Just a small sampling of recent headlines reveals what a disorienting cultural moment this is: Man wins a women’s swimming championship, Supreme Court nominee refuses to define the word woman, Biden administration endorses gender reassignment surgery for minors. Back in 2020, theologian and historian Dr. Carl Trueman provided a full account of how something that was unthinkable a generation ago became unquestionable today. The dramatic shifts in how we think about gender and sexuality are among the fruits (not roots) of a much deeper shift in how we think about the human person.
Trueman’s book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self described the origin story of what has been called “the cultural identity crisis.” Centuries ago, thinkers, writers, and activists began to rethink, redefine, and over-sexualize the concept of self. By describing this process, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self felt like a long-overdue answer key for our cultural moment. Weighing in at over 400 pages, it is the definitive account of the thinkers, ideas, expressions, and consequences of the sexual revolution.
Thankfully, Dr. Trueman also heard the many pleas for a less academic approach to these essential concepts, one that works out the same essential analysis but for those Christians dealing with the everyday chaos of the culture he so aptly describes. The new and much slimmer version is called Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution.
In it, Trueman tells the story of the development and propagation of ideas that sparked a revolution in how Western people think about themselves and others. Eventually, these ideas transformed how we think about sex and the human body, about social institutions like the family and the role of the state, and about meaning, purpose, and fulfillment.
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By Peter Van Doodewaard — 9 months ago
Actions of massive significance call for significant accountability. Self-reflection is a good spiritual discipline, also for church leaders. Did we engage in spiritual abuse when we turned away faithful worshipers? Were we condescending toward mask-wearers seeking to protect vulnerable family members? Did we demand submission to civil government on matters better left to individual conscience? I for one am still bothered by the restrictions we did place on our own congregation. Couldn’t we have simply let sincere Christians make up their own minds on timing and masks and everything else? Did we lord it over the flock? Did we succumb to fear?
I am hopeful that enough time has passed that the church can calmly and methodically evaluate her COVID-19 decisions. We took actions of historical significance with profound consequences for the spiritual health of the church. These actions call for careful review and reconsideration—any competent organization reviews major decisions in pursuit of continuous improvement. Surely the church should lead by example.
Churches across America closed their doors in the spring of 2020. Time-delayed broadcast (nothing is truly “live”) of public worship was tacitly approved or openly embraced as a “spiritual equivalent” to gathered worship. Reopening, when it happened, was often accompanied by mask mandates and assembly limits. These restrictions were variously justified by arguments for submission to governing authorities or the importance of loving our neighbor.
Some church leaders openly criticized those who in good conscience disagreed with the limits of government power regarding public worship. People who suggested that scientific arguments for masks and distancing were inconclusive were silenced. And others, convinced of a duty to care for neighbor and live quietly under government were often harshly criticized and opposed.
What Was at Stake
We touched holy things.
The public assembly is a holy gathering, commanded by the LORD, and the pattern of the church since men began to call on the name of the Lord. The church gathered in Abraham’s house, at Sinai, at the tabernacle, at the temple, in the synagogue, and in the early churches scattered in the Mediterranean basin. Assembly is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.
When we limited gatherings, we limited the ekklesia of God. We limited what the church for four millennia has understood to be basic and vital. This requires sober reflection.
The holy supper of our Lord is to be kept until Jesus Christ comes again. We skipped observances of the Supper.
And then—when we resumed public worship and the Lord’s supper, we engaged in de facto excommunication of fellow Christians on account of questions that can hardly be called primary, secondary or even tertiary. Masks come to mind.
The means of grace were severely diminished by those with the responsibility to maintain and protect the same.
We touched holy things like Uzzah touched the ark. Should we assume that we did well because we are still alive, or take some time for sober reflection and repentance?
Church and State
A common argument presented for such restrictions was the following: The state requires compliance and we are to “fear God and honor the king.” But this basic argument, especially in Western constitutional democracies, needs to be re-examined.
First, our political tradition allows for peaceful protest. The First Amendment of the American constitution (and for our friends in Canada the Charter of Rights and Freedoms) protects religious worship, peaceful protest, and the right to petition government. Such protest is not necessarily rebellion. Our Western tradition has made provision for such precisely because the same tradition recognizes that governments are prone to trample citizens by the untrammeled use of power. Paul was unashamed to appeal to his Roman rights, and Christians should wisely do the same—particularly in the face of growing hostility to Christianity. Peaceful protest (for example, the refusal to enforce mask mandates in worship services) has strong legal precedent in the Western tradition.
Second, our form of government does not give unlimited power to the executive. When Pastor John MacArthur resisted Governor Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 policies, some Christians thought him to be an embarrassment—perhaps some Anabaptist still secretly existed in the Baptist. But when Grace Community Church presented their case for non-compliance to a judge, that judge ruled that Gavin Newsom was the law-breaker. John MacArthur proved to be the one who feared God and honored the king; Gavin Newsom was the rebel.
We should thank the Lord for John MacArthur and those like him who were willing to challenge the limits of executive authority by appealing to the law. Precedents established in such cases may prove of great value to the worshiping church in coming years. If you were a public critic, it’s time for some public humble pie.
Incidentally it was no less than a Supreme Court Justice who remarked recently that “executive officials across the country issued emergency decrees on a breathtaking scale…governors and local leaders imposed lockdown orders forcing people to remain in their homes. They shuttered businesses and schools, public and private. They closed churches even as they allowed casinos and other favored businesses to carry on. They threatened violators not just with civil penalties but with criminal sanctions, too.” Gorsuch expressed concern regarding government treatment of churches during the pandemic, noted that governments “surveilled church parking lots, recorded license plates, and issued notices warning that attendance at even outdoor services satisfying all state social- distancing and hygiene requirements could amount to criminal conduct.”i
If a Supreme Court Justice is concerned about government overreach, could not a sincere Christian have shared the same concerns and acted accordingly? It seems the answer should be simple: Of course, yes.
Third, and by far most importantly: The church of the Lord Jesus Christ alone has the right to regulate her worship, and that regulation is solely by the Word of God. I heard good friends argue that since the governing powers were not touching what was preached, or the liturgy to be followed, all was well. This argument has some (limited) merits, but it is not one that I would be willing to press on the conscience of another believer in Jesus Christ. It seems wiser simply to state the following: When the state weighs in on any matter pertaining to public worship, the church will humbly listen and then make its own decisions concerning the public worship of God. This is not ground we should ever give over to the civil magistrate. To use the language of Reformed liturgy, the things beginning with the call to worship and ending with the benediction are holy things that belong to the Lord, the King and Head of the church.
It is here that I would argue for the urgency of COVID-19 reflection—to make use of sanctified hindsight. The governing authorities were wrong on almost everything; masks hardly work if at all,ii vaccinations are less useful than natural immunity,iii and despite all the restrictions and vaccinations nearly everybody I know has contracted COVID-19 at one time or another.iv And amongst my entire circle of friends and family, over forty-five years of life and service in Christ’s church in three different countries, not a single friend or relative that I know died of COVID-19. This is not what I was told to expect in the spring of 2020, and it surely is a reason to thank the Lord for his shielding mercies. (And yes, I aware many did lose loved ones in the same period, and this is also reason for humble prayer.)
But—if the governing authorities were wrong on almost everything (starting with “two weeks to slow the spread”), did their dubious use of emergency powers warrant restricting the life and worship of the church? Hindsight makes things clearer.
And if this question is answered in the negative, perhaps such reflection will lead those who preached strict compliance to think far better of those who disagreed, and even to commend their courage and constancy in the face of pressures from within and without the church. Both sides ought to listen to each other, very carefully.
Love Your Neighbor
The second and very common argument was that those in favor of restrictions, masks and vaccines were those who truly understood what it meant to love your neighbor.
Neighborly love motivated many Christians. Those who were prone to be upset with mask- wearers or a friend stayed away for a time out of concern for elderly family members ought to see love in those who took such extra care.
But the “love-your-neighbor” argument has also profound weaknesses when we attempt to apply it uniformly to the whole church.
First, those who used it often asked the church to make scientific rulings on disputed medical questions: “If we loved our neighbor, we would all wear masks.” I am a pastor, and I don’t give recommendations for vaccinations, masks, or appendectomies. To require unanimity on such questions to be part of the unity of the church or the criteria for attendance on the public worship of God or admittance to the Lord’s Supper seems to be an abuse of authority.
A second problem is perhaps the greater. The argument for restrictions on the regular life of the church was often an argument for the priority of physical health and safety over spiritual health and life. But if the whole world was indeed about to die, would not true love for our neighbor led us to throw open our doors to preach the only medicine the world had left— Jesus Christ and eternal life through Him?
We return again to Justice Gorsuch: “Many lessons can be learned from this chapter in our history, and hopefully serious efforts will be made to study it. One lesson might be this: Fear and the desire for safety are powerful forces.”
Another category for reflection is fear. Did we acquiesce to restrictions or adopt policies out of fear (whether of governing authorities or fellow congregants)? This might be answered in the affirmative for those on both sides of various questions—masks come to mind again. Fear of man is a snare; it is sinful. Did we fear men?
Perhaps there is an ultimate question we need to ask: Was I afraid to die from COVID-19? Did this make me afraid to attend public worship? Did fear lead me to close the doors to my unbelieving neighbors? Christians are not to fear death.
When our session (elder board) decided to limit attendance at public worship on account of the early reports of the dangers of COVID-19, I received a Saturday night phone call from an elderly Presbyterian minister regarding the protocols for the following day’s services. He had a simple question: “What power granted to the elders of the church by Jesus Christ would permit you to turn me away from the public worship of God?”
I explained to him that the reports we were all receiving indicated that this virus had the capacity to rapidly spread dangerous illness. He replied that he wasn’t calling to discuss the timing of his death (which surely was coming but only the Lord knew when) but about the arrangements for the public worship of God in the morning.
This providential conversation moved me deeply, and I told him I would turn no one away.
Actions of massive significance call for significant accountability. Self-reflection is a good spiritual discipline, also for church leaders.
Did we engage in spiritual abuse when we turned away faithful worshipers? Were we condescending toward mask-wearers seeking to protect vulnerable family members? Did we demand submission to civil government on matters better left to individual conscience? I for one am still bothered by the restrictions we did place on our own congregation. Couldn’t we have simply let sincere Christians make up their own minds on timing and masks and everything else? Did we lord it over the flock? Did we succumb to fear?
We touched holy things, and this requires humble reflection. Maybe your next leadership meeting ought to include time for prayerful reflection on actions taken, followed by some honest communication with your congregation.
May God help us in this work of reflection, give us true repentance where needed, and by this renew our commitment to the public worship of His holy name.
Peter Van Doodewaard is a Minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is Pastor of Covenant Community Church (OPC) in Taylors, SC.
i Peter Pinedo, “Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch Blasts COVID Lockdowns, Closing of Churches”, National Catholic Register, May 23, 2023, https:// justice-gorsuch-blasts-covid-lockdowns-closing-of- churcheswww.ncregister.com/cna/supreme-court-
ii Tom Jefferson et al., “Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses”, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002
iii Ralph Ellis, “COVID Infection Provides Immunity Equal to Vaccination: Study”, WebMD, February 17, 2023, https:// vaccine/news/20230217/covid-infection-provides- immunity-equal-to-vaccination-studywww.webmd.com/vaccines/covid-19-
iv Erika Edwards, “What people with ‘super immunity’ can teach us about Covid and other viruses”, NBC News, March 11, 2023 https:// immune-covid-science-trying-unravel-immunity- virus-rcna72885www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/are-
By John Beeson — 12 months ago
What an incredible promise: that we, men and women, who were enslaved to the world, have been purchased by the price of the Son so that we could be adopted as sons of God! And now God invites us, who were once estranged from him, to intimately cry out to him, “Daddy!” Oh, friends, what an invitation! What a reality! Can you believe that you are a son of God?
Here is an oddity: women are never referred to as “daughters of God” in the Bible. Kind of strange, especially given how often people use that phrase. “Daughter of God” nets over 1,000 books on Amazon. In the Bible, however, the seemingly clumsy term “sons of God” is used for men and women alike.
What gives? Is this a linguistic fluke? No, unlike the Greek word for brothers, adelphoi, which often means “brothers and sisters,” the Greek word for sons, huioi, rarely means “sons and daughters,” with the complete phrase “huious kai thugateras” used instead.[i] So, while we might be tempted to add “daughters” when we see “sons of God” in the Bible, it’s unlikely that is what the author intended.[ii]
Is the lack of inclusion of daughters a patriarchal blind spot in the Bible that we ought to rectify? On the contrary: the authors of scripture used the phrase “sons of God” to lift the status of women.
Let me explain: in the ancient world, Israel included, only sons received the family inheritance. Daughters received no inheritance. They were dependent on their husband or the care of their family. If the biblical authors referred to men and women as “sons and daughters of God,” their readers might have mistakenly presumed that only men received a spiritual inheritance from God.
By exclusively referring to all the children of God as “sons of God,” the biblical authors are saying something profound: men and women are equal recipients of the inheritance of the Father. Wow! What a vision for men and women in the Kingdom of God – and two thousand years old, no less!
With this in mind, let’s re-read two of the most beautiful passages in the Bible that offer us the hope of what our sonship entails.
By Michael Staton — 1 year ago
Start by expressing your gratitude that God has adopted you into His family. Contemplate the power and might of the One you call Father. Take time to consider His majesty, and then ask Him to use your life to sing forth His praises. Express your desire to see the name of God revered, loved, and worshiped.
Would you agree that, at times, the most challenging aspect of prayer is just getting started? What can we say that inclines our hearts to God’s will so that we are actually communing with the Lord and not merely murmuring religious words? Our Lord Himself shows us precisely what kind of prayer pleases God. Let’s consider His words.
We Belong to a Family
Take a moment and read the model prayer in Matthew 6. Scan through verses 9-13 and notice all the first-person singular pronouns. Look for words such as my, mine, me, and I. What did you discover? It is surprising, isn’t it? They are not there!
What we do find are first-person plural pronouns such as: “our Father in Heaven;” “give us this day our daily bread;” “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors;” and “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” These pronouns are more than just parts of speech; they send an important message.
From the start of the Lord’s model prayer, we discover a focus on community. Prayer is something we do with the mindset of a family and congregation. Of course, our salvation is personal, but we are saved into a family.
There is no doubt that individual prayer is good and fitting for Christians, but it should also be our regular practice to pray with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Likewise, it is appropriate to pray for your own needs, but Jesus also teaches us to desire to pray with others in mind. This should comfort us as we remember that we bear the burdens of others as they do the same for us.
Our Family Has a Father
We belong to a family, and our family has a perfect, righteous, holy, trustworthy Father. God is also our guide, protector, shield, and teacher. All the things we understand a faithful earthly father should be are perfectly exemplified in God.
Knowing God in this way is a unique privilege and blessing to Christians. He is enthroned and highly exalted in Heaven, yet he is also near to us. You can say God is both transcendent (distinct from us) and immanent (near to us). While it is true that God Himself created all people and knit them together in their mother’s wombs (Psalm 139:13-14), only those adopted through the work of Christ can truly call Him Father. We have both a master/servant relationship and a familial one. He is our God, yet also our Abba Father.
We begin our prayers with the blessed knowledge that God loves us and has chosen us as His sons and daughters (Ephesians 1:4-6, Galatians 4:4-7). We belong to a spiritual family, and our spiritual family has a perfect Father. This should flood our hearts with a well-spring of gratitude.