We give thanks to the God of heaven because his covenant faithfulness is immutable and endless.
The songs sung in most evangelical congregations today are upbeat, uplifting, and therapeutic. Psalm 137 is a brutally honest song. It is a sad song. It is a compelling song to be sung in hope.
But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” Is the church living in an Acts 5:29 moment?
Whenever there is a dreadful, large-scale event (e.g., a terrorist attack or the outbreak of disease), someone is sure to announce that this is God’s judgment on the world for our sins. Is it?
We are Christians. We are a purchased people. Covid-19 is not The Black Plague—which some survived. We know that this world is not random. The Savior who purchased us by his obedience and death will not abandon us.
Another pastor was recently removed from ministry. It has happened before and, sadly, it will happen again. As I write, a series of cases are running through my mind, but one of the themes that unites them is that ministers put themselves in jeopardy by making foolish choices. Before I make my case let us consider some of the criticisms of the Graham Rule, which says that men should not be alone with women who are not their wives.
Against the Pietist and Fundamentalists we must continually reassert Christian liberty. Against the libertine, however, who will be governed by no law, not even love, we must assert limits. Love limits us. Grace frees us from the arbitrary rules of the Scribes and Pharisees, but divinely revealed laws and wisdom and discretion and love limit us.
Outside the church (i.e., outside the visible, organized Christ-confessing covenant community, where the gospel is preached purely, the sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are administered purely, and where church discipline is used), the church often looks very different than it does to members. Those outside the church quite often assume that only those who have achieved a state of perfection are welcome in church. Let’s put that to rest immediately: the church most assuredly is not for the perfect. Were that the case, the church would be entirely empty as there are no perfected Christians this side of heaven. The only congregation of perfect people is what Reformed theologians call “the church triumphant” (i.e., that gathering of glorified believers in heaven). We get a picture of that congregation in the Revelation (e.g., chapter 4). The church as it exists in this world, in this life (called the “church militant”) is full of nothing but sinners, who manifest the effects of sin in every conceivable way. It has been that way from the moment sin …
This is a really important consideration for our friends from the broader evangelical world as they come into contact with confessional Presbyterian and Reformed (P&R) worship. There is a high likelihood that those emerging from the broad evangelical traditions are addicted to a regular, even programmed release of dopamine and/or norepinephrine. It is not your fault. You are part of a tradition that dates to the mid-19th century. That tradition (represented and perfected by Charles Finney) discovered ways of manipulating people in public worship in order to move them from point A (the pew) to point B (the anxious bench).
If you are a Millennial, relax. This is not another critique. I do spend a fair bit of time with Millennials, however, and I have observed some interesting trends. One of these observations was reinforced recently in an article by Thomas Curran and Andrew P. Hill, “How Perfectionism Became a Hidden Epidemic Among Young People.” They define perfectionism thus: Broadly speaking, perfectionism is an irrational desire for flawlessness, combined with harsh self-criticism. But on a deeper level, what sets a perfectionist apart from someone who is simply diligent or hard-working is a single-minded need to correct their own imperfections. They explain, “perfectionists need to be told that they have achieved the best possible outcomes…”. As a teacher I have noticed this. To be sure, this tendency is not unique to Millennials. However, according to the authors it does occur more frequently among Millennials. “[L]evels of perfectionism have risen significantly among young people since 1989.” Their explanation of the cause strikes me as strained—they blame it on the “neoliberalism” of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Brian …