Trading the Lord’s Day for… Christmas?

Trading the Lord’s Day for… Christmas?

The Gospel Coalition (of course) recently published an article by Fletcher Lang in which Lang defends his church’s decision to cancel services on Sunday, December 25. The article is in response to an earlier piece written by Kevin DeYoung admonishing pastors to hold Lord’s Day services regardless of its “conflict” with Christmas. One has to either laugh or cry at the dialectic represented by The Gospel Coalition’s efforts to actually discuss whether canceling church on Christmas day is a viable option by any standard of ecclesiastical orthodoxy. It shouldn’t even be considered a debate. 

Yet, here we are.

In his article, Lang walks through two main points to try and substantiate his church’s decision to cancel services on Christmas. Below, I would like to test each of these points for biblical wisdom and rationale.

Point #1: “Our Context Makes a Christmas Day Service Uniquely Difficult”

This is not an argument. It’s a bad rhetorical statement. The thoughtful reader should easily pick up on the subjective nature of language like “our context.” What is Lang’s context? The Boston, MA metro, secular neighbors, a rented space, and a “transient” culture—by which he means, “many of our most committed members are traveling around the country or world for Christmas and are unable to run set up chairs and run sound.”

So, it’s logistics? And it’s not just logistics, it’s (mostly) unnecessary logistics. Lang has 100 people at his church plant. One to three people could set up 100 chairs within 20 minutes. Sound? Audio/visual has always been a convenience, not a necessity. How did all those poor churches in the 1800s (and prior) survive without artificial audio projection!

Now, aside from the obvious holes in Lang’s reasoning, Scripture hardly qualifies when it commands the assembling of God’s people. (Heb. 10:24-25) Sure, there are providential hindrances that result in a missed service here and there for some, but these are actual hindrances, not self-imposed obstacles or less-than-ideal circumstances. Consider the early church. One only needs to read through the first few pages of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs to see how the “context” of the early church made things difficult for Christian assembly. 

And yet those saints of old assembled notwithstanding the threats to their lives or the lives of their families. The modern “church” isn’t built that way. If Christmas is an obstacle, persecution would be insurmountable!

Our culture of ease and entitlement has made our sense of conviction exceedingly dull.

Point #2: “There’s Scriptural Freedom”

Lang claims that “we have freedom to meet or not on special Sundays like this.” The issue here has to do with Scriptural authority. Who made the Sunday in question “special”? God or man? Where in Scripture is any other day except the Lord’s Day instituted by God, especially in terms of New Testament worship? Lang’s “liberty” is tantamount to a denial of the perpetuity of the 4th commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Ex. 20:8) The Second London Baptist Confession reads:

The sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. (22.8)

We should be quick to confess the doctrine of Christian liberty, but we should be careful not to use that liberty as a pretense for sin.

Hebrews 10:25, which Lang cites, is not simply the prohibition of habitual absence from church on the Lord’s Day. It’s a regulatory commandment. It’s a commandment because even though the “let us” in v. 24 is in the subjunctive, it functions imperatively since it regulates religious behavior. The “assembling of ourselves together” is integral to an ordinary pattern of Christian worship. The “manner of some” is to neglect that pattern. They have made a custom out of neglecting the Lord’s Day. This may be a weekly, monthly, or an annual pattern of negligence. The text does not specify. The point here is the establishment of a religious norm according to which the people of God are to live—regular worship on the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week.

Lastly, Lang tries to apply the principle of Christian liberty from Romans 14:5-7. He says, “We all agree Christmas Day is a special day. It’s not ‘just another Sunday.’” But not everyone agrees with this. Liberty cuts both ways. While Christians may have the liberty to esteem Christmas day as a special day, and I believe they do, they also have the liberty to maintain the ordinary pattern for Christian worship even if it falls on Christmas day, and this is what Lang doesn’t seem to realize. He and the elders of his church are subtly requiring that all 100 members of their congregation forgo ordinary worship at their church on the Lord’s Day in observance of Christmas Day—a man-made holiday.

Under pretense of “Christian liberty” Lang’s church, and others like it, are binding the consciences of those who believe they ought to be able to worship God on Sunday, December 25 at their home church. Lang and company are using their “liberty” to infringe upon the liberty of others.

But this isn’t even the most salient point. The weightier matter is canceling a God-ordained day in favor of a man-ordained day. And this is a travesty. Even if all 100 members of Lang’s church wanted to shut the doors on December 25, that’s simply not a decision man gets to make.

Conclusion

While many Christians will no-doubt celebrate Christmas with their families, we must remember that Christmas observance is an extracurricular activity and is not part of biblically-ordained Christian worship. God has ordained one day, marked by the resurrection of the incarnate Son, which is to be observed until the end of the ages, and that is the Lord’s Day. And the Lord’s Day ought not be supplanted by either secular affairs or man-made customs. Such would be to disobey the Scriptural pattern of ordinary Christian worship.

Losing the Legacy of Orthodoxy

Losing the Legacy of Orthodoxy

In the face of rampant cultural and philosophical sophistry, Paul concludes his first letter to Timothy by writing, “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge—by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith.” (1 Tim. 6:20-21) The ESV calls it “the good deposit.” This “good deposit” is nothing less than the gospel itself, the apostolic doctrine of the New Testament, the full exposition of the types and shadows revealed in the Old. In 2 Timothy 1:13-14, Paul further clarifies what he means, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.”

Over the past three years, I’ve grown increasingly concerned that the movement against social justice has itself become a social justice movement covered in Christian bumper stickers. Liberal churches and organizations are typically marked by a forfeiture of the “good deposit” in favor of political and social change. And while the anti-social justice movement credits the gospel as being the wind behind its sails, it’s actually just arguing and pushing for nothing more than natural political and social goods. Whereas pagans or Christians can fight for these natural political and social goods, and have throughout history, we have to be careful to distinguish the gospel from positive upticks in political and social ethics. Otherwise, we lose the legacy of a distinctly Christian orthodoxy within which alone is found the gospel of man’s reconciliation to a holy God through the blood and righteousness of the incarnate Son.

Defining the Issue

A brief definition of my protest is this: The kingdom is not the presence nor expansion of natural goods. While the kingdom of grace perfects nature, the improvement of nature isn’t necessarily indicative of the presence of the kingdom of God. There is something about the kingdom of God that further distinguishes it from common goods. My concern can be found in the words of Joel Webbon, founder and host at Right Response Ministries and pastor to Covenant Bible Church in Georgetown, Texas. In a podcast titled, ‘Christian Stir-Fry | 3 Spheres, 2 Kingdoms, 1 King’, he says:

If we cure cancer right um if you know all these things are pushing back the kingdom of darkness, but it’s not just um because someone got saved. And so Joe Boot says like the church and the kingdom are not synonymous. There’s massive overlap, but they’re not a one-to-one ratio synonymous. The church only numerically grows one way: conversion. But the kingdom of God grows every time the good, the true, and the beautiful—those things which align with the law of God and the gospel of God—are furthered and pressed forward in any sphere of human society. And so nobody could get saved and (now I believe it would lend towards salvation), but initially, no one could actually get saved, so the church did not numerically grow, um but a good law was passed—the kingdom is advancing and the kingdom advancing in these other spheres in all of life, it lends towards um the advancement of the church.[1]

Webbon lists a few things that he believes indicate an expansion of the kingdom of God: (1) curing cancer, (2) when the good, true, and beautiful are furthered in any societal sphere, (3) the passing of a good law.

This concerns me, for the simple reason that none of these things require the preaching or the proliferation of the “good deposit” mentioned above. That’s the issue.

Responding to the Issue

All of the stuff Webbon cites as indications of the kingdom’s expansion happens or can conceivably happen in a society that’s never even heard the gospel before. So even if the gospel is credited with affecting these changes, these changes aren’t distinct to the gospel, and may occur without the gospel as well as with it. That is to say, if these things are gospel benefits, but can also occur apart from the gospel, it follows that these gospel benefits are available to the natural man as well as to the Christian. It’s a lurking universalism that arbitrarily excludes other gospel benefits such as justification, sanctification, and glory.

In fact, if Webbon’s words were consistently applied to world history, the Persian, Grecian, and Roman empires were break-throughs of the kingdom of God because, as Webbon says, “the kingdom of God grows every time the good, the true, and the beautiful… are furthered and pressed forward in any sphere of human society.” And those empires, in spite of their rampant paganism, had objectively just laws, objectively beautiful art, and objectively beautiful architecture, along with a healthy and objectively true understanding of the physical form of the human body.

In an earlier part of the podcast, Webbon speaks with Brian Sauve about two-kingdom theology. During the interchange, Sauve takes issue with the notion of the “common kingdom,” (as opposed to the redemptive kingdom) when he says:

The problem is that as soon as you take that common kingdom and say it’s not ruled by Scripture, and christians aren’t necessarily, therefore, going to have a leavening effect on any of it, you’ve actually just divorced the transformational effect of christianity from everything outside of the four walls of the church.

But the design of common/redemptive kingdom semantics is the preservation of the redemptive kingdom, and with it, the preservation of the gospel that alone produces it. Furthermore, two-kingdom adherents do not and have never claimed “christians aren’t necessarily, therefore, going to have a leavening effect on any of it…” The design of two-kingdom theology is to observe the distinction, not separation, between nature on the one hand and grace on the other. If nature is lifted by grace, that’s all well and good. But if grace is collapsed into nature, we’ve lost the gospel. And this collapse is what is at least implied by Webbon’s words above. Anything that happens in the natural world which is true, good, and beautiful is an effect of the gospel even if the gospel isn’t present.

The next logical step is to ask, “Why do we need the gospel unto salvation if its effects are produced by the passing of good laws and pretty pictures?” If the kingdom of God’s gospel may be expanded without anything occurring distinct to what Christ has purchased on the cross, then the kingdom of God, along with its gospel, has been made common. Hence the need to distinguish carefully between the common and redemptive kingdoms.

Natural & Supernatural Revelation

Joe Boot, in his book Mission of God, takes issue with the secular/sacred distinction, counting it a type of dualism that results in the removal of Christianity from society. And this is, no doubt, a concern for Webbon and Sauve as well. Christ’s universal Lordship is suggested as an alternative. Boot writes:

Because we have increasingly done what [Abraham] Kuyper decries, and separated life into two parts or storeys, the sacred and secular, personal and public, spiritual and immaterial, one part for ourselves and the other for God, the ‘toleration’ of sin in the ‘lower storey’ (an alleged sphere outside God’s direct moral authority for ourselves) has become a practical virtue.[2]

While I can agree with Boot that “secular” is not the best term given our modern vocabulary, it is a term used to some advantage throughout history. For example, the Second London Baptist Confession states that ministers of the gospel should be enabled to minister “without being themselves entangled in secular affairs…” (26.10) William Bates, an English Presbyterian minister in the 17th century, says, “Now when secular interest outweighs duty, when apparent danger induces to deny the truth of Christ; how terrible and unavoidable will be the punishment of that disloyalty?”[3] One wonders how the fear of danger drives the current reactionary impulse toward blending secular and sacred together, and whether Bates’ ominous observation is actually prophetic of our own day. Is the gospel being lost in this movement represented by Webbon and others? Are we losing the legacy of orthodoxy?

The term “secular” is not historically associated with licentiousness, as Boot thinks of the term. It was, rather, useful in distinguishing the ways, means, and circumstances in which God deals uniquely with His people from the ways, means, and circumstances by which He governs the natural world at large. There is a distinction between these two things. And if that distinction is blurred, then God’s unique dealings with His people, through the gospel, will be swallowed up by concerns over the natural world. As Bates puts it, the “secular interests outweigh” our actual duties as God’s blood-bought people.

However, the importance of this may be more readily seen if we distinguish along revelatory and theological lines. Natural revelation is the revelation of God and His will through the medium of the natural world and in the consciences of all men. (Rom. 1:18-20; 2:14) Supernatural revelation is that revelation of God and His will through the Scriptures. The Scriptures, while assuming and repeating much of what is found in nature, offers revelation of God and His will that reaches beyond what’s available through mere creation. Natural and supernatural theologies correspond to these two types of revelation, describing the kind of knowledge man has of God derived from the two natural and supernatural revelatory sources, respectively.

What is revealed through nature is God’s. What is revealed through Scripture is God’s. In other words, what is secular is God’s, and what is sacred is God’s. Still, in other words, what is “common kingdom” is God’s, and what is “redemptive kingdom” is God’s. See the correspondence? The distinction is not nature versus God. The distinction is nature and supernature representing two distinct modes of revelation, from which man knows God naturally and supernaturally, corresponding to two distinct, yet complimentary, ways in which God governs the world.

All things are God’s, “Now all things are of God.” (2 Cor. 5:18) But all things must be distinguished. Natural law and positive law are God’s—but they must be distinguished. Preambles and articles of the faith are God’s—but they must be distinguished. The world and all its goods common to all people and the kingdom of God both belong to God—but those two things must be distinguished. Civil improvement and the distinct effects of the gospel to establish God’s kingdom and thereby redeem man both belong to God—but they must be distinguished, lest we lose the latter within the former.

Conclusion

To be clear, I’m not accusing any of the men I mention above of heresy or believing a false gospel unto their own destruction. I think many of these men love Christ, and desire the proliferation of the true gospel throughout the world. However, I am concerned with the inevitable, and often inadvertent, progress of these types of things. If we’re looking for political and social improvement, that’s what we will work for. But working for political and social improvement doesn’t at all require gospel ministry, not the kind of improvement mentioned by Webbon, that is. And that’s a big part of my concern. We will begin to let the sword of the gospel drag on the ground as we hold high the prospect of civil goods. Civil goods believed to be indicative of “kingdom advancement.” And if civil goods are kingdom advancement, and kingdom advancement is the goal of Christian evangelism, then what need is there for the gospel at all?

Resources

[1]  I’ve slightly edited this quote for readability, but have changed as little as possible. The original can be heard by clicking this time-stamped link: https://youtu.be/24zjrzVAFvU?t=449

[2] Joe Boot, Mission of God, (London: Wilberforce Publications, 2016), 79.

[3] William Bates, The Whole Works of the Rev. William Bates, ed. W. Farmer, vol. 2 (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1990), 247–251.

Commending SCOTUS Overturning of Roe v. Wade

Commending SCOTUS Overturning of Roe v. Wade

Today, the Supreme Court handed down a 6-3 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. I can’t quite express my thankfulness to God for His common grace in what, just a couple of years ago, would have been considered a near impossibility. The shackles of federal sanction and regulation of infanticidal murder have been broken it seems. The decision-making process has been rescinded to the states. While work must continue at the more manageable state level, this victory at the federal level means something…

Christian Values Have Prevailed Over Pagan Ones

When Cortez and his men first arrived in what is now Mexico, the initial interactions with the natives were cordial. However, upon discovering the Aztecs were a cannibalistic society that regularly and ritualistically sacrificed their own kin, Cortez opted for a change in relational dynamics. Similar cultural-turned-military conflicts took place in North America as well. It wasn’t white colonists that first afflicted the natives. The pagans were eating themselves. Pagans always eat themselves. Such is the world without Christ. Our own society, as it has drifted further and further from Christian virtue, has proven this on several different occasions.

Not only have we, as a nation, murdered well over 60 million infants in the womb since the 1970s, but we’ve also largely neglected the elderly, have refused to accept obvious biological differences between male and female, and have mocked heterosexual marital relationships to scorn. But today, by the providence of our sovereign Lord, a decision has been made that has the potential to nudge the cultural trajectory in a more suitable and virtuous direction. This decision, for rather than against life, marks the application of what used to be normative Christian thinking in the West. There has never been an idyllic “Golden Age,” to be sure, but there used to be a time when killing the innocent was generally unthinkable in modern Western society. It is Christian society that creates a context wherein innocence and life are enshrined with the dignity of divine imagery (Gen. 1:27).

In a Christian society, it is recognized that people are not evolved organic biological machines formed over millions of years by happenstance. People are God’s image bearers, highest in the order of creation second only to angels. As such, they are inestimably valuable and purposeful creatures (Matt. 6:26; 10:31; 12:2; Lk. 12:7, 24). Considering the rejection of the nature of man as having come from the hand of Almighty God, it’s no wonder pagan societies eventually devour their own, finding little to no objective value in themselves or their societies. The Greeks and the Romans killed invalids, the Aztecs murdered men, women, and children as sacrifice to their deities, and the Western secularists have murdered millions of children. There is no other alternative. It’s either Christ or death.

Today, however, a dark cloud of doubt looms over the world’s sense of “progress.” There is a renewed civil hope that our great God may revive rational and ethical thought after all. And certainly, if this is the beginning of societal repentance, only blessings await.

May we continue to pray, preach, and fight for life.

Prudent Knowledge

Prudent Knowledge

The apostle Paul was an educator who deeply desired the intellectual growth of his brethren. A key reason for placing limits upon prophetic activity in the Corinthian church was, “that all may learn and all may be encouraged (1 Cor. 14:31).” He prayed for the Colossians church and disclosed his prayerful purpose in writing, “that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Col. 1:10).” Peter tells us that God’s “divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue (2 Pet. 1:3).” And it is to “virtue” that we are to add “knowledge (v. 5).” And this pays dividends in the form of growing in “the knowledge  of our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 8).” Peter goes so far as to command us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2. Pet. 3:18).”

Maturity in theological knowledge, i.e. “the knowledge of God (Col. 1:10),” is a central imperative and admonishment dictated to the church in general throughout the pages of Scripture. This isn’t a trademark of the New Testament only. Such a thematic emphasis finds its background in numerous calls to knowledge in the Old Testament as well. For example, the supplication of the psalmist, “Teach me good judgment and knowledge, For I believe Your commandments (Ps. 119:66).” And in Proverbs 1:22 it is not the faithful who hate knowledge, but fools, “How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, And fools hate knowledge.” Knowledge and the maturity therein is a pervasive concept in Scripture.

A Purposeful Ambiguity?

A quick read of the several “knowledge statements” found in both Old and New Testaments leaves one asking, “Okay, I know I should know. But, how much do I have to know?” Obviously, we would immediately want to include the essentials of the faith within the “things-we-must-know” category. But that’s not all we are called to know, and our first encounter with those precious doctrines is not to be our only encounter.

Such quantitative ambiguity appears to be intentional on God’s part. How much knowledge must we have beyond the essentials? The nebulous nature of this knowledge and the extent to which we are to know leaves room for a number of factors—from subjective aptitude levels to subjective levels of available information. Some people cannot learn the way others learn. First to fourth century Christians would have had severely limited access to a complete New Testament canon depending on their respective lifetimes and locations. Additionally, we live in a busy age, and most people are taken up with secular affairs and cannot afford to study like a seminary student, professor, or full-time pastor. Thus, Scripture doesn’t present us with a curriculum beyond the essentials of the faith which we are commanded to stringently teach and learn. Yet, we nevertheless know that the Christian is to yearn for more divine knowledge, and that such a love for God exists is clearly the spirit and goal behind the “learning imperatives.”

To Speak, or Not to Speak?

This raises an interesting question: Should we be content with the mere letter of the text of Scripture? In other words, isn’t it enough that we memorize Scripture, that is, the ink as it sits upon the page, rather than travel down deep theological holes? 

In light of the above biblical observations, the answer has to be, “no.” A man may memorize the entirety of Scripture, but that does not mean his learning has reached its end. The God Scripture reveals is infinitely glorious, and He has revealed Himself to us that we may know and unceasingly grow in knowing. Therefore, the text of Holy Writ boasts of fathomless depths which each and every Christian should desire to plumb. But this doesn’t mean every Christian must be equal in the extent to which they plumb. Jesus, in the parable of the talents, assumes God gives according to ability. Such language takes for granted not only differing abilities, but even various levels of the same ability, “And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey (Matt. 25:15).” And in Romans 12:6 Paul writes, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them…” And these gifts are given by God Himself, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven (Jn. 3:27).”

All Christians ought to press on to know God. Not all Christians will know God to the exact same degree. Some who know to a great degree will benefit others through the fruit of their intellectual labors. Others who do not know to a great degree may benefit from such fruits. Still, there are some who do not know to a great degree who desire to speak on things they do not yet understand to a sufficient degree. 

The first group is obeying God in seeking more knowledge. The second group is obeying God in seeking more knowledge. But the third group has a choice. It is not wrong to desire to teach that which is not yet understood by the would-be teacher. Teaching is a qualification for eldership after all, and the desire to be a teacher has to begin somewhere (1 Tim. 3:2). But those who speak publicly prior to first understanding the subject to be spoken of are disobeying God in speaking to things they do not yet understand. And this might result in a violation of the ninth commandment (Ex. 20:16), stumbling blocks in front of fellow saints (Mk. 9:42), slips into erroneous and dangerous doctrine, etc.

Therefore, while it is imperative we know God and grow in our knowledge of God, it is not imperative we all grow to the same degree. And it is especially not imperative we speak to doctrines we have not yet grown into. Quite the contrary. If we speak to that which we do not yet understand we may actually dishonor God, cause confusion among the saints, and fail to adorn the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Aquinas once wrote—

The existence of God and other like truths about God, which can be known by natural reason, are not articles of faith, but are preambles to the articles; for faith presupposes natural knowledge, even as grace presupposes nature, and perfection supposes something that can be perfected. Nevertheless, there is nothing to prevent a man, who cannot grasp a proof, accepting, as a matter of faith, something which in itself is capable of being scientifically known and demonstrated (Summa Theologiae, I, Q. 2, A. 2).

In other words, while some men, endowed by their Creator, may take pains to explore the contours of divinity revealed through nature, those unable to do so—for any of the limiting reason mentioned above—may instead accept the same truths otherwise deduced according to the light of nature by faith in the divine Word set forth in Holy Scripture. Thus, those things which might be known of God through both nature and Scripture may justifiably be known by one or the other, but not necessarily both.

It is fitting that man should know God through wherever he might learn of Him—either through nature or Scripture. And though this is expected of those whom God has called and endowed to perform it, it is not required of man generally. This same principle might be applicable even to knowledge derived from Scripture. Not everyone will go on to learn Hebrew, Aramaic, or New Testament Greek. Not everyone will write a biblical theology like those penned by the hands of John Owen, Geerhardus Vos, or Greg Beale. Why? Not only are some not intellectually incapable of doing so, but some are providentially hindered by other God-given responsibilities.

Let us, therefore, humbly go forth according to the grace God has given each of us.

Spurgeon on the Stiff & Stilted Pastor

Spurgeon on the Stiff & Stilted Pastor

Long has it been the expectation of social Christianity for clergy to maintain a sort of aloof and other-worldly demeanor among their congregations. It seems odd, think many, for the pastor to demonstrate some likeness or continuity between  himself and the members of the church the Lord has called him to serve. When he discloses his interests, hobbies, or shows others he, too, is indeed capable of “having fun,” the reaction is not necessarily one of recoil, but perplexity.

This somewhat amusing dynamic between a pastor and his people isn’t only cause for a chuckle, it should—I believe—be the object of some serious concern. Such an aloof attitude, while succeeding at a level of professionalism, can end in a sort of isolation or separation of the pastor from his flock. Such a disjointment often results in the pastor’s ignorance of the congregational pulse. “Where are they, doctrinally and practically? What are their needs? Who are they? How should I pray for them?” are all questions which may lack answers if such “professionalism” is allowed to form a wall between the under-shepherd and the sheep entrusted to him by Christ.

Asking Spurgeon for Help

The Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, saw the dangers of such an approach. In his Lectures to My Students, ch. 12, he writes on ‘The Minister’s Ordinary Conversation’. If our day has yielded its fair share of superficial, stereotypical ministers, Spurgeon’s day is no exception. He writes, “let [the minister] remember that the more simple and unaffected he is, the more closely will he resemble that child-man, the holy child Jesus.” Such a statement discloses to us Spurgeon’s heart on the matter. He goes on, “I have been irresistibly led to remember some of my dignified brethren of the teaching and preaching fraternity, who are so marvelously proper at all times that they are just a shade amusing. Their very respectable, stilted, dignified, important, self-restrained manner is easily acquired; but is it worth acquiring (Lectures, 166)?”

Spurgeon understood that, at the end of the day, such decorum may, in point of fact, serve as nothing but a façade. It is the fabricated wall placed between the sheep and their under-shepherd—all, of course, in the name of professionalism. Such a formalization of the ministerial office isn’t helpful, neither to the minister who is in need of knowing his people, nor to the laity who are in need of being known by their under-shepherd.

The Inhumanity of Stilted Ministers

The minister of the gospel should be relatable. The under-shepherd is but a fellow sojourner on this earth en route to the Celestial City. Nothing avails the pastor who would pretend this is not the case by abstracting himself from the rest of the flock. He must labor to see himself as a fellow parishioner. Spurgeon writes, “We must have humanity along with our divinity (Lectures, 167).”

The religious elite of Jesus’ day placed between themselves and the common-folk an insurmountable barrier. This is part of the reason Jesus’ relatability was quite the taboo in their eyes. “Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners (Lk. 5:30)?” they would ask. Jesus, relating their own sentiments, says, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners… (Lk. 7:34).’” Jesus was profoundly relatable. If anyone possessed the social credit to exalt themselves above others, it was Jesus Christ. Yet, in His ineffable humility, He is seen relating to the people throughout the gospels.

Unlike Jesus, gospel ministers have no social credit granting the warrant for self-exaltation, yet it is often the gospel-minister who sees himself as one above his fellow congregants; if he doesn’t really think this way, chances are he acts this way. For this reason, it is difficult for the laity to personify their spiritual leaders. And this is a problem. The person who ought to be the most relatable is often the most isolated, abstract, and unapproachable.

The Effeminacy of Stilted Ministers

There are several things in this chapter worthy of serious consideration. Spurgeon is not deriding any and all professionalism for those who hold the pastoral office. Quite to the contrary, he is arguing for a genuine relatability which nevertheless maintains a self-conscious awareness of how special and important the ministerial office is. This does not, however, require inaccessible formalism. For Spurgeon, such attempted transcendence on the part of the pastor is emasculating. In a whirlwind of wit made of one part hilarity and another incisiveness, he writes:

A well-known minister was once rebuked by a sublime brother for his indulgence in a certain luxury, and the expense was made a great argument. “Well, well,” he replied, “there may be something in that; but remember, I do not spend half so much upon my weakness as you do in starch.” That is the article I am deprecating, that dreadful ministerial starch. If you have indulged in it, I would earnestly advise you to “go and wash in Jordan seven times,” and get it out of you, every particle of it. I am persuaded that one reason why our working-men so universally keep clear of ministers is because they abhor their artificial and unmanly ways.

The pseudo-fundamentalism of the 50s and 60s bred an oversimplified understanding of Christian theology, in the name of practicality, while at the same time encouraging a lucidly impractical division between minister and laity. For this reason, no matter what he said from the pulpit, the pastor failed to engender a truly practical disposition toward his people. He was and often is seen as a school-boy who can’t relate to wrench-turners, horse-boarders, or factory workers. The pastor’s hands are soft, and his inaccessible formality rightly represents his aloof ignorance of a genuine, practical masculinity. The pastor may be able to diagram a Bible verse in Greek, but the laity knows he hires someone to mow his lawn.

This is perhaps more true today than it was in Spurgeon’s. During my time in college, I was astounded at the number of seminary students who were attending credit courses on their wives’ hard-earned dime! Such a strategy sets the gospel-minister up for failure. The time will come when he is called to a church only to find himself in the midst of a bunch of men who would never think of doing such a thing.

Conclusion

There are two extremes to which pastors most often swing. Either they are overly self-deprecating (and this actually bleeds into a depreciation of the pastoral office); or they are hyper formalized. Neither of these extremes are good. The man of God must be guided by the Word of God, and his attitude and disposition, public and private, must be soaked in prayer. A hyper-formalized minister does nothing but regurgitate what he wanted to study throughout the week. Often, he has no idea whether or not it was what his congregation truly needed. And this is because he has placed a wall between himself on the one side and them on the other.

We need gospel men to inherit pulpits, who are concerned not with formality so much as they are concerned with bringing the whole Christ to their congregations every Lord’s Day.

The Magical Jab & the Unfalsifiable Premise

The Magical Jab & the Unfalsifiable Premise

This will not be a terribly long post. I have sermon preparation to do. Nevertheless, as I parsed the river of thought running through my mind, it occurred to me that I probably need to throw out into the public a response I’ve been making in my head to a mainstream argument coming from the immuno-vangelistic propaganda. This argument is typically used by those experiencing breakthrough cases of COVID 19, and it goes something like this, “I’m sick, but it would have been way worse if I hadn’t been jabbed!”

The general population, vastly under-equipped to spot logical incoherence in any given statement, let alone carefully crafted propaganda, will likely miss the terrible line of reasoning in the above example. What is wrong with it? It proffers an unfalsifiable premise. There is no reason to believe the statement is true because there is simply no way to verify its truth. They could just as easily say, “Good thing I took the jab. If I didn’t COVID may have turned me into a zebra!” Even though we might intuit the absurdity of that statement, there is no formal way to investigate whether or not its true. It would be like claiming the USA has a secret space base on the other side of the moon. The person making that statement has a right to his opinion, but there is no way his skeptical friend could prove it false. The moon is tidally locked to the earth after all.

Just because a person makes a claim, it does not mean said claim is true. At the end of the day, it must be verified by others if indeed those others are expected to take it seriously. My wife and I had COVID 19 some months ago. We were not vaccinated. And many of the breakthrough instances occurring in vaccinated persons appear to come with the exact same duration and intensity of COVID 19 symptoms. By making the claim breakthrough COVID patients are better off with the vaccine because their symptoms are more palatable is to make a claim beyond the scope of proper verification, and thus does nothing formally to boost the reputation of the mRNA shot.