Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Ryle’s Inadequate View of Revelation

In Holiness, Ryle has a chapter devoted to a warning for the visible church drawn on the letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3. In this chapter, Ryle remarks,

I never can believe, if a certain form of Church government was so very important as some say, that the great Head of the Church would have said nothing about it here. I should have expected to have found something said about it to Sardis and Laodicea. But I find nothing at all. And I think that silence is a great fact.*

It is no doubt an argument that persuades many. We know this because the same argument is trumpeted about by what are known as “Red-Letter Christians.” The idea is that if Jesus didn’t say something about it the words directly attributed to him, then it isn’t really Christianity. By this means people pick and choose what parts of Scripture they must follow and what parts they can disregard. It is essentially Marcionite in its approach.

The rebuttal to this is simple:

First, there is the teaching that all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable (2 Tim 3:16-17). We should not devalue some parts of Scripture because it isn’t repeated in other parts. If something is said then we should consider it authoritative when it is rightly understood and applied. It is the discipline of systematic theology to correlate the passages, not to discount them. And once is enough. If God said it, he doesn’t need to repeat it (though he might).

Secondly, there is the reality that much of Scripture is topical in nature, or what theologians call “occasional.” By “occasional,” we don’t mean “every now and then” but “written to address a particular occasion.” This reminds us that a message or a letter in Scripture need not address every single thing but only the things that were important for the recipients of the message at the time of the writing.

So with respect to Ryle’s particular argument, we must not devalue church government because it isn’t mentioned in Revelation 2-3. It may well be that church government wasn’t the problem. It is entirely credible that the churches in these seven cities were indeed in order when it came to their polity. The problem was something else.

Let us be careful not to discount a truth from God because it isn’t in every verse of Scripture.

All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable.

*J. C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots (London: William Hunt and Company, 1889), 326–327.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Power of Parents in the Worship of Children

Everyone knows that parents have tremendous power and influence in the lives of children, particularly in their younger years. And everyone knows that children have tremendous power and influence in the lives of parents.

The first is what God intended. The second is moving toward the effects of the fall in the reversal of creation-based roles.

The irony of the title, “The Power of Parents in the Worship of Children” is that we parents have often become almost powerless because we worship children. They run our lives by commanding our responses that flow out of a heart unchecked by the worship of God.

It should be the other way around. That our power in the lives of our children is driven by our worship of God, and our children’s worship is instructed by our worship of God rather than our worship of children.

As Israel departed Egypt in the exodus, the Passover was instituted by God as a reminder of his powerful deliverance, a deliverance that their children and grandchildren would never see. Yet in the initial instruction concerning the Passover, God envisions a day when the children will ask “What does this ceremony mean to you?” (Exod 12:26). “Why are you doing this?” they will say.

Embedded in this anticipated question are several important things.

First, there is the assumption that the parents are continuing in the commanded worship of God through the observance of the Passover. They have not let the immediate, internal complacency, or the passing of time shove aside their commanded worship and remembrance.

Seccond, there is the assumption that parents are participating in the observance in a way that makes clear that there is a meaning to it beyond the mere passing observance of a religious ritual. There is the assumption that the meaning of the Passover has been internalized by the parent.

Third, there is the assumption that the children are involved in the observance, that this worship is not just for adults. It is a family observance.

Fourth, there is the assumption that parents are able to answer the questions of their children because of their own spiritual knowledge of the history and the meaning of God’s work among them. In fact, there is the assumption that the parents will give God’s answer, "that our God delivered us from Egypt’ (Exod 12:27).

Thus, when children see it and ask, parents can answer in way that instructs their children and brings about the worship of children, that is, children who worship because of the mighty acts of God that they never saw but have only heard about from their parents.

In an age where parents worship children, we are often tempted to avoid the hard things. It is often easier to put our children to bed than it is read the Bible with them and pray with them before bedtime. It is often easier to let the sports schedule dictate the church schedule rather than fight the fight of missing games rather than church. It is often easier to address sin issues with non-biblical or quasi-biblical instructions rather than address the matters of the heart.

Parents who have no internalized the worship of God will usually take the easy road. We just want them to be quiet, to stop fighting, to get their homework done, to get to bed, to win games, to clean their rooms. And we will say or do whatever it is necessary in that moment to satisfy our children enough to get them to do what we want.

And in that, we often miss a teaching opportunity, however brief it might be. It’s the opportunity to teach them that at that very moment, they are worshipping something. They are professing allegiance to something—their selfish desires that bring fighting, their sinful desire for the immediate gratification of laziness rather than the harder task of completing homework, their arrogance that convinces them they know more than the referee or the teacher.

What we should want is for them to see how all these things are connected to the worship of God and the  filling of their God-ordained roles at this stage in their lives. What we should strive for is to root all these responses to life in the mighty acts of God in creation, deliverance, and community.

Sure it’s hard. And if we worship children, we will do everything we can to make them happy and to appease them.

But if we will worship God, we will approach parenting with the goal of teaching and reminding our children constantly that we all—ourselves included—have someone greater to answer to and to worship—namely, the Creator and Deliverer, God himself.

And so when our children ask, “Why do you do that?” let us make sure that the “that” they are asking about is our counter-cultural and other-worldly worship of God and the radical approach to life that stems from it. And let us make sure that, when our children ask, we have an answer that can lift them above the pressing needs of this hour and direct them to the eternal values of God.