The attitude intimated from the Bible is that as creatures we owe all that we have to the Creator. We have nothing that is ours strictly speaking. Our life, whether physical or spiritual, our talents, even the providence of time is all from above. The more men and women consider that the more free they will feel with the resources God in His grace has provided for them. If Jesus did not keep Himself to Himself how much more so do we learn positively from the eight commandment to share and not take that which is not ours.
There is a consistent concern in the second table of the law that calls all men to recognize the needs of their neighbors over whatever is their own. We know that because that’s what Jesus says in Matthew 22:36-40. It’s also what Moses writes in Leviticus 19:18. The Bible is reliable like that. God in His grace is a witness to all men that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves and we should have the needs and the mind of the community first. If anything is less a part of our mindset today I am not sure what it would be. Everything from our time to our energy to the way we approach life is geared toward me, myself, and I. Watching four or five commercials is all one needs to confirm that thesis. “What’s wrong with you and how can you improve you” is the attitude which overwhelms our culture. In no other place is the chasm greater than when it comes to what we should do with the financial resources the Lord has granted to us in His providence. We hold onto it for dear life, and not without reason. We should be good stewards of the money and goods God in His grace grants.
In our look at the Westminster Larger Catechism this morning we are going to hear some pushback from the Divines that will require listening as it goes directly against the American way of life in some important ways. Get ready to find some humility.
Here are the two Questions and Answer’s for today:
Q. 140: Which is the eighth commandment?
A. The eighth commandment is, Thou shalt not steal.
Q. 141: What are the duties required in the eighth commandment?
A. The duties required in the eighth commandment are, truth, faithfulness, and justice in contracts and commerce between man and man; rendering to everyone his due; restitution of goods unlawfully detained from the right owners thereof; giving and lending freely, according to our abilities, and the necessities of others; moderation of our judgments, wills, and affections concerning worldly goods; a provident care and study to get, keep, use, and dispose these things which are necessary and convenient for the sustentation of our nature, and suitable to our condition; a lawful calling, and diligence in it; frugality; avoiding unnecessary lawsuits and suretyship, or other like engagements; and an endeavour, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own.
Whenever we begin to ask the question about what a law of God requires of us we need to do two things immediately: 1) What do we know about the character of our Lord that would inform our understanding? 2) Why is it good for me and my friends that I heed the call?
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By David de Bruyn — 2 years ago
Errors are only compelling to the degree that they contain some vital truth, now heavily distorted. The truth is that both extemporaneity and some form of intense spiritual experience are part of true, living Christianity. The problem is when the experience of intensity is sought for its own sake, and when the method of extemporaneity becomes a tool to manipulate the Spirit.
A polarised debate goes on between different stripes of Christians over the place of experience in Christianity. One side asserts that experiential faith (what the Puritans used to call “experimental religion”) is fundamental to a living, supernaturally-empowered relationship with Christ. The other side asserts that experiential religion is of passing interest, for spiritual experiences range from the genuinely God-given to the wildly false and even demonic, and vary widely among different personality-types. Ultimately, say these Christians, what matters is allegiance to truth, both in belief and behaviour.
In moments of clarity, we agree with both sides, because we are aware of what each side is against: dead formalism (“a straight as a gun barrel theologically, and as empty as one spiritually”, said one) and untethered spiritual adventures (“glandular religion”, as coined by another). Pentecostalism’s strongest selling point has been the supposed vividness of its promised supernatural experiences, both in corporate and private worship. The idea of direct revelation, ecstatic utterances, and marvellous deliverances present a kind of Christianity that appears enviably immediate, sensorily overpowering, and almost irrefutably persuasive. Particularly for Christians coming from a religious background of set forms, liturgical routines, and even unregenerate leadership, the contrast appears to be one of old and false versus new and true.
Sadly, many true believers within Pentecostalism find out within a short space that the promise of overwhelming spiritual experiences begins to lack lustre after a time, and the corporate worship in pursuit of spontaneous spiritual highs can become as tedious and predictable as a service read verbatim from a prayer book. Pentecostalism’s pursuit of intensity and spontaneity in worship turns out to be an idol that both cheats and forsakes its worshippers.
Deeply embedded in the Pentecostal psyche is the idea that the Spirit of God is wedded to spontaneity and freedom of form. It is the very “openness” to His movements, unrestricted by an order of service or set forms of prayer, that supposedly invites His unpredictable arrival, manifested in intense, even ecstatic, spiritual experience. Being spontaneous and extemporaneous demonstrates “openness” and “receptivity”, whereas insisting upon our own forms quenches what the Spirit may wish to do.
By David T. Koyzis — 1 year ago
Written by David T. Koyzis |
Sunday, June 26, 2022
On a weekly basis we sinners confess our transgressions before the God who has forgiven us through Jesus Christ. We live our lives in this age in anticipation of being raised to new life on that still-to-come seventh day. In this life in the meantime, when we gather to worship on each Lord’s day, we reenact liturgically the promise of redemption to which we look forward with hope, confident that healing will come with the sabbath.
The Gospels record seven instances of Jesus healing someone on the sabbath day.
The three Synoptic Gospels tell of his healing a man with a withered hand (Matt 12:9–13; Mark 3:1–6; Luke 6:6–11). All three again relate the very brief story of his healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law of her fever (Matt 8:14–15; Mark 1:29–31; Luke 4:38–39). Two Gospels tell of Jesus casting an “unclean spirit,” or demon, out of a man (Mark 1:21–28; Luke 4:31–37). Luke alone relates the stories of Jesus curing a woman with “a spirit of infirmity” (13:10–17) and a man with dropsy (14:1–6). Finally, the Gospel of John relates two occasions when Jesus healed on the sabbath: the sick man at the pool of Bethzatha (5:1–18) and the man who had been born blind (9:1–41).
Each of these occasions saw Jesus incurring the wrath of the Jewish religious leaders because he had apparently violated the Torah’s prohibition against working on the seventh day (Exod 20:8–11; Deut 5:12–15). As the indignant ruler of one of the synagogues put it, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the sabbath day” (Luke 13:14). The story continues with Jesus’ response:
You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day? (13:15–16)
This reply put the people to shame, we are told, yet it only stiffened the resolve of the authorities to put an end to Jesus’ ministry.
How shall we interpret Jesus’ actions? Was he deliberately healing on the sabbath to make a point? And, if so, what was that point? Might Jesus have been underscoring the negative effects of legalism?
There is something to this. After all, Paul wrote, “One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let every one be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom 14:5). And, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath” (Col 2:16). In his letters to the believers of Rome and Colossae, Paul appears to relativize the importance of sabbath-keeping, along with other observances to which the ancient Jews were accustomed.
The notion that Jesus was combating legalism is one that we are likely to find deeply attractive, given the dominant metanarrative of expressive individualism to which Charles Taylor and others have called our attention. Enforcing the letter of the law may conflict with the spirit of the law, an insight that we find as early as Plato, who for that reason preferred the rule of the virtuous to the rule of law. We need not go that far, of course, to recognize that the law needs to be tempered by mercy and the good judgement that often comes of long personal experience.
Nevertheless, we ought not to assume that the principle of sabbath rest has been abrogated. Indeed, its importance can scarcely be overemphasized for the larger biblical redemptive story. In Genesis 2:2–3 we read that God rested on the seventh day after he had made heaven and earth, including his human image, the capstone of creation.
By Susannah Black — 2 years ago
In the midst of the worst of this, I don’t think I doubted the truth of the scriptures, either. That was part of the problem: scary passages felt like chains binding me, guns pointed at my head. But it meant also that I could hang on to the passages of unequivocal grace. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” “The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.” There is nothing original that I can offer here: these are uncompromising promises about God’s trustworthiness in his character and in his love of each of us, and of those we love. I held on to these white-knuckled. And then, gradually, you realize that you don’t need to hold on that tightly, because you yourself are held.
I love being a Christian.
I mean, I love Jesus too. But I also love all the rest of it: Brunch after church with friends, hylomorphism, late-night Eucharist on Christmas Eve, and carols and stollen and roast beef and friends’ children whom I have known and loved since they were born, dressed in deeply miscellaneous animal and animal-adjacent costumes for the pageant. C.S. Lewis and John Donne and Charles De Koninck, Durham Cathedral and St. Cuthbert’s tomb, tucked away absentmindedly behind the high altar, the Aksum Empire and the Holy Roman Empire and all the little communes of monks and anabaptists, who read Acts 2 and 4 and decided to just go ahead and do it; stoles and copes and incense and candles; neoplatonism and canon law and postliberalism and hot cross buns.
And knowing that I am called to a high calling, that nothing good will be lost, that there are no ordinary people, that death has been killed, that our God and King has given us his body to eat, his blood to drink. I love it. I love the experience of being a Christian, and I also think it’s true, so there’s that.
But there have been times when I have found belief to be almost unbearable. And I’ve met enough other people who have shared this particular difficulty that I think my story might be worth writing down.
I was sixteen when I was baptized, but it wasn’t until grad school that I started more seriously to try to follow Jesus. In the decade after that grad school conversion, I went through various … well, in retrospect I’d call them attacks, or something. Episodes. Times I couldn’t stop thinking. I would call them, now, ruminations, though I didn’t have that language then. They came in three varieties:
First, an inability to stop thinking about the idea that God might not be good, might not be trustworthy, if Calvinism was right. Second, a sense of “I can’t live in a world where some people may be going to hell.”
Third, I also at various points felt intensely guilty about things which an objective observer would not say that I ought to feel guilty about. Can I spend time doing anything other than evangelism, or serving the poor? Does God want me to enjoy nature and read novels, or are these things worldly, of the flesh? How can I enjoy anything while abortion is an ongoing reality in this world, in my country?
These circling thoughts led to a kind of exhaustion about my own attempts to make sense of everything, and a sort of grief, a nostalgia for a time when I was just a secular person, not needing to worry about any of this stuff. I felt alienated from non-Christians and even from Christians who didn’t share my intensity and anguish.
And maybe a couple of times, at the worst of these moments, I felt like I was presented with a choice: you can cease to believe, or you can pray for faith. And I prayed for faith.
That choice didn’t feel like it would change reality. What it felt like was that I was given the option to become … a non-player character, somehow. Taking the blue pill, and so on: living in the psychological comfort apostasy offered.
Scrupulosity is agonizing. I had the worried-I-was-sinning kind, too, though usually I worried I was sinning by omission. But the ruminations: those are a real bear.
I’m not sure when I first heard that word — scrupulosity. I think at some point I probably googled “religious OCD,” which is more or less what it is, and what I could feel that it was. It’s been a weird blessing in my life that before my adult conversion, I’d experienced what might be called secular OCD: obsessive-compulsive disorder unrelated to Christianity. How OCD works is that it makes what feel like moral threats: your moral safety, or physical safety, is at risk; you are both unsafe and in the wrong, and performing various rituals (handwashing, not stepping on cracks: the disorder is varied in what it comes up with but it does seem to come up with the same things frequently) is what will put you morally and physically right again.
Very frequently what you care about most is what the disorder “chooses” to threaten you about: “wash your hands just right or your child will die and it will be your fault,” that kind of thing. Those with this disorder are not delusional: You always know on some level that the threat isn’t real, it’s irrational, and because of that, the disorder can be profoundly embarrassing. “Don’t mind me, just going to ummm… wash my hands seven times and then turn off the tap with the backs of my hands… for… reasons… you go ahead and start dinner.”
It started when I was around twelve, and I got a diagnosis fairly briskly and ended up at various points doing various kinds of treatments — medication, cognitive behavioral therapy — which all helped enormously. Because I am who I am, I also, in my teens, became deeply emotionally connected to Samuel Johnson, who had it pretty bad: he felt the need to touch each lamp-post as he passed it, walking the streets of London; he feared hell profoundly and often couldn’t find peace about that. I used to imagine inventing a time machine and going back in time to bring Dr. Johnson Prozac-spiked brownies; I figured that would be less likely to cause unfortunate changing-the-timeline butterfly effects than trying to explain enough contemporary neuroscience to him to convince him to take pills. I also didn’t want him to worry about what the implication of the efficacy of meds on this anxiety disorder was for the existence of the soul — he had enough religious ruminations of his own — but I worried about it. (I also, full disclosure, had a pretty intense crush on him).
The solution to that (the worry about the implication of the efficacy of the meds on the existence of the soul, not the crush) at least was to get better theology. If wine can make your heart merry, or doing shots of Jägermeister can disastrously lower your inhibitions, it’s not a problem in theological anthropology that a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) can dial down the anxiety enough to let you make the choice to ignore the OCD-threat.
The way this works, as best we can tell, is that it’s the repeated ignoring of those threats, that disciplined exercise of the will, that ultimately rewires those neural pathways; the meds just make the threats… quieter, the choice to ignore easier to make. That systematic building of good habits, of evaluating your own thoughts and feelings and being able to choose how to respond to them is what cognitive behavioral therapy does. You use your mind, reason, and will to physically reshape your brain.
It’s not actually very different than what a Book-of-Proverbs approach to becoming better at being a human being might be. The whole package of treatment begins to look, in fact, precisely the way one would expect if we were in fact bodysouls, rather than souls inhabiting bodies, and if we were rational creatures with an immaterial intellect which can operate via the will; in other words as if human anthropology and ethics work the way St. Thomas says they do when he talks about virtue. Just to say.
So anyway, post-high school, the OCD was pretty much dealt with. And then, after college, I started going to a Vineyard church (I’m Anglican now, if you couldn’t tell from all the flagrant scholasticism) and started actually spending time with people who believed that Jesus was, for real, not at all dead. And then I found that I really actually believed that too. And the stakes in life suddenly became much higher.
Conversion is always disorienting. But God gave me a time to work through the normal confusions of new Christianity: the sense that there is nothing that one can hold back, the realization that there are no guarantees that God will make ahead of time, for example, that you won’t eventually need to be martyred; all the normal pricks of an awakened conscience; all the joy and amazement of the first Christmas where you find out that the carols you’ve been singing your whole life contain treasures which had somehow been hidden from you, lines that are suddenly alive and blazing with glory: “veiled in flesh the Godhead see/hail th’incarnate Deity/pleased as man with man to dwell/Jesus, our Emmanuel.”
But within the first two years after I converted, I had my first major bout of scrupulosity.
As I’ve said, the feeling of OCD is one of profound danger and also of a bad conscience, in a way. It can overlap with “real conscience,” but it’s distinct enough, if you know it, to recognize. There was something going on here that was not just “what reality is like,” “what being a sinner and having a bad conscience is like,” or “what Christianity is like.”
I’m an extremely curious person and I’m also a nerd, particularly when it comes to history and historical theology. What I found, after I started digging, is that scrupulosity is a known spiritual malady that pastors have been saying “oy, not this again” about for two thousand years. It’s also a neurological OCD-related condition that can be treated on that basis, and confessors and spiritual directors have used cognitive behavioral therapy-like tools for most of the last two millennia to do just that.
The classical Protestant experience of scrupulosity is the lack of “assurance” of salvation which is read as evidence of a lack of election. A more contemporary Protestant experience is the fear that one hasn’t “been saved” properly, that sure, you said the Sinner’s Prayer but it kinda seems like maybe it didn’t … take. It is not, however, the case that Catholic spirituality is without its own specific pitfalls about scrupulosity. A classical Catholic experience is the fear that you didn’t remember everything you needed to confess and that therefore you are not safe in taking the Eucharist; this has kept many people away from the Mass for years.
As I mentioned above, there are two pretty distinct versions of scrupulosity. There’s the one that resembles “secular” OCD and which leads sufferers to either perform repetitive prayers (not as in liturgical prayer, but as in a self-imposed “I have to say exactly these words with exactly the right emphasis and feelings for it to count”) or to confess over and over again (Luther’s poor confessor!) in order to “feel like they’ve gotten it right.” And then there’s the delightful experience of repetitive, racing thoughts, ruminations over theological questions, which one feels like one must resolve in order to be at peace. Neither makes for a particularly good time.
OCD has been called the “doubting disease.” Did I really turn off that gas burner? Did I really lock the door? I think I did, I remember doing it… but if I did, why do I doubt so profoundly that I did, why do I feel in danger? Better check. In other words, subjective uncertainty presents itself as something to pay attention to, something that gives good information. In non-religious OCD, one learns to talk back to one’s mind: “yes, I know you are subjectively uncertain, but that has nothing to do with reality.”
The Puritanism which is so beloved of the New Calvinism has, as one of its signature ideas (although one might, and many have, argued that this is a distortion of the actual teaching) that a subjective assurance of salvation is a necessary mark of true salvation. This idea was carried over into some versions of the revivalism of both Great Awakenings. Anxiety becomes part of the process. One sits on the “anxious bench,” until one receives assurance. Those with an unaddressed anxiety disorder can sit there for a long, long time.
Am I saved? Am I right before God? It is a question that can lead to repentance, to baptism, to a life of discipleship. It can also, in a baptized person with every reason to trust that God’s promises apply to him, now adopted into Christ’s family, be the content of irrational ruminations. But so can “Can God be trusted?” and “Does God want my family to be saved?” And this can get very very refined indeed — as refined as your theology: “is ‘good’ meant equivocally or analogically when we predicate it of God? Are you sure? But are you sure? How about ‘love’? Is monergism true? What can it mean that God desires all men to be saved if monergism is true? How can I trust that he wants me to be? Better think about this for five hours in the middle of the night to try to solve it.”
I suppose most Christians have bouts of something like this at some point; we’re all on something of a spectrum, with many of these kinds of mental distress. Anxious hearts are a common human malady, which God addresses; and of course some anxiety is good, some fears are real. How to distinguish between this and scrupulosity which ought to be treated as such? I can only tell my story. Probably the best thing would be to talk to your pastor; ask him if he even knows the word scrupulosity; that’s a good start. Above all, do not attempt to go it alone.