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In a couple weeks our church celebrates six years of existence. During this time we've experienced the high's and low's of planting a new ministry. To celebrate, here are some lessons learned along the way. 

August 24, 2016 3 0 comments
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I recently came across an article that spoke of fears that there was an oversupply of pastors. While those fears sound contemporary, the article was written sixty years ago. What can we learn from this? 

August 11, 2016 0 0 comments
Q&A

Does anyone have access to appropriate sermons on DVD which could be used in an emergency if the pastor or guest pastor is suddenly unavailable?

July 26, 2016 0 2 comments
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Preparing a sermon can be like writing a ten-page term paper once a week and then having to present it to people. Not just that, but it has to make sense, be applicable, and capitalize on different learning styles. 

July 19, 2016 0 1 comments
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Today can be a testament to achievement but may today also be a reminder of how you are instruments of His grace. Be joyful in hope, be patient in affliction and be faithful in prayer.     

June 6, 2016 2 0 comments
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In a friendship, there should be an equal power dynamic. But for pastors, that’s usually not the case. People sink a lot of emotional investment in their pastor, and sometimes that creates gray areas.

June 1, 2016 2 2 comments
Resource, Article

I know from experience how difficult it is to prepare and deliver those kinds of sermons.  I’d suggest three approaches for preachers and their support communities to strengthen such intergenerational preaching.

May 20, 2016 2 0 comments
Blog

When someone doesn’t show up in worship for a month, we know we shouldn’t take it personally. But we do. When we’re healthy, we realize it isn’t about us. But who is healthy all the time? 

May 12, 2016 5 1 comments
Q&A

 Does anyone have a meaningful and simple "affirming baptism" liturgy that one can use for an adult who wishes to public acknowledge and affirm their infant baptism?

May 10, 2016 1 1 comments
Resource, Article

Anyone living in our culture today is vulnerable to addiction — including pastors. However, because of their position as spiritual leaders, pastors can have a hard time reaching out for help. 

May 4, 2016 1 0 comments
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For 29 years, Professor Arie Leder has stimulated and challenged the hearts and minds of students at Calvin Seminary. See how he summarized his teaching experience in just forty minutes. 

May 3, 2016 0 0 comments
Blog

Are you satisfied with what God has given you today? Depending on your day, your employment status, your family situation or your tax refund, this may seem like a loaded question. 

April 28, 2016 1 0 comments
Discussion Topic

Is there a sermon that completely opened your eyes to see things in a new way? Or, is there a sermon that spoke deeply into a struggle you've faced most of your life? I'd love to hear about it!

April 27, 2016 1 0 comments
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In the Reformed tradition we have the marks of the true church which include preaching and teaching of the Word of God, the sacraments and church discipline or the pastoral care of wandering sheep (Belgic Confess# 29).  The Reformers stated that when these marks were evident in a church then by...

April 26, 2016 0 0 comments
Blog

Time after time, we hear of a pastor leaving his church to plant another congregation in the same neighborhood, causing divisions. Is it time for pastors to sign a non-compete agreement?

April 7, 2016 0 13 comments
Blog

At a recent symposium, “Speaking Truth in Love: A Forum on Human Sexuality”, convened by the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC), one of the speakers, Karla Wubbenhorst surmised that at the root of some of the current debates that are occurring within that denomination, willfulness might be at...

April 5, 2016 0 0 comments
Blog

We've just come through the Lenten journey – days in the wilderness, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and finally Easter – we may think we have “arrived,” but we have not.

March 31, 2016 1 0 comments
Blog

Talk to anyone from the world of seminary admissions/recruitment today and you will hear the same story: enrollment numbers for seminaries are down across the board.

March 17, 2016 2 3 comments
Blog

"Do not judge, in order that you are not judged." Scott Clark examines Matthew 7:1 as it is the "go to" verse for many people, Christians and non-Christians alike.

March 11, 2016 0 0 comments
Blog

God gave clear instructions to the nation of Israel and its leaders (prophets, priests and kings) to care for the poor.

February 29, 2016 0 4 comments
Blog

This welcome statement challenges me to reconsider whether there are people I’ve labeled as beyond God’s reach and therefore not truly welcome to worship...

February 29, 2016 1 1 comments
Resource, Article

What does it look like for a seminary to be welcoming and inclusive for people with disabilities? In what ways can we equip pastors, theologians, missionaries and psychologists to be more sensitive to the issues surrounding disabilities? 

February 29, 2016 1 0 comments
Resource, Book or Booklet

Vern Poythress, professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Seminary recently published his book The Miracles of Jesus: How the Savior's Mighty Acts Serve as Signs of Redemption.

February 27, 2016 0 0 comments
Resource, Workshop or Training

How do you disciple a new believer? Jesus recognized that the people He encountered were at different stages of growth and development, and He worked to challenge each of them to the next level. 

February 23, 2016 0 0 comments
Discussion Topic

Imagine that a Classis meeting would make a recommendation to two churches to approach a certain popular speaker and well-published author privately about an issue that they had raised in their credentials, as they had not applied the procedure of Matthew 18: 15-17. Imagine that the Classis...

February 22, 2016 0 0 comments

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Exactly! Logically, we don't evangelize so that people can be saved (can become regenerate) but to welcome the regenerate into the many benefits of the Church in this world. For years I heard sermons about my neighbors all going to Hell if I didn't pester them about "inviting Jesus into their hearts." One preacher said that we (I) would have to push our neighbors over the edge into Hell if I neglected to "evangelize" them.

I am already to discuss the matter if the topic arises but I hate to pester people. If they come to my door . . . .

The purpose of evangelism in Reformed theology is the same as the reason in other branches of Protestantism -- 1) to be obedient to the Great Commission, and 2) because God has set it up so that the preaching/teaching/sharing/what-have-you of the word precedes regeneration.  See Rom. 10:14-15.  Also see Canons of Dort, "First main point", Article 3: "In order that people may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends messengers of this very joyful message to the people and at the time he wills. By this ministry people are called to repentance and faith...".  Even if one limits this to those who were not baptized as infants, it is still a massive call: go, make disciples, and baptize.  We must be looking everywhere, including outside our church walls, to find the elect, since God hasn't told us who they are.

Hello Jerry - Calvin Seminary's Center for Excellence in Preaching also has some sermons available in audio format. You can find them here.

We routinely create DVDs of sermons at Faith Christian Fellowship, a CRC church in Walnut Creek, CA. We use them to give to people who weren't able to make it to church. They are also on our web site at http://faithfellowship.com/media so that you could see in advance what might fit best. My guess is that many other churches do the same - in fact the CRC could maintain an amazing library of sermons this way!

I too am a preacher of sorts. But my sermons are made of pictures, pauses, and ponderings, rather than words alone. My congregation includes babes and children, Christian sages and curious non-believers. Today's preachers should move away from the endless speeches (made for auditory learners), and bring their congregations into the process of worship. We can and should be learning and exploring together, and from each other. Thank you for making a passing reference to learning styles.

Hi, i need the script of this video 

is there any one to help me?

many thanks

blessing!

Doug -- Three questions:

(1) Why not extend your commentary to include the next two verses, Romans 13:5-7 ?

(2)  Given the vast differences between the cultural context in the First Century and our own, and even more so our cultural context and that of the Old Testament, are we not running the risk of false equivalencies on a large scale ?

(3)  How does the key concept of SHALOM figure in the discussion ?

 

Thanks Jasmine.  I remember one of my seminary professors telling us, “beware of who greets you at the train station.”  In other words beware of those who want to befriend you because they often have an agenda.  They might be the nicest people and the kind of persons that you would want to befriend, but they have a history with the church that you don’t have.  They see the needs of the church differently than you might see them.  So when you aren’t altogether onboard with their agenda, there can be a falling away and hurt feelings.  And, as people can be people, you as the pastor can be painted as unsympathetic or worse.  Another possibility in the pastor/member relationship is that you, as pastor, are expected to hold confidences but it doesn’t always work that way when the tables are turned.  It’s often a feather in the cap of a member to be able to say, the pastor told me such and such, or to say, the pastor did/does this or that.  Choose your friends carefully because you don’t always know who you can trust, and you will be in your position as pastor for a long time.

posted in: Pastor as Friend?

This is a very, very important article - thanks for posting it. The power differential between a pastor and a parishioner must always be taken into consideration in any ministry relationship. And it is ALWAYS the responsibility of the pastor to maintain healthy boundaries in ministry relationships. Therefore, when sexual misconduct occurs, it is not an "affair". An affair implies a relationship of equality and mutuality - that does not accurately describe the relationship between pastor and parishioner. A pastor and parishioner are not on equal footing. When sexual misconduct occurs in this relationship, it is an abuse of power and abuse of the office. Referring to this as an "affair" causes additional harm to the one whose been victimized by it. 

Healthy ministry boundaries are complex and it's important to spend some time carefully considering them. It's not a matter of a creating a list of do this and don't do that. Rather it's considering how a relationship is perceived and paying attention to the power differential involved. Healthy boundaries create a container for good ministry. Many denominations require ongoing boundary or ethics training for clergy and ordained leaders. Ministry leaders, and especially ordained ministers, must remain cognizant of the great power inherent in their position, and the sacred trust that they hold. Seeking additional training in this area is a very wise move.

This webinar provides a quick introduction to some of the topics to consider in maintaining healthy ministry boundaries, 

posted in: Pastor as Friend?

I appreciate the relief you found in the parable, but the "long leash" and go-to-church-to-show pastors-you-appreciate-them is both very bad advice. 

Scripture says much about membership to a body...not a person...

posted in: Perfect Attendance

There is a liturgy that is found in both Sing! A New Creation (#240), and Lift Up Your Hearts (#848) that you can use as is or adapt for your context.  I cannot find it online but if you don't have a copy of either hymnal send an email to worship@crcna.org and we will see how we can help get you a copy of the litany. 

....or the visitors could listen to the pain felt by all parties involved, and encourage dialogue and mutual understanding,  which may, in the end, bear witness to the hope that is within us,  that reconciliation is possible, and love wins...

You are right on.  I just learned of a situation where a pastor spent six months working behind the back of the leadership on his departure. I concur that mentoring and visitation could help. Perhaps those practices could speak to the deceit and duplicity in the heart of those who sow dissension and divide the church. 

It is not likely that the departing pastor woke up one day, and said to himself: "I think I'll start a new church down the street". If we want to be proactive about this problem, perhaps we have to look into new ways to mentor pastors, or recapture the intent behind an old concept: classical church visitation. Creating safe spaces for people to talk together may help prevent the sort of divorces of which you speak.

"In God We Trust." "Money" is the god of the USA. 

I like the idea in many ways.  Ecclesiastical piracy is a problem in the United States (Canada too?).  However, I suppose that every pastor that splits a congregation in order to plant a "better" church will say "I'm just like Martin Luther!  Those curmudgeons and lagards in the old church were harming the gospel by insisting on their own way and threw me and others out!  Etc."  I can't imagine one saying "Well, the truth is, I'm an egomaniac and I can't stand dissent and I really, really, wanted to see a church bring the gospel the right way--MY WAY".  Can we discern the Martin Luthers from the Jim Jones'?  Maybe, but even if we could, what are our options?  I like your suggestion at the end, about prayer.  I would ad "warning" as well.  Even if we can't judge the pastors present in every church split, one day the Chief Shepherd will judge.  And woe to any of us pastors who have been "shepherding" out of our own needs and desires rather than those of Christ!  

Another thing we can do is with the help of the Candidacy Committee encourage the righteousness of candidates for ministry (and screen out those who how obvious tendencies to break up and dominate groups) and we could possibly help search committees develop some criteria to avoid calling "that kind of pastor".  

Thankfully, Christ still governs His church and those who lead from unholy motives will only get so far!  Thanks for the article!

But trying to find a way to address a significant problem in the American Protestant Church.  How do we encourage pastors to be faithful to their promises and committed to unity?  Perhaps one way is to talk about it.  Hence, my post.

But trying to find a way to address a significant problem in the American Protestant Church.  How do we encourage pastors to be faithfil to their promises and committed to unity?  Perhaps one way is to talk about it.  Hence, my post.

Tongue in cheak, for sure.  

THanks for feedback, Tim.  I can see where my use of the non-compete clause led you to conclude that I was addressing competition between churches. Sorry about that.  My point, however, was not about competition and, therefore, I agree with your statement. We all need to keep our eye on the priize and seek first the kingdom.

My concern is with pastors who break their vows/promises and, in the process, divide congregations. (It is hard for me to see God at work in such behavior.) Plus, as you know, the unfortunate fruit of such actions is often divisions which, as Jesus warned, hinder, rather than advance the witness of Christ to the communities they seek to reach. 

Assuming this is not a joke, no we should not have pastors sign non-compete agreements.  This from a lawyer.

If we did, I doubt the courts of many (any) states would enforce them anyway, non-competes being disfavored by courts even in the business context.

Really?  Fear of competition is going to restrict what God may be doing?  Isn't there one God that we're working for?  Isn't there really only one church?  Let's get past ourselves and look to what God is about.  We are becoming more and more worldly in our approaches.  Let's seek first the kingdom.  If a church cannot remain viable because a neighbouring church is opening, then we have to wonder about the viability of the original church to begin with...

Good conclusion.

Perhaps we just need to imnclude it in the oath of office for ordination and installation?

Thanks Randy. Last year I had to pull out a copy of the Letter of Call to remind them of their obligation. Some were stunned to see that in writing. It did change the previous decision and a raise was given. We need to keep everyone enlightened about their responsibilities. We take it for granted that everyone understands, but with changing council members it has to be brought to their attention. I am thankful for their understanding when they received the information.

Good to have this conversation.  I have found that you have to be assertive because committees don't always think logically when it comes to the compensation survey.  The survey is from LAST year's salaries and is meant for determining next year's salary.  It's not meant to BE next year's salary, but the finance committee in my church doesn't seem to understand that.  Because they have always used last year's numbers for the present year, I'm a year behind.  If all finance committee's did what mine does, our pastor's salaries would always remain the same.  The other issue is that our Classis had an influx of young new pastor's and the average dropped significantly for last year.  In my two years in my present charge I've actually been presented with a decrease both years.  Go figure!

Good thoughts -- and necessary re-evaluation of how we prepare future pastors. One thing not addressed is the power of positive models. We could talk about how to produce a great violin concerto for weeks, but one has to hear it to know what the goal is. If students never hear and observe a good sermon they may be frustrated in trying to produce one from a formula. One very effective and Reformed narrative sermon crafter (who also exegetes our culture well) is Alistair Begg in Cleveland, OH (daily podcast and sermon archive at truthforlife.com). I'm sure there are a few others who could serve as such models. If students were asked to listen to such models and evaluate what makes them effective I suspect they would learn more then they could acquire from many books and lectures.

Great observations/article Scott. I'm now working with Ambrose Seminary (on a course on two-book preaching). They're asking all of the same questions you ask here. I'll be passing this article on to them. If CTS is ever interested...  ; )

Scott, thanks much.  And I believe your last comment is right on, as well as this one: "Yet too many seminaries spend far more time making sure that the theology of future preachers is solid than they do helping them communicate all that in vibrant, relevant ways." I look forward to how the Lilly initiative to strengthen preaching impacts CTS.  Keep up the good work.

 I work part-time for World Renew.  My recollection is that the majority world lives off of $2 a day.  That is what is used to define extreme poverty, my understanding of World Renew's definition.

I think people who have to live off $2 a day or less need help.  Where should that help come?  It should come from their family, church, non-government  agencies and yes the government too.  That is the point of the law, the prophets and the New Testament when it speaks on social implications of the Word of God.

The government is a divinely appointed agency to do good. Romans 13, Matthew 25, Psalm 72.  The ruler is a channel of God's authority.

Larry: So exactly what to you mean when you say "take care of the poor?"  My response clearly indicated that government had an obligation to provide a "safety net" but I'm not sure -- and said so in my comment to your post -- that qualifies as "providing for the poor," as you understand that phrase.

So let's clarify what we might be agreeing or disagreeing about.  What do you mean when you say that "government should take care of the poor?"

Hi Doug,

#1.  I did not draw a straight line from the theocracy to modern governments.  I only drew a line from the theocracy on the principle that the nation of Israel had to provide for the poor.  The prophets understood the scriptures that way or they could not have said that Israel would go into captivity for their idolatry and neglect of the poor.  This principle of accountability and responsibility is carried over into the New Testament.  What part of care for the poor or provide for the poor do you not understand?  We should not permit our modern differentiations of government responsibilities from excluding the governments responsibility for the poor.

 I do not agree with your statement that he year of jubilee had anything to do with caring for the poor.  It was a major redistribution of ownership of land to the way it was in the time prior to the 49 years.  That is, in my opinion, major caring for the poor which was commanded by God and legislated through Moses.  It stands not as law that needs to be replicated but as a principle to be honored.  I think your understanding of Jubilee is not held by Calvin, Berkhof, or any other Reformed theologian.

Besides the year of Jubilee which took effect in the 50th year and staid in effect until the next 50th year, there is the legislation of leaving the corners of the field for the poor, still observed until the time of Ruth we know, the Sabbatical year, the third year tithe which as to go to the poor, (Deuteronomy 14:28-29), zero interest loans (Deut. 15:1-11).  The principle of caring for the poor was deeply imbedded in the life of Israel.

Taking your items, Larry, in numbered ordered:

#1.  I'm really hesitant to draw a straight line between God's mandates to Israel and modern mandates for government.  OT Israel was, as Jim Skillen would say, an "undifferentiated society" where institutions of government, church, even family to an extent, were merged (or, "undifferentiated").  Beyond that, Israel was a special nation, uniquely ruled by theocracy, even to a large extent after Saul became the first monarch.  If one draws too much from OT Israel to inform modern government, one must adopt some of the OT Israel laws that, even though not pointing to Christ, did apply to the nation/church/family of Israel.  Reconstructionist (theonomists) draw too much from the pattern of OT Israel government, I think, as do the social justice folks but on the "opposite side."

As to the Year of Jubilee, I don't so much regard that as a "taking care of the poor" measure as it is a "keeping macro balance" within society at large measure (somewhat like an estate tax imposed at death?).  After all, Jews were allowed to sell themselves into servanthood, to lose their land and all their possessions and become what was a form of a slave.  The Year of Jubilee didn't nothing for them, except every 49th year.  Were the Year of Jubilee about "taking care of the poor," it would be "active" during the 48 years as well, but it's not.

#2.  Jesus certainly said "give to Ceasar that which is Ceasar's" but I can't find any suggestion that government under Ceasar provided for the poor.  Ceasar didn't do that.  And although scripture suggests nations will have to account for how they treated the poor, that doesn't mean that government is responsible to take care of the poor.  A "nation" includes the people of a nation, not merely the government, which plays one of many roles within a particular political society, which again these days is "differentiated."

#3.  I would suggest your statement in #3 does little more than beg the question.  What, after all, does it mean to "take care of the poor"?  That could mean a thousand different things in a thousand differing degrees.  Having said that, I'll come back to a suggestion that I've made before in response to one of these posts: the fact that government is clearly given the power of the sword, which clearly means the power over life and death, I think we can fairly extrapolate that government has the affirmative authority/duty to provide a modern day "safety net" (even if Ceasar didn't) since without it, people die.  Does that degree of "providing for the poor" match your intention when you write "providing for the poor"?  I don't know because I'm not sure what your definition is for the phrase.

Thanks for creating the discussion, Larry.  These are important issues for Christians to grapple with, and not at all simple.

 

 

Maybe I've missed something along the way, but I see absolutely no conflict whatsoever in any way with being "welcoming but not affirming." We – personally and corporately – *have to be* if we wish to get up in the morning and look ourselves in the mirror, much less evangelize or serve our neighbors. 

Have we assumed differently? Has our biblical opposition to sin really given us the idea that really bad sinners (i.e. people who sin differently than me) really are beyond repentance? I pray that's not what we think – and I pray that’s not what people outside the Church think. After all, the God who said, “Go and sin no more.” said it after invading our sinful world and stepping into our flesh. Paul doesn’t “become all things to all men” so he can reject them out-of-hand. When Paul wrote “and such were some of you,” he testified that the gospel reaches into all sorts of people’s lives and gives them new life and repentance.

posted in: A Gracious Welcome

I would clarify that some of the questionable actions of the CRC's Office of Social Justice i.e. sanctioning President Obama's Agricultural bill over the Republican alternative as well as the actions of conservative groups like the Christian Coalition (I once sat in a church that had a bulletin insert comparing candidates based on their support for an anti-flag burning amendment to the U.S. Constitution!) are what I had in mind reading Scott Hoezee's article. I have a hard time seeing that the biggest problem for the CRC or the broader church in North America today is a reluctance of clergy to speak on political matters.

I do qualify this by saying there are, obviously texts and issues that demand attention. I have no problem with a pastor lamenting the destruction of human life by abortion, for example. I strongly disagree with churches that engaged in a campaign called "Justice Sunday" some years back to rally support for then President GW Bush's judicial nominees. 

I have no problem breaking bread with professing believers who disagree on public policy. I also concur pastors must sometimes address difficult topics. I only hasten to add it needs to be done with humility and reasonable restraint if we are going to move forward as a denomination. That is well there may very well be instances where pastors are too reluctant to take on topics, there are other times when, imo, there has been a lack of maturity and discernment which results in "push back". 

Peter: I'm a bit surprised at your response here.  You say we need "Places where it is safe to name, discuss, agree, and disagree on critical issues that God and we deeply care about."  You are the director of OSJ, which involves itself in just these sorts of subjects, and yet all of OSJ's "online publications," like DoJustice, are intentionally one-way, that is, you disable the comment functions.  The discussion and disagreement you here say is so important is missing when OSJ communicates.

Yes, you and I have had this discussion (about OSJ's one-way communications) by email before and you've concluded we just disagree, which was true, but now you seem to be saying discussion, including about disagreement, is needed after all.

Understand I'm on your side on this comment, but it appears to me you aren't on your own side when it comes to presenting your/OSJ's perspective on these kinds of issues -- then/there you reject discussion.  Help me out here in understanding what I perceive to be a disconnect.

I'll repeat the argument made above.  Government is given, as Scripture indicates (Rom 13:4, but also the clear tradition of the OT), the power of the sword, which can fairly be interpreted to mean the authority in society over whether someone lives or dies.  That being the case, it would follow that if poverty existed in a particular nation that is life-threatening, government, the holder of the power over life and death, should exercise that power in a way that prevents that death -- that is, death from poverty, which could result specifically from of lack of food, lack of clothing, lack of housing, lack of health care, etc.

 

Doug much of what you say is good common sense and some a laundry list of what governments may do in the interest of the common good.  Butt here is not a single reference to a Bible passage in your article so I dispute the assertion that you were showing that Government is responsible to take care of the poor.  What scripture are you referring to?

Thanks for this Scott: A comment on revival: If we want to see revival in the CRC, make our church communities places where we can work out a living faith in the world; Places where it is safe to name, discuss, agree, and disagree on critical issues that God and we deeply care about. There are few practical issues of applying a living faith to our lives that do not involve our moral and political choices. If we cannot deal with that within a supportive community of faith, where can we?

Well, your lead post says, "It was pointed out that nowhere in scripture can you find support for the idea of government being obligated to care for the poor."  I was merely pointing out that there IS scripture that "support[s] the idea of government being obligated to care for the poor."

Don't interpret what I say as suggesting government should try to keep people close to death, but rather that it is simply not the justice obligation of government to provide it citizenry a very comfortable living. 

Let's look at it this way.  Have you ever been motivated to really put in some extra effort because if you didn't, you and your family might be headed for some real financial trouble?  That if you didn't really put out, your business would fail, or you wouldn't be able to send a child to a college of choice, or you couldn't afford your spouse's elective surgery that would be really nice, or you wouldn't be able to afford piano lessons for your child (etc etc etc etc)?  If government's justice obligation is to give you a comfortable living, or if your justice right is to demand that government make you comfortable, what will you be tempted to do?  Answer: not worry, not put in the extra effort.  For that matter, why would you put in all that work to get the education you need to get to that next step?  Live is guaranteed comfortable, not?

Sure, some people are self-motivated to the point that they will do what they should do (use and develop their gifts) regardless of external incentives/disincentives, regardless of a government guarantee of a comfortable living, but if you and I or anyone was asked, we must admit that many people do require the incentive of sheer WANT to the point of NEED to get them motivated to do what they should do to live more fully.  Indeed, many people would be deprived of that incentive if they knew government would offer them a comfortable life if they did nothing.

Beyond that, consider that government is not the only societal institution that can and does provide truly needed help.  My goodness, if we live or die based on government, what kind of society have we actually become?

Do you really think that Romans 13:4, "For he is God's servant to do you good," intends to suggest that government will provide materially for you?  Consider the context.  The Roman government provided economically for no one (except the political elite of course).  If a subject was blind, he/she needed to beg.  Doing good, in an NT biblical  context, means maintain "law and order," I would suggest.  That is, restrain thieves and murderers and others with the power to harm you.  And that was a big deal -- and still is -- "... that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness."

I'm not sure how old you are, but I'm 61.  When I was young, only women and children were eligible for any kind of welfare benefits.  If males "needed help," except if they were disabled in some way (in which case medicaid type of benefits could kick in), then males needed to figure out how to help themselves, get help from parents, get help from friends, or something else.  Did those maies die back in the 1960s when that was the case?  Nope.  Did NEED motivate them to do something?  Yep.  In fact, I would say adults today who grew up as children in households that were very financially challenged when they were young, who grew up as children having to work 20, 30, 40 or more hours a week, are now blessed as adults.  Why?  Because they know how to handle that stress, how to work even when it isn't fun or even pleasant, how to get themselves to do what it takes to "prosper" (in a good way), and how to take care or their families -- and then also their neighbors.  And sometimes, they also learned what the true meaning of friendship is, of local community, of a church that is true family.

Do we really want Caesar to guarantee a comfortable life to all who need the nudge of economic motivation?  I don't think so.  And if the government does provide a true safety net, a subsistence that is uncomfortable, and someone really should have more than that, there still is family, friends, community, church.  Indeed, I think too many people never become a part of community and church because they perceive they don't need to.  If all else fails, the government will take care of them after all.

"With liberty and justice for all" says nothing about government owing anyone a comfortable life.  That idea would be considered absurd to the founding fathers, probably to all early church Christians and Jews living then as well.  Liberty means the right to live without an oppressive government or other force, and justice roughly the same.  Neither suggests a right to not struggle to provide for yourself.

Thanks for the exchange.  I think this is a critically important area of concern for us today.

 

Thanks Doug for your thoughtful response much of which I appreciate and agree with.  You did bring a question to mind about two things.

1.  "This justice obligation is not to provide a comfortable life but rather the minimal means by which the poor will, essentially, avoid dying."  Avoiding dying is truly a minimalist point.  Is such a serious limitation truly necessary in your understanding of the role of government.  I could understand other limiting measures such as not to exceed the cost of living for a family of four. Or not to exceed the poverty line.  Buy only to prevent death seems unusually harsh and frankly something I have never ever heard before.  I think even Ronald Regan would object to this limitation. I personally would/could never vote for someone running for office with such a view of government.  I expect more of a government which writes into its constitution " to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and posterity." "To promote the general welfare of the United states".

I also think of the words in our pledge of allegiance "with liberty and justice for all."  

2. One more thing, I think it is clear that Romans 13 not only establishes states with the power of the sword but also with the power to do good. Vs. 4 "For he is God's servant to do you good."  The power of the sword does not even come up in Paul's language until after the phrase :"to do good."  The first three verses are all about submitting to the authorities for there is no authority except that which God has established.  Paul's primary concern in the first three verses is the proper recognition of governing authorities.  He is not defining the function of the government so much as the legitimacy of the government.

Paul in 1Timothy 2: 1-7 appeals to Christians to pray for kings and all those in authority that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness." It is clear that Paul understood that one function of kings and all those in authority was to make it possible for people to lead peaceful and quiet lives.  Additionally I cannot image being only minimally alive and at the same time living a peaceful and quiet life.  It seems even here Paul has more than mere life in mind. Peter also sees a twofold function of the government in 1 Peter 2:13f.  "To punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do good."  He does not tell us how the government commends those who do good but he does it make it clear that it is not doing good by punishing, those who do wrong.  These two are distinct.

Thanks again for your reflections.

 

If government in fact exclusively wields the power of the sword (and that proposition finds biblical support), which I think fairly implies that it uniquely has the power of life and death, then I would think it can be reasonably concluded that government ought -- as a matter of justice, not mercy, based on its power over life and death -- provide the means by which the poor might live.  The caveat to that is that this (justice) obligation is not to provide a comfortable life but rather the minimal means by which the poor will, essentially, avoid dying.

This is not a "wisdom" argument but a "justice" argument (I missed the argument from "last week" and can't find it).

In terms of a "wisdom" argument, but also in terms of "what the role of government is" argument, I think government should/does have the authority to do that which benefits the citizenry as a whole (for the "common good").  Examples would be: (1) creating contract law so that the citizenry can better engage in economic relationships; (2) creating electricity creating dams on rivers to provide energy; (2) creating all sorts of civil laws (torts, property, etc), again so that the citizenry can engage in life, with others, in a more orderly way; (3) build needed roads, or mail systems, or other services that are helpful to the citizenry as a whole; (4) establishing anti-trust laws so that the government will not lose the "most powerful status" to any business or other organization (in which case the existence of government as government is threatened); (5) defining/recognizing institutional spheres and sphere boundaries in society (e.g., church, family, voluntary organizations, etc); (6) regulating behavior that significantly threatens the citizenry as a whole (e.g., possession of nuclear weapons, requiring banks and insurance companies to hold reserves, limiting use or harvest of commonly owned, natural resources that might otherwise go extinct or become unusable); (7) if the government is democratically elected, to ensure the voting population will be sufficiently educated so as to be capable of intelligently voting.  

This isn't an exhaustive list of course, but the common thread in the examples is that government acts in these cases for the "common good," not as a means of deciding that some in the population should be nice (should mercy) to others.  The power of the sword should never be used to force some citizens to be merciful to others.

 

And similarly if I misread your tone toward the Seminary I also apologize. 

I know it can be hard for people to believe this but lots of ministers know that you don't have to advocate for some political position to get in trouble.  Just suggesting that a given issue does need to be looked at in the light of the Gospel--and that therefore some new thinking on the issue is always possible--is enough to set many people off.

Every preacher knows that people often thank you for things you never said in a sermon even as they at other times assail you for things you likewise never said nor intended.   The preacher is grateful for the former, chalking it up to the Spirit's endlessly clever ability to apply the sermon to people's often hurting hearts in ways that go beyond the preacher's comprehension.  But the flip-side leaves preachers confused and at times hurt.

Of course, we all make mistakes and sometimes people criticize something in a sermon that really should not have been said and upon consideration, I have apologized for such times in my own preaching.  But honestly, I've had far more times when people heard something I did not say or read way more into something I did say than I ever intended.

Thanks for taking the time for the conversation, Mr. Ellis!

 

Professor Hoezee:

I was not taking a broad swipe at the Seminary, but your essay came across, at least to me, as a bit condescending toward the local group. As a whole, I believe CTS is one of more positive institutions of the CRCNA.

If your lectures were as you characterize them here, I am a bit puzzled as to why there would be any "push back"? I read your essay as basically stating that a. the locals felt you were taking a political stand that impacted their livelihood and b. on reflection reaching the presumptuous conclusion that you should have doubled down harder.

I may be reading your essay through a certain filter, one that is increasingly skeptical of ministers who are too quick to advocate political causes whether "left", "right" or "other". I regret if I have misinterpreted your intent.

To Mr. Ellis: The reference in this post to fishing and logging was to a speech I once gave and not specifically to a sermon. However, even in that speech I was not advocating specific public or political policies.   I just suggested that these were key areas in which to try to apply biblically informed thinking.   Similarly in sermons: I tell students in preaching classes--and reiterated this in a class on the Old Testament Prophets just this past week--that the wise preacher does not take sides on public policy and recognizes that Christians of good conscience and who are equally serious about things like stewardship and justice may well disagree outside of church on what is the best way to address such things in politics, personal behavior, etc.   That's fine and preachers ought not be so directive as to deny this reality so that they can make room for robust conversations among fellow Christians.   However, it is often true that even NAMING an issue as something to wrestle with is enough for some to accuse the preacher of being "all political."   You don't have to take sides or pretend you're an expert on Issue X--just mentioning it counts as wrong in some people's books.

We teach our students to look for what the issues are in the biblical text and to help the congregation wonder where such issues exist yet today and how the Word of God addresses them.   Given how many texts in both Testaments raise concerns about the treatment of the poor, justice, the value of God's physical creation, etc. it is very difficult to let the Bible speak to our world today if the preacher cannot even name the subject areas.   That, as much as anything, was my point in this post.

And for what it's worth since there is a clear swipe here at the Seminary and its teaching as standing in the way of revival in the CRCNA: we teach our students that every single Sunday they always preach two texts: the one printed in the bulletin (Psalm 23) which is the small-t text for the week AND above all the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is always the capital-T Text for every sermon.   We preach grace, hope, and joy every week--that's why we are there as preachers.   Along the way we need to countenance the troubles in the Bible and their counterpart troubles today but that, too, is en route to and in service of the Gospel.   This is the joy of preaching and its highest calling: to preach Christ and him crucified and raised from the dead!

 

The other possibility is that a pastor or seminary professor has nothing of substance to add to a discussion beyond what a layman already knows. It would be one thing to preach texts dealing with creation stewardship. It is quite another thing to make particular policy prescriptions related to fishing or logging regulations. It simply isn't within the sphere of competency given to the institutional church. Unfortunately, the tendency among academics is to assume expertise in their respective field somehow translates to other areas and that they are uniquely free from political or cultural biases.

It makes me wonder if Professor Hoezee would admonish pastors to boldly preach on CRC views related to sexual ethics in certain other congregations or classes in the CRC?

Either way, clergy are better sticking to the text and proclaiming the Gospel, not in making specific public policy prescriptions even if sometimes challenging a congregation in their thinking. The sooner more of our Seminary faculty and clergy accept this, the sooner we'll see real revival in the CRCNA.

Thanks for this reflection, Scott! I think you really nailed it. It took me going to Mali with World Renew and working with the Fulani, an Indigenous group there, to open my hard, self-involved heart to the injustices that Indigenous people in my own country face. Why? Because I am involved in those injustices. I benefit from them. It's harder to see them because I and those around me have all kinds of pre-fabricated stereotypes and reasons that the status quo is okay and not our fault. And yet where can we have the deepest impact? Why does World Renew work with local partners? Because we can often have the strongest impact when we speak where it "costs" us the most and where we already know the complex dynamics of the situation--at home. (This is not an argument against working overseas, but an argument for paying attention to the injustices in our own backyards, as you said, even and perhaps especially when it hurts.)

I so appreciate this piece. Thanks for the challenge. 

We haven't specifically done this, Scott. However, it seems to me that a lot of the principles and structure provided by "restorative justice" http://www.realjustice.org/, would possibly be really helpful for what you're talking about doing. 

Absolutely true, Scott. Excellent thoughts. Our culture has been shifted to a real "experiential" focus, which I think is great in a lot of ways, but it has also led us in part to the idea that anyone who has not actually experienced something directly should not comment--sometimes true, sometimes not, IMHO. Additionally, we have a strong tendency to be unteachable--we think that our own opinions are just as valid as anyone else's. When we get together, and someone is speaking on a topic (whether it be a pastor or someone else) we often feel free to take what we already agree with, and dismiss what we don't agree with, assuming that the person speaking has no particular authority, and that therefore we don't need to pause and deeply, humbly consider. It's unfortunate. My wife and I often say that we are better together, but we wouldn't be, if we didn't listen to one another, and take one another's views into serious, humble consideration.  To me, this should be our posture towards all people. Let's learn to humbly, conscientiously listen and consider what others bring to the table!

I appreciate this article. It's a good thing for us to carefully consider our role, as the Church, in a world of hurting people. 

One word of caution comes to mind when I read these words, "Humans are responsible for their response to brokenness.  For instance unforgiveness/bitterness/anger for a situation of abuse might need to be dealt with instead of invoking a victimization clause which could absolve a person of responsibility for reactions. We also do not hide injustice done under the table, but also know that ultimately God will bring about justice (Matthew 5:38-42; Romans 12:17-21)."

We need to be careful about judging those who have suffered abuse and/or other trauma. Until we have walked in their shoes, or walked alongside, we may not understand the deep impacts and effects of that experience. Rushing or pressuring someone toward "quick forgiveness", or focusing on their own responsibility before fully considering the harm that has been done, can block or impede the process of true forgiveness, which is usually a long, painful, and circular process. The capacity to forgive increases as healing increases. What is needed is someone who is willing to walk alongside, without judgment, but with compassion, each step of the journey until the point where enough healing has taken place, which then allows for the capacity to forgive. I'm not advocating absolving the person of responsibility - I'm advocating allowing the time and space needed for deep healing to take place. The process takes time, and courage, and grace, and more time, etc.

One helpful aspect of healing is when those who have perpetrated the abuse are held accountable, when the hurt is named, when the story can be told, when there is some sense of justice (even though nothing can undo the damage that has been done). In the absence of justice and accountability, the process of healing from abuse and getting to the point where forgiveness is possible takes much, much longer; if it happens at all this side of heaven. 

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