Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Sixth Commandment

The Command to Love Human Life

Deuteronomy 5:17

The sixth commandment says, “You shall not murder.” Our community was given a horrible reminder of what murder is last December, when Matthew Murray, after previously shooting four people in Arvada, opened fire in the parking lot of New Life Church, killing Stephanie and Rachel Works and wounding three others before committing suicide. Such cold-blooded, pre-meditated killing is always deeply disturbing, and people all across the nation decried the brutal attack.

But during the same amount of time that it took Murray to carry out his attack, a vast number of innocent people were murdered in the U.S., and no news outlets carried the story. These victims were babies in their mother’s wombs. According to 2005 statistics, 3288 babies are murdered in their mother’s wombs by doctors every day in the U.S. It is estimated that since 1973 up to 48 million babies have been put to death. That is blood-shed on an incredible scale.

Thus in our nation we have an acute case of moral schizophrenia, moral insanity. It is an insanity which threatens to erase any sense of true justice in the land. But there is a cure for this insanity, and in order to get the remedy, we need to start with the sixth commandment.

“Hell Is Other People”

That, at least, was the sentiment of Jean-Paul Sartre, and that is one way to express the heart of man that leads to murder. The sentiment is all too common today, and the sixth commandment tackles it head on. The command expresses a very strong prohibition – “you must not murder” or “never murder.” Clearly, God does not want this to take place. But what exactly is he talking about?

At issue here is taking innocent human life. If you are familiar with the traditional translation of this commandment, you will remember it as “Thou shalt not kill.” That is certainly not a wrong translation, but it is an imprecise translation which unfortunately has left this command open to being abused by some people. This term is better translated “murder.” There are six other Hebrew terms used for killing: tabach (butcher an animal); hikka (strike or kill as in battle); hemith (kill animal for sacrifice); harag (kill in general); and qatal. But only ratsach has the idea of taking innocent life (Bruce Waltke, Old Testament Theology, 427). Now, not every instance of taking innocent life is murder. The OT clearly distinguishes between manslaughter and murder (cf. Num 35; Deut 19). The difference between the two is intention. If someone kills another innocent human being accidentally through carelessness or negligence, that is manslaughter. If someone kills another innocent human being intentionally, then that is murder. Ratsach is used for both manslaughter and murder, although most of the time it is used for murder. The sixth commandment is talking about taking innocent human life.

So let me just clarify right at the beginning some things that this commandment does not prohibit. It does not apply to killing animals. It does not forbid legitimate self-defense, for it is talking about innocent human life. It does not apply to just, duly authorized capital punishment (Gen 9:5-6; cf. Deut 19:12-13; Rom 13:4). It does not forbid just war.

On the other hand, this command does clearly forbid in the strongest language all forms of murder. All intent to end the life of innocent human beings is wrong. Abortion we will talk about more next week, for it merits special treatment in our day, but let us be absolutely clear here that it is murder. Euthanasia is a particularly despicable form of murder. The most famous case of this in recent years was Terry Schiavo. That was a huge miscarriage of justice. Now, there is a big difference in these cases between allowing God’s providence in nature to takes its course and actively causing someone to die. For example, withholding food and water from any human being will cause that person to die. That is morally wrong. It is murder. Food and water are not medical treatments; they are the basic necessities of life. But that is not the same thing as not putting someone on a respirator. In this sinful world, we understand that death is a normal occurrence. It is not a sin to die, rather, death is the result of sin. Death will happen and we are not required by God to try to keep someone alive when it is clear that they cannot naturally go on living. But we are never to do anything that would cause death. It does not matter if the patient has given consent or not. No human being has the right to take innocent human life, not even his own life. Suicide is also a form of murder.

Although the commandment doesn’t state it directly, God makes clear elsewhere that the expected punishment for murder is the death penalty (Gen 9:5-6; Num 35:30-34). The legitimate authorities have an obligation to see that justice is done and that the murderer is put to death. We will see why later.

In addition to forbidding murder, this command also forbids carelessly or negligently taking human life. Now, this is not considered murder. It is considered manslaughter, so it does not have the death penalty attached to it. Nevertheless, it is still a serious offense to cause someone’s death by being careless. We can see this reflected in the OT law. The laws regarding cities of refuge show us that although the manslayer was not put to death, he was, in effect, incarcerated in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest. The law regarding building a parapet around the roof of the house was specifically given so that “the guilt of blood” would not be upon the house (D 22:8). Exodus 21:28, 29 provides another example of negligence with regard to human life. If someone owned an ox which was known to be dangerous, and he did not take the necessary precautions to keep it in and it kills someone, then the owner was to be put to death. In other words, human life is so precious that we must take care to protect it. If we do not, we can be guilty of breaking the sixth commandment. In our day, this can include following safety regulations on the job or following traffic laws for safe driving. Think of the man who drinks and drives. He is engaging in an activity which he knows is dangerous, not only to himself, but to everyone else on the road. By doing this, he is being negligent and careless with human life. He is breaking the sixth commandment.

We live in a culture of death. You can see it in all the forms of murder that we allow. Yet I think we can also see it in all the materialistic or selfish things we value over human life. Animal rights activists usually value animals over human life. Women value their career over having children. Men value money for playthings over having children. Most of us want our pleasures rather than people. We don’t want to have to live with other people. Sartre was only expressing the sentiments of many when he said, “Hell is other people.” This is all showing up in the demographic winter that is approaching Western societies.

Love Your Neighbor

The Word of the Lord shatters all such self-centered arrogance, with the simple command to love. This is what the sixth commandment points us toward. As with all the other commandments which are cast in the negative form, there is a positive implication to this command.

We are to love human life. God is a God of life, and he delights in life. Just witness his creation. God created a world that was teeming with living creatures. But the highest point of his creation was mankind, made in his own image, and God told mankind to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. God loves human life, and we ought to as well. Human life is sacred. It is a gift from God, even in its fallen condition, and we should delight in it. As we will explore more next time, we can delight in human life both because of its inherent nature and because of the hope we have for its redemption. The reality of this hope, which Sartre and other cannot see, is the remedy for hatred and murder.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

70 Physicians Endorse the Colorado Personhood Amendment

I'm sure many of you are aware of the efforts by Colorado for Equal Rights to amend the state constitution as follows: "The term 'person' or 'persons' shall include any human from the time of fertilization." I post this here, however, just in case any of you have not heard of it yet. This is something that is certainly worthy of Christians' support.

I also wanted to mention that recently 70 physicians endorsed this amendment. Keep this in mind as we go through the sixth commandment here on the blog.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Who Is This?

Who is this man? Many people were asking themselves that question exactly when Jesus walked in Judea and Galilee. And the question still persists to this day. We will find an answer to that question, and rejoice in the answer, from the Scriptures record of a Pharisee and a sinful woman meeting Jesus. Join us as we worship Jesus for who he truly is.

Hail to the Lord's Anointed (#185)
How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds (#39)
Who Is He in Yonder Stall (#120)
Hark! the Herald Angels Sing (#90)
'Tis the Christ (#150)
Our Great Savior (#434)

Scripture Reading
Isaiah 11

Who Is This? - Luke 7:36-50

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Fifth Commandment (Part 4)

The Command to Love Your Parents with Honor (Part 4):

The Implications for Society

Deuteronomy 5:16

We have started learning from the section of the Ten Commandments which teaches us what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves. The foremost arena where this love is learned and practiced is in our relationship with our parents. The Lord gives us a command to honor our father and our mother. We learned that honoring them means that they are weighty to us. It implies deference, respect, obedience, and support. It is the opposite of being stubborn, rebellious, cursing, striking, or mocking our parents. This command actually has its basis in the very nature of God and in the authority structure that he has built into his universe. So it is that there are blessings for entire societies when this principle of honor is honored. “In this demand for reverence to parents, the fifth commandment lays the foundation for the sanctification of the whole social life, inasmuch as it thereby teaches us to acknowledge a divine authority in the same” (Gustav Oehler, cited in Keil &Delitzsch, in loc).

With that in mind, I would like to suggest just one prominent feature - one mindset or complex of ideas - of our current society which does not fit well with the fifth commandment. In fact, I believe it would be largely eliminated if we took the fifth commandment seriously.

Youth/pop culture

A little history, though simplistic, might be helpful. The groundwork for the modern conception of youth culture was laid during the Enlightenment. For a specific example we can look at the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau’s philosophy of education, put forward in his work Emile (1762), was rooted in the idea that people are naturally good and that it is society which corrupts them. Therefore, education should cultivate young people’s natural tendencies. Morality, in Rousseau’s view, comes from nature, not from revelation. But if it is young people’s natural, inherent tendencies which guide education, then the idea that young people must be trained in a heritage, a culture, of the best of what has come before them goes by the way side. We should not squeeze them into some preconceived mold. They are their own standard for what is best for them. There is no longer a sense of honor to forebears as superiors. The forebears begin to be considered irrelevant.

The major engine for the spread of these ideas has been the public school system. As children of the Reformation in Europe, American Christians from the very beginning have stressed education. Thus most evangelicals supported public schooling in America in its initial stages, without recognizing that it was, in effect, the social replacement for the disestablished churches. It was the institution which was to transmit and inculcate the vision of life which would unify the nation. Public education of necessity sought to incorporate generic moral principles stripped of their doctrinal foundations. D. G. Hart is correct that that this “generic religion dissolved fairly rapidly the vestiges of Christendom….”[i] The Christian, biblical idea of young people began to wane.

Rousseau’s humanistic ideas of education morphed naturally into evolutionary ideas about young people and education. When Darwin published his views on biological evolution, scholars and thinkers eagerly tried to apply them to the whole range of human experience. Consequently, many people adopted an evolutionary viewpoint on children. A famous example is psychologist G. Stanley Hall. Christopher Schlect summarizes that “….like most evolutionists, Hall also taught that each generation is or should be superior to the previous one, and therefore needs to break free from those which precede it. In practical terms, this thinking has come to mean that rebellion is youth’s destiny.”[ii] Hall’s most famous pupil was the avowed humanist John Dewey, who is called by many the father of modern American education. By the 1930’s the majority of American young people went to high school, thus spending more and more time away from their families and a longer time in life prior to assuming working responsibilities. People began to notice a new subculture emerging - an “adolescent” subculture, so they gave it a new name – “teenager.” It was assumed that this was just a phase of life that all young people had to pass through. That’s why Thomas Hine has written that “The idea of the teenager – and that of the adolescent on which it is based – are inventions.”[iii] Thus we created the so-called generation gap. Young people look more to their peers for acceptance than they do to their parents or grandparents. Young people find their identity in peer groups rather than in their families.

After WWII, baby boomers represent the maturing of the youth culture. Emancipated from family identity, separated from the adult world by the school system, many of them reared in meaningless mainstream American Protestantism or nominal Catholicism, influenced by powerful and ubiquitous media, and with growing wealth, free time, and transportation, they lived out the ideals of self-realization. By the 1950’s, teenagers had their own music, movies, literature, dress, and language. The Sixties completed the overthrow of previous ideas and made youth culture central to American life. Thus, American pop culture takes its cue from the young and novel, rather than from the wisdom of the aged.

Pop culture is all about youth and “now,” immediate gratification. It rejects honor in principle. “If your parents don’t like it, they are old fogeys” is the attitude. According to pop attitudes, almost the worst thing you could be is old-fashioned. And we have come so far now that instead of young people trying to attain the wisdom of the elderly, the elderly are trying to act like the young.

The Biblical Mindset

But is this the biblical mindset? Lev 19:32 says “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God.” In the biblical mindset, our elders are to be highly respected. Proverbs 1-9 is the perfect elaboration of the biblical mindset: “My son, give me your heart.” I believe in the biblical mindset, a ‘teenage’ young man would not look at Tom Brady and say, “That’s who I want to be like.” He would look at his dad. A young woman would not look at Hannah Montana or any pop star who claims to be Christian. She would look at her Proverbs 31 mother and grandmother. You see, in the biblical mindset, there is wisdom to be attained to. It doesn’t come automatically or naturally. It takes long, hard work. It takes listening carefully to our elders. It takes building character according to absolute truth. It takes learning to discern what is truly good, not just what feels good at the moment. It takes exercise to perceive and embrace what is truly beautiful, not merely sensual.

Pop culture is antithetical to these values, so we must partake of it with great discernment. Even those things which are seemingly innocent (such as no drugs, violence, and sex) are still often saturated with the ethos of immaturity, irreverence, and impermanence. For example, Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Seminary, recently stated, "I would almost rather my children see an episode of Desperate Housewives than an episode of Veggie Tales because it would be easier to deconstruct the one than the other." This is keen discernment that all Christians should practice. We should recognize that as we love God and follow Jesus Christ as Lord of all of life, it will necessarily bring us into conflict with the ethos of contemporary pop culture. Ken Myers perceptively wrote, “Christian concern about popular culture should be as much about the sensibilities it encourages as about its content…. [P]opular culture’s greatest influence is in the way it shapes how we think and feel….”[iv] When we do not have a sense of honor toward the best of what has come before us, particularly toward our parents, then we will be unable to think and feel in biblical ways.

Proverbs 30:11-14 describes four morally disgusting classes of people, and it begins the list with those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers. It ends with those who devour the poor. I do not think it is an accident that the Scripture lists these together. These are the kinds of characteristics of a sinful society (cf. 2 Tim 3:1-3). There are thousands of Christians across America today wringing their hands over our presidential elections, while their children are sitting in the next room drinking in pop culture from the television, or, what’s worse, going to the church youth group to get the same thing in another form. Are they really interested in saving American society? I don’t think so.

What kind of society do you want to live in? Then train your children not to look to their peers for approval. Train them not to take their cue about what to think and feel from what is ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ or ‘in.’ Cultivate an attitude of honor toward parents and toward the past, so that you can develop discernment about contemporary culture. Don’t get sucked into the mindset of ‘chronological snobbery’ (C. S. Lewis). Understand God’s authority structure in society! Live by it, and you will be wise.

[i] A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006), 81.

[ii] “Critique of Modern Youth Ministry” (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1995), 5.

[iii] The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager, Uncorrected proof (New York: Avon Books, 1999), 27.

[iv] All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1989), xiii.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Belonging to the Church by Belonging to a Church

Jonathan Leeman has written a very good article in Modern Reformation. The article is entitled "Individualism's Not the Problem - Community's Not the Solution," and it is a much needed call to think about our contemporary problems from a biblical perspective. As I often try to say, we need to think in biblical categories about life. Read it all, if you have a moment.

But here I just want to highlight some comments Leeman made about the nature of the church. We have talked about this before, so this is not new to you. However, I just want to reinforce it with his good words.

What I appreciate most about the communitarian thesis is its ability to crisply identify, well, the rampant individualism among Christians today. Christians today assume they are their own shepherds, and so we treat the church like consumers. Individuals join churches lightly and exit lightly, since doing so does not violate our sense of love and its obligations. We don't stop to weigh the consequences of our departure on others. We don't discuss the reasons for leaving with the pastors. We just go. We take our purchase back to the checkout counter. It's nothing personal. All in all, we ask little of others and give little in return.
What's tragic is, Christians who come and go from churches are merely mimicking so many pastors. A man comes for several years, hears of another opportunity, leaves, and thinks nothing of it. His understanding of love is devoid of any sense of long-term obligation to a flock.
Responding to all this, however, requires us to do more than stand up and give three cheers for community. More to the point, the New Testament does not ground the unity of Christ's body in theological anthropology. And it only briefly alludes to the doctrine of the Trinity as the ground of our unity (as in John 17). Rather, it grounds the unity of Christ's body in Christ's person and work! (24) In reconciling us to himself (Eph. 2:1-10), he also reconciled us to one another (Eph. 2:11- 20).
Though I am a Baptist and a congregationalist by conviction, this is where my own tradition has leaned too far toward voluntaristic assumptions about life in the local church. The Christian life must be lived through the local church because that's what Christ has made us-members of his body. To claim that I belong to the church without belonging to a church is equivalent to claiming that I have been granted Christ's righteousness without seeking to put on that righteousness in ethical living. The imperative necessarily follows the indicative. We're called to submit to the authority and discipline of a local church because we have submitted to the authority and discipline of Christ (e.g., Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5; Heb. 13:17). Indeed, to say that Christians should belong to a local church merely because it's advantageous to living the Christian life misses the point that the church body is now part and parcel of a Christian's very identity. (25) An adopted son attends the family dinner table with his new brothers and sisters not just because it's good for him, but because that's what he is-a member of the family.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Signs of Love

I apologize for the silence on the blog this week. Other priorities kept me busy.

I am truly looking forward to worshiping our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with you this Lord's Day. Here is something to help you prepare.

Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove (211)
Salvation! O My Soul Rejoice! (291)
May the Mind of Christ My Savior (476)
Jesus, I Am Resting (447)
Let Us Love (483)

Scripture Reading
Hebrews 10:1-18

Signs of Love - Deuteronomy 6:8

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Cost of Government Day

Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform writes, "On July 16, Americans mark the national Cost of Government Day (COGD), the date on the calendar year when the average American finishes paying off his or her share of federal, state and local spending, and the regulatory burden. Cost of Government Day falling on July 16 means that you had to work 197 days out of the year just to meet all the costs imposed by government. In other words, the total cost of government – far more than taxation alone – consumes 53.9 percent of national income."

I do not post this so that everyone can feel righteous indignation at "the government" and how "they" are always spending money, although of course they are always spending more money than they should. I would rather have us view this as an opportunity to repent. Just as with the previous post dealing with sickness and sin, we do not interpret our bondage as having anything to do with sin - ours as well as "theirs." Consequently, we do not see how the gospel has anything to do with government. But we are sadly mistaken, for the gospel is the only truth which can set us free.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sickness and Sin

A couple weeks ago I read a perceptive essay by Stanley Hauerwas entitled "Sinsick" (in a collection of his essays entitled A Better Hope). Although the denomination of which Hauerwas is a member long ago capitulated to modernism, and although he himself has some theological problems, he still seems to have a better grasp on some aspects of Christianity than most professing evangelicals today. This essay presents one of those aspects, and I share with you here a few thoughts to challenge your heart.

...For most people the language of being sick seems more intelligible than the language of being a sinner. I think the answer is very simple - we are atheists. Even if we say we believe in God, most of our lives are constituted by practices that assume that God does not exist.

This set of assumptions, of course, has resulted in giving extraordinary power to the medical profession. The hospitals at Duke, Duke North and Duke South, are like the cathedrals of the past - our Chartres and Notre Dames that testify not as those cathedrals did to what we love but rather to what we fear. As I often point out to seminarians, if you want some idea of what medieval Christianity felt like, hang around any modern research medical center. The term
byzantine fails to do justice to the complex forms of power exercised in such a context. Nowhere is such power more manifest than in the ability of those in medicine to redescribe our lives through the language of illness.

Patients have forgotten what every doctor knows, namely, that the final description for every patient for whom a physician cares is "dead."

We desire to be free from illness, and illness is now understood as any condition that limits my choices. Sickness names those aspects of my life I have not chosen. This creates the desire of modern people to find the "cause" of their illness in some "lifestyle" choice.

Put bluntly, we are unable to make sense of our being sick because we no longer understand what it means for our lives to be captured by sin.

The practice of medicine by Christians is not an attempt to deny death but a way to be of service to one another as people who understand that the death we die in this life is not our destiny.

The reason that Christian and non-Christian find ourselves dominated by our "concern for health" is that in the absence of the church, medicine cannot help but dominate our lives. For medicine has become a powerful practice without end, without context, without any wider community to give it purpose. Accordingly, nothing could be more important today than for Christians to recover a Christian practice of medicine shaped by the practices of the church....

For lives determined by that reality - that is, the reality of life with God - how sickness is understood and cared for cannot help but look quite different from how the world understands what it means to be sick.

Now for an assignment. Pay attention to the rhetoric surrounding health care in the political campaigns this year. I think you will see what Hauerwas writes about. Then ask yourself, "How does my Christian understanding of sin and salvation impact the way I feel about health care?" I think we will recover some of our saltiness when we are transformed by the renewing of our minds regarding sin, sickness, and the gospel.

Update: This story about Americans choosing death over disability is another example of what Hauerwas is pointing out.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Church as a Voluntary Society

The church is not a “voluntary” society as we normally think of voluntary. Of course there is a choice involved in joining the church, but that choice is not the metaphysical basis of the church (I deny libertarian “free will.”) This idea has much more in common with the “modern” or Lockean conception of contract society than it does with the biblical picture of the church. O’Donovan is correct to say that “voluntary” “usually connotes an association into which people contract optionally, i.e. not only without anyone forcing them to, but without any pressing need driving them to” (Desire of Nations, 223). He continues, “A voluntary society is one that I could leave without incurring grave or irremediable loss, which might seem a strange thing for a Christian to think about the church” (ibid.).

Strange, indeed. It is much better to think of the church as a believing or a called community. Obviously our wills are involved in believing, but our wills are not the formative factor constituting the society or body politic which is the church. Faith is the gift of God, for it springs from the power of the Spirit who regenerates our hearts as the effect of God’s call. Christ baptizes us into the realm of the Spirit, who produces a unified body. In other words, church membership is not optional. To think that we can contract in and contract out of the church at will is to take the church out of God’s great plan and make it a purely human institution. It is to remove Christ as the head and bridegroom who died to purchase the church with his own blood, and to put in his place our own sovereign desires. It is to despise the work of the Spirit who makes us one body.

Bringing about the Obedience of Faith for the Sake of His Name

As I reflected on our upcoming service this Lord's Day, it seemed to me that Romans 1:1-6 captures exactly what we will be reflecting on and rejoicing in.
"Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ."
We will have the privilege of hearing from two men whom God has set apart to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of the name of Christ. These are exciting days, in which the claims of Christ's resurrection are being made known the whole world over. I hope you will join us to worship our Lord in jubilant expectation because of what he has accomplished in his resurrection.

All Glory, Laud, and Honor (#11)
O Father, Thou Whose Love Profound (#134)
Christ, the Lord, Is Risen Today (#156)
Far Above All (#157)
For My Sake and the Gospel's, Go (#695)
Hark! the Gospel News Is Sounding (#293)

Scripture Reading
Romans 1:1-17

Joel Compton

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Fifth Commandment (Part 3)

The Command to Love Your Parents with Honor (Part 3)

The Implications for Society

Deuteronomy 5:16; Ephesians 6:1-3

Last October many reports online claimed that more Americans can name the ingredients in a Big Mac than can recite the Ten Commandments.[1] I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this survey or the reporting, but if it is true, I would not be surprised at all. We hear regularly of public displays of the Commandments being removed from schools, courthouses, and other public areas. I would suggest that this is but a symptom of the real issue. The real issue is that Americans are largely pagan in their hearts, and so they do not want to know God’s law. We do not like it because it condemns us.

This has huge social ramifications. We readily see them in many ways. Abortion, increasing violence in schools, in video games, etc. reveals a dismal view of the sanctity of human life (contra commandment #6). The epidemic of divorce, which has been with us for a couple generations now, increasing numbers of children born out of wedlock, shows no respect for the sanctity of the marriage relationship (contra commandment #7). Stealing is so commonplace throughout our society that most small thefts are not even prosecuted and a whole method of stealing is incorporated into the practice of the government (contra commandment #8). A court system that is awash in civil lawsuits full of lies says that our society rejects the sanctity of truth (contra commandment #9). I regularly get updates and information from many pro-family organizations, and these issues are continually addressed.

However, I would like to submit today that the social ramifications of the fifth commandment are not widely understood or defended in our nation today. Therefore, we need to consider the society-wide ramifications of the fifth commandment. In order to understand these ramifications clearly, we must first of all grasp the basis for the fifth commandment.

God and the way God made the universe

God’s nature, and the expression of that nature in creation and in human society, are the basis of the fifth commandment. In particular, I am talking about the principle of authority. It comes from the economic Trinity. 1 Cor 11:3 says that “the head of every man is Christ, the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God.” God has fixed this order of authority in his creation in every realm – angels, human government, church, and family. You might think, “Oh my. That sounds oppressive.” But actually it is what provides for true freedom. (Freedom, by the way, is the ability to do what is right and good.)

It provides for freedom by preventing anarchy. There is nothing so oppressive as anarchy. When there is no legitimate authority, might makes right, and the strong crush and devour the weak. God’s authority structure also protects proper freedoms by preventing usurpers from taking illegitimate authority. All legitimate authority comes from God. For example, in the home God has established the husband as the ultimate authority figure in that sphere. Thus he says in Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord.” In the realm of human government, our federal government’s authority protects us from having to obey the demands of Vladimir Putin, Mahmoud Achmadinejad, or Hugo Chavez. No human being has a right to impose his will on someone for whom God has not given him responsibility. Following God’s authority structure preserves our freedoms.

Now, in the home God has established the parents as authorities. The parents are in loco dei; they represent God to their children. Because of this, in the OT the terms “father” and “mother” became a name for a God-ordained authority (for examples, see Gen 45:8 (Joseph); Judg 5:7 (Deborah); 2 Kings 2:12 (Elijah to Elisha); 13:14 (Joash to Elisha)). The fifth commandment is based upon God’s nature and the way he expresses his nature in his created order.

Understanding that whole perspective on life – that God operates according to structured authority, and that all of his creation does too, and that it all starts with the parents in the home – is crucial to rightly evaluating our current society and learning how to live wisely in it. This is indicated in this command because God specifically attaches a promise which has both personal and social ramifications.

God’s promised reward

When God gave this command to Israel, he attached a promise to it – “that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” We must remember when we read this that God had established a special covenant with Israel as a nation, as a corporate entity. He was giving them the land that he had promised to Abraham. That was the place of God’s blessing, of his presence and pleasure. That was where they would enjoy his blessing on their crops and livestock and families. That was where they could enjoy fellowship with God through the sacrificial ritual at the tabernacle (cf. Deuteronomy 4:37-40). So in the fifth commandment when the Lord promised that it would go well in the land, he was speaking to them as more than individuals. Yes, it is true that there will be personal blessings for those who honor their parents. Paul cites this passage in Ephesians 6:3 as still applying to us today, not in the sense of God giving us the specific geographical place that he had promised to Abraham, but in the sense of God blessing our earthly life. But we must also reckon with the fact that the Lord was saying that Israel would have a healthy, blessed society if they were a society in which children honored their parents. While America is not a nation in covenant with God, I believe the same principle applies to us. Our society will reap benefits if parents are honored; it will suffer the consequences if they are not.

With that in mind, in our next installment I would like to suggest just one feature or mindset of our current society which does not fit well with the fifth commandment. In fact, I believe it would be largely eliminated if we took the fifth commandment seriously.

[1] For one example, see

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Honor Your Father...

Today is my father's birthday (I won't say how old he is). I just want to take this opportunity to say, Thank you, dad, for being a father who did not provoke your children to anger, but brought us up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

My father and brother at Brandon's homecoming from Iraq

Forever Running

Intent on methodically taking all the steps that are destined to free him from all discomfort, whether of feeling cold or guilty, modern man is concerned only with the instruments of his emancipation project or with the obstacles to it. Nothing substantial, be it law, good, cause, or purpose, either holds his attention or holds back his advance any longer. He has become a runner and will go on running until the end of the world. (Pierre Manent, The City of Man, p. 48)

Education Is Never Just About Education

On Monday Albert Mohler posted some thoughts on education on his blog which are foundational to understanding education. Dr. Mohler was not saying anything new, but what he said needs to be reiterated over and over again. Here is his introduction.

Schools are never just about education. For that matter, education is never just about education. The school as an institution is founded and supported as a means to some end. In ancient Israel, education was to produce a faithful member of the chosen nation -- a son who would bring pride to the family and his people and glory to God. In ancient Greece the school was to produce a productive citizen, wise and mature. Rome followed the example of Greece.
In the Christian tradition, education was first about making disciples. The earliest Christian schools were catechetical schools for new believers. The early church borrowed from the classical models and established new traditions.

If you have a couple minutes, read the whole thing. (Note: the link will take you to his blog. You will need to scroll down to the post labeled "Just What Are Schools to Do? The Aims and Purposes of Education.")

Excellent Sermon Series on 1 Peter

Dr. David Doran, pastor of Inter-City Baptist Church in Allen Park, MI, has been preaching a series of sermons through 1 Peter. These are all available free on Click here to access them. I would encourage you to listen to them.

The Philadelphia Baptist Confession of 1742

“Of Laying On of Hands”

“We believe that (Heb 5:12 and 6:1-2; Acts 8:17-18 and 19:6) laying on of hands (with prayer) upon baptized believers, as such, is an ordinance of Christ, and ought to be submitted unto by all such personas that are admitted to partake of the Lord’s Supper; and that the end of this ordinance is not for the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, but for (Eph 1:13-14) a farther reception of the Holy Spirit of promise, or for the addition of the graces of the Spirit, and the influences thereof; to confirm, strengthen, and comfort them in Christ Jesus; it being ratified and established by the (Acts 8 and 19:6) extraordinary gifts of the Spirit in the primitive times, to abide in the Church, as meeting together on the first Day of the week was (Acts 2:1) that being the day of worship, or Christian Sabbath, under the gospel; and as preaching the word was (Acts 10:44) and as Baptism was (Mat 3:16) and prayer was (Acts 4:31) and singing Psalms, &c was (Acts 16:25-26) so this of laying on of hands was (Acts 8 & ch 19) for as the whole gospel was confirmed by (Heb 2:3-4) signs and wonders, and divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost in general, so was every ordinance in like manner confirmed in particular.

It is interesting to note that this additional article was not universally received. William Lumpkin records that the Charleston Association of South Carolina adopted this Confession in 1767 but without the article on laying on of hands. Baptist churches in Virginia adopted forms of the Confession, but the laying on of hands had fallen into disuse in Virginia by 1780.

(Information taken from Baptist Confessions of Faith, pp. 352-353)

Saturday, July 05, 2008

A Love Story

Whenever anyone makes any genuine pledge of allegiance, you can be sure that enveloping that pledge is a love story. A choice, a treasure, a covenant, a commitment, a blessing. A response, a yielding, a delight, a walk, a service, an obedience. Through time. Join us this Sunday as we wonder at the ultimate story of love.

Come, Let Us with Our Lord Arise (#25)
Hark! the Voice of Love and Mercy (#134)
The King of Love My Shepherd Is (#336)
O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus (#249)
Jesus Loves Me (#719)
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (#137)

Scripture Reading
Loved with Everlasting Love - Jeremiah 31

A Love Story - Deuteronomy

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Fifth Commandment (Part 2)

The Command to Love Your Parents with Honor (Part 2)
Deuteronomy 5:16; Eph 6:1-3

Love is a much talked about but much less practiced virtue in our society. Last week we started considering the section of the Ten Commandments which teaches us what it looks like to love our neighbor as ourselves. The foremost arena where this love is learned and practiced is in our relationship with our parents. The Lord gives us a command to honor our father and our mother. We learned last week that honoring them means that they are weighty to us. It implies deference, respect, obedience, and support. It is the opposite of being stubborn, rebellious, cursing, striking, or mocking our parents. God in fact deals very severely with those who act that way toward their parents.
As we apply this command to our lives, it first of all means that we treat our parents with love and respect. Whether your parents are godly or ungodly, you must still think of them and treat them with love and respect.


In the second place, the command to honor parents implies obedience. Paul applies this command specifically to children under their parents’ authority in Eph 6:1-3. There is one, fundamental, non-negotiable, crucial command for children – obey your parents. I cannot overestimate how important this command is. Those of you who are parents yourselves need to teach your children to obey. This does not come naturally to children. They are born with sinful hearts and stubborn wills which seek to rule others, not to submit to the leadership God has placed in their lives. One of the greatest gifts you can ever give your child is to teach them to obey, because in a very real sense you are in the place of God to that child. You represent God’s authority structure in this world, and so by teaching your children to yield a glad submission to you, you are teaching them to yield a glad submission to God.
Let me just mention some practical pointers to this end. (1) Always model obedience toward authorities in general and honor to your parents in particular. Be a good example to your children. Do you complain about your authorities in your life? Do you have trouble submitting to your leaders? Do your children hear you and your spouse cutting down your parents? Do you slander your parents? Do your children look up to their grandparents because they see that you honor them? If you want your children to honor you when you get old, you need to set the right example for them.
(2) Be honorable and loving in the way you deal with your children. Issue instructions or commands wisely. Teach your children how to do what you expect them to do. Help them if need be. Some of the best instruction I have ever read on parenting comes from J. C. Ryle in his booklet How Should a Child Be Trained. In one place he says, “Love should be the silver thread that runs through all your conduct. Kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, forbearance, patience, sympathy, a willingness to enter into childish troubles, a readiness to take part in childish joys – these are the cords by which a child may be led most easily, these are the clews you must follow if you would find the way to his heart.” This is so true. Do you not even as adults find that you are much more apt to follow, respect, or obey your authorities when you are confident that they actually care about you and have your best interests at heart?
(3) Teach your children to obey you gladly the first time they are spoken to. My wife and I learned a helpful definition of obedience that we have used with our children – obedience is doing what you are told to do, when you are told to do it, with the right heart attitude (or “with a smile on your face”). If they don’t do this, then it is not obedience.
They should do what they are told to do. Partial obedience is not obedience. They must never, never, never be allowed to tell you “no” or “Why?” or “I don’t feel like it” or “I don’t want to.” There is almost nothing in the world that makes me angrier than a child who will not obey his parents. Am I justified in feeling this way? Well, apparently God felt pretty strongly about it. He prescribed the death penalty for a stubborn and rebellious child. Furthermore they should do completely what they are told to do. You must teach them to do exactly what you have instructed them to do. Now this takes a lot of work, most of the time, but it is imperative. Even in simple things, or perhaps especially in simple things, they must do what they are told. The issue is not how big or little the command is, but how they respond to it.
They should obey when they are told to do it. They do not have the option of waiting until they feel like obeying. If Mom says, “Go clean your room,” they do not have the option of playing for another half an hour before cleaning their room. You see, they have to know that you mean what you say. When you instruct them in something, you are not just a talking head. There are eternal moral principles at stake that result in eternal moral consequences. Ryle connects this with training them in faith. “You should try to make them feel confidence in your judgment, and respect your opinions, as better than their own. You should accustom them to think that, when you say a thing is bad for them, it must be bad, and when you say it is good for them, it must be good; that your knowledge, in short, is better than their own, and that they may rely implicitly on your word. Teach them to feel that what they know not now they will probably know better hereafter, and to be satisfied there is a reason and a needs-be for everything you require them to do.” I believe that many parents these days inadvertently train their children to only obey when the children understand or agree. In my experience, parents who say, “We teach our children just to think for themselves” are often doing no more than allowing their children’s sinful, foolish, ignorant, inexperienced little minds have free reign, and they often end up being permanent sophomores. You see, this touches on something that is fundamental to our existence. We must believe in order to know and in order to be wise. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” God’s school for wisdom necessarily involves submitting to those in authority over us, and this starts with parents. That is why Ryle goes on to say, “Parents, determine to make your children obey you, though it may cost you much trouble, and cost them many tears. Let there be no questioning, and reasoning, and disputing, and delaying, and answering again. When you give them a command, let them see plainly that you will have it done.”
In addition, an absolutely critical part of obedience is the attitude. They must obey with the right heart attitude. This to me is even more important than their actions many times. If my children make an honest effort to obey me but don’t quite get the job done correctly, I’m not too worried about it. I can teach them more, because they have a pliant spirit. But if they do the job perfectly, but do it with a rotten attitude, that is grounds for discipline. It is entirely dishonoring to parents for a child to have a wretched attitude.
So, parents, if you want your children to obey this command and reap the blessings of obedience, then you need to train them to do what they are told to do, when they are told to do it, with the right heart attitude. That means, of course, that you are going to have to be consistent in applying biblical discipline. Proverbs 13:24 says, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” Discipline must be a function of love which is focused on right and wrong. Discipline is not a function of frustration. You do not just put up with the kid until he gets on your nerves and then yell at him or spank him. If he does right, then you encourage and help him. If he does wrong, then you use the rod. Proverbs 22:5 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” And Proverbs also gives us this wisdom: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (22:6). If you train them to honor you now with obedience, that is, yielding a glad submission to you, then they will honor you later on with love and respect.


A third way to fulfill this command is by working with and for your parents while you are in the home. God created marriage to be a productive relationship. A man who takes a wife should have some idea of what God wants him to accomplish in life, and he takes a wife as his helper, his teammate, to accomplish that goal with him. As children come into the marriage, they, too, can work to accomplish that goal. They honor their parents by working with their parents toward accomplishing what their father is leading them to accomplish. This is so good for children. It is not good at all for them to be welfare cases by the time they are 13. Do you know what I mean by this? I mean they sit around playing video games, bum around with their friends, make a mess of the house, show up for a little food, and expect Mom and Dad to pay for everything they want while contributing nothing to the family. That is horrendous. A 13 year old young man or young lady is quite capable of making a huge contribution to his family and to society. For their own good, children need to be taught to work. Now sometimes you might have to be a bit creative with this. On the historic family farm, it was quite easy to involve the children in productive ways. In the city, you might have to work at it a bit more. But even simple things around the house should be given to children to do from the youngest ages. What’s the end result of all this? Children learn the blessings of contributing to the team – the family. And they learn to honor their parents as their leaders on the team.


A fourth way to fulfill this command applies particularly to us as children as our parents grow older. Honoring our parents includes supporting them and taking care of their needs. This has become a lost art in our society with the breakdown of the family and the huge swell of government intrusion into the sphere of the family. But the Scriptures are explicit about our responsibilities in this regard. In 1 Timothy 5:4, 8, the Word of God says, “If a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God….If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Biblical godliness requires us to honor our parents by providing for their needs as they get old. But I would also say that the idea of honor would impel us to go beyond mere financial provision. It would mean giving them the most love and care that we are capable of providing.

So how are you doing today? If you have children, are you training them to honor you? If you have elderly parents, are you honoring them? How is your relationship with your parents today? Are there sins of dishonoring them that you need to take care of?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Philadelphia Baptist Confession of 1742

The Second London Baptist Confession became the standard confession of faith for the Philadelphia Baptist Association in the American colonies. Yet the churches of the Association were also influenced by the Baptist leader Benjamin Keach and his son Elias, so they added two articles to the London Confession: “Of Imposition of Hands” and “Singing of Psalms in Publick Worship.” The Association published this confession in 1743, printed by Benjamin Franklin.

“Of Singing Psalms, &c.”

“We believe that ‘acts 16 25 eph 5 19 col 3 16’ singing the praises of God, is a holy Ordinance of Christ, and not a part of natural religion, or a moral duty only; but that it is brought under divine institution, it being injoined on the churches of Christ to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; and that the whole church in their public assemblies, as well as private Christians, ought to ‘heb 2 12 jam 5 13’ sing God’s praises according to the best light they have received Moreover, it was practiced in the great representative church, by ‘matt 26 30 mat 14 26’ our Lord Jesus Christ with his disciples, after he had instituted and celebrated the sacred ordinance of his Holy Supper, as a commemorative token of redeeming love.”