A La Carte (June 29)

Looking for some good reading? Westminster Books is offering great deals on sets of commentaries and reference works.

Whose Choice?
“In 1973 I was 19 years old and a sophomore in college when the Supreme Court decided the Roe vs Wade case and legalized abortion. Honestly, however, I never expected the Court’s landmark decision to affect me personally.” And yet…
4 Thoughts on Spiritual Fatherhood
Jared Wilson: “As I get older, I think more and more about this claim from Paul — and the concept of ‘spiritual fatherhood’ generally — and it seems a pressing issue to me, not just ‘culturally,’ but personally.” He offers some thoughts on what the practice looks like.
OK, so there was Glastonbury
Matthew Hosier reflects on the recent Glastonbury festival.
It’s a Mistake to Take Online Populist Movements Very Seriously
Samuel James: “‘I’m now at a point where the first thing I wonder about a job applicant is, ‘How likely is this person to blow up my organization from the inside?’’ The emerging generation of activists are arriving at these organizations with two things: incredible amounts of leverage over their employers (thanks to the Internet), and incredibly low amounts of personal investment in groups or networks outside themselves.”
Did God Really Say … ?
“When my kids were little, one of our homeschool lessons was on ‘red flags.’ We talked about what things others might say to get you to do something your parents have told you not to do.”
On Keeping Your Greek and Hebrew in Ministry
“To those who have spent hours in seminary parsing Hebrew verbs and diagramming Greek sentences, I have two main contentions: First, I believe that the single most important thing you can do to keep your Greek and Hebrew skills alive in ministry is to do the hard and time-consuming work of preparing sermons out of the Greek and Hebrew text of Scripture. Second, the single greatest challenge to keeping your Greek and Hebrew alive in ministry is the sustained conviction that it matters.”
Flashback: A Soul Physician
I have often observed that some people demand unquestioning obedience of those who follow them, while they themselves dispute every decision of those who lead them…The fact is, we train our followers by the way we follow.

God uses waiting. Immediate success doesn’t build character, integrity, or depth in a human being because patiently waiting on the Lord does. —Shelby Abbott

Our Mission: Make More Disciples and Fewer Performers

We don’t need makeovers and airbrushing; we need transformation. We need a miracle that God alone can perform in our hearts. And we need to stand together, arm in arm, loving one another and showing the world the marvelous truth about Jesus. Some will misunderstand and even hate that. But others will be drawn to Jesus and His good news, and forever changed.

The one indispensable requirement for producing godly, mature Christians is godly, mature Christians.—Kevin DeYoung
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer (Acts 2:42, NLT).

A 1977 movie, Capricorn One, depicted NASA’s long process of targeting a mission to Mars. Because the program had become increasingly unpopular due to several failures, this mission would make or break the U.S. space program.
Everything was in place. The astronauts were ready. Then suddenly, just before takeoff, they were secreted away to an undisclosed location. Meanwhile the capsule was launched into outer space. From the point of view of those on Earth, it appeared to be a complete success.
But why was the launch made without astronauts? Because the scientists discovered a flaw in the capsule’s life support system. The oxygen wouldn’t last. The astronauts would die.
Then why not reschedule the departure? Because it would be an admission of failure on the part of the space program, and they could not stand one more failure. People would no longer believe in NASA or support spending millions of tax dollars to explore outer space.
So to further public confidence in the space program, the astronauts were told they now must become actors. An isolated site was set up as a shooting location, made to look like the surface of Mars. They were told to drive around in their little Mars rover, send their reports, and greet their families, while those on Earth would be none the wiser.
How the movie ends actually doesn’t matter, but I see the plot as analogous to what happens in some churches. According to current thinking, churches must chase success. And success is defined by numbers: how many worshippers and how much wealth. The number of Facebook followers becomes more important than the number of Jesus-followers.
Many churches exist solely to seek God and share Him with their communities. They may use technology and programs as tools to reach as many people for Christ as they can. Good for them!
My concern is with churches that use God as a tool to launch programs and meet benchmarks of success. Instead of sharing the true gospel, which is what people really need, they compromise on the nature of the gospel and adopt the world’s message and methodology. What these churches produce ends up essentially mirroring what NASA did in Capricorn One. They focus on performance over process. On stagecraft over sanctification. Pastors-turned-performers act as if the Spirit of God were doing great and wonderful things, when in fact nothing supernatural has happened.
This breeds attendees who become like the astronauts-turned-actors. They are exposed to the world throughout the week and come to church for entertainment packaged as a religious and transcendent experience. They want the best of this world and the next without the sacrifice—and they want it now.
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Do Unto Authors

The author is the source of meaning, and the text is the means of meaning. Because the text is public, readers are able to attend to the author’s intention embedded in his words. And good readers attend both to the explicit and implicit dimensions of an author’s meaning.

Picture yourself in a group Bible study. Your small group is studying the book of Ephesians, and you’ve made it to chapter 5. Someone reads aloud verse 18: “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” Then Steve, the new guy, says, “Well, Paul clearly forbids getting drunk on wine. I’m just thankful that he said nothing about getting drunk on whiskey. That’s my favorite way to become intoxicated.”
We all intuitively recognize that Steve is mistaken. We might even think him absurd. But how do we explain his error? My guess is that we would say something like, “Steve, that’s not what the Bible means. Paul intended to prohibit all drunkenness, not just drunkenness from wine.” To which Steve might reply, “But that’s not what the Bible says. Paul mentioned wine only. I’m sticking to the text.” Or he might say, “That’s just your interpretation. I’m talking about what the Bible means to me.”
Learn the Habit of Reading Well
When people ask what I do for a living, I often say, “My job is to teach college students how to read.” This is only half a joke, because the reality is that our educational system and society has left many people incapable of reading well. That’s why, at Bethlehem College & Seminary, our approach to education centers on imparting to our students certain habits of heart and mind.
In all of our programs, we aim to enable and motivate students

to observe their subject matter accurately and thoroughly,
to understand clearly what they have observed,
to evaluate fairly what they have understood by deciding what is true and valuable,
to feel intensely according to the value of what they have evaluated,
to apply wisely and helpfully in life what they understand and feel, and
to express in speech and writing and deeds what they have seen, understood, felt, and applied in such a way that its accuracy, clarity, truth, value, and helpfulness can be known and enjoyed by others.

There is a certain order to these habits. Before you can feel appropriately, you must evaluate rightly. And before you can evaluate rightly, you must first observe accurately and understand clearly. Note this: evaluation depends upon understanding. Without clear understanding of what someone has said or written, evaluation is impossible, because you have nothing to evaluate. You can’t say whether something is true or false, good or bad, until you first know what the something is.
Meaning and Significance Are Not the Same
My own experience as a teacher suggests that there are many confusions and pitfalls around the question of “meaning” when we read a text. Consider this a crash course on the meaning of meaning.
Let’s begin with the Golden Rule: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12). When it comes to reading, we ought to practice Golden Rule Interpretation. That is, we ought to treat authors the way we want to be treated. No one wants his own words treated like a wax nose that a reader can bend according to his will. No one likes to have his words twisted into something he didn’t intend. When we speak or write, we mean something, and we want that meaning to stand—to be understood and respected as ours (even if others disagree with us). And so, given that’s how we want to be treated, we ought to treat authors the same.
To do this, we must distinguish between what the author meant by his words and the effects of his words on subsequent people and events. For clarity, let’s refer to the first as meaning. Texts mean what authors mean by them. The second we may call significance. The author’s meaning can be related to different texts, contexts, concepts, situations, people, places—anything you can think of, really.
Meaning and significance are distinct. Meaning is stable through time; significance may and does change. Meaning is about what authors do in public by means of words (as one theologian puts it). Significance is about the effects of those words on everything else. Meaning is fixed and bounded; significance is, in principle, limitless. When an author writes something, he means this and not that. But significance has to do with the relation between the author’s meaning and this, that, and the other.
With this basic distinction in hand, let’s consider four puzzles in relation to meaning: the source of meaning, the means of meaning, the levels of intent, and the boundaries of meaning. To aid in solving these puzzles, we’ll use Steve’s surprising interpretation of what the Bible says in Ephesians 5:18 as a test case.
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The Revival We Need and the Unregenerate Church Members We Have

The churches that seem to be the strongest often have many members who have worked through earlier deceptions about their conversion to arrive at a solid assurance with God. The probing was occasioned by learning that spiritual life in the individual produces noticeable change. The exploration into whether or not they actually have spiritual life altered everything.

In the early 1700s, between 75 and 80 percent of American people attended church meetings regularly. Yet huge numbers among them were unconverted. It was among these people that Awakening doctrines had their greatest effects. In other words, wherever people gathered, within or outside the colonial church buildings, the principle leaders were addressing church members who needed Christ.
What truth, among the many emphasized, had the greatest influence on unconverted church members in The Great Awakening? And who are the unconverted church members in our context who may also need this truth?
The Great Awakening’s Emphasis on Regeneration
When George Whitefield was asked why he so often preached, “Ye must be born again,” he replied, “Because ye must be born again!”
Regeneration, or the new birth, was the prevalent issue of the Great Awakening of the 1740s. As Joseph Tracey said:
This doctrine of the “new birth,” as an ascertainable change, was not generally prevalent in any communion when the revival commenced; it was urged as of fundamental importance, by the leading promoters of the revival; it took strong hold of those whom the revival affected; it naturally led to such questions as the revival brought up and caused to be discussed; its perversions naturally grew into, or associated with, such errors as the revival promoted; it was adapted to provoke such opposition, and in such quarters, as the revival provoked; and its caricatures would furnish such pictures of the revival, as oppressors drew. This was evidently the right key; for it fitted all the wards of the complicated lock.[1]
This doctrine has repeatedly been at the heart of awakenings.
By “regeneration,” we mean the giving of life to dead souls as a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. Berkhof says it is “that act of God by which the principle of the new life is implanted in man, and the governing disposition of the soul is made holy…and the first holy exercise of this new disposition is secured.”[2] The Lord lived and died for his own, and as King, gifts our dead souls with new life resulting in sight, belief, repentance, and holiness.
J.C. Ryle said in so many words that the awakening preachers of that time believed in an indivisible union between authentic faith and holiness. He writes, “They never allowed for a moment that any church membership or religious profession was the least proof of a man being a Christian if he lived an ungodly life.”[3]
The attention to this truth, fed by their earlier Puritan theology, brought great conviction and massive numbers of conversions when preached and taught with the unction of the Spirit in times of revival. Where it did not bring conviction, it brought anger. Whitefield, who himself was written against in over 240 tracts of various types,[4] said that when you heard middle colonies’ preacher Gilbert Tennent (and his brothers) you were either converted or enraged. According to Gillies’ quoting of Prince in Historical Collections of Accounts of Revival, Tennent is said to have preached in this way:
Such were the convictions wrought in many hundreds in this town by Mr. Tennent’s searching ministry; and such was the case of those many scores of several other congregations as well as mine, who came to me and others for direction under them. And indeed, by all their converse I found, it was not so much the terror as the searching nature of his ministry that was the principal means of their conviction. It was not merely, nor so much, his laying open the terrors of the law and wrath of God, or damnation of hell (for this they could pretty well bear, as long as they hoped these belonged not to them, or they could easily avoid them), as his laying open their many vain and secret shifts and refuges, counterfeit resemblance’s of grace, delusive and damning hopes, their utter impotence, and impending danger of destruction; whereby they found all their hopes and refuges of lies to fail them, and themselves exposed to eternal ruin, unable to help themselves, and in a lost condition. This searching preaching was both the suitable and principal means of their conviction.[5]
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Will Feminists Win the Pulpit?

In days to come, Southern Baptists will have a decision to make. Will Scripture be sufficient to determine how Christ’s church should function, or will feminists win the pulpit and destroy what’s left of their churches?

As culture wages war against God’s design of a man and woman (males and females), the casualties from this battle are piling up. Any observation of the latest headlines exposes the damage this confusion brings. New storylines appear every day, from transwomen (biological men) destroying women’s sports to a confirmed Supreme Court Justice pretending she could not define her gender, which was why she was nominated for the position.
Once again, with a brand new week, we witnessed the successful impact of feminism on full display in two of the most unlikely places. While both sources were seemingly unpredictable and unrelated, a closer look revealed the opposite was true.
What Is a Woman?
Recently, audiences experienced the DailyWire movie, “What is a Woman?” While critics ignored the film, it received high praise from the massive audience who watched the documentary. If you haven’t watched the movie, you should. The movie provides a unique glimpse into the world of gender theorists, transgender surgeons, and gender identity experts, as Matt Walsh (the documentary’s focus) asks the question, “What is a woman?”
With this one simple question, viewers witness the verbal gymnastics, obfuscations, and outright cosmic interruptions in the vortex of reality, which initially serves as the movie’s charm. However, the seriousness of this dangerous ideology is on display toward the movie’s end as viewers learn about the long-term impact of puberty blockers and double mastectomies on girls as young as 15.
For the feminist proponents of transgender identities, the tactics required to hold such views are simple:

First, they ignore the meaning of words. In this instance, this is accomplished by decoupling the word gender from sex. I will address this in greater length in an upcoming blog article.
Next, they redefine the meaning of the word(s) they ignored. For example, feminists will redefine gender as a social construct so that they can abandon all of the traditional feminine roles attached.
Then, they declare autonomy, apart from the God who created them. The declaration of autonomy allows them to determine what they will be.
Finally, they require the world to accept their position as truth. Any opposition to their view will be shamed through name-calling (bigot, sexist, transphobe) or legal action.

What Is a Pastor?
In the next unlikely place, the Southern Baptist Convention demonstrated feminism’s slow creep through the church doors and into the pulpits of the largest evangelical convention in the world.
In May 2021, after ordaining three women as pastors, Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, came under fire as images from the ordination service appeared on social media. By June 2021, during the annual Southern Baptist Convention, calls to disfellowship Saddleback Church had reached the convention floor. The Credentials Committee, which reviews such requests, was set to respond during the 2022 convention in June.
In addition to three women pastors, Rick Warren has selected a husband and wife pastoral team as his successor at Saddleback Church. The growing concern is that Saddleback is not the only Southern Baptist Church engaged in this practice. Internal reports suggest that a number of churches have women with the title of pastor or co-pastor alongside their husbands in leadership. Furthermore, studies suggest that many Southern Baptists would welcome a woman pastor.
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What Is a Woman?

For Christians to truly hold fast to what is good, to truly seek the good of their neighbors, then they must hate what is evil. They must hate the evil lies promoted by transgender activists. Out of love for others and love for the truth, Christians must refuse to speak the lies of transgender ideology.

On Matt Walsh’s New Documentary
At the very beginning of the Bible we are instructed about the division of the sexes: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). There are only two, male and female, and nowhere does God’s Word indicate that men can become women, or women men. In fact, the Bible explicitly condemns attempts to live as the opposite sex. Deuteronomy 22:5 says that “[t]he woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.” The Bible is abundantly clear about the nature of sexual division within the created order.
In “What is a Woman?,” Matt Walsh’s new documentary about the transgender movement and its critics, Walsh nowhere appeals to the Bible, but instead uses common-sense, rational questioning to investigate transgenderism’s attempt to overthrow nature—God’s “second book” of revelation. Walsh’s documentary reveals how the transgender movement has exchanged the truth about humanity for a lie. No lie conforms to reality, yet Walsh shows how this lie is especially incoherent and detached from reality. Over and over, licensed doctors, college professors, practicing pediatricians, and sitting politicians fumble through Walsh’s interviews (or end the interview, refusing to answer his questions) thereby exposing their gender ideology for the nonsense that it is. Walsh directs each of his interviewees to a concluding question, one that transgender activists were unable to answer in a direct or logical way: What is a woman? Responses ranged from “Great question” and “I’m not a woman, so I don’t know,” to “Why do you want to know?” and “A woman is someone who claims to be a woman.”
One particularly striking interview was with Dr. Patrick Grzanka, Professor in a University of Tennessee Program for Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Walsh begins by asking Grzanka if sexuality and gender are different. In a long and circuitous way, Grzanka answers that the concepts are distinguishable yet interrelated. When Walsh presses Grzanka, asking if we can identify a person with male physical characteristics who identifies as a transgender woman as in fact male due to his biology, Granzka demurs. This leads to one of the most eye-opening exchanges in the film. Grzanka asks Walsh why he cares so much about identifying someone’s biological sex, and Walsh says he wants to understand reality, to “start by getting to the truth.” Grzanka reacts, claiming that he is deeply uncomfortable with the language of “getting to the truth,” and that such language is “deeply transphobic.”
Grzanka and other transgender activists believe in their ideology despite what they see. The external world has no necessary connection with reality for the believer in transgender ideology. Instead, each individual’s deliberate choice decides whether he is a man or a woman. Transgenderism thus requires its adherents to deny the concept of stable, accessible, absolute truth, as well as stable human nature. As Grzanka and numerous other interviewees of Walsh made clear, they recognized “my truth” or “your truth” but not the truth.
Walsh’s interview with Gent Comfrey, a gender affirming therapist, reveals the extent to which the transgender understanding of truth and the world blurs the lines between men and women. This blurring makes even knowing one’s own gender uncertain. Comfrey explained that modern research has shown that sex and gender are not mere binaries and are not restricted by biological sex differences. She claimed that “some women have penises…some men have vaginas.” When pushed by Walsh to explain how that claim is known, Comfrey said that she learned it by talking with transgender people who identify as the opposite of their biological sex. Walsh then asked the logical follow-up: if these concepts are fluid, how can Walsh know whether he might be a woman or not? Walsh explained that he likes scented candles and watched Sex and the City. Could Walsh be a woman? Comfrey did not dismiss the idea but encouraged Walsh to ask the question with curiosity to start his journey of gender identity development.
Walsh interviewed one person who had taken the concept of individualized truth to its logical extreme. Naia Okami claimed to be both a transgender woman and a wolf therian. A therian is  “someone who identifies as a non-human earthen animal either spiritually or psychologically.” Okami told Walsh about how he (she?) discovered his inner wolf-ness at around age 10 when watching an anime cartoon. Apparently Okami then went on to spend time at many wolf preserves, communicating with wolves in non-verbal ways.
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Racism and the 2022 OPC General Assembly

The game should be familiar by now, but evidently it isn’t. So let’s review the rules. There are no rules. This is how the game is played. An allegation is made. It does not have to be credible; the alleged offense simply has to be egregious. Social virtue requires the allegation be accepted at face value. Not taken seriously and investigated, but accepted as self-attesting.

I did not attend the 2022 General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church which met at Eastern University on June 8-14, 2022. I was honored and grateful to be chosen by our presbytery as a commissioner, but the sudden onset of severe illness landed me in the Emergency Room less than 24 hours before my scheduled departure, and I remained sick and weak beyond the conclusion of the Assembly. It was a hard providence, more so because this year’s GA was accompanied by controversy which will continue to be the subject of conversation for months, and perhaps years, to come.
Many reports have been made about the allegations of racism and the Assembly’s subsequent statements which were published online. You can read summaries of the incident in the OPC Daily Report, by a commissioner HERE, by a non-commissioned minister HERE, and in an article from Christianity Today HERE. Ministers in the OPC were also informed of the events in a letter from the denomination’s Stated Clerk on June 17th. Students and staff at Eastern University alleged four incidents of racial disparagement by commissioners of the OPC. These were reported to the Assembly on Thursday, June 9th. The GA was also informed such behavior could be grounds for canceling their contract and disbanding the Assembly. The next day, Friday, June 10th, the Assembly was presented with a “statement of regret and sorrow.” According to multiple reports, which have not been disputed to my knowledge, the Assembly was asked not to debate the motion which was then adopted without dissent.
“The 88th (2022) General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church hereby expresses to the faculty, staff, and students of Eastern University its grief, sorrow, and disgust regarding four recent incidents of racial disparagement reported being made by some present at our Assembly. There is no place in the church for such conduct.
“The church seeks to magnify and honor Christ as the Creator of every human being, each one reflecting dignity and value as the image of God. Therefore, in accordance with God’s Word and the two great laws of love, we repudiate and condemn all sins of racism, hatred, and prejudice, as transgressions against our Holy God, who calls us to love and honor all people. In keeping with the law of God and the right order of the church for Christ’s honor, we resolve to deal directly and biblically with any such sins of hatred committed by members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. In keeping with the gospel, we resolve to offer our assistance to Eastern University to confront offender(s) and seek reconciliation.”
The statement was delivered to the University which accepted it and considered the matter closed. It was also published immediately online via the OPC’s social media accounts, a decision which had not been discussed or disclosed to the Assembly when the statement was presented on the floor.
There has been a firestorm of criticism and controversy online since the allegations were made and the Assembly’s statement of regret was published. Critics of the OPC have seen this as further evidence that the denomination is racist and compromised. Others take the way in which the controversy played out as evidence of a different sort of compromise in the OPC, the sort of compromise that operates from the fear of man and hopes to placate angry mobs with winsome words and assurance that they really do hate the same things.
On the last day of the Assembly, Tuesday, June 14th, the moderator updated commissioners on the earlier allegations. As reported by the OPC on her website and social media outlets:

Regarding the four incidents of reported racism on campus, I am thankful to report that the individual responsible for the first two incidents surrounding remarks about the 13th Amendment has been identified. He was ashamed to come forward on his own, as his statements were a misunderstood attempt at humor. They were not intended as a racist remark. He desires and is seeking to apologize to those offended. Please pray for those hurt by his careless words and for this brother’s heart in all of this.
The one responsible for the third and most egregious statement has not been seen on campus since the incident. That means we know it’s not a commissioner. We frankly have no idea who it is.
Regarding the fourth incident, we were able to better understand what transpired in the cafeteria. It was not words spoken, but was an action that we now understand as confusion over how the cafeteria is organized, whether it was self-service or whether we would be served by the staff. We are seeking to work this out with those who were offended.

Four allegations of racially disparaging remarks were made. The alleged offenders were not identified. No corroborating evidence was presented. The allegations were unsubstantiated and uninvestigated. But the GA approved and published a statement of regret and sorrow. Some have said such a statement is always appropriate, that no specific apology was offered and no admission of guilt was made. The sincerity of those defending the statement is not in question. Some of them are personal friends, and I hold them in love and esteem. But one does become concerned that if they spin any faster they are bound to get dizzy and fall down.
The Assembly was in a difficult position. What is a man supposed to say when he is asked, “Are you still beating your wife?” The OPC chose to answer: “We express our grief, sorrow, and disgust regarding recent incidents of wife beating reported being done by some members of our Assembly.” No specific admission of guilt, only a general expression of hatred for what we all agree is a grievous sin. Surely that will convince everyone that we really are good people, right? Christianity Today moved quickly to report: “The General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) apologized Friday for four racist incidents at its annual gathering” (source). “But we didn’t really apologize. After all, an apology is kind of an admission that we did something wrong.” As it turns out, the Assembly did do something wrong, it tried to placate angry people before it understood the game that was being played.
The GA’s statement of regret and sorrow satisfied Eastern University which allowed them to continue their work and remain to the end of their contract. But it only inflamed those committed to denouncing the OPC as racist and compromised. The careful wording of the statement was denounced by critics as not really an apology for anything at all, while others like Christianity Today characterized it as tantamount to an admission of guilt. The OPC was trapped, but the power brokers within the denomination did not seem to know it. “Are you still beating your wife?” It doesn’t matter what you say next. The allegation itself is the evidence which is accepted as sufficient for a conviction.
No one that I am aware of has said publicly what the “third and most egregious statement” alleged was, and that is because it involved naughty words that are not to be publicly uttered, even if the poor DA is only reading a persecuted actor’s own text messages aloud. The GA is not to be faulted for being in a difficult position. No one can control the kinds of allegations that are made, especially in our current climate. Anyone can allege anything. But the Assembly was at fault for failing to recognize the game being played, and that one allegation should have clearly indicated it, even if they didn’t recognize it from the others.
If a commissioner at GA violated God’s law—if he spoke or acted unjustly, demeaned or slandered someone, or was malicious and hateful—then he should be confronted, charged, and publicly disciplined. But to issue a public statement of regret in response to unsubstantiated, uninvestigated, and ultimately unfounded allegations of wrongdoing is unwise to the point of absurdity. It may have been well-meant, but it was an error, one that is now too late to correct. In today’s climate a person can claim to be offended by almost anything. Some of the same people most opposed to making public statements as an Assembly on the priority of public worship and the evil of statist tyranny in the aftermath of COVID lockdowns were the most willing to issue a public statement of regret because someone claimed to be offended. Now we discover their wounded feelings might not have been truly wounded after all.
The GA did not err in expressing abhorrence of racism. They erred in giving credibility to allegations of offense without exercising due diligence in understanding what was going on. This was contrary to the duties of the ninth commandment which requires “the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor… unwillingness to admit of an evil report… discouraging talebearers… and slanderers; [and] love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth” (WLC 144). The GA failed to be “wise as serpents,” and by admitting an evil report, encouraging slander, and failing to love and care for the OPC’s good name, they likewise failed to be “harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16). Issuing a public statement of regret before knowing the facts or investigating the allegations inadvertently but shamefully prejudiced “the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own” (WLC 145). The GA’s actions were also contrary to the OPC’s Book of Discipline which requires a specific charge to be stated, specifications supporting the charge, credible corroboration of the charge, and a preliminary investigation to determine the substance of the allegation (BD III). Both Scripture and the Book of Discipline require that no charge “be admitted against an elder, unless it is brought by two or more persons” (BD III.1; 1Tim. 5:19).
The game should be familiar by now, but evidently it isn’t. So let’s review the rules. There are no rules. This is how the game is played. An allegation is made. It does not have to be credible; the alleged offense simply has to be egregious. Social virtue requires the allegation be accepted at face value. Not taken seriously and investigated, but accepted as self-attesting. Believe all women, except the women who say such a standard is unjust and absurd. In this case, believe all victims of racism, even if there is no evidence they are victims of racism. If they say they are, if they feel they are, if they identify as such, you are obligated to believe them. If you don’t believe them, if you withhold judgment until you can investigate the claim, then you are a racist. If you accept their claim without evidence and express your regret and sorrow, you are admitting that you are a racist. Whether you respond with regret or reserve comment, you are a racist, because they said you are. That’s not fair, you may say. But that is the game.
The Devil once challenged Jesus to turn stones into bread. What could be wrong with doing so? He multiplied bread on other occasions so that his disciples might eat. Skilled theologians will point out that such a miracle is inconsistent with Jesus’s mission and the Father’s authority. It is not the proper way to exercise the Spirit’s power and thus is a temptation to depart from the work the Father gave the Son to do. All of this is true, but there is also a more basic answer. It is always wrong to do something the Devil asks you to do.
The OPC does not need greater sensitivity to the grievances of professional victims, she needs a greater measure of the wisdom and discernment of Nehemiah.
Then Sanballat sent his servant to me as before, the fifth time, with an open letter in his hand. In it was written: It is reported among the nations, and Geshem says, that you and the Jews plan to rebel; therefore, according to these rumors, you are rebuilding the wall, that you may be their king. And you have also appointed prophets to proclaim concerning you at Jerusalem, saying, “There is a king in Judah!” Now these matters will be reported to the king. So come, therefore, and let us consult together. Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say are being done, but you invent them in your own heart.” For they all were trying to make us afraid, saying, “Their hands will be weakened in the work, and it will not be done.” Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands. (Neh. 6:5-9)
Joel Ellis is a Minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is Pastor of Resurrection OPC in Apache Junction, AZ. This article is used with permission.
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Review: Coleman and Rester, Eds., Faith in the Time of Plague

Faith in the Time of Plagueis both encouraging and edifying and is thus recommended for all who labor within the church, as well as for those who sit in the pews. It will cause pastors, sessions, consistories, and diaconates to carefully consider the last two-and-a-half years, not in a vacuum, but with proper historical, biblical, and Reformed theological perspective.

The past two-and-a-half years of COVID-19 fears, restrictions, and dissensions have led to strenuous circumstances for many professions and vocations. The callings of pastors and ministers have been no exception. It has been especially difficult for sessions, consistories, diaconates, and congregations in general, as they have had to navigate thorny paths while remaining faithful to the Scriptures and, in particular, the Great Commission.
Elders have been forced to make decisions they never thought they would have to make regarding church closures and openings, social distancing, outdoor services, live streaming, and visitations of both the sick and the healthy. Deacons have had to discover ways to carry out mercy ministry during times when close contact was not only difficult, but in some states and locales, restricted by edict. Pastors and congregants alike have been forced to think deeply about the most practical theological matters concerning the ministry of the Word and Sacraments, as well as Christian fellowship.
As arduous and seemingly unique as this process has been, as the Preacher says, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9). Thus, it is important to be aware of Church history, for we are not the first Christians to live through times such as these. Christians have been thinking through such issues all throughout the history of the Church. Indeed, many of our Protestant and Reformed theologians have written on and even experienced such issues firsthand.
This makes the volume Faith in the Time of Plague: Selected Writings from the Reformation and Post-Reformation (2021) an invaluable resource for the Church today. In it, editor Stephen M. Coleman and editor-translator Todd M. Rester have compiled, contextualized, and provided numerous primary readings from many 16th and 17th-century Protestant and Reformed theologians and pastors.
It will perhaps surprise the reader to know that most of our Reformed forefathers dealt with not only similar circumstances to our own, but also with far worse in both quality and quantity than our recent pandemic. During the 16th and 17th centuries, for example, as the Bubonic Plague swept through Europe several times, up to 25 percent of populations were wiped out.1  Hardly a Protestant Reformer remained untouched by the Plague in one way or another. Several great minds of the Reformation died from the plague, including Johannes Oecolampadius (1482–1531) and Franciscus Junius (1545–1602), with several others surviving the disease. 2
The reader of Faith in the Time of Plague is provided access to Theodore Beza’s (1519–1605) “A Learned Treatise on the Plague,” written from the perspective of one who not only taught and ministered during the Plague, but also suffered from it himself. Beza is followed by the French Protestant Andre Rivet (1572–1651), who wrote his “Letter to a Friend,” as an overview of what fellow theologians said concerning the Plague and how to continue to minister faithfully amid ravaging pestilence. He died of the Plague fifteen years after writing the letter.
Dutch Reformed theologian Gisbertus Voetius’ (1589–1676) “A Treatise on the Plague” provides both a comprehensive view of the Plague and how to respond spiritually. He closed his treatise with these words, “Conquer the fear of death and you will conquer the fear of the plague.”3 Following Voetius’ work is that of his student, the lesser-known, yet no less influential in the Dutch Further Reformation, Johannes Hoornbeeck (1617–66). In his “Theological Dissertation on the Plague,” Hoornbeeck wrote with scholastic clarity concerning how to think about the Plague and respond pastorally.
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Between Two Graves: Calvin on the Waters Above and Below

Just as the vastness of the sea dwarfs us and makes us mindful of death, so too, according to Calvin, should the falling of rain, for God’s providential ordering of its limits is no different from his ordering the limits of the seas. 

One of the quirkier parts of the early books of Genesis for modern readers is the way in which it speaks of “waters above” and “waters below.” We first get this on the second day, when God creates the sky:
And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.Genesis 1:6-8
The idea seems to recur in Gen. 2:5-7:
When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
Then, when the flood arrives in Gen. 7:11-12, we find waters above and below once more:
In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights.
The idea seems inherently odd to us, given our modern understanding of the water cycle. We see all water on earth as being in constant motion, evaporating upwards before forming into clouds and coming down again as precipitation. We no longer picture a static “storehouse” (cf. Job 38:22) of water above us, distinctly separated from the water in the seas, lakes, and rivers down here. Because of our understanding of gravity, we see the primary “resting place” of water as down here on the ground, since it will always go with gravitational pull in its solid or liquid forms.
This further contrasts with a prevailing medieval/ancient Christian view of creation, which regarded God as directly holding the limits of water in place, a la Job 38:8-11. This view rested on a few medieval/ancient physical and cosmological assumptions: they viewed the cosmos as being structured as a series of concentric, Russian Doll-like spheres, and these spheres included the four elements (Earth, Water, Air, and Fire). Earth sat at the bottom, clearly being the heaviest element. But if water is lighter than earth, why then is the earth not entirely covered with water, which should naturally rise above it? The broad Christian answer was the miraculous providence of God, who held the waters back to allow for human life. I’ve described this as an ancient/medieval view, but it remained in place in the early modern era, and was that of Reformers like John Calvin.[1]
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Heaven Bound: 2 Important Things to Remember to Develop an Eternal Mind-Set

Many of us are blessed to enjoy some of this world’s most beautiful places, and for some of us, seeing God’s power and divine nature through creation is commonplace. Yet, we ought to guard ourselves from believing for even a moment that the most beautiful things we have seen can touch the beauty and majesty of our God.

The other day a song came on the radio that has stuck with me in a not-so-great way. The premise of the song dealt with the singer wondering how heaven could be any better than being with this new woman he had met. Then, not long after I heard this, I heard someone refer to the places we experience in the outdoors as “heaven.”
These comparisons feel innocent enough. Most of us have probably experienced the emotional high of finding a new “love” or the breathtaking vistas that nature can provide. But there is a deeper problem. If we truly believe these earthly things are as satisfying as heaven, then we may be falling victim to a cheapening of how sweet and good heaven actually is.
I want to point out two things to which we cling as Christians concerning heaven.
Heaven is where God’s throne is.
First, Scripture speaks of “heaven” as the place where God’s throne is, and thus, where God is. We know that God is omnipresent, so what makes the presence of God in heaven so special? Romans 1 gives some insight:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Rom. 1:18)

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