Is it okay for Christians to bring weapons into church for self-defense? The shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs has renewed the urgency of this controversial question. Conservative writer Tom Nichols caught flak on Twitter for opposing the idea of parishioners packing in the pews. A colleague of mine suggested Saint Paul might have some stern words for those who armed themselves with more than the metaphorical sword of the Spirit in God’s house. (more…)
In this episode of the Kuyperian Commentary Podcast, Jesse Sumpter interviews Pastor Toby Sumpter to discuss the Christian’s responsibility on the abortion issue. Pastor Sumpter believes, “We need to pass laws outlawing abortion in our states and then we need to refuse to show up in federal court.”
In June of 2017, Pastor Sumpter penned an article entitled, “Courage & Blood Money: A Proposal toward the Abolition of Abortion” for his blog on Crosspolitic. In this cutting blog post, he criticizes Christians for failing to demonstrate the courage to challenge the federal government on abortion.
“What would happen if the Feds started sniffing around the Colorado or Washington State marijuana laws?” asks Pastor Sumpter. “Or what about states that have declared that they will not enforce illegal immigrant laws? I’m pretty sure the states wouldn’t give the Feds the time of day.”
The Idaho pastor notes that current efforts to make progress against abortion are often undermined by the cowardice of American Christians. “We think we need to be nice — but that is not a fruit of the Spirit,” said Sumpter. “We need to be patient, to be kind… but what we need to recognize is that there are more options and tools at hand.”
Another significant obstacle for states like Idaho is the amount of federal funding that the state depends on each year. A legal breech between the state and federal government could jeopardize the billions of dollars the federal government gives to the state. According to Pastor Sumpter, “the feds are paying us to murder 1300 to 1400 babies every year in the state of Idaho… they are bribing us to murder our children. We ought to say ‘no’ and that we won’t sacrifice the life one child for all the money in the world.”
Toby J. Sumpter serves as a minister at Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow, Idaho and is the author of the commentary Job Through New Eyes: A Son for Glory and Blood-Bought World. He is married to Jenny and they have four children.
Podcast music and editing by George Reed.
To make the Christian faith plausible to the secular mind, we either have to (1) de-mystify their Scriptures or (2) re-enchant their cosmos. In addition to the later apologetic being more truthful, it’s also more beautiful. In his new book Recapturing the Wonder (available here), Mike Cosper has written a truly beautiful book—one able to re-enchant the world of even the most jaded modern. Drawing on the work of Charles Taylor, James K.A. Smith, Dallas Willard, and Thomas Merton, Cosper shows that there is indeed a path—paved in ancient practices—to transcendence in an age of materialism and consumerism. As a High School teacher, I’ll certainly be using the content of the book in classes for years to come. The book is especially apropos for college students. Were I organizing a reading scheme for a CCO/InterVarsity/RUF leadership team, Recapturing the Wonder would be at the top of my list this semester. To whet your appetite, below are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:
“Ours is an age where our sense of spiritual possibility, transcendence, and the presence of God has been drained out. What’s left is a spiritual desert, and Christians face the temptation to accept the dryness of that desert as the only possible world. We have enough conviction and faith to be able to call ourselves believers, but we’re compelled to look for ways to live out a Christian life without transcendence and without the active presence of God, practicing what Dallas Willard once called ‘biblical deism’—a strange bastardization of Christianity that acts as though, once the Bible was written, God left us to sort things out for ourselves.”
“Technology has given us the sense that everything within the universe can be made to appear to our senses and harnessed for our purposes. It may be meaningless, but it can be comprehended and mastered. This mastery, though, is a bit of an illusion as well. The accumulated body of scientific knowledge can tell us all about the canvas, oils, and minerals that combine to make a work of art, but they cannot tell us why it takes our breath away.”
“We hunger for that kind of know-how, for a relationship with Scripture that leads to something deeper than head knowledge. We long for wonder, and we long for communion with God, but we’re so afraid of getting something wrong that we either avoid Scripture altogether or treat it as a cold, dead abstraction, unable to connect it to real life.”
“In a disenchanted world, we have our own overarching narrative, and its cornerstone is progress—a sense that the world is moving from disorder to order, that humanity is improving not just biologically and evolutionarily but morally, intellectually, and spiritually.”
“The power of habit is in the way it tunes our body and soul to anticipate a return to the rhythm. We’re primed for it, and when we’re starved of it, we’ll feel pangs of hunger.”
“Regular is a word that needs some redemption in our modern usage. We’re so used to superlatives that we tend to be dismissive and suspect of the ordinary. We don’t want regular; we want super-sized awesomeness. But regular is a good word, and it’s important to embrace it in two senses here. Regular means ordinary. But regular also refers to time. We need solitude to be regular in the sense that it’s repeated— a rhythm we return to as Jesus did.”
“Consuming is about possession, and consuming something uses it up. The end goal of a fast food meal is a pile of empty wrappers. The end goal of most consumer products is obsolescence. We are not meant to dwell with cars, smartphones, and running shoes—not for long, anyway. These things are meant to be used up, and once used up, disposed of or recycled into something new.”
“Reading about the lives of saints, I don’t see immovable giants. Instead, I see Merton falling in love with a nurse and having an affair. I see Brennan Manning fighting a life-long battle with alcohol abuse. I see Charles Spurgeon and Martin Lloyd Jones—two of the greatest preachers in the English language—fighting lifelong battles with depression. But Merton came home to the monastery, Manning died declaring ‘all is grace,’ and Spurgeon and Jones kept preaching the gospel… Somehow, grace abounds in a world full of sorrows.”
“Follow Jesus if you must, seek the face of God if you must, but don’t be surprised if, after a while, it feels like you’ve been battling angels in the darkness. Seeking God’s face in a fallen world is not the easy life; it’s the good life.”
Abraham Kuyper and the Pluralist Claims of the Liberal Project, Part 3: What Liberalism Implies for the Two Pluralisms
In Part 2 we examined the implications of Kuyperian and liberal pluralisms for ecclesiology, that is, our understanding of the nature and authority of the institutional church. We noted, in particular, that liberalism, following John Locke, is compelled to reduce it to a mere voluntary association of like-minded individuals.
There are two implications to this liberal move. First, it is incapable of accounting for structural differences among an assortment of communities. State and church are not essentially different from the garden club or the Boy Scouts. Whatever differences appear to the casual observer can be ascribed to the collective wills of the individuals who make them up. Proponents are persuaded that, even if different groups of citizens operate out of divergent comprehensive doctrines, they must be made to look beneath these commitments to what are believed to be the raw data of human experience that bind all persons together. These data are, of course, the constituent individuals themselves.
Every community can be easily understood as a collection of individuals who choose to be part of it for reasons peculiar to each member. There is nothing unusual about this approach, the liberal insists. Michael Ignatieff believes himself justified in asserting that liberal individualism is not peculiarly western or historically conditioned; it is human and universal: “It’s just a fact about us as a species: we frame purposes individually, in ways that other creatures do not.” Therefore if the claims of groups and individuals come into conflict, as they inevitably must, Ignatieff confidently concludes that “individual rights should prevail,” despite the contrary claims of nationalists, socialists and many conservatives of a communitarian bent.
The second implication flows logically from the first. If liberals claim that individualism is simply human and universal, then this implies that their own worldview must be privileged above any that denies this. Liberal tolerance is thus conditioned by a worldview that explicitly denies that it is a worldview, and thus finds no difficulty positioning itself as a supposedly neutral arbiter of the competing claims of the other alternative worldviews.
Yet there are those who object to this sleight of hand. Karl Marx, for one, famously denies that such neutrality is possible and argues that political institutions, like all other human agents, always act in behalf of a particular economic class, even if they claim impartiality. There is, in short, no neutrality in the global class struggle. Liberation theologians in Latin America and elsewhere refer to this lack of neutrality as a “preferential option for the poor,” an oft-used expression that does not sit well with the liberal emphasis on the autonomous freely-choosing individual.
However, one need hardly be a Marxist or a liberation theologian to recognize what is at work here. James Kalb points to what he calls the tyrannical character of liberalism, despite its proponents’ undoubtedly well-intended pleas for tolerance of religious differences. The liberal strategy for tolerance requires that the particular claims of traditional religions be softened to more manageable private lifestyle choices. “Even religion, to be legitimate, must transform itself so that it simply restates established egalitarian, rationalist, consumerist, and careerist values.” Moreover, “No religion can claim superiority over any other religion or over irreligion. Each must understand itself as an optional pursuit, and thus as not a religion at all.” Accordingly, the authoritative claims of church institutions will be tolerated only in so far as these institutions accept the norms of a liberal society. The church can continue to claim authority in some fashion over its members, but it cannot do so in a way that might be interpreted to negate the voluntary principle. No one has to belong to a church, after all, and those denominations emphasizing individual choice and free will tend to fit more comfortably into a society governed by a dominating liberal paradigm.
By contrast, an obviously hierarchical church body with a strong confessional identity may be seen as at least potentially disloyal, as was the case with the Roman Catholic Church in nineteenth-century America. As late as 1960, presidential aspirant John F. Kennedy felt compelled to assure the Greater Houston Ministerial Association that he would not be taking orders from the Pope in the conduct of his office. Similarly, in his famous 1984 speech at the University of Notre Dame, New York Governor Mario Cuomo explicitly stated that his belief in his church’s teachings on abortion was a private belief with no bearing on his pursuit of public policy.
Of course, it would be unwise to state categorically that all professed liberals everywhere necessarily follow a consistent individualist approach to human communities and religious diversity. With some spectacular exceptions, most people are generally better than their ideological visions would make them if they were to follow them consistently. Remaining open to correction by the real world is key here.
Nevertheless, one cannot deny the historic tendency of liberalism in its various permutations to downplay the significance of nonvoluntary community and to individualize and relativize the claims of traditional religious worldviews. We see this in the increasing trend in the western world to reconfigure marriage as a mere private contract between (thus far!) two persons and to deny any intrinsic structure that might negate this contractual status and even to stigmatize those who adhere to a “thicker” understanding of the marriage covenant. We see it too in judicial efforts to redefine the limited personal liberties found in the English Bill of Rights and its successors (to, e.g., freedom of speech) as a more expansive and normless individual autonomy (e.g., freedom of expression) whose only limit is conceived in terms of John Stuart Mill’s famous harm principle: “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”
However, Mill’s harm principle, despite its superficial libertarian flavour, has totalitarian tendencies in so far as it is suspicious of those communities bound by standards unrelated to this principle. Liberalism thus negates the very pluralism it claims to uphold. This suggests that another approach is needed.
Part 4: The Kuyperian Alternative
I am not a trained sociologist, though I play one at home as a father. I am constantly analyzing trends and the origination of certain behaviors and offering solutions. Thankfully, as a Christian father, sociology can be summarized simply by the study of sinful patterns; patterns that can be easily studied and analyzed.
As a pastor, I also have the opportunity to study trends and patterns in the local church. Church life is messy, and with it comes messy patterns and behaviors that only Jesus can undo. But I am not only a student of my congregation, I also enjoy studying modern church trends. In such cases, my studies will lack the gravitas found in well-funded research teams. Still, I am comforted by the fact that every sociologist is biased. He may have correct numbers, but what he does with the numbers is based on his presuppositions. How he phrases the questions determines what responses he will receive.
I set this background to emphasize that my conclusions are not flawless but grounded in my personal, ecclesiastical, and societal concerns. With this in mind, let me make the following assertion: “Churches that segregate musically are bound to segregate corporately.” I have seen it happen again and again, but beyond the anecdotal evidence, the rationale of modern trends seem to affirm that proposition. Let me flesh out my concerns with a few questions and affirmations:
First, why do we assume that children and teens need a different kind of music than adults? Why do we think that “praise and worship” provide something for young folks and not for older saints? We attempt to accommodate the tastes of Christians in different stages of life, but what are we actually accomplishing? Are we merely perpetuating society’s self-centeredness? Is ecclesiastical music shaped to fit particular tastes and styles?
Second, I have noticed that every church that has a modern flavor differs from other churches that offer modern musical flavors. So to say, “I like contemporary music,” leads to another question: “What kind?” Is Amy Grant “old” contemporary? Is Michael W. Smith “old” contemporary? Is Hillsong music “new” contemporary? We must keep in mind that we are dealing with a span of 20-30 years here.
Third, we have abandoned Psalm-shaped music. I am not advocating exclusive psalmody, but I am saying that when we abandon the regular singing of psalms, we lose gospel creativity to compose biblical hymns. Historically, psalm-centered churches produced psalm-like hymns.
Fourth, as our children continue to grow in evangelical churches where music is dispersed according to age and style, how will they and their aging parents ever come to a proper understanding of the role of music in the Church? Will they ever be able to sit together to sing? Will the college bound son ever wish to come to dad’s church during summer breaks and genuinely enjoy singing praises to God? Or will he merely tolerate it, as a kind gesture to his Fanny Crosby-loving parents?
Fifth, have we considered the consequences of dividing our services into contemporary and traditional? Are we making it easier for older saints to bless younger saints, or are we making it harder? How are we stressing unity when our churches naturally divide over musical styles? Can we fulfill Paul’s exhortations to eat and drink together?a
Sixth, is contemporary music as a category truly contemporary? “Shine, Jesus, Shine” appears archaic to modern worship services. While new musical compositions can be admirable things, many churches only use music composed by their musical team. What happens for visitors who are long-time Christians? What happens when people from diverse contemporary churches visit a church that writes their own contemporary melodies? Are the contemporary going to feel divorced from their fellow contemporary music lovers?
Seventh, does the predominant hunger for the new ever get old? In other words, what happens when millennials raise their own children who think their parents’ music is as old as an MP3 player? What happens when the world turns against the modern?
Eighth, are we teaching through our music that music divides rather than unites? Are we teaching our children that what we sing is what we like and we like only what we sing?
Ninth, will our children leave us when they find us to be evangelically irrelevant to them? Are we setting the stage for their departure by granting their generation musical style privilege?
Finally, what role does the Bible play in our church music? Does tradition provide any help in our consideration of what we should sing? Can we merely discard 1,900 years of church music for the new? Are we a better generation than our faithful forefathers who gave their lives for the gospel? Do we follow in the train of the latest trend, or the Davidic train that offered us divinely-inspired music? Does our inspiration in modern composition stem from cultural romantic tales or the gospel romance of Ruth and Boaz? Is our church music bringing our families closer together, or is it separating us? Can your 18-year-old say, “Dad, let’s sing together?” If not, is that a good thing?
We all claim our music is praise-worthy, but can our music be God-worthy if God’s people are not singing a new song together?
- I am fully aware of functional/practical building issues, but here I am referring to churches that can easily accommodate everyone in one service (back)
As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 1517, I would like to offer some thoughts on the implications of Sola Scriptura in the Christian experience. In these two short articles, I’d like to elaborate on at least three consequences of this doctrine:
First, Sola Scriptura is the Church’s language. Second, Sola Scriptura is God’s language. And finally, Sola Scriptura unites our language.
The Church’s Language
In the late medieval era, Sola Scriptura was the rallying cry of this new movement called the Reformation. The Reformers, led by Luther and Calvin and many others, expressed their gratitude to the God who made the heavens and the earth for His revealed word. The Apostle Paul says in I Thessalonians 2:13:
We thank God continually for this, that when you received the message of God from us, you welcomed it not as the word of [mere] men, but as it truly is, the Word of God, which is effectually at work in you who believe.
The Church of our Lord has since its early days feasted on the richness of God’s word. As Van Til once wrote: “The Bible is God’s love letter to his bride.” This love letter, through the body of Christ, has saved orphans, built hospitals, adopted, and contributed for the good of society because the Church believed what God commanded. The city of Geneva where Calvin pastored and where the Scriptures were taught faithfully was known all over the world for its generosity to the poor and needy. It is true that Christians have ignored biblical truth leading to some damaging practices, but the vast majority of the Christian population led by the authority of the Bible and the ministry of the Church has served this world in beautiful ways since the Early Church. Paul says that this word which you have received and welcomed is truly the Word of God. These are not the words of uninspired men, but the very words of God working in men and women in the Church to change and transform not only themselves but their surroundings.
The Roots of Sola Scriptura
In the Reformation, the Scriptures returned to their proper place, shaping the language, liturgy, and life of the Church. The classical and historical Christian worship found in many Reformed churches today reminds us weekly from where our language comes. It originated from an early church that believed in the authority and sufficiency of the Bible.
The authority of the Bible causes the church to develop habits of gratitude. One way the liturgical church makes this clear is that at the end of every Scripture reading the people respond together by saying, “Thanks be to God.” This is our way of expressing thanks for Sola Scriptura. When our children are nurtured in this environment each Sunday, they have no other option but to contemplate the Bible. The Church’s language ought to be scriptural language. It’s precisely when we abandon the church’s language that the Church abandons the authority of the Bible.
One of the most important studies on why people return to church after years of being away from church was done by Dr. Tom Rhainer. He observed that the main reason people once unchurched came back to church and stayed in the church was not primarily for the music—which by the way, out of the ten reasons, music was #8—but because churches taught the Bible. The second reason people come back to church after not being in church for many years is when churches hold firmly to their convictions. This explains the phenomenon of why mainline churches—that is, historic denominations that no longer believe in the authority of the Bible– are declining rapidly in the last two decades. The Church must proclaim in Word and Sacrament the authority of the Bible. Sola Scriptura must form our language.
Spurgeon once expressed marvel at a pastor who was saturated in the Bible and said:
“Why, this man is a living Bible! Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him.”
Similarly, the Church needs to be bibline; living and singing God’s revelation as a demonstration of submission to God’s inspired Word.
Christian, what is it that we believe?
While Creeds like the Nicene and Apostle’s have been fundamental pieces of Christian liturgy and life, the American Church is highly unattached to these classic statements. From this creedal phobia has arisen the popular “No Creed, but Christ” slogan. Such slogan, of course, only proves that creeds are inevitable. The question ultimately is determined not by whether we will use a creed, but which will we use.
The Nicene and Apostle’s Creed are inestimably valuable since they connect the 21st-century church to the historic Christian Church. Yet, many evangelical churches are confused about the Creeds, while some outright reject the Creeds as a Roman Catholic conspiracy. Rod Dreher observes that “New social science research indicated that young adults are almost entirely ignorant of the teachings and practices of the historical Christian faith.”a Yet, many evangelicals are determined to remain in ignorance.
Over the years I’ve heard many Southern Baptist pastors attempt to add the Creeds to the congregation’s life and worship only to be met with the worst of skepticism about their motives. One pastor of an independent church was immediately accused of being a Romanist. The Creeds are not welcomed in most churches in this country. How then can pastors encourage their congregations to adopt such historical affirmations without dividing their flock? (more…)
- The Benedict Option, pg. 2 (back)