Category Archives: Bible & Theology

Inclusivity in Worship

By Anthony Hejduk, Pauli Murray ’20. Anthony is majoring in Philosophy.

What does it mean for a worship space to be inclusive? Or more generally, what does it mean for a Christian community to be? As the Church across the world grapples with declining membership and increased fragmentation, especially in the West, this question is on the forefront, maybe more so now than ever before. But what is inclusion? And whom is it for? It seems to me that there are a few different senses by which one can understand inclusion. For brevity’s sake, I’ll limit myself to discussing three of them: ideological inclusion, experiential inclusion, and dispositional inclusion. 

Ideological inclusion in worship is the idea that a service should encompass as many different beliefs as possible, and should not make statements which would exclude different belief systems. This is the kind of inclusivity in worship which might be sought after in a Unitarian church. Regardless of the individual beliefs that one holds, the worship service will be geared towards allowing a general kind of religious expression that does not require specific beliefs to be fruitful. While this might be sought in worship services for other religions or worship service analogues, like baccalaureates or certain kinds of weddings or funerals, it seems that this cannot truly be present in authentic Christian worship. True, there is real value in minimizing the importance of certain political, economic, or nationalistic beliefs in worship, to the extent that division is not created in the body of Christ. But the belief that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, rose from the dead and through His sacrifice we may be justified before God, must be present and conveyed in Christian worship if it is to truly be worship in the Christian sense. As exclusive as beliefs like this might be, and as uncomfortable as they might make worship services for those who do not hold them, they are non-negotiable for members of the Christian faith. The other forms of inclusion, however, are not so simple, and may legitimately divide honest members of the Christian community. 

Experiential inclusion in worship is the idea that a service should require no background in that specific worship practice to participate. There would be no kind of assumed knowledge present about things like memorized prayers, specific actions like kneeling at specific times, or other aspects present in a formal liturgy. Many protestant churches more or less achieve this, as they require little to no background to participate, and if there is specialized knowledge, it is usually minimized or in some way explicitly broadcasted (worship lyrics being put on a tv, for example). Discussions of inclusivity often focus on this issue, and not without reason. The idea that newcomers might find a worship space to be a confusing and unwelcome place is a natural concern, and making genuine efforts to alleviate this is laudable. 

Dispositional inclusion is the most complicated of these terms, and it refers, broadly, to the ability of a worship service to include members with broadest reach of natural reactions to and tendencies for specific kinds of worship. The easiest way to understand this concept is to look at what might violate this kind of inclusion. Worship that expects a kind of reaction from the congregation to be legitimate, anywhere from raising one’s arms and swaying to speaking in tongues, prizes a kind of dispositional reaction to stimuli and a certain expression of this reaction. Worship that likewise expects a mere silent reaction when some would want to make their praise clear and vocal also excludes, albeit in a different manner. 

Putting ideological inclusion aside, is there a kind of worship that is experientially inclusive, dispositionally inclusive, and still fruitful? For me, a high church service conducted in an ancient language is the extreme between complete dispositional inclusion and experiential exclusion, such as a Latin or Greek Orthodox mass. Nothing is required from the congregation in worship except attention and prayer; the only participation in worship is the communal embrace of God or reception of the Eucharist, none of which requires a specific reaction for inclusion. Hypothetically, members from all over the world, with no common language, class, culture, or even reactive disposition, could worship together in this manner. On the other end of the spectrum is a worship service that is essentially reactive and participatory, with worship music and altar calls that are geared towards new members, no formal prayers that would require prior knowledge, and an atmosphere that closely mimics common experience, like lectures or concerts. 

While I think that a medium can be found between these two extremes, I would caution too zealous of an approach from the side of what is usually meant by inclusivity, experiential inclusivity. The idea that these high church worship services can be made enjoyable and fruitful by moving to a more engaging and participatory worship style might be true for people with generally similar natural dispositions to the same style of worship, but as soon as one is prized, those who naturally react in a different way would be excluded. And as a service becomes less formal, it becomes less universal as well: Catholics can genuinely worship in any Catholic church in the nation, and in many cases, the world, with only a basic familiarity with the mass, thanks to its universal formality. A church that seeks to include new members by removing formal aspects of liturgy ignores the specific kind of new member outreach that a formal, geographically inclusive, that is, universal, liturgy provides. 

Psalm 63

This is part of a syndicated series for Lent 2019 with Harvard’s Christian Journal Ichthus. Visit Ichthus at http://www.harvardichthus.org

By Allen Lai ’20. Allen is a junior in Quincy House concentrating in Chemistry and Physics.

Before reading this, please take the time to read all of Psalm 63. These are the words of one who truly longs for God, desires nothing more than the presence and love of God – a man after God’s own heart. As you read, please take the time to reflect on the images which the Psalmist uses to convey the intensity of his need for God, and also his description of his experience of the character of God. Also take note of the tenses of the verbs in the English translation, whether they are in present, past, or future tense.

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Would that every one of us longed for the presence of the Lord with the yearning of the Psalmist! Our souls were made for him, to be satisfied only in him. He is the fuel on which our spirits run, and it is due to the deceptions of sin and by the devil that causes us to forget this day by day. We need to abide in the presence of the living God more than we need sleep, food, and water.

Imagine for a moment how long you could live a healthy, happy life without sleep. Without food? Without water? I think very soon every reader can imagine him or herself becoming cranky, constantly thinking about his or her lack of that need, and at its logical extreme suffering some health problem that resulted from the lack of these things. It is an appalling sign of how sin has warped our desires and spiritual senses, therefore, that many of us can go so long without seeking the presence of the Lord, for our need for God is even more fundamental than our need for these things. Why can I so easily imagine myself feeling okay after having not prayed to the Lord for a week but not imagine myself alive without sleeping for a week? Why is it that I can go without reading the Word, of which Christ said man shall live by every word from the mouth of God, for a week without viscerally feeling the spiritual decay of my soul? In fact, the condition of our soul in the absence of God is just as much (or worse) spiritual death as when we deprive our physical bodies.

David felt the thirst for God in his soul. He recognized his soul was dry and weary, waterless if without the Lord. His flesh fainted for the living God, and he earnestly sought him in a manner befitting of one pursuing the King of kings. Where was the origin of his desire? It says in the following verse:

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.

The Psalmist longed to see God the way that he did when he was in the sanctuary of God, worshipping with the congregation and what struck him there was the Lord’s power and glory. The title attached to the Psalm 63 identifies it as having been written while David was in the wilderness, presumably fleeing from his enemies. This makes his longing all the more poignant as he writes in the past tense, in exile from the covenantal congregational worship of God at his tabernacle. For David to say, O God, you are my God meant so much more than just a statement of his allegiance, as it made the claim that the LORD, the God whose presence dwelt around the tabernacle was still his God despite his physical separation from it. Do we value our access to the sanctuary in this way? And when we go to church services what do we see? Are we looking for God’s power and glory?

Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips; when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wing I will sing for joy.

Here is a soul’s profound satisfaction in God. Note how it leads the Psalmist to praise, and joyfully desire to worship God all his days! Today there are many modern worship songs written that are almost indistinguishable from love songs. Though some of these songs are theologically questionable or imprecise, I think the satisfaction and emotional delight that other such songs express may be an appropriate attitude to have towards our relationship with our God. Here the Psalmist is describing a relationship that is inexpressible by prose alone – the intimacy of the relationship is such that he can write “your steadfast love is better than life … my soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,” phrasing that might be suited for speaking to a lover. Indeed, all romantic relationships, ultimately properly realized in marriage, are meant to point to our covenantal relationship with God, the engagement between God and his Bride the Church.

So here with the Psalmist let the saints declare,

Take the world, but give me Jesus,

All its joys are but a name;

But His love abideth ever,

Through eternal years the same.

All I need is You

All I need is You Lord

Is You Lord

I want to know You

I want to hear Your voice

I want to know You more

I want to touch You

I want to see Your face

I want to know You more

What would it look like to pursue God in this way? First, desiring God like a lover would meant that we honor our commitments to him much more seriously than most of us probably currently do. Imagine if I had a girlfriend, and we planned to go on dates every weekend, but I was always ten minutes late every time. Making a significant other wait for a date is inexcusable, but how many of us do this with God? How many of us arrive to church ten minutes late every week (forgive me, O Lord!). And how much more serious is this if the person on the other end of the relationship is the Lord of the universe!

Or even more, how often do we pray? Just imagine if we spent the same amount of time that we would spend talking, texting, or thinking about a significant other talking to God! A Sunday School teacher of mine once compared the Bible to a very long love letter sent from a husband to his wife, on an extended journey. This letter was structured as a literary masterpiece conveying something important about himself to his wife. How sad would the husband be to find that his wife never gave it much thought, or never read all of it! If we read the Bible with the writer and his intention in mind, seeing Scripture as a beautiful work of art written by someone we trust and who we care a lot about, then I think this would change our attitude towards how we read the Word, and our willingness to listen and accept what it shows us about God and his laws for us.

If we thought of the Lord as a significant other, then I think we would pay much more attention to his commandments, not out of duty but out of love. To give a related example, if I had a lifestyle choice that continually bothered my best friends, even if it were difficult, I would seriously try to change it out of love for my friends. This would be because I cared about our friendship more than I wanted that something for myself. Also, even if sometimes the way that they convey their annoyance was sometimes strong, I would contextualize that in our friendship and would not be offended by it. Similarly, when the Bible gives commands, if we recognize the Lord as our Bridegroom who is omniscient and is concerned for our wellbeing, it becomes much easier to obey out of love, and defer to his greater knowledge in trust that the Lord has our best in mind.

There is one more aspect of common Christian behavior that I think would need to be rethinked if we loved God as much we do our earthly loves. If we had a person who we greatly admired, we would tend to speak about that person all the time – what they did, what they liked, etc. But somehow it becomes hard to do this for God, and people are often hesitant and afraid to speak about Christ (although there are admittedly differences, particularly in how God is perceived)! I often find myself justifying subtler methods of evangelism, while continuing to talk about earthly topics I enjoy with much more zeal than I speak of the all-loving, living Creator God. Charles Spurgeon in his commentary on Psalm 63 in Treasury of David says this:

Is it possible that any man should love another and not commend him, nor speak of him? … And can it stand with love for Christ, yet seldom or never to speak of him nor of his love, never to commend him unto others, that they may fall in love with him also? … I tell you, it will be one main reason why you desire to live, that you may make the Lord Jesus known to your children, friends, acquaintance, that so in the ages to come his name might ring, and his memorial might be of sweet odor, from generation to generation.

Today, the perception of Christian doctrines regarding desire might primarily bring to mind those prohibiting certain illicit manifestations of desires. However, rather than emphasizing the suppression of sinful desires, Christianity has taught being filled by greater, heavenly desires. Jonathan Edwards in his sermon “Spiritual Appetites Need No Bounds”:

And with respect to those [spiritual] appetites, self-denial has nothing to do; but here they may give themselves an unbounded liberty … There is no such thing as inordinateness in holy affections; there is no such thing as excess in longings after the discoveries of the beauty of Christ Jesus, greater degrees of holiness, or the enjoyment of communion with God. Men may be as covetous as they please (if I may so speak) after spiritual riches, as eager as they please to heap up treasure in heaven, as ambitious as they pleasure of spiritual and eternal honor and glory, and as voluptuous as they please with respect to spiritual pleasure. Persons neither need nor ought to keep those inclinations and desires from increasing to any degree whatsoever, and there cannot be a too frequent or too powerful exercise of them … By all means, endeavor to raise and to obtain satisfaction for holy inclinations; delight yourselves in the Lord … One would think you should not need urging to indulge your appetites and to enjoy your pleasures. Carnal men, by all the argument that can be used, can scarcely be restrained from indulging their carnal appetites. ‘Tis a shame that the saints should need a great many arguments to move them to promote their spiritual appetites … Endeavor to promote spiritual appetites by keeping yourself out of the way of [sinful] allurement … but we ought to take all opportunities to lay ourselves in the way of enticement with respect to our gracious inclinations.

(cited from the Sex and Spirituality Manual by Nick Nowalk, p.129)

C.S. Lewis writes in his essay The Weight of Glory,

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

And in Mere Christianity, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

The Lord himself is a little bewildered by our ineffective and foolish attempts to satisfy our desires by mere earthly things. Isaiah 55 says,

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David” (verses 1-3).

In other words, the same steadfast love that David spoke of in Psalm 63 God also offers to every one of us! God sent his Son Jesus into the world as the bread of life. As Moses once said that “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3), so Jesus is The Word (John 1:1), who said of himself, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Today, we have the realization of that which David could only hope and long for – let us delight unashamedly and fully in Christ, O my brothers and sisters!

My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth; they shall be given over to the power of the sword; they shall be a portion for jackals. But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exalt, for the mouth of liars will be stopped.

Here the Psalmist returns to using the present tense. Except for the first verse, in which he earnestly sought and thirsted for God, and in the sixth, in which he remembers the Lord upon his bed, all the content of this psalm has been either recalling the faithfulness of God in the past (verses two and seven) or looking towards the future. This too serves as a model for us – today we can long to seek Christ earnestly, remember him from when we rise to when we sleep, and cling to the Lord. And the Lord responds immediately: of all the promises to us, the one that he makes in the present tense is that his right hand upholds us. The Lord our God is with us wherever we go (Joshua 1:9).

Because of what he knows about God’s character and what he has done in the past, David can declare his solid hope. So too, today, we can look in the past at Christ’s death and resurrection, and remember the Lord in all of our ways, and seek him with all our heart. As we do so, he promises that he will make our paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6), and that we will find him (Jeremiah 29:13).

Lord, would you come and make yourself known to me, and come so that your presence satisfies me more than any earthly desire ever could. Lord, I want to desire you more than riches or power, success or fame, to know or be known by another. Help me to long for you as the Psalmist did, and to seek you and love with you with all my heart all the days of my life. I confess that your steadfast love is better than life: come fill me with your love so that I can fill others. Help me to seek you with all my heart, acknowledge and trust you in all my ways, and cling to you as my heart’s one desire. Amen.

Finding Home and Unlimiting love

by Jadan Anderson, Morse ’22

“Our love is really limited, isn’t it? I’m only capable of giving my love and energy and time to three people, my wife and two kids, and then some friends, some coworkers, some neighbors that I live by and then I’m maxed out… I just don’t have the capacity. Our love has limits.”

In his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri J.M. Nouwen suggests that our true Home “is the place within [us] where God has chosen to dwell.”  

“Where is home for you?” was the most frequent question I was asked before leaving my first semester at Yale for winter break. Answering this question was supremely important to me, but was complicated. As a child of divorced military parents, I spent most of adolescence trying to designate a hometown– or at least a “homepeople”– for myself. Life was like an ever-incomplete draft: one out of two of my homes bounced from Washington to Alaska to Texas to Idaho to New Mexico at what seemed to be an increasing distance from my other home and the dotted locations of my homepeople. What’s more, a sweeping gaze over my dorm before I left for Christmas revealed a third home and new set of homepeople in the making. That’s too many! I always dreamed of a singular home, a singular collective of others.

 When I was in middle school, I spent my eighth-grade Christmas with my Dad. I remember that Christmas, Grandma lined up all six of her grandchildren in front of the tree before opening presents. “Is Christmas about the presents?” she asked. Dutifully, we all shook our heads: no. “What is it about, then?” she pressed. We had the answer she was looking for: Jesus, of course– and family. Smiling warmly, she nodded in approval. “Yes, and God has blessed me. My family is home this Christmas.” I didn’t have the heart to correct her; I was actually in one of my two homes. And now, as a college student, one of three.

Those words from Nouwen were part of a gift God had ready for me this season. As I was trying to make sense of the latest revision in my home theory, those words helped bring me into peace, and close the book on my question of home. I found comfort in the singularity, mobility, closeness, and scope of Nouwen’s idea. I had one home that I could take anywhere. It is within me where God dwells and, because the Creator of all dwells there, so can His creation; for me, that meant all three homes and all my homepeople from every place in which I’d ever constructed relationships. Strangely, knowing my true Home allowed me to find a singular home in my multitude of “earthly” homes. They could all be fit into my true Home, under God. This Christmas, that burning, futile question of my childhood was laid to rest.

 

There was a second part to God’s gift: another question.

After twenty years of service, my mother retired from the United States Air Force in September. Her first move was to relocate her family back to Washington state. Ever fond of nostalgia, this is where she graduated high school and began her military career. It is also a fifteen-minute drive from my other childhood home, with my father.

 I think to most, this was great. Finally, the distance between the two homes of my adolescence was practically nonexistent. I could agree with my grandmother and finally be at home– both of them– for Christmas.

But instead, this nearness has been a cause for anxiety.

When I realized that my true Home is the place in me where God dwells, I also realized with that comes a bit of power. Not “walk-on-water-and-turn-it-into-wine” power but the power of living in the spirit. I think that’s what Nouwen is describing when he writes “Having ‘received without charge,’ I can ‘give without charge.’” This is what it means to be Beloved. “As the Beloved, I can confront, console, admonish, and encourage without fear of rejection or need for affirmation.” Even more, we wield God’s power of love, He being both Love itself and the boundless source of love. Knowing and accepting the God dwelling within ourselves means accepting both the power that comes with it and the call to use those powers to love others.

“‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'” (Matthew 22:36-40)

 The transcontinental plane ride from Connecticut to Washington was fraught with calculations as to how I should be dividing my time between the two sides of my family. Should I stay with my Mom who insisted that she should buy the ticket in late autumn? Is that fair to my Dad, whose work schedule is so hectic and stressful he’s hardly able to squeeze in a blink before December breaks? No, I’ll stay with my Mom: I have my own room there. But I’ve missed my family and am on break to spend time with them– a room shouldn’t matter so much. Mom goes back to work during the second half of break– I’ll stay with Dad then. But he’s working practically the whole break. I’d hate to visit him later in the day because I’ll be tired, but that may be my only option. I’ll just wing it, I guess.

 In between the car rides from Mom’s to grandparents’, grandparents’ to Auntie and Uncle’s, Auntie and Uncle’s to Dad’s girlfriend’s, Dad’s girlfriend’s to Dad’s, and finally Dad’s to Mom’s again, I obsessed over each exchange. Did I spend enough time there? Was it enough to let them know that I love them no less than I love the other? Sometimes I thought I was successful; but, more often than not, I would hear “You have to go now? Stay a little longer!” Though I longed to explain my intent, I very well couldn’t reply “I don’t have to, but your time is up. I’m dividing my break evenly, you see? I’m leaving so everyone else knows, too, just how much I love them.”

 Of course, most of the time– if not all of the time– my family understands. But sometimes their emotions betray their understanding. The “You have to go now?”, usually riddled with fondness and affection, becomes sad. When I saw those moments, my heart tore for them.. Am I doing this right? Is there even a correct way to do this?

 I was reminded that the distance that once existed between the two homes of my adolescence served as an advantage– I could at least pretend I had a singular home. I was able to dedicate all my time and energy and love to one side of my family. The other side was too far, anyway. I would focus on them when I was with them.

 Sometime during the back and forth car rides, “You have to go now? Stay a little longer!” went from sounding like loving gesture to sad request to demand. Sometime during the back and forth car rides, I grew bitter. Was this not my break? Why am I meeting them always, never vice versa? This was easier when I was far– why am I so close? Why is this so difficult to do? It would be far easier to be by myself.

 

Brake check.

 Taking a note from Nouwen, that bitterness at my own family was indicative of my straying from my true Home. How soon after I found it that I left it! Why is it that I strayed when focusing all my strength to communicate love? God, who had made His home in me, loves all without abandon. Why, then, could I not do that same?

 The answer was fairly clear when I asked myself that question. I was drawing from the well of my own power, not God’s. While God’s love is the model for what Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 13), human love in severely limited. It’s exhaustive, selective, capped. We max out and grow tired and weary and bitter. Without God, our love is not all that patient and only sometimes kind. It’s prone to jealousy and pride. It’s demanding of both the giver and the receiver. It is irritable and keeps tabs of injustices against it. It gives up and fizzles out. When people love each other– that’s a remarkable thing. It’s like feeling the sun’s gentle rays warm your skin in the early morning. It’s a glimpse of heaven. But it’s always temporary. Only in God do we have hope that, as He turned water into wine, He will make our flawed, temporary love perfect and eternal.

 But is that even possible now? Perhaps that can only be true in the new creation? I’m not sure if an affirmative answer to that last question would relieve me of guilt and bitterness or plunge me into despair. What good is it if we only love those who love us? Remember, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”(Matthew 5:44) Judging by how hard it has been to love my own family, this is a clear call to draw from God’s eternal well. So, what’s stopping me?

 Once more, Nouwen’s words as he battled the limitations of his own love helped me: “When would I be ready to accept that kind of love?”

 My own pride keeps me from so much. It keeps me from trying new things. It keeps me from asking for help. No doubt, it keeps me from accepting God’s unconditional, unearned love. It would rather see me a servant, earning my blessings, rather than freely receiving them as a child of God. How, then, do I expect to give a love I will not accept for myself to my family. To love all my homes, I must remember my true Home. And so, as with all of creation, love begins and ends with God.

 It is written:

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:12-13)

 What we see dimly but will see face to face, what we know in part but will know fully– it’s His perfect, eternal love.

This is a new point of faith for me. This is of supreme importance. Going into this new year, I will be praying in hope that God will help me remember Home, in hope that He will replace my pride with faith enough to accept the love he offers me. I will be praying in hope that as freely as it is given to me, I will soon be able to freely give.

 

“Imagine a universe where that limitation is removed. Imagine a universe where nobody feels unwelcome. Imagine a universe where every life is cherished, everybody knows that they belong and have a place, that they’re loved. And imagine if you were capable of giving that love to everybody. That sounds awesome.”

 

A Case for Rebuke

By Bradley Yam, Class of ’21

There is one way of reading the Bible that involves nodding to the parts of the text that affirm a pre-supposed moral framework and lightly skimming over the parts that seem puzzling, culturally irrelevant or simply difficult. This is merely an exercise in self-congratulatory confirmation bias. Addressing these systematic omissions – that are only too easy for the lay reader to make – is a task for a longer and more thorough piece of writing. Instead, I want to focus our attention on one topic that is easy to assume we have understood, but actually challenges our thinking and living far more than we realize: “Rebuke”.

First, a few brief observations about how rebuke appears in the scriptures.

1) Rebuking fellow believers is always given as an imperative. It is not a suggestion, or helpful advice, it is a key part of our duty to brothers and sisters in the church. (1 Timothy 5:20, Matthew 18:15-17, Titus 2:15)

2) Rebuke always occurs with the intent of restoration to a standard of righteousness, it is often paired with the command to exhort (2 Timothy 4:2, Galatians 6:1, Titus 2:15)

3) Rebuke demands gentleness, patience and truth (in other words, complete Love) on the part of the rebuker (Luke 17:3-4, 2 Timothy 4:2, Galatians 6:1) .

It is clear from a brief survey of the Scriptures that rebuke has an incredibly prominent role in Christian life. Rebuke functions as a process through which moral truth is preached, sin is uncovered, repentance is expected, sanctification happens on a spiritual level and restoration happens on a social level. In other words, rebuke is hard. It is extraordinarily hard. We might ignore it precisely because it is so hard. And if we find ourselves rebuking someone and finding it easy, the likelihood is, we are probably the ones in need of rebuke. It is hard because rebuke is the loving use of verbal force for the purposes of sanctification and righteousness.

Unfortunately, a mental picture of rebuke that involves both force and love might appear difficult or even completely alien to us, because there are far too few good examples of rebuking and being rebuked. Instead, we are used to being shamed into obedience, and penalized into agreement; paternalistic means of compliance arising out of a misunderstanding of true biblical hierarchy. What we suffer, we then go on to inflict on others. Or perhaps, we retreat into a comfortable hesitancy and false-tolerance that doesn’t demand anything of us or our brothers and sisters in Christ.

In other words, rebuke is not just calling someone out, it definitely isn’t scolding someone for annoying you, and it clearly cannot be shaming someone for disagreeing with you. The call to rebuke is far loftier and far higher than that – it is a call to love someone so radically that you are willing to enter into the discomfort of risking your relationship and good-standing with them in order to bring them further from sin and closer to God. Even if you were hurt, rebuke involves forgiveness and love. Even if you are angry, rebuke involves peace and gentleness. Even if you are right, rebuke involves God’s justice, not yours. Rebuke is not self-congralutory, it is self-sacrificial.

Because rebuke is loving, there are many conditions we must pay attention to in terms of who, when and how to rebuke. Because rebuke is the use of verbal force, we must examine ourselves to know how and why we are rebuking, to ensure we do not fall into error ourselves (Galatians 6:1) Kevin DeYoung provides some excellent guidelines to properly rebuke in his three-part TGC article: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/the-ministry-of-rebuke-1/

Instead of reproducing DeYoung’s good work, I will focus on interpreting what the simultaneous unwillingness and overzealousness to “rebuke” reveals for us in the Church. Full disclosure: such an analysis is necessarily speculative, but the hope is that we will be more aware to the temptations that are before us, and in understanding them, we would be able to give or receive rebuke to prevent ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ from falling into sin.

Our Excuses:

1) We fail to rebuke because we fail to love others.

If we find ourselves constantly worrying about what others will think about us or if we will continue to be liked, included or admired, perhaps we value our own comfort and reputation more than the well-being of our brothers and sisters. There is no such thing as unloving rebuke, because all rebuke comes out of a genuine desire for the flourishing of the Church. The flourishing of the Church is synonymous with the holiness of the Church. If we want to be liked more than we want others to be holy, then we probably love ourselves more than we love them.

If we find ourselves unable to rebuke because we surround ourselves with merely social relationships in the Church that do not involve spiritual realities, then we short-change ourselves from the fellowship and community that the Scripture calls us to. If we are comfortable treating church like a social activity, then we do not love the Church enough to be vulnerable with them, or love the Church enough to build deep relationships with them.

2) We fail to rebuke because we fail to love God and his righteousness.

If we are perpetually comfortable with everything that happens in the Church and with our fellow believers, and we are able to somehow justify that with a casual indifference, then we fail to understand God’s righteousness and its deep necessity in our lives. We need to know the Scripture, to be convicted of its truth, and to have a vision of the Church – we do not need this vision to be perfect, or claim to know the full absolute truth, but we must persist in the process of mutual correction.

Perhaps we do care about God, and we do care about our believers, but we have never taken the time to study the word to be convicted enough to engage in rebuke. In this case, we have failed to equip ourselves with the knowledge that enables practical love.

On Overzealousness:

1) We are too quick to “rebuke” when something makes us uncomfortable.

If we rush to rebuke before we consult Scripture to fix the grounds of our contention, then we replace the authority of the text with our own personal barometer of comfort. If we persist in this behavior, we do not love the word, or our neighbor, we only care about own moral sentiments. But we do not care enough to verify these sentiments.

2) We are too quick to “rebuke” when we feel self-righteous.

The last thing we should use rebuke for is a nasty means of self-justification. We can easily make ourselves feel superior and better about our own moral failings by pointing out the (supposedly worse) moral failings of others. The truth is, rebuke ought to expose equally our own failure to adhere to the standard that we are exhorting others to, and more often than not, rebuke is accompanied by repentance of our own.

And Why Should We Care:

We must think about rebuke because of what it reveals about the shallowness of our religion. In addition, in an time where people everywhere struggle to preach the truth in love, rebuke offers us a paradigm of both truth and love that is fully coherent, and helps us understand our areas of growth. I know I need to grow in this as well.


 

1 Timothy 5:20 ESV

As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.

2 Timothy 4:2 ESV

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

Galatians 6:1 ESV

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

Titus 2:15 ESV

Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

Matthew 18:15-17 ESV

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Luke 17:3-4 ESV

Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

Kneeling and Hanging: Maundy Thursday and Good Friday

It is the Feast of the Passover.

All of the sudden, Jesus gets up from the table, takes off His garments, and girds Himself with a towel. He pours water into the basin and kneels before His closest friends, His twelve beloved disciples. As a servant would to a master, He begins washing the disciples’ feet and wiping them with the towel.

He gets to Simon Peter, and immediately Peter stops Him.

“Lord, do You wash my feet?”

Peter has been watching Jesus wash the feet of the disciples in line before him, and he’s shocked. How dare they silently let their master kneel before them and wash the dirtiest part of their body? The roles should be reversed– don’t they know that?

Standing up for the dignity of his master, Peter exclaims,

“Never shall You wash my feet!”

But Jesus replies rather strangely,

“If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”

Wait, wait, I take it back, Peter thinks. Rashly, he begs,

“Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.”

. . .

Somehow, I find myself in this very moment.

I am Peter– impulsive, ridiculous, and obnoxious in the way that he loves Jesus.

He does not exactly understand what is happening yet, and when Jesus keeps talking about leaving, he is confused and hurt.

“Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.”

All Peter wants in this moment is to be with His Lord, His master, His friend. He would even give up his life for Him.

Yet later that evening, as soon as Jesus leaves his sight, Peter will deny knowing Him to three people.

“I do not know this man you are talking about!”

And again, I find myself standing in the shoes of Peter– this time, scared, defensive, in hiding, his back toward Jesus and his face turned away.

. . .

But right now, we are still back in the upper room of a house, sharing the Feast of the Passover, not knowing what is to come in the hours ahead.

Except one person.

Jesus, still kneeling before me, stares straight into my fickle, hypocritical eyes, sees me denying Him not once, but three times, and continues to wash the dirtiest part of my body.

And tomorrow, though we do not know it yet, He will hang on a cross, with thorns piercing His head, nails hammered into His hands and feet, humiliation and mockery flooding His ears.

He will hang there for six hours, with not just my face turned away but even more painful, His own Father’s, and He will wash away, this time, the dirtiest part of my soul. And at the sixth hour, He will breathe His last, but breathe into me my first.

I do not know what to make of this quite yet; my mind simply cannot wrap around the utter humility of this God that I serve. But this is the gospel, and this is the Jesus we are commemorating this Holy Week.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

An Unfavorable Government: Lessons from Daniel

By Joshua Jeon

The morning of November 9th will be an important one for the nation. Of course, November 8th is election day: the culmination of months of speeches, debates, caucuses, primaries, and conventions; an end to a bitterly long and grueling election cycle; and the final choice by American voters on the next POTUS. All that aside, however, I think that November 9th, too, carries special significance as it marks the beginning of how the American people come to terms with their to-be-president. Although inauguration is months away, the day-after marks the beginning of the nation’s response to its decision. It is the beginning of a people’s relationship with a new president, a new government. How the people respond in these “first impression” stages is vitally important to the next four years.

Given the great unfavorability of this election’s presidential candidates, it will be of no surprise — to much dismay, if there is considerably strong reaction amongst those who disapprove of the decision, amongst those who voted for the losing candidate, and even amongst those who did not vote but are greatly concerned. For these Americans the results of the election will be difficult to swallow. They may express sorrow, be full of angst and uncertainty, or exhibit bitterness and anger. They may eventually accept the new government but may become apathetic and abandon participation in the democratic process. Some of them may respond with marked antagonism. They may try to arbitrarily obstruct the process of the new government. They may attempt to create further division and evoke distrust through conspiracy and slander. They may scoff when things go bad.

Given these concerns about the fate of American civic life in the aftermath of election day, the appropriate question is “How should one behave under an unfavorable government?” How should one conduct himself under a government that he did not choose and may even hate? I believe that the Bible provides insight into this question. Specifically, the biblical figure Daniel demonstrates that Christians should be good citizens despite “bad” government because trust in the sovereignty and goodness of God.

Daniel provides perhaps the best example on how to live under unfavorable government. Daniel lived during the Babylonian Captivity, a period of Jewish exile following the conquering of Jerusalem in 597 BC by the Babylonians. As a member of the nobility, Daniel was deported to Babylon, taught the language and literature of the Babylonians and trained to serve the King. In many ways the situation is an imperfect comparison because the Babylonian government is much worse than anything that can result from this election. Yet even so, Daniel’s attitude and behavior merits our attention.

Daniel, despite the unfavorability of his situation, faithfully fulfills his duties with regard to his government. He serves the King, Nebuchadnezzer, and then Darius the Mede, with excellence. In Daniel 6, his qualities are further embellished. Daniel “so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities”; there could be found no “grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs”; “He was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.”[1] Thusly, Daniel is entrusted with positions of power and rises to prominence within the government.

But how was Daniel able to conduct himself in such a manner? He was taken from his home and subjected to the rule of a foreign government that did not respect his culture or his people. Daniel could have rebelled as did the kings of Judah, Jehoiakim and Zedekiah, yet he served the King. Daniel was able to conduct himself in a manner of good citizenship because of the profound trust he had in sovereignty and goodness of God.

When Jesus said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s,”[2] he recognized the authority of Caesar, the Roman government. Particularly, in response to the question he was asked, Jesus affirmed its authority to collect taxes. In the second part of his response, though, Jesus also affirms the authority of God that far surpasses that of Caesar.

As Jesus points to the denarius, whose likeness and subscription is that of Caesar’s, noting it’s ownership, and uses it to explain Caesar’s right, he draws the parallel to creation. Since God created all things; his signature is all over creation; his image is in every human being; he is the owner of all things and deserves and has the right to all things. All authority is his. All obedience is to him. He is ruler over all. Therefore, any obedience and conduct toward Caesar or any other early power should be done with such wondrous sovereignty in mind. Similarly 1 Peter reads, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to governors as sent by him.”[3] In the context of this verse, obedience to governmental rule comes from the recognition that the human institution of government is allowed and vested power by God. Furthermore, the believer is to properly fulfill his role as a citizen “for the Lord’s sake” by exercising the freedoms he has in the Gospel to be a good example, to love his fellow citizens, and to honor and glorify God. As such, the believer’s whole relationship to government is governed by his relation to God’s governance.

The sovereignty of God provides good reason for good citizenship. Because God is the ruler of all things, has ordained the institution of government, and has commanded good conduct, the believer ought to demonstrate good citizenship. However, mere knowledge of the sovereignty of God will lead to joyless conduct. Yes, the believer may display proper conduct but under an unfavorable government he is bound to witness great injustice when evil is left unpunished, people are oppressed, and when wrongs are said to be right. Under these conditions, would he not be led to despair and hopelessness? Hence, it is important to know of and trust in God’s goodness in addition to his sovereignty. Because God is good and sovereign, his allowance of such government is not arbitrary but has purpose. Because God is good and sovereign, he can change government for good; he can deliver and rescue his people. And because God is good and sovereign, he will one day judge those who commit injustice and ultimately bring his justice. It is in this God the believer trusts and is able to conduct himself righteously. Knowing that he is a citizen of a higher Kingdom, he is then able to be a good citizen.

Given his trust in the sovereignty and goodness of God, Daniel was able to conduct himself in a worthy manner. Daniel was able to be a good servant to the King but since he knew that he was subject before God first, he sometimes disobeyed the King. Daniel rejected King Nebuchadnezzer’s food that would defile him before God and became vegetarian.[4] He disobeyed King Darius’ decree prohibiting prayer to anyone besides the King and continued to pray to God. He was then famously thrown in the lion’s den. In these situations, God protected Daniel and following these situations, God used Daniel for greater purposes. Through Daniel and his obedience to Him, God brought about change.[5] Daniel’s story shows that it is not by earthly might or means (our strength) that government will change but by the power of God.[6] It is God who induces Nebuchadnezzer’s insanity. It is God who strikes down his son Belshazzar. And it is God who crushes kingdoms and puts them to an end. Whether kings or kingdoms, God has ultimate authority.

Therefore, in following Daniel’s example, those who know God are to be good citizens. To be good citizens has double meaning. Believers ought to be faithful citizens to the Kingdom of Heaven and good citizens of whatever earthly government they are under. Practically, this may entail, to name a few, obeying laws, paying taxes, and voting.

It is my hope that whatever the outcome of this election may be, whatever new president and administration is in power, whatever government that comes about, no matter how unfavorable it may be, that people would demonstrate good behavior for it is God who has ultimate authority and “in God we trust.”

“His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”[7]

[1] Daniel 6:3,4 (ESV)
[2] Matthew 22:21 (KJV)
[3] 1 Peter 2:13-14 (ESV)
[4] Daniel 1:8
[5] One example: Following Daniel’s obedience to not defile himself, God increases his knowledge and understanding, and gives him the ability to interpret dreams. God uses Daniel and his ability to interpret dreams to humble Nebuchadnezzar. See Daniel 2 & 4. In fact, Daniel is used to humble various kings, to strike down their pride, and to teach them to fear God. Also, God uses Daniel to give hope of a coming time when God will establish his Kingdom which will reign forever and ever. See Daniel’s various visions.
[6] While trusting God, the person should do everything within his means to positively affect government. If you advise the king as Daniel did, give him wise advice. If you are a voter in a democracy, vote thoughtfully… etc.
[7]Daniel 4:34-35 (ESV)

Taken from Claritas, Cornell University’s Journal of Christian Thought, part of a “student-led movement of Christian journals on college campuses” called the Augustine Collective

Click here to read more from Claritas.