David

Equality is Medicine, Not Food

I do not think that equality is one of those things (like wisdom or happiness) which are good simply in themselves and for their own sakes. I think it is in the same class as medicine, which is good because we are ill, or clothes which are good because we are no longer innocent. I don’t think the old authority in kings, priests, husbands, or fathers, and the old obedience in subjects, laymen, wives, and sons, was in itself a degrading or evil thing at all. I think it was intrinsically as good and beautiful as the nakedness of Adam and Eve. It was rightly taken away because men became bad and abused it. To attempt to restore it now would be the same error as that of the Nudists. Legal and economic equality are absolutely necessary remedies for the Fall, and protection against cruelty.
But medicine is not good. There is no spiritual sustenance in flat equality. It is a dim recognition of this fact which makes much of our political propaganda sound so thin. We are trying to be enraptured by something which is merely the negative condition of the good life. That is why the imagination of people is so easily captured by appeals to the craving for inequality, whether in a romantic form of films about loyal courtiers or in the brutal form of Nazi ideology. The tempter always works on some real weakness in our own system of values―offers food to some need which we have starved.

― C. S. Lewis, Equality

According to Lewis, legal and economic quality is a convention we use to protect ourselves from one another. In other words, centuries of human abuse have revealed that while inequalities most certainly exist, we are seldom prepared to deal rightly with these inequalities, when we’re in a position to exploit them. Those physically weaker, financially poorer, or even intellectually less capable are almost always exploited by their superiors. It was the biblical religion that first rebuked this tendency, calling on Israel to care for the three groups most easily exploited: orphans, widows, and the poor.

Centuries of jurisprudence and political thought were necessary for the implications of these ideas to germinate and reach full bud: that every human being was to receive exactly equal treatment before the law and that every person was to be part of a collective decision-making process that would protect us from the abuse of power in one or a few. Legal and political equality became one of the checks and balances of a free society.

Conversely, Lewis believes our intrinsic inequality is actually a splendid and beautiful variety. “In the same way, under the necessary outer covering of legal equality, the whole hierarchical dance and harmony of our deep and joyously accepted spiritual inequalities should be alive.” Created differences, differences in appearance, ability, intelligence, talents, or gifts are not a thing to be despised, but celebrated. And we celebrate them when we respect hierarchy, orders, and roles in society, the family, and the church.

This freedom is now devolving into tyranny, as those obsessed with equality now pursue it for opposite reasons from the Christian thinkers of the past. In their thinking, it is not man’s evil and propensity to harm others that requires legal equality; it is actually man’s innate goodness and propensity to excel that requires actual, enforced equality of outcomes. Inequality represents cosmic injustice, and requires correction. We must no longer simply say that men and women are equal before the law; we must ensure that we have an exactly equal number of female plumbers and male kindergarten teachers. We must no longer say that two citizens have an equal right to participate in government, we must insist that those two citizens receive the same schooling, and have exactly the same grades.

This is a deep disease of the soul, which slowly kills a society. Lewis again: “When equality is treated not as a medicine or a safety-gadget, but as an ideal, we begin to breed that stunted and envious sort of mind which hates all superiority. That mind is the special disease of democracy, as cruelty and servility are the special diseases of privileged societies. It will kill us all if it grows unchecked. The man who cannot conceive a joyful and loyal obedience on the one hand, nor an unembarrassed and noble acceptance of that obedience on the other―the man who has never even wanted to kneel or to bow―is a prosaic barbarian.”

The reason that the idol of Equality will kill its followers is that they will tyrannically enforce it on the world, while gorging themselves on perverted inequality elsewhere. “Where men are forbidden to honour a king they honour millionaires, athletes, or film-stars instead―even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served―deny it food and it will gobble poison.”

Behold the society in which you live: where porn stars (famous prostitutes) are celebrated, while recognising distinctions between men and women can be a criminal offence.

The Difference Between Birds and Bruised Offerings

Leviticus 14:21-22 But if he is poor and cannot afford it, then he shall take one male lamb as a trespass offering to be waved, to make atonement for him, one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering, a log of oil, 22 “and two turtledoves or two young pigeons, such as he is able to afford: one shall be a sin offering and the other a burnt offering.

Malachi 1:8 And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, Is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, Is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?” Says the LORD of hosts.

Often enough, those who seek to elevate worship from where it is in our era to something resembling biblical worship and worship worthy of the Self-Existent Creator are criticised for making worship ‘too high’.

I am a pastor and sensitive to this criticism. My role, partly, is to mediate between the world of abstract ideas and the grit and grime of hard-working, busy and distracted church members. My role is to read and study what my parishioners do not have the time or inclination to, and to present and teach what is necessary for their life and godliness. One of my roles is to be something of an interpreter, a simplifier (within reason) and an applier.

When it comes to planning and including the elements of corporate worship, I have a foot in both worlds. On the one hand, I have more time to read and understand some of the better hymnody of the Christian tradition. I could include some of it on a Sunday morning, and merrily sing it, to the bewildered expressions of those who have encountered it for the first time. In so doing, I would not be respecting the realities of life for my parishioners in expecting them to engage with a largely indecipherable hymn.

On the other hand, my responsibility is not discharged until I have urged the Christians under my charge to elevate their view of God, to grow in their understanding of a right response to God, and to expose themselves to the kind of hymn or prayer that is just slightly beyond their present grasp.

In this matter of worship, a tension will always exist between accessibility and elevation. What is accessible is by definition not above you; what is elevated is by definition inaccessible to you. And yet both are needed. Christians need a point of entry to understand and engage with God in worship. Simultaneously, they need to be pulled and urged to move up from their present understanding to a truer and loftier one.

In our age of radical egalitarianism, attempts to elevate the thinking and worship of others is seen as “aiming too high” or “returning to a liturgical mindset” or “leaving the simplicity of Christ”. It’s to this criticism that I enlist the Scriptures referenced earlier.

Clearly, God has mercy on poverty. His expectations of worship are not tyrannical. The poor Israelite could offer what was within his grasp. (I am certain that if the poor Israelite began to prosper, and continued to offer the poor man’s offering, God would have been displeased.) A poverty of knowledge regarding music, poetry or appropriate responses to God in worship might be winked at by God, at least initially. First-generation Christians are often bankrupt of ordinate affections when they first arrive, and God may receive unsophisticated and simplistic worship responses the way He received the turtle-doves and pigeons.

However, God has no tolerance for sloppy, lazy, and careless worship by those who know better. When Israelites were bringing Him lame, stolen, or diseased animals, they were committing blasphemy. They knew He deserved better, but gave Him what was cheap, leftover and worthless, because it suited them. In other words, they were worshipping themselves.

The difference between simplicity and shallowness is part of what guides me as I plan corporate worship. There are songs and hymns which are appropriately simple and unadorned in their quality. They represent an earnest but nevertheless biblical appreciation of truth about God without trivialising, cheapening, watering down or otherwise diminishing it. They’re simple, but not sentimental. They’re simple, but not shallow. They’re simple, but not trivial. And they’re necessary for God’s people to “sing with the understanding also” (1 Co 14:15).

On the other hand, there are songs and hymns which are not merely simple, they are shoddy. There are hymns that are not beautiful in their plainness, they are untruthful because they have cheapened the gospel into a kind of entertainment. They are foolish, comical, and lightweight. They treat the things of God too sweetly. These hymns are insidious. They are not turtle-doves and pigeons. They are bruised offerings. They are not the partial expressions of children or novice Christians. They are deliberately narcissistic and man-centred, crafted to gain a visceral response of pleasure. And no appeal to the need for simplicity in worship ought to lead us to use them.

As a pastor, my legitimate choices are between beautiful hymns that are simple, and beautiful hymns that are complex. Both are needed. The challenge is to discern, and to help others discern, where simplicity has become frivolity, and where profundity has become impenetrability.

A Tale of Two Sons

A great king had two sons, who were come to the age where one should be named as the crown prince. The custom of that country was that the king would choose his heir directly, without weight given to birth-order. He was hard-pressed at the choice, for they both loved him and had noble and kingly traits. He decided to test them. Whichever son pleased him most in the test would become the crown prince.

He summoned his two sons to his throne room.

“My sons, you are both fine sons, more pleasing to me than all the wealth and splendour of my kingdom. I am torn at the thought of choosing but one of you to rule in my stead, but the tradition of our country knows nothing of two kings ruling on the throne, nor should it. One of you must rule; indeed, one of you must rule over the other.”

His sons stirred, but did not glance at one another.

“I have chosen to put your kingliness to the test. I will judge the winner according to my own counsel, and there shall be no debate entertained. As I could crown one of you this moment without objection from the other, so I may judge the winner of my contest by my own wisdom.”

His sons nodded, their gazes still down, as was the law in that land for one in the presence of the king.

“The test is this: you will gather as much fame for my name in one year as you can. At the end of the year, your efforts will appear before me, and I will judge one of you to be king after me.”

The princes departed, wished each other luck, and immediately sought counsel from the wise men of the land.

The younger prince consulted with the old men. “Your father is looking to have his name loved greatly. Bring him some people who love him deeply and truly, however many or few, and you will be judged the wiser son.”

The older prince consulted with the young men. “Your father is looking to have his name loved widely, for he is a great king, and greatly to be praised. Bring him throngs of people, by whatever means, and you will truly have brought him the fame he seeks.”

The younger prince travelled amongst the people, staying in one town for weeks at a time. There he taught the people patiently, every day explaining the glory of his father’s wars, his mercy with his enemies, his justice in ruling, and his kindness as a father. Some were taken by the descriptions of his father. Many were indifferent, and the young prince’s heart often grew discouraged. Often he felt like he was trying to kindle a fire in green wood. What would he have to show for his work? A handful of obscure people who loved the king dearly? He at times questioned the counsel he had been given. Nevertheless, he persevered.

The older prince travelled amongst the people, setting up fairs and stage-plays, tournaments and circuses, contests and puppet-shows in the name of his father. He knew how much people loved these things, and knew that they would be drawn to them. Once they found out that such were provided by the king, they would love him as well.

He was not disappointed. Crowds gathered wherever he went. People thronged his demonstrations, and enthusiastically took his invitations to appear at the castle on the day of the king’s judgement. Occasionally, he would question the sincerity of those who followed his train and eagerly awaited the next amusement. However, he dismissed such doubts, certain that it was better to present a large crowd of king-lovers than a thin one, even if a few were there for the wrong reasons.

On the day of judgement, the older prince filled the castle’s courtyard with hundreds of cheering people, with many others outside the walls. When the king appeared from the royal balcony, the crowd exploded in praise, and the younger prince sensed he had lost the contest.

The king proceeded to give an oration, climaxing with the promise that his subjects could forthwith have direct audiences with him in the throne-room upon request. The crowd seemed unimpressed. No applause was offered, and a silence settled over the courtyard. Here and there a shout echoed, calling for more jousting tournaments, cock-fighting and banquets. The shouts turned into disgruntled jeering. The crowd was now angry and hostile. The king ordered his soldiers to dismiss the crowd from his castle.

The king retired to his throne-room and sat down. The younger prince came in, bringing with him a strange group of unimpressive peasants: a little child, a blind beggar, a woman of the night, a leper, a cleric, a widow, an orphan and a soldier. They had been weeping during the king’s oration, and now prostrated themselves before him, along with the younger prince. The king rose, called for a meal to be set out for this group, and lifted up each one by his own hand. He led them to the banqueting table and served each one himself.

Which son had brought more love of his father? Which son had been more ‘successful’?

Which of the two did the will of his father? (Matthew 21:31)

Jesus So Totally Rocks

“Like, Jesus so totally rocks!” says Dude.

Dude is expressing his love for Jesus. He is expressing it in terms familiar to him, terms he uses for many other things that he loves.

We can agree on this much: Dude loves Jesus, and Dude is expressing it in his vernacular. What we do not agree on is if Dude’s exclamation is just a skateboarder’s version of love for God, or if it represents a sentiment entirely foreign to the Scriptures.

In other words, is Dude’s exclamation just another culture’s expression of love for Jesus, or has Dude completely misconstrued what it means to love Jesus? Is Dude’s statement merely a contemporary translation of the idea of a Christian loving Christ, or is it a transformation of Christian worship into something entirely different?

Of course, most today would rush to defend Dude’s statements as sincere love for Jesus expressed in a rather coarse, or some would say, sincere, way. They would say that the fact that he is aiming positive sentiments towards Jesus means he loves Christ, and probably just needs to be guided into a more proper expression of that love. Or not.

C.S. Lewis would beg to differ.

“If we say that A likes (or has a taste for) the women’s magazines and B likes (or has a taste for) Dante, this sounds as if likes and taste have the same meaning when applied to both; as if there were a single activity, though the objects to which it is directed are different. But observation convinces me that his, at least usually, is untrue…

Hence to say simply that they like one thing and we another is to leave out nearly the whole of the facts. If like is the correct word for what they do to books, some other word must be found for what we do. Or, conversely, if we like our kind of book we must not say that they like any book.” (An Experiment in Criticism, pp 1, 4.)

Lewis goes on to argue that the kind of love people have for objects (in this case, books and music) is entirely different depending on what the object is, and what people aim to do with it. One wants to use the object, the other wants to receive the object. The one who wants to use objects typically picks the kind of objects which can readily be used: simple, undemanding, obvious, swift-moving (read: entertaining). The one who wants to receive objects chooses those which present some form of difficulty and are not immediately apparent to a casual inspection, and which have the ability to transform the one who uses them. The kind of object determines the kind of love.

So in what way does Dude love Jesus? Since “so totally rocks” is a sentiment used of several other things, we can understand what he means. If I were to translate Dude’s statement into somewhat more recognisable English, it might read a little more like this: “Knowing Jesus is fun. The experience of Jesus is greatly entertaining, even thrilling. I recommend Jesus to others, because He is as exciting as bannister skateboarding, Playstation or a rock concert.”

Dude’s experience of Jesus is clearly of the kind that Lewis saw as using what it likes. Dude sees worship as something to be consumed. But here is the crunch: if Dude’s experience of loving Jesus is synonymous with adventure sports, console games and head-banging, what is his view of Jesus? Again, Lewis put it this way:

“The form of the desired is in the desire. It is the object which makes the desire harsh or sweet, course or choice, ‘high’ or ‘low.’ It is the object that makes the desire itself desirable or hateful.” (Surprised By Joy, p220.)

If the object of Dude’s approval, which he calls Jesus, evokes the same affections as other forms of entertainment, it stands to reason that the object of Dude’s approval is another form of entertainment. Or to put it another way, he has imbibed a view of Jesus as an entertaining person. If the object of his approval were in an entirely different class of object (the transformative kind), he might, even in Dude-language, express his approval differently. In fact, he might find that Dude-language itself has become inadequate to express the affections he experiences when admiring an object far loftier, and more demanding, than what his culture had exposed him to up to that point. He might even conclude that much Dude-language has now become inappropriate to express what the Bible means by love for Christ.

This is what the gospel has done to every culture it has penetrated: opened blind eyes, transformed the inner man, and transformed the cultural forms (including language, art and music) that were hostile to the gospel. It has done this when its true message, made up of the true Christ and His true atonement, has been correctly translated to that culture, so that it could understand and believe on the true and living God.

Which leads one to the question: Has Dude truly heard the gospel?

The Kingdom You Wouldn’t Like

“All the same, the New Testament, without going into details, gives us a pretty clear hint of what a fully Christian society would be like. Perhaps it gives us more that we can take. It tells us that there are to be no passengers or parasites: if man does not work, he ought not to eat. Everyone is to work with his own hands, and what is more, every one’s work is to produce something good: there will be no manufacture of silly luxuries and then of sillier advertisements to persuade us to buy them. And there is to be no “swank” or “side”, no putting on airs… On the other hand, it is always insisting on obedience-obedience (and outward marks of respect) from all of us to properly appointed magistrates, from children to parents, and (I am afraid this is going to be very unpopular) from wives to husbands. Thirdly, it is to be a cheerful society: full of singing and rejoicing, and regarding worry or anxiety as wrong. Courtesy is one of the Christian virtues; and the New Testament hates what it calls “busybodies.”

If there were such a society in existence and you or I visited it, I think we should come away with a curious impression. We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and in that sense, “advanced,” but that its family life and its code of manners were rather old-fashioned-perhaps even ceremonious and aristocratic. Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing. That is just what you would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine. We have all departed from that total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out that his own modification of the original plan is the plan itself. You will find this again and again about anything that is really Christian: Everyone is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can say they are fighting for Christianity.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I remember reading these words as a young believer and being quite puzzled by them. How could we come into the Kingdom (to tweak Lewis’ words into a kind of premillennialism) and not thoroughly enjoy it all?

As I have grown and become responsible, to some degree, for the spiritual health of others, it has become a lot plainer to me. I have learned that loving what God loves does not come all at once at the moment of regeneration. I have learned that the process of sanctification is largely one of learning to unlove, or put off, what belongs to the old man, gain the mind of Christ (love what He loves in the degrees and ways He loves), and actively pursue what He loves.

I have also learned that even post-conversion, the things we need the most are often the things we like the least. That’s what the Bible means when it describes the human heart with adjectives like perverse, corrupt, and depraved. We naturally love what is poisonous and corrosive. We kick against what is healthy and life-giving. Our natures orient us towards evil and away from what is good.

Lewis is stating this fact: were a culture that perfectly reflects God’s loves to be imposed upon us today, there is much in us that would dislike it. That’s surprising to us, since we tend to think that we would love every part of God’s kingdom. No, that’s why unredeemed flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom. We must see Him as He is, be transformed to be like Him in every way, and then we will finally love what He loves without a trace of sin.

Lewis probably didn’t intend as much, but his words give a good deal of explanation for the worship wars. Here are “people who are fighting for quite opposite things [who] say they are fighting for Christianity”. And here are people eclectically choosing the music they like, and dismissing what they don’t like. Here are people who cannot imagine that Christian worship should ever feel foreign or slightly uncomfortable, while others admit that worshiping a God infinitely beyond our imaginations ought to include some measure of awkwardness.

In fact, it was this quote that vaguely nagged at the back of my mind for years, and partly pushed me towards conservatism. When I encountered music which I did not enjoy, but which had been treasured by better Christians than I, this quote nudged me. When I read of a discipline and a piety in past Christians that seemed repressive and grievous to me, this quote tapped me on the shoulder. When I found some of my own musical idols under fire, this quote seemed to be a Nathan the prophet. When sober worship seemed gloomy, and I longed again for levity, this quote seemed a thorn.

All the time it said to me, “Why would you think that what you like and don’t like should be the final bar of judgement for what to offer God? Should not the better things of Christianity be somewhat above your reach? If something doesn’t ‘fit’ with you, is it possible that it is you who needs to change?  Shouldn’t you try to understand something before you dismiss it, merely because it is unappealing to you? If you believe in spiritual growth, should you not expect to be dwarfed by the hymns, prayers, music and writings of your betters?

“Should you, a very rudimentary Christian, have perfect appreciation for what is true, lovely, noble, just, virtuous, and praiseworthy? Isn’t some confusion of face and bewilderment to be expected when a philistine is confronted with what is beautiful and noble? Are you not arrogant for making comfort, ease, familiarity and accessibility the pillars of your walk with God? Are you not idolatrous when you do so?”

And so I began of journey of learning to love what I ought to love.

Equality and Distinctions

Those who believe in cosmic justice are actually at war with nature. If you desire to have all people have absolutely equal opportunities (as in our sprint race example) by manipulating all kinds of variables, you are actually fighting against the created order. You are fighting biology, genetics, and indeed, providence.

If you’re a Cosmic Justice devotee, you resent the idea that those biologically male should be placed in roles where they seem better suited than those biologically female. Indeed, you will wage war over those words “better suited”, enlisting examples of female soldiers, female bodyguards, female oil-rig welders and so on, showing that any distinction is purely a social construct, or even an arbitrary prejudice.

For that matter, someone like this may be at war with other variables of the created order: someone’s native intelligence, talents, interests and dispositions. All that seems determined by forces outside the liberal’s ideology must be challenged.

Tragically, some Christians begin breathing in this air, and exhaling it with a Christian twist. For example, a favourite hijacked text is Galatians 3:28:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

There!, says the liberal, doesn’t that just prove that the gospel is all about removing distinctions and inequalities? Well, in a word, no. The gospel eliminates any boasting point a human might use to claim special favour with God: sex, class, ethnicity, or some other trait or qualification. In Christ, these distinctions give none an advantage or disadvantage. In Christ, none of these hinder table fellowship and spiritual equality. But that is far from saying this equality of access is the removal of distinctions. Far from it. Paul gives different roles to men and women in corporate worship (1 Tim 2:8-15), and even for informal church life (Tis 2:1-8). He acknowledges that the class system of Roman life is the order of the day, and calls for Christian masters and slaves to behave in exemplary ways (Eph 6:5-9). For that matter, in Romans 14, Paul is probably referencing how Jewish Christians may behave differently to Gentile Christians in respect of diet and observance of days, and does not call for these differences to stop, but to be tolerated and respected with deference and considerateness. From Paul’s perspective, differences in ethnicity, class or gender are part of life and the Christian is not called to erase or resist them.

But what of those inequalities brought about not by biology or genetics but by injustice: either the injustice of human society, or the apparent injustice of the universe? What of people born to an ethnic group that is enslaved, despised, or maltreated; people born in poor circumstances, with little chance to improve, people born into a system that targets them for oppression? Should we not wage war on the injustice that gave them a disadvantage?

Perhaps, rightly defined. Christians wage war by casting down systems of thought that oppose God (2 Cor 10:5-6). Christianity’s view of man ultimately fermented Rome’s cultural life to where it could no longer function as it once had. Christianity’s view of man brought about the Magna Carta, balancing the divine right of kings with the imago dei. In some cases, Christians have worked actively in politics. In most cases, Christians have been faithful Christians in their vocations, and allowed their view to salt the culture.

Christians can also work to faithfully reverse or counter the effects of the curse, whether it is dealing with disease, catastrophe, or some area of the natural order that harms or threatens life. Christians may not understand God’s providence in giving some less, or the place of deformity or disease, but they can seek to heal and assist.

Christians do not fight injustice by artificially privileging victims or descendants of injustice over others. Christians do not fight injustice by pretending that the blind man’s vision is adequate, or that the illiterate can read, or that the unlearned can lead. Christians do not fight injustice when they place their finger on the scale, trying to act on a scale that belongs to God. We cannot fight the truth of injustice with the fictions of our own benevolent intentions.

We cannot wage war on the past. We cannot re-direct the river of history. We can only help hard-working people in the present, and have mercy on those harmed or destitute by something other than their own laziness. Societies that allow hard-working people to succeed are just. Ancient Israel was more than just, it was also merciful: providing means for the poor to survive (Leviticus 19:10). But notice, the poor still had to work, and glean the corners of the vineyard.

Ancient Israel did not fight against the very concept of the poor. It accepted that such would always be the case in a fallen world, and made merciful provisions for those who would work with the strength they had. They were interested in merciful justice, not cosmic justice. They were concerned with an equal right to survive, not an equal experience of life.

A Catechism of Judgement in Worship

How are we to worship God?
We should worship in all of life, but we have been told most explicitly to worship God corporately through the following:
– The reading of Scripture
– The preaching of Scripture
– The singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs
– The offering of public prayer
– The observance of the ordinances

How do we know which songs, what kind of music, what kind of sermons, what kind of prayers we should offer God?
We know this through exercising sound judgement.

What is sound judgement?
At the very least, it is the ability to discern between good and evil (Heb. 5:14), to approve what is excellent (Phil 1:10), and to be able to to recognise what is true, just, noble, pure, lovely, praiseworthy, commendable, and excellent (Phil. 4:8) – and the opposites of these. Judgement can also be thought of as discernment, discrimination, prudence, taste, or more broadly, wisdom.

Why is judgement fundamental to worship?
Judgement is needed to discern three things: beauty, the nature of our response, and the meaning of the vehicle that carries our response.
First, to worship God for His excellence, we must be able to distinguish excellence from inferiority, beauty from ugliness, good from bad. We cannot admire God if we do not know what is admirable. We cannot see the beauty of God if we are poor at recognising beauty.
Second, to rightly respond to God from the heart, we must be able to distinguish between affections, and judge what is appropriate for worship. To recognise inordinate joy from ordinate, to distinguish between familiarity and boldness, between joyful exuberance and impudent flippancy, or between shades of joy, fear, or sorrow, requires judgement. Moreover, since God is true, we must never offer God what is false in any way: false in statement, or false in sentiment.
Third, to offer God what is worthy of Him, we must be able to judge the worth of the expression we use to carry our response. God is worth our very best offerings, but if we cannot tell tacky from elegant, we will end up offering him what is profane. We are required to discover what is excellent (Phil. 1:10) and use it for God’s glory.  To understand how a song, prayer, sermon or other act of worship represents ordinate or inordinate affection, we need good judgement. We must understand the meaning of the prayer, song, music, or sermon and judge its worth for worship.

Isn’t it wrong to judge?
No, judgement is at the very heart of a mature Christian life (Heb. 5:14). If you cannot judge good from bad, you will never worship meaningfully, or be protected against profanity. In fact, good judgment is placed side-by-side with a holy and fruitful life (Romans 12:1-2, Ephesians 5:8-11, Philippians 1:9-11, Colossians 1:9-11, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22).
Proud judgementalism is what is forbidden to us, which is the same as ‘thinking evil’ of another, assuming the worst, or claiming to be able to perfectly read motives.

Won’t these judgements be subjective?
Yes, that does not mean they will not be true. Judgements made by subjects can still conform to the good.

Why can’t we just be given a list of approved hymns and songs?
If everyone does nothing more than submit to another’s list, then no one is learning to judge, discriminate and sing with understanding. It is fine for children and beginners to trust the judgements of others, but a maturing conscience is meant to be formed with knowledge and judgement.

Do you have to be a literary or musical critic to worship?
No, because we are all commanded to worship, and that would mean everyone on earth should be a literary critic. We should not be afraid to learn from critics, though.

What about just giving simple offerings?
God loves simple offerings. He does not love cheap and tacky offerings. Discernment is learning to tell the difference.

How shall we go about learning judgement?
First, we should commit to living in the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of sound wisdom and discretion. No judgement or discernment will come to irreverent, flippant people. We must determine that we wish to revere God, whatever that might mean.
Second, we should commit ourselves to godliness of life. Discernment comes by reason of use, as we seek to know the difference between good and evil for application to life (Romans 12:1-2, Ephesians 5:8-11, Philippians 1:9-11, Colossians 1:9-11, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22).
Third, we must embrace the examined life. That is, we must seek a life in which we become thoughtful about the meaning of the various technologies, media, forms, and devices in our lives. We must become thoughtful and contemplative about meaning, if we are to grow in discernment. This is the same as Proverbs’ instructions to pursue knowledge, wisdom and understanding. We are to vigorously pursue an understanding of God, ourselves and the world.
Fourth, we should root ourselves in the genuine Christian tradition, immersing ourselves in it so that it gives us a sense of its discerning judgement by example and exposure.

How can we judge something that we already like or dislike?
First, we should make our prejudices explicit. If we like something, or dislike something, we should own that to be true.
Second, we should ask why we like what we like or dislike what we dislike. If we do not have reasons, we ought to seek them. Understanding why we love something is part of the way to learning what it means, and learning about our own hearts.
Third, we need to compare what we currently like, or dislike, with some standard of what is good, or true, or beautiful. What I like does not become good by virtue of my liking it; rather, I must learn to love what is good. What I dislike may not necessarily be bad; rather, my sinful heart may dislike things that are true. We should not defend our preferences because they are familiar; we should learn to like something because it really is good, and then make the good familiar. Sanctification is all about unlearning some loves, and learning new ones.

Where shall we get this standard?
The standard already exists in God. He is the source and standard of the True, the Good and the Beautiful. In God’s common grace, He has allowed both believers and unbelievers to produce works of imagination that conform, more or less, to God’s view of what is excellent. Therefore, we come to know this standard as we:
1) Consider what has been loved and cherished by God’s people for centuries.
2) Listen to people, who, by God’s common grace, have proven judgement – people who explain the meaning of works of imagination.
3) Compare and contrast different works, considering what they are trying to do, how they do it, and whether or not they achieve it.
4) Write poems, songs, prayers and sermons that are true, good and beautiful for God’s glory.

What shall we do with growing discernment?
We must weed out and reject offerings that trivialise God, humanity or creation. We must choose the good and the true. We must learn to write our own apprehension of God’s glory in poems, songs, prayers and sermons. We must worship God in our generation, in our words. And yet our words and works must also be true, good and beautiful.

Spurgeon Uncut and Unpasted

Reading Spurgeon is a sheer delight to the heart. At the same time, it is often faintly discouraging to the preacher. How could a preacher manage such eloquence? His sentences are positively dripping with imagery, his prose saturated with trope and metaphor. It seems impossible for such poetic gold to have flowed from a preacher who spoke from a one-page sermon outline. And yet there stand the 63 volumes of Spurgeon sermons, the largest collection of Christian writings by one man, their luxurious oratory still charming and delighting the hungry Christian. These 3563 sermons seemingly testify to the real-life existence in the 19th century of an Apollo with a British accent, who weekly performed herculean feats of rhetoric.

Here is some modest encouragement for the preacher who is a mere mortal. What we read today is not exactly what Spurgeon’s audience heard. How do we know that? Spurgeon’s sermons were transcribed as he preached them by stenographers present in the congregation. Spurgeon spent most of Monday and Tuesday revising and editing the stenographers’ copies of his spoken sermons. Several drafts went back and forth, until the final copies went to the printer on Thursday. At least some of Spurgeon’s profound eloquence was not produced extemporaneously on Sunday, but with a quill and inkwell in the days after the sermon.

So what did Spurgeon’s hearers hear? The stenographers’ copies are the closest thing we have to an audio recording of a Spurgeon sermon. What Spurgeon preached turns out to be something fairly close to what we read, but shorter, a little less florid in eloquence, and more direct, as preaching for the ear should be. Not many stenographers’ copies of Spurgeon’s sermons are still extant. I found a picture of one page from CBLibrary, reproduced here. It’s the stenographers’ copy of a portion of Sermon 2114, “The Burden of the Word of the Lord”, preached in 1889. Spurgeon’s many edits on the sermon are visible.facsimile19cx

So what do we learn by comparing the “audio” version with the “print version” of this sermon? In the edited version of this sermon section, there are 1206 words. In the stenographer’s transcribed version, there are 983 words. Those extra 223 words represent a 23% increase, nearly a quarter more words. If we assume the same editorial gloss for the whole sermon, then the printed sermon of 7130 words could have originally been a spoken sermon of around 5518 words. If Spurgeon spoke at around 150 words per minute, that’s about a 36-minute sermon.

In the table below, I’ve reproduced the print version and the unedited transcribed version. Spurgeon’s many additions for the print version are highlighted.

When you read the column on the right, you’re experiencing, more or less, what Spurgeon’s listeners heard. It’s still brilliant, still eloquent, still stirring. But it’s a little more recognisably human. Enjoy.

Printed Sermon (edits highlighted) Transcribed Sermon
The prophets of old were no triflers. They did not run about as idle tellers of tales, but they carried a burden. Those who at this time speak in the name of the Lord, if they are, indeed, sent of God, dare not sport with their ministry, or play with their message. They have a burden to bear—“The burden of the word of the Lord”; and this burden puts it out of their power to indulge in levity of life. I am often astounded at the way in which some who profess to be the servants of God make light of their work— they jest about their sermons as if they were so many comedies or farces. I read of one who said, “I got on very well for a year or two in my pulpit; for my great-uncle had left me a large store of manuscripts, which I read to my congregation.” The Lord have mercy on his guilty soul! Did the Lord send him a sacred call to bring to light his uncle’s moldy manuscripts? Something less than a divine call might have achieved that purpose. Another is able to get on well with his preaching because he pays so much a quarter to a bookseller, and is regularly supplied with manuscript sermons. They cost more or less according to the space within which they will not be sold to another clerical cripple. I have seen the things, and have felt sick at the sorry spectacle. What must God think of such prophets as these? In the old times, those whom God sent did not borrow their messages; they had their message directly from God Himself, and that message was weighty—so weighty that they called it, “the burden of the Lord.” He that does not find his ministry a burden now, will find it a burden hereafter, which will sink him lower than the lowest hell. A ministry that never burdens the heart and the conscience in this life, will be like a millstone about a man’s neck in the world to come.

The servants of God mean business. They do not play at preaching, but they plead with men. They do not talk for talk’s sake; but they persuade for Jesus’ sake. They are not sent into the world to tickle men’s ears, nor to make a display of elocution, nor to quote poetry—theirs is an errand of life or death to immortal souls! They have something to say which so presses upon them that they must say it. “Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel!” They burn with an inward fire, and the flame must have vent. The Word of the Lord is as fire in their bones, consuming them; the truth of God presses them into its service, and they cannot escape from it; if, indeed, they are the servants of God, they must speak the things which they have seen and heard. The servants of God have no feathers in their caps—they have burdens on their hearts.

Furthermore, the true servants of God have something to carry, something worth carrying. There is solid truth, precious truth in their message. It is not froth and foam, phrases and verbiage, stories and pretty things, poetry and oratory, and all that; but there is weight in it of matters which concern heaven and hell, time and eternity. If ever there were men in this world who ought to speak in earnest, they are the men. Those who speak for God must not speak lightly; if there is nothing in what a man has to say, then God never commissioned him, for God is no trifler. If there is no importance in their message—yes, if their message is not of the first and last importance—why do they profess to speak in the name of God? It is constructive blasphemy to father God with our nonsense. The true servant of God has no light weight to bear; he has eternal realities heaped upon him; he does not run merrily as one that has a feather-weight to carry—he treads firmly and often, slowly—as he moves beneath “the burden of the Word of the Lord.”

Yet, do not let me be misunderstood at the beginning. God’s true servants, who are burdened with His Word, right willingly and cheerfully carry that burden. We would not be without it for the entire world! Sometimes, do you know, we get tempted, when things do not go right, to run away from it—but we view it as a temptation not to be tolerated for an hour. When some of you do not behave yourselves and matters in our church get a little out of order, I say to myself, “I wish I could give this up, and turn to an employment less responsible, and less wearing to the heart”; but then I think of Jonah and what happened to him when he ran away to Tarshish—and I remember that whales are scarcer now than they were then—and I do not feel inclined to run that risk. I stick to my business, and keep to the message of my God; for one might not be brought to land quite as safely as the runaway prophet was. Indeed, I could not cease to preach the glad tidings unless I ceased to breathe! God’s servants would do nothing else but bear this burden, even if they were allowed to make a change. I had sooner be a preacher of the gospel than a possessor of the Indies. Remember how William Carey, speaking of one of his sons, says, “Poor Felix is shriveled from a missionary to an ambassador.” He was a missionary once, and he was employed by the government as an ambassador. His father thought it no promotion, and said, “Felix has shriveled into an ambassador.” It would be a descent, indeed, from bearing the burden of the Lord, if one were to be transformed into a member of Parliament, or a prime minister, or a king! We bear a burden, but we would be sorry, indeed, not to bear it.

The burden which the true preacher of God bears is for God, and on Christ’s behalf, and for the good of men. He has a natural instinct which makes him care for the souls of others, and his anxiety is that none should perish, but that all should find salvation through Jesus Christ. Like the Christ who longed to save, so does the true Malachi, or messenger of God, go forth with this as his happy, joyful, cheerfully borne burden—that men may turn unto God and live! Yet, it is a burden, for all that; and of that I am going to speak to you. Much practical truth of God will come before us while we speak of “the burden of the Word of the Lord.” Pray that the Holy Spirit may bless the meditation to our hearts!

I. And why is the Word of the Lord a burden to him that speaks it? Well, first, it is a burden BECAUSE IT IS THE WORD OF THE LORD. If what we preach is only of man, we may preach as we like, and there is no burden about it; but if this Book is inspired—if Jehovah is the only God, if Jesus Christ is God incarnate, if there is no salvation except through His precious blood—then there is a great solemnity about that which a minister of Christ is called upon to preach. It therefore becomes a weighty matter with him. Modern thought is a trifle light, as air; but ancient truths of God are more weighty than gold.

And, first, the Word of the Lord becomes a burden in the reception of it. I do not think that any man can ever preach the gospel aright until he has had it borne into his own soul with overwhelming energy. You cannot preach conviction of sin unless you have suffered it.

The prophets of old were no triflers. They carried a burden. Those who still speak in God’s name, if the Lord has sent them, dare not trifle with their work. They have a burden to carry—“The burden of the word of the Lord”.

I am often astounded at the way in which some who profess to be the servants of God make light of their work. I read of one who said, “I got on very well for a year or two in my pulpit; for my great-uncle had left me a large store of manuscripts, so I read them.” The Lord have mercy on his guilty soul! Another is able to get on well with his preaching because he pays so much a quarter to the bookseller, and is supplied with regular manuscript sermons.  I have seen the things. What must God think of such people as these? But in the old times, those whom God sent did not borrow their messages. They had their message directly from God Himself, and that message was weighty—so weighty that they called it, “the burden of the Lord.” He that does not find his ministry a burden now, will find it a burden hereafter, which will sink him lower than the lowest hell. A ministry that never burdens the heart and the conscience in this life, will be like a millstone about a man’s neck in the world to come.

The servants of God mean business.  They do not talk for talking’s sake. They are not sent into the world to tickle men’s ears, or to make a display of elocution. They have a something to say that so presses upon them and they must say it. They have an inward weight, an inward fire, and they must give vent to that (…); for the Word of the Lord is as fire in their bones, consuming them; if, indeed, they be the servants of God. The servants of God are not triflers, for they bear the burden of the Lord.

And in the first place, the true servants of God have something to carry. There is something in their message. It is not froth and foam. It is not words and verbiage, and stories and pretty things, and oratory, and all that. There is weight in it, and if ever there were men in this world who ought to speak in earnest, they are the men that speak for God, and if there is nothing in what they have to say, then God never commissioned them. If there is no importance—yea, if their message be of the first and of the last importance—why, in the name of God, do they profess to speak in the name of God? It must be so, that the true servant of God has no light weight. He does not run merrily as one that has nothing to carry—but he (…) that he bears “the burden of the Word of the Lord.”

Yet, do not let me be misunderstood at the beginning. God’s true servants, who are burdened with His Word, cheerfully carry that burden. They would not be without it for the entire world! Sometimes, do you know, we get tempted, when things do not go right, to run away from it. When some of you do not behave yourselves and things get a little out of order, I say to myself, “I wish I could give this up, ”; but then I think of Jonah and what happened to him when he ran away to Tarshish; and whales are scarcer now than they were then—and I do not seem inclined to run that risk. So I stick to my business, and keep to the message of God; for one might not be brought to land quite as safely as the runaway prophet was. God’s servants would do nothing else but bear this burden, even if they could make a change. Remember how William Carey, speaking of one of his sons, says, “Poor Felix has drivelled into an ambassador.” He was a missionary once, and he was employed by the British government as an ambassador. That is what his father thought of that promotion, , “Poor Felix has drivelled into an ambassador.” It would be a drivelling down, indeed, from bearing the burden of the Lord, if one were to wear a crown, or be first in a senate of philosophers.

The burden which the true preacher of God bears is for God, and on Christ’s behalf, and for the souls of others. He has a natural instinct which makes him care for the souls of others, and his anxiety is that none should perish. Like the Christ who longed to save, so does the true Malachi, or messenger of God, go forth with this as his happy, joyful, cheerfully borne burden, but yet, it is a burden, for all that; and of that I am going to speak tonight. There may be some practical truth arising out of this, “the burden of the word of the Lord”.

I. And why is it a burden? Well, first, it is a burden BECAUSE IT IS THE WORD OF THE LORD. If what we preach is only of man, we may preach what we like, but there is no burden in it; but if this Book is inspired—if Jehovah be the only God, if Jesus Christ be God incarnate, if there is be salvation save through His precious blood—then there is a great solemnity about that which a minister of Christ is called upon to preach. It hence becomes a burden to him. 

And, first, it becomes a burden in the reception of it. I do not think that any man could ever preach the gospel aright until he has had it borne into his own soul with overwhelming energy. You cannot preach conviction of sin unless you have suffered it.

The Many Meanings of “Reformed”

I find it quite amusing these days to be classified by some as “Reformed”, when I’d barely heard the term for most of my Christian life. I grew up in Baptist circles that didn’t use the term Reformed. In fact, the first time I heard it used of my church was when a student attending a local Bible college told us that the lecturers there regarded our church as Reformed.

Since then, I’ve come to understand the many imprecise ways that “Reformed” is used.

First, the broadest use seems to be a kind of identifier as non-charismatic. In some circles (particularly in South Africa), the two categories of views on the spiritual gifts are not cessationist and continuationist, but Reformed and charismatic. This binary division becomes the way a person tries to categorise your understanding of spiritual gifts and the baptism of the Spirit. Of course, with the rise of the Sovereign Grace movement and the continuationist teachings of John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and D. A. Carson, Reformed and charismatic no longer stand as antithetical to each other. Conversely, the vast majority of Southern Baptists and Fundamentalist Baptists would be moderate Arminians who hold to eternal security, but are strongly cessationist. One’s position on the charismata is not necessarily linked to whether or not one accepts Reformed theology.

Second, an almost equally vague use of the term identifies Reformed with a certain approach to corporate worship. If your church sings hymns and has a fairly modest worship service without disco balls and metalheads jamming with Fender StratoCasters, you will be considered by some as Reformed. Certainly, the Reformation reformed worship, and the Reformed are often associated with sober worship, but this is not necessarily the case. The Regulative Principle was championed by the Reformers, but not only the Reformed abide by it. By this loose definition of Reformed-equals-conservative-worship, A. W. Tozer, an Arminian, was Reformed. Conversely, have a look at Reformed youth conferences, or Google “Reformed rap”. And read Peter Masters’ critique of the worship in the New Calvinism. Conservative worship and Reformed are no longer Siamese twins.

Third, the slightly more accurate use of the term identifies Reformed with Calvinistic doctrine. Calvinism is really a subset of Reformed, not the other way around. Calvinism is a particular view of soteriology: how saving grace manifests. Calvinism, in its moderate, strict, and extreme forms deals with the doctrines of election, the effectual call, the perseverance of the saints, and the extent of the atonement. If you line up with the five points of TULIP, many consider you Reformed. Purists won’t accept anything less than five-point Calvinism, but the theologically informed know that Calvinism and Arminianism represent a spectrum of positions, not a binary choice. When understood this way, it is possible to be Calvinistic, without being Reformed, in the strict sense.

(By the way, the five points of Calvinism have little to do with the five Solas of the Reformation. The five solas rescued the Gospel from Roman Catholicism, and could (and should) be affirmed by anyone who holds to the gospel of justification by faith, whether Calvinist or Arminian.)

Fourth, the theologically accurate use of Reformed identifies a school of Protestant theology that involves a lot more than the five points of TULIP. Reformed theology necessarily includes covenant theology, and the form of covenant theology that requires paedobaptism. The church is understood not as an opt-in, voluntary organisation but as an opt-out, involuntary covenant community that one enters by being born into believing households that baptise in infancy. This strict form of covenant theology excludes believers’ baptism. In this very precise use of the term, Baptists cannot be Reformed: the term Reformed Baptist becomes an oxymoron. Reformed theology sees the sacraments as efficacious in some sense, and generally excludes premillennialism (eliminating Charles Spurgeon, Robert Murray M’cheyne and George Muller from its ranks). And if you think I’m making this up, get it from the horse’s mouth: Richard Muller of Calvin Seminary tells you what he thinks of Reformed Baptists: http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/how-many-points/

In this very strict sense, the Reformed are necessarily Calvinists, but not all Calvinists are Reformed.

Therefore, if I am asked, “Are you Reformed?”, I will give what sounds like an irritatingly evasive answer. “Well, I am proudly Protestant, and believe in justification by faith alone. I do worship in a conservative fashion, adhering to the Regulative Principle, and I don’t subscribe to Pentecostal or charismatic views of the charismata or the baptism of the Spirit. I am a compatibilist in soteriology, and recognise sovereign election and the effectual call. But I am a Baptist, and a premillennial one at that. So, depending on your definition of Reformed, you tell me: am I Reformed?”

The Scholar-Pastor

A few years back a book came out, pointing out the need for pastors to be more scholarly and for scholars to be more pastoral. Coming from someone like D. A. Carson, the exhortation is easy to receive, given how he has modeled both. It is rare to find both scholarship and a shepherd-heart in one man. Pastors should certainly be given to intellectual discipline, and Christian scholars should see the pastoral application of their academic labour, though few men are a pure mix of both.

I respect genuine pastors. I respect genuine scholars. What I find more difficult to respect is the man who is neither, but pretends to be a form of both, and assumes the prerogatives of both.

After all, a true scholar has

  1. achieved a terminal degree in his area of study, the Ph.D. or its equivalent, mastering the tools of research, and fluent in the conventions of academic writing and argumentation: when he writes or teaches, you can hear the dispassionate tone of the humble researcher;
  2. mastered comprehensively the literature in his discipline;
  3. understood the broader conversation within and surrounding his discipline;
  4. contributed to the conversation, and submitted his work to peer-review.

That eliminates most of the self-appointed scholars right there. Truthfully speaking, most pastors have not been trained in this way, or reached this place of learning. Most don’t desire the life of a scholar, and aren’t inclined to it. Most lack the time for the kind of full-time reading and writing that scholarship requires. Scholarship is a vocation in its own right, and pastoring usually precludes being able to be a scholar. Certainly, I’m not a scholar, though I read them, and benefit from their labours.

On the other hand, a pastor has

  1. desired the office of pastor, which includes not just teaching, but leading (as an overseer), and providing an example and wisdom (as an elder) in a local church;
  2. submitted his life to the scrutiny of a local church, to whom he is accountable, so that he can be examined for the presence of the the character qualifications of 1 Timothy 3;
  3. been either recommended by a group of pastors (1 Tim 4:14) who are in a better position than most churches to test his life and qualifications, or been sent by a local church (Acts 13:3), and been consequently called by a local body of believers to shepherd the flock;
  4. given himself to the best equipping available to him, so as to fulfill his calling (2 Tim 2:15).

Not every public speaker or teacher in Christianity is or needs to be a pastor. The body of Christ is blessed with apologists, itinerant preachers, and people with particular ministries that supplement the church. I’m thankful for these, insofar as these bless the local church, as ours certainly has been by them. But the best of these teachers always admit that they are not called to shepherd the flock, but to their particular ministry focus. The most honourable of these can tell you which local church they belong to, who their teachers are and who they are accountable to. The academy has true scholars. The church has true pastors, supplemented by teachers.

What is intolerable is the man feigning scholarship, and acting like a pastor. He’ll travel around and take up pastoral duties (counselling intimate situations, installing pastors, baptising, disciplining, giving communion), but take no week-to-week responsibility for any group of people. He’ll act like a bishop over multiple churches, supposedly protecting people from the false shepherds, but he himself is submitted to no one, anywhere. He’ll cast stones at faithful shepherds, and accuse them of “heavy shepherding”, but he’s never shepherded anyone, in any real sense. And if people seem to smell a rat in his maverick ways, he’ll begin to speak academese to the unlearned, quickly reminding them that the Learned One is speaking. He conveniently switches roles so that when his scholarship appears shoddy, he pretends to be a generalist pastor, and when he appears to lack pastoral qualifications, he pretends to be a scholar on a teaching tour.

Both pastors and scholars have submitted to tough callings, and accepted both their privileges and responsibilities. You’ll notice that real pastors and real scholars accept the burdens of their callings along with the joys. They know who they are, their domains of expertise and authority and what they can realistically achieve.

But beware the man who seems claim all the privileges of both pastoring and scholarship, while dodging all the burdens of either calling: the burden of watching for the souls of one congregation or the burden of academic peer review; the burden of submitting to ordination councils or the burden of getting a terminal degree; the burden of labouring in one place for many years or the burden of mastering his discipline. Deliberately avoiding burdens is the work of sluggards and shysters. 

In short, a fair question is this: if he is a true leader in the church or the academy, then to what, and to whom, has he submitted?