Drippings from the Honeycomb
More to be desired are [the rules of the Lord] than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:10)
Recently in our study on Acts we’ve considered the subject of persecution by the world. The world desires to conform us to their image and gets upset when we won’t. In a recent sermon I pondered whether persecution might be looming upon Christians in the West in a more concerted way. Beyond recent Covid arrests consider some visible Christians who have been persecuted in the last couple of weeks:
May we pray for these individuals and others like them who find themselves beset by the law that should protect them, the salvation of our culture and that we might be bold if faced with the world’s tactics of conformity.
As March dawns I admit that I am itching to get back out into the garden. Flowers are such a delightful pleasure of God’s creation, a true gift of colour and joy. During the winter we can enjoy cut flowers, however, their beauty is temporary and fleeting. They only last so long. By contrast real flowers continue long in bloom and perennials return every year afresh to bless us once more.
There are many in our contemporary Canadian culture (itself being refashioned as we speak) who believe that our Christian past is a total blight and embarrassment to our national identity. It is a something to be reinvented and forgot rather than cherished and preserved. Recent studies show an increasing majority of Canadians see religion as a negative force, with only some 34% seeing Christianity as a positive element of society. There are some who even champion the idea that we must finally cut ourselves off from our Christian past to secure the bright dawn of a progressive future.
C.S. Lewis suggested that when one had gone down the wrong path the most progressive thing to do was to reverse and then progress down the true path (c.f. Jer 6:16–17). As Canada has become, and continues to become, more post-Christian, some non-Christian leaders have urged restraint in jettisoning our heritage because they recognize the immense value it has and that our country couldn’t existentially be what it is without it.
This is wise wisdom because Christianity gave us the very essence of what has made Canada such a glorious land. As we’ve slipped and then rushed away from this heritage we risk, well, everything. We are, you might say, living on borrowed time. To put it another way, the present generation is very much living off the merits of past generations. We still have some semblance of life but we are losing our bloom as we die a slow death. We are a cut flower society. We are cut off from the very roots that gave us life.
Consider what Christianity gave us and what it might look like without these values:
May society repent and see the worth of Christian values and the Lord who stands behind them ready to forgive and renew (Acts 3:19).
May the faithful remnant of Canadian Christians have a preserving and savoury effect as the salt of this land (Mt 5:13).
A recent Church of England Synod, UK (the flagship of the worldwide Anglican communion), debated whether to bless same sex unions. Advocates said this was not a change to church doctrine, which upholds marriage as between a man and a woman. Many evangelical/conservative/traditional Anglicans raised an alarm, including a lay leader by the name of Benjamin John (who also works for the UK Christian legal ministry Christian Concern). His short speech is a brilliant example of Peter and John boldness we’ve been reading about in Acts:
Subsequently the Synod tragically, though not astonishingly, voted in favour of blessing same-sex unions. There has been Anglican drift for decades. They have exchanged orthodoxy for cultural compromise. Numerous Anglican bloggers and Youtubers have expressed their grave concern. Many individuals and congregations will leave, some joining groups like the Free Anglican Church (The Anglican Network was similarly formed in Canada out of the Anglican Church in Canada). The worldwide Anglican communion, which has given Christianity so much good, is fracturing along biblical lines. Those who naively and foolishly remain will, almost inevitably, drift toward further compromise. As one Anglican commentator put it, you can’t say you’re a vegan and eat sausages. You cannot say church teaching is that marriage is heterosexual and bless same-sex unions. The Lord is patient with the bride He is sanctifying but when it so openly apostatizes (departs from the faith), well, He denies those who deny Him (2 Ti 2:12b). Church history is full of such examples.
Ichabod- Hebrew for the glory of the Lord has departed (1 Sam 4:22).
May the faithful take heed and remain true to the Lord in faith and practice.
In recent decades our country has done a 180 in what it values and believes. Usually this has been for ill. When we exchange God for self “everyone does what is right in his own eyes.” (Judges). Truly as a result we now often “call good evil and evil good.” (Isa 5:20).
If you don’t think we’ve done a 180 consider some of the following changes:
To our culture the Lord says, repent and return to me, to know times of refreshing (c.f. Acts 3:19).
To Christians He bids us to stand on His Word and not become “like the nations around us” (c.f. 1 Sam 8:20), all the while loving the lost and hopefully sharing the Gospel. It is the Gospel alone that can reverse our course so we call good ‘good’ and evil ‘evil’ once again.
Over the weekend I was afforded an opportunity to be in a number of different church settings across southern Ontario as I taught and preached. Ranging from Toronto to Windsor, urban and rural, worship and classroom, I was blessed to experience something of what God is doing in Ontario.
Though class sizes at some seminaries remains low because of post-Covid dynamics and demographic trends in education, there are still those who are preparing for ministry via seminary. In Toronto this has a very international feel. One student, from Malaysia, is planning on returning there to minister amongst the predominantly Muslim population. The church is Ontario is connected with the uttermost parts of the earth, both in receiving and sending. God is globalizing His Church.
On the Lord’s Day I was able to preach at a church I had previously pastored in rural Ontario. When I transitioned to a new ministry the church was struggling to deal with carnal individuals who had too long persisted in the congregation (c.f. Eph 4). Since those individuals have ceased to be part of that congregation my friend, who now pastors there, has seen what liberty follows such a happy change. I preached beside the church in a large tent to 200+ people as the church building cannot contain the number of people who have come to Christ (largely from a nominally Christian population group in the community). God is building His Church.
That evening I was speaking at an induction service in Windsor. It was a medium sized urban congregation that, following a wider trend, is moving away from being seeker sensitive and more liberal, to one that is much more robust, healthy and evangelical—this led primarily by the younger generations. It was a joy to be a part of that by offering a biblically grounded charge to the new pastor, congregation and lost amongst them. God is renewing His Church.
On Monday I was back in Toronto speaking to a group of pastors on the “unknown Baptist minister,” Robert Hall Sr. of Arnsby (1728–1791). There was much in his story that was a challenge and encouragement to the brothers (and sisters) gathered there. One of these was to a missionary couple to Asia from Mexico who were visiting Toronto who will now take the lessons from Hall Sr. back to their villages. In spite of the encouragement from the workers from Mexico, one prayer request from the pastors present, i.e. not something unique to our church, is the need for workers. The harvest is plentiful but the labourers in Ontario are few (c.f. Mt 9:37). Not only do we need more young people prepared for ministry in seminary, etc, there is a direct need in the number of older Gospel workers approaching retirement. This is a real and present need; yet God is preparing His Church.
There are many things the church faces in Ontario but there are many things that make this an exciting time in which to serve the Lord. Let us go forward into the unknown in a spirit of faith and boldness and Word-centredness as the early Church did (Acts 4:31).
As a church we believe in and practice church discipline (henceforth CD) (Handbook 10.0). This is because we are a believers’ church comprised of members who have made and continue to make a credible profession of faith (Statement of Faith-The Church; Church Covenant; Handbook 7.0). We not only believe in the Gospel but a Gospel order, which includes CD. These are flip sides of the same coin.
[Corrective] Discipline, in a worldly sense, may simply be defined as “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience” (Oxford). Biblically, the word discipline (paideia) means to train a child to reach maturity.
In Christian theology and ethics all precepts ultimately flow from principles and these from the person of God. A study of CD at the level of precept (especially in our culture) can lead to an emotional knee jerk reactions (intolerance, unaccepting, etc) but understanding the heart of what CD flows from reinforces our understanding and informs our practice.
Person: The Character of God
God is both a God of mercy and justice, grace/love and truth (e.g. Ex 34:6–7; Jn 1:17; 1 Jn 4:12).
It may be said that His discipline is directed against unbelievers in His wrath and wayward believers in His correction. Speaking of the latter Heb 12:7b–12 says:
“God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
God is the perfect disciplinarian.
Principles from the Bible
A Believer’s Church- A Christian is one who has believed the Gospel and been added to the church through baptism. We can see the believing nature early in Acts, such as Acts 2:41. Unlike the Old Covenant people and many systems of Christianity today that uphold a mixed nature of God’s visible people (i.e. believers and unbelievers), the New Covenant people are a believing community. While it is true false professors creep in and that the Lord knows those who are His, we have an obligation to ensure membership is based upon a credible profession.
Perseverance of the Saints- The Bible teaches that those who are truly the Lord will ultimately not fail in the faith but persevere to the end. This means that the Church holds members accountable in the Lord. Only those who give a credible profession of faith and practice may be counted as part of it. If assurance is persistently and unrepentantly removed, the assurance of membership must likewise be withdrawn.
The church is a believing community that is given shape through regenerate membership (baptism and discipline).
Precepts: What the Bible says.
There are a number of related Bible verses/passages that speak to the subject of Church discipline. Some of the most noteworthy are:
I.The Correct Spirit: The Lost Sheep precedes Mt 18; Gal 6:1; Lk 17:3
II.As A General Command: 1 Cor 5:9–13; 2 Thes 3:6
III.A Typical Threefold Process: Mt 18:15–20; Tit 3:10
IV.The Authority to Bind (bring into membership) and Loose (exclude from membership): Mt 16:16; Mt 18:19
V.The Example of the Man Excluded and then Restored because of Incest, 1 Cor 5:1 ; 2 Cor 2:5–11
VI.The Example of the Judgement of Ananias and Sapphira: Acts 5:1–11
Those professing believers who persist in unrepentant sin, whether in faith or practice, must be excluded.
Ultimately CD is for the glory of God (doing what God has said); the purity of the church (ensuring it remains a believers’ church); the good of the sinner (not allowing them to walk in false assurance) and the fear of the church (a renewed call for us to confirm our calling and election). (See Five Minute Moment, June 13, 2021, here).
“Today, many professing Christians see church discipline as unloving, and many church leaders are afraid to practice it for fear of appearing merciless. Yet refusing to apply church discipline in careful obedience to Scripture is the most unloving and merciless thing the church can do. When the church does not call out impenitent people, it gives them false assurance that they are in a state of salvation.” - Ligioner
A Short Survey of Church Discipline from Church History
The church has tended to oscillate in this area [CD] between extreme severity (disciplining members for the most trivial offences) and extreme laxity (exercising no discipline at all, even for serious offences). John Stott, "The Message of Acts," p. 112.
 There is also formative discipline (e.g. training in godliness) and restorative discipline (reconciliation).
On November 13 I preached a sermon on Euthanasia as we believe life is sacred from conception to natural death. More and more this issue will be less theoretical and personal and practical. How can we minister to those contemplated or booked for medically assisted suicide. Below is a suggested approach/guide.
*A Christian guide in witnessing to persons considering MAiD.
Prayer before you go, while you go, after you go. Use God’s Word. Be humble and respectful. Be bold. Be supportive.
As of 2019 (expanded in 2021) MAiD is legal in Canada.
Convince them of your sympathy; listen to them. Those who contemplate or choose MAiD are hurting in body, mind and/or soul. We must show compassion and have a discerning ear to discover how to best speak into their situation (Mt 9:36; Prov 18:13, 20:5).
Convince them of God’s value of life: that being created in the “image of God” every person has value and that since God is the author and giver of life it is precious (Gen 1:26, 2:7). Tell a better story.
Convict them that taking one’s life is not God’s plan; it is immoral. Every Biblical example of suicide is negative (e.g. King Saul and Judas) and murder is prohibited (6th Commandment, Ex 20:13). To take one’s life or seek help in this, no matter how difficult, is to despise the gift of life that God has given and take for yourself what is rightfully God’s: to decide your days (Dt 32:39). Rather than trusting God as Creator, Judge and King, MAiD makes the self god as we decide life and death, right and wrong and what is best or may or may not be possible for the future.
Comfort them that despite our suffering there is a better way. While God is the giver of life, as a consequence of our sin and rebellion against God [including the desire to take one’s life] (Ro 6:23a) we’re all spiritually dead and physically dying. Without God we’re eternally lost to hell (Mt 10:28). Taking your life won’t solve your pain and suffering, it will add to it.
But God has given us a free gift by sending His Son so we might be forgiven and find new life (Ro 6:23b). When we repent and trust in Jesus we become at peace with God and are given the Helper, the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:7). Sympathizing with us in our weakness (Heb 4:15) His presence will help us live for God and others amidst our suffering and not for self alone. He will bring joy in the midst of our present suffering and assure us of the hope of eternal life free from suffering that awaits the believer (Rev 21:4).
God does not want person X to die but to find eternal life in Jesus (Jn 3:16). Offer an invitation for them to respond to the Gospel, to pray with them, to leave information, to speak further. Also, many considering MAiD do not believe they have other options, are lonely and want support networks. Offer to help them make alternative plans, seek to meet their most pressing needs while they consider what you have said.
So convince, convict and comfort.
In a recent blog I noted statistics regarding the visible decline of Christianity in Canada. This raises the question, ‘What Happened to Christian Canada?’
In a book by this title historian Mark Noll reached the conclusion that we exchanged a Christian vision of Canada for a multi-cultural one. This is true. Canada was a bi-lingual, Anglo-European, Protestant-Catholic nation. Our identity, while different (and sometimes divided), was also one in heritage. While multi-culturalism (language, ethnicity, religion, etc) is not all of itself wrong, this new vision for Canada was an intentional subversion of the existing Christian vision by cultural Marxism (e.g. the thoughts of Antonio Gramsci [1891–1937]). Christian values were assaulted and a Christian vision was replaced by a vision that divided, and accelerated by individualism, made Canada far easier to control to ideological ends.
While Noll is correct, his social theory is not the whole story as he alludes in his conclusion.
One must recognize that even at its height all of Canada was never truly Christian, there was much nominalism, of people buying into the Christian vision or attending church culturally but not truly and spiritually. One must believe the Gospel to be a Christian.
Still, many denominations faithfully preached the Gospel and so it could be assumed that many Canadians truly were Christian. However, with the arrival of theological liberalism in Canada (which accelerated in the 1920s), countless Canadian denominations, pulpits and churches became arid wastelands that gave the appearance of Christianity yet without Christ. Long before an assault from without can an attack from within. William Booth of the Salvation Army foresaw this shift in the 1800s when he said of the 20th Century:
“The chief danger that confronts the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell.”
If truth is not presented it cannot be trusted and it therefore does not transform.
There is nothing less attractive than nominal Christianity, no meaning, no joy, no fruit of faith, no substance. As more and more Canadians became nominal Christians is it any wonder ‘Christianity’ was spit out? Like the story of the Return of the Unclean Spirit in Mt 12:43–45 Canadians spit out nominal Christianity only to embrace other isms far worse than the first.
People began to look to the old worldly isms of materialism, commercialism and individualism in increasing degrees. (A corporatism in Christian Canada gave way to the extreme individualism of today).
Christianity was also beset by other isms such as Darwinism, Communism, atheism, the Sexual Revolution and post-Modernism. (It is interesting to note how a decline in the number of children necessitated an immigration policy that supported multi-culturalism).
While the full answer is even more complex than this some major contributors to the decline of Christian Canada were recasting our identity (cultural-Marxism), liberalism, nominalism along with various other isms.
No doubt some genuine Christians of the past bear spiritual and social responsibility for allowing us to drift away from orthodoxy and slip into nominalism as a nation, thus allowing this shift to take place (a giant can only be toppled if it blindly believes itself unstoppable).
The faithful remnant in Canada (e.g. the Church), now often bolstered by new Canadians who are already Christian, must rise to be the vanguard of society’s wellbeing (salt and light, Mt 5), do honour to our Christian heritage and offer a bright hope and alternative vision for the future. However, this will not be done through worldly means (2 Cor 10:4) but by the faithful preaching of the Gospel and lives lived to the glory of Christ. This is how the early Church began and transformed the Roman and European landscape. This is how we must win Canada today; one soul at a time.
Christmas of 2022 was unusual for many congregations, we had a blizzard that closed roads and forced many churches to suspend their Christmas Day services. The second thing that was unusual was that Christmas Day and the Lord’s Day coincided, something that only happens every few years.
For our culture Christmas (without the Christ) is the high holy day of the year. On Christmas even the shops are closed, family is a focus (which in itself is good), the pagan myths are brought out and of course there is the worship of self through materialism. For our culture Christmas is paramount.
For Christians, it is not wrong to remember the Incarnation, but our high holy day, a New Testament ordinance, is the Lord’s Day. It is the day we remember the Resurrection. It is the day we express our dependence upon the Lord, and that our lives revolve around Him. It is His day through which we honour and worship Him in a special way. It is the day on which the church gathers. Every Sunday, including when it is Christmas Day, we do not neglect to meet together (Heb 10:25). This is because Christians believe God’s will for the church is set forth in the New Testament. We do not get to choose how to live and worship, He does.
Very recently I came by two different sets of statistics related to the visible decline of Christianity in the West, one was a local newspaper article and one was by the BBC.
The BBC article reported that for the first time less than half of the population of England/Wales identified as Christian down to 46.2% in the 2021 Census from 59.3% in the 2011 Census (Britain does their censuses every decade). What is more, those who claim no religion are approaching those who claim to be Christian at 37.2%. However, a more accurate indicator as to the state of Christianity is not the census but those who attend a church service semi-regularly at 1.5%. As not everyone who goes to church is a Christian (i.e. they may be a “seeker” or nominal, as shall be seen), an generous estimate as to the number of Christians in the UK could be as liberal as 1% (670,000). 46.2% vs. 1% is a BIG difference!
In Canada there is a similar trend. Our recent census figures show 53.3% identify as Christian compared to 67.3% in 2001. The more accurate gauge as to the true number of Christians is church attendance. The following chart shows the decline of those who attend weekly service:
Today, partly because all religions are included in studies and partly because the measurement moved from weekly to monthly (itself telling) it can be difficult to truly gauge numbers. One study put monthly religious attendance at 23% (including all religions). Stats Canada (2019) noted 31% of professing Christians were in church monthly (2.283 million or 6% of the population). We might halve that to get a rough weekly figure of 1.14 million or 3% of the population. So liberally in 2019 (pre-pandemic), 3% of the population may have been Christian vs. 63.2% in the census. That is a BIG difference!
That means 3 out of 100 people you meet in Canada may be Christian!
What the media, ever the naturalist, fails to distinguish is between true Christians as God sees them and visible Christians as the world sees (2 Ti 2:19). The world likes terms like practicing vs. non-practicing Christian, etc. Muslims think of the entire West as Christian, either because of its past or its censuses. Rather the Bible speaks of Christians and non-Christians.
Just because I call myself a cat doesn’t make me one. Just because I sit in a garage doesn’t make me an automobile. So too, just because I call myself a Christian or go to Church doesn’t make me one.
We must not think naturistically like the world but see spiritually as the Bible teaches. We need to have discernment. The Bible has not left us blind to discern the marks of a genuine believer.
Jesus said we would “know them by their fruits” and that not everyone who said “Lord, Lord,” would enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt 7). Likewise in 2 Cor 13:5 Paul urges the Corinthians to “test yourselves” and the possibility of failing “to meet the test.” Not all “Christians” are Christians. Similarly, Revelation speaks of “synagogues of Satan,” Jewish gatherings that visibly should have embraced their Messiah and been friendly but had rejected Him and so spiritually were not friendly. Indeed like many things in life we need this distinction to see the difference between real Christians and true Churches and nominal Christians and false Churches.
The Bible is filled with “tests of assurance,” marks that we are to use to evaluate (not be judgemental) as to whether someone is a Christian. You might read 1 John, which is filled with them, but the following may suffice. We know a Christian by three basic marks: by their lips (Ro 10:9–10), by their lives (Gal 5:22–23); by their baptized into the visible Church (Acts 2:38, 41).
Let’s wisely evaluate both our own lives and those who claim to be “Christian.”
 This group is commonly known as “the dones;” those who are still spiritual but not religious. They constitute an interesting demographic for evangelism.
 See Edwards Religious Affections if you’d like to do much deeper on this subject. Edwards was caught up in the 1st Great Awakening. He thought optimistically of all those who’d professed to be “converted.” In his book he looks at the Biblical marks of genuine conversion.
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