A Christian thinking about A Nation

Tomorrow is the 4th of July. It marks the 246th year commemorating our nation’s independence from the Empire. What a history we have in such a short time (historically speaking)! Courage, wisdom, perseverance, kindness mingled with enslavement, greed, corruption and violence. We are not different from any other nation in these ways but we are different from them in others.

The founding DNA of our nation differs from that which established the kingdoms of old. Neither fiefdoms nor monarchies crafted our nation. Neither invasions nor gifts established America. No, it was a zeal for independence in many ways that did it; from: religious persecution, unjust taxation, squashed opportunity or even to seek a second chance. All along there was a sense of destiny, of hope, of boundlessness that carried the pilgrims and then pushed the settlers. That sense has not gone away. It is what supports concepts like the “American Dream.” That a refugee from Ukraine, South Sudan or Guatemala can come here and make something new and belonging to them is an inheritance from what founded this nation in the first place.

Not all have adopted such a sense; neither have all been in positions to achieve it if they had it. No nation’s history contains no dark, immoral or wicked spots–ours certainly doesn’t. But, it would not be appropriate before Almighty God to maximize our faults so that the good is finally eclipsed. We used to know this. I say “good” because what has been and is present in America is good: a Constitutional republic, a Bill of Rights to secure our independence from our government, the economic / medical / arts / engineering developments and the ability (for most) to walk the streets without fear or the oversight of an ominous dictator. Even those who are oppressed can find their way out of their oppression (that might be controversial for some but history doesn’t support such a view).

Our historic faults and their present impacts must not be minimized, to be sure, but neither are they to be what defines us as a people. America has been and is a good place to call “Home.”

But it is not a Christian nation. It is not a holy people. It is not the apple of God’s eye. It will not ever be those things because it never can be. It will not be a place of libertarian freedom nor will it be a place of pure justice. Independence Day isn’t the day to set our minds and hopes on these things hoping that America might one day resemble them (or that we did in the past and it must be reclaimed). The Fourth is a day for us to give thanks to God that He would give us such a gift as America. That it has been a place where injustice has been addressed; oppression has been broken; help has been administered; ignorance has been educated; compromise has flowed. What other nation has been called a “melting pot”?

Christians in America should give thanks to God that we have been born here. Our brothers and sisters worldwide might have some or none of what we enjoy. Our citizenship, therefore, should be a stewardship. That we use the freedoms we have for the benefit of others around us. Sometimes that will mean we work for the oppressed, for the unborn, for the widowed, for the refugee. Sometimes that means we will compromise for legislation that treats all people equally without trying to guarantee equal outcomes. Sometimes it means we say “No” to our selves and our tribe for the benefit of others.

I am convinced that Christians above all others should be active in these things. What have we got to lose? Since our Home is heaven and in it will be the perfections of everything we could ever hope or think, we can strive to make America a better place for all people–even if it is imperfect. America doesn’t need to be heaven; it needs to be a better America. God made a covenant with Noah wherein He promised to preserve the earth until Christ’s return and He calls us to build a civilization steeped in restraint, justice, enterprise and civility. For Americans, this means us in this place and time.

Some will want to include in this program lifestyles and commitments that all know are incoherent, wrong and harmful. It has always been this way. In our project, there will continue to be significant disagreement and fracturing and this should not be surprising. Some will not get “their” way even if their way is the moral way (the way commended to us by the very nature of things). Some will not get “their” way even if it held with exuberant passion. But neither should this surprise us. For those in Christ who have an eternal home, imperishable prepared for us by Christ, the faults in America are real but they are not ultimate.

Consider this: for those who do not know Christ, this place contains all the joy and happiness they will ever know. At the moment of Christ’s return, all who have refused Him in this life but have received His common grace will receive it no longer. Why can’t Christians work to make it a better place for them? Out of compassion? Most parents teach their children to leave a place better than when they found it. As Christians, set apart in the Church to be received as the Bride of Christ one day, shall we not work to leave America a better place than we found it?

Roe and Casey have fallen.

The “industry” of abortion has taken a major hit today and evil with it. It numbers among the greatest days of my life. It is hard to process the events of Friday, June 24, 2022: I have been thinking, writing, praying, preaching and teaching on this topic since 1994. (I point to that as my political self-awareness season.) Many like me weren’t sure we’d ever see a change in the horrific laws supporting the murdering of the unborn. The analysis, the jubilation and the outcries will be swift, detailed and dogmatic.

Where is our boast, Christian?

  • Is it in the decades of grass-roots work in prayer, policies and protests?
  • Is it in the slow degradation of abortion access through some incremental laws?
  • Is it in the growing scientific realization that viability is arbitrary and life begins at conception?
  • Is it in the actual silliness of the Roe and Casey legal grounding?
  • Is it with Project Veritas exposing PPA’s practice of selling aborted baby body parts?
  • Is it with President Trump who nominated Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett?
  • Is it Mitch McConnell who steered them through the Senate?
  • Is it the brilliance of Justice Alito and Thomas (and Scalia before them)?
  • Is it with Mississippi changing their laws to disallow abortions after 15 weeks?

Where is our boast, Christian? Bible-believing Christians know our God is the God of the oppressed, the fatherless, the widow, the helpless. None are as helpless as the unborn. We have prayed and He has answered. It was His good pleasure to see to it that life would prevail on this day. We boast in Him!

But we have done more than pray. So again, is it sufficient to say our boast is in the Lord? In a way, no. Our boast is also in the innumerable opportunities men and women in this country have taken to see abortion outlawed and the distressed in pregnancy helped. All of the bullet points above are victories for life and we may boast in them! Is it God’s providence that has done this? Yes! His providence, however, was worked out in and through the acts of men and women.

I ask this because of what is now before our nation: a post-Roe world. Now that the fact there is no Constitutional basis for abortion has been exposed, we have to work with our fellow citizens to stop the practice altogether. We who believe must pray but also we must engage with those organizations and groups that care for life from womb to tomb. Roe and Casey didn’t just fall for no reason: but for 1000’s of reasons over 50 years.

Perhaps our greatest problem isn’t that abortion is still legal and encouraged in some states (though that is a problem). Our greatest problem is that there will still be a demand for abortion. Why might this be? I speak as a pastor. Here’s a non-exhaustive list to get us thinking:

  1. Believers undervalue having families and more greatly esteem careerism for men and women (especially women). Can we read the Old and New Testaments and conclude that careers are what God esteems most from men and women?
  2. Believers too often undervalue the created purpose for sex: making image-bearers. Sex means more than making babies, but not less. (As an elder shared with me, it’s “meaning” is far more than something physical or procreative but for my task here, I’m dividing “meaning” from “purpose” as I think the procreative purpose is more neglected in the Protestant church.) Simply put, when we counsel the young about sex, do we ask, “Are you ready to be a father?”?
  3. Believers don’t think long term: 9 months isn’t that long. (I’ve said this before.) A crisis pregnancy will come to an end in 9 months. For most women that’s .01% of the average life span for a woman in the USA (81.1 years). This isn’t to minimize the crisis nature either of how it started or its process. It is to simply say believers need to think in terms of a lifetime and then of eternity.
  4. Believers in churches don’t often make room for those in crisis. A crisis pregnancy might still carry the scarlet A in congregations but it certainly should not. Which of us has sin that is not (yet) for public view? How can we look down on those who can’t help but parade theirs in public?
  5. Believers can prioritize ease over perseverance and reputation over humility. It is one of the most tragic facts that church families often pressure their daughters in crisis pregnancies to get abortions. Why? The pregnancy would be inconvenient; it would ruin parents’ plans for their daughter’s future, etc. Why else? “If word got out that our son impregnated that girl, what would people think?” Reputation isn’t nothing but it certainly isn’t worth murdering a child.
  6. Believers too often don’t want to be bothered. We like our lives the way we live them. Unexpected pregnancy would be so disruptive. Or, making room in our homes or our churches for those in distress would be so exhausting. Someone else will handle this. Isn’t there a government program?

It seems we might be better at caring for our aging parents than we are in caring for our wayward sons or daughters; I guess that’s good. Yet, unless we look some of these reasons in the eyes and ask ourselves which applies to us, then we risk keeping the demand for abortion alive and too many still-to-be-born little ones dead.

Heaven soon,

Pastor Gabe

White Paper #16: Redemption!

When we begin discussing “redemption” and what that means for the sexually suffering and sinning, it is imperative that we remember why this all matters. Recently I came across a tweet by a man, John Pavlovitz.  He writes a blog, titled, “Stuff that Needs to be Said.”  Recently he wrote a post titled “Dear Phobic Christians: Leave LGBTQ People Alone.”   I can hardly resist addressing stuff like that so I replied:

“LGBTQ people will not inherit the kingdom of heaven.  For that reason alone, we will not leave them alone.”

Our approach to the sexually broken is as gospel mission. As any experienced missionary would agree, the mission must be wise and it must be patient.  We will be serving a community that is likely hostile to the Lord and His church—to be honest, the church does deserve blame for how it has treated those who are suffering and sinning sexually.

Let’s begin by returning to the doctrine of concupiscense.  

I mentioned the Roman Catholic church and some in the Protestant Christian community believe a sinful tendency that doesn’t get followed into actual sin is not sin.  The application of that doctrine to same sex attraction (SSA) was to assert SSA isn’t inherently sinful. The logic then goes: since it is not, it must come from my identity.  Following?  “If it isn’t sin and it is persistent in my experience, it must be part of who I am.” [Of course, this confuses identity with identifiers.]

Now this is exactly what the world believes: “I was born this way.”  The world doesn’t leave any room for any other explanation. The Bible and the Reformers disagree: desires that lead to sinful action are themselves sinful: we can’t rage inside or panic inside or lust inside and be without sin simply by keeping it inside.  One example from the Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

How is it possible to have already committed adultery simply by the act of lust?  Lust is adultery in seed form—when planted, watered and full grown, it leads to adultery.  Fornication (including adultery) is the only way lust ends. The diagnostic question was:

  • …if the actions resulting from following the desire are themselves sinful, then the desire is also sin.

WCF 6.5 says this:

This corruption of nature, during this life, does remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be, through Christ, pardoned and mortified; yet both the [corrupted nature] and all the motions that follow it are truly and properly sin.

The Confession is discussing original sin (“Corruption of nature”) and actual sin (“all the motions that follow it”) and say both “…are truly and properly sin.” Concupiscence is another term for original sin or “…an inward feeling, arousal or attraction before any conscious consent.”

Where Rome and some Protestants go awry is to say these disordered desires that spring from original sin (or concupiscent desires) are not, in themselves, sinful unless they are acted upon. There are two problems with this view.

First, using SSA as the test case, to take SSA out of the realm of concupiscence—out of the realm of sin—is to isolate it from Christ. Why?  To call what is sin “not sin” is to pluck it out of what can be redeemed by the blood of Christ.  What are the options for someone who experiences it, then?  

  1. Act on it and deal with the guilt and shame that comes from it because it is disordered.  
  2. Despair about its presence and dive into pain alleviation strategies including suicide.

Second, to take SSA out of the realm of concupiscence is to isolate it from the Church. Why?  To call what is sin “not sin” is to isolate a suffering sinner from others. Part of what makes LGBTQ community strong is a sense of shared persecuted experience.  This community is accepting, facilitating, affirming shared feelings (perhaps including hatred for the church and others who don’t accept it and so forth). The church too often has not offered its shelter to those who are struggling with sexual sin.

No: to call SSA “sin” is to expose it to the freeing light of Christ ministering by His Spirit, with the Word in the context of the church—the one place where redemption and freedom is found in the world. I find it to be remarkable that one might want to deny SSA, etc. is sinful.  

If we say it issues from original sin and can be mortified in Christ, then there is freedom and hope in that.  

To deny the truthfulness of the sin is to harden the enslavement to it. It was not God’s original design and it is part of what is fallen—why not be freed from its guilt and over time, its power?

The Ad Interim Committee report is particularly helpful in this area.   Let’s consider five (5) points it makes that are supported by our WCF and allow it be our framework for our mission to bring Christ to suffering sinners. These principles will help us be humble and persistent and will assist us in encouraging those who turn from these lifestyles as they confront the hardships.

First, “the common dynamic of concupiscence.”

The fact that we each share the experience of unwanted and disordered desires.

“…the dynamic of spontaneous sinful desire or attraction is not unique to those who experience homosexual desire. All people experience it.”

All who are descended from Adam have a corrupted nature and “the complex of disordered affections, desires and attractions that come with that corruption….The truth is that if we think humbly and carefully about our own spontaneous thoughts, feelings and desires, we would recognize that we are all much more alike than different.”

“Who has been a Christian for some length of time who is not aware of at least one particular area of struggle with sin in which whatever success is had in curbing behavior is nonetheless accompanied by a troubling inward draw toward the sin, like a stubborn memory of sinful pleasure that interrupts incessantly and uninvited?

“Even our lack of feeling is concupiscent: that which is most good and would glorify God does not delight us as it should; that which is evil does not repel us as it should.

The reminder that all who have descended from Adam experience individualized versions of concupiscence, can assist us in being humble and patient. After all, we are simply two beggars looking for bread.

Second, “Continued corruption.”

“According to the system of the WCF, we should not be surprised, but rather expect that concupiscence in general and specific instances like homosexual attraction, would continue in the life of a believer.”

We are not right to communicate to a believer with a history of SSA that this will simply disappear—the secret agent, the fallen flesh and the external temptations will not disappear in this life. “To teach that our sinful corruption must be entirely removed from any part of us in order to be considered truly repentant is a spiritually treacherous perversion of the doctrine of repentance.”

Third, “Real Change.”

“We should not rule out, but rather expect that concupiscence in general and specific instances like homosexual attraction, would be areas in which the believer would see some progress toward truly righteous feelings and actions.”

The hope of redemption in Christ is that change isn’t just possible, it is certain. Just like any sinner with a historic sin-struggle, “change” will be uneven (two steps forward, one back). But change must be expected and sought: the sanctifying Spirit is after the whole man.

Fourth, “Celebrating Sincere Efforts.”

“According to the WCF, the remaining experience of homosexual attractions notwithstanding, God is truly pleased with one’s sincere efforts to follow Christ in holiness because he looks on even those imperfect deeds as being “in Christ” and covered by the imputation of Christ’s perfect righteousness (WCF 16.6).”

This is tremendously important: we expect that perfect obedience is the only kind of obedience; so we don’t celebrate even the little steps of godliness that we make. And we turn on each other with that same yardstick of what qualifies as something to celebrate and we don’t encourage each other.

  • If my goal is to work out every day and I make it only three days instead of seven, should that be celebrated?
  • If I vow to eat no sugar because I used to eat a bag of Chips Ahoy at one sitting and instead I eat 4 instead of none, should that be celebrated?
  • If a man converted out of a gay lifestyle who regularly daily used to look at homosexual porn now has one day out of five he does not, should that be celebrated?

Gospel change in an individual’s life is always incomplete and mixed with corruption.  But:

“In Christ, every bit of progress, every moment of victory over temptation even victory over the temptation that comes from the sinful corruption remaining inside of us is to be celebrated as a gift of the new life of Christ with confidence that is pleases God as such.”

We should celebrate every moment of obedience even if it is imperfect because in Christ the imperfection is covered.

Lastly, “Moral Difference.”

“Even when original sin is manifested in the form of sinfully disordered desires or feelings, including homosexual attraction, there is significant moral difference between that initial “motion” of corruption and the decision to cultivate or act on it.”

“To feel a sinfully disordered sexual attraction (of any kind) is properly to be called sin—and all sin, “both original and actual” earns God’s wrath—but it is significantly less heinous than any level of action upon it in thought or deed.”

Once again, this distinction will allow us to think rightly about the progress of growing like Christ and help sinners celebrate where they should.

To Review:

  1. We share the corruption of original sin with every other human
  2. There is continued corruption which means progress will be uneven
  3. There is real change by the Holy Spirit
  4. Sincere efforts must be celebrated because they are pleasing to God in Christ
  5. There’s a moral difference between temptation and actual sin.