Mask Mandate? Christian, the Great Commandment Informs Our View About Masks

Fox News got me again. My entire family was still asleep. I was in that awkward moment where I was about to get up and start my day, but the warmth under the covers was just too enticing to leave. So, I opened FoxNews.com on my phone. The title of the article I first opened reads, “Biden hits Trump for refusing to concede, says ‘national mask mandate’ discussed with govs.

The words “national mask mandate” leapt off the screen way before the words “refusing to concede.” The temptation to read was overwhelming, so, admittedly, I read it. After reading the article, I felt compelled to share two perspectives about mask wearing because much discussion seems to be invading our social circles about the use of masks during this pandemic.

The American Perspectives

For some Americans, “mask mandate” sounds like a “Big Brother” move right out of George Orwell’s 1984. The idea of our elected government “mandating” its citizens to wear a mask seems like an infringement on our constitutional rights as Americans. The phrase could imply that America may no longer be the “Land of the Free.” Perhaps many of you feel this tension when our elected officials are trying to push a “mask mandate” on its body of citizens.

The alternative American approach is that masks should be mandated by the government to slow the spread of the Coronavirus. This view implies that the government’s policy on mask wearing is not an infringement upon constitutional rights, but rather a way to protect those who live in America. Perhaps many of you who hold to this perspective feel that it is the responsibility of our elected officials to serve their constituents by protecting them.

From what I can see, both of these American perspectives I have broadly summarized have some validity to them. Both sides are trying to argue their positions from two categories that are a benefit to all people: rights and service. Therefore, we can conclude one area of common ground: both sides are trying to do what they think is best for the country. Maybe this should cause us to be better at dialoging between the two positions instead of belittling one another via social media grudge matches . . . but that is a blog post for another day.

A Christian Perspective

As I have thought about wearing masks, I have decided to take a different approach or what I’m calling a Great Commandment approach to the dawning of the mask due to COVID-19’s global impact on people’s health. I would like to share my thoughts on why I choose to wear a mask based on Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 22:34-40. Thus, maybe–just maybe–we can add a new voice, a Christian perspective, about wearing masks in this pandemic.

Jesus’s Teaching

Matthew 22:34 begins with this scene. Jesus has just told the Sadducees they had a wrong view about the resurrections in Matthew 22:29–the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection (Matt 22:23). After Jesus “astonished” the crowds with his teaching, he concluded, “He [God] is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt 22:32). Then, a lawyer of the Pharisees asked Jesus this question, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law” (Matt 22:36)? Jesus responds with this answer, which I will provide in full:

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 22:37-40

You may be asking, “What does this have to do with masks?” I want to submit to you that Jesus teaches that our freedoms are restricted as followers of Christ, and we do not need a government mask mandate because the moral law prescribes how we are to love our neighbor during the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, I would like to provide three thoughts for Christians about mask wearing that have informed my Christian perspective.

Love of God

Jesus begins his answer by explaining to the crowd that “the great and first commandment” is to love the Lord your God. Before we can move to obedience and love of neighbor, we must first love God by responding to the gospel. We must first believe in Christ’s work on our behalf–his perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection–and respond to that work by faith, which leads to a relationship and love for God. Jesus is the only way that we can turn to love the Lord our God entirely (i.e., all our heart, soul, and mind).

First John 4:9-10 explains God’s love for fallen and broken humanity when he wrote, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:9-10). The word propitiation can mean to satisfy. God loves you and me, and his love is demonstrated by him sending his Son to take the punishment for our sin and satisfy his wrath.

When we trust (i.e., respond by faith) in what Christ has done because of God’s love for us, we turn from sin to a love for God. However, this love has implications for Jesus’s disciples. Our love for God means that we submit our lives to God. Think of it like a marriage. When a husband and a wife give themselves over to one another in marriage, they are expressing to one another that they intend to love each other completely or with every fiber of their being. The same is true of our love for God. Our love for God ought to impact every aspect of our lives from our souls to our minds and our actions. In fact, Jesus states, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15), and “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Loving God is the affection of the Christian that informs the rest of their words, thoughts, and deeds.

Love of Neighbor

Christian, you cannot truly love your neighbor until you first have a true and faithful love for God. It is only once you and I understand God’s love for us manifested in Christ that we can truly turn around and love those around us. This is why Jesus responds to the Pharisee lawyer with “And a second is like it” (Matt 22:39). I think of Jesus seeing the lawyer and his Pharisee pals shaking their heads in agreement because they were taught this truth since they were young from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and he goes “Oh, by the way, don’t forget,” “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39).

In a similar passage, Jesus was asked how to inherit eternal life by another lawyer. Jesus responded to this person with two questions, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it” (Luke 10:26). The lawyer responds with the same words Jesus said in Matthew 22. Jesus gives him the thumbs up, but the lawyer is still struggling to comprehend so he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The point of this parable is that a love for God through faith in Christ leads a believer towards love and mercy for those around them. The Great Commandment text discusses how loving God tends to lead a person towards loving their neighbor.

But, what does this love look like? Jesus answers: “as yourself” (Matt 22:39). We have to admit that we are pretty good at loving ourselves. If you are hungry, you love yourself by eating. If you are thirsty, you love yourself by getting a drink. If you are selfish, you love yourself by taking the last donut. If you are self-centered, you love yourself by making sure everyone knows how “awesome” you are. Seriously, the list could go on and on, but the point remains valid that we are good at loving ourselves. We all have an inherent ability to be like Donna and Tom from the episode in “Parks and Rec” where we live by the mantra “treat yo self.” Jesus teaches that when we truly love the lord our God with every fiber of our being it manifests (I use this word purposely to make your remember Christ) into a love for our neighbor.

A Lawful Love

Jesus concludes the Great Commandment with these words, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:40). Now that we have a firm grasp on love of God and Love of Neighbor, we can move to the issue of “mask wearing.” These two truths are what make a Christian perspective different from the two American perspectives. As Christians, the government doesn’t have to tell us to wear a mask because we live by what Christians for generations have called a “love ethic.” This ethic is established from the moral law of God. In other words, I love my neighbor the way God’s law commands me to love them. This love is not arbitrary but rather objective. The only way to love my neighbor is by loving them the way the moral law tells me, which is directed by God himself in Scripture.

For application, let’s walk through these concepts systematically to find out a Christian attitude towards dawning a mask during COVID-19. First, we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. A total love that requires submission and obedience to God because we are in a relationship to him through Christ. Next, our love for God moves us to a love for our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? Everyone we connect with socially. Finally, we may ask the question, “How can I love my neighbor well according to the Law?” Answer: a lawful love is wearing a mask to protect my neighbor from COVID-19.

John Calvin taught that the moral law can be summarized in the Ten Commandments. I think that a Christian perspective of mask wearing is found in the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder” (Ex 20:13). I’m not saying that not wearing a mask is equivalent to murder. But, as I have argued elsewhere, this commandment exhorts the principle of carefulness. Therefore, the logical progression for a love ethic as it pertains to mask wearing is: I love God, the God of life commands me to respect and value all human beings, thus, I wear a mask to love all those around me (my neighbor) so that they know I love them and value them enough to protect them from possibly contracting COVID-19.

Conclusion

Hopefully, looking at Jesus’s words in the Great Commandment will help you think less about a political view about mask wearing and more about how a Christian might take Jesus’s words and put them into practice when it comes to wearing a mask during these unprecedented times. I would like to end this post with the words from the Apostle Paul to the church of the Thessalonians, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (2 Thess 3:18).

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Review of Before You Vote: Seven Questions Every Christian Should Ask by David Platt

David Platt. Before You Vote: Seven Questions Every Christian Should Ask. Radical, Inc., 2020. 125 pp. Paperback. ISBN 978-1-7349522-3-0. $4.99.

Introduction:

I figured the best time to share a critical book review of David Platt’s new book, Before You Vote: Seven Questions Every Christian Should Ask, should be on Election Day. My purpose for publishing this review is twofold: 1) to provide a summary for you, the reader of Platt’s content–because you don’t have time to read it before you vote, and 2) to give a critical analysis of it’s content. Therefore, I have divided this critical book review into headings so that you can choose which parts of the critique you would like to read depending on your circumstances.

Summary

Platt begins his book with this problem in mind, “We are swimming in toxic political waters that are poisoning the unity Jesus desires for his church, and we are polluting the glory Jesus deserves through us in the world” (p.11). While America is in political turmoil, Platt observes political descension among Christ’s bride. His hope in publishing this book by Radical is, “to fuel deeper affection for Christ while fostering healthier conversations among Christians as we participate in a presidential election” (p. 12). Platt’s book has three purposes for Christians during this Election Day: 1) to recognize the only hope Christians have is in Christ, 2) to foster open discussion among God’s family, and 3) to plead for unity in the gospel.

To argue for this thesis, he poses 7 questions for Christians to consider on November 3, 2020. The questions and answers are as follows:

  1. Does God Call Me To Vote?
    • Answer: “Based on the biblical commands above [Government’s role, Christian’s role in government, justice, prayer, love God, neighbor love, and stewardship], and the unique grace that God has given us as followers of Jesus and ‘governing’ citizens in a representative democracy, it seems we have a responsibility before God and one another to steward our vote for the sake of good, God-glorifying governance” (p. 26).
      • Platt does address “convictional inaction, which is basically a conscious and deliberate refusal to support any political candidate, organization, or party” (p. 27). Convictional inaction is what John Piper argued in his article, “Policies, Persons, and Paths to Ruin: Pondering the Implications of the 2020 Election.” Platt rightly states, and is something we should all consider before condemning Piper’s stance, that it is possible for a Christian to exercise convictional inaction as a form of stewardship. That author’s “aim…is to say that followers of Jesus will ‘steward their vote’ in different ways” (p. 27). Although, not recommended by Platt as a primary option (p. 27-28), we should not condemn those who chose not to vote (p. 27).
  2. Who Has My Heart?
    • Answer Part I: “First and foremost, we do not put complete trust in any political candidate or party” (p.37). Answer Part II: “Our [a believers] allegiance definitively belongs to God and his gospel, not our government” (p. 38).
  3. What Does My Neighbor Need?
    • Answer: “Vote in a way that demonstrates supreme love for God and selfless love for others” (p. 57). More on this in the “Critical Analysis” section.
  4. What Is The Christian Position?
    • Answer: “Throughout his Word, God speaks clearly and directly on some issues. But there are other issues that are less clear and not as direct. Knowing the difference between these two is critically important in determining how we should use the word ‘Christian’ in politics” (p. 64).
      • Platt’s overall answer is to illustrate that some political issues are non-negotiable because God’s Word specifically speaks to certain political issues (i.e. gender, marriage, and abortion on p.65). However, there are some political areas that the Bible does not specifically address that are open to debate and discussion among fellow believers. His point is to convey that Christians should develop two categories: essential issues and negotiable issues. When discussion politics, a Christian would do well to label issues correctly to engage with others in a Christ-like and civil manner. Plus, Platt explains how believers should chose their words with precision and clarity (as one of my professors likes to say) when talking about politics.
  5. How Do I Weigh The Issues?
    • Answer: “Consider two factors that Christians might use to weigh political options: biblical clarity and practical consequences” (p. 81, emphasis original).
      • The answer to this question was one of the highlights of Platt’s work. In fact, this will be the framework by which he will answer question 7. The Christian, Platt argues, thinks about issues from two sides of the same coin. First, if I may put it in my own form of questioning, “What does the Bible teach?” and second, “What vote will produce the most probable outcome to benefit society from a Christian worldview?”
  6. Am I Eager To Maintain Unity In The Church?
    • Answer: “We have a unique opportunity to show that there’s another way. To show that the church of Jesus Christ is a distinct and otherworldly community that transcends political party and preference” (p. 103).
      • In this chapter, the reader sees Platt’s pastoral heart shine through the words on the page. Pastor David desires and hopes, which is part of the reason he wrote the book, for the church to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). Paul implies in this text that unity can ebb and flow in God’s bride. Therefore, Platt desires that the church in America should fight to remain unified in Christ, in the gospel, not in our votes.
  7. So How Do I Vote?
    • Answer: Platt provides a “practical tool” to voting “by focusing on both biblical clarity and practical consequences” (p. 107, emphasis added). The answer to question 7 is a grid that employs the content of question 5. He provides a helpful diagram and some examples for the reader to use before they vote.
      • This answer is where we see Platt’s influence in preaching coming to the forefront of his writing. He is a preacher, and as such, he provides his readers with an application of what he has just taught. In other words, many readers will be shocked that Platt does not use this grid to get you to vote for a particular candidate or party, but rather he provides a method for coming to your own prayerful conclusions as a believer who decides to steward a vote.

Critical Analysis

As I have written before, scholarship is not for the faint of heart (see A Clarification of Frame’s Doctrine of Carefulness). We subject our writing and thought to the world for both positive and constructive criticism. Therefore, I would like to provide a short analysis of Platt’s Before You Vote.

First, Platt handles this subject with theological acumen and pastoral care. Contrary to many who see a political book published by a pastor as an endorsement message, this book is not an endorsement of any candidate or party. Let me say that one more time. Platt does not endorse any political candidate or party. The book is more of a guide to navigating the political climate as Christians approach Election Day. The content reminds believers of the hope the gospel brings to our souls, the ability to vote with neighbor love in mind, and for Christians to just think more biblically about Election Day and the days after November 3, 2020 (p. 12).

Second, the author provides the reader with some practical advise on how to prayerfully decide how they will vote in an upcoming election. In other words, he doesn’t tell you how to vote, but gives you a guide or “grid,” as he calls it, to help you make a biblically informed decision before you cast your ballot (see pp. 105-21). His method is centered around the categories of biblical clarity and practical consequences (p. 81). This grid is helpful to think through and make an informed decision about who you will vote for in elections. In fact, whether one agrees with the grid or not, the point that can be taken away from Platt’s tool is to think before you vote. Know the platforms. Think about the issues. Think about loving your neighbor. Study the Bible. Ask God for wisdom. Ensure your vote is cast with a motive to honor God as his representatives on earth.

Third, while Platt does a great job explaining how one should vote with the biblical command of “loving your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39), he should have expounded on what neighbor love is. I think he alludes to it with the idea of justice being rooted in God’s character (p. 22), but he misses an opportunity to educate his readers about how neighbor love must be grounded in God’s character as displayed in God’s law. Jesus concludes his teaching on love of God and love of neighbor by stating, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:40). Jesus instructs his disciples that love of God and love of neighbor are connected to the commandments. Therefore, the way I love my neighbor is by loving them the way God commands me to love them in the moral law. Additionally, when I vote, I show my love for neighbor by voting towards issues that will restrain sin and promote biblical principles.

Fourth, I was uncomfortable with Platt’s use of the phrase practical consequences. Platt defines this “factor” as “evaluating the potential consequences of the political decisions we make, including the effects of those decisions in our communities, our country, and the world” (p. 81). My concern with this phrase is that is promotes a form of utilitarianism. He seems to argue that we make a voting decision based on the consequences, and the perceived consequences makes us morally right in our vote. Humans are unable to predict the future because we are finite, and human beings cannot base a decision on the perceived outcomes of an agent’s action. To rectify this close companionship with utilitarianism, Platt might have been on more stable grounds using the phrase “biblical wisdom.”

Fifth, in the introduction and in question 6, it seems that Platt was trying to defend praying for President Trump at the end of one of his worship gatherings in June of 2019. Many voices chimed in on his decision, and from multiple points of view–both critically and complimentary. Platt’s book used that event as a starting point to develop his position that Christians ought to show gentleness, kindness, and familial love to one another in this political climate. In which, I wholeheartedly agree. My critique is to point out that the event with President Trump took away from the overall argument he was attempting to make about Christian unity and grace. The point of his book was for Christians to be united around the gospel, remind them of their hope in Christ, and foster open, honest, and Christ honoring conversations during this election season. The President Trump situation that took place over a year ago seemed to cloud his overall argument and take the readers mind off of the content he was trying to communicate.

Overall, this book is well worth the $4.99 on Kindle or in paperback. I fear that the content was to specific to the 2020 election. Thus, the influence this book could have in the future might be lost in years to come. I hope that is not the case because the content is relevant to not only 2020’s election, but also every election after this November 3, 2020. Therefore, I highly recommend you read through Platt’s content even after Election Day comes to an end because I believe the call to unity, the hope we have in Christ, and living in biblical community with all believers will still be essential in the days, months, and years after Election Day 2020 (see p. 12).

Favorite Quotes:

  1. “There is only one leader who is worthy of our hearts, including our trust, allegiance, and hope. He is the Son of Man in whom there is salvation, and his name is Jesus” (p. 24). I wish Platt would have put an exclamation point after that last sentence. It gives me goosebumps every time I read it.
  2. By all means, let’s strive to take political positions that are informed by gospel foundations. But let’s refrain from using language that unnecessarily, unhelpfully, or unbiblically ties the gospel to a political calculation” (p. 72).
  3. “According to God, we stop and listen to each other in love” (p. 99).
  4. “When you hold your ballot in your hand, pause and thank Jesus for his loving leadership of your life and his sovereign lordship over this election. Then, as you check that box, offer this simple and sincere prayer: ‘Lord, may your kingdom come'” (p. 121).

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3 Reasons I Deactivated My Facebook Account

It’s no secret that I am a critic of social media. About a year ago, I posted a blog titled, “Why I Deleted my Twitter Account.” The final sentence of that blog post reads, “At this time, I have deleted both my Twitter and Instagram, and pretty soon, Facebook, you might be next.” Well, the time has come for you, Facebook. You have been “deactivated.” Goodbye. Au revoir. Farewell.

The reason I “deactivated” instead of “deleted” (there is a difference) my Facebook account is that I remain optimistic. I believe that Facebook was created with good intentions, but because we are human and prone by our sinful nature to take good things and make them evil, I think we, society, can correct the problems social media platforms like Facebook are causing. Therefore, I have deactivated instead of deleting my account with the hope that the wrongs can be righted, and once they are, I might rejoin the Facebook community.

So, why did I deactivate my Facebook account? Let me provide you with 3 reasons that may encourage you to do the same:

  • Facebook Wastes Precious Time. Facebook’s design is to keep you attached to your phone or computer as long as possible so they can make money. The design is so well done that many social media users are like Gollum in the “Lord of Rings” just scrolling along in our digital caves not knowing a real world exists beyond the Facebook app while simultaneously chanting in our hearts, “My precious.”

By the way, we waste time because we are infatuated with the what could be next on our newsfeed. You know you may be wasting your day on social media apps when someone interrupts your time on the “precious” and you turn into Smeagol by yelling at the person, “I’m ON MY PRECIOUS!” What I am trying to convey is that Facebook will destroy the time in your day. It’s designed to waste your time, which means you will miss precious moments with the love of your life (if you have one), family, friends, and enjoying the world we actually live in not the imaginary one that Facebook makes you believe exists.

  • Facebook Destroys Diplomacy. I know you have seen it on your Facebook news feed, and I was tired of seeing this problem during this election year so I deactivated my account. Someone “shares what’s on their mind,” and the lines for debate are drawn in the social media sand. Often times, the comment wars are verbally bloody with many casualties and collateral damage. Words that would never be said in person are carelessly lobbed like hand grenades in the digital sphere. Why is this the case? Because we are social beings that engage in real space and time. When we are having in person discussions, many of us are more reserved and respectful when engaging in debate because we can feel the tension of the other person if such tension is present. Facebook does not allow these types of discussions to convey all the types of communication forms humans are endowed with, such as, but not limited to: body language, tone, facial expressions, etc. Facebook destroys diplomacy, and I would rather have humane discussions and debates in person rather than through a social media platform like Facebook. I think the lack of diplomacy is contributing to the rising division in our country and this is a result of the way we debate through social media channels.
  • Facebook Is Invasive: This point is a self-inflicted wound to our private lives. Yet, we allow it to happen. Facebook allows us to practically post anything we desire for the digital world to see. We willingly and ignorantly allow people into our lives that we have little if any contact with in the real world. We do this by sharing our opinions, photos, and even our location. Why do I care if some person I met fifteen years ago in a class at Texas A&M sees that I’m at chapel with our oldest daughter? In fact, it’s a bit creepy that a person who I hardly knew in the past has open access to my social media life. I would argue that you can and should scrub your Facebook friends list, but that only solves a small part of the invasive problem. When we activate a Facebook account, we are agreeing to let Facebook into our lives as well. The company is able to use our information to keep us active on their social media platform and influence us through our newsfeed. Honestly, I deactivated my account because I don’t want my privacy to be violated by anyone I don’t choose to allow to come into my reality.

These are my 3 reasons for deactivating my Facebook account, and my post is not designed to tell you what to do about your social media account or accounts or use. However, I hope it will make you, at least, think about the impact social media platforms like Facebook are doing to your life. Perhaps with some honest thought you may choose to do the same or modify your use on social media apps.

May I take a moment to be honest with you? Deactivating Facebook will give you a new sense of freedom. It might be scary to do it at first, but after the first day you will feel a relief you haven’t felt since you signed up with that username and password. I believe you won’t miss it, and you will never look back once its gone. I want to encourage you to get out of the digital cave and enjoy and experience the people and world around you today by either eliminating or limiting your time on social media. Your family, friends, and the world will thank you for being truly social.

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A Clarification of Frame’s Doctrine of Carefulness

In chapter 35, I argued from the manslaughter legislation of the Mosaic law the principle that we should not only avoid murder, but should also be very careful to guard against the possible destruction of human life….But where it is evident that carelessness can lead and has led to tragedy, we must take precautions (The Doctrine of the Christian Life (DCL), 724, emphasis original).

John M. Frame

Anyone who knows me in an academic setting, will confirm that I like to call myself a “Frame fan.” His book, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (DCL), has greatly influenced my thinking as I continue to grow as a scholar, budding scholar perhaps is a better phrase, in the discipline of Christian Ethics. In fact, I requested him to be my major figure for comprehensive exams because of how much his writings have influenced me. I was disheartened when he retired from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida the semester before I was going to ask him to take me on as a student for an independent study. By the way, I still asked, and he graciously and respectfully declined because after all, he had retired.

Even though I am a self-proclaimed “Frame fan,” I still have moments where I might disagree with his ethical framework or thought. What can I say? Scholarship is about refining ideas through rigorous study, thought, and critique. While I think his triperspectival methodology is helpful for handling moral dilemmas, scholars could argue that his method could have some faults. Again, this is part of scholarship, and scholarship is not for the faint of heart. With that, I would like to critique Frame’s “Doctrine of Carefulness” wording with the intention to propose a better phrase for my future posts.

Frame’s Doctrine of Carefulness Explained

John Frame once wrote that we should “be very careful to guard against the possible destruction of human life” (DCL, 724, emphasis original). In DCL he called this moral idea “The Doctrine of Carefulness.” Frame’s emphasis for this doctrine is that Christians who believe in the sanctity of human life should not only refrain from disobeying the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder,” but also, that followers of Christ ought to avoid any situation that puts life in danger of being taken. In fact, Frame rightly points out that the sixth commandment does forbid the idea of unlawfully taking a life–what we might refer to as murder, but the Hebrew word also conveys that humanity is to “take precautions against the loss of life” (DCL, 688). In other words, to practice the art of carefulness so as to not accidently cause a life to be prematurely terminated.

For example, Deuteronomy 22:8-10 reads, “If you build a house, make sure to put a low wall around the edge of the flat roof. Then if someone falls off the roof and is killed, it won’t be your fault.” In this time period, the roof was used as a place where friends and family would congregate to enjoy each other’s company. Perhaps you could think of it as the premier patio that oversees the city. Without a wall around the roof, someone could unintentionally fall to their death. Notice, however, that if a person died from falling when no fence was present, the homeowners were held responsible. “It won’t be your fault” if one obeyed this civil law implies that if no wall is present then it is “your” fault.

Why is the homeowner at fault for their guest falling off the roof and dying? Don’t we have insurance companies for situations such as this? Even the accidental loss of life, exists as something worth grieving over when the idea of carefulness is neglected. The person who owned the home failed to protect life by inadequately creating a safe environment for his guests. To put it in terms of Frame’s doctrine of carefulness, the homeowner was careless with human life because they did not respect the lives of their guests enough to build a wall and protect those at the “dinner party.” Therefore, to use Frame’s wording for the doctrine of carefulness, “We must guard against the possibility that someone might be killed, being alert to correct life-threatening elements in situations” (DCL, 688).

Frame’s Doctrine of Carefulness Critiqued

From the outset, I think Frame’s understanding of biblical carefulness exists as a valid position that can be defended by Scripture. Those who hold that Scripture teaches an inviolability of life ethic–i.e. all human life is sacred–would do well to practice the notion of carefulness. In fact, my point in critiquing and developing this concept is to argue some best practices Christians should think through in applying this principle in various areas of life.

The issue I have with Frame’s thought is the phrase he utilizes to convey this ethic. I hesitate to call this a “doctrine” of carefulness. Doctrine seems to imply a definitive position or objective truth. When evangelicals speak of doctrine, we are typically using that term to argue for some type of non-negotiables of the Christian faith (i.e. the Trinity, the inerrancy of Scripture, the incarnation, the Imago Dei, the gospel, etc.). The Holloman Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines Doctrine as “Christian truth and teaching passed on from generation to generation as ‘the faith that was delivered to the saints'” (Jude 3 HCSB). In other words, Christian teaching derived from the Bible to explain and affirm essential truths of the faith to believers.

I am not saying that carefulness is not taught in Scripture nor is it something that isn’t being passed down from generation to generation, but rather I think that this moral responsibility is an application of a doctrine rather than a doctrine in and of itself. Therefore, Frame is expounding the notion of carefulness from the moral law summarized by the sixth commandment, which expresses the inherent worth and value of human beings made in God’s image. For this reason, I am arguing to modify Frame’s thought from the “doctrine of carefulness” to the “principle of carefulness.”

Carefulness could be considered a subjective term for each individual’s conscience, which is why, in my opinion, it is difficult to defend this concept as a “doctrine” (Frame acknowledges this difficulty on pp. 724-25 in footnote 7). For example, the speed limit in the United States is designed to keep drivers and passengers in all vehicles safe–thus, protecting life. If you and I were debating about how fast to drive on Interstate 5 in Los Angeles, California based on the concept of a doctrine of carefulness, you would think that both of us should say that we should drive at 70 miles per hour–the speed limit. If you have ever driven on certain parts of “The 5” you would know that this could be a dangerous course of action.

Drivers have to make continuous moral judgments on how fast they should drive depending on where they are and what is happening on Interstate 5. You might say that I need to drive 70 miles per hour to keep up with the traffic flow of other drivers so that I am not hit by other cars when driving too slow–“The 5” can be a fast-paced road during non-rush hour times. I might, in return, argue that going 5 miles under the speed limit is safer because coming over a hill or around a curve and seeing traffic backed up will allow you to react in a timely manner, thus preventing any accidents. Do you see how carefulness could be considered a subjective term? Therefore, I think that carefulness must be attached to an objective truth–i.e. the Imago Dei.

With this in mind, I prefer to designate the term “principle of carefulness” as the more appropriate phrase for believers. The applications of carefulness will vary (principle), but the respect for human life does not (doctrine). Go back to my example of our argument about driving on “The 5.” You and I are arguing different applications of the principle of carefulness, but we are making our cases with the same doctrine in view, all life is sacred because all people are made in God’s image. To put it another way, the principles that we arguing for are dependent upon the same doctrine we both believe in– i.e. the Imago Dei.

The Principle of Carefulness Concluded

To conclude, I agree with Frame that the Bible teaches Christians should uphold to such a high view of human beings made in God’s image so that we are constantly encouraged to “be very careful to guard against the possible destruction of human life” (DCL, 724, emphasis original). I think the phrase “principle of carefulness” exists as a better alternative to Frame’s use of “doctrine of carefulness” by recognizing the various applications that could be practiced by believers holding to an inviolability of life ethic. While the biblical warrant for Christians to favor life in all situations remains biblically justified, the principle can be applied differently depending upon the conditions. I am not arguing a situational ethic, I am holding to the biblical truth of the Imago Dei as the foundational doctrine for the principle of carefulness.

Should the Church Practice Online Communion?

Preface

I can be an ungracious critic. I am aware of this sin in my life. Some of my closest family members tell me that if God doesn’t get my criticism under control by his redeeming power I will become a mean and crusty man. I know my faults, and I pray God would remove this harshness from my disposition. Therefore, my goal is not to criticize churches or leaders who are practicing the Lord’s Supper in an online format. I am not trying to be overly critical of others or single anyone out in this post. My goal is to provide (or attempt to provide) a theological answer to the question, “Should the church practice online communion?”

From the outset, I am concerned that we are asking the wrong question when it comes to communion in the COVID-19 pandemic. I am afraid that many advocates are asking the question, “How can we make communion happen,” instead of, “should we theologically move our churches to perform this action.” To put it another way, I think pragmatism seems to be the ideology of the day instead of correct theology. As Christian ethicist John Frame once rightly defended, “Ethics is theology, viewed as a means of determining which persons, acts, and attitudes receive God’s blessing and which do not” (The Doctrine of the Christian Life (DCL), 10). Therefore, does the online only act of communion receive a blessing or not according to the Bible? The sufficiency and authority of Scripture must determine our answer.

First Corinthians 11:17-34: “Come Together as a Church”

In Christian ethics, we must begin with the biblical norm (cf. Frame calls this the normative perspective in DCL, 33). Holy Scripture dictates to us the ethical norm we must apply to our situation. What is the ethical norm when it comes to the Lord’s Supper? Paul provides one of the most instructive teachings on the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11. We must begin by noting that this letter was addressed to the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2). When he gets to his instruction for the Lord’s Supper, he continues to exhort this local body by using the phrase “come together” four times (cf. 1 Cor. 11:17, 18, 20, and 34). To help us understand what he means by come together, Paul directly identified the gathering as “when you come together as a church” (1 Cor. 11:18; cf. 1 Cor. 11:22). From this brief exegetical analysis, we might conclude that Scripture affirms–as the biblical norm–that communion ought to be practiced within the local church when it “comes together.” In other words, when the body of Christ is physically gathered.

From Scripture, we should all agree that the bilbical norm mandates that communion ought to be practiced in a physically gathered, local church context.

Exceptions to the Norm?

Now, we must move from the biblical norm to the exceptions (if such exceptions should exist). We may all be thinking that COVID-19 has brought a possible exception to the theological norm due to social distancing. The question remains: Is online communion an appropriate exception to this God ordained instruction? A more general way to phrase the question reads, “Is it ever appropriate to practice communion outside of the local body of believers?

John Piper once preached, “We do not forbid taking the Lord’s Supper to someone in a nursing home or a hospital, but that kind of individual celebration is exceptional, not the Biblical norm.” Piper is absolutely right. However, taking communion to the nursing home or hospital may still meet the parameters of the biblical text in order to make the exception valid. Theologian Allen Verhey’s The Christian Art of Dying presents why this type of practice stands on biblical grounds in accordance with the instruction of 1 Corinthians 11. The context for Verhey’s argument is a person on his deathbed or a sick individual who is unable to gather with a local body due to his physical ailments. In this situation, Verhey defends, “The community comes with it, gesturing that the sick and dying are still members of the community” (Verhey, 331). Notice why Piper’s exception meets the biblical norm according to Verhey. The local church comes to the sick or dying person in order to bring them the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, we see a physical representation of the church coming together in order to partake in communion, which “proclaims the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).

Before moving to online communion, we must acknowledge that the nursing home or the hospital does not exist as the normative ethic. The church does not only gather at these two places in order to participate in the Lord’s Supper. The primary place where the ordinance ought to be regularly observed is in the local church. The nursing home and hospital are exceptions to the biblical norm, but still meet the requirements of God’s people coming together as a faith community.

Is Online Communion an Exception?

To begin our answer, we should determine if an online only worship experience meets the biblical requirements for coming “together as a church” (1 Cor. 11:18). We must be careful in how we answer this question because we could be indicating that the online church experience can be a substitute for meeting together, and I don’t think many of us would biblical follow that line of reasoning. The author of Hebrews states:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25, emphasis added

We are encouraged from the author of Hebrews to regularly meet together in physical gatherings. We then must ask, “What are some characteristics that may exemplify we are meeting together as the church? Martin Luther in Luther’s Works Volume 39 helps us when he provided seven characteristics of the church gathering (I am indebted to my mentor for pointing me to Luther’s work on this subject). W. Robert Godfrey wrote a summary of these seven characteristics for Ligonier Ministries in 2016, and I will use his summary to provide you with Luther’s view. Luther’s seven characteristics were:

  1. The Word
  2. Baptism
  3. The Lord’s Supper
  4. Discipline
  5. Biblical Offices
  6. Worship
  7. Suffering

NOTE: You may see Luther’s explanation for each of these characteristics on the Ligonier Ministries blog here.

From these characteristics, we could make the case that an online only worship gathering does not exist as an official model of a gathered church. Do I have the ability to call all the online followers of an online church service to vote in or vote out the pastor on the screen, which is a biblical office? Of course not. Many would call me foolish for such an attempt. Does the pastor on the screen have the ability to ensure that I am a member in good standing with a like-minded gospel believing church–i.e. not under church discipline? Absolutely not. In fact, how is the pastor able to ensure that I am not partaking of the cup or the bread “in an unworthy manner,” which is his biblical duty according to his biblical office (1 Cor. 11:27)? In all reality, it would be impossible because he is unable to observe my physical presence as I come to the table. These questions are only a few out of a myriad that illustrate an online only community does not exist as a gathered church body. As I wrote in another blog post, the online church exists due to COVID-19 as a necessary abnormality, but should not be considered a substitute for the the physical gathering of the saints.

Additionally, the Lord’s Supper is a time where the local church gathers and preaches the gospel to each other through this symbolic act. Listen to Paul once more, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup you proclaim the Lords’ death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). If I’m sitting in my house by myself taking communion with a pastor on a screen, who (besides me and the Holy Spirit) am I proclaiming this gospel truth to? No one. The Lord’s Supper exists as a time where believers come together to reflect on the work of Christ and celebrate, as a collective body, his substitutionary atonement. To put it another way, we are preaching the gospel to each other during this act (and any lost people joining our worship service). Therefore, we may conclude that online communion misses the mark of being a gathered body of believers.

From this conclusion, we may determine that online communion does not seem to be an exception that meets the biblical norm.

Now What Do We Do?

Where do we go from here? How might we think differently about the practice of the Lord’s Supper during the COVID-19 pandemic? Here is how I think we should respond in light of the biblical norm. We should respond by praying that God would cease this pandemic. We should ask God to relieve the coronavirus in our society in order that the shelter in place orders will be lifted and the church can once again physically gather together. Coming together as the body of Christ should be what all of us (pastors and church members) long for in these unprecedented days of social distancing. And when we are finally able to physically gather together on our first Sunday after the pandemic, we should joyfully celebrate by coming together as the church united to the table.

Online Church Is A Necessary Abnormality: A Warning for Christians Post-Coronavirus

Shelter in place. Practice social distancing. These are the recommendations rightly being passed down by our government’s leaders during an unprecedented time in our nation’s history. COVID-19 has caused many institutions, businesses, and churches to rethink the way they operate in order to relieve stress on the health care system and protect those most vulnerable to the virus. My post intends to discuss the latest trend with many churches moving to online only formatting in order to “equip the saints for ministry” in a time such as this (Eph 4:12; Est 4:14). My goal is to warn all believers to not let these online experiences become the new normal of our lives (even though it makes Sunday super easy), but rather to express the biblical importance of physically attending a local church when this pandemic ends.

To be completely honest, doing church online is weird. I’m a pastor who is posting worship services on the internet in order to protect the vulnerable and honor our leaders, and yes, I think this to be a strange method in an even stranger time. Is an online only worship format a necessity during this season? Yes. Is there any other way to do a corporate worship gathering and still practice social distancing? I’m sure there are, but online seems to be one of the best options available to a majority of people. However, this form of internet worship seems to be unnatural.

Why does worshiping online feel so abnormal? Here is one reason online worship feels odd, and some incentives on why I am looking forward to getting back into the church with brothers and sisters in Christ. I pray these reasons will be a sound caution for you to do likewise in the near future as these guidelines become lifted when our government officials think it is safe for us to carry about business as normal.

We should first start with a theological presupposition: people were made for community (Gen 2:18). I have seen many posts on Facebook that discuss how this virus has caused the church to “go be the church.” In some aspects, I understand what they are trying to convey, but let’s not throw the importance of a local gathering out by only focusing on the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20). Believers, we need to be active in both. We need a time to gather together as followers of Christ in order to be equipped to go be the church (Eph 4:12).

At the beginning of creation, God created man and woman in his own image (Gen 1:27). However, before he created woman, he created Adam–the first man (Gen 2:7). The only time in creation that God declared that an aspect of his creation was “not good” was when he looked and saw that the man was alone (Gen 2:18). Therefore, he brought the woman to the man, looked and saw all that he had done and declared, “It is very good” (Gen 2:21-22; Gen 1:31).

From the creation narrative, my reason for declaring online only gatherings as abnormal is that online communities are not ideal for biblical community. Yes, it allows us to see and speak with each other, but physical presence makes our relationships bud into authentic means for discipleship. Physical presence allows us to interact with one another in ways that the online format does not and cannot. Here are four incentives for going back to church when it is safe to do so.

First, we can physically bond with one another at the church. We can shake hands, give hugs (I’m a huger), and put an arm around someone struggling as a few examples. Gestures that acknowledge someone as a person and connects with their feelings, fears, concerns, and lives in a real tangible way. You can’t get that type of connection in an online only experience.

Second, physical presence at the local church allows us to sympathize and empathize with one another. Have you ever been in a situation where you could literally feel the emotions of another person pouring their heart out to you? Have you ever been in an environment where you could feel the tension? These emotions come when we are in close proximity with one another. These feelings cannot be replicated in an online only format because online is, by all intent and purposes, one way communication. Physical presences allows us to minister the presence of Christ to one another in our times of need.

Third, we can have social interaction during our worship gathering. I love to hear everyone singing. It doesn’t matter if the person behind me is off pitch, on key, or ten decibels too loud. As they are worshiping Jesus, they help me to get my heart and mind right to worship too. I love hearing a hearty “Amen” or watching light bulbs click on when a preacher (typically me) exegetes a biblical text and reveals a truth some have either never thought of before or are hearing for the first time. We were created for community, and the church is designed to worship in person as a family.

Fourth, corporate gatherings produce a sense of order for those in the congregation. Our God is a God of order. Look at creation. Everything functions in an orderly fashion (of course, our sinfulness creates chaos in Gods creation, but Christ is in the process of redeeming that). Worshiping at home can create a disordered environment because our homes are places of relaxation and comfort. I think many of us come to these online worship experiences at home with a different posture than if we were part of an ordered corporate gathering.

Therefore, I know we have to worship during this pandemic differently– for many of us that is online, but since we were created for community, I am longing for the day to worship in person with my brothers and sisters in Christ. My prayer is that after you read this post you will as well. Few things compare to the gathered community each week as we corporately praise Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior like we will for all eternity (Rev 5:11-12). So, when the doors of churches all across this land open again in the near future, I pray you and I will be there anticipating what God is going to do as we gather together as his redeemed bride (Eph 5:25-27).

What are some other incentives that you are looking forward to experiencing when it is safe to do so? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

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4 Ways to Share the Gospel During Social Distancing

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

The Great Commission Explained

We need to remember that Jesus gave all his disciples this commission right after he paid the price for our sin, and rose again on the third day–to prove he defeated sin and death on our behalf. In this text, we see him commissioning his disciples and every disciple who puts their faith and trust in him before he ascended back to the right hand of the Father. This truth is why many theologians call this text the Great Commission.

How does the Coronavirus impact the way current disciples carry out the Great Commission? After all, many of us are confined to our homes in order to prevent the spread of the virus and to restrain overloading the health care system. Therefore, I will argue that it doesn’t impact our mission, but does impact our methods.

To begin, we should be comforted to know two truths Jesus tells us in his commission: 1) Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, and 2) Jesus promises to be with us “always.” As believers, the Coronavirus should not scare us because as the text asserts: 1) Jesus has dominion over this virus, and 2) when we continue to advance the gospel during this global pandemic, we do so knowing he is with us wherever we are and go.

Notice in this text that our gospel witness is sandwiched between Christ’s power and his presence. His power and his presence give each believer confidence to share the gospel with our neighbors, community, and the globe–even in times of a viral crisis.

Carrying out the Great Commission During the Coronavirus

Once we understand that the Great Commission is sandwiched between Christ’s power and presence, we are in a better position to share the gospel during this season of uncertainty. Believer, just because we are in a global pandemic does not mean that our witness must be put on hold nor does it mean that we should not use biblical wisdom in how to go about sharing Christ with others. Our church history helps us to think through both aspects of being a biblically discerning gospel witness.

Our church history reveals that believers still took care of the sick and vulnerable even to the detriment of their own health. However, our history shows us that they didn’t engage in foolish activity to bring about an early death. I think we need to have a balance between both extremes in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. We can help people in their time of need by dropping things off at their doorsteps, giving them some toilet paper, or mowing their grass. These activities allow us to help the sick and vulnerable while simultaneously practicing social distancing.

While the church can take care of the needs of others in some of the ways listed above, one question we should be asking is “How can we continue to share the gospel with our families, and neighbors in obedience to the Great Commission?” Here are four ways to share the gospel during social distancing to help us think through an answer to that question:

  1. Call them on the phone. This form of communication seems to be nearly archaic in a world of texting, emailing, and Facebook messaging. Nevertheless, a phone call allows you to connect with others on a more personal level. Call people in your neighborhood to check in on them, and ask them how you can pray for them or if you can share a message of hope with them. Then, openly share the good news of Jesus Christ.
  2. Setup an online face-to-face meeting. We live in a technologically advanced society. We have the ability to use platforms like Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangout to connect with people in an online community forum. This allows you some time to see each other and to build relationships without being in close proximity. During this session, make a point to either pray with or share the good news of Jesus Christ with the person on the other end of your computer.
  3. Write and email. Email is another great way to communicate with others quickly and efficiently and still practice social distancing. Write an email to your neighbor, family member, or friend. Tell them about how this social distancing is impacting your life in a positive way. Maybe you can attach a picture of what you and your family have been up to these last few days. At some point in your email, share your testimony or just share the good news outright. Be sure to include at the end of your testimony or gospel presentation a sentence that says something like, “If you would like to know more about how you can put your faith in Jesus Christ, email me back and we can setup a time to talk via phone or on an online face-to-face platform” (see points 1 and 2 above).
  4. Publish a testimonial. The internet is filled with people giving their thoughts and advice about what is taking place in our country during this global pandemic. Why not join the growing online movement by posting a video of your testimony for people to see? The internet has distanced us, but in this season of viral pandemic, pretty much everyone is online. Two great advantages to an online testimonial is that while you are not online your video can still be viewed, and this means, number two, you can reach more people for Christ. Be sure to add something at the end of your testimonial about how you would be willing to talk more about you testimony and what Christ has done for you if they desire or that you can help them find a local church in their area to connect them with if they live far away.

Concluding Thoughts

Just because we have been advised not to leave our homes to help flatten the viral curve, does not mean that we have been advised to stop obeying the Great Commission. In fact, we can still fulfill the mission God has given us by thinking of creative ways to share the gospel where we are and by using the technology God has given to us. In all reality, now is one of the best times to share the gospel because many people are worried and afraid. What better time to share the only hope this world has, God’s one and only Son–Jesus Christ? As Jesus’s words started this blog, I think it only appropriate that his Great Commission should also end it.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

What are some other creative ways we can share the gospel during this time of social distancing? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Teaching Your Children to Pursue Holiness by Reading Scripture

Tony Merida, pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC, recently published his reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic. One of his reflections was encouraging believers to take time during social distancing in order to grow in personal holiness. From the outset, I am in complete agreement with this reflection. However, I think this reflection could be more broadly applied than simply on a personal level. My purpose in writing this post is to provide a resource to assist parents in helping their children grow in holiness during this time of school closure.

What Is Holiness?

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

1 Peter 1:14-16

The Apostle Peter provides us with three answers to this question. The first answer is God is holy. When we think about holiness, our minds should begin by contemplating God through his Word. John Frame commented, “His personality shows his kinship with us, but his holiness shows his transcendence, his separation from us” (DCL, 20). Everything God is, does, and says, is holy. Therefore, he is our standard of holiness.

Our second answer is that we are not naturally holy, but are able to be redeemed in Christ. The fact of the matter is we are the polar opposite of holiness. We are sinners and separated from God due to our wickedness. So how can we pursue holiness if we are sinful people? The answer is found in Jesus Christ. When we believe in the work of Christ, this text says we become children or as the Apostle John states, children of God (1 John 3:1). In other words, we are covered with Christ’s righteousness in order to be brought into a relationship with God.

Once we understand that God is holy, and that faith in Christ saves us and covers us with Jesus’s holiness, we are able to provide the third answer to this question. Our faith in Christ propels us towards holiness. Peter tells his audience to pursue holiness by turning from their former sinful passions. If we are turning from our passions, what do we turn towards? We are to turn to God who is holy and conduct ourselves according to his revealed standard. His revealed standard is his Holy Word.

Pursing Holiness by Reading Scripture

After we have explained these answers about holiness to our children (in a way they are able to understand), we now have an opportunity to help them learn who God is, the standard of holiness he expects from his disciples, and the power of the Holy Spirit to help his children become like him. Parents, we have an opportunity in this season of social distancing to teach our children about holiness by helping them read the Bible. We have an opportunity to take intentional time to train our children while we are confined to our homes. Therefore, I would like to provide you with a way to help your children pursue holiness by reading the Bible.

STep One: Pick out a passage of Scripture

Pick out a passage that your child or children would enjoy reading. This week one of our children read Ezekiel 37 (The Valley of Dry Bones), and another read John 1:1-18 (John’s prologue). The Bible is filled with interesting historical narratives that will make your child’s imagination light up with biblical truth. Before they read the text, teach them to pray and ask God to help them understand what they are about to read.

Step Two: Ask these three simple questions

After they read the text (or before depending on your child’s personality), ask them:

  1. What does this passage teach you about God?
  2. What did you find to be the most interesting truth in this text?
  3. What is one question you would like to ask me about this reading?

Notice what these questions are designed to do. The first question helps the child comprehend that the Bible is first and foremost about God. We need to help our children understand that this is how we come to know, love, and understand who God is. The second question guides the reader to think about how a biblical truth either connects him or her to God or outlines what God expects from his people who follow him. The third inquiry allows the child to ask questions without fear in order to allow the parent and child to have some time interacting with the text together. We want our children to talk about what they are learning about God, but we also want to train them to be comfortable to ask questions when they read something in God’s Word they don’t understand.

Step Three: Pray with your child

Take a moment to ask the child what you can pray about with them. Thank God for this opportunity to grow closer to him with your son or daughter. Ask God to continue to reveal himself to you and your child through his Word. Request that you and your child will continue to pursue a life of holiness as you both read God’s Word together.

My encouragement to all parents is that we not squander this social distance time together with our children. We should look at this time of isolation as a great opportunity to connect with and disciple these little image-bearers God has given us for a temporary amount of time. Remember, mom and dad, the words of Paul in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Yes, I know it says “Fathers,” but we can infer that it is our responsibility to train and instruct our children into pursuing personal holiness by reading Scripture.

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3 Reasons Facebook Is Destroying Our ‘Real’ Lives

Almost a decade ago, I was deployed to a combat theater while serving in the military. My wife and I had just been blessed with our oldest daughter two weeks before I left the country. It was a challenging time in our marriage because here was my wife with a newborn baby living five states away from our family, and her husband was off to serve our country. It was a challenging time for me because I was leaving my wife and newborn baby. By the way, I only had two weeks with this little girl before getting on a plane to fight in Operation Enduring Freedom. By God’s grace, I am writing this blog post, and our daughter is approaching ten years of age.

Why do I tell you this story? One of the ways my wife and I stayed connected was through Facebook. Social media technologies like these can help in some situations of geographical separation. However, a danger looms in the background of such technologies that are impacting many people–especially women–on an emotional level.

During my deployment, I was convinced that our baby girl never cried, threw temper-tantrums, nor made any messes. I believed this little girl was the perfect baby. Why did I have such beliefs? The only pictures my wife would send me through Facebook were ones of her smiling, eating her first bites of baby cereal, and laughing. I was being fed images of what seemed like this perfect child although the reality at home was completely different. By the way, I want to be fair to my wife in this post. She posted these types of pictures because I was already in an intense combat environment. The last thing my wife wanted to do was to make me think that all was not good at home. I think what my wife was doing intentionally to me is what many people on Facebook are doing to themselves and others unintentionally.

Through this experience, I believe that Facebook has created a harmful false reality for people who engage in its use. I would argue that the false truths presented on Facebook are truly harming marriages, families, and individuals more than helping keep people connected. Why do I think this is the case? I would like to provide you with three reasons:

  1. Many Facebook Posts Create a False Reality. The Facebook “wall” seems to exist as an social media forum where people can create their own “online” life. Many users predominately only post the “good” things that are happening in their lives. Rarely, if ever, does anyone post the realities of their actual social lives. Not many users post the various marriage problems they are experiencing or the rebellious child in their lives or the insecurities they feel as a mom, dad, wife, husband, student, etc. However, on Facebook, they don’t have to because they can develop their “happily ever afters” in online social space. Facebook allows us a place of escape to post the lives we wish we were really living, but when we turn off the screen, we come back to reality that our lives do not reflect what we are putting online. This displaying of false reality contributes to the hurts of both the user and their “friends,” which will be addressed in the next two sections.
  2. The False Reality Fuels Desires for Perfection. When people create unreal Facebook posts, they may not realize that they are revealing the desires that they have within themselves. People are actually posting their “dream lives,” for the world to believe they are truly living. When many Facebook users post these false realities of their lives, they look at their online profile and realize they are not living this dream in “real time.” Therefore, many users begin to experience two types of realities: insecurity and obsession. People experience insecurities because they realize how imperfect their lives are compared to what they are posting on social media. Some people post these images to overcome their real life insecurities. These insecurities lead to obsessions. In other words, they obsess over making everything in their lives a reality of their online posts in order to control their insecurities. They hold their children, husbands, wives, and friends to the level they portray on their walls. Ultimately, this type of false reality weighs heavily on those who engage in this type of online lifestyle.
  3. The Danger of Comparison. While the last reason highlights what happens in the individual user, this reason looks at the many people who observe the lives of their Facebook “friends.” As people promote “filtered” or unrealistic realities of their lives, many of us review these realities and compare their fake realities with our own actual realities. I believe this is where many of our women are greatly impacted by the duplicity of social media. We look at these Facebook narratives and desire what we see other people “pretending” to have. Many of us make these comments in our hearts and minds, “I wish my husband was that sweet.” “Why can’t my wife look like that?” “Why don’t our children act like theirs?” On and on these comparisons go, and as we engage in such thinking, we begin to impress these unhealthy thoughts on people we actually have relationships with in real life. We can become so deceived by the “false realities” of others–we are deceived because we buy into the lie of social media comparison, that we put our real life relationships in serious jeopardy. The danger is that we try to make those in our lives live up to the expectations that we see being promoted in the lives of our online “friends.” In turn, this could destroy the real relationships we have.

As I mentioned at the outset of my post, Facebook was a helpful tool when I was deployed, but we should be cautioned that it can have a harming impact on our hearts, minds, souls, and real life relationships. I was amazed when I came home from my deployment. This little girls who I had seen only smiling and enjoying her life suddenly was a real person. She would cry in the early hours of the morning. She would sometimes not eat her food or try and get into areas of the house that could harm her so I had to be keenly aware of her surroundings.

One time she wasn’t feeling good and she regurgitated all of her breakfast directly onto the front of my body. I was covered from head to toe. I thought to myself that this can’t be the girl I had seen in all those “happy” photos, but her mom tells me she is just like her daddy. It was in that moment, I knew she was mine. Even in all of her imperfections, I would rather have the real flesh and blood girl than a false image I saw for all those months on Facebook. Why? A real relationship built on good times and bad times beats a false reality every time!

Rethinking Pastoral Ministry in America: How Pastors Should Start Thinking About the Future

Ken Myers, the founder of Mars Hill Audio, once said in his Epiphany Lectures that he does not like to be prophetic. By prophetic, he does not mean that he has been given some special word from God similar to that of the Old Testament prophets. He is not claiming a “Thus says the Lord,” type of truth. Rather, he is arguing that he sees a problem in the area of music, and presents a seemingly unpopular theological view about this topic to his audience. I can relate to Myers’s sentiment about being prophetic, and yet, I seek to be prophetic in this blog post. My article seeks to look at the current trends about the church in America, and propose that pastors need to think about and discuss this topic more deliberately in order to prepare for the future.

Current Decline in Attendance

The church in America is declining. Statistics are indicating–like those at the Pew Research Center–a downward spiral of both professing believers and church attendees. People are less committed to a local church, and those who are committed are attending less and less. The reasons for such a decrease are numerous, and in some ways, unknowable. One factor for the decrease in numbers is due to the increase in people who are identified as “Religious ‘Nones.'” “Religious Nones” are people unaffiliated with any form of religion or religious organization. The rise of this group reveals a telling truth: the impact of the church in our American society is weak at best, and non-existent at worst, therefore, we are not reaching people with the gospel.

If you will permit me, I would like to make a brief observation about what has been called “Cultural Christianity.” Many believers think America used to exist as a Christian culture. I have argued that America has never been truly Christian, but rather existed as a culture that attempted to live out Judeo-Christian values on a societal level. The church used to be the social construction of society, but many people attended church to “save face,” or build on their relational connections. Therefore, many people in these eras seemed to be “Cultural Christians,” Christians out of cultural obligation, instead of actual Christians. When new ideologies started to pop up in culture like the Sexual Revolution, a new way of thinking was introduced and “Cultural Christianity” began to wane because a new way of life was being not only permitted, but also adopted. Today, Cultural Christianity is nearly obsolete, and a new way of life has been adopted by American society so that people can identify as a “Religious None” without fear of societal degradation.

The rise of the “Religious None,” and I don’t mean that to sound negative, indicates that it will take the church longer to reach this group with the gospel. As Mike Breen once said to me in his huddle, “Christians will have to disciple people before reaching them with the gospel.” To put it another way, many Americans do not have a foundation of biblical knowledge in which a witness can draw on in order to point them to Christ. Believers living in a post-Cultural Christianity will have to explain terms, the biblical narrative, and other truths about Christianity in order to point people to Christ as the only means to be forgiven and saved. The consequences of this cultural reality portray that it will take longer to see people come to Christ, and the time needed to reverse the decline will not necessarily be a quick fix.

Current Decline in Finances

Have you ever played the game “Wack-A-Mole?” When you play this game, you hit a mole with a padded hammer and another one or sometimes two moles raise their silly heads to be hammered down quickly by the gamer. This same concept applies to the church. The decline in attendance and the rise of people who are growing away from any form of religion means that the local church will take a financial hit. If it takes longer to reach people with the gospel, it will take longer to disciple people towards biblical giving as well. Plus, many pastors are already experiencing a decline in giving according to this article in the Christian Post. Smaller churches, which make up the majority of my denomination, are also currently burdened by financial crises. In other words, the current financial decline already exists in many local churches.

Many factors seem to be contributing to the financial decline. Of course, attendance is down and this reciprocates into a decline in tithing. People are not giving to charitable organizations including religious entities like in the years past. Some generations who were faithful tithers are beginning to pass away, and the generations replacing them are so steeped in various forms of debt they couldn’t give even if they had a desire towards Christian generosity. While Christians struggle to influence the American culture, the church in America is increasingly struggling to maintain the massive overhead that “Culture Christianity” produced.

A Possible Way Forward

Pastors should be noting these current trends, and possibly rethinking ministry for the future of the church in America. At a minimum, this post should encourage discussion, but also cause us to think of ways to influence an increasingly anti-Christian culture with the gospel in the days to come. I would like to provide you with two possible ways forward:

First, think of ways to reduce the church’s overhead now. Every church is different so this thought will have many implications. Pastors should think about leading their churches towards being debt free in order to reduce the budget overhead and free up money for missional purposes. While finances may be strong, get rid of debt fast. Also, churches that are growing or running out of space should consider only building or renovating in a debt-free mentality. A church may be growing, but one decision or economic disaster could take a church of 200 down to 100 almost instantly. Just because the attendance or tithes decrease does not mean the bank will decrease the loan amount each pay period as an extension of economic grace. In fact, they won’t. Therefore, the loan amount gets spread to less people, and will financially hurt the church and their outreach in the long run. Churches should consider some of the thoughts outlined by Francis Chan in his book, Letters to the Church. Maybe one way to reduce overhead is to get rid of the church buildings all together and look more like the church in the book of Acts–meeting together in homes and reaching people in closer proximity.

Second, and here is me being prophetic, maybe pastors should prepare to become “tent-makers” in the future (cf. Acts 18:3). Tent-makers are pastors who work a full-time job and are either part-time or volunteers at a local church. When I type those sentences it really hurts as a pastor who gave up a stable career and earned two (almost three) theological degrees in order to think about getting out of “full time vocational ministry.” If you are church member, it might bother you to think that your pastor might have to give up full time ministry in order to support his family, the church, and reach more people with the gospel. However, the reality of the declining numbers may demand this possible future for pastoral ministry. Therefore, maybe pastors should start thinking about what type of careers they can work in order to embrace this consistent downward trend and create more time to spend with unbelievers.

Conclusion

One truth we should walk away with is that God is still sovereign. Yes, we may note the trends and think about how these declining numbers may impact the future of the church in America. Pastors, church leaders, and church members should think about and discuss what measures need to be taken in order to sustain a gospel presence in the American culture. However, our planning should never circumvent our need for prayer. May we pray that God would open the pathway to another spiritual awakening in America, and the Holy Spirit will bring people to Christ in droves. May the church be ready to disciple them faithfully according to God’s Word in order to strengthen the church’s resources to reach more people for the glory of God.