Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God’s the things that are God’s.
—Jesus (Mk 12:17)
Gratefully, in our region at least, we’ll be able to lawfully gather together as Christians again this Lord’s Day. My heart goes out to those brothers and sisters for which this won’t be the case (and the prospect that the entire province might face yet another lockdown in some future 3rd wave).
What is curious, however, is that schools in Grey-Bruce returned to in person learning on January 18; many other regions of the province returned on February 8 and schools in the GTA returned this week, February 16; all before churches being able to reopen (or in some cases without them being with a prospect of opening). In Grey-Bruce that means schools returned to in class teaching 5 weeks before churches have been allowed to reopen. What is curious is twofold: a) the logical inconsistency in this approach and b) the apparent apathy of the Government to places of worship.
Note 1: I sympathize with the mammoth task Government has in dealing with a pandemic and the pressures this puts upon them. This is not intended to be a gripe but a constructive conversation starter.
Note 2: Throughout the pandemic I have, personally and as a Christian leader, sought to model and exhort Christians and all people to cheerfully submit to the Government. We have also been open about praying for our leaders. We want to be good witnesses (1 Pet 2:12). While I believe in the command to worship, I likewise believe in the command to submit to the government and love our neighbours, something which a pandemic, I believe, calls us to in the name of public health; to grievously and temporarily pause large worship gatherings in favour of alternative forms (online, small groups, etc). However, I have not been without my reservations of Government policy, which I have expressed to the appropriate authorities with charitability. Yet, compliance does not mean disengaging critically. In fact, democracy dies when its citizens fail to engage and when its politicians fail to listen. Most Christians think there is a line in the sand on these matters somewhere, but it can be difficult to determine exactly where it is. Could the issue of schools and churches be a legitimate marker? Put another way, would this inconsistent Government approach pass from the realm that justifiably requires submission to one that justifiably requires obedience to the “things that are God’s”?
Firstly, the act of opening schools (and some businesses) yet not churches is one logical inconsistency in the Government’s approach. The interests of some commercial and educational interests seem to be ahead of places of worship. Now, I believe people need to eat and work and learn, but the Government needs to be consistent in these matters and help people—through media—understand their actions. This builds trust.
Returning to schools and churches, both important places in local communities (churches often preceding schools in the formation of our country); how is it that schools that host hundreds and hundreds of children and staff, meeting together in one location 5 days a week, can reopen when churches (at 30%) of say dozens and dozens of people meeting in accordance with Government guidelines predominantly once a week must remain (or did remain) closed. If it’s unsafe to reopen, let there be restrictions. If it is safe for schools to reopen, why not churches? See the inconsistency? Why does this exist?
To me the simple answer is religious apathy or a disinterested ambivalence, even if it is arguably passive rather than active. This is something that should be a cause for concern regardless of whether you are a person of faith or not.
In both lockdowns I have perceived that the Government has held a disinterested ambivalence toward places of worship. This is partly because “religion” is such a complex area of society that the Government finds it difficult to provide a catered approach. It’s also largely because the Government, like much of society, has embraced a horizontal naturalism in which religion, particularly the Christian faith, is not real and so comes second behind more real matters like business and education. It is also because, culturally, classic liberalism which championed individual rights is being replaced by the philosophy of neo-liberalism that champions the rights of one group over another. This is why places of worship are treated inconsistently, they lack a priority in Government eyes. (Yet churches remain important centres where millions of Canadians find meaning and hope; necessary things, especially in a pandemic. See the Halo Project for more on the economic benefit churches bring communities).
While I speak the language of Scripture, allow me to speak the language of Government, the “Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982)” (click here to view).
Religious gatherings, as the Government calls them, are not optional or something Christians just do. A Christian’s faith in Jesus Christ, central to which is fellowship and corporate worship, is fundamental to who we are. It is not a mere option or something we do like playing soccer or attending the cinema. The Charter 2.a recognizes this by describing freedom of religion (including assembly, 2.c), along with conscience, as not just any right but the most fundamental ones. The freedom of religion and conscience is the number one listed right in the charter.
I realize that the Charter likewise lays down where these rights can be temporarily limited (section 1 and 33), however, this must be justifiable so. I recognize that a pandemic qualifies for a temporary limitation; however, consistency of approach is central to validating the necessary nature of the limitations put in place. If it is deemed safe for schools to reopen (hundreds x 5 days/week, not a fundamental right) but not places of worship (where dozens and dozens gather predominantly once a week, and which is a fundamental right) then to me and many others, there is an inherent inconsistency that seems to abrogate the temporary limitation of the right put in place by the Government. In other words, favouring education over places of worship is not only logically inconsistent, it not only displays apathy, it is dangerous to our fundamental Canadian freedoms.
Why is religious apathy dangerous? Because our Government is supposed to be a champion of our personal liberties, chief among them being freedom of religion. The neo-liberal shift to privileging certain freedoms over others, as evidenced by this subject, should not only concern people of faith, particularly Christians, but our neighbours. An erosion of freedom of religion and of conscience toward one group (places of worship) is a destabilization of the freedom you enjoy; might you in some way be on the receiving end of this trend in future?
What can you do?
…you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.
—Jesus (John 8:32)
Someone recently sent me a quote attributed to George Orwell, “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.” This got me thinking.
If you were like me you had to read one of two books (or both) in high school, George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) or 1984 (1949). In these books Orwell showed both insight into wartime totalitarian regimes (Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia) and also great prescience, forward thinking, as he warned of many dangers to personal freedom that such regimes, and their way of thinking, were liable to cause in the future. Evidently, Orwell didn't believe society had seen the end of such tyranny.
Animal Farm is about the animals of a farm that revolt against their farmer and establish a commune. In the end this communist experiment goes awry as power is centralized with the pigs. The slogan that had begun, “All animals are equal,” degenerated into the most famous line in the book, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
1984 is a story of a distant time (in the past now!) in which a utopian society had been produced through centralized control under the guise of offering “freedom.” Newspeak, Doublethink, Big Brother and the Thought Police are all key words that give a window into the control that existed within this "utopian" totalitarian society. As the main characters begin to think for themselves they yearn for true freedom.
Classic liberalism championed the freedom of the individual as created in the image of God (Gen 1:27, and thus was a predominantly influenced by Christianity). This was the basis of modern Western society—a secular freedom as close to real freedom that one can arrive at apart from Christ—but which is now under attack by a creeping new influence: neo-liberalism (or neo-Marxism), that privileges the group against the individual and seeks to exert coercive influence against any that would oppose its worldview.
Let’s think about the wisdom of Orwell and apply it to today (i.e. where can we see seeds of his critique in society at large? [btw- this is no attempt at a conspiracy theory!]).
What similarities do we find in our present culture?
As post-Christian society becomes further unmoored from its foundation in Christ, Christians will be called to speak the truth in love, and will often bear the brunt of hatred as a result.
But individual freedom and the pursuit of truth aside (as important as those are), is not what Jesus is getting at in Jn 8:32. He is saying we are actually all spiritually enslaved to sin but that He came to offer the greatest liberty, freedom from it and the ability to follow Christ and live the good life we were created to live. Jesus is the truth, not only the ultimate reality but true and good. We are false and sinful. He came not only to live out a true life, but to die for our falseness so we might live truly. He calls us to believe in His truthfulness, so we might be restored and walk in the truth ourselves.
Thanks George, but thank you most of all Jesus.
 I couldn’t find the original source but this certainly sounds like Orwell, and even if it isn’t is still a helpful quote.
 Orwell was a nominal Anglican (at best). Yet, it is striking how this quote bears a Gospel semblance. Jesus spoke a similar truth concerning what He was hated and why His followers would be likewise hated in Jn 15:18.
The crowd, the media, pressures people to abandoned independent thought, and through fear, make them conform to their program. That is what lies behind virtue signalling.
Virtue signalling, a buzz word these days, is when you go along with the flow, not believing it to be true, but accepting or giving lip service to it, so that you do not face its wrath or intimidation.
But this is so very dangerous, to go along with something you don’t believe in simply out of the fear of public reprisal. This is how Nazi Germany developed, with too many Germans fearing taking a stand and so becoming virtue signallers for the safety of their families, economic benefit or continued social standing.
An old county song I recall from my youth had this poignant line, “you’ve got to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.”
Biblically, that something ought to be what God has said is true. In grace, we need to pray that as Christians we would have the boldness to speak the truth; that He would give us the courage to stand with the Lord in faith and not go along with the world in fear.
So many men of women of the faith from the Bible and history come to mind when I think of this, however, one verse strikes me, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” (1 Cor 16:13)
May we be radiant signals pointing people away from the world and to Christ!
Names being changed, statues being toppled, all a result of Cancel Culture. What is this?
Cancel Culture is the belief that anything that does not align with “modern sensibilities” or your view or ideology generally, must be cancelled, gotten rid of, purged, forgotten, if we are to liberate ourselves and create the world we desire to live in.
If he/she/they were slave owners, traditionalists, “homophobes,” etc, etc, they have no place in the remembrance of society, they must be cancelled.
From a historical perspective, Cancel Culture is troubling because it seeks to erase history and tell a different tale rather than recognize it, learn from it, understand it as part of your story and move on to new chapters of that story.
Politically it is disconcerting because this is the same strategy employed by Authoritarian and Communist countries. Identify the story that stands against your story and power, and cancel it. Those who used to be traditional liberals and moderates are more and more embracing what their very movement used to stand against.
Spiritually, however, Cancel Culture is most distressing for it foolishly believes that people are perfect. Reality check: if you look hard enough into any past or present figure—and even figures from your own group—you are going to find something nasty you could dig up. Why? Because no one is perfect (Ps 14:1a, Ro 3:10), we’re all sinners (Ro 3:23), even amongst the righteous we will not find one example of someone who never sins (Eccl 7:20).
Seeking to cancel our sin doesn’t change the reality. Instead we ought to recognize it and learn from it; to learn the chief lesson that if we want to become the person God desires us to be we need to ask him to cancel (to forgive) our sin—the shadiness of our past and present—and give us new life by His Spirit.
There was ever only perfect man, Jesus, and He was hated and killed for being perfect, yet He couldn’t be cancelled. He rose from the dead, is ascended into Heaven and calls on people to look ahead, look up, look to Him, if they desire a better life and future.
Black lives matter.
Of course they do! Though Christians may hold a patriotic view of their ethno-culture there is no room for nationalistic racism on two grounds: a) all humans have been made in God’s image and so are therefore worthy of respect and value, and b) in relation to slavery, which because of 16th–19th century slavery Africans became linked to, there is likewise no place as Rev 18:13 says that when Babylon (a picture of the corrupt powers of this world) is overthrown, there will be no more slaves, thus Christianity should not support slavery of any form.
All that said, what of BLM, a movement begun in 2016 and now an international network (though not a group that is the voice of all Black people and thus not a homogenous)? You can find out more about them on their website. As trendy as BLM has become in society and amongst the media—you can even buy their merch!—there are a number of concerning elements in BLM that should cause Christians to be warry of it, indeed to take no part in it (instead finding other ways to promote anti-racist causes of justice and to fight modern slavery).
Just a few include:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit [or new and popular movement], but test the spirits to see whether they are from [or of] God… (1 Jn 4:1a)
No I’m not referring to some sexual sin, or any other matter Christians can sometimes be silent on, but the sin of spiritual laziness or slothfulness, historically known as acedia, a sin which is rampant and largely unaddressed in contemporary Church culture.
In Cover to Cover we’re in the period of the Kings, which is characterized by this roller coaster of spirituality, sometimes a nearness to the Lord and the associated blessings and sometimes a departure from him and the related consequences.
As a pastor, zealous for the honour of the Lord, desirous that His people would glorify and enjoy Him, and that others would be led to do the same, it pains and even deeply grieves my heart when I see the sin of acedia in the world, but especially when it creeps into the visible church.
A past sermon on the ant in Proverbs 6:6–11 (July 27) taught us the vital spiritual lesson of Christian industry. The ant is our teacher on industry, initiative, purpose, and ultimate satisfaction or reward in our work. Like our Creator we were created to create. Like our God who is Spirit, we too are designed to be spiritual. Are we busy about our souls and winning and nurturing the souls of others? Do we have to be told, prompted or reminded to seek the Lord? Is He the sole purpose of our life? Are we storing up treasure in heaven? If we are like the ant—spiritually speaking—we will answer a hearty, “Yes.”
Do we take advantage of the spiritual means of grace that He has provided His people and Church?
Acedia is quite possibly the greatest sin of our age, yet its unspokeness makes it all the more dangerous.
If the seeking or worship of the Lord is our great call then not to be zealous in that pursuit, to not love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength is indeed criminal and injurious to our soul.
Oh the joy that Christ has in store for His people if they would but, in faith, be spiritually industrious! Acedia breaks my heart every time I see an instance of it; yet to the contrary, when I see spiritual industry my joy is made complete for the joy the other knows through their obedience to Christ's promises and commands.
If you are zealous for the Lord would you please join me in making the Psalmist’s prayer your prayer:
Will you not revive us again, that your people may delight in you? (Ps 85:6)
 From the Greek, an inert state without pain or care.
 A means of grace is a way that God has appointed through which, when trusted in faith, the believer derives His unmerited favour, or untold spiritual benefits.
In this wider series we’ve been exploring the nature of the Church and membership in it. This post seeks to answer the following question: if church membership visibly expresses my invisible membership in the universal church, should my membership be of a geographically local church?
*Note: I am writing this post in response to someone who lives in a community without an evangelical church about my views on being a part of a local church. This post comes from my heart. It in no way seeks to drive away our own members who travel nor compel members of other churches who are closer to our church than their own to switch their membership. It is, rather, an expression of an ideal which I believe has Biblical support and which I wish Christians near and far would seriously consider as their approach to membership for the bolstering of the local church’s witness.
Nowhere in the Bible is there a “thus saith the Lord” verse to command us to be members of a faithful Gospel church within our own local community. There are, however, many principles and practical considerations, which if taken collectively provide a compelling case to this end.
Historically, until modern modes of transport made this possible, worshippers were constrained by geography to worship locally. Whether that was in ancient times or the 19th Century, one could only go as far as their feet or horse would take them (though in exceptional circumstances the faithful would travel great distances to be with fellow believers and worship). If you lived between churches then you had to make an informed decision. This, and sometimes demographics or denominational affiliations, is why historically there were many more centres of Christian worship.
But was this or is this question purely practical? I believe the closest Bible verse to a command on this subject suggest, “no.” Acts 1:8 says, “And you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem [local], Judea and Samaria [regional and national] and to the ends of the earth [international].” Yes, this is a key structure in Acts regarding the outward spread of the Gospel. Yes, it is likewise a direct commission to the 11 disciples. However, indirectly it is still a command for missions which directs us to be involved in local missions, the chief vehicle of which is the local church.
Enter the automobile, which revolutionized so much in our culture, including the Church. Now if you were of this faith and order you didn’t need to worry about relying on another church or starting one in your community, you could just drive to the next. If you got in a fight with someone you didn’t need to be reconciled, you could just drive to the next town. If something didn’t suit you or you got bored at this church you could simply drive along to that church. Transportation enabled us to defy geography but with it we also succumbed to many temptations to put self ahead of the interests of the local church.
The American President JFK said, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” That quote may be changed to say, “Ask not what your church can do for you but what you can do for your church.” Churches are fundamentally not service providers but equipping centres for discipleship (and mission). I’ve even know some Christians to be so selfless they’ve collectively moved into a community with no church in order to reach it for the Gospel. We ought not to see the church as simply a service provider to meet our needs but to contribute to its spiritual vitality so it might bring a Gospel blessing to our community. Christians are inherently other focused just as Christ Himself was selfless. We honour the head of the body by doing what it best for the local manifestation of it.
Now, there are legitimate reasons to be part of a church outside of your local community: maybe there is no Gospel church; no church of your faith and order; maybe the local church is orthodox but dead (perhaps you could be the Lord is calling to fan its flame?); maybe your temporarily seeking to bolster another church; maybe language or ethnicity is an issue (perhaps you could learn the local language?). However, I know far too many Christians who travel past several Gospel churches to arrive at their church of choice, thus wasting time and resources that could be better spent elsewhere (it also means you cannot be as involved in your church in areas like fellowship, events, outreach, etc).
What might drive this? Well, rather than a principled commitment to the ideal of the local church what about the great ways of thinking that shape our society and which have sadly infiltrated the church: individualism, consumerism and materialism. The individualistic church seeker does what they want rather than what Christ is calling them to (Is there self-will, die to self; Is there conflict, seek to resolve it even if it may be difficult or uncomfortable). This feeds over into consumerism. The consumeristic seeker is driven by personal preference: that church doesn’t have good music (Is music all a church is about? Might you be called to use your gift of music to help that church?); they don’t have any children’s programming (Might your family be called to be the seed to help initiate a children’s ministry there?); It’s tradition, it’s my family church (While that’s wonderful, there are other ways to meaningfully support a church you have strong ties to); I’d have to leave my family or friends and make news ones (yes, what a joy—to meet new brothers and sisters in Christ that is!). The materialistic seeker likes to boast in how big or wealthy or physically beautiful or gifted their church is (Is this not pride knocking? May the Lord be calling you to devote your gifts and giftings to the support of some needy cause?).
Even though the Bible stands opposed to such “isms” in our culture, these alone are not the primary principle to illuminate this reflection. The foundational principle is Act 1:8 and how we can be part of Christ’s local mission if we’re not a part of His local body? I believe once a church has a sizable contingent coming from one community, we shouldn’t make our building bigger, but instead partner with other area Gospel churches to do a church plant (I dream of planting an evangelical church in Durham, Chatsworth, Flesherton (?) and Dundalk). If you don’t have a local church, ask your church about considering a church plant.
This is a vast subject and as such I cannot cover every consideration. It’s an area which may raise many questions and I hope will fuel further reflection.
If you feel led to relocate what should you do? First, tell both your Elders and the Elders of the prospective church about your considerations. Ask them to pray with you. It can be difficult to the present church in terms of tithes and offerings, rotas, responsibilities and friendships to simply up and move, so if a move is decided lay out a timeline that best serves your present church and enables you to transition to your local church. Slowly get involved in the local church; seek to maintain meaningful ties with the old. Let people know why you are doing what you are doing. Godly ideals are always laudable to follow so let’s love Christ by loving the local church.
In the midst of many other current matters of concern, we’ve witnessed the complex eruption of civil unrest across the USA this week. While one may value particulars within a culture that may be linked to ethnicity, the Bible condemns racism as all humans are created in God’s image (Gen 1:27) and as Christians, many tribes, tongues and nations of believers form the body of Christ and will spend eternity together (Rev 7:9). But what shall we make of civil unrest? Closer to home I have even heard of some churches planning a prayer protest to the Ontario Governments continued emergency order that does not allow meetings of faith groups to take place (when many businesses have been allowed this freedom). What should we make of all of these responses? In the 18th Century violence erupted in the French Revolution and in the following decades of the 19th Century there were revolutions across Europe; yet Britain was spared. Why? There were at least two reasons for this: a general, albeit minimal, care for the poor that did not exist in many country; but also the Evangelical Revival. Wesley, Whitefield and others, transformed nominal Britain into a much altered Christian nation. A Biblical belief lies at the heart of why Britain did not see violent upheavals for central to the Bible is the call for Christians to obey and to submit to the authorities (Ro 13; 1 Pe 2:13) in matters where they have not transgressed God’s laws (Mt 22:21). Submission to God appointed authority is a good thing, for God wills it. As we submit to Governments we submit to God. Like any other matter of faith, we cheerfully obey in faith. If we have questions or concerns, no matter how deep seated, we bring these forward peacefully and civilly. Why, for Peter goes on to say, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles [un-believers] honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
There has been a lot of praise of late, and rightly so, for our amazing health care professionals. Most of them have fearlessly embraced their calling to serve their communities, even at risk to their own health and that of their families. They deserve our praise.
However, even in the midst of thanks where thanks are due, there is something, which at best is misguided and worst, is disturbing. That is how our naturalistic, death fearing society, treats health workers as saviours. If this life is all there is to existence and death is the great enemy, then of course they would view doctors and nurses and paramedics in this light. They alone, in their eyes, are the only ones who can deliver us from Covid-19.
And so we see signs that say, “honk, heroes work here,” or in some communities like the UK there are pot banging parties each night at 8 p.m. in praise and support of these heroes.
Now again, such praise is not inherently wrong, but it is wrong if we praise them as saviours.
100 years ago, there would have been signs and calls for national days of prayer during a pandemic. In an increasingly godless culture, turning to the One who is Sovereign over disease and death has been replaced by faith in medical saviours. Where are such calls to prayer, certainly not on the lips of most citizens or politicians (and even many Christians). I am aware that some organized one such prayer day in Canada. Christian politicians, church and business leaders in Germany recently organized perhaps one of the more cohesive events, but on the whole, a seeking of God (and a proper worldview which understands disease and death as rooted in the Fall and resolved in the Gospel), is absent in our society. It is that, the salvific heartbeat behind the praise of our wonderful medical professionals that makes this all so disturbing.
Speaking to godless Israel, the prophet Amos said, “Seek me and live, but do not seek Bethel…” (Amos 5:4b–5a). Bethel, among other locations the prophet goes on to list, were among the high places, the centres of false worship, false security, false hope, false assurance. These all, “come to nothing.”
And so it is with worshipping the medical system and professionals, as grateful as we ought to be for them, to place our ultimate trust in them over against the Lord is idolatrous and idolatry brings us to nothing. Ultimately spiritual (and physical) life is to be found in the Lord alone.
So may we seek the Lord that “we may live, and so the LORD,… will be with you.”
 Whether by healing or through the Resurrection.
Someone recently told my wife how someone had said this to her. “I’ll see for coffee on Wednesday so long as something better doesn’t come along.” It warms your heart to know people value and are committed to you so much they’ll still keep their appointment with you so long as “something better” doesn’t come along!
Sadly, we are living in a “something better” culture, a culture wanting in commitment and a knowledge of those things that are truly excellent and valuable:
Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. (Jos 21:45; c.f. 1 Ki 8:56).
God in His very being keeps His promises and is true to His word.
Thankfully that means His promise of salvation and forgiveness to our “something better” culture is certain and true (and praise the Lord that this is the case otherwise our falsehoods would utterly condemn us, leaving us with no hope). But not only do the Lord’s promises in the Gospel mean He will forgive the repentant who come to Jesus in faith, He will also transform them. In Lev 19 He says, “Be holy as I am holy.” In the vein of this blog’s subject He could have equally said, “Be faithful and true as I am faithful and true.” By God’s Spirit He transforms and enables and calls us to be vastly different from the “something better” culture we live in. He calls us to be faithful and true and share in His likeness.
My prayer is that as Christians are transformed by the renewing of their mind through the Word and Spirit and become less like culture and more like Christ that the world will take notice when we keep our appointments, place value on commitments and people and the Lord, His worship and ways, and that He will be glorified through us as we offer something better.
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.