Monday, December 27, 2010

Don't Ask, Do Tell

On December 15th of this year the House of Representatives voted 250 to 175 to repeal the Military’s “don’t ask don’t tell” policy of handling homosexual behavior in the armed services. On December 18th the Senate paved the way for repeal voting 65 to 31 and the repeal was signed by President Barack Obama on December 22nd, thus fulfilling one of his campaign promises.

Many Christians are dismayed over such a blatant expression of immorality being officially sanctioned by the U.S. government. For the first time in the history of the country openly homosexual people will be allowed to serve honorably in the military. As you can imagine over the past week I have heard a lot of discussion about this and there are a few common themes in these conversations that are worthy of deeper consideration because they are (consciously or unconsciously) based upon certain unstated theological premises.

The major concern that I hear from brothers and sisters seems to be that this decision will bring God’s judgment upon the nation. To be sure our Lord is sovereign and does indeed judge nations. The question that is often not asked, however, is upon what basis he judges them and how this decision plays into that.

Some American Christians believe that God’s dealings with the United States are analogous to His dealings with Israel in the Old Testament. They observe that when Israel was faithful God blessed them and when they were not God cursed them. They then apply this logic to the United States. There are two problems with this line of thinking. First, it is a bit of an oversimplification regarding God’s dealings with Israel. Secondly, and more importantly, Israel was a national covenant people. Although many American’s act as though God has enacted some special relationship with the U.S. the fact is that He has not. America as a country has no special covenant relationship with God and we therefore should not assume that God will deal with us in the same way He dealt with historical Israel.

Most people I have met who fear coming judgment as a result of this decision, however, do so not on the basis of any perceived special relationship between America and God but rather on the basis of a more general assumption about how God deals with all nations. They point to the tremendous blessings we have received, conclude that those are the result of America’s godliness and Christian heritage, and then assume that as we turn our back on that heritage that God will remove his hedge of protection from us.

I do not disagree that judgment will come (more on that later) but I also think that the reasoning given above needs to be examined a bit more closely. If you think carefully about the argument above you will realize that what is being claimed is that God has blessed our country because of how “good” we were and that if we cease being “good” then punishment will follow. Does God give his blessings in response to the goodness of those who receive them? Most of the people who have made the kind of statement I included above would passionately disagree with that same logic if it was applied to individuals but they seem comfortable for some reason applying it to the nation as a whole. Are God’s blessings to nations somehow reciprocal while His blessings to individuals are wholly on the basis of grace? What level of goodness or godliness must a nation display to remain in a position to receive God’s blessings? How good does a country have to be to merit or earn God’s rewards?

 It seems to me that this line of thinking rests upon some very big assumptions, chief of which is that the Unites States has been blessed in the past because it has been such a godly nation. There are many brothers and sisters who speak as though we can look back to some kind of golden age where all things American were pure and Christ honoring. Where exactly would such a golden age of Christian virtue be found in our history? Perhaps they mean the post WWII years, when in the “interests of the state” we funded rebellions, orchestrated assassinations, injected people with syphilis and other diseases without consent, lied boldly, and set aside various liberties at our convenience. Or maybe they are referring to the 1920’s, an era of speakeasies, rampant prostitution, bootlegging, and crime. Or could it be the turn of the last century when we used our might to impose our imperial ambition upon weaker neighbors and social Darwinism and theological liberalism were beginning to take hold within our social and educational institutions? Maybe it was after the Civil War when cronyism and corruption were openly displayed and when the robber barons and captains of industry prospered while the crushing weight of poverty settled upon most working men and women and whole populations were forcibly and brutally relocated to less valuable land. Perhaps it was before the Civil war, when it was legal for one man to own another and large sections of our national economy were propped up by chattel slavery. Then again maybe the great Christian age was that first generation of founders, who enshrined into our governmental structures racist presuppositions that have polluted virtually our entire history and were the first in the world to create a wholly secular state that purposefully avoided any foundation of the government upon expressed theological support (although we were once a nation primarily of Christians we were never a Christian nation).

Please do not misunderstand me, I love my country and I believe it has been a blessing to the world in many ways but isn’t it presumptuous to assume that we have ever merited the blessings of God? It is perhaps more accurate to say that by God’s grace we have both blessed and been blessed. There is plenty of depravity to be found in any era and there has never been any golden age of pure Christian virtue. Read the sermons and letters of pastors from any era and you will find much despair about what is going on around them. True Christian’s of every age share the same burden which we now carry, that of being surrounded by a fallen world hurtling to hell and refusing to heed the warning. What we are losing as a nation is not holiness, it is rather the cultural influence of Christian morality (we must be careful to not confuse the two).

Rather than assuming that we are somehow blessed for the strength of our faith I often fear that the Lord may have put us here in this land of ease because perhaps our faith is too weak to withstand the persecution that brothers and sisters in other parts of the world endure. After all, isn’t it just as likely that America has been blessed out of God’s mercy for our weakness rather than out of recognition of our strength? Or more likely yet, that God has his own purposes in how He has used and is using our nation?

There is no question that we have been blessed and would like that to continue but aren’t righteousness and holiness sufficient desires for the people of God to wish them to be pursued in their own right? Rather than expect any kind of quid pro quo should we not pursue those things which are glorifying to God though we may suffer in doing so? Cannot we, like Job cry out “Though He slay me, I will yet trust in Him”? The decision to repeal this policy is clearly an ungodly one and we know that all such wickedness will be judged.  Our primary concern, however, should not be the temporal loss of blessings for American’s but rather the glory of God. We should be focused upon the preaching of the Gospel that others might understand and be saved. As the culture becomes bolder in its sinfulness our concern should be that the Church becomes bolder in its distinction from the world. Of far greater consequence for us as teachers and preachers than the erosion of godly influence in the broader culture is the erosion of godly knowledge and influence in our own churches. Let’s spend less time lamenting the loss of our privileged position among men and let us instead preach the Truth, not being ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power for salvation to everyone who believes. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

An Ancient Meditation On Christmas

Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you.  I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.

You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened ‘to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.

Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.

He has become our justice, our sanctification, our redemption, so that, as it is written: Let him who glories glory in the Lord.

Truth, then, has arisen from the earth: Christ who said, I am the Truth, was born of the Virgin. And justice looked down from heaven: because believing in this new-born child, man is justified not by himself but by God.

Truth has arisen from the earth: because the Word was made flesh. And justice looked down from heaven: because every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.

Truth has arisen from the earth: flesh from Mary. And justice looked down from heaven: for man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.

Justified by faith, let us be at peace with God: for justice and peace have embraced one another. Through our Lord Jesus Christ: for Truth has arisen from the earth. Through whom we have access to that grace in which we stand, and our boast is in our hope of God’s glory. He does not say: “of our glory”, but of God’s glory: for justice has not come out of us but has looked down from heaven. Therefore he who glories, let him glory, not in himself, but in the Lord.

For this reason, when our Lord was born of the Virgin, the message of the angelic voices was: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to men of good will.

For how could there be peace on earth unless Truth has arisen from the earth, that is, unless Christ were born of our flesh? And he is our peace who made the two into one: that we might be men of good will, sweetly linked by the bond of unity.

Let us then rejoice in this grace, so that our glorying may bear witness to our good conscience by which we glory, not in ourselves, but in the Lord. That is why Scripture says: He is my glory, the one who lifts up my head. For what greater grace could God have made to dawn on us than to make his only Son become the son of man, so that a son of man might in his turn become son of God?

Ask if this were merited; ask for its reason, for its justification, and see whether you will find any other answer but sheer grace.

-Augustine of Hippo (excerpt from sermon 185 on the Mystery of the Incarnation)

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Since the blog has launched I have received a number of questions about the name of the site. After a recent conversation where the subject came up again I thought it might make sense to post a brief explanation.

Technically speaking the word mathaytes does not mean anything because it does not really exist spelled as it is. I did not, however, simply make it up. It is the phonetic spelling of the Greek word maqhthς which means disciple or learner. Normally this word is transliterated into English as mathetes but rather than use the “proper” spelling I decided to use the phonetic spelling (it is actually pronounced ma – thay – tays).

I chose to do this for a couple of reasons. First, by using a less common spelling the site has better search optimization. If you type mathetes into a browser you will get many links to articles or sites having to do with the Greek word, its definition, usage, etc. If, however, you search for mathaytes this site usually comes up first (although not on Bing… I suspect that perhaps corporate subterfuge is the reason). Secondly, most of the people who were initially interested in reading the blog had no exposure to New Testament Greek and it is easier to remember how to pronounce the word when it is spelled phonetically.

Some have criticized me for the spelling, particularly with regard to my second reason. All I can say is that the purpose of the site isn’t to teach Greek nor is the word even being used functionally within the site. It is simply a name used to identify a particular corner of the web. Think of it like a brand name (many of which intentionally use variant spellings for effect). I have never heard anyone complain that “Krispy Kreme”, “Froot loops”, or “blu-ray” are not spelled correctly.

The thing that is important to me is that the content of the site be helpful to fellow Christians and that it gives them cause to think about issues or matters that they may not have thought about before or to revisit issues that deserve further study.

If you have been wondering about the meaning of the name of the site or if it has been bugging you that it isn’t spelled the way you are used to seeing it I hope this helps to clear it up J

*BTW… from time to time I do publish posts that contain Greek words  (like this one and the Merry CHRISTmas post from last week) but if you do not have the Greek fonts installed on your computer those words will not display properly for you. If, for example, you see the string of letters after this sentence as w’s, x’s, and  f’s then some of the words in certain posts will not display properly for you. qQqQ  xXxX  fFfF.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


One of the most amazing pieces of music ever composed is Handel’s Messiah. Any Christian who has a love of music or melody should, at least once in their life, see this performed by accomplished vocalists and musicians. Its beauty as a piece of music is surpassed only by the truth that it boldly proclaims.

The most powerful and beautiful part of the composition is the famous halleluiah chorus. I was blessed recently to see the following video of a flash mob performing the chorus at the Welland Seaway Mall in Ontario. It is an amazing enough composition when heard in the confines of a performance hall when you know it is coming but to see people unexpectedly encountering such beautiful praise of our Savior as they go about their daily lives is just awesome.

The flash mob was organized by Alphabet Photography of Niagara Falls Ontario. Very cool… I hope you are as blessed by this as I was.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Let Us Pray

Recently I was listening to a series of recorded lectures by a Christian teacher and I noticed that there was something in particular that was distracting me and bothering me about the recordings. Like many other teachers he always began his courses with a prayer but after listening to a few of the sessions I began to see a pattern in those prayers that made me uncomfortable. In the course of each of those prayers the teacher would explain various elements of the doctrines that he was preparing to teach. It was unmistakable that at least some portion of the prayer was intended for the instruction of his listeners. He would seemingly include information that he wanted to convey that might not be emphasized in the lesson. As I thought about this I began to recall various times in my past where I had heard prayers of this sort. They never really seemed to bother me much before but as I reflected upon this I began feeling somewhat unsettled. The main reason I was unsettled is because it seemed a bit disingenuous to me to begin addressing God and yet be speaking to those around you. Another reason why it bothered me is because I feared that perhaps as a teacher I had given such a prayer at some point or another.

It is not my place to judge the sincerity of the prayer of any brother or sister let alone one who is laboring in The Word for the benefit of the body. It seems to me though that prayer should be addressed to God and that there is something inappropriate in using prayer time to consciously address those around you as the primary audience rather than God. It is perhaps analogous to calling someone on the telephone but then carrying on a conversation with the person next to you as the one you called waits for you to finish. I recognize, of course, that this analogy cannot be pushed too far but still it seems that it is not uncommon for us to sneak into a prayer some kind of message to those who are around us rather than focusing on God during that time and it just feels disrespectful.

Of course all of this is, however, not that simple now is it? We recognize that there is a distinct difference between public prayer and private prayer and that indeed one of the most important elements of a proper public prayer is that it is edifying to those who both hear it and participate in it. Public prayer must always consider the occasion and audience and be appropriately fit for them. Reconciling these observations in a balanced way that provides a basis for building appropriate public prayers is not easy(at least for me). The best that I can come up with is that the prayer should be sincere. Everything that is said should be truly addressed to God though it also encompasses the concerns of the group. For example, it seems appropriate to me to ask the Lord to help us to remember what we heard in a sermon or class so that it might be applied in our lives or to ask Him to prepare our hearts to receive a particular teaching etc. It would seem though that this is a pretty wide grey zone.

There are undoubtedly a number of issues of personal preference that will influence how a person will balance these objectives in public prayer but in addition to the theological foundation for what we do we must also recognize that public prayer is also a form of public speech. In addition to being sincere in bringing our praise and petitions before the Lord we must also do our best that our words are intelligible, well ordered, and meaningful to those who are in our hearing. I began to think about how I might improve my own public prayers so that they were not a distraction to anyone in the way that I experienced with the recordings mentioned above. There are lots of suggestions out there but I found this list to be particularly helpful (#11 addresses the issue that led to this post). As I read it I was convicted of a number of opportunities to improve. I pray that it might be a benefit to you as well.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Merry CHRISTmas

Now that Thanksgiving is past we have entered officially into the Christmas season. Most of the stores and homes that will be decorated for the season are already finished and some people already have wrapped presents under their trees. Over the coming weeks we Christians will be certain to distinguish “our” holiday from most of what is celebrated in the culture around us. We will inevitably hear about someone who is forced to remove a Christmas display and become agitated by it (even though quite often the display itself will have little biblical justification). We will be sure to wish a hearty MERRY CHRISTMAS to anyone who dares wish us a happy holiday or seasons greetings. All year long we feel the influence of our faith waning in the culture around us and we sense that at this time of the year there is something at stake, something to be defended.

With that in mind I would like to respond to one particular thing that often provokes irritation among my brothers and sisters this time of year. Many Christians are disturbed when they see Christmas abbreviated as Xmas. The feeling is that both literally and symbolically Christ is X’ed out when this is done. This attitude is understandable considering the fact that so often there is an effort to remove Christ from Christmas on the part of many who prefer to retain the holiday without any sense of its religious significance. We must be careful, however, to not make too many assumptions regarding the motives of those who use the Xmas abbreviation. We do not want to be so sensitive to enemies on all sides that we begin jumping at our own shadows.

The “X” in Xmas did not originate as any secular attempt to blot out Christ from the celebration. The “X” is actually derived from the Greek letter chi which looks exactly like an English letter X and is the first letter in the Greek word cristos (christos) which is translated into English as “Christ”. It is the messianic title of our Lord and literally means The Anointed One. It is similar to other common abbreviations that signify our Lord such as “IHS” which represent a transliteration of the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek (ihsuos) or the chi-rho which is a combination of the first two letters of cristos (Christos) and like the X in Xmas is a shorthand symbol for “Christ”. It is reasonable to prefer that this shorthand not be used but it is not necessarily an attempt to remove Christ from CHRISTmas.

It is quite true that there is much at stake and much to be defended this time of year (and always) but our passion for the trappings of late December really have little to do with it. The timing of the celebration is the result of the early church’s attempt to redeem a pagan celebration. The evergreens, lights, snowmen, Santa, and the rest have no direct connection to the bible or Christ’s birth either. There is not a biblical precedent for celebrating the Lords birth and the early church knew of no such celebration until the 4th century. In fact, many early Protestants considered the celebration of Christmas to be sinful and idolatrous. Scripture, however, neither mandates nor precludes such celebrations so long as they are observed in due honor to the Lord. We do well to keep in mind what Paul instructed the Romans regarding sacred days:

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. … For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.
(Romans 14:5-8 ESV)

There have always been various celebrations that have occurred during this time of year. There are those who in faith set aside a day to recall the birth of our Savior and then there are many others who are either celebrating some other non-Christian holiday, worshiping at the altar of materialism, or simply celebrating their friends and family. It seems that it has always been this way. We have been spoiled because for many centuries during the late December festivities the broader culture has recognized the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ as primary but it was not always so.

As I said, there is much at stake regarding the Christmas message and I pray that we, as Christians, keep in mind the wonder and glory of Christ’s coming to the earth to save us every day of the year. It is only if we (by God’s grace) ensure that the message of Christ is not lost among ourselves that we can hope influence the culture around us. That there would be confusion in the world about what we celebrate is not surprising. I pray, however, that there would be no such confusion in our churches and homes this Christmas season and throughout the year.

May the Lord bless all of you this CHRISTmas season!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

British Royal Wedding... Which Liturgy?

I just stumbled upon this post over at Cranmer’s Curate, which brings up the interesting question of which liturgy is likely to be used in the British royal wedding ceremony of Prince William and his fiancé Catherine. The author points out that if the royal couple ends up with the liturgy taken from the older Book of Common Prayer the observers of the ceremony will be in for a dose of old time conservative Christian doctrine. It will be interesting to see if they choose to go this route and if so what the response will be from many of those more progressive Anglicans who no longer accept the truth of those words.

BTW… In the interest of full disclosure I would like to point out that I was not familiar with the Cranmer site and stumbled upon it while looking for something else. I saw the link to this site on another unfamiliar site: Reasonable Christian.  I haven’t had time to read too much on either site yet but both look like potentially interesting sites. I intend to check them out in more depth and wanted to share.