Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Authority (4): the church as an agent of authority


But God does not only approach us via our parents. He also draws near to us through the church. The Lord Jesus Christ has vested authority in the church. This authority is, first of all, to preach the gospel. The church is Christ's preaching agency. Before He ascended to heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ sent his disciples out to preach the good news about salvation in his name and to teach people how to live in obedience to his will. He said to them: "… go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

The apostles took this command seriously. They themselves went out into the world preaching, discipling, baptizing, and teaching. Before they died, they trained others to preach. They told those they trained to train, in turn, others. In the last letter he wrote before he died, the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, minister of the church in Ephesus: "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others" (2 Tim 2:2). Timothy, taught by Paul, had to teach others who would, in turn, be able to teach others.

And so to this day the apostolic message has been handed down through the church. The faithful church of Jesus Christ has continued to preach the good news about salvation in the Name of Jesus Christ.

Not only does the church have the authority to preach the Word of God (to those who are already members of the church and in the context of mission work to those who do not yet know Christ). Christ, the Head of the church, also gave the church authority to exercise discipline over the members of the church—over those under its care.

In Matthew 16, the Lord told Peter and the other disciples that He was giving them the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and that whatever they bound on earth would be bound in heaven, and whatever they loosed on earth would be loosed in heaven. The Lord hereby gave the church authority to announce guilt or innocence. If a member of the church is living in disobedience to the commandments of God, then the church has the authority to tell that person he stands guilty before God. And when a person repents, again, the church has the authority to declare that person innocent—innocent before God on the basis of the blood of Jesus Christ.

The Lord Jesus worked that out more—what in fact He was giving to the church—He worked that out a bit more in Matthew 18. There He said that if a member of the church refuses to repent of a specific sin, if he hardens his heart and holds on to that sin, if he loves that sin more than Jesus Christ and obedience to his word, then the church has the power, authority, and responsibility to excommunicate that person. To bar him from the rights and privileges of membership in the church, and to declare that he, because of his hard-hearted sin against God, because of his unwillingness to seek forgiveness at the foot of the cross of Christ, no longer has a place in the kingdom of heaven.

We have an example of this process at work in the New Testament. In his first letter to the church at Corinth, chapter 5, Paul said that it had been reported to him that there was a case of sexual immorality in the church that shocked even the pagan unbelievers of Corinth. The case was that a member of the church was living with his stepmother. This was a case of incest. As depraved as Grecian society was, apparently incest was almost unheard of. Here in the church at Corinth, there was a case of incest. A man was publicly living together with his father's wife—his stepmother. And the church did nothing about it. In fact, the church was kind of proud about how enlightened it was that it could tolerate such a thing.

Paul said to the church: Put this man out of your fellowship! He continued: "When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord."

The church was to put this man outside, to excommunicate him, to hand him over to Satan. By expelling the man from the church, he would be thrust into the devil's territory, severed from any connection with God's people. The purpose was not only the preservation of God's good Name, but also that by being officially ostracized from the church, the man would experience such anguish that he would repent and forsake his wicked way.

So you see, do you not, that the authority to discipline that Christ gave his church is remedial? It is meant to reconcile the sinner to Christ and the church. All discipline is meant to be therapeutic. You can make the analogy with discipline in the family. It is supposed to be healing. Administered in a firm but loving way, it brings correction. Sadly, discipline is sometimes administered in a cruel, abusive and destructive way. That is no longer discipline. That's something else. It's abuse. We will turn to that painful topic in a future issue.

The point is that discipline in the family and in the church is meant to bring healing and correction—to reconcile the sinner to God.

(The next post will be about the state as an agent of authority.)


This series of blog posts were originally presented as a speech at the October 1998 Ontario Women's League Day in Ancaster, Ontario. Much of the spoken style remains.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Authority (3): agents of authority



Not only does the Lord come to us by way of his holy Word; He also enters our lives through different agents. God comes to us by way of different people whom He puts in authority over us. We need to understand that. By the same token, the one who is in a position of authority needs to understand that as well. And he had better not abuse his authority. From the Word of God we can even say: Woe unto that person who abuses his or her authority and who thereby hurts the one under their authority. We will write more about that in a future issue—about the abuse of authority. But let the warning ring out now already that it will not go well for those who abuse their authority and hurt a little one. If he does not repent, it would better for that person to have a millstone hung around his neck and for him to be cast into the deepest part of the ocean.

But we have gotten well ahead of ourselves. This issue's topic is "agents of authority."

Basically, there are three spheres of authority that God calls us to place ourselves under. They are: our parents, the church, and the state.

Parents

The first persons in authority you came across in your life were your parents. Your mom and your dad. They were given the task, the responsibility to raise you, to teach you, to discipline you. Children are to submit to the good instruction and discipline of their parents. The LORD God even had something to say about this in the Ten Commandments. The Fifth Commandment says: "Honour your father and your mother." There are many places in the Bible that teach children to obey their parents.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul mentioned this as well. In Ephesians 6 he said: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother…'" In this context, he had a special word for the fathers. He added: "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord."

We can also think of the beautiful summary of what the Bible teaches about this in Lord's Day 39 of the Heidelberg Catechism:

104.     Q.        What does God require  in the fifth commandment?
            A.        That I show all honour, love, and faithfulness
                              to my father and mother
                              and to all those in authority over me,
                  submit myself with due obedience
                              to their good instruction and discipline,
                  and also have patience with their weaknesses
                              and shortcomings,
                  since it is God's will
                              to govern us by their hand.

(The next post is about how the church is an agent of authority.)


This series of blog posts were originally presented as a speech at the October 1998 Ontario Women's League Day in Ancaster, Ontario. Much of the spoken style remains.


Saturday, October 20, 2018

Authority (2): the source


The source of authority: God

When we speak about authority, then we need to ask about the source of authority. What or who is the source?

It is, of course, God. Ultimate authority belongs to God alone—to God the Creator and Redeemer of life. God is the absolute and final authority with respect to all things: Nature, history, faith and morals.

After the LORD God had shown his sovereignty over nature and history by bringing his people Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground and had drowned Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and all his soldiers in the midst of the Red Sea, then Moses and the Israelites sang a song which praised God as the One who has authority over people's lives and over all of creation. They ended the song (Exod 15) with the triumphant words: "The LORD will reign for ever and ever."

Many of the Psalms describe God as the great, ultimate, and final authority over all things. Psalm 93 says: "The LORD reigns, He is robed in majesty; … and is armed with strength. … Your statutes stand firm … for endless days, O LORD."

The Lord Jesus told us not to fear those who can kill the body and after that can do no more. Rather, said He, we ought to fear Him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw a person into hell. And then He was talking about God the Father.

One of the apostolic letters of the New Testament, the letter of Jude, ends with these words: "to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!"

We can also think of the book of Revelation which shows so powerfully the authority God has over all the peoples of the earth, over all of nature, and over all of history.

Authority given to Christ

God the Father has given authority to his Son—to God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. As Jesus Christ himself said in Matthew 28:18: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."

What kind of authority did the Lord Jesus Christ receive? He tells us, in the gospels.

The gospels tell us that He had authority on earth to forgive sins (Mark 2:10). He had the authority to drive out demons (Mark 3:15). He taught as one who had authority, and not as the teachers of the law of his time. The people recognized that. When He spoke, they listened (Matthew 7:29). God the Father gave his Son authority to judge (John 5:27). John 17:2 teaches that the Father gave Jesus Christ the authority to give eternal life to all those the Father had given Him.

God the Son has authority by virtue of being God. Because He, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is true and eternal God, He has authority over all things. But He was given authority in a special way—authority to forgive sins, to heal, to teach, to judge and to give eternal life.

The authority of God's Word

How does this authority—the authority of God the Father and of the Lord Jesus Christ—reach us today? Through the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ and of God the Father, speaks to us today through the Word, the Bible. The Scriptures, as the very Word of God, has authority over us.

The authority of Scripture lies in the fact that it is inspired, the infallible Word of God. In 2 Timothy 3:16 & 17, the Apostle Paul wrote: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

God breathed the Scriptures out. God speaks to us today by way of the Holy Scriptures. We need to listen to them. Woe unto him who would ignore what the Scriptures say. The Bible has total authority over us, over every aspect of life, both doctrine and conduct.

It is the Bible that teaches us how to live. It teaches us what God's will is and how to live a life pleasing to Him. We need to read the Bible, every day at home, to study it, in order to know what the Lord requires of us. It is the Bible that teaches the gospel which tells us about what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for sinners. It speaks about how He died to set people free from their sins.

The Lord has given the task of proclaiming the gospel and teaching the Word to the church. All people need to seek out the church of Jesus Christ to sit under faithful and authoritative preaching to hear the good news of salvation and to be taught how to live in obedience to God's Word and in thankfulness for his goodness and grace.


(The next posts begin exploring the topic of the agents of authority.)


This series of blog posts were originally presented as a speech at the October 1998 Ontario Women's League Day in Ancaster, Ontario. Much of the spoken style remains.


Friday, October 19, 2018

Authority (1): often despised


This series of blog posts were originally presented as a speech at the October 1998 Ontario Women's League Day in Ancaster, Ontario. Much of the spoken style remains.

"Authority" is often thought of in negative terms. One would ask why. The answer is two-fold. Authority is often despised because of the frequent abuse of authority. Sadly it happens often that one in authority over others abuses his power. We will speak about that in a future instalment.

A second reason authority is often despised is because man has an inherent unwillingness to submit to someone else. Ever since the Fall into sin, every human being has a natural urge to be completely autonomous—a law unto himself. This is not a new development in humanity. You see it already with the first humans, Adam and Eve. God had placed them in the Garden. He had given them a beautiful place to live, work to do, food to eat. They could eat from every tree in the Garden, except for one. There was one tree they were not to eat from. That was God's law. The man and the woman, however, rejected that law. They rejected God's authority and ate from that tree.

Ever since, man has continued to reject authority. By nature, man is lawless.

Media comment on authority

It is very interesting to see how the media comments upon the biblical teaching of authority. There was a profound example of interesting media comment the summer of 1998. On June 9, 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a Declaration on Family Life. It reads as follows:

God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. It is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood or adoption. Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a life-time. It is God's unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and his church, and to provide for the man and the woman the framework for intimate sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means of procreating the human race. The husband and the wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God's image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to his people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation. Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord. Parents are to teach their children spiritual and moral values and to lead them, through consistent discipline, to make choices based on biblical truth. Children are to honour and obey their parents.

Media comment on this declaration was very interesting. That the media had lots to say about this statement was not unexpected. What was surprising was what the media focused on. The declaration began with a very narrow definition of marriage. It said that marriage is the union of one man to one woman for a life-time. Part of the liberal media agenda is gay rights. With the legalization of gay marriages, it is surprising that the media did not latch on to that point.

Furthermore, the declaration says that the marriage between a man and woman is for a life-time. It excludes divorce. Again, how surprising that the media had nothing to say on this point.

When the Declaration on Family Life spoke about children, it said that children are a blessing from God "from the moment of conception." Largely, the media rejects that. The message promoted in our culture is that a woman can terminate life in her womb if she wants. And yet the media did not zero in on that part of the statement.

Neither did they comment on the declaration's call to parents to provide "loving discipline" to their children. The child rights advocates hate the word "discipline." Yet the media let that pass.

It let all of this pass. It let pass the opportunity to lambaste Christians for their views on marriage and divorce, abortion, and child-rearing—typical hot-button items. Instead it fixated itself on one sentence: A wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband…

Isn't that interesting? Of all the places the media could hook into this statement, they focused on this aspect. Why? Because of the hatred of authority. Because of the inherent human tendency to reject the idea that there are levels, structures, of authority in life—in society, in families. 

(The next post will be about the source of authority.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Our children and their education (4 - final)*

(continuation from part 3)



The responsibility of the school towards the child

On the horizontal level one other institution comes into view when discussing the various spheres of responsibility with which the child comes into contact, and that is the school. 

A Christian school is given its responsibility by the parents and community that established it. This responsibility flows from the parents/community to the board, principal, and teacher.

A public school is given its mandate from the provincial government and the voters. The ballot containing the names of candidates for mayor and councillors will also present names for candidate school trustees. Because the public school is not parent run, as the Christian school is, parents have little recourse to effect change at the public school. When the government introduces antichristian curricula and demands (cf, what is presently happening in Alberta) the parents have little recourse, other than on election day.

But let us continue speaking of how it is at the Christian school.

What is the responsibility of the school towards the child? What is the place of the school in light of the biblical principle that God gives parents the task to raise the children that he gives them? We ought not to identify Christian education with Christian schools. Christian education is bigger than the Christian school. If parents leave all the education of their children to the schools, then the children, the families, the churches, and the schools will be frustrated. The school is part of the picture, but not the total picture. And the parents' role must remain primary, also in the instruction of their children.

Since it is primarily the task of parents to train their children it makes sense that the parents, and the broader community of the church, will band together to establish a school, form a board, and hire a principal and teachers to help them fulfill their task. Parents may opt either to home school or to establish a day school.

Establishing a day school

Since the education of the children is of greatest importance, it is essential for church, home, and school all to be pulling in the same direction. The image of a triangle is well known and useful: church, home, and school form a triangle where all seek equally and cooperatively to train the child in a biblical way.

Your children are the only “things” you have been given that will last for ever. Everything else you have is borrowed stuff which will all burn on the last day, but your children will live for ever, either in heaven or hell. Raise them carefully!

If the community of Reformed churches and believers at all have the possibility they will establish a confessionally Reformed school. Teachers, who have the children in their classrooms  for many hours per day, will significantly impact the children, for good or for ill. For that reason parents, through the board, will be careful when hiring teachers.

The purpose and goal of the school is to teach the students, to impart to them knowledge, and to help them develop skills that they may become better citizens of the kingdom of God and of the country in which they live. It is the task of parents and of the church to lead the little ones to Christ, and the teacher will help the parents and the church pursue that goal. 

Reformed parents send their children to a (Reformed) Christian school in order for the children to receive good academic instruction in all the necessary disciplines by well-trained teachers who are unequivocally committed to the Reformed faith and who will strive to teach the students from within the framework of a Biblical (i.e., Reformed) view of God, man, and creation.

As Reformed confessors we want the teachers of our schools to know and to love the Reformed confessions, and to teach our children from that perspective. The goal of the school ought to be to impart to the student knowledge and skills within the framework of a consistently Reformed view of God, man and creation. We want the school to train our children to live in this world able to use their God-given talents to the glory of God and the well-being of the neighbour.

Conclusions

1. The child belongs to the parents. God calls parents to take care of every aspect of their children's lives—physical, spiritual, moral, ethical, social, educational. This is the divine calling of parents.

2. The church also has a divine calling towards the children. The children are lambs of the flock. The church must care for them and teach them.

3. Reformed believers who are members of Reformed churches will want to establish confessionally Reformed schools. They will want their children taught by teachers who stand with them foursquare on the Reformed faith as it is confessed in the Reformed standards.

4. Reformed schools must be based upon the biblical teaching and the Reformed confession of:

  a. God.
  • God is the transcendent God of the universe who is absolutely sovereign over creation (Belgic Confession articles 1, 8, 12, 13, 14, 16, 36, 37); 
  • God is the immanent God who has come near to us in his Word, and in the fullness of time, in his Son and Holy Spirit (Belgic Confession articles 2-7, 9-11, 17-21, 25, 26);
  b. Man.
  • Man was created in God's image (Belgic Confession article 14);
  • Man fell radically and totally (Belgic Confession article 15,);
  • Man's only hope is to be recreated (regenerated) by God in the image of Jesus Christ by the Word (Belgic Confession article 14, 16, 17, 22-24, 27-35);
  c. Creation. 
  • God has created and sustains all things (Belgic Confession article 12, 13);
  • God is the Lord of history (Belgic Confession article 13, 37; 

  a. Know and love the Triune God, the Word of God, and the Reformed confession;
  b. Love children;
  c. Be well-trained and academically up-to-date.

May God bless Reformed Christian parents everywhere in the world. May God bless all the schools that they, with the help of their church communities, establish.

The government of the Province of Alberta is demanding ungodly principles and actions of all the schools in the province. Schools that do not comply with the demands of the ministry of education may lose both any funding they receive and accreditation. The latter is worse than losing funding because graduates would not be able to pursue post-secondary education. Their diplomas would not be recognized by colleges or universities. There may be a task here for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms  and/or the Association for Reformed PoliticalAction.

-----------------------
  • Abbreviated version of conclusion of speech delivered at CRTA--West Teachers' Conference in Coaldale, Alberta, March 22, 1996.