as expressed in our confession of faith, which is the Second London Confession of 1689 (see chapter 21, paragraph 2). We are committed to honoring and preserving human life from conception to natural death and teach that individuals and families bear full responsibility for making medical and healthcare decisions in the fear or the Lord. We also affirm that an individual’s conscience is a gift from God and is answerable to Him alone who is Lord of the conscience.
Therefore, Scripture teaches that any act a person believes to be sin is in fact sin for that person, whether it is intrinsically sinful or not. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6). Furthermore, our church confession states that, “subjection, in all things lawful commanded by them ought to be yielded by us to them, in the Lord.” (2nd London Confession of 1689, Chapter 24, paragraph 3). Mandatory medical procedures do not conform to that which is lawful, i.e. that which conforms to the eternal law of God.
These mandates fall outside the jurisdiction of the divinely instituted authority of the state or employer. Therefore, individuals are under no moral obligation to comply with such mandates. Furthermore, these mandates fall outside the jurisdiction of the government according to the first amendment of our own constitution.
Therefore, we state our unequivocal support for the right to refuse, on the basis of religious conviction, mandatory medical procedures (including vaccinations), whether ordered by a branch of civil government, an employer, or any other institution to which an individual is subject or dependent. In addition, the Holy Scriptures teach Christians that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Stewardship of our bodies before God necessitates being free to make decisions about health and medical treatments according to Scriptural principles, the light of nature, and the dictates of individual conscience. Therefore, the refusal to obey mandatory medical procedures may also be based on an individual’s sincere belief that his or her (or his or her child’s) life, health, welfare, or ethical integrity is potentially endangered by such procedures.
We affirm that our Christian religion protects the liberty of individuals and families to refuse any medical procedure or product on the basis of sincerely held concerns for known or unknown side effects, experimental or emergency uses, potential involvement in fetal cell lines whether in development or testing, or medical and/or political corruption or coercion. The sixth commandment—“You shall not murder”— makes every person responsible “to preserve our own life, and the life of others” and prohibits “the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor, unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.” (The Baptist Catechism, Q72-73.) Many Christians believe, in good faith, that involvement in such medical procedures violates this commandment.
Therefore, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we uphold the rights and responsibilities of the members of Grace Baptist Church to make responsible medical decisions for themselves and their families, including their right to refuse vaccinations or gene therapies on religious grounds. And we hereby call upon all authorities: political, governmental, organizational, or otherwise, to respect these deeply held religious convictions by upholding this religious liberty and/or providing religious exemptions as requested.
On Behalf of the Elders of Grace Baptist Church of Cape Coral,
Thomas Ascol, Senior Pastor

To Whom It May Concern:
The elders of Grace Baptist Church are writing on the behalf of _______________, a member in good standing of our church since _____, to confirm that his/her sincerely held religious beliefs prevent him/her from receiving a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination. He/she is sincerely convinced that to take the vaccine would violate the law of God as found in the Holy Scriptures as well as in our church’s Confession of Faith (Romans 14:23; Hebrews 11:6; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, 21.2; 24.3; The Baptist Catechism, Q 72-73). Our church teaches that to take any action one believes in conscience to be contrary to the law of God is to defy God’s authority and is therefore not permissible. Our eldership affirms the right (and where applicable, the obligation) for each member of Grace Baptist Church to take religious exception to mandatory vaccination by governmental authorities and/or employers on this basis. Our church has also issued a statement confirming this right and obligation according to our doctrinal standards and Scripture.
____________’s application for religious exemption is, therefore, not merely a matter of personal opinion or philosophy, but of bona fide religious conviction with the support of his/her church. Thank you for your understanding in this matter.
Thomas Ascol

Grace Baptist Church – Statement on Religious Exemption to Mandatory Medical Procedures

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The Battle For Young People

As the fight against Critical Theory rages, my concern is that we have forgotten a battlefront that, if ignored, will lead to a short-lived victory.  That is the front for the hearts and minds of our young people.  My father used to tell me that high school was for learning facts, but college is where you learn how to think.  Now, Critical thinking skills have been replaced by Critical Theory mandates.  Free thought, according to North Korean defector and Columbia University graduate Yeonmi Park, has been replaced by a conglomeration of sinister, ideological, monoliths whose oppression of free thought rivals and even exceeds that of North Korea…sounds like a lovely place to send our children.  Sadly, this is not limited to the secular institutions of higher learning, as even those institutions that were once a bulwark of Godly values are now becoming closer to Athens than Jerusalem.
Psalm 119:9 starts with a very important question for us to consider. How do we assist our young adults in keeping Biblical fidelity as they venture through some of their most formidable years?  How do we keep Critical Theory from robbing our young people of Gospel hope, joy and freedom and replacing it with anger, chaos and oppression?  In short, I propose that we need to learn to treasure our young people enough to teach them how to treasure God’s Word.
Treasuring Our Young People
Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  An accurate description of how we’ve been preparing our youth in the church.  Too often children’s and youth ministries are led by people who are untrained and under equipped. When our youth get to college they have had little discussion as to truth, Christian identity or purpose.  They have been given absolutely no Biblical skill set to deal with the subjects of justice, identity, or gender roles, even though they most definitely will deal with those in college, and yet we still wonder why they get blindsided when they get on campus.
Psalm 119 echoes the rest of Scripture in the importance of training our youth to have a love for God and His commands (Deut 6:4-7; Prov 22:6).  Young people at this age are full of potential and very pliable as they decide who they are and what their guiding principles will be going forward. The world has recognized this for years, and thus, consistently start their revolutions at the institutional level.  This is true whether it be the sexual revolution of the 1970’s or the current Critical Theory revolution of today.  The ideas they set forth are like explosives placed in the minds of our youth who are then sent back to our churches to detonate and destroy.  This is the importance of keeping a young man’s way pure.  This section of Psalm 119 shows the value in getting to our children early and to show them how to keep a life that is pure and faithful to God before bad habits or bad ideologies are able to get a foothold.
Treasuring God’s Word becomes priceless in learning how to please our Creator and have a relationship with our Father.
Treasuring God’s Word
Approximately 172 of the 176 verses in Psalm 119 make reference either to God’s Word directly or as a synonym of God’s Word.  God’s Word is imperative, as all knowledge of life and Godliness must be revealed from God to us.  When man rebelled in the garden in Genesis 3 thinking he could be like God, God could have left us to find our own way.  But in His infinite grace and mercy, He instead chose to reveal Himself to us in His Word. The very Gospel itself is only known through God’s Word which is why treasuring God’s Word becomes priceless in learning how to please our Creator and have a relationship with our Father.  Hiding it in our hearts may begin with memorization, but it goes beyond the mind and instead resides in our hearts where it changes us. It becomes the standard of defining who we are and how we view the world.  Hiding it in our hearts puts it in a place where we can access it at any time, in any circumstance, and cherish it.  In this place we learn to value, appreciate, and use God’s Word as the standard by which all else is measured. Obviously, this ultimately is through the work of the Holy Spirit, but I can think of no greater goal than to get our youth to truly treasure the Word of God, because in doing so, they treasure God Himself.
Put It Together
It’s time we bring this fight to where the heat is and to where long lasting change will take place.  Our young people need to be taught to treasure God’s Word.  They need to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within them.  They need to be in churches where God’s Word is taught to them skillfully, accurately and ultimately treasured preeminently.  Our young people need to be in churches where they are treasured enough to be taught God’s Word and prepared for the coming battles.

A Report on What’s Going on Among Colorado Baptists

Earlier this summer, after the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) convened in Nashville, a number of SBC pastors in Colorado reached out to fellow pastor, Sean Cole (Emmanuel Baptist, Sterling, CO). We expressed our concerns of what we understood to be the trajectory of the SBC. Two issues in particular grieved us. First, seeing God’s good design dishonored and distorted by women serving in the role of pastors. Second, seeing the tentacles of the godless ideology of Critical Race Theory unnecessarily divide Christ’s blood-bought people. Those distortions and those tentacles were being observed in our own backyard.
We saw it on SBC church websites here in Colorado that listed women as co-lead pastors and women preaching before Christ’s gathered church. We saw it in publicly posted essays written by Colorado pastors using the divisive language of CRT.
We decided to address this publicly at our annual convention of churches using the resolution process. I wrote a resolution entitled, Resolution on the Title, Office, and Function of Pastor (which would be labeled Resolution #3 by the Resolutions Committee). Pastor Cole modified a resolution submitted in Nashville for here in Colorado entitled, Resolution on the Incompatibility of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality with Scripture and the Baptist Faith and Message (which would be labeled Resolution #4).
Pastor Cole submitted these to the Resolutions Committee several weeks before our convention that was held October 11-12.
Days before the convention, the committee went public with the resolutions. They significantly modified Resolution #3 that addressed the office and function of pastor. Where I had clearly stated the office, role and function of pastor is for biblically qualified males only, the committee changed it to state the qualification of being a male applies only to the “senior/lead” pastor.
After talking with fellow pastors, I agreed to offer amendments the committee’s Resolution #3.. My proposed changes included striking any reference to “senior/lead pastor” and inserting the statement that “WHEREAS there is no biblical distinction of senior pastor under whose authority a female may serve in the office or function of pastor.”
To the Resolutions Committee credit and the acting president of the convention, they played fair. Knowing pastors were preparing to challenge the resolution as it was presented, they asked for my amendments in advance which were then posted on screen for the messengers to see.
As expected, my amendments were challenged—by a well-known pastor. A couple of messengers came to the microphone in support of what I proposed. Pastor Cole spoke with boldness, telling the messengers of the conversations he’s had with pastors who are greatly concerned about this matter and are “close to walking. What we want is clarity in our Convention,” he told the messengers.
Others apparently wanted clarity as well. When it came time to vote on the amendments, several messengers requested a counted vote, which the acting president granted. In place of a voice vote, messengers were asked to stand if they were in favor of the amendments. The amendments passed. I do not have the official tally, but several have estimated it was about 60/40. The final vote on the amended resolution was a voice vote and it passed with a majority.
Three summary observations
First, the chairman of the Resolutions Committee told the messengers the committee could change submitted resolutions to “what we feel reflects the heart of the Colorado Convention.” I can only assume that’s why the committee changed mine. What I find telling is that while Resolution #3 was saturated in Scriptural arguments and included multiple biblical references the committee changed it according to ‘what we feel reflects the heart of the Colorado Convention.’ That wording reflects the pragmatism that has plagued the SBC for decades. Further, the final vote suggests that the Resolutions Committee is not as in tune with Colorado Baptist churches as they thought they were.
Second, it was greatly encouraging that messengers wanted clarity about the title, office and function of pastor for our Colorado churches. That the ‘aye/nay’ method of voting on a non-binding resolution got changed to an actual count—at the request of messengers—indicates that for many present, this topic is no shibboleth, nor an insignificant matter. I rejoice that messengers were willing to challenge their fellow Baptists to clearly indicate what they believe about who is qualified to serve as pastors.
Third, where to from here? The pastor who had opposed my amendments from the floor, afterwards conveyed to Pastor Sean and others of us who had decided to address these matters, that “the convention has spoken and we will move forward and in that light joining hearts and hands and heads to continue to make an impact in Colorado.” I am grateful for this statement and look forward to Colorado Baptists working together to impact our state for Christ as we joyfully operate under the authority of God’s Word.
What will “moving forward” look like? Colorado Baptists already have a confession of faith that states the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture. We claim that we are already convinced that “Scripture is totally true and trustworthy… and is the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.”
Will our state Credentials Committee be assigned the duty of lovingly confronting Colorado churches that have women identified as pastors or operating in the function of elders/overseers? When Colorado Baptist churches have women stand before Christ’s gathered church and speak in such a way that is authoritative and doctrinal in content (i.e., preaching), will sister churches call them to repent? Afterall, “the convention has spoken.” Is that what “joining hearts and hands and hands” will look like?
May God give our churches grace and clarity and courage to be the pillar and support of the truth (I Timothy 3:15).
Resolution #3 Resolution on the Title, Office, and Function of Pastor
Adopted by the Colorado Baptist Convention, 2021
WHEREAS, our Creator God has blessed His image bearers with fulfilling His mandate for them by creating them as male and female (Genesis 1:26-28), and,
WHEREAS, males and females, while equal image bearers of God, have been given by Him unique roles, abilities, and responsibilities, defined biologically and by the creation order, (Genesis 1-3; I Timothy 2:12-13), and,
WHEREAS, since sin has entered the world through Adam and sin spread to all, defying, distorting, and defiling in every generation both our perception of maleness and femaleness and our unique roles, abilities and responsibilities as males and females (Gen 3:16b, Romans 1:24-32; Ephesians 2:1-3), and,
WHEREAS, both God’s Law and His Gospel reveal and confirm the blessing of the distinctions of males and females and summon sinners to repent of their defying, distorting, and defiling of what He has blessed (I Timothy 1:8-11; I Corinthians 6:9-11; I Thessalonians 4:1-5; Ephesians 4:17-24; 5:22-33), and,
WHEREAS, the Church’s Head, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, has commissioned His local church to be the pillar and support of the revealed truth of God (I Timothy 3:14-15; I Peter 2:9-12; I Thessalonians 2:13), and,
WHEREAS, our Lord Jesus Christ through His apostles has decreed those males who meet specific qualifications shall minister in His local church in the office and function of pastor (overseer, elder) (I Tim 2:12-15; 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; I Peter 5:1-5; Acts 14:23), and,
WHEREAS, this distinction of the office and function being for males only is rooted in the creation order of males and females prior to sin having entered the world (I Timothy 2:12-15; Genesis 2-3), and,
WHEREAS, there is no biblical distinction of senior pastor under whose authority a female may serve in the office or function of pastor, and,
WHEREAS, autonomous Baptist churches, cooperating according to the doctrinal convictions expressed in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, which states: (the local church’s) scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture, and therefore be it
RESOLVED, Colorado Baptists Churches shall commit themselves to proclaiming, explaining, and modeling the Divine blessing of image bearers being male and female and their unique roles, abilities, and responsibilities, and be it finally
RESOLVED, Colorado Baptist Churches, will strive to be the biblically rooted pillar and support of the truth in our state and communities, by reserving the title, office, and function of pastor, elder, overseer for males only who meet the qualifications of I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; I Peter 5:1-5.

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A Secular Sacrament: Why Mandates Violate Liberty of Conscience and Enforce a New Religion

Since the Biden Administration mandated soldiers and federal workers to be fully vaccinated, while also requiring private businesses larger than 100 employees to require vaccines, chaos has ensued. Defending the freedoms of Americans, many have begun to address the constitutional problems this mandate creates.[1] Others have begun seeking a religious exemption for this mandate based upon the fetal cells used in the research and production of these vaccines.[2] Still others object to the mandates because they have already contracted Covid, have natural immunity, and believe (with a long history immunology supporting them) that taking a vaccine is unnecessary and may be potentially harmful to their body.[3]
At the same time, other Americans, and many Christians among them, have opted to get the vaccine, even arguing for its morality. Add to this the difference between seeking a vaccine exemption on medical grounds versus moral and religious grounds, and the complexity multiplies.[4] Not surprisingly, with all of these arguments out there, people of faith are led to ask: What should I do?
To answer that question, I am putting myself in the shoes of the men and women in the military and federal government who are now ordered to get vaccinated. Some of them have willingly received the vaccine, and done so in faith. Many others, however, are not able to receive the vaccine in faith. As I have spoken to church members and other Christians about this, many are crushed in spirit at the thought of injecting a serum that has come about by the use of stem cell lines that ultimately trace back to cells derived from aborted babies. Others are not bound in conscience by the use of fetal cell lines, but are nevertheless are unable to take the vaccine in good faith. It is for this latter category, I am writing.
In what follows, I offer a twofold argument for why this vaccine mandate should lead some men and women to seek a religious exemption (not just a medical exemption). These two arguments are based upon a genuinely held religious belief that this mandate (1) eliminates the free exercise of their faith and (2) forces upon them the faith another religion. Along the way, I will show why this vaccine and its accompanying mandate is different in nature than previous vaccines. Unlike previous vaccines, like Jonathan Salk’s polio vaccine or the more recent anthrax vaccine, the Covid vaccine comes with a moral imperative that is downright religious, complete with Fauci prayer candles and vaccine jewelry.
At the outset, I admit that this argument may not resonate with everyone, and that is fine. I am not writing to persuade everyone to seek a religious exemption. Seeking a religious exemption is deeply personal and should be based on one’s genuinely held beliefs. So, I am not seeking to bind anyone’s conscience regarding the vaccine. At our church, we have labored hard to stress the liberty Christians have to receive or reject the vaccine, because we really believe that one’s health care decisions are matters of personal responsibility and liberty, not public morality and coercion.
That said, as a pastor with many members seeking religious exemptions, I am writing to Christians to offer biblical rationale for why Christians can—and in many cases should—seek a religious exemption. So, to the text of Scripture we go.
The Mandate Replaces Faith with Coercion
In the Bible, the locus classicus for liberty of conscience is Romans 14. And while the whole chapter provides a rich resource for understanding the biblical view of human conscience, the last verse provides a starting point for distinguishing faith from coercion, as well as offering a connection between conscience, faith, and sin.
Summarizing his argument on conscience and religious devotion to God, Paul writes: “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (v. 23). This simple principle needs to guide Christians at all times, but especially in moments when governing authorities are binding consciences by way of coercive actions that do not proceed from God’s truth. In fact, the first point to make is that coercion always makes faith null and void.
There are many ways to get at this argument, but one of them has to do with faith, thanksgiving, and using the good gifts of God. Here’s how Paul puts it in 1 Timothy 4:1–5,
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
While Paul’s words take aim at false teachers who forbid marriage and require abstinence from food, his argument stands upon a universal truth: Christians are those who give thanks to God for every good gift. While those in rebellion against God take his gifts and refuse to acknowledge him or give thanks to him (Rom. 1:23), Christians are those who give thanks to God (Luke 17:19) and praise him for every good and perfect gift that comes down from our Father in heaven (James 1:17). These gifts include, food and drink, sex and marriage. But they also include sunshine and rain (Matt. 5:45), agricultural wisdom (Isaiah 28:26), and medicine (James 5:14).[5]
Accordingly, for Christians to receive the vaccine in faith means that Christians can give thanks to God for the good gift that he has given. And more than that, Christians must give thanks to God for anything they put in their body. Not only are we called to glorify God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20), but if we refuse to give thanks to God, we are not exercising faith and are by definition sinning (see Rom. 14:23).
By contrast, when Christians eat, drink, or take a vaccine, they do so with personal thanksgiving to their Lord. And over the course of the last year, this is what many Christians have done. In faith, they have prayed against Covid and for a vaccine. Covid is a real threat and one that continues to cut short the lives of those whom we know and love. Accordingly, Christians have given thanks to God for the vaccine, and no one who has taken the vaccine in faith should feel condemned.
My argument here is not anti-vaccine; it is anti-mandate. Because thanksgiving for the vaccine is predicated on a free conscience, I am making the case for personal freedom to making wise choices for one’s health. Remove that freedom of conscience, by forcibly causing someone to do something against their will (and their body), and the ability to offer genuine thanksgiving is gone.[6] And without thanksgiving to God, faith is eliminated, and sin remains. Those who deny God may make light of this thinking, but for those who seek to do all things to the glory of God, this way of thinking stands at the core of their being. And this why liberty of conscience has always been protected in our nation.
Going back to the early church, Christians from many faith traditions are on record for defending the rights of individuals, Christians or otherwise, to live according to their faith.[7] Likewise, Andrew Walker, in his recent book on religious liberty, has argued that making religious choices freely is part of what it means to be made in God’s image.[8] Accordingly, religious liberty “is not a political question,” but a question of what it means to be human. Religious liberty, he argues, “arises from a theology of creation—that humanity bears a unique origin, design, and purpose in its constitution” (Liberty for All, 110). More confessionally, the Second London Confession (1689) puts it this way.
21.2. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or not contained in it. So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also.
Christ alone is Lord of conscience. This is the critical point of tension in our moment. This tenet of our faith is in sharp conflict with state and health officials who exalt themselves as conscience-binding-lords.[9] They refuse to give room for religious exemptions or conscience, and thereby seek to bind the conscience which is free in Christ.[10] As state and health officials masquerade as conscience-binding-lords, we must reply: Solus Christus.[11]
Protestants have always opposed church or state pronouncements that coerce action or bind conscience. In 1769–70, six Baptists were jailed in Culpeper, Virginia for this conviction, and James Madison worked with likes of John Leland, another Virginia Baptist, to instantiate in the  Constitution of the United States (1789) a clause protecting religious liberty—what we know as the First Amendment. Thus, religious liberty has been a defining feature of America, and one that reflects the human dignity and personal freedom set forth in Scripture.[12]
Sadly, with the recent vaccine mandates, liberty of conscience has been withdrawn and in its place the state has eliminated the chance for citizens to live according to their religious convictions. As a result, many Christians, still unconvinced by the need for this vaccine, have lost the chance to be persuaded of its goodness and the chance to receive it with thanksgiving. Hence, the first reason that many Christians should seek a religious exemption is because instead of the state using the power of persuasion, which could preserve personal liberty and would lead to thanksgiving, the state has used its power of coercion to eliminate personal freedom for the sake of its religious belief that the vaccine is the savior we all need.
This is the second argument to be made, that instead of merely eliminating personal liberty and the chance to offer thanksgiving to God for this vaccine, the Biden administration and its various agencies have forced upon Christians a medical procedure that is championed as a secular sacrament. Still, before getting into that argument, the fact remains that many Christians who are called to do everything from faith and to give thanksgiving to God for every good gift, including vaccines, are not able to do that. And for that reason, those who cannot take the vaccine in faith, should not take the vaccine at all. Instead, they should seek a religious exemption and band together with others who share their convictions to stand for personal liberty.[13]
The *Mandate* Requires Many Christians to Participate in the State Religion
The second reason for seeking a religious exemption is due to the religious nature of the Covid vaccine. Because American leaders have not said, “Bow down and worship Baal,” I suspect many will not see how vaccine mandates are forcing another religion on Christians. This may be especially true for those who stand outside the church and must assess the convictions of Christians in the federal government or armed services.
Even more, because many Christians have received the vaccine in good faith and made biblical arguments for it, it may be difficult to see how a Covid vaccine has become a secular sacrament. Although, as these mandates come down with the force of law, and governing officials like Kathy Hochul praise them with religious language, it is easier to see how they eliminate personal freedom and enforce a new morality.
Without discussing the merits or demerits of the vaccines, I want to show how these mandates force a secular sacrament on those who do not subscribe to the religious values of the state. But such an argument depends upon answering a few questions.

What does it take to have religion?
How is the Covid vaccine a religious experience?
Have all Christians who have received the vaccine participated in a false religion? (The short answer is ‘no,’ the longer answer is, ‘it depends’ and it is becoming more difficult).

1. What does it take to have a religion?
While large metaphysical (i.e., philosophical, sociological, and theological) questions are tied up in defining a religion, we might observe that what one believes about God, the world, and morality, as well as what someone does to obey the words of a higher authority (whether supernatural or not) is the essence of a religion.
Acknowledging the difficulty of defining a religion, Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli provide a helpful sociological orientation to religion set around “three aspects [of] religious behavior.” [14] They list in parallel fashion “beliefs, morality and liturgy; or creed, code and cult; or words, works and worship” as the key features of a recognizable religion. And from their threefold orientation we can consider how Covid has ventured into the realm of beliefs, morality, and liturgy (i.e., the religious work of the people).[15]
2. How has the Covid vaccine become a religious experience?
Covid as a religious experience comes into focus when we realize (1) how strongly people believe in the vaccine on the basis of a priestly class of advocates, (2) how the vaccine has created a moral divide with an in-group (the virtuous vaccinated) and an out-group (the unclean unvaccinated), (3) how the vaccine is treated as the only and “one size fits all” means of salvation, and (4) how the rhetoric surrounding the vaccine is filled with religious imperatives,[16] public celebrations (see the video below),[17]government praise for the vaccinated and public threats of judgment on the unvaccinated,[18] not to mention the public shaming of those who would desire further scientific evidence for the vaccines efficacy.[19]

[embedded content]

[Creepy doesn’t begin to explain this montage. HT: Not the Bee ]
In short, the law that requires a vaccine does not come from a purely “secular” impulse, but a religious one. Though no one, including the most influential politicians and power brokers, can expunge the sense of the divine from the human soul, America’s ruling class have worked long and hard to exclude historic Christianity from the public square while permitting all other religions to remain. More than this, the ruling elites have cunningly conceived and established its own civil religion that is palatable to all except those who cherish the liberty of conscience. From this religious view of the world, albeit a secular one, the vaccine is treated as a sacrament that brings salvation and blessing. Conversely, refusal to take the sacrament invites a curse that results in removal from the community and all of its associated blessings. Let me press into the details to show how this works.
Morality is always downstream from religion. And since the Judeo-Christian civil religion of the 1950s has been evicted from the public square, other forms of worship have sprung up. These forms of worship are often materialistic, atheistic (or polytheistic), and rationalistic, but they are religious nonetheless. Because God made the world in a certain way, it is impossible to remodel his house without following the lines he drew. So, even if the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus is rejected, there will be another supreme Lord. And when that Lord is the self, very soon the vacuum created by God’s rejection is filled by the state and its agencies.
This is what has happened in America. The Founding Fathers knew the dangers of tyrants, but the modern world, intoxicated with the godless, sex-crazed ideologies of Rousseau, Marx, Freud, Marcuse and their grandchildren (i.e., the ones preaching Critical (Race) Theory), have no idea that enshrining power in the government to protect the pleasures of the proletariat has not eliminated religion. It has simply made the state religious and given government power to do what it pleases. And in the days of Covid, we have seen supreme authority ceded to governing authorities, but especially the CDC. Consequently, the government is no longer a servant of the people; it has become a master of the people. And many in the nation are happy to be protected and pastored by their elected officials. Why else have elections become so cut throat? It’s religious!
In this setting, there exists a priestly class. Thomas Sowell has fittingly called them the Anointed.[20] And their vision for the world is that of a utopian playground where they can make everything happy, safe, and clean. The problem with their imaginary world is the real world. Instead of dealing with conditions that are real, they seek with governmental force to demand people to do what they say. With sovereign confidence in themselves they declare, “Together we can defeat Covid!”
Advancing their gospel from the screens of smartphones, these would be heroes parade themselves with knowledge that will save. And because all contrary arguments are censored from the social media carriers, the vision of the anointed becomes the final authority. Similar to the Medieval Church, which Martin Luther protested and the Council of Trent corrected, the religious nature of this state church is seen in the way the vaccine mandates have become a matter of right and wrong, not just sickness and health.
In fact, the religious response to Covid is evident in the way the ruling elites are joined by a priestly class of celebrities whose skill in selling their bodies qualifies them to tell you what to do with yours. How many celebrities, when they received their shot, celebrated with a picture, complete with a double mask, on Instagram. Virtue signaling their vaccination, these priests of culture call others to “Follow me as I follow Fauci.” How else could Fauci gain a cult following, unless there is a cult?
In short, the ruling elites, joined with their approved priestesses of the medical profession, and the prophets of the entertainment industry, tell us the vaccine is the way to go. And because most of the results of the vaccine have been unharmful, and any harmful impacts have been denied or dismissed, there has been a measure of truth in their advertising.
Still, don’t miss the religious fervor of Covid vaccines. Those who got them, the ruling elites have said, especially in places like Australia and Canada, can enjoy their freedoms. They can breathe mask-free and return to life as normal. Or at least, they can until the next booster, mask mandate, or lockdown. Make no mistake, however, the secular evangelists preach the same gospel: blessing is found in the vaccine, but death awaits the unvaccinated. In short, the Covid vaccine has made a divide between the clean and unclean—a religious tell, if ever there was one.
And more, as Peter Leithart has observed, the Covid narrative not only divides the masses medically, but also morally. In his First Things article, Leithart notes the presence of “sin stories.” Highlighting Biden’s speech mandating vaccines, and comparing it to the work of Paul Frijters, Gigi Foster, and Michael Baker in their book, The Great COVID Panic, he states,
“A very effective way to dominate people,” they write, “is to convince them they are sinful unless they obey.” Government officials and powerful business leaders use sin stories to divide and control opposition. Corporations break the power of labor by cultivating discord in the workforce; politicians tell sin stories to keep the people from mounting mass opposition. COVID, they note, is “an almost perfect sin story,” one that sets all against all by treating everyone as a potential source of deadly infection and literally distances us from one another so we can’t mount a united opposition. Giant companies told sin stories to kill off small businesses that couldn’t afford to keep up with constantly-changing regulations. And President Biden deepens divisions by presenting himself as president of the vaccinated, whose duty is to protect them from impure semi-citizens like me.
Indeed, this line of thinking is so ubiquitous today, it almost goes unnoticed. But once we see how the ruling elite are passing moral judgments, are teaching the nation to divide itself based upon Leviticus-like standards of clean and unclean, and are making their case on an approved list of orthodox scientists, it becomes incontrovertible that what we are facing in the Covid mandates is a deeply religious belief system. Yes, it is secular. It denies God and preaches medicinal healing, but it contains a strong body of belief, fortified by a cadre of moral imperatives, decided by a higher power, and mediated through a series of princes, priests, and prophets. And this leads to the vaccine itself.
While many Christians have freely taken and benefitted from this achievement of science, it has become increasingly apparent that to others, the vaccine is a religious sacrament. To those who deny God, the protection of one’s life becomes the number one priority. In other words, with no hope of heaven and no fear of God, the secular world treats this one life as their only chance at heaven. And materialist as they are, they look to science to be their medicinal savior. And because God is good, modern medicine IS a wonderful savior—not in an ultimate sense, but in a qualified sense. And this is why many Christians have received the vaccine with great thanksgiving and liberty of conscience.
Nevertheless, when we look at the total picture, it is increasingly clear that the vaccine is now treated as a sacrament for salvation. With ironic humor, it is even heralded with a fundamentalist zeal that rivals the fiercest evangelists on the sawdust trail. And sadly, many vaccinators are as mean-spirited and punitive as the fundamentalist Christians they abhor. In short, in less than a year’s time, the Covid vaccine has become a religious sacrament.
It didn’t have to be that way. It could have simply been a way to respond to a global pandemic, a part of a multi-prong strategy to help the sick. But instead, the religious fervor of the ruling elite has made the Covid vaccine a sacrament of health and life and freedom. Thus, when governing agencies demand citizens to take the vaccine, they are forcing the world’s newfangled idol on Christians. And taking a page from 1 Corinthians 8, some Christians will have freedom of conscience to eat the meat, but others will not, and therefore must not.
Yet, with the vaccine mandate forcing worshipers of Christ to receive in their bodies the serum of sacrament, the state has now forced their secular religion on Christians. And this is a legitimate reason for seeking a religious exemption. But this also raises another question.
3. Have all Christians who have received the vaccine participated in a false religion?
No. If you have read this essay from the beginning, you know that I believe many Christians have in good conscience received the vaccine. And this argument is not written to condemn anyone who has with faith and thanksgiving prayed for, sought, or received this vaccine. As a vaccine and not a sacrament, the vaccine is a product of human ingenuity and one that has sought to do good. And for those who have taken it that way, even if they lined up next to an irreligious sacrament seeker, they can go to sleep tonight with a clear conscience.
That said, the vaccine mandates have reset the calculus. No longer are the vaccines a personal choice that individuals can receive or reject, based upon their medical history and liberty of conscience. Unless something changes, and we should pray that it does, the vaccines are now the enforced will of the government, regardless of your medical condition or religious beliefs. And in that setting, I expect there will be Christians who can still in good conscience receive the vaccine. But I also expect that the longer the politicians of this country make healthcare decisions for Americans, the more Christians are going to take note of the secular religious practices being forced on them. This is a second reason why a religious exemption can be—and for some, must be—sought.
Two Reasons to Seek a Religious Exemption 
In the end, liberty of conscience and freedom from an imposed secular sacrament are the two reasons that many Christians can and should seek a religious exemption. Again the “should” here is related to conscience and not a biblical imperative for all Christians. The universal imperative is that if you cannot get the vaccine in faith, you must not. Again, Romans 14 is clear on this. You should not violate your conscience or bind the conscience of someone else who thinks differently than you.
At the same time, with the increasing secularization of our culture and the force of government demanding citizens to do things against their will, all Christians should stand for religious liberty. And this begins by recognizing the religious response to Covid. The vaccine mandates are not pure science nor unbiased medicine. There’s more to it than that, and it does not take a conspiracy theory to connect the dots. The Covid vaccine, unlike every other mandated vaccine, has a religious connotation to it. For this reason, Christians in our day need to be instructed by Revelation 13 as much as Romans 13. And I pray this essay might help us to see what is going on and to respond in freedom and faith—whatever that means for you and the vaccine.
May God give us wisdom and courage in these days.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com
[1] As David Closson has observed: “First, there are serious concerns that President Biden’s vaccine mandate is illegal and unconstitutional. No federal statute or constitutional provision expressly gives the president the authority to impose a sweeping vaccine mandate on private businesses and their employees in this manner, and the Biden administration has an extremely questionable reading of the statute they claim gives him this authority. Some states have already threatened to sue.”
[2] I have received multiple requests for help on religious exemptions based upon the connection between the Covid vaccines and the use of stem cell lines derived from aborted babies.
[3] Though there are competing claims, here is one study that argues for natural immunity: https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.08.24.21262415v1
[4] Stating the difference between religious and medical exemptions, Alliance Defending Freedom notes, “You must first determine if your objection is based on a sincerely held religious belief against taking any of the available vaccines (since they are different), or whether your objections are based on other medical, health, cultural, or political, but not religious, concerns. Many people have medical or other concerns which do not rise to the level of an actual religious belief. A belief that taking a vaccine is unwise or could be harmful will normally be considered a medical or health objection, not a religious objection.”
[5] I take the oil of James 5:14 to be medicinal.
[6] Additionally, Christians are those who know that bodies are not disconnected from souls. As Abraham Kuyper wisely stated with respect to limitations on government mandated healthcare, “Just think of the battle over cowpox inoculation, or of the shameful idea of some heartless magistrates to close the churches during epidemics in the interest of public hygiene. Think also of the outrageous attempts in a Christian nation to discourage burials and to bring into vogue the pagan practice of cremation. Thus it is essential to be very circumspect about choosing one’s point of departure and to give our doctors (many of whom are philosophical materialists) not one tittle more than they, strictly speaking, can demand. Many take public hygiene to mean health care that turns not only the public spaces but also our bodies into the private hunting ground of our medical colleges. And since our bodies are inexplicably and marvelously bound up with our spiritual being—a spiritual being that these gentlemen hygienists for the most part concern themselves very little about—it goes without saying that our physical needs can come into conflict with our psychical needs. And in that case we must fight tooth and nail against the materialistic conclusion that in all such cases body takes precedence over soul!” (Our Program: A Christian Political Manifesto)
[7] Here are twenty quotations from Baptists who have made arguments for religious liberty. https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/20-quotes-from-baptists-on-religious-liberty/
[8] Andrew Walker, Liberty for All: Defending Everyone’s Religious Freedom in a Pluralistic Age, 81–110, esp. 89–90.
[9] Sadly, this includes the Christians who unwittingly support them with a facile reading of Romans 13. For a better reading of Romans 13, see here, here, and here.
[10] New York Governor Kathy Hochul: “There are not legitimate religious exemptions because the leaders of all the organized religions have said there’s no legitimate reason.”
[11] In Our Program: A Christian Political Manifesto, Abraham Kuyper writes about the relationship between the state and the Christian’s conscience. He states, “The conscience marks a boundary that the state may never cross. The limits to state power reside in the will of God. Government has as much power as God has assigned to it. No more; no less. It sins if it leaves unused a portion of the power assigned to it, but also if it arrogates to itself any power that is not assigned to it. There is only one power without limits, the power of God, whence it is called almighty power. Anyone who accords the state the right to exercise power as if it had no limits is guilty of deifying the state and favoring state omnipotence. That is not indulging in oratorical phraseology but simply indicating a purely logical concept.”  Thanks to Ben Purves for this and other references to Abraham Kuyper.
[12] For those thinking theologically, “liberty of conscience” is not a denial of Luther’s “bondage of the will.” The latter has to do with the personal inability to repent and believe, the former has to do with the ability to repent and believe without external coercion. Both doctrines can be found in Scripture and both doctrines are necessary for understanding biblically the roles of church and state. For now, our focus is on the public good that comes when consciences are not coerced by external forces—this is good for all image-bearers, not just those who call themselves Christians.
[13] One counter argument to any religious exemptions for the vaccine is the fact that most seeking an exemption have already received countless vaccines. Therefore, the counterargument goes, any current religious accommodation is not a true religious belief but a matter of convenience or personal disinterest couched in terms of religious convictions. The refutation of this counterargument, however, is the fact that this vaccine mandate, unlike George Washington’s smallpox vaccine mandate or the anthrax vaccine mandate, is the global scope of this pandemic and the religious response of the secular society. In other words, while receiving medicine as a good gift from God, current events have proven that this vaccine is not simply a gift of modern medicine, it has become a secular sacrament. And thus, not only does taking this vaccine violate the conscience of many Christians, it does so by forcing Christians to participate in a modern, medical sacrament.
[14] Peter P. Kreeft and Ronald K Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic. 1994), 351.
[15] Etymologically, liturgy means the “work of the people.”
[16] From the rush transcript of Kathy Hocul: “I need you to be my apostles. I need you to go out and talk about it and say, we owe this to each other. We love each other. Jesus taught us to love one another and how do you show that love but to care about each other enough to say, please get the vaccine because I love you and I want you to live, I want our kids to be safe when they’re in schools, I want to be safe when you go to a doctor’s office or to a hospital and are treated by somebody, you don’t want to get the virus from them. You’re already sick or you wouldn’t be there. We have to solve this, my friends. I need every one of you. I need you to let them know that this is how we can fight this pandemic.”
[17] From postvent or post-vaxxed calendars (think: advent calendars but in reverse) to protein-spiked helmets, The Verge reports, “Sites such as Etsy, Zazzle, and Redbubble are overflowing with T-shirts, hats, and buttons proclaiming “Fully Vaccinated,” “Hug me, I’m vaccinated,” “Vaccines cause adults,” and “Vaccinated AF.” (I just report these; I don’t write them.) There are necklaces, hats, toys, keychains, and cardholders. Okay, it’s a little weird, but still…”
[18] Consider President Biden’s “scolding tone,” which was noted by none other than Jake Tapper, when Biden addressed the nation.
[19] Among others, see CNN’s Don Lemon’s comments.
[20] See Thomas Sowell, The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulations as a Social Policy.

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Ruminations on Revelation: Moses’ Mosaic

Moses’s knowledge of creation came by immediate revelation. There were no documents recording the event on which he could reflect and no eyewitness accounts, not even Adam, for he was created on the sixth day. The first three chapters of Genesis determine everything in the rest of Scripture and, indeed, for all the events of subsequent history. We learn of the exalted status of humanity in its creation in the image of God, we learn of its moral stature of knowledge of the will of God and the true goodness of obedience and the devastation of disobedience. We learn of the reason for male and female, the order and purpose of their creation, and, again, the consequent moral status and intrinsic goodness of this relationship, a marriage relationship established by God at the very fountainhead of humanity (Matthew 19:4-6). These chapters tell us of the disobedience that led to death and the corruption of all the descendants of Adam. The subjection of creation itself to vanity is revealed as having proceeded from this first sin.
Without the revelation of Genesis 1-3 we have no Romans 2, 4, 5, and 8. Well, let’s just say the entire New Testament.  We find in this narrative the first promise of redemption through the seed of the woman and the consequent final and ultimate demise of Satan. The principle of sacrificial death to provide covering for the results of sin finds graphic expression in this revelation of primeval reality. Subsequent to the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the memory and oral information could serve as a resource for the recording of the pertinent events and relations and developments. These historical accounts of actions and judgments could come from Adam for 900 years, from Noah for 350 years subsequent to the flood, from Abraham and the three subsequent generations descending from his loins. From this seedbed of oral (and some written?) history the pertinent events of the developing human condition were available to Moses. The revelatory relevance of the historical narrative was guaranteed by the superintending operation of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). The events for which there could be no eyewitness account were revealed to Moses immediately.
Moses clearly recognized his calling as a man dependent on revelation. From the burning bush to his messages given to Pharaoh, saying what God put in his mind and on Aaron’s lips, Moses was conscious that God initiated and controlled the content of the message. Announcement of each plague was an outflow of revelation followed by effectual action from the Lord God. The giving of the Ten Commandments was pure revelation, even written by the finger of God. It put into objective propositions the law written on the heart at creation, the same law that would be enforced by the curse of death for disobedience.
The first three chapters of Genesis determine everything in the rest of Scripture and, indeed, for all the events of subsequent history.
Moses asked specifically for a revelation of the glory of God, knowing that any knowledge of God must come by his grace and his revelatory action. God would speak to Moses “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). He heard, having been hidden from the fatal view of infinite glory, God say, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children on the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6, 7).
Moses received the revelation of the ceremonial law and the civil law in addition to the moral law. These also helped define the character of the people of God and the work of the coming finality of the prophetic word, the priestly ministry, and the King of kings. Deuteronomy consisted of the words Moses spoke “to the people of Israel according to all that the Lord had given him in commandment to them” (Deuteronomy 1:3).
Any compromise of the revelatory status of the Pentateuch and the propositional character of that revelation threatens to make clear understanding of entire corpus of Scripture impossible. Creation occurred according the word power, eternal purpose, and orderly arrangement determined by God as revealed in Scripture. The simple proposition “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3) builds upon the entire narrative of Genesis revealed to Moses. None could argue that the summary by Paul of the gospel he preached to the Corinthians is a minor point of truth, an irrelevancy, or only a tangential issue of application. It summarizes the redemptive revelation of God in gathering to himself the people given to his Son before the creation of the world. That simple statement is a mysterious imposition on the intellect apart from the full truthfulness of the layered context of what Moses wrote  in Genesis 1-3 and then throughout the Pentateuch.
In harmony with that and as an expansion of it, propositional revelation continued throughout Scripture; it built upon the first principles of creation, covenant, fall, redemption, law, election of a people, unveiling of promise, and divine sovereignty disclosed to Moses, the first penman of Holy Scripture. The absolute truthfulness of this written revelation and its unwavering authority for life before God is emphasized immediately upon the death of Moses and the transfer of leadership of the people of God to Joshua: “This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth” (Joshua 1:8). An accurate understanding of the Mosaic revelation would determine the clarity with which all future revelation would be understood and synthesized into the final manifestation of the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We grasp the meaning of the “Alpha and Omega,” the “tree of Life,” the “root and descendant of David,” the “water of Life,” “the plagues described in this book,” and finally consolidated into the entire corpus of Scripture (Revelation 22:13, 14, 16, 18-21).

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Some Will Apostatize

The Bible never sugarcoats the painful realities of living in a fallen world. Sin is portrayed in all of its dark hues, and the best of men are acknowledged to be at best, mere men. Similarly, the church is portrayed as in a constant state of conflict until the Lord Jesus returns.
The church in the world is the church militant—always engaged in warfare, under attack and advancing doggedly onward through enemy territory. As is true with any army, the church is not immune to the loss of some of her members. In fact, the skill and tenacity of our enemies are intent on destroying as many as they can.
Paul warns Timothy of such loss in the opening verses of 1 Timothy 4. “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (v. 1). Those “later times” are here. They have been present since Christ’s first coming and will continue until his return.
Paul intends to encourage Timothy by informing him of the inevitability that some will apostatize. Timothy is pastoring the church in Ephesus—a church that Paul himself planted. Yet, among the members of that church, among those who professed to be followers of Jesus, some would depart from the faith.
From Judas onward the church has been confronted with the painful reality of apostasy. When those who have once been bright, shining lights among the people of God later turn away from the paths of discipleship and abandon the teachings of God’s Word, it is brings great sorrow to fellow church members. Perhaps none feel such sorrows as deeply as those pastors whose responsibility it is to shepherd the flock.
How are we to understand those who fall away? Are our Armininian friends right in their teaching that genuine Christians can lose their salvation? No. Salvation conveys eternal life and Jesus promised that His people are secure because “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29). Paul assures us that the One who began a good work in us “will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
John gives us insight into what is going on in the lives of those who profess to follow Jesus but then turn away from him, depart from his Word and reject his people. “They went out from us,” the apostle writes, “but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).
The antidote to apostasy is a rigorous devotion to the truth of God’s Word.
When someone departs from the faith never to be recovered it is not that he has lost the salvation that was once possessed. Rather, such a person demonstrates by his departure that, no matter how loudly he professed to belong to the Lord’s redeemed, he did not genuinely possess the salvation that comes through faith in Christ. Though such people might be among us, they are not “of us.”
Paul explains how this happens. How a person lives is determined by what he believes. Those who fall away do so because they become devoted to the “teachings of demons.” This does not mean that they get caught up in the occult. Rather, they come to believe notions that originate in hell and are consequently led away from the faith.
This is what causes people to make up rules that God’s Word does not teach (“Do not get married” or “Do not eat”) and to become convinced that by following them they are spiritually safe. In reality, they have fallen prey to “deceitful spirits” who use liars with seared consciences to spread their spiritual poison (1 Timothy 4:2).
Apostates are people who have been deceived. They have been duped into believing lies rather than the truth and, as a result, are not standing firm but are falling away.
The antidote to apostasy, then, is a rigorous devotion to the truth of God’s Word. It is in the Word that the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ is revealed. Becoming increasingly grounded in the gospel is what gives stability to a believer. As Psalm 1 says, the blessed and stable man is the one who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates in it day and night (vv. 2-3).
Pastors must be radically committed to teaching the Word of God in all of its fullness and simplicity. This is why Paul repeatedly emphasizes the importance of sound doctrine in his letters to Timothy and Titus on pastoral ministry (1 Timothy 1:3, 10, 4:6, 16, 6:3; 2 Timothy 3:16, 4:3; Titus 1:9, 2:1). This is also why no Christian should settle for anything less.
There is a battle going on in the minds of all those who know the Lord. It is a battle between truth and falsehood—between the teaching of God’s Word and the teachings of demons. What you believe will inevitability determine how you live.
Make sure that the ideas and convictions to which you become devoted are derived from Scripture alone. There is no other way to stand firm the faith.

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