About two weeks ago, I examined Dr. Peter Leithart’s vision for the Future of the Church through a conversation between him and Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Readers could tell from the way that conversation was structured that my sympathies lie with Dr. Lloyd-Jones.
Much has been written in response to Dr. Leithart’s proposals, as well as the Fox News article he wrote on Reformation Day declaring that the Reformation had failed. Today, I’d like to critique Dr. Leithart on two points that have tended to be missed in all of the debate.
Old vs. New: How God Makes the Future
Dr. Leithart emphasizes in his writings that the Church of the Future will be a big, bold, new thing that God will bring into existence out of the ashes of the churches of the Present. Not only will Protestantism have to die, we are told, but Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy as well, though the accent has tended to be on Protestantism’s death.
Dr. Leithart wants us to see his vision in the sweep of redemptive history, yet in redemptive history, I notice that when God does a New Thing He never completely obliterates the Old Thing He is renewing or renovating. When we get new wineskins, those wineskins have a striking resemblance to the old wineskins. The principle of wineskins is still very much in force.
The New Covenant has replaced the Old Covenant, and the New is certainly better than the Old, yet principles and echoes of the Old Covenant remain. That’s why we aren’t going around marrying our sisters. I don’t know about you, but the thought of boiling a calf in his mother’s milk is creepy to me--and that arguably falls under what is called the ceremonial law.
As Presbyterians, Dr. Leithart and I tend to emphasize the continuity between the covenants, the ways where they are similar to one another. For example, Dr. Leithart has said repeatedly that infant baptism will be a principal part of his Church of the Future. He appeals to the similarity of the Old and New Covenants to make his case for paedobaptism.
Any appeal to the Old Covenant must be based on the eternal truths of that covenant--truths that did not disappear when the New Covenant was ushered in. God the Father is not Karl Marx, and Jesus Christ is not Leon Trotsky--we aren’t busily redacting the words of Moses from our Bibles, nor airbrushing father Abraham out of the family photos.
As Luther may have asked, “What does this mean?” It means that God doesn’t start from scratch when He sends us a New Creation. We are still to remember the truths taught to us in the Old Creation. We shouldn’t marry our sisters, or eagerly boil calves in their mother’s milk, or labor seven days a week, work without end, Amen.
Not only are we to remember the truths and principles God teaches us in the Old Covenant or the Old Creation, but as Dr. Leithart himself has reminded us, we are to live those truths. Truth always entails our obedience, our reforming our lives God’s law. We don’t merit justification through our obedience, but God justifies us so that we can obey, so that we can become new creatures in His New Creation.
What truths does Protestantism contain? How ought those truths be obeyed by Christians? Is it still wrong to peddle God’s righteousness through indulgences, sacraments, holy relics or works of supererogation? Is Scripture still the norming norm, the final court of authority over matters of faith and practice?
We shouldn’t ask first whether Protestantism divided the Church. We should first ask if Protestantism is true, and if true, how should we obey?
If Protestantism is and was a thing from God, a move of His Spirit in the ongoing redemptive history of humanity, it will never end. Our gratitude for the Reformation will never end. The forms of Protestantism will change, but the truth of God recovered and preserved within Protestantism will not.
If Protestantism is true, it cannot and will not die. If what Catholicism teaches in opposition to Protestantism is false, it must and will, of necessity, die. This is part of what it means to live in a world with Jesus as King, subduing His enemies until the last enemy, death, is defeated.
Truth on the Ground
In the Future of Protestantism discussion at BIOLA a few years ago, Dr. Leithart said that his doctrinal basis for unity among Christians would be adherence to the Trinitarian and Christological formulations of the first four ecumenical Church councils, up to Chalcedon in A.D. 451.
Peter Leithart’s vision for the unity of the Church is not at truth’s expense; he locates the truth in the great Trinitarian creeds, and is willing to leave Protestant confessions up for negotiation and debate. In his words, this is a pragmatic dividing line. Agreeing with Leithart that our dividing lines should be practical and useful, it is not clear that the central truths of the Reformation era confessions and catechisms are less helpful or less useful than orthodox Trinitarianism.
When street evangelists like Joseph Spurgeon, Mark Cox or Aaron Sabie share the Gospel, do they start with the nature of God? Do they explain the intricacies of the Trinity, perichoresis, the eternal generation of the Son, and so on? No, they begin with God, man, sin, righteousness, the coming judgment, and the necessity of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. They open up the Bible and explain these things.
Everything about their evangelism is based on the truths of the Reformation. Even the way they do their evangelism, opening up the Bible to explain the Gospel to strangers, is based on Sola Scriptura, the formal principle of the Reformation.
Am I saying that the Trinity is unnecessary? No, far from it! Belief in the Trinity is necessary to confess Christian faith. Without the Trinity, the Good News is no news at all.
Getting a man in the door of the Church is not the same thing as catechizing him within the Church. In order for someone to become a Christian, they must hear the Gospel preached. The Gospel is clear, simple and obvious in a way the Trinity is not. A fresh convert who opens up his New Testament and starts reading Romans and then reads, say, the Heidelberg Catechism, will immediately see how the one leads to the other. The same cannot be said of the Trinity. The Trinity is taught in Scripture, and ecumenical creeds confirm that teaching, but the teaching is admittedly more subtle, less clear and less obvious.
Relativizing the truths of the Gospel (which is what the Reformation recovered) in order to agree on the Trinity doesn’t make logical sense. It only makes sense if you rank theological truths by the age of the controversy.
Even then, the Church could not have confessed great Trinitarian theology without first understanding the Gospel clearly. The Church in every age is established by the clear preaching of the Gospel. The clear preaching of the Gospel was not controversial during the fourth century in the same way that the nature of God was.
I’m indebted to Peter Escalante for making these observations far more cogently than I just did. I’m repeating them here because I don’t think they’ve been pressed nearly enough by Dr. Leithart’s critics.
There is no obvious reason why Christians should rank Trinitarian orthodoxy, which concerns how God was able to become man and make atonement for His people’s sins, as more important or vital than the truths of the Gospel, which concern how God saves sinners in real time, and makes those sinners into a New Creation, created to do good works. Both stand or fall together. Both are the essence of Christian faith.
The Gospel, clearly defined, explained and defended, is the heritage of every Christian. The Protestant Reformers, in recovering the Gospel, recovered no mean thing, nor did they start unnecessary theological fights about words to divide a pristine medieval Church. What they recovered was Truth itself.
While God is always in the business of New Creation, God is not in the business of revolutionary New Creation. Redemptive history is given to us in Scripture in order for us to remember the old paths and not to depart from them. The New Covenant makes God’s Law in the Old Covenant more real to us, more weighty, more full. We understand His purposes more clearly.
The Protestant Reformation recovered real truth. As such, it will always be relevant for us. Protestantism cannot end anymore than the Kingdom of God can fail to fill the whole Earth as the waters cover the sea. If Protestantism is old and in the way, we would have to say also that the Old Testament is old and in the way.
The Future of the Church is a Protestant Future, a future in which the Gospel will be triumphant and the name of Jesus will be above every other name. Amen!
 “What does this mean?” is a frequent question in Luther’s Small Catechism.
 Westminster Confession of Faith 1.7: “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”
Ben Carmack is a member of the Sovereign King Church launch team. He lives and works in Louisville, where he was born and raised, with his beautiful wife, Dannah, and daughter.
Today, residents in Clark County, Indiana (the county Sovereign King Church is located in) will vote on a $95 million Public School levy. This tax referendum is a proposal to fund building and renovation efforts for three schools with most of the work being done at Silver Creek High School located in Sellersburg. This proposal, which school board member Brian Guernsey described as “wasteful spending,” will raise taxes on the private property of people in the region. On property valued at $100,000, taxes will raise by around $240 annually. Those in support of the levy argue that it is necessary because of increase of number of public school students at these schools. Those opposed are worried about the increase of their taxes and say that the increase is not needed. How should Christians in Clark County vote on this issue? Is this even a matter for a church to talk about? Does the Bible have anything to say about private property, taxes, and schools?
All of the Bible for All of Life
At Sovereign King Church, we believe that God’s word is the standard for all of life. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” The Bible is the very word of the creator God. And it will equip the man of God for EVERY good work, not just some good work but every good work. As Jesus said “Man shall not live on bread alone but on EVERY word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” God’s word will equip us for every area of life. Furthermore, Jesus has been give ALL authority in heaven and on earth. He is the Sovereign King and all people should adhere to his commands. Christianity is not a religion that you keep in the privacy of your home and church building. It makes demands on every area of life, including politics. Christ has commanded the Church to make disciples and teach them to obey all of his commands. Putting all of that together, yes the Bible should inform and guide our decisions and even our votes. Yes, the Church should instruct on what the Bible has to say about this matter. So, what should Christians think about taxes, and private property taxes in particular?
New Testament on Taxes
There is an old saying that the only things guaranteed in life are death and taxes. I’d like to add to that school levy proposals. When it comes to thinking about taxes in the Bible, immediately a few New Testament passages come to mind, Romans 13, Matthew 17, and Matthew 22. Let’s look quickly at each passage and see if we can glean some principles for Christian thinking about taxes.
Romans 13:6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
When we usually think of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we think of his detailed exposition of the gospel of grace alone through faith alone but Paul also gives a lot of instruction for Christian living. In chapter 13, Paul gives the Christian view of civil government. In verse 7, Paul tells us to pay our taxes. In verse 6 and the preceding verses, Paul tells us why. We are to pay taxes because civil rulers are to be servants of God devoting themselves to this very thing. What is the very thing? In verses 3 and 4, Paul tells us that they are servants of God to punish evil. Paul calls the civil magistrate a minister of God who is an avenger to bring wrath on those who do evil. In other words, the civil government exists for one primary purpose, to punish crime. The task of the civil government is to protect the rights and peace of the people by punishing crime. In order to do their job, God has authorized civil government to collect taxes. The declaration of Independence talks about protecting the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The original draft by Thomas Jefferson says life, liberty, and property. While certainly not inspired scripture, this declaration has a good grasp on the purpose of government. To summarize this passage on taxes, the civil government exists to punish crime and that is why we pay taxes.
Matthew 17 24 When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” 26 When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt. 27 However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.”
In this passage, Peter is approached by tax collectors and asked if Jesus will pay the tribute. This tax was based on the tribute tax for the temple. It was a set tax for every individual to pay for temple needs. When Peter enters the house, Jesus asks Peter a question, “Peter, do the kings make their sons pay taxes or just strangers?" Peter says the strangers, of course. Jesus responds by saying that the sons are exempt. The implication is that because this tribute was for the temple of His father, Jesus the Son was exempt. Yet so as not to cause an uproar, Jesus pays the tax by way of performing a miracle to again show he is the Son of God. What do we learn from this passage about taxes? Jesus voluntarily submitted to pay taxes when he was under no obligation to do so. The reason was he did was so that he would not cause offense. Jesus paid the tax because he was prudent and wise. He would not have been sinful to not pay the tax but because of wisdom he paid it.
Matthew 22: 15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. 16 And they *sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. 17 Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? 19 Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. 20 And He *said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They *said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He *said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away.
Unfortunately and far too often, this passage is used as a proof-text to affirm any and all taxes. It is used to guilt Christians into voting for all kinds of tax increases and to justify all types of government abuse. Notice that this passage begins with people trying to trap Jesus. They aren’t asking an honest question about taxes but are trying to trip up Jesus. Rob Slane gives a good description of this passage :
“Picture the scene. Jesus, the Son of God, is standing in the Temple of God a few days before his execution. The Pharisees and Herodians come along and, after attempting to flatter him, ask him a question of profound difficulty: Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar? Answer “no” and Jesus gets reported to the Romans as a revolutionary. Answer “yes” and the whole of Israel will hear of his treason. But of course Jesus gives a different answer entirely. An answer that is as astonishing now as it was then. Not only does he get himself out of the trap that they have just set for him, but by the time his words sink in, he is standing on the edge of the trap, looking down at his flailing opponents who have just fallen in themselves.”
This passage is not primarily about the legitimacy of taxes. It is about who side Jesus is on. Is he on the side of the pagan rulers or the side of those wanting to overthrow everything? Rob Slane explains:
"One thing that we often miss is the high irony of this incident. Yet it is irony on steroids. When they ask him the question, Jesus specifically asks them for a coin. He has no real need to do this. He could have just made his point by mentioning the fact that they already use Caesar’s coin. So why does he do this? I think he does it to make a point. When the coin is produced, there is a juxtaposition of immense proportions going on. The coin is brought out and Jesus asks them whose is the image and inscription on the coin. We all know it was Caesar’s, but what is less well known is the inscription: “AUGUSTUS TI CAESER DIVI AUG F” meaning “Augustus Tiberius Caesar, son of the Divine Augustus”. On the flip side of the coin, there was almost certainly a picture of Tiberius dressed as a priest, with the title “PONTIFEX MAXIMUS” – High Priest. So picture the scene. There is the Son of God, the great High Priest, being asked by his enemies who hate him whether it is lawful to pay taxes to one who blasphemously pretends to be Son of God and great High Priest. The Pharisees understand the blasphemous pretentions to divinity of Caesar. What they don’t understand is their own blasphemies. They ask a question about paying tribute to little Caesar on his tiny coin, but the irony is they refuse to pay tribute to the eternal Son of God and High Priest who is standing in front of them."
Jesus answers their trick question with a brilliant answer. He says give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God. Now this leaves the Pharisees with the heavy lifting to do. They are put in the hot seat. What belongs to Caesar? Well Caesar is going to claim everything. What belongs to God? Everything. It is now the Pharisees who have to work out these two competing claims.
What are the implications for us from this passage? Well, we too have to answer the question: What belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God? We know that all things belong to God. Therefore, the civil government doesn’t get to claim all things. This passage does not give carte blanche to every tax scheme. Nor does it authorize civil magistrates to do anything they want to do.
Summary of Passages
Having looked at just a few of the passages, we see that rather than scripture giving civil government an all-encompassing power to tax everything for any purpose, the civil government does have the power to tax but it is for a specific purpose. It has been authorized to tax so that it can do its job of punishing crime. Caesar does not have the right to lay claim to everything but instead his authority is limited to what has been delegated to him by God. We also see that Christians should pay their taxes because God has authorized civil government to tax. In the case where civil government demands taxes that may not be authorized by God, we should be prudent and wise. Rather than operating in open rebellion by refusing to pay taxes, we should consider the wisdom of Christ in not causing offense. Our paying these types of taxes does not make them legitimate nor does it mean that we can't work to eliminate them.
In short, government can collect taxes for a limited purpose. Christians should pay legitimate taxes and use wisdom in paying illegitimate taxes. There is much more to be said about taxes because we haven’t even looked at the Old Testament on taxes. In the Old Testament law, we see what the ideal tax should look like. To quickly summarize that material, tax in the law of God was a flat rate paid by everyone. It was a very small amount. Whenever the kings demanded too many taxes their kingdom languished. So what about Christians voting for tax increases and public schools? With a proper understanding of taxes, can we answer how Christians should think about voting for tax increases?
Love, Private Property, and Theft
In our system of government, we don't have a king who gets to issue edicts and establish taxes by his say alone. On the federal level, congress has the power to tax. On a very local level, we have often have elections for special taxes. In the case of the Clark County School Referendum it is the people of Clark County who are acting as the civil government in deciding to tax. As Christians, when we vote we need to honor God and his commandments. We need to remember the purpose of civil government. It is to punish evil. We also need to ask ourselves what type of tax is being proposed and is it legitimate. Does the tax itself undermine a biblical truth?
The second of the greatest commandments is to Love your neighbor as yourself. We are commanded to love.
1 John 5: 2-3 says “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.”
Love in the bible is defined as keeping God’s commandments. If we Christians are going to love our neighbor as ourselves, then we just look to God’s law to see how to love. God’s moral law is summarized in the 10 commandments. One of the commandments is thou shall not steal. Another commandment is thou shall not covet. Enshrined in two of the ten commandments of God is the right to property. Private property rights are upheld all throughout scripture. When someone owns property, they are given rights to that property by God. They are not to have that property taken from them by anyone involuntarily. Verse after verse through the bible upholds private property.
The Westminster Catechism describes our duties under the 8th commandment not to steal:
“The eighth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever doth or may unjustly hinder our own or our neighbor's wealth or outward estate.”
And it also describes what is forbidden by the 10th commandment to not covet:
“The tenth commandment forbiddeth all discontentment with our own estate, envying or grieving at the good of our neighbor, and all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.”
If we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, we cannot deprive our neighbors of their property or their right to do with their property as they please. This is what makes private property taxes most heinous. Unlike the flat-rate poll tax instituted in the Bible, property taxes undermine the very notion of private property enshrined in scripture. When the civil government places a tax on private property it is laying claim to that property. It is in effect saying, “you don’t own your property, the civil government does.” When we get together as a community and vote to raise private property taxes, we are saying “ you don’t own the property, the community does.” A vote to raise private property taxes is a vote that undermines what God has protected in his word. It is what someone has called “Legalized plunder.” As a Christian, to vote for more taxation on private property is to vote for a tax that undermines the protections of private property. Put out your mind any notion of you voting give of your money, you are voting to take property from your neighbors.
Futhermore, we need to ask ourselves if taking money from people who homeschool, send their kids to private school, or do not have children to fund the education of other people’s children a legitimate purpose of government. In other words, does this school levy pass the Romans 13 test for legitimate taxes? Remember God’s word says we pay taxes so that the civil magistrate can punish evil and protect good. Our taxes are to help the civil government punish crime and provide for defense of life, liberty, and property. While some kids may think school is like punishment, public school does not fall under the legitimate responsibility of the civil government. This will drop led balloon for many people but no where in scripture is the civil government authorized by God to provide education for children. This is a responsibility left to the parents of children. Furthermore, nowhere are Christians authorized to take from their neighbor to pay for the schooling of their children.
Vote No on More Taxation
This school levy undermines the principle of private property found in scripture. It is not a legitimate form of taxation found in scripture. Christians may out of prudence and wisdom pay property taxes that have already been established but they should not be found trying to increase them. Instead, Christians should work to establish alternative ways to pay for education of children and furthermore they should consider that the civil government has not been given that responsibility. Christians in Clark county should vote no for this tax increase because it does not further a legitimate function of government and because it involves a tax that undermines the private property rights of others.
(This is a guest blog from a member of Sovereign King Church's core team, Ben Carmack. Peter Leithart, a federal revisionist Presbyterian who recently wrote that the Protestant Reformation was a failure, has called for work toward unity between Protestants and Rome. We at Sovereign King Church are firmly Protestant and there can be no unity with those who anathematize the true gospel of Christ.)
Last weekend, Dr. Peter J. Leithart of the Theopolis Institute in Birmingham, AL presented some lectures in Louisville, KY on church unity based upon his recent book The End of Protestantism. Dr. Leithart has also written at some length in the journal First Things on the same theme. The following is an imaginary dialogue on church unity between Dr. Leithart and the late Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
For those who may not know, Dr. Leithart and Dr. Lloyd-Jones were not contemporaries, but they do represent two very distinct streams of thought. Some liberties have been taken, but overall, what each man says is based on something he really did say.
Lloyd-Jones: Pardon me, but I see you are buried in your notes and papers, would you mind if I said Hello? I’m not from around here…
Leithart: Oh, it’s not a problem, sir. Hello. My name is Peter. Pleased to make your acquaintance. I was just working on some lecture notes for a series on unity between Christians I’ll be delivering soon. I can tell by your accent that you must be from across the pond. I have many friends from Britain, and I studied at Cambridge for a time.
Lloyd-Jones: Yes, I come from Britain. My name is Martyn. I am an evangelical clergyman, a Calvinistic Methodist. I am encouraged by my many evangelical friends in America. Though we are from different countries, yet we share unity in the same faith! Tell me, are you an Anglican or Episcopalian? I noticed your collar…
Leithart: Actually, I’m a Presbyterian minister and teacher. But, I do think Christians of different denominations should learn from other kinds of Christians. We should behave as though we all share one body of Christ, one baptism.
Lloyd-Jones: Yes, good man, but aren’t you begging the question of what it is that makes a Christian?
Leithart: Not exactly. Without qualification or hedging, the Church is the Body of Christ, and all who are part of Christ’s Body are one in Him. And we get into that Body through our baptism. In the New Testament, baptism is baptism. Baptism really does what the Scripture tells us it does; we shouldn’t be afraid to speak how the Bible speaks. The baptized are all consecrated as priests. I’ve written a few books on it…
Lloyd-Jones: Well, in my country nearly every man has been baptized. Yet very few evidence regeneration or the knowledge and fear of God. Are you saying baptism saves?
Leithart: No, that’s the wrong question. We are saved through union with Christ’s Body, the Church. That union, like other events in our lives, is effected through symbols. Baptism makes a Christian just as a wedding ceremony makes a marriage. There’s nothing magical in the ritual, but rituals do change and shape our lives.
Lloyd-Jones: So, does baptism save?
Leithart: Baptism doesn’t save. Being part of Christ’s Church does.
Lloyd-Jones: Ah, so this church unity you speak of must be very important for you? I must say you sound very much like ecumeninists in my country that I had some dealings with in the 1960s.
Leithart: I’ve said before that my project is to drag conservative Reformed Christians, kicking and screaming, into the 20th century, the century of eccelesiology. And there were many good things the ecumenical movement produced that I think we should look to as good examples.
Lloyd-Jones: Oh dear, no, I quite disagree. But we should be here many hours if I should say all that I think of your proposal.
Leithart: Why don’t you tell me what you think church unity should be?
Lloyd-Jones: I am a great believer in church unity. But there is all the difference in the world between a true spiritual, biblical, New Testament unity and a mere amalgamation of people who call themselves Christian who disagree violently with one another with regard to the very essentials of the Gospel. That’s my criticism of the ecumenical movement. For instance, what would the public think if two men appeared on a political platform together maintaining that they were standing for the same things, one of them an extreme socialist, and the other a dyed-in-the-wool Tory?
Leithart: It sounds as if you’re suggesting that there is only one correct viewpoint of what the Christian faith should be, your own. That sounds like tribalism to me. How can Christians ever obey Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in John 17 that all His people be one in if we think as you do?
Lloyd-Jones: It’s isn’t tribalism, but contending for right distinctions. I think that there are certain broad distinctions, and I would say that the one big dividing line is what I would call evangelical or non-evangelical, or if you like, evangelical and more Catholic. Again, I put it in this way: Men who believe in definitions of the faith that are opposed to any vagueness or uncertainty, and those who take a perhaps more priestly view…
Leithart: It sounds to me like you have my work in the cross-hairs. Christians ought not to run away from the priestly imagery of Old Testament worship. After all, that is how most Christians in most ages in most countries have worshipped. We dare not dismiss half the Church.
Lloyd-Jones: You don’t decide these matters in terms of figures; it’s a question of your view of the Truth. Besides, simply claiming membership in the Church or membership in the covenant is not enough. Scripture teaches of a remnant within the Church whom God will redeem in the end.
Leithart: The Church will never unify if we all persist in being as narrow as you are. Every denomination, every tradition and every systematic theology must die so that the Brave New Church of the Future can take hold. God wants to do a new thing in our midst, and this new thing will be the eventual reunion of all Christians.
Lloyd-Jones: It sounds to me as if you are saying that the Reformation was a tragedy.
Leithart: No, I’m not saying that.
Lloyd-Jones: Yes, but there was division in the Church, wasn’t there? And over matters of doctrine, matters of Truth? Wasn’t the Reformation led by the same sort of dreadfully narrow men you accuse me of being? At one point, Luther stood absolutely alone in proclaiming God’s Word.
Leithart: Surely you would recognize that not everything the Reformers taught was right? And not everything the Roman Catholics taught was wrong?
Leithart: Well, in order for our unhappy divisions to be overcome, we must cast aside our Protestant triumphalism, our defining ourselves as Not-Catholic. We must reach for consensus with our fellow Christians, for there must come a time when the Church comes together again.
Lloyd-Jones: No, no, I don’t believe you will ever have a perfect church. This mechanical attempt today to produce one world church...is to be something that’s quite impossible. The church will never be perfect, even if you had only the evangelical church...even that would not be a perfect church by any means.
Leithart: What’s your vision for the future of the Church? What does the Church need?
Lloyd-Jones: The Church must be absolutely certain of her message. She must know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. We must preach the absolute necessity of New Birth in the Spirit. Without the power of the Holy Spirit, even preaching of the Gospel is in vain. As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “Our Gospel came not unto in Word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, with much assurance.” Those are the essentials.
Leithart: Well, Martyn, I’ve enjoyed our discussion, but I really need to be going...
Lloyd-Jones: Oh, well I don’t want to trouble you further. Good day, Peter.
Who’s right, Leithart or Lloyd-Jones? Choose wisely.
 Many of Lloyd-Jones’ comments come from this interview.
 The Tory Party is Britain’s equivalent of the Republican Party.
(I have been thinking about the nature of preaching for a few weeks and considering writing a blog about it. Two recent postings on the internet by brothers in Christ inspired me to finally to start writing. One was a blog post by Tim Bayly entitled “500 years later: a couple theses on Reformed preaching and worship.” I recommend you read it. I am going to be saying something similar in this blog. The other post was a facebook status by Michael Foster that said “Faithful preaching will often be labeled legalism.” Amen. Well anyways let’s get into this blog.)
Those who are called to preach must hold two important truths about preaching in tension to be faithful. Preaching is both transcendent and immanent. It is both personal and yet not about personality. Preaching is exposition and application. I want to focus on these two aspects, the transcendent and the immanent, in this blog post.
Nehemiah 8: 4-8 And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up: And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading
Sovereign King Church is in the process of converting a barn into a church meeting house. As we think about how to best design the building for worship, we have looked at historical puritan churches and old country churches. Have you ever seen some of the elaborate designs of the pulpits in Old puritan churches? These handcrafted wooden pulpits were set center of the protestant church building. This was contrary to most Roman Catholic buildings that place them to the side. The pulpit being in the front of the sanctuary symbolized the centrality of the preaching of God’s word to the puritan church. They were often set high above so that the congregation had to look up at the preacher. This was to help with acoustics so that the sermon could be heard by all. It also had the effect of symbolizing the authority of the preaching of God’s word. In order to preach, you had to step up into a pulpit. They often had a door that you would close behind you. Some pulpits even had multiple levels for different parts of the service. The first level was for announcements and song leading. The second was for scripture reading. The highest level was reserved for preaching.
The idea was that when the preacher stepped into the pulpit he was leaving behind his human ideas and philosophies. He was leaving behind personality in order to present the word of God. He was stepping into a place of authority. This was a fearful and reverent task. It was not be taken lightly. Faithful preaching was about presenting God’s word as to make it known to the people. The preacher was transcending himself and becoming a megaphone for God. This is not in the sense of him receiving special revelation or speaking ex cathedra but in as far as he faithfully communicates the truths of scripture, he speaks words from God. He was delivering a message from God with all of its authority. Therefore, when a man stepped behind a pulpit he was to transcend himself. His personality and colorful characteristics were secondary to the task at hand which was to faithfully expound the word of God. The preacher was not concerned with his listeners making a personal connection with him as much as they were to make a personal connection with the word of God.
It is interesting to see as the modern evangelical church has narrowed the focus of Christianity to meeting felt needs and has truncated the gospel to be only about the personal, that pulpits have shrunk or become non-existent. Because of postmodern theories on communication and an over emphasis on the communicator rather than the communication, many preachers are concerned with the listeners establishing a report with them first before the text. Rather than the scripture being the message, the preacher becomes the message. Rather than the transcendent word of God being proclaimed with its authority, preaching often becomes the word of man. It becomes a glorified therapy session rather than the giving of God’s commands and gospel.
Preaching, though, is about communicating the authoritative word of God. When a preacher enters a pulpit (I’m not concerned with the physical object here) he is setting aside himself in order to deliver God’s word. This means that he must be preaching from the word of God. Not just speaking from humanly wisdom. It is the word of God expounded and explained that is authoritative. The preachers job is not primary about developing a connection with his listeners. He doesn’t have to get down and walk around so that they know he is a relatable person. Preaching isn’t about you, preacher. It is about the word of God.
But as I said at the beginning, there is a tension to be held because preaching also must be immanent. Preaching is best done by pastors. Pastors are those who love and care for their flock and know them by name. Pastors look out for dangers for their flock. Pastors know where their flock is tempted to sin. Pastors are loved and known by their flock. Therefore, when a pastor enters into a pulpit he is not leaving behind who he is as pastor. Instead he is taking on that mantle even more so. A lot of reformed preachers have seen how the immanence in the weak evangelical church undermines the scriptures and therefore they put a heavy emphasis on the transcendence. Preaching can become simply lecture where one exegetes the text out loud. Sermons become data dumps. It is only presenting informative commentary on the scripture. There is no room for application. There is no room for moving hearts only speaking to disembodied minds. Working to convict the listeners of sin and righteousness and judgement is not seen as the job of the preacher.
But faithful preaching is not just reading the text. It is about taking the written word and bringing it to the people to be used by them. If the Bible is authoritative and it is, then it must be applicable to us today. And thus, the work of a faithful preacher is to take the transcendent and make it immanent by applying it to the very people he is preaching to. That will involve speaking to the very sins of the people the preacher is engaging. What broke the hearts of the people Ezra preached to was that the law of God was expounded and they were made to understand its meaning. This wasn’t just a data dump but they were made to understand how they had broken God’s law. They were guilty and they needed to repent. They had neglected God’s law and they were broken. Pastors who refuse to speak to the sins of their congregation are not being faithful no matter how big the pulpit is.
Futhermore, preachers must be able to see that people are struggling with sin, doubt, fears, and all kinds of spiritual ailments. God’s word must be faithfully applied to these circumstances and more. This is why the puritans called pastors, physicians of the soul. This work is deeply personal and one cannot hide behind the bible as an excuse not to do it.
When one understands the tension in the transcendent and the immanent their preaching will be authoritative because it will be the word of God applied specifically to the people. It will also be accused of being legalistic. Most people will be happy when preachers forsake the tension of transcendence and immanence either way. They like it when preaching becomes about personal stories and making that human connection because they don’t have to deal with the raw word of God. They also like it when the pastor becomes so transcendent that he transcends personal application. Reformed Christians really like the latter.
When you preach with authority from God’s word and apply it to people specifically, one of two things will happen. One, you will be hated and spurned like the apostles and all other faithful preachers who have come before. Two, just like the apostles and all other faithful preachers, God will use your preaching to convict and bring people to repentance, faith in Christ, and growth in holiness. God will use this type of preaching (coupled with pastoral care, a subject for another blog) to gather in the sheep and drive out the wolves and thieves.
I really don’t know what I expected when I decided to attend the opening hearing of the federal court trial, EMW & Planned Parenthood vs the Bevin Administration. I mean I didn’t exactly expect to hear a full-throated defense of the preborn or an argument as to why abortion is murder. And it’s a good thing I wasn’t expecting that because what I just saw was a disgusting time of making sure the air around the bush was thoroughly beaten. If we want to see the preborn treated with equity, stop their bloodshed, and remove the stain of blood-guiltiness from Kentucky, this court case and the arguments made from the Bevin’s administration will not even come close. Instead, what I witnessed today was a wicked display of futility and cowardly caving to a tyrannical court.
Before going into much more detail of what I saw in court this morning, let me go back and explain what the hearing was about. Back in March of this year, Governor Matt Bevin, who says that he is unashamedly pro-life, attempted to shut down the last remaining surgical abortion center in Kentucky using a technicality found in a regulation established back in 1998. The regulation states that an abortion provider must have a written transfer agreement with both an ambulatory service and a hospital. EMW Surgical Center, which has very cozy relationship with the University of Louisville Hospital. says that they had agreements on file. The Bevins administration said that the agreements were not current and did not meet the necessary standards. EMW sued to stay open with Planned Parenthood joining the lawsuit. Planned Parenthood was prevented from doing abortions at their new monstrosity of a building because they too did not have adequate agreements on file. EMW and Planned Parenthood are arguing that these requirements are unnecessary and put an undue burden on the “constitutionally-protected right to abortion.”
I have had the honor of meeting Governor Matt Bevin on two separate occasions. Both times, I had conversation with him about abolishing abortion. Both times, Governor Bevin made it known that he thinks that abortion is wrong. I think he went as far as to acknowledge that it is murder. He has received Matt Trewhella’s book “The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate.” We have asked him to work to criminalize abortion outright in Kentucky by doing his duty before God as a lesser magistrate. We have shown him how the Supreme Court has become a tyrant and built up a fiction about itself. We cannot expect to play by their games and see the end of abortion. We must be willing to call abortion what it is, murder. We must repent for allowing it to occur in our land and seek God’s face for forgiveness.
In the beginning of April right after the Bevin administration attempted to use these legal technicalities to shut down EMW, Rusty Thomas and I made a video message to the state government of Kentucky. We explained that attempting to regulate abortion clinics out of business will not end abortion in Kentucky. By playing the federal court song and dance, abortion will always be protected. The unjust, unbiblical, unlawful, and unconstitutional ruling of Roe V Wade has set parameters for the federal courts and they will not scribble outside of those lines. If we keep giving lip service to that paradigm, abortion will never be abolished in Kentucky or elsewhere. The courts will overrule any regulation that puts an “undue” burden on abortion. If Matt Bevin wants to do his duty before God and abolish abortion, he is going to have to call the legislature of Kentucky to criminalize abortion, nullify Roe V Wade, and ignore the federal courts. The State is going to have to stand up to the Federal bully. We warned Matt Bevin then and I continue to warn him now that God will not be pleased with half measures that compromise where God has given no authority to compromise
Because we are calling the legislature and governor of Kentucky to a bold and sacrificial act, Rusty Thomas prayerfully considered that an example of Christian sacrifice and interposition would be helpful to show the governor. In May, 11 men and women from Operation Save America peacefully sat down in front of the doors of the abortion clinic as a Christian witness to the doctrine of interposition. They were willing to set aside freedom and finances to keep the doors of the clinic shut and to send a message to Matt Bevin.
Then in July, Operation Save America held its national event in Louisville, Kentucky. For an entire week, hundreds of Christians from all over Kentucky and the United States came to Louisville to witness to the gospel and present the case to Kentucky for abolishing abortion. The message from Operation Save America then was that the state of Kentucky must stop playing footsie with the issue of abortion. Abortion is murder. It is not a healthcare issue to be regulated but a crime to be punished.
Then came this morning. This morning I showed up to the federal court believing that attempting to end abortion through a regulation loophole is not the right way to end abortion. What I found out in court is that according to the Bevin administrations lawyers, they have no goal of ending abortion in Kentucky. The opening argument from the Bevin administration is that this case is not about ending abortion in Kentucky. According to their lawyer, abortion is a constitutionally protected right and is a healthcare issue. The whole morning long, the lawyers for EMW and Planned Parenthood accused the Bevin administration of trying to end abortion. The lawyers for Bevin denied that so many times that I think I started to listen for a rooster to crow. They talked about just wanting to ensure that women who seek abortions are protected in case of emergencies. Steve Pitt, the lawyer for Bevin, argued that this case was not about shutting down abortion clinics but “about to what extent the Commonwealth of Kentucky has the right to regulate abortion practices for the health and safety of women." It used to be the prochoice side who used the phrase, “safe, legal, and rare” but it seems that the pro-life movement has adopted that as their rallying cry too. Not only did they deny that accusation that they wanted to see abortion end, they made the positive claim that they were trying to make it easier for EMW and Planned Parenthood to meet these regulations. They suggested that since Planned Parenthood was able to get a transfer agreement with a Lexington Hospital, that they would be able to open and start abortions there.
I sat in disgust this morning as the Governor’s legal team talked about murder as healthcare, the lawyers for EMW and Planned Parenthood praised mass murders like Tanya Franklin, Ernest Marshall, and Ashlee Bergin, witnesses who admitting to murdering hundreds of children talk about abortion procedures without mentioning the child being killed, and a courtroom full of people act as if something really special was taking place. It was all too precious.
Here is the thing, let us grant to the Bevin team that they really do want to end abortion but are just trying to be sly by playing the political game, let us grant that they aren’t compromising the truth away by speaking of abortion as women’s health, at the end of the day this argument is a losing argument. Planned Parenthood and EMW this morning were able to trounce out two expert witnesses with a host of studies to back them up saying that ambulatory and hospital agreements are redundant and unnecessary. The ol’ prolife canard about complications arising from abortion as a reason not to support abortion is a bit played. Even if abortion was 100% risk free to the mother, it would still be the unjust and sinful taking of human life. The risks of complications from an abortion procedure done by a professional is very low. EMW and Planned Parenthood are going to be able to show that in this case. Furthermore, they are going to make the argument that if Bevin and company are able to shut down EMW, that women might try abortions on themselves and thus the risk to women’s health goes up not down because of these regulations. If the argument from Bevin is that abortion is healthcare and that it must be made safe, it is a losing proposition. Any argument that ignores the death of the human child will easily play into the hands of the pro-aborts. If the administration and EMW want to have a discussion about who can make abortions safer, they can have at it. My money is on the pro-aborts winning that fight.
Joel 1:2-4 Hear this, O elders,
And listen, all inhabitants of the land.
Has anything like this happened in your days
Or in your fathers’ days?
Tell your sons about it,
And let your sons tell their sons,
And their sons the next generation.
What the gnawing locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten;
And what the swarming locust has left, the creeping locust has eaten;
And what the creeping locust has left, the stripping locust has eaten.
This is Pastor Joseph. I want to welcome you to our church website. We are still working on a few things here and there but our hope is that you will find answers to many of your questions about Sovereign King Church. If you there is anything we can do to help you in any way, let us know. We look forward to seeing you at worship.