The pain and division coursing through our country right now is deeply heartbreaking, and for this blog I simply want to say two things. The first is that the racism that can sit in the heart of all humans should cause us to mourn and grieve. All politics aside, both racism and the rioting, looting, and destruction we're seeing are antithetical to everything Scripture commands. As such, I urge you to pray. Pray for unity in this country. Pray for healing, but a healing that comes from God. Pray for the Church to speak decisively into this pain, but that we will eagerly listen and learn how and when to speak. Pray that God will crush racism and racist ideas, for even a whiff of racism stands completely opposed to the gospel. Pray for our government, but pray that the Church will be active in supplying a place of grace and healing. Finally, pray that God’s will is clearly visibly throughout even this.
Our hope is not in a unity structured by borders and leaders, but a unity established by the blood of Christ. “9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen’” (Revelation 7:9-12).
The world does not need our politics or opinions; it needs our Savior.
The second thing - which I almost hesitate to include with the above - is entirely unrelated. However, a hot topic today is how to approach today's politics as Christians. I posted my thoughts in a previous blog, but to offer more clarity on what I was getting at, I’ve included an excerpt from a question-and-answer time with John MacArthur, who – as always – states the idea quite clearly.
QUESTION: “Do you believe it’s biblical when some pastors in America are continuing to hold services even though the government instructs them not to?”
MACARTHUR: “Yeah, let me make very clear this question because it keeps coming up. If the government told us not to meet because Christianity was against the law, if the government told us not to meet because we would be punished, fined for our religion and our religious convictions, we would have no option but to meet anyway. And that takes you to the fifth chapter of Acts where the leaders of Israel said to the apostles, ‘Stop preaching.’ And Peter’s response was very simple. He said, ‘You judge whether we obey God or men,’ then he went right out and preached.
If the government tells us to stop worshiping, stop preaching, stop communicating the gospel, we don’t stop. We obey God rather than men. We don’t start a revolution about that; the apostles didn’t do that. If they put us in jail, we go to jail and we have a jail ministry. Like the apostle Paul said, ‘My being in jail has fallen out to the furtherance of the gospel.’ So we don’t rebel, we don’t protest. You don’t ever see Christians doing that in the book of Acts. If they were persecuted, they were faithful to proclaim the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ even if it took them to jail; and that’s been the pattern of true Christianity through all the centuries.
But this is not that. Might become that in the future. Might be overtones of that with some politicians. But this is the government saying, ‘Please do this for the protection of this society.’ This is for greater societal good, that’s their objective. This is not the persecution of Christianity. This is saying, ‘Behave this way so that people don’t become ill and die.’
Now you may not think that you’re going to have that impact on somebody, you’re not going to be the one that becomes a carrier and causes something to be passed on to somebody else down the road and somebody dies. You may think that’s going to be you. But you cannot defy the government. And I don’t think pastors should do this. You cannot defy the government and say, ‘We’re going to meet anyway because God has commanded us to meet, no matter what damage we do to people’s lives.’
I mean, what should mark Christians is mercy, compassion, love, kindness, sacrifice. How are you doing that if you flaunt the fact that you’re going to meet; and essentially you’re saying, ‘We disregard the public safety issue.’ You don’t really want to say that. That does not help the gospel cause.
What helps the gospel cause is to say, ‘Of course, we don’t want to be the cause of anyone’s sadness, anyone’s sorrow, anyone’s sickness, and certainly anyone’s death. So we will gladly comply.’ This is consistent with what Scripture says, that we are to live quiet and peaceable lives in the society in which we live. We don’t rebel, we don’t do protests, we don’t fight the government, we don’t harass and harangue, we don’t march, we don’t get in parades, we don’t stop traffic; we lead quiet and peaceable lives, and we pray for those in authority over us, and we submit ourselves to them.
In Romans chapter 13, Paul says, ‘You submit yourself to the government, the powers that be.’ But Peter adds to that, ‘You submit yourself to the governor and the king,’ whoever that personal authority is. I’ve heard people say, ‘Well, this isn’t constitutional.’ That’s irrelevant. That is completely irrelevant. When you’re told by an authority to do something and it’s for the greater good of the society physically, that’s what you do because that’s what Christians would do. We are not rebels, and we’re not defiant, and we don’t flaunt our freedom at the expense of someone else’s health.
How do we back out of that to communicate the love of Christ? Look, Jesus came and basically banished disease from Israel. He was a healer. The last thing the church of Jesus Christ would want to be is a group of people that lived in defiance and made somebody sick, caused somebody’s death. So you restrain yourself from that.
Again, the issue is so clear that even going back to Richard Baxter back in 1600s, Richard Baxter has a great section in one of his books where he says, ‘If the magistrate,’ as he calls it, ‘asks you to refrain from meeting because of a pestilence, you do not meet. On the other hand, if the magistrate tries to force you not to meet because of persecution of Christianity, you meet anyway.’ I think that’s the dividing line.”
(This excerpt from MacArthur can be found roughly halfway down the following website: https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/70-48/bible-questions-and-answers-part-72?fbclid=IwAR06-EEdgfmcy-WMDXS2UyMOMSyfcsc26ElCeTO7JJ4THtkSeYz_w_bagc0)
There’s so much pain and confusion in the Church today, and we certainly weren’t aided by President Trump’s comments this past weekend. I praise God to hear a President say what he did. It is true; it is vindicating; it is necessary. But at the same time, it frustrates me to wonder why he didn’t say these things back in March.
With that, one revelation that was particularly betraying was when he called on the governors to acknowledge what you and I have known since Day 6 of creation: that the Church is essential. Unfortunately, by appealing to them, he acknowledged that because we are the “United States” – and not the “Autocratic State” – of America, the individual governors have more authority over their State than Trump does. So while the President may have waxed his eloquence a few months late, it also rubbed salt in the wound of many, because it brought to mind the question we’ve been asking for weeks on end: why are the doors of church buildings still closed?
I know that the answers to the question are varied and testily debated, but at least in my mind, it’s straight-forward: it has little to do with the coronavirus and much to do with the Bible.
That is, the Bible has told us to be subject to our governing authorities (Romans 13:1-2, 1 Peter 2:13-14). The caveat is that if the government tried to silence the message of the gospel (an act not yet carried out), we would be forced to serve the higher law: obedience to Christ above obedience to this earthly government. However, following that same logic, when the message of the gospel is not outlawed, and when we can fully obey both God and our government (despite certain hindrances), we are called to do so despite the cost. After all, when the Spirit inspired Paul and Peter to write those words, I do not think He had the First or Second Amendment in mind. He had His Kingdom in mind. He knew that there would be great injustices and abuses that would at times impede the ministry of the Church. Yet being a God of order, He placed us under the authority of the government, and has called us to be obedient to Him by being obedient to them.
Now, that is not to undermine what a difficult time this has been. I don’t know a single Christian or Pastor that wants to keep from meeting in person. We missed Easter; that was devastating. We will likely miss Pentecost; that is just as gutting. That doesn’t even take into account the friendships and relationships, the power of singing together and approaching the Bible and prayer with each other. It doesn’t touch on how heart wrenching this has been for Christians, but as Ephesians 6 says, our issue is not with flesh and blood. God knew how difficult this time would be, and yet He brought us into a unique puzzle: the gospel has gone out in perhaps greater force and availability during this time, and yet certain aspects of the Church have been unavailable to us. In that way, we cannot categorize this as persecution, but we certainly can say that we’re suffering.
So what can God be teaching us?
I’ve always been fascinated by the story of the Tower of Babel. Found in Genesis 11, it’s an account of how all mankind gathered to build a city and tower from which they can stay connected and meet with the gods. Now, I cannot think of that story without also thinking of seminary. Much time has passed since I graduated, but I constantly reiterate to my wife, Syd, that the best thing I ever learned in those years of intense study was how little I actually knew. The professors would warn us against “knowing just enough of the Bible to be dangerous”. Regarding the Tower of Babel, I would have readily told you it was a tale about reaching the heavens with little more application than to say, “God judges foolish decisions”. It is, on the surface, not an incorrect assessment of the situation: God did judge their foolish decision. Yet it takes into account nothing more than a surface reading of those 9 short verses.
As such, armed with a knowledge that my knowledge is lacking, I came to a book called, Promise and Deliverance to read again Scripture as a story about Jesus. Yet this time, it caused me to look at everything in a new light, for the author wrote of God’s judgment at Babel, “The outward unity is torn down to make room for true unity in the Christ”.
Suddenly, I realized the story wasn’t about judgment for judgment’s sake. Rather, it is one of grace. That is, the backbone involves seeing the twice-given cultural mandate of God to spread across the world and multiply His image through marriage and children set against the people at Babel clumping and staying. The people’s decision was – whether conscious on their part or not – a direct rebellion to one of God’s oldest and most foundational commands, and it came at a price: when we rely too much on each other, there results in little reliance on a God who operates most readily in the wilderness.
That doesn’t mean that we are better off alone – quite the opposite. Rather, if you look again at DeGraaf’s assessment of Babel, he says, “The outward unity is torn down”. Why? – “In order to build true unity in Christ”. That is, in the judgment at Babel, the Lord brought upon the wonders of culture and new languages, but His purpose was to cause the people to rely on something greater than themselves: the promised Seed of Eve (Genesis 3:15). Not only that, but immediately after the scattering of the people, the Lord begins piecing together His eternal family through Abraham (Genesis 12). Where He scattered thousands of years ago at Babel, He was preparing to gather in at the cross (John 12:32). The momentary pain was yielding eternal fruits, because should God have allowed the outward unity to stand, an inward unity that you and I now share in Christ could never have been found. That is, unless the Lord broke the reliance on the tower, the city, and each other, we would never have found His hand reaching for us in the darkness.
Here’s the reason I bring that up:
My Dad has taught me many things. Top of the list is that Dad jokes are real, and they’re painful. He is a sucker for puns, loves turns of phrases, and never passes up an opportunity to tell a “joke”. (I put that in quotes because we’re stretching the definition there).
When my next oldest brother and I were younger and would play sports or chess or something that wasn’t necessarily up his wheelhouse, he had the same line locked and loaded when conversing with another parent. He would say, “Yup, I taught them all I know”. Of course, the subtlety of the humor was not that he taught us what we knew but rather what he knew – which, in those fields, wasn’t all that much. It’s one of the reasons why Sydney and I have taken to calling him “shameless”, because he doesn’t seem to care all that much what others think of him – and the puns are proof of that.
There are many things my brothers and I were interested in that was out of Dad’s area of expertise, but the greatest thing I ever learned from my father was indeed something about which I knew nothing and he taught me all that he knew. Of course, should he take time to read this, he’ll probably be a little caught off guard, because it wasn’t something he necessarily sat down to explain, but it was a lifestyle that I pray daily to emulate.
But to tell you what it is, I’ll explain it backward by sharing one of my biggest struggles as a pastor and a Christian.
With the news that mid-April will see the peak of impact from the virus, it feels like everything is starting to hit a bit harder. People are losing work, and the goalposts continually shift. We don’t know if the news is trending good or bad or somewhere in-between because no one really knows anything. It’s a terrible place to be, and yet it’s paradoxically also the place where the best things begin. How can this be? – It’s because everything is going down right now – employment, income, milk and gas prices, moods and hopes – and when things go down, people usually start to look up.
That’s why so often in the Bible we see God bring His people into the wilderness. In fact, that’s really where the story of fallen humanity begins, as they are driven from a garden and into the wilderness. It’s also a place where many of the stories of the Bible take place. Why? – Ask yourself: when do you feel closest to God? Is it when all your ducks are in a row and life is churning along as you desire? Probably not. God feels closest in hospital-rooms, when we’re oppressed, scared, lonely, and desperate.
That’s why the wilderness is so prevalent in the Bible. It’s where God wrestled with Jacob and Israel was born. It’s where He met Moses to raise up the leader to bring Israel from slavery. It’s where the nation of Israel was brought immediately after slavery and before entering the Promised Land. It’s where David was forced to flee from Saul and then Absalom, penning beloved Psalms. It’s also the place where Jesus was first called when his ministry began, and where he was tempted by the devil.
God operates in the wilderness, because it’s the one place in this world where we get downright desperate. It’s where the words of the Psalmist become our words: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1). And, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).
The wilderness is the place where the black and white words of Scripture begin to ooze with color, coming to life as we don’t simply feed the mind but the soul. It’s the place where we can’t distract ourselves with the things of this world nor take them for granted. It’s the place where God takes us so that He can get our attention, because it’s the one place we can’t survive without Him. Desperate times produce desperate prayers.
I don’t know about you, but I have difficulties praying through pandemics like these. The reason is not because I doubt God’s plan (though at times I do), nor is it because I’m unsure of what I want. Rather, it’s because I’m always uncertain if what I want is what God wants.
After all, with the coronavirus’ fallout, do we simply pray that it ends, everyone returns to work, the economy roars, the churches meet, and life goes back to normal? That’s a laudable thing to desire, but then why did God bring this on us? Or, on the flip side, do we pretend to be such delightfully good Christians that we simply say, “Lord, you’re in control; I get that. We deserve your wrath; I get that. So let your will be done and not mine”?
On one hand we can become heartless theologizers as we say, “Dust begets dust, so do as you please”. Or, we become so attached to our spoiled way of living that we say, “Lord, how can you be good when we’re struggling?”.
We might really wrestle with this, but I also think that’s the point: we’re meant to wrestle. Look at Jacob in Genesis 32, look at what “Israel” means, or look even at Jesus in the wilderness. Christianity is not some guide map on easy living; it turns everything we know upside-down, challenging our norms and desires. It’s a constant battle between old and new natures (Romans 7), with the journey always meant to reshape us in the likeness of Christ.
You see, there’s a tension between God using everything at His disposal to bring about His purposes while also caring about each atom in this world. The tension of how those go together is a great mystery, so how do we walk through it? – The answer is lament.
I know, I know; we’re all sick of talking about the coronavirus. My heart especially goes to those who now have young children at home, whose paychecks are uncertain, and those who are at higher risk. Yet the one thing we all have in common at this point is that like it or not, you’re thinking about COVID-19.
I’m sure everyone who reads this is trying to get away from the news as we post funny pictures on Facebook and simply want to think about anything other than the sheer uncertainty of tomorrow. As I try to do the same, however, a conversation I recently had with my father continues to come to mind. It was several weeks ago, and we were discussing how to practically apply the Bible to our lives. He then said something I’ve never seriously considered. He remarked, “We get so caught up in this world that we never have to consider the sovereignty of God”. My goodness, did that hit close to home.
One of the questions with which many of us have been wrestling lately is: should we still meet on Sunday? Now, I am not speaking on anyone’s behalf or in response to anyone, for I have talked to several people – pastors and others – who are wrestling with this same question, and the responses are varied though tend toward caution. Here at Mt View, we as a Council decided that the best course of action was to temporarily suspend Sunday services, and here are my personal thoughts – and not necessarily the Council’s – on why.
First, the government encouraged us to do so. Now, if the government put out a message telling us to stop meeting for religious purposes, we would rightly ignore that. When it comes to matters of health and safety, however – wherein nearly every religion, business, and meeting place is given the same directive – to make this a matter of us versus the government is to read persecution into a situation where it doesn’t exist. We have not been singled out; instead, we as Christians have been asked to show love by helping to slow the spread of the virus. That’s something that I can get behind and support, even if it means adjusting to a new normal for a while.
Regarding whether or not we should continue to gather publicly, the Lord can and does perform miraculous works, but He’s a God of order. Thus, He works most commonly through systems, and governments are the systems He has put in place. It does not mean they do not err, and it does not mean they speak with the voice of God. However, it does mean that we are subject to them in matters that do not compromise God’s glory.
Here are three examples from the Bible:
As we sit in the middle of the panic of coronavirus, I think it’s important to remember the words of Psalm 121:1-2, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth”. Whatever your thoughts on the current situation in this world and in our country, the reality is that we are all now feeling the effects of this virus. Businesses are taking hits, children are home from schools, seniors may fear infection, and all are wondering what happens next.
In that way, we must remember that our help comes from the Lord only. Yes, He works through governments and systems, but if this virus has proven anything, it’s that humanity is mortal – and we know it. All of history has built to the systems we now have in place, and yet they are crashing as the coronavirus spreads across the world. So whether panicked or not, stocked up or needing to shop, remember that your help comes from the Lord. With that in mind, here are some thoughts on how to proceed.
My name is Bryan Lanting. I am a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary, and I am presently serving Mt View CRC as their pastor. I am married to a wonderful wife named Sydney, and both of us are loving live, loving Lynden, and loving the Lord!