For far too many of us, baptism is about us. It is something we do. It is about our testimony. It is …
When we are “put” somewhere we don’t like or don’t find comfortable, it can be tempting to ask for a change of location. But what if God wants us in that very place to advance the gospel?
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.Philippians 1:12
I am writing this reflection from Gifu in central Japan. I am here for the 7th Japan Congress on Evangelism, a gathering of Japanese church and ministry leaders and missionaries. In advance of this Congress, a survey was carried out to get an up-to-date picture of the state of the church in Japan. The findings were published in May, and humanly speaking there is cause for real concern. The number of believers remains at less than 1%, the church and its pastors are aging and the future is not looking bright. If there ever was a time for leaders to come together to think about evangelism in Japan, then it is now.
While it is good and helpful to get facts and figures about the state of the church, however, we must not allow those to be the only things we consider. I am currently writing devotions for my Japanese church on the book of Philippians, and last week was considering verses 12-14 of Chapter 1. Paul is in prison, in chains, because of the gospel. I wonder how the Philippian believers were praying for him. Perhaps they were praying that he would be released quickly. After all, the Philippian church knew from personal experience that God could indeed open prison doors (Acts 16:25-28). It would make sense that they would want Paul to be released so that he could continue his work of sharing the good news about Jesus in various towns and cities.
Paul’s perspective, however, is quite different. He reassures the Philippian believers that what has happened to him, namely the fact that he is in prison, has actually served to advance the gospel. The word “advance” here means to move forward, overcoming obstacles in the way. Some people no doubt saw Paul being in prison as an obstacle, something getting in the way, but Paul says that instead it has advanced the gospel.
We live in times of great cynicism about leaders. From politicians, to leaders in business and entertainment, to spiritual leaders — we find ourselves surrounded by stories of leadership failures.
Yet even in our growing suspicions, we cannot be done with the idea of leadership. It is both a practical necessity and a deep longing in the human heart. We were made for true leaders, and we ache for them, for good leaders who will bless and work for the good of their followers, rather than use them.
This angst about leaders in our times makes Psalm 72 an especially relevant word. And not just us as humans and those alive today, but also particularly at our church, as we’ll see.
Who Is This King?
Psalm 72 is a prayer for the ideal leader. It’s a 3,000-year-old prayer, cast in the terms of ancient Israel, and yet the vision is strikingly timeless, both in its ultimate fulfillment and in its personal application to all of us. We all are led, and most of us serve as leaders in some aspect of our lives, whether as father, mother, or older sibling, or perhaps at work, on a team, in the neighborhood, or for extended family.
Now, the question we might have on the face of Psalm 72 is, Who is this king, the one that the prayer was originally for? The superscript at the beginning says, “Of Solomon.” Does that mean Solomon wrote it for his son? But verse 20, at the end, says, “The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.” Does that imply this is David’s prayer for his “royal son,” Solomon?
I think that an aging David, praying for his son, may make the most sense in the full context. (Themes here belong to the same era as David’s final words in 2 Samuel 23 and Solomon’s prayer in his early reign in 1 Kings 3.)
But as I hope you expect by now, almost halfway through the book of Psalms, this psalm is going to end up being about Jesus. Sometimes it’s subtle enough that we deal with the psalm mainly as is, showing in the end how it points to Jesus. This one is not subtle.
Now, it’s not strictly messianic like Psalm 110. This really is a prayer for Solomon, and other royal sons in his line. Yet the vision is so expansive. Verses 5–7 pray for a king without end; verses 8–11, for a king without borders. The majesty of this king — for all time, over all places and nations — swells beyond what any Israelite king ever realized or even came close to.
So, as Christians, we know where this is going. David may have prayed this for his royal son, and Solomon for his. But only the one Messiah fulfills this vision — that is, only Jesus.
Four Aspects of the Ideal Leader
Still, Psalm 72 has relevance beyond Jesus, in real-life manifestations, in various imperfect measures, in those of us today who seek to walk as leaders in Christ’s steps and have his help. Every good and godly leader instantiates this vision in some real, though imperfect, ways.
So, as we look at Psalm 72, let’s highlight four aspects of this ideal leader, fulfilled perfectly and primarily in Jesus, but secondarily and imperfectly in Christian leaders of all kinds today.
1. His people flourish. (verses 15–17)
Verse 7 prays, “In his days may the righteous flourish, and peace abound.” Then verses 15–17 flesh out this flourishing:
Long may he live; may gold of Sheba be given to him!May prayer be made for him continually, and blessings invoked for him all the day!May there be abundance of grain in the land; on the tops of the mountains may it wave; may its fruit be like Lebanon;and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field!May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun!May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed!
One aspect of this ideal leader is that his people flourish. How so?
For one, they have; they possess resources. They have abundance of grain and fruit (verse 16). And even “the tops of the mountains” — that is, “the most surprising of soils” (Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72, 257) — wave with abundance. Under this ideal leader, the people prosper. He leads them in such a way that they steward the land and work it and harvest its produce, rather than squandering it. But they not only have; they give. They have gold, says verse 15, from which they give tribute to their king.
Yet they are not only a material people, having and giving wealth, but also a spiritual people. They pray for their king, making “prayer . . . for him continually” and invoking God’s “blessings . . . for him all the day!” (verse 15). This is an essential mark of a flourishing people: they are spiritual. They acknowledge and reverence God, praying to him for their leaders and everything else.
And as they pray, and God answers, and their leaders prove mature and wise, the people flourish even more, and so they multiply. The end of verse 17 says, “May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed!” Verses 8–11 mention desert tribes, kings from faraway coastlands, and the very ends of the earth.
Blossom in the Cities?
Verse 16 includes something that may sound strange to us in 2023: “May people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field!” You might think, “In the cities, the places from which so many seem to move away? Maybe in the prairies! Maybe near the lakes, in the country, in the small towns, on the farm, but not in the cities, at least not the Twin Cities. Get me to the Dakotas and wide-open spaces. Isn’t that now the place to blossom and flourish?”
It might be, for a short time. Yet the prayer of verse 16 gives us a glimpse of how we might think Christianly about cities, specifically the Twin Cities in which we live.
Just this week, I was in Manhattan with my young family of six, including an 8-year-old and 6-year-old. From there we took the train and stayed in downtown Philadelphia. Then on our way home, we had a flight delayed, missed our connection in Detroit, and couldn’t find room for six on a flight back to the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport until two days later. We spent two unplanned nights in Detroit, so we’ve been on quite the city tour in the last week. We have seen the best and worst of American cities, and none of it feels especially easy for young families.
Yet here in Psalm 72, in this prayer for the future, David envisions God’s people blossoming in the cities. That is, in the cities, with all the challenges of their densities and pressures and crowdedness, God’s people blossom as humans. We were made for cities, at least eventually. And cities themselves, in all their strengths and complexities and opportunities are the blossoming of human civilization and industriousness. Cities, not prairies, are our future, both in this age and forever.
Manhattan is not becoming more rural, but our world is slowly becoming more like Manhattan. The world is growing toward cities — and good cities are God’s world in bloom. As a church in the central metro, filled with people from all around the metro, urban and suburban, we can be encouraged by this vision and prayer. Blossoming in the cities can happen, even in this age. It’s possible. Pray for it. Endure in it. And one day, for sure, it will happen under the full and final reign of the ideal leader.
Which relates to that little phrase in verse 17: “in him.” Zoom out, and you’ll see, “May people be blessed in him.” To understand the flourishing of the people, we need to know more about the leader himself.
2. His strengths serve his people’s good. (verses 1–4)
Look at the first four verses:
Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son!May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice!Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness!May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!
There is a threefold vision here for the skills or abilities or competencies or strengths of this ideal king.
First is his ability to make the decisions that leadership requires, to make wise and skilled judgments. The king decides. Verse 1 is literally, “Give the king your judgments [plural], O God.” In other words, make him wise and discerning in the countless decisions it takes to lead well. Help him to know, in the ever-changing and ever-complex situations of life and leadership, how to navigate the moment not for his own private good but for the good of his people, to think for their good as a whole (which is often more costly to the leader). People who flourish are guided by leaders who are wise and judge justly.
Second, the king provides. We saw the mention of mountains in verse 16. So here, “mountains bear[ing] prosperity for the people” is a sign of abundance. And we can say this about the king’s leadership: he guides the people in such a way that they steward the land and reap its natural benefits in season. They at least conserve the land; they sow in the spring and gather at harvest. And so, through his able leadership, he provides for the people.
Then third, according to verse 4, he protects his people. Which has two parts: he defends the cause of the vulnerable, and he crushes the oppressors of the vulnerable. The two go together. Oppressors don’t just quietly go away when the king arrives to defend his people. Oppressors must be confronted and defeated. To protect his people, the king must crush his enemies.
Note how the ideal king not only exercises wisdom and provides for his people, but also protects them, particularly those who are truly weak and needy and poor, that is, those without the power to protect themselves. The leader leverages his strength to protect his people who are weak.
This is what Jesus does for us. Which is why Christians, from the very beginning, have been people with hearts to help the weak, the needy, the poor, the orphan, the widow, the unborn. This leads to a third aspect of this ideal leader.
3. His heart pities the needy. (verses 12–14)
There’s a flash of his heart in verse 6: “May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth!” This is very similar to how David talks in his last words, recorded in 2 Samuel 23:3–4:
When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God,he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.
This image of life-giving rain goes back to Moses in Deuteronomy 32:2, where he says,
May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew,like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb.
Gentle rain is an insightful picture of good leadership. Think about what rain can do for crops. A gentle rain gives life, but a driving, violent rain destroys. This is what gentleness in leadership is. It is not weakness. Rather, it is strength applied to life-giving rather than life-harming ends. Gentle leaders are not weak. Rather, they are strong, and they know how to exercise that strength so as to help their people, rather than hurt them. Which begins in the leader’s heart.
Worship Won by Mercy
Verses 12–14 expand on this prayer, and (this is very important) these verses give the reason why his dominion extends so far (verses 8–11), to include the ends of the earth and all kings and nations:
For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper.He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.
There is only one “for” or “because” in Psalm 72 — at the beginning of verse 12. It shows verses 12–14, humanly speaking, to be the reason why this king’s dominion stretches so far, and why so many bow the knee to him.
Verse 11: “May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!”
Then verse 12: “For he delivers the needy.”
In other words, this ideal king wins the nations with his mercy. He may conquer hostile foes by force, but he does not win worshipers with the sword. He wins worship with his stunning mercy. He works for the joy of the needy, the weak, the poor, and in doing so, he reveals his warm heart of pity and compassion and wins others to bow the knee. As we sang this morning in the words of Isaac Watts, which were inspired by Psalm 72,
People and realms of every tonguedwell on his love with sweetest song.
This ideal king, in all this unequaled strength and wisdom and wealth, has pity on his weak people. He has compassion for the needy. He is sympathetic to the desperate, the humble, those who own their need of rescue. And this heart of mercy wins the nations.
Crush the Oppressor?
What about the tension between verses 4 and 14?
Verse 14 says he redeems them “from oppression and violence.”
Verse 4 says he “crush[es] the oppressor” of his people.
Now we’re not asking about his gentleness with his people, but his strength in protecting them. And when he does so, does he oppose violence or use it? “Crush the oppressor” is strong language. It sure sounds violent.
The answer is at least this: The way he opposes violence, of necessity, is by crushing the oppressors. Crushing a known oppressor is very different than oppressing with violence. Jesus is never the oppressor; he crushes the oppressors, and in a very unexpected way.
And that leads to a final aspect of this ideal leader.
4. His God gets glory. (verses 18–19)
It’s amazing that Psalm 72 ends the way it does. The glory of the king in verse 17 — his name, his fame — gives way to the glory of his God in verses 18–19:
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory!Amen and Amen!
As wondrous as this ideal leader is in his wise decisions and gracious provisions and strong protection of his people and stunning mercy, verse 18 says that “[God] alone does wondrous things.” In other words, the wondrous works of this good, godly leader are wondrous works of God.
Not only does the king’s name and fame endure forever, but also God’s “glorious name” (verse 19) will be praised forever, in the whole earth. Without end and without limit. No expiration and no borders.
Note that Psalm 72 doesn’t say that God gets the glory and not the king. Oh, the king gets glory, honor, and praise indeed: gifts of gold, cries of “Long live the king!” an enduring name, ongoing fame — yet all that in complement to, not competition with, the glory of his God. You might even hear Philippians 2:9–11:
God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Which leads to two particular words of hope for us as a church in this season.
Our Church, Right Now
The first word concerns this perfect leader, the fulfillment of Psalm 72, Christ himself. He is reigning now. He died, he rose, he ascended, he took his seat at the Father’s right hand, he is alive, and we have him now.
The leader we long for, the leader this psalm prays for — we have him now. The great leader has come, and is on the throne, and has sent his Spirit. Even now, he has spoken and still speaks. He builds his church, he decides for us, he guides us, he leads us, and he will judge justly and right every wrong. As Christians, we have the leader our souls long for, though we can be so quick to forget it.
For our first five years as a church, we had no pastoral transitions. But in the last three years, we have had pastors move to Wisconsin, to Washington State, to Missouri, to Florida, to Idaho. That’s no condemnation. People move. They didn’t leave the faith; they only left the state. Undershepherds will come and go; Jesus will not. The undershepherds are not the chief Shepherd of the church. Jesus is, and he is the one true, perfect, immovable leader.
The second word of hope concerns your imperfect leaders who remain — and your own imperfections in your various callings of leadership. This is such good news: the chief Shepherd changes us as part of his rescue of the weak and needy. He brings this vision, this prayer of Psalm 72, to life in real measures in leaders today.
So pray for it, and expect it, in your pastors. And pray for it, and seek to be it, in your various callings of leadership. He changes people. No matter what they say, change is possible. Don’t give up on anyone, including yourself. And in your leadership disappointments — with yourself and with other leaders — look through and beyond to the true King.
In him, we remember that, and admit that, we are not the ideal leader, and we can repent like it. And in Jesus, we not only admit that we are not him, but we can even take joy in admitting it, because he’s the kind of king who has pity on those who know themselves weak and needy. He came to call sinners, not the righteous.
Whether father or mother, executive or manager, block leader or team captain, pastor or deacon, we can lay aside the pretense of perfection. We can own our neediness and weakness and failures, not to mope about them or wallow in them, but to know the strength and mercy of our King. He is good. He is generous. He is compassionate. He is wide-hearted. We come to his Table.
Receive Abundant Mercy
Along with blossoming in the cities, verse 16 mentions an abundance of grain and fruit — which is how we get bread and wine. Not only does the ideal leader, King Jesus, exercise wisdom and provide for and protect his people, but it is only possible through his self-giving at the cross.
He shed his own blood to show the preciousness of the life of his needy, weak people. His providing an abundance of grain and fruit, including the bread and cup of this Table, is not cheap, but costly, at the price of his own blood.
And in that very moment when he decisively crushed Satan, the oppressor of his people, he showed his people his mercy. The cross is the supreme manifestation of regal mercy. It is the place where the King triumphs, the ground of all kings and nations falling down before him. And his cross purchases not merely the pardon of his people but our blossoming — even in the Cities.
It was a long, shameful walk back to the hunting cabin.
For well over an hour, I had sat in the deer stand, happily reading and enjoying the quiet morning. Then I felt the loose bullets rattle in my pocket. I turned and looked. Oh no.
I had forgotten my rifle.
No choice now but to go back for it. The rest of the men in our extended family were tucked away in their own stands. They wouldn’t see me go back for my gun. But they would hear about it. Oh, would they. The cabin, teeming with our wives and children, would all too gladly report on my “hunt.” I could see pairs of eyes gawking through the window as I came up the dirt road. They gathered around and met me with barbs and laughter at the door.
Years later, I’m yet to live it down (and rightfully so). Now every fall we hear, “Remember the time Uncle David . . .”
Hunting Without a Rifle
I’m a terribly amateur hunter. I easily smile and chuckle about once forgetting my rifle. For me, the real joy in that quiet deer stand is unhurried Bible meditation and prayer. Getting the big buck is a distant second.
As a pastor, however, it would be a serious shame if I took the stand without my weapon. That is, if I entered the pulpit without the sword — without the staff, the wand, the scalpel for the most exacting of operations, the singular instrument of our holy calling. Without the Book, a Christian preacher is unequipped and incompetent. He is left, tragically, to preach his own ideas, his own preferences, his own lifehacks, his own self. When the act does not begin, persist, and conclude with faithfully delivering the message of another, it is, in reality, pretend preaching, not the real thing.
But with the Book in hand, with the Scriptures, with the word of truth about Christ and his work — and with the one weapon well-worn and cherished, internalized and rightly handled — the mere man, finite and fallen, is God’s man for the preaching moment. This blade, well-known and well-handled, can take the head off an evil giant, and perform the most delicate of surgeries on saints. With it, take to the pulpit with a holy and humble confidence. Without it, take a long walk back to the cabin.
Put the Word to Work
As the apostle Paul ascends the mountain to that great “preach the word” peak in 2 Timothy 4:2, he charges his protégé and dear friend to use Scripture to fulfill his calling.
Use Scripture — that might sound strange. But this is not the use of exploitation or abuse. Rather, this is the use of attention, reverence, and trust. Take it up. Put it to work. God gave us his Book not to file it away on the shelf, but to use it. Read it, explain it, preach it. Repeat. And don’t dare pretend to preach without it.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable . . .
Scripture is profitable, beneficial, useful (to greatly understate it!) in the pastoral calling. With Scripture in hand, and in his mouth, the preacher is competent, capable, proficient for the various aspects of his calling — “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). But without it, he is incompetent, incapable, inept — no matter how elegant he sounds or what a “good communicator” he is.
How, then, might preachers today, both current practitioners and those who aspire, answer this timeless call to use the Book?
1. Handle It Privately
First, we hold it, touch it, taste it for ourselves, in private — and ideally for some years before regularly taking it into a pulpit. And then, once preaching, we continue to handle it privately in all the times and seasons we endure as pastors, and as Christians.
We learn to use Scripture to help others by using it to feed and restore our own souls morning by morning. First, we learn — over time, not overnight — how to handle Scripture for ourselves, leaning on God’s Spirit. He may be pleased to give early flashes of insight and sovereign protection from error, but he doesn’t make preachers without putting them to work and conditioning them for the long haul. The arc of good preaching is years in the making, beginning with understanding and applying God’s word rightly in our own minds and hearts and lives. The competent pastoral use of the word emerges not mainly from study sessions prior to public messages but from long-standing patterns of being conformed to God’s word in secret.
So, first, long before preaching, we quietly learn to handle God’s word for ourselves. We meditate on it and enjoy it — and enjoy God in it. We steep our souls in Scripture for years. We seek to know God’s word, as much as we can, inside and out, and have it take root, and bear fruit, in us.
2. Handle It Publicly
We then turn and make God’s word explicit in public teaching. In our sermons, we show God’s word to be our authority and driving inspiration — not our own ideas and opinions and observations and cleverness. We get our key insights from lingering in Scripture, and then we work to show our hearers where we got them. We don’t assume they will see it without our help, so we labor to make them see it for themselves.
Saturating a pulpit ministry in Scripture happens both directly and indirectly. Directly: by drawing attention to particular words and phrases, and quoting chapter and verse. Indirectly: by preparing and preaching from the kind of soul that is constantly shaped by Scripture over time, to think and feel in God’s cast of mind, rather than the world’s and our own.
3. Handle It Rightly
Now, when any modern man, in this age of the triumphant self, embraces the personal preciousness of God’s word and resolves to preach that Book, not his own thoughts and self, he has crossed the first critical hurdle. He becomes indelibly persuaded to handle the word, to use it at the heart of his preaching, and he does. This is a glorious start. The miracle has begun. Yet to fully instantiate the apostle’s vision in his final epistle, a second critical hurdle comes: rightly handling the word.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
That is, with a studied, steady hand, guide the word along a straight path. No distortive twists, no gratuitous incisions, no clever detours, no sleight of hand. With the skill of holy familiarity, take the blade from its scabbard, and wield it with precision, care, and self-control.
Handling Scripture rightly — that is, using it, without abusing it — can happen in countless ways, but here consider just two challenges among them.
One, rightly handling means not cutting corners in the work of understanding what this text means (and does not mean). Study your passage for yourself long before you’re up against the deadline, and long before you check commentaries and other’s insights. Make time to steep in and ponder the text well before preaching it. And as you move from broad study to the narrow outline and presentation for this message, build your sermon on what you have seen for yourself, or can genuinely own as yours if another voice said it first.
Two, rightly handling entails not cutting corners in the work of appropriate application, which can be the more challenging labor for many of us. We will not be content to have the message remain distant, and not bridge the gulf from the biblical to the present world.
This too will require planning ahead, giving ourselves space, and having the patience to discover what this particular text really means for our church (and not). We will not content ourselves with preaching right ethics from the wrong texts. We will yearn to do justice to the particular passage in front of us. We won’t make a habit of or excuses for forcing square Scriptures into round pegs of application. If the desired application is not there, we’ll find a faithful way to address it, and apply the text and/or another text that genuinely addresses the felt need of the congregation. We seek to work with the grain of God’s Spirit, not against him.
Whom Does the Sermon Exalt?
We could consider other misuses. A preacher might use Scripture, but too sparingly, garnishing his own ideas with verses out of context. He may abuse Scripture when the moral burden of his sermon originates elsewhere, with Bible texts then artificially pressed into a subordinate role, to show God on the side of whatever cause. Scripture also may be in use technically and yet without fitting priority and centrality. Opportunities for error are endless.
Good and faithful preaching is not only science but art. It’s a lifetime skill learned over years and decades, not weeks and months. Make a list of all the possible requirements in Christian preaching (including appropriate focus and sufficient brevity), and no single sermon will check all the boxes. In the complexities of the art, and the diversities of biblical texts, and vast variations of congregations around the world and throughout history, producing one single litmus test for preaching is likely impossible. But perhaps one check would come close: Whom does the sermon exalt?
We might ask, in the end, does the preacher himself look best? Do the hearers feel themselves raised up above all? Or is Jesus supremely exalted? Preachers, young and old, who aspire to use Scripture rightly, in their devotions and in their pulpits, can scarcely ask themselves enough, Who is supreme in this sermon?
This is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.Part I (00:13 – 13:08) A Loud Signal from the Vatican: Pope Francis Points to Future Blessings for Gay CouplesAmid liberal revolt, pope signals openness to blessings for gay couples by Washington Post (Anthony Faiola, Michelle Boorstein and Kate Brady)Part II (13:08 – 22:40) Anthropology Goes Woke: American Anthropological Association and Canadian Anthropology Society Cancel Conference Panel on Biological Sex Dis-empaneled: Bowing to political pressure, two leading anthropological associations cancel a conference discussion on the centrality of biological sex. by The City Journal (Colin Wright)Part III (22:40 – 24:56) An Unprecedented Development in U.S. History: Kevin McCarthy Ousted as Speaker of the House of RepresentativesSign up to receive The Briefing in your inbox every weekday morning.Follow Dr. Mohler:Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | YouTubeFor more information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu.For more information on Boyce College, just go to BoyceCollege.com.To write Dr. Mohler or submit a question for The Mailbox, go here.
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Well, I’m not sure how to blog all of this. Since we live streamed the presentation summarizing the case against Ergun Caner Tuesday evening from Lindale, Rich decided, “Hey, we can do that.” So, we are now live streaming the Dividing Line. I have no idea why anyone would want to watch me sitting there talking, but, evidently, people do.
In Scripture God very specifically addresses the matter of using his name in a reverent manner:
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”Exodus 20:7
“It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.”Deuteronomy 6:13
In the Third Commandment God forbids using his name vainly, but does that include taking an oath in God’s name as is often done in courts of law, entering government service, and in marriage vows?
We should never take oaths lightly.
Essentially, an oath is calling out to God who knows our heart and the truth of what we affirm. The Heidelberg Catechism, first published in 1563, is a highly regarded summary of the Christian faith and has the following to say about the Third Commandment:
The number of trans-identifying students is rising exponentially, leading to majorities in the student bodies of the most progressive schools. This rise is without any historical precedent. It is proof of social contagion, not of a preexisting biological reality.
It has been almost 90 days since Gay Pride month. According to the Los Angeles Unified School District, that is too long a hiatus from the imperative of immersing young children in the arcana of gay and trans identity. So throughout the week of October 9, many elementary school classrooms in Los Angeles will celebrate “National Coming Out Day,” which falls on October 11.
October is itself LGBTQ+ History Month, the Los Angeles Unified School District bureaucracy has reminded what it calls the district’s “fabulous educators.” Other LGBTQ+ programming will take place throughout October, picking up where Gay Pride month left off. The goals for the so-called Week of Action are ambitious: to turn six-year-olds into budding gender and critical race theorists.
An LAUSD teacher forwarded me the district’s “toolkit” for teachers laying out that agenda. Use of the toolkit, decorated with a Black Power Fist superimposed on neon rainbow stripes, is nominally optional, but elementary school teachers who forego LGBTQ programming during the Week of Action will surely risk stigmatization. (The district did not respond to queries regarding expected classroom participation rates.)
At the Week of Action’s start, teachers should engage kindergarten and first-grade students in discussions about identity, aided by an activity called an “Identity Map.” Pupils chart their experiences of discrimination or privilege along 12 axes, including race, gender identity, sexuality, mental health, and body size. This mapping allows seven-year-olds to see themselves through the “lens of intersectionality.” Teachers then post the identity maps on the wall for a class discussion about students’ multiple “identities.”
Each elementary school day during the Week of Action can be devoted to a different LGBTQ+ celebrity, whose identity will be announced in morning assemblies, suggests the toolkit.
Monday is Jazz Jennings Day. Jennings’s fame rests on being one of the youngest children to date to claim a trans identity. “Assigned male at birth,” as Jazz’s publicity materials inevitably put it, Jazz allegedly asserted female identity at age two, and was diagnosed with gender dysphoria at age four. Subsequent surgery tried to cut Jazz’s body into a simulacrum of a female one and resulted in undisclosed “complications.” On Jazz Jennings day, the LAUSD recommends that kindergartners engage in the fabulous activities of “Which Outfit” and “Which Hairdo.” (One day is not enough to acknowledge the fabulousness that is Jazz. January in the LAUSD is devoted to holding Jazz and Friends Reading Events, supplemented by reading inclusive books in every grade.)
Friday is Carl Nassib Day, celebrating the “first openly gay active NFL player.” Kindergarteners on Carl Nassib Day should be encouraged to “Take a Pledge to Be An Ally!” Those who do so will get a diploma from the LAUSD that certifies that [insert pupil’s name] “hereby pledges” to “teach others to be allies” and to “Be an Upstander.”
Wednesday is Elliot Page Day, dedicated to a Canadian transgender actor, the “first openly trans man,” as the LAUSD puts it, to appear on the cover of Time magazine.
Third-graders will engage in an I Am Me activity, which includes guessing the gender identity of Willow Smith, a minor celebrity and daughter of Will Smith.
The National Coming Out Day toolkit links to additional materials from gay and trans advocacy groups.
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation is even more insensate to childhood than the LAUSD. It offers a glossary of “LGBTQ Words for Elementary School Students” such as “cisgender,” “gender binary,” “intersex,” “non-binary,” “sex assigned at birth,” “bisexual,” “gay,” “pansexual,” and “queer.” The definitions are virtually indistinguishable from what a college student might find in his gender studies class. “Transgender or Trans” is “when your gender identity (how you feel) is different than what doctors/midwives assigned to you when you were born (girl/boy or sex assigned at birth).”
In 2022, 61 percent of third-graders in the Los Angeles Unified School District did not meet California’s watered-down, equity-driven standard for English. Children not reading by third grade will fall further and further behind in school, since they will be ill-prepared to absorb ever more complex academic content across a range of fields.
Jesus prayed for the church on earth to be one (John 17), and those who recite the Nicene Creed affirm a commitment to “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” Such unity, however, often seems to escape us in practice.
You had to see it to believe it. During the pope’s September 2010 visit to the United Kingdom, one protester’s sign stood out, far out, from the others. In large markered letters on the back of a pizza box, the theologically minded protester declared, “Drop the Filioque!”
Filioque: Why All the Fuss?
Assuming that protester was merely seeking to get noticed, the sign worked, landing him television coverage and a few interviews. But why did he oppose that phrase? And what does that phrase even mean?
The single Latin word on the sign means “and the son.” And this single Latin word holds the dubious honor of being one of the main factors responsible for the largest church split to date: the Great Schism in 1054 between the Roman Catholic Church in the West, with its seat of power in Rome, and the Orthodox Church in the East, with its seat of power in Constantinople. That’s a lot for a single word to bear.
Theologians in the West were drawn to filioque because it reflected their understanding of the Trinity. They believed the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. In AD 598, at the Council of Toledo, the Western church officially adopted the phrase and amended the Nicene Creed (from 325/381) accordingly. Since 598, the churches in the West have said the extra Latin word when reciting the creed. Christ’s teaching in John 16:7 offers biblical warrant for the phrase. Eastern churches, however, never appreciated that argument.
The Eastern churches, while affirming the Trinity as three persons in one substance, tend to emphasize the threeness of the Trinity, the individual persons. The West, again while affirming the orthodox definition of the Trinity, tends to emphasize the unity of the Godhead.
If we fast forward from the late 500s to the middle of the 1000s, we find that this ever-contentious phrase acutely came under the spotlight. And here’s where things get complicated, as politics (both in the empire and in the church), theology, and personalities all got jumbled together. The Western and Eastern churches were headed for a showdown.
Showdown at the Hagia Sophia
One can almost wonder how the church managed to stay together until 1054. As far back as the 300s, the Eastern and Western churches had distinct cultures and languages (Greek versus Latin), distinct liturgical or worship practices and emphases, distinct theological methods, distinct seats of power and autonomy (Constantinople versus Rome), distinct emperors, and distinct ecclesiastical leaders (the patriarch versus the pope).
These differences were pronounced and would easily flare up. Such was the case in 1054. In fact, what happened in 1054 may very well be seen as making explicit what had long been implicit.
Michael Cerularius, patriarch of Constantinople, had condemned the Western churches for the practice of using leavened bread for the Eucharist. Leo IX, the Roman pontiff from 1049–1054, dispatched emissaries to iron out the differences. These efforts at diplomacy failed miserably. The more the two sides talked, the more they disagreed. Neither side flinched, causing Leo IX’s legates to enter the Hagia Sophia (the most important church in Constantinople and seat of the Eastern patriarch) and place a papal bull of excommunication on the high altar.
Cerularius countered by convening a council of bishops that condemned Pope Leo IX and his church, too. Among the reasons was the filioque clause. The Western church, he argued, had overstepped its bounds when it amended the Nicene Creed. The Eastern church had remained pure and true. The addition of filioque became a convenient hook upon which to hang all the contention and disagreement between the churches.
So on July 16, 1054, the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, split. And then there were two.
Attempts were made to heal the breach, but none succeeded. When the Western church launched the Crusades, all hopes for a reunion faded. During the Fourth Crusade, in the early years of the thirteenth century, European armies sacked Constantinople, apparently distracted from their mission of securing the Holy Land. One historian of the Crusades describes the three-day siege of the city as leaving in its wake “ghastly scenes of pillage and bloodshed.” The great and ancient city of Constantinople was reduced to rubble and left in shambles.