Every once in a while, someone who doesn’t profess Christianity will stumble upon some sort of natural or moral law that Christians have professed for centuries. To avoid agreeing with the Bible, or maybe because they legitimately think they’ve discovered something new, they’ll often give the old idea a cool new re-brand.
Case in point is a new piece at the edgy news-and-culture outfit Vice. The author reports on a brand-new type of progressive relationship structure: “radical monogamy.” Not to be confused with the “boring, old, religious, traditional” kind of monogamy, “radical monogamy” is an exclusive relationship commitment that’s chosen, not blindly accepted. And, this is crucial to the distinction: Monogamy that is “radical” is chosen from among the many equally valid relationship options, including polyamory.
On one hand, it’s not surprising that even those who wish to remain “sexually open minded,” but still want to enjoy the best relationships possible, would land on monogamy. After all, as my old Tennessee friend would say, “it ain’t rocket science.” Research routinely shows that exclusive relationships, especially marriage, yield higher rates of general satisfaction, sexual satisfaction, and healthier kids.
Still, according to this Vice essay, proponents of radical monogamy stress that the decision to remain in an exclusive relationship was made by themselves, and for themselves.
Of course, no one wants to be bamboozled, especially by someone else’s morality or long-standing tradition. It’s wise not to blindly accept social pronouncements or even moral and ostensibly religious arguments. Jesus often authenticated His pronouncements by alluding to or directly referencing the Old Testament.
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By David Schrock — 9 months ago
The Covid vaccine, unlike every other mandated vaccine, has a religious connotation to it. For this reason, Christians in our day need to be instructed by Revelation 13 as much as Romans 13. And I pray this essay might help us to see what is going on and to respond in freedom and faith—whatever that means for you and the vaccine.
Since the Biden Administration mandated soldiers and federal workers to be fully vaccinated, while also requiring private businesses larger than 100 employees to require vaccines, chaos has ensued. Defending the freedoms of Americans, many have begun to address the constitutional problems this mandate creates. Others have begun seeking a religious exemption for this mandate based upon the fetal cells used in the research and production of these vaccines. Still others object to the mandates because they have already contracted Covid, have natural immunity, and believe (with a long history immunology supporting them) that taking a vaccine is unnecessary and may be potentially harmful to their body.
At the same time, other Americans, and many Christians among them, have opted to get the vaccine, even arguing for its morality. Add to this the difference between seeking a vaccine exemption on medical grounds versus moral and religious grounds, and the complexity multiplies. Not surprisingly, with all of these arguments out there, people of faith are led to ask: What should I do?
To answer that question, I am putting myself in the shoes of the men and women in the military and federal government who are now ordered to get vaccinated. Some of them have willingly received the vaccine, and done so in faith. Many others, however, are not able to receive the vaccine in faith. As I have spoken to church members and other Christians about this, many are crushed in spirit at the thought of injecting a serum that has come about by the use of stem cell lines that ultimately trace back to cells derived from aborted babies. Others are not bound in conscience by the use of fetal cell lines, but are nevertheless are unable to take the vaccine in good faith. It is for this latter category, I am writing.
In what follows, I offer a twofold argument for why this vaccine mandate should lead some men and women to seek a religious exemption (not just a medical exemption). These two arguments are based upon a genuinely held religious belief that this mandate (1) eliminates the free exercise of their faith and (2) forces upon them the faith another religion. Along the way, I will show why this vaccine and its accompanying mandate is different in nature than previous vaccines. Unlike previous vaccines, like Jonathan Salk’s polio vaccine or the more recent anthrax vaccine, the Covid vaccine comes with a moral imperative that is downright religious, complete with Fauci prayer candles and vaccine jewelry.
At the outset, I admit that this argument may not resonate with everyone, and that is fine. I am not writing to persuade everyone to seek a religious exemption. Seeking a religious exemption is deeply personal and should be based on one’s genuinely held beliefs. So, I am not seeking to bind anyone’s conscience regarding the vaccine. At our church, we have labored hard to stress the liberty Christians have to receive or reject the vaccine, because we really believe that one’s health care decisions are matters of personal responsibility and liberty, not public morality and coercion.
That said, as a pastor with many members seeking religious exemptions, I am writing to Christians to offer biblical rationale for why Christians can—and in many cases should—seek a religious exemption. So, to the text of Scripture we go.
The Mandate Replaces Faith with Coercion
In the Bible, the locus classicus for liberty of conscience is Romans 14. And while the whole chapter provides a rich resource for understanding the biblical view of human conscience, the last verse provides a starting point for distinguishing faith from coercion, as well as offering a connection between conscience, faith, and sin.
Summarizing his argument on conscience and religious devotion to God, Paul writes: “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (v. 23). This simple principle needs to guide Christians at all times, but especially in moments when governing authorities are binding consciences by way of coercive actions that do not proceed from God’s truth. In fact, the first point to make is that coercion always makes faith null and void.
There are many ways to get at this argument, but one of them has to do with faith, thanksgiving, and using the good gifts of God. Here’s how Paul puts it in 1 Timothy 4:1–5,
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
While Paul’s words take aim at false teachers who forbid marriage and require abstinence from food, his argument stands upon a universal truth: Christians are those who give thanks to God for every good gift. While those in rebellion against God take his gifts and refuse to acknowledge him or give thanks to him (Rom. 1:23), Christians are those who give thanks to God (Luke 17:19) and praise him for every good and perfect gift that comes down from our Father in heaven (James 1:17). These gifts include, food and drink, sex and marriage. But they also include sunshine and rain (Matt. 5:45), agricultural wisdom (Isaiah 28:26), and medicine (James 5:14).
Accordingly, for Christians to receive the vaccine in faith means that Christians can give thanks to God for the good gift that he has given. And more than that, Christians must give thanks to God for anything they put in their body. Not only are we called to glorify God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20), but if we refuse to give thanks to God, we are not exercising faith and are by definition sinning (see Rom. 14:23).
By contrast, when Christians eat, drink, or take a vaccine, they do so with personal thanksgiving to their Lord. And over the course of the last year, this is what many Christians have done. In faith, they have prayed against Covid and for a vaccine. Covid is a real threat and one that continues to cut short the lives of those whom we know and love. Accordingly, Christians have given thanks to God for the vaccine, and no one who has taken the vaccine in faith should feel condemned.
My argument here is not anti-vaccine; it is anti-mandate. Because thanksgiving for the vaccine is predicated on a free conscience, I am making the case for personal freedom to making wise choices for one’s health. Remove that freedom of conscience, by forcibly causing someone to do something against their will (and their body), and the ability to offer genuine thanksgiving is gone. And without thanksgiving to God, faith is eliminated, and sin remains. Those who deny God may make light of this thinking, but for those who seek to do all things to the glory of God, this way of thinking stands at the core of their being. And this why liberty of conscience has always been protected in our nation.
Going back to the early church, Christians from many faith traditions are on record for defending the rights of individuals, Christians or otherwise, to live according to their faith. Likewise, Andrew Walker, in his recent book on religious liberty, has argued that making religious choices freely is part of what it means to be made in God’s image. Accordingly, religious liberty “is not a political question,” but a question of what it means to be human. Religious liberty, he argues, “arises from a theology of creation—that humanity bears a unique origin, design, and purpose in its constitution” (Liberty for All, 110). More confessionally, the Second London Confession (1689) puts it this way.
21.2. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or not contained in it. So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also.
Christ alone is Lord of conscience. This is the critical point of tension in our moment. This tenet of our faith is in sharp conflict with state and health officials who exalt themselves as conscience-binding-lords. They refuse to give room for religious exemptions or conscience, and thereby seek to bind the conscience which is free in Christ. As state and health officials masquerade as conscience-binding-lords, we must reply: Solus Christus.
Protestants have always opposed church or state pronouncements that coerce action or bind conscience. In 1769–70, six Baptists were jailed in Culpeper, Virginia for this conviction, and James Madison worked with likes of John Leland, another Virginia Baptist, to instantiate in the Constitution of the United States (1789) a clause protecting religious liberty—what we know as the First Amendment. Thus, religious liberty has been a defining feature of America, and one that reflects the human dignity and personal freedom set forth in Scripture.
Sadly, with the recent vaccine mandates, liberty of conscience has been withdrawn and in its place the state has eliminated the chance for citizens to live according to their religious convictions. As a result, many Christians, still unconvinced by the need for this vaccine, have lost the chance to be persuaded of its goodness and the chance to receive it with thanksgiving. Hence, the first reason that many Christians should seek a religious exemption is because instead of the state using the power of persuasion, which could preserve personal liberty and would lead to thanksgiving, the state has used its power of coercion to eliminate personal freedom for the sake of its religious belief that the vaccine is the savior we all need.
This is the second argument to be made, that instead of merely eliminating personal liberty and the chance to offer thanksgiving to God for this vaccine, the Biden administration and its various agencies have forced upon Christians a medical procedure that is championed as a secular sacrament. Still, before getting into that argument, the fact remains that many Christians who are called to do everything from faith and to give thanksgiving to God for every good gift, including vaccines, are not able to do that. And for that reason, those who cannot take the vaccine in faith, should not take the vaccine at all. Instead, they should seek a religious exemption and band together with others who share their convictions to stand for personal liberty.
By J. V. Fesko — 4 months ago
Written by J. V. Fesko |
Friday, April 8, 2022
I think the “be somebody” versus “do something” divide is a really important question to ask for many things in life. All too often we can get caught up in titles and the desire for prestige. Do you want to be a big steeple pastor or do you preach God’s word? Do you want to win marathons or find enjoyment and satisfaction in running? Do you want people to think well of you or live in a manner to gain the approval of your heavenly Father?
Over the years I have had many students come into my office and ask me about pursuing doctoral studies. One of the first questions I ask them is, “Why?” I ask this question because many students don’t know that pursuing doctoral studies is a long, difficult, and burdensome path. Once you finish your master’s degree you have to learn two modern foreign languages (like Latin and French), study for the Graduate Record Exam, apply to different institutions, get in, move, take two to three years of seminars, sit for comprehensive exams, spend a year or two writing a dissertation, defend it, and spend a lot of money and time. Don’t get me wrong—if you’re called to this path, then nothing will keep you from it. The fire in your belly will drive you to pursue your dream. But I ask students why they want to pursue a doctorate because I want them to think about their motivations.
If students reply that they want to teach at a college, then that’s great and it’s a good reason to pursue a PhD. But if they tell me that they want to learn more about theology, I press them for more information.
By Henry Anderson — 2 months ago
What matters most to God is what fuels our obedience, and it should be love. When we come before the Lord in song, it’s not enough to merely be engaged with the words intellectually, it’s not even enough to follow through on what we sing, we must be a people that love God in these realities. That’s what the Lord desires.
Over the past few decades, there has been a tremendous emphasis placed upon exposition in the church. The benefits of this are too many to count. A revival has taken place where a number of churches have moved away from a surface level study of God’s word (like skipping a rock on the ocean), to an in-depth comprehensive study of the text––exposition (like dropping an anchor down to the ocean floor).
After all, if God’s word is breathed by Him and therefore sourced in Him, then it is incumbent upon us as His people to draw the last drops of sweet nectar that we can from every single word. Paul tells Timothy
All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be equipped, having been thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Tim 3:16–17
Since the Scriptures are profitable to equip us for every single good work prepared for us, we should not just know a little bit of them, we must live in them (cf. Matt 4:4; Eph 2:10).
To that end, many pastors have written books on the topic of expository preaching. That is, preaching that seeks to understand a text within its larger context and draw out the God-laden meaning from the words and grammar that has been used by the Biblical writers. G. Campbell Morgan put it this way, “The sermon is the text repeated more fully.” That’s the idea.
In a related but slightly different direction, in 2010, Ken Ramey wrote a book entitled, Expository Listening. His work is a primer on how God’s people should approach listening to an expository sermon. It is based on passages like Jas 1:22, “But become doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” Building off of the momentum, in 2017, Josh Neimi released the book entitled, Expository Parenting. The book aims to show parents that they must expose and lay bare the pure milk of the Scriptures to their children.
With that being said, you opened this article expecting to learn about a different type of exposition. At this point, I do want to speak about expository singing.
Now, there are two ways that we might approach this topic. The first would be more for worship leaders. Expository singing could mean the way that writing hymns and spiritual songs should be done, based on the exposition or explanation of the meaning of the Scriptures. That’s one way, but that’s not what I intend with this article.
The second approach is seen in thinking about expository singing, not from the approach of creating content, but rather based on how we approach the songs that we sing to the Lord each Sunday (or throughout the week). Well-written hymns and spiritual songs are expository in nature. The Scriptures are the light unto our path, and good praise songs will emphasize the light of the Lord through His word and bring us near to Him (Ps 119:105).
With that in mind, there are four principles that I want to deliver to you that should cause you to enjoy God more through song when rightly appropriated. In finding your enjoyment in God, you bring honor to Him in fulfilling your created purpose… the exaltation of His name (Ps 34:3).
Here is a question for you, what makes a good Christian song? Is it the date in which it was written (a pre-1900 hymn with preferably some old English mixed in)? Is it the melody that the song has or its tempo, upbeat or slow? What about the instruments used or lack thereof (drums, guitars, cymbals, harps, a cappella)? How about the number of times the chorus is sung? Here’s the answer. None of those make a good Christian song, inherently.
What makes a good praise song is the words. It’s the content. After Jesus’ ostensible disciples depart from Him, there’s this precious interaction between Jesus and his disciples…
So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.”
Where else can we go, but you Lord? We sing songs that make much of the God of our salvation.
But here’s the rub, how many of those words do you actually think about when you sing them on Sunday morning (or ideally throughout the week)? It is so ingrained in our culture and in our world to value songs that have catchy beats and rifts and then to mindlessly puppet the words the artist sings. That has no place in Christianity. This is the first principle of expository singing, we must be engaged singers.
We Must be Engaged Singers
There are two quotes that I use often but have never been able to find (if you can identify them please let me know). The first is from Charles Spurgeon (at least I think) concerning sanctification, “we must move, but He must move us.” I love that quote, but I can’t find it anywhere. The second pertains to our topic. Paul Washer once said (at least I think) that “we never lie more than in our singing of songs of praise.” Why would Paul Washer say that?
It’s all too common for people to sing glorious lyrics on Sunday morning but not truly mean them. If I told you, “I like your outfit,” but I didn’t mean it, what would you call me? You’d call me a liar. But doesn’t that happen with how we approach God through song? Yes, I said “we,” I am guilty of this too. Here are some relatively well-known lyrics… through introspection, answer as to whether or not you meant them fully when you last sang them.
“My soul finds rest in God alone; All glory, laud, and honor to Thee, Redeemer, King; I will tell the wondrous story how, my lost estate to save, in His boundless love and mercy He the ransom freely gave; When morning gilds the skies, My heart awaking cries, May Jesus Christ be praised; I will not boast in anything, No gifts, no pow’r, no wisdom.”