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Donald Trump was inaugurated five days ago.
Some Christians are disconcerted. A few examples of essays posted last week on the subject follow. Emphases mine below.
1/ John MacArthur’s Grace To You (GTY) blog has an excellent post by staffer Cameron Buettel who reminds GTY readers about obedience to government, specifically Romans 13:1-5 and MacArthur’s sermon ‘Why Christians Submit to the Government’.
GTY readers — conservative Evangelicals — were most unhappy. How on earth could an immoral, unbiblical man become president? One surmises they would have preferred the scheming, conniving and possibly criminal ‘Crooked Hillary’. Bottom line: Trump isn’t Christian enough to be in the Oval Office! (As if abortion and single sex marriage advocate Obama was?!)
2/ Moving along to the Episcopalian/Anglican site, Stand Firm, one of their contributors, A S Haley, was, rightly, more concerned about what he calls the Sea of Political Correctness. In ‘A Wave of PC Crashes into a Solid Barrier’, Haley points out:
The Sea of Political Correctness, fed since November 9 by the tears of the self-righteous, is now engulfing its devotees and followers. Vainly casting about for safe spaces where they may continue to breathe air unsullied by what they perceive as the sulfurous emanations of their opponents, they are gasping, choking and sinking as wave after wave of fresh emotional outbursts crashes over their heads …
The politically correct crowd was so certain of its ability to name the next President that it shattered on the shoals of the Electoral College. It has been unable since then to re-form under a single, agreed leader. It is instead trying to coalesce under a common hatred of the successful candidate. Hatred, however, like fear, needs a crowd in which to dissolve, and a crowd needs direction—which is supplied by a leader.
Although I disagree with Haley when he says that Trump’s platform lacks
concrete programs of proposed legislation and executive actions
because those had been laid out in detail on Trump’s campaign website for over a year, he is correct in saying:
there is every reason to hope that a beginning has been made—is being made as I write—and that, with God’s grace, America may truly once more show the way in its humility, in its decency, and in its willingness to serve without expectation of reward.
One of Haley’s readers wrote about the protests during the weekend of the inauguration:
In fact, since one of the main complaints about Trump is his vulgarity, the vulgarity and viciousness of these speakers should negate any of those complaints.
I hope so. How can people — e.g. the GTY readers above — miss the stark contrast?
3/ From there, I went for a Reformed (Calvinist) perspective. Dr R Scott Clark of of Westminster Seminary California is the author of several books on the Reformed Confessions. He also writes the ever-helpful Heidelblog. He posted an excellent essay at the time of the inauguration, ‘A Reminder Of Why We Should Not Long For A State Church’.
The GTY readers moaning about Trump not being Christian enough should peruse it, but it looks at something anathema to conservative biblicists: history.
… I am regularly astonished at the number of American Christians who seem to want a state-church. They seem not to understand the history of the post-canonical history of state-churches nor the difference between national Israel and the USA …
The governor of my state is a former Jesuit seminarian turned New Ager. I certainly do not want the Hon. Edmund G. Brown, Jr dictating what is to be preached or when it is to be preached. I am sure that Americans who advocate for a state-church do not want the Hon. Barack Hussein Obama or Donald J. Trump to meddle in the life of the institutional church.
Of course, when this objection is raised, the reply is an appeal to an eschatology of great expectations. This raises the problem of the chicken and the egg. Does the postmillennialist want to facilitate the coming earthly glory age through a state-church or is the state-church only to come about after the glory age has descended? This is not clear to me …
Under the new covenant and New Testament, there is no state-church. There is the state and there is the church. Calvin described these two realms as God’s duplex regimen (twofold kingdom). He rules over both by his providence but he rules the church, in his special providence, by his Law and Gospel revealed in holy Scripture. He rules over the civil magistrate by his general providence through his law revealed in nature and in the human conscience (see Romans 1–2) …
The visible church’s vocation is to announce the Kingdom of God in Christ, to preach the law and the gospel, administer the sacraments and church discipline (Matt 16 and 18) …
4/ I then sought another sensible Calvinist perspective, this time from Dr Michael Horton, who also teaches at the same seminary as Dr Clark. He is Westminster Seminary California’s J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics.
The Washington Post invited Horton to write an article on faith. On January 3, the paper published ‘Evangelicals should be deeply troubled by Donald Trump’s attempt to mainstream heresy’. It concerns one of the prosperity gospel preachers who prayed at the inauguration: Paula White.
On the one hand, I heartily agree that White is a very poor example of a Christian pastor. On the other hand, she and Trump found solidarity in the prosperity gospel which he grew up with under Norman Vincent Peale. Furthermore, White was helpful to his campaign in getting out the vote among this sector of misguided churchgoers.
Even more unfortunate than her praying at the inauguration is the news that she will head the Evangelical Advisory Board in the Trump administration. I suspect this had not been announced when Horton wrote his article. Still, Trump is no theologian. I refer readers to Clark’s essay above.
Horton points out that such preachers have been around the White House before and are popular among certain sections of American society:
Peale and [Robert ‘Crystal Cathedral’] Schuller were counselors to CEOs and U.S. presidents. Word of Faith has been more popular among rural sections of the Bible Belt, where faith healers have had a long and successful history. But in the 1980s, the two streams blended publicly, with Copeland, Hinn and Schuller showing up regularly together on TBN.
He goes on to explain the dangerous heresy:
Televangelist White has a lot in common with Trump, besides being fans of [Joel] Osteen. Both are in their third marriage and have endured decades of moral and financial scandal. According to family values spokesman James Dobson, another Trump adviser, White “personally led [Trump] to Christ.”
Like her mentor, T. D. Jakes, White adheres closely to the Word of Faith teachings. Besides throwing out doctrines like the Trinity and confusing ourselves with God, the movement teaches that Jesus went to the cross not to bring forgiveness of our sins but to get us out of financial debt, not to reconcile us to God but to give us the power to claim our prosperity, not to remove the curse of death, injustice and bondage to ourselves but to give us our best life now. White says emphatically that Jesus is “not the only begotten Son of God,” just the first. We’re all divine and have the power to speak worlds into existence.
Again, Trump doesn’t get this because his family left their mainstream Presbyterian church in Queens after his confirmation to worship at Peale’s Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. After Trump married Ivana and became even more successful, he drifted away from the church. Although in recent years he has been attending Episcopal church services, his theological formation isn’t very good. But, again, echoing Calvin’s two-fold kingdom theology, voters did not elect Trump as Pastor of the United States but rather President of the United States.
I nodded in agreement to this comment, which is 100% true:
Trump is president not a theologian and Horton shouldn’t be holding him up to that standard. Where was Dr. Horton when Planned Parenthood and the Gay marriage thingy was going full steam under Obama. Yes, Horton, we realize you are not an evangelical fundie, but jumping on Trump for this?
Michael plays the ‘guilt by association’ card very well.
Correct. I do not recall Horton criticising Obama’s policies very much. I’ve been reading and listening to him since 2009.
Trueman, a Presbyterian, is Professor of Historical Theology and Church History and holds the Paul Woolley Chair of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is politically centrist but theologically conservative.
I agree with Horton’s analysis but would take the concern a step further. All Americans, not just Evangelicals, should be worried that Paula White is praying at the inauguration, though not for particularly religious reasons. By and large, the rites of American civic religion are harmless enough, bland baptisms of the status quo by the application of a bit of liturgy emptied of any real dogmatic significance or personal demands.
That is what inauguration prayers are largely about. Rightly or wrongly, everyone is represented, especially those who were helpful to the incoming president during campaign season.
He concludes that the real shame is that Trump seems to be endorsing the notion of ‘Psychological Man’.
However, once again, may I remind Drs Trueman and Horton: voters did not elect Trump to serve as the nation’s pastor-in-chief.
6/ The best rebuttals to Trueman’s article is in the comments to his essay. The two comments that nailed it perfectly came from Mike D’Virgilio, whose website is called Keeping Your Kids Christian. It looks very good.
D’Virgilio is a Trump supporter and I agree with his assessments. Excerpts follow. First, from this comment:
… I believe Trump is a net positive for Christianity because what he’s doing (including putting the huge “Merry Christmas” signs on his podium during his thank you tour) is potentially contributing to the re-building of the Christian plausibility structure of America. The term “plausibility structure” goes back to sociologist Peter Berger’s 1967 book The Sacred Canopy. In a more recent book he defines this simply as, “the social context within which any particular definition of reality is plausible”. In other words, what *seems* real to people. For the last 50 years the secularists have driven American culture off a cliff (via education, media, Hollywood, etc.) so that the dominant plausibility structure has been postmodernism/relativism/materialism/secularism (they are all logically intertwined). So God for many people (the rise of the “Nones” for instance) *seems* no more real than Santa Claus. Rarely, if ever, do people grapple with the evidence for the truth claims of Christianity; they just drift away or don’t see it as relevant at all.
So Trump, regardless of the content of his own faith, or those at his inauguration, is possibly making Christianity plausible again. Most Americans don’t pay attention to what these people actually believe, the theological content of their faith, such as it is. But all of a sudden with Trump this Christianity thing doesn’t seem like such the ugly cultural step-child anymore … None of this will change over night, but the arrival of Trump is the first time I’ve had hope in this regard since, oh, I was born!
… And I agree with pretty much everything Carl says here (I’m a graduate of Westminster myself), but I don’t at all agree that Trump is contributing to a therapeutic faith and the triumph of the psychological …
This is from D’Virgilio’s second lengthy comment:
… There is no other candidate who has done what Trump has done, or could be doing what he’s doing. Cruz is closest of the bunch, but I’m afraid he’s just not a winsome fellow. Once you get beyond the caricature of Trump, he’s a very likable, appealing showman. Everyone who knows him likes him, says he’s humble (impossible to believe for many) and kindhearted.
The greatest thing he’s done is blow up political correctness. He’s taken that on, along with the shamelessly corrupt media that promotes it, in a way no other Republican can even get close. This is huge for a Christian plausibility structure because PC is antithetical to a biblical/classical (in the sense the objective truth exists) worldview …
And Trump was Trump before the Apprentice. Trump made the Apprentice, the Apprentice didn’t make Trump. So I totally disagree Hollywood had anything to do with making the man, The Man. I don’t disagree with your assessment of the secular materialism, which is one of the reasons I initially wanted nothing to do with Trump … He doesn’t have to be an orthodox, Bible believing Christian to fight for Christians, to appreciate and respect Christians, to love America and the Christian influence in its history. I leave the soul judgments to God. I’m just grateful he’s our next president, and not that other person.
I realise some readers are apprehensive about Trump, what he might do and what he represents. I hope this has given them some food for thought, especially in terms of Christianity in America.
Let’s remember that there were four other members of the clergy besides Paula White and a rabbi. Furthermore, in his remarks, Franklin Graham reminded everyone that there is only one God.
In closing, sensible Christians living in the United States should be relieved Trump is in the White House. This will be borne out in due course.
In the meantime, rather than sitting around carping, we can always pray that he becomes a better, more orthodox Christian.
A great many Americans despise Donald Trump.
An ex-Hillary supporter from 2008 is supporting Trump this year. He is a retired lawyer who is flummoxed by anti-Trump sentiment. This is what he said during the primaries (emphases mine):
For me it all boils down to this: Trump is a gamble. The establishment is a certainty.
The establishment will destroy this nation. That is a fact.
Trump may save it, provided it is not too late. That is the gamble.
I ran into a young lady who wants Bernie, but will not go to the polls to vote for him.
But if Trump is the Republican nominee, then she will go to the polls and vote against him.
She admitted the reasons she would do this[:] because Donald is not nice.
In other words it is a matter of style–NOT SUBSTANCE.
Would it matter to you if he gave you a better future, even though he is not nice?
Would it matter to you if someone who was nice, condemned you to a negative future?
Echo answereth not. Neither did she.
This is the same drivel I got from another young woman eight years ago.
She said she did not want Hillary because Obama was so full of hope.
Like the show title: Just shoot me.
Keeping such sentiments in mind, it is now time to write about Donald Trump’s Christian upbringing. Like him, it won’t be perfect enough or orthodox enough for some. Nonetheless, it deserves to be known.
In April 2015, before he launched his bid for the presidency, Trump gave an interview to CBN. He was confirmed at the First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens. He brought his Confirmation picture to the interview.
(Image credit: First Presbyterian Church)
Founded in 1662, it is the oldest continuing Presbyterian congregation in the United States. While the buildings have changed over the centuries, it remains on its original site. It is likely that, when the Trump family — Mary, Fred and their five children — were members, the Revd Andrew Magill was pastor:
He was a dynamic minister and an extraordinary leader. During that time, church membership flourished to more than one thousand as it continued to provide a safe and spiritual environment for the community it served.
The Trumps then began attending the Revd Dr Norman Vincent Peale’s Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. The Federalist found quotes from Mary Trump on the importance she attached to Christian belief:
Trump’s mother hoped that the pastor’s teaching would stick in her children: “I tried to get it into their heads that they had to believe,” she said. “Whether it shows or not, it’s in there because I put it in there.”
Although Marble Collegiate Church is affiliated with the Reformed Church in America, many members attending were, or at least self-identified as, Presbyterians. The Trumps were one such family.
Norman Vincent Peale was an unorthodox preacher and the first to promote popular psychology over the Bible. He was Robert Schuller’s mentor. That said, he also took traditionally Protestant perspectives on social issues. My parents’ friends, Protestants, loved his books. My Catholic mother said that the Pope forbade reading them.
Dr Michael Horton, writing for Christianity Today (CT), explains Peale’s style (emphases mine):
Blending pop-psychology and spirituality, Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) remained on The New York Times bestsellers list for 186 weeks. Nicknamed “God’s Salesman,” Peale was criticized for trivializing Christianity. Reinhold Niebuhr said that he “corrupts the gospel,” and that he helps people “feel good, while they are evading the real issues of life.”
In the 1952 election, Peale declared presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson unfit because he was divorced. For his part, Stevenson quipped, “Speaking as a Christian, I find Paul appealing and Peale appalling.” During the Kennedy-Nixon campaign, which began his long relationship with the Nixon White House, Peale declared, “Faced with the election of a Catholic, our culture is at stake.”
He caught flak afterwards. In 1982, he told People magazine:
“I made a mistake,” said Peale, “You couldn’t get me near a politician now. Government isn’t moral or immoral. It’s just plain amoral.”
Horton says that the Trumps attended Marble Collegiate Church every Sunday. Later, Peale officiated at three Trump weddings, his and those of his two sisters. He also baptised one of Trump’s two sons by Ivana. Trump also threw a 90th birthday party for the minister.
At the time the Trumps began attending, Peale had already transformed Marble into ‘the businessman’s church’. The Washington Post explains:
Fred Trump, then a successful developer in Brooklyn and Queens, began attending the services with his wife, drawn as many business executives were to Peale’s can-do theology and his belief that faith could lead to greater success.
“I know that with God’s help,” the minister wrote, “I can sell vacuum cleaners.”
“He was the embodiment of the salesman’s spirit,” [Michael] D’Antonio [a Trump biographer] said of Peale. “And Fred was at bottom a salesman. It’s not a surprise that Fred Trump would gravitate towards the church.”
The American Spectator quoted Donald Trump on Peale:
I go to church and I love God and love my church. And Norman Vincent Peale. The great Norman Vincent Peale was my pastor. The Power of Positive Thinking.
Everybody’s heard of Norman Vincent Peale? He would give a sermon. You never wanted to leave. Sometimes we have sermons and every once in a while we think about leaving a little early, right? Even though we’re Christian.
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale would give a sermon. I’m telling you I still remember his sermons. It was unbelievable. And what he would do is bring real life situations, modern day situations into the sermon. And you could listen to him all day long. When you left the church you were disappointed that it was over. He was the greatest guy.
And Peale thought highly of Trump. First Things tells us:
In 1988, Peale predicted that Donald Trump would become “the greatest builder of our time—he’s a very ingenious man.” Peale also saw in Trump not only kindness and courtesy but also a trait some others have missed—“a profound streak of honest humility.”
I read elsewhere that when Peale married Donald and Ivana, Trump practically melted in the pastor’s presence. It seemed that only Peale could bring him to heel in the gentlest of ways, just by standing in front of him.
The Federalist summed up their similarities and success this way:
Both men successfully cultivated a popular and populist image by convincing Americans that they were hoi polloi even as they hobnobbed with the power elite. Of course, the elite never really accepted either man, but it was willing to tolerate their pandering so long as they didn’t make naked appeals to the worst prejudices of their fans.
Peale was, in a way, a Trump for his church and many Protestants in the second half of the 20th century. The People interview says:
his passionate eloquence, legendary optimism and accessible style, has turned Marble Collegiate from the near-insolvent midtown New York parish it once was into a popular, hot-ticket attraction. Each Sunday there are two sold-out services. (For those who can’t find a pew in the large Romanesque nave, closed-circuit TV is available elsewhere in the church.) People line up 15 minutes beforehand. “You’d think God was holding His closeout sale,” observes a policeman surveying the crowd. Just before the sermon, Peale calls for an intermission. The service is being recorded for TV and radio. Cameramen have to reset their videotape. It feels like the commercial time-out at a pro football game. Marble Collegiate is as up-to-date as space medicine.
His wife, Ruth Stafford Peale, was equally involved in the ministry, which included Guideposts magazine and The Foundation for Christian Living, based in Pawling, NY. Mrs Peale told People:
“I’m here nearly every day,” says Ruth Peale. “Norman has an office here too. But I have the veto power. And I believe the foundation should be run on the strictest principles of efficiency and organization.”
The Peales did very well for themselves:
At present he and Ruth have a nine-room church-owned apartment on Fifth Avenue as well as their extraordinary homestead in Pawling. On Hill Farm’s 200 rolling acres, Dr. and Mrs. Peale can indulge in their favorite pastime, walking, and their indoor pool is close by. But there are no servants on the estate. “I’m chief cook and bottle washer,” Ruth will tell any guest. She is also chauffeur; the license plate on her Cadillac reads RSP5, and she doesn’t trust Norman to drive.
Their children turned out well, too:
The Peale children—Margaret Ann, 48, married to a Presbyterian minister, Paul F. Everett; John, 45, a professor of philosophy at Longwood College in Farmville, Va.; and Elizabeth, 39, whose husband, John Allen, is a vice-president at Reader’s Digest—have shown no sign of rebellion or unseemly negativism.
Peale summed up his Christian belief this way:
“That’s to persuade as many people as I can that the only rational way to live is to follow the greatest thinker who ever thought, namely Jesus Christ. That’s the way to peace—within the individual, within the family, within the world. And it’s the way to serenity, excitement, enthusiasm and the real values of life. I’ve been preaching this now for half a century, and there’s still a few people I haven’t persuaded. So I’ve got my work cut out for me.”
If Peale’s message has, at times, seemed rather subjective and materialistic, he doesn’t hesitate to answer that criticism. “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” he says. “That’s one of the most subtle statements in the Bible. The more you esteem yourself, the more you’ll consider your neighbors with esteem.”
This is what the Trumps would have heard and read:
The way to happiness: keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, expect little, give much. Fill your life with love. Scatter sunshine. Forget self, think of others. Do as you would be done by. Try this for a week and you will be surprised.
They would also have recognised these gems that Politico pulled from The Power of Positive Thinking:
“Believe in yourself!” Peale’s book begins. “Have faith in your abilities!” He then outlines 10 rules to overcome “inadequacy attitudes” and “build up confidence in your powers.” Rule one: “formulate and staple indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding,” “hold this picture tenaciously,” and always refer to it “no matter how badly things seem to be going at the moment.”
Subsequent rules tell the reader to avoid “fear thoughts,” “never think of yourself as failing,” summon up a positive thought whenever “a negative thought concerning your personal powers comes to mind,” “depreciate every so-called obstacle,” and “make a true estimate of your own ability, then raise it 10 per cent.”
Trump family thinking and Peale thinking went hand in hand. Politico explains:
Long before this self-esteem guru codified his canon, Donald’s grandfather Friedrich used Peale-like confidence and tenacity to make the first Trump fortune during the Klondike gold rush. A few decades later, Donald’s father, Fred, deployed proto-Peale thinking to become a multimillionaire real estate developer in Brooklyn and Queens. And Donald Trump himself has cited Peale’s advice many times in his own career.
in a 2009 interview with Psychology Today he gave Peale’s book credit for his survival. Citing his father’s friendship with Peale and calling himself “a firm believer in the power of being positive,” he said, “what helped is I refused to give in to the negative circumstances and never lost faith in myself. I didn’t believe I was finished even when the newspapers were saying so.”
Trump also incorporated Peale’s style into his own means of communication:
Peale spoke extemporaneously during sermons, in simple, folksy language, a technique Trump uses at his rallies. Peale delivered his message through books and magazines, and even appeared on popular TV shows such as “What’s My Line?” Trump starred in his own reality-television series and is a ubiquitous presence on Twitter and talk shows.
“I can see the similarities,” said Carol V.R. George, a historian who wrote a biography of Peale titled “God’s Salesman.” “The very enthusiastic way Trump communicates. The lack of notes. Peale said you need to know what you’re going to say. He could talk off the cuff for an hour.”
Ultimately, The Federalist says:
This—not an orthodox Christianity or principled conservatism—is the faith that animates Donald Trump and his many followers. It is nostalgic and self-affirming, unconcerned with doctrine but defensive about identity.
Adlai Stevenson once quipped that he found “Paul appealing and Peale appalling.” Those who find Trump similarly appalling should remember that their reaction, like Stevenson’s, is not shared by a great number of Americans. Faulting Trump for his lack of consistency as a Christian or conservative will do nothing at all to dampen the enthusiasm of his supporters.
John Peale, the late minister’s son and a retired philosophy professor, is now 79. He and Trump do not know each other. He told the Washington Post that he sees no reflection of his father’s theology in what Trump says or does:
Peale said he became upset last fall after reading a Politico article that claimed that Norman Vincent Peale helped shape Trump.
The article in question is from an October 2015 edition of Politico magazine.
Two months earlier, in August, Trump said he was still attending Marble, but the church issued a statement clarifying that he is not a member of the congregation. I have read that, in recent years, the church has shifted its theology from self help to progressive social justice, which indicates that Trump is unlikely to have been there lately.
He, Melania and Barron, age 10, definitely attend church at Easter. Melania’s Twitter feed had a photo of the church they went to in 2015: the Catholic one in Palm Beach. (She did not say, but I recognise it, having been there twice with my mother for Mass.) This year, a Trump supporter took a photo of them on Easter Day in a Protestant church in New York. Trump also attended a Presbyterian service earlier this year during the primaries and read the lesson from ‘Two Corinthians’. He told CBN in 2011 that he also attends every Christmas and when he can.
It should come as no surprise that none of the writers of the articles approves of Donald Trump.
But … and it’s a big BUT
Dr Horton, who wrote the Christianity Today article, is a professor, minister and theologian I greatly respect. I have several posts citing his wisdom on Reformed theology.
However, here, by only criticising, Horton’s not helping.
It is evident that the Republican candidate has a flawed, incomplete knowledge of the Bible and Christian teaching. Trump receives the Supper — the ‘cracker’, as he puts it — as a means of forgiveness, forgiveness which he says he has never requested because he doesn’t need it.
A few days ago, Trump spoke in Iowa and told his supporters how much the Evangelical vote meant to him. He then quoted Robert ‘Crystal Cathedral’ Schuller. Peale was Schuller’s mentor. Therefore, it would appear that Trump connects all Evangelicals with the self-help-prosperity gospel.
That would be wrong, but, for his purposes, Trump probably did the right thing in citing Schuller, who was born and raised in Iowa. There was no shortage of applause.
Trump does not realise that most Evangelicals know the Bible well and have a deep relationship with Jesus Christ. The prosperity gospel does not enter into their way of thinking; in fact, they shun false teaching.
The prosperity gospel is the only teaching — false as it is, by Peale — that Trump knew post-Confirmation.
For that reason, someone as Christian as Horton might have offered to end his article by asking that everyone reading it pray for Trump. However, he did not.
Nor do some people reading this post.
I have not seen one anti-Trump person on here view him with pity or advocate that we pray for his return to a proper church and Christian teaching.
Yet, these same people readily preach forgiveness and pardon of others.
Is that Christlike? Or is it a sin of omission?
I would be interested in seeing Hillary Clinton’s application and practice of Methodism dissected the way Donald Trump’s Presbyterianism has been in the media. But that day will never come.
However, as a nun put it to me about Mitt Romney’s Mormonism in 2012, ‘You’re not appointing him pastor of your church or to another ecclesiastical position, you’re voting for him for president.’
Returning to the retired lawyer’s comment at the beginning of this post, we should be focussing on Donald Trump’s ability to lead the United States and the free world, rather than his knowledge of Christian theology.
Now that Ted Cruz has dropped out of the Republican race, right-of-centre Christians are concerned about whom to vote for in November 2016.
Ted Cruz was seen as the ‘moral’ choice for many churchgoers. I was never a supporter, and it emerges my instincts might have been right, especially as he suspended his campaign the day a startling family allegation, complete with photographic evidence, came to light. And it did not involve his wife Heidi.
What do these Christians do? They could vote for the Constitution Party.
The presumptive GOP nominee
However, the following questions should be asked and answered with thought and consideration:
- Which candidate will best serve my family’s and my needs?
- Is there a candidate who pledges to raise the profile of Christianity in America? (Yes, and he’s a Presbyterian.)
- How much do I know about the presumptive Republican nominee?
The media are now directing the narrative for the 2016 elections.
The candidate they dislike the most is the one who has pragmatic policies that will fix a broken America.
Yet, churchgoers say it would be immoral to vote for a man who is on his third wife and who speaks as he finds. Did it ever occur to them that the media are pushing certain themes — including accusations and quotes out of context — to steer honest Americans away from the man most likely to help them? Are the widespread negative optics influencing people unduly?
Have the churchgoers absorbing the media narrative and negative campaign advertising ever gone on YouTube to watch and listen to the candidate in question address the public — by now, hundreds of thousands of them?
If so, they would find a highly listenable extemporaneous speaker, one who puts forth his thoughts conversationally without the aid of a teleprompter. They will discover his plans for job creation and discouraging companies to leave the United States. They will hear how often he uses the words ‘love’ and ‘amazing’ — positively. They will understand why the US must stop being the world’s policeman free of charge to foreign countries. They may even see his immaculately-groomed wife and children. All of his children, bar the youngest (aged 10), are gainfully employed. They have families of their own. They have never been in trouble with drugs, alcohol or the police.
Nor has the candidate in question, who is stone cold sober every moment of the day and night. He only needs four hours sleep, so is able to take calls from world leaders. He enjoys working and he enjoys challenges.
He will not start a war. For him, that would be defeat. He prides himself on his negotiating skills. He even speaks highly of his opponents — Cruz or Paul Ryan — and wants to get along with them. He is not the problem at this juncture. They are. The same goes for protesters attempting to disrupt and destroy private gatherings of his supporters.
‘God qualifies the called’
You may remain unconvinced at this point.
However, in 2013, I read one of the Revd Walter Bright’s posts which has stayed in my mind ever since.
It is called ‘God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called’. I hope he does not mind my borrowing it for use in a political context, but this election cycle has me thinking of the title at least once a day.
The opening paragraphs, excerpted below, come from a Facebook post:
Isaac was a day dreamer, Jacob was a cheater, Peter had a temper and denied Christ, David had an affair and tried to cover it up with murder, Noah got drunk. Elisha was suicidal, Jonah ran from God, Paul was a murderer and he was way too religious.
The post has this important message:
God is not looking for the qualified, he’s looking for people who would just avail themselves to him. When Jesus called the 12, most of them were not even educated. Yet, Jesus equipped them and they turned the world upside down …
Those whom God calls, He equips.
This same principle can apply to many people in this life, including in a secular context.
Rahab and the Wall of Jericho
Rahab was a woman of ill repute. Bible translations describe her as a ‘harlot’ or ‘prostitute’. Women in the Bible tells us the Bible story of the woman who ran an inn with her family:
They made their living by running a tavern: down- rather than up-market. It was a rowdy place, frequented by men who were not troubled by scruples. Rahab ‘comforted’ her customers from time to time. In short, she was no better than she should be.
Was she an upstanding, godly person? No.
Joshua 2 introduces her to us and describes her fearless work for the God she would come to know and love.
As Women in the Bible points out (emphasis in the original):
- Even an ordinary person can further God’s plan. Rahab was definitely from the wrong side of the tracks, but God used her to help His people.
She hid two Hebrew spies from soldiers who sought them.
She later negotiated with the Hebrew men, telling them that their people were a threat to her city, Jericho. She told them she put her life and those of her family members at risk by hiding them. The men promised to protect her and her family in return.
She worked with them to plan their escape and signal with a red cord that she and her family would not perish.
Again, she had no belief in the God of Israel at this point. She had a bad reputation. Yet, she was actively helping God’s people and risking her life in the process.
Joshua 6 describes the fall of Jericho. It took a week:
15 On the seventh day they rose early, at the dawn of day, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. 16 And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout, for the Lord has given you the city. 17 And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction.[b] Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent …
22 But to the two men who had spied out the land, Joshua said, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring out from there the woman and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.” 23 So the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. And they brought all her relatives and put them outside the camp of Israel …
25 But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.
Rahab’s story reminds us that even those we do not perceive as godly can — and are called — to do the Lord’s work. Through that, those such as Rahab come to the Lord — or renew their relationship — with Him through grace by faith.
Before we get too self-righteous about our moralistic beliefs and personal purity, may we recall Rahab in the coming months and consider her story when deciding for whom to vote.
A final thought
In closing, the presumptive GOP nominee is a baptised Presbyterian who has also been confirmed. He is hardly the perfect Christian, but he does attend church at least twice a year and worshipped publicly on Easter Sunday 2016.
May conservative Republicans also remember that their party is called the Republican Party, not the Conservative Party. As such, moderate candidates should be made to feel welcome.
Thomas Boston (1676-1732) spent most of his life in the Scottish Borders in ministry.
His parents were Covenanters, meaning that they bound themselves in various covenants to ensure Presbyterianism was the only Christianity practised in Scotland. In the 16th century, these men and women resisted the return of Roman Catholicism and, in the 17th century, the religious reform from the Anglicans in England.
Boston earned a degree in Arts from Edinburgh University and, for a short time, was a schoolmaster. He spent one term at theological college before being assigned to active ministry, which he began in 1697.
He spent much of his spare time educating himself and was well known for his knowledge of Hebrew. Jonathan Edwards considered Boston:
a truly great divine.
He also wrote several books and shorter works about Christianity and human nature. In 1704, having read a controversial book called The Marrow of Modern Divinity, he became a Marrowman, which meant that he emphasised the doctrine of grace and the free offer of the Gospel. The book is a collection of dialogues from Reformation divines on the nature of Christ’s atonement and was a middle way of Christian practice, intended to guide believers from antinomianism (disregard for the Law) without embracing legalism.
The legalistic Calvinist hierarchy of the day disapproved of this perspective, yet it proved very popular among Scottish congregations. Indeed, the Marrowmen were effective, heartfelt preachers. Boston himself revived the church in Ettrick, where he ministered for 25 years. When he arrived in 1707, the number of members was around 60. By the time he retired, there were 777.
Boston not only preached in church, he had an active ministry at home, where he regularly held classes for his congregation.
Despite family deaths which touched him to the core, his wife Catherine was his loving companion and source of emotional support.
Boston’s written works had a profound effect not only on his congregation, but many poor, hard-working Scots.
One of his essays is entitled, simply, ‘Hell’. It describes the certainty, the nature and the eternity of it.
Excerpts and summaries follow, emphases mine (except for the first line, the titles and subtitles).
He introduces his essay with:
Then He shall say unto those on the left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed ones, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels!” Matthew 25:41
and reminds us in the Introduction that:
The last thing which our Lord did, before He left the earth, was, ‘He lifted up his hands, and blessed his disciples’ (Luke, 24:50,51). But the last thing He will do, before He leaves the throne, is to curse and condemn His enemies; as we learn from the text which contains the dreadful sentence wherein the everlasting misery of the wicked is declared.
He then summarises the body of the essay before examining the doctrine of hell.
DOCTRINE– THE WICKED SHALL BE SHUT UP UNDER THE CURSE OF GOD, IN EVERLASTING MISERY, WITH THE DEVILS IN HELL!
In this section, Boston discusses the ‘curse’ of the ‘damned’, their misery, their society and their eternity.
I. THE “CURSE” UNDER WHICH THE DAMMED SHALL BE SHUT UP IN HELL–
By nature all men are under the curse. But it is removed from the elect by virtue of their union with Christ. It abides on the rest of sinful mankind, and by it they are devoted to destruction, and separated to evil …
As in heaven grace comes to its perfection, so in hell sin arrives at its highest pitch; and as sin is thus advancing upon the man, he is the nearer and likelier to hell.
There are three things that have a fearful aspect here–
1. When everything that might do good to men’s souls, is blasted to them; so that their blessings are cursed– sermons, prayers, admonitions, and reproofs, which are powerful towards others, are quite ineffectual to them.
2. When men go on in sinning still, in the face of plain rebukes from the Lord, in ordinances and providences. God meets them with rods in the way of their sin, as it were striking them back; yet they rush forward. What can be more like hell, where the Lord is always smiting and the damned always sinning against Him?
3. When everything in one’s lot is turned into fuel for one’s lusts. Thus, adversity and prosperity, poverty and wealth, the lack of ordinances and the enjoyment of them, do all but nourish the corruptions of many. Their vicious stomachs corrupt whatever they receive, and all does but increase noxious humors.
But the full harvest follows, in that misery which they shall forever lie under in hell; that wrath which, by virtue of the curse, shall come upon them to the uttermost– which is the curse fully executed. This black cloud opens upon them, and the terrible thunderbolt strikes them, by that dreadful voice from the throne, ‘Depart from me, you cursed’, which will give the whole wicked world a dismal view of what is in the bosom of the curse …
II. THE MISERY OF THE DAMNED, under that curse–
It is a misery which the tongues of men and angels cannot sufficiently express. God always acts like Himself– as no favors can be compared to His, so also His wrath and terrors are without a parallel.
As the saints in heaven are advanced to the highest pitch of happiness, so the damned in hell arrive at the height of misery.
Two things here I shall soberly inquire into– the punishment of ‘loss’, and the punishment of ‘sense’, in hell. But since these also are such things as eye has not seen, nor ear heard, we must, as geographers do, leave a large void for the unknown land, which that day will discover.
A. THE PUNISHMENT OF ‘LOSS’ WHICH THE DAMNED SHALL UNDERGO IS SEPARATION FROM THE LORD. ‘Depart from me, you cursed.’ This will be a stone upon their grave’s mouth, as ‘the talent of lead’ (Zech 5:7,8), that will hold them down forever …
They cannot indeed be locally separated from God, they cannot be in a place where He is not; since He is, and will be present everywhere– ‘If I make my bed in hell,’ says the psalmist, ‘behold you are there’ (Psalm 139:8). But they shall be miserable beyond expression, in a ‘relative’ separation from God. Though He will be present in the very center of their souls, (if I may so express it), while they are wrapped up in fiery flames, in utter darkness– it shall only be to feed them with the vinegar of His wrath, and to punish them with the emanations of His revenging justice.
1. This separation will be AN INVOLUNTARY SEPARATION. ‘Now’ they depart from Him. They will not come to Him, though they are called and entreated to come.
But ‘then’ they shall be driven away from Him, when they would gladly abide with Him …
2. IT WILL BE A TOTAL AND UTTER SEPARATION. Though the wicked are, in this life, separated from God, yet there is a kind of interchange between them– He gives them many good gifts, and they give Him, at least, some good words; so that the peace is not altogether hopeless.
But ‘then’ there shall be a total separation, the damned being cast into utter darkness, where there will not be the least gleam of light or favor from the Lord; which will put an end to all their fair words to Him.
3. IT WILL BE A FINAL SEPARATION. They will part with Him, never more to meet, being shut up under everlasting horror and despair. The match between Jesus Christ and unbelievers, which has so often been carried forward, and put back again, shall then be broken up forever; and never shall one message of favor or goodwill go between the parties anymore.
This punishment of loss, in a total and final separation from God, is a misery beyond what mortals can conceive, and which the dreadful experience of the damned can only sufficiently unfold …
Wherefore, a total separation from God, wherein all comfortable communication between God and a rational creature is absolutely blocked up, must of necessity bring along with it a total eclipse of all light of comfort and ease whatever. If there is but one window, or open place, in a house, and that be totally shut up, it is evident there can be nothing but darkness in that house …
All joy goes, and unmixed sorrow settles in them. All quiet and rest separate from them and they are filled with horror and rage. Hope flies away, and despair seizes them. Common operations of the Spirit, which now restrain them, are withdrawn forever, and sin comes to its utmost height. Thus we have a dismal view of the horrible spectacle of sin and misery, which a creature proves when totally separated from God and left to itself; and we may see this separation from God to be the very hell of hell.
Being separated from God, they are deprived of all good. The good things which they set their hearts upon in this world are beyond their reach there. The covetous man cannot enjoy his wealth there; nor the ambitious man his honors; nor the sensual man his pleasures– no, not a drop of water to cool his tongue (Luke 16:24,25).
No food or drink there to strengthen the faint; no sleep to refresh the weary– and no music, or pleasant company, to comfort and cheer up the sorrowful. And as for those holy things they despised in the world, they shall never more hear of them, nor see them.
No offer of Christ there, no pardon, no peace; no wells of salvation in the pit of destruction. In one word, they shall be deprived of whatever might comfort them, being totally and finally separated from God, the fountain of all goodness and comfort.
(3) Man naturally desires to be happy, being conscious to himself that be is not self-sufficient. He forever has a desire of something outside of himself, to make him happy; and the soul being, by its natural make and constitution, capable of enjoying God, and nothing else being commensurable to its desires, it can never have true and solid rest until it rests in the enjoyment of God. This desire of happiness the rational creature can never lay aside, no, not even in hell …
So the doors of earth and heaven both are shut against them at once. This will create them unspeakable anguish, while they shall live under an eternal gnawing hunger after happiness, which they certainly know shall never be in the least measure satisfied, all doors being closed on them.
(4) The damned shall know that some are perfectly happy, in the enjoyment of that God from whom they themselves are separated; and this will aggravate the sense of their loss– that they can never have any share with those happy ones …
It is the opinion of some, that every person in heaven or hell shall hear and see all that passes in either state. Whatever is to be said for this, we have ground from the Word to conclude that the damned shall have a very accurate knowledge of the happiness of the saints in heaven; for what else can be meant of the rich man in hell seeing Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom? …
It would be a mighty torment to a hungry man, to see others liberally feasting, while he is so chained up as not to have one crumb to stop his gnawing appetite …
(5) They will remember that time was when they might have been made partakers of the blessed company of saints, in their enjoyment of God– and this will aggravate their sense of the loss. All will remember that there was once a possibility of it; that they were once in the world, in some corners of which the way of salvation was laid open to men’s view– and may wish they had gone round the world, until they had found it out.
Despisers of the Gospel will remember, with bitterness, that Jesus Christ, with all His benefits, was offered to them– that they were exhorted, entreated, and pressed to accept, but would not; and that they were warned of the misery they now feel, and exhorted to flee from the wrath to come, but they would not hearken.
The Gospel offer slighted will make a hot hell, and the loss of an offered heaven, will be a sinking weight on the spirits of unbelievers in the pit …
Others will remember that they thought themselves sure of heaven, but, being blinded with pride and self-conceit, they were above ordinances, and beyond instruction, and would not examine their state– which was their ruin. But then they will in vain wish that they had reputed themselves the worst of the congregation, and curse the fond conceit they had of themselves, and that others had of them too …
(6) They will see the loss to be irrecoverable– that they must eternally lie under it, never, never to be repaired.
Might the damned, after millions of ages in hell, regain what they have lost, it would be some ground of hope; but the prize is gone, and never can be recovered …
B. THE DAMNED SHALL BE PUNISHED IN HELL WITH THE PUNISHMENT OF ‘SENSE’ AS THEY MUST DEPART FROM GOD INTO EVERLASTING FIRE.
I am not disposed to dispute what kind of fire it is into which they shall depart, to be tormented forever, whether a material fire or not. Experience will more than satisfy the curiosity of those who are disposed rather to dispute about it, than to seek how to escape it.
Neither will I meddle with the question, Where is it? It is enough that the worm that never dies, and the fire that is never quenched, will be found somewhere by impenitent sinners.
1. But, first, I shall prove that, whatever kind of fire it is– it is more vehement and terrible than any fire we on earth are acquainted with …
(a) As in heaven, grace being brought to its perfection, profit and pleasure also arrive at their height there. So sin, being come to its height in hell, the punishment of evil also arrives at its perfection there …
(b) Why are the things of another world represented to us in an earthly dress, in the Word, but because the weakness of our capacities in such matters, which the Lord is pleased to condescend unto, requires it. It being always supposed, that the things of the other world are in their kind more perfect than those by which they are represented.
When heaven is represented to us under the notion of a city, with gates of pearl and the street of gold, we do not expect to find gold and pearls there, which are so mightily prized on earth, but something more excellent than the finest and most precious things in this world.
When therefore, we hear of hell-fire, it is necessary we understand by it something more vehement, piercing, and tormenting, than any fire ever seen by our eyes.
And here it is worth considering, that the torments of hell are held forth under several other notions than that of fire alone. And the reason of it is plain– namely, that hereby what of horror is lacking in one notion of hell, is supplied by another …
Therefore, we hear also of ‘the second death’, for the damned in hell shall be ever dying …
(c) Our fire cannot affect a spirit, but by way of sympathy with the body to which it is united. But hell-fire will not only pierce into the bodies, but also go directly into the souls of the damned, for it is ‘prepared for the devil and his angels,’ those wicked spirits, whom no fire on earth can hurt …
(d) The preparation of this fire proves the inexpressible vehemency and dreadfulness of it. The text calls it, ‘prepared’ yes, ‘the prepared fire,’ by way of eminence.
As the three children were not cast into ordinary fire [Daniel 3], but a fire prepared for a particular purpose which therefore was exceeding hot, the furnace being heated seven times more than ordinary, so the damned shall find in hell a prepared fire, the like to which was never prepared by human are …
2. As to the second point proposed, namely, the properties of the fiery torments in hell–
(a) They will be universal torments, every part of the creature being tormented in that flame. When one is cast into a fiery furnace, the fire makes its way into the very heart, and leaves no member untouched.
What part, then, can have ease, when the damned ‘swim’ in a lake of fire, burning with brimstone? There will their bodies be tormented and scorched forever …
Hence, no pleasant affection shall ever spring up in their hearts any more; their love of comfort, joy, and delight, in any object whatever, shall be plucked up by the root. They will be filled with hatred, fury, and rage against God, themselves, and their fellow-creatures, whether happy in heaven, or miserable in hell, as they themselves are.
They will be sunk in sorrow, racked with anxiety, filled with horror, galled to the heart with fretting, and continually darted with despair– which will make them weep, gnash their teeth, and blaspheme forever …
Conscience will be a worm to gnaw and prey upon them; remorse for their sins shall seize them and torment them forever, and they shall not be able to shake it off, as once they did; for ‘in hell their worm does not die.’ (Mark 9:44,46) …
(b) The torments in hell are manifold. Imagine the case that a man were, at one and the same time, under the violence of the gout, stone, and whatever diseases and pains have ever met together in one body– the torment of such a one would be but light in comparison to the torments of the dammed …
(c) They will be most intense and vehement torments, causing ‘weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth’ (Matt 13:42, 22:13). They are represented to us under the notion of pangs in childbirth, which are very sharp and acute …
It is true, there will be degrees of torments in hell– ‘It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for Chorazin and Bethsaida’ (Matt 11:21,22). But the least load of wrath there will be insupportable; for how can the heart of the creature endure, or his hands be strong, when God Himself is a consuming fire to him?
When the tares are bound in bundles for the fire, there will be “bundles” of covetous persons, of drunkards, profane sweaters, unclean persons, formal hypocrites, unbelievers, and despisers of the Gospel, and the like.
The several “bundles” being cast into hell-fire, some will burn more vehemently than others, according as their sins have been more heinous than those of others– a fiercer flame shall seize the bundle of the profane, than the bundle of unsanctified moralists.
(e) They will be unpitied. The punishments inflicted on the greatest malefactors on earth draw forth some compassion from the spectators. But the damned shall have none to pity them.
God will not pity them, but laugh at their calamity (Prov 1:26). The blessed company in heaven shall rejoice in the execution of God’s righteous judgment, and sing while their smoke rises up forever and ever (Rev 19:3), ‘And again they said, Hallelujah! And her smoke rose up forever and ever.’
No compassion can be expected from the devil and his angels, who delight in the ruin of the children of men, and are and will be forever void of pity. Neither will one person pity another there, where every one is weeping and gnashing his teeth, under his own insupportable anguish and pain.
There, natural affection will be extinguished– parents will not love their children, nor children their parents; the mother will not pity the daughter in these flames, nor will the daughter pity the mother; the son will show no regard to his father there, nor the servant to his master, where every one will be groaning under his own torment.
(f) To complete their misery, their torments shall be eternal! ‘And the smoke of their torments ascends up forever and ever.’ Ah! what a frightful case is this– to be tormented in the whole body and soul, and that not with one kind of torment, but many; all of these most acute, and all this without any intermission, and without pity from any!
What heart can conceive those things without horror? Nevertheless, if this most miserable case were at length to have an end, that would afford some comfort.
But the torments of the damned will have no end!
The final sections discuss being with the company of devils and the everlasting nature of hell.
Boston concluded with an exhortation to unbelievers to receive Christ ‘as He is offered in the Gospel’ and prayed that the Lord would be ‘effectual’ in accomplishing this.
This concludes a series on hell, available on my Christianity/Apologetics page under ‘Hell’. Previous posts include:
Hell on low — or no — heat (20th century history)
J C Ryle on hell (19th century, first Anglican Bishop of Liverpool)
Dr Skeel is a professor of corporate law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and author. He is also an elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
A World article relates how David Skeel converted between his second and third year at university. He was an English major at the University of North Carolina. He found he was missing the meaning of some of the assigned texts because he did not understand the biblical references therein:
We read lots of books with biblical themes. I never knew what the themes were because I had never been to Sunday school class. We read a short story by Wright Morris, “The Ram in the Thicket”—I had no idea what the subtext of the story was.
So he decided to take action:
After enduring a class where I felt really ignorant, I decided to read the Bible. The summer after my sophomore year in college a couple of friends and I drove a van across the country. I started reading the Bible in the back of the van …
by the time I’d gotten a few chapters into Genesis I was persuaded it was true. I had never read anything so beautiful, so psychologically real.
The humanity of the people in Genesis profoundly affected him. That continued as he read the rest of Holy Scripture. Furthermore, by reading about the sins of men and women in the Bible, he began to think more about his own sinfulness:
Any book that doesn’t look like the world we inhabit I don’t find compelling. The flaws made it real to me, and that’s still a big part of what makes it real—that Peter renounced Jesus, when before he was willing to give up his life for Jesus. Those are people I understand. I guess, intuitively, at a very early age I had a sense of my own sin and the sin of people around me. Seeing that portrayed in a complex way I found very powerful and very real.
He was struck by Bible’s complexity and the various genres employed:
The psychological complexity of Christianity was really powerful for me, as was the complexity of the language in the Bible. Truth can’t be conveyed in a single genre, so the Bible’s mix of genres, language, and images is part of the evidence for its veracity.
When Skeel returned to his fraternity that autumn, he began attending a series of talks on the Gospels designed for fraternities and sororities. Pity, I think, that they were not open to all students, but so be it.
Not everyone supported Skeel’s eventual conversion. One of his room-mates thought it was bunk. However, for Skeel, it was a life-long, life-changing commitment.
Skeel’s books are related to business and economics: Icarus in the Boardroom, Debt’s Dominion, and The New Financial Deal: Understanding the Dodd-Frank Act and Its (Unintended) Consequences.
He has just published a fourth book, True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World. He did so because:
I found it really frustrating to hear biblical Christianity and Christians described in a way that had nothing to do with my faith and what Christianity is. In our culture Christianity is often characterized as simplistic. This book is for people who think there’s no reason to take Christianity seriously. It’s to show people of that sort—they surround me in my professional life—that Christianity is much more plausible than they think.
One can only hope that the new book is successful and that it results in more conversions or at least an acceptance that Christianity is far from simplistic.
From the beginning of the Church, theologians have analysed and explained biblical Christian tenets among each other as well as to laymen. Yes, the Good News is intended for everyone. However, anyone who thinks Christianity is for morons should take several courses in theology. As I’ve said many times before, understanding the Bible properly requires the help of a sound commentary, with nothing extreme.
David Skeel’s is a wonderful conversion story, especially for a professor who teaches corporate law. It is good to read that he is part of a denomination that believes the Bible and adheres to centuries-old confessions of faith.
N.B.: Be careful when reading the World article. You get only so many views of it before you are given a summary and are asked to pay for a subscription.
My sincere thanks to reader John J Flanagan, who has kindly taken the time to discuss his experiences in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS).
His guest post follows. Please feel free to comment or ask him questions to which he can respond directly.
I freely admit I am not an expert and certainly not a theologian, but I would refer interested parties to read for themselves the websites and Q&A sections on this topic posted at both the OPC and the LCMS websites.
I was a member of an OPC church for a few years, and eventually returned to the LCMS. Prior to that I was on a spiritual journey after 40 years as a Catholic, looking for the truth of God and His word first in the Bible, than checking out various denominations, like Baptists, non-denominational, Reformed, and OPC and PCA. I had been a member of an LCMS congregation as well, but I felt so confused by the varying interpretations each denomination had that I could not be sure in which church I belonged.
The OPC is a solid and faithful church, in my view, but I do not agree with all of the doctrines taught. First, the positives: Sola Scriptura, noting as the Bible declares that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, and by Christ alone, apart from any works. The OPC believes in infant Baptism, as do Lutherans. End times: Lutherans are amillennial, however, while most OPC ministers are amillennial, some are Post Millennial. The OPC tends to regard communion as a memorial or symbol but Christ is present by His spirit, while Lutherans believe Christ is bodily present at the sacrament. The OPC and LCMS also views Baptism differently, in the sense that Lutherans believe one is regenerated or born again, while God does not necessarily regenerate a person being Baptized, although it is within His sovereignty to do so.
The OPC views Law and Grace differently than Lutherans. The Reformed view is that the Law is designed to suppress wickedness and promote righteousness, whereas, the Lutheran view is that the Law leads us to Christ and repentance.
This is a thumbnail sketch. I have often been struggling with varying interpretations that sincere and God loving Christians apply to the same scriptural verses. It can be confusing, but I have found that Lutheranism explains scripture better, in my view, and the OPC and Reformed lean heavily on the Westminster Confessions. In any case, I suppose Our Lord will determine which church reflects the most accurate interpretation of these things.
Those of you interested in understanding the various denominational teachings should read further materials, but the first and primary way to do that is to keep your hand on the Bible as you read, and pray for wisdom.
I must add that the OPC is, of course, Calvinistic. It follows the five points of Calvinism, also believing in double predestination, which Luther rejected. Other differences, like the Presbyterian form of government, the simplicity of the worship service, rejection of icons, set it apart from Lutheran traditions. The OPC has about 300 churches and about 30,000 members. On the plus side, they rejected post modernism long ago, and split from the very liberal Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), as later did the group which formed the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). But having looked at this as closely as I am able, in my humble opinion, the LCMS is where I shall remain, and I pray that we remain faithful in the years to come.
This is too good not to share.
A Pentecostal, a Baptist, and a Presbyterian are in a diner kind of tensely discussing some joint charitable venture in their town.
While doing so smoke begins pouring through the window from the kitchen into the dining room.
The Pentecostal jumps and yells “FIRE!”
The Baptist jumps up and yells “WATER!”
The Presbyterian remains seated and motions them both to sit back down and says… “order”.
This order, with divine grace, has inspired many extraordinary theologians since the Scottish Reformation. Excellent Presbyterian references, which I often consult, are the Westminster Confession of Faith as well as the Shorter and Larger Catechisms.
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church has a helpful page with links to all of these documents. I have added this to my Resources section as ‘Westminster Confession and Catechisms’.
So far, we have read about early Christian liturgy, that of the East, changes during the Dark Ages, Mass during the Middle Ages, Martin Luther’s liturgy, Zwingli’s rite in Zurich, the German liturgy in Strasbourg and Calvin’s rites in Strasbourg for the Huguenots and later in Geneva.
Today’s post takes a brief look at John Knox’s Reformed rites for the English speakers in Frankfurt, Geneva and, later, the Scots.
Unless otherwise indicated, source material is taken from W.D. Maxwell’s 1937 book A History of Christian Worship: An Outline of Its Development and Form, available to read in full online (H/T: Revd P. Aasman). Page references are given below.
John Knox in brief
Space prohibits a full account of John Knox’s turbulent life and times.
A few descriptive terms about the man come to mind which I shall suppress.
Knox supporters in North America find it inexplicable why those of us who are not Presbyterians could not admire him. Yet, the facts show that he was contentious and disagreeable from the start. No doubt he was very nice to his family, friends and followers.
However, for the English, he goes against what they appreciate as moderation in spirit and personality.
Even Calvin advised him in Frankfurt to
Calvin carefully chose his battles — principally about Communion frequency — even if he fell foul of the Geneva city council. However, Geneva invited him to return from Strasbourg in 1541.
Knox, on the other hand, was a firebrand at every opportunity. Sadly, a few lay Presbyterians and their supporters have adopted Knox’s unfortunate manner in their online discourse. Look to Calvin, friends. He was much more measured in his speech and relationships.
Knox’s litany of self-imposed trouble included many episodes.
His first sermon to the garrison at St Andrews pronounced the Pope as the Antichrist.
Two months later in June 1547, Mary of Guise (Queen Mother and Regent to Mary, Queen of Scots) asked the French to intervene at St Andrews. The French took as prisoners a group of Protestants, including Scottish nobles and Knox. They all became galley slaves. Knox was freed in February 1549.
Knox settled in England where he became a chaplain to Edward VI in 1550. Prior to that, as a licensed minister in the Church of England, he was sent to Berwick upon Tweed, where he promptly modified the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) to make it a more Protestant rite. He met his first wife Margery Bowes at this time and, although he married her, he did so without her family’s consent.
Knox’s fiery preaching was highly popular among influential English Protestants. His clerical star continued to rise in subsequent parish appointments in England. When Mary Tudor succeeded Edward VI, Knox’s allies told him to flee the country.
In 1554, he sailed for France and continued his travels until he reached Calvin’s Geneva. Calvin gave non-committal replies to his contentious questions about female and ‘idolatrous’ rulers, referring him to Heinrich Bullinger in Zurich. Bullinger gave him no quarter. Undeterred, Knox published a diatribe in July of that year verbally attacking Mary Tudor, her bishops and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
In September 1554, a group of English exiles invited Knox to Frankfurt to be their minister. Calvin encouraged him to go. Knox found a congregation torn between using the BCP and those who favoured a more Protestant version of it. It was about this controversy that Calvin advised Knox and his colleague William Whittingham to avoid contention. A new group of refugees arrived, including Richard Cox, who had substantial input to the BCP. Cox informed Frankfurt’s authorities of Knox’s pamphlet attacking Charles V. The authorities told Knox to leave the city, which he did on March 26, 1555.
Knox returned to Geneva, where he was put in charge of a new church.
Meanwhile, his mother-in-law wrote him asking him to return to his wife, who was living in Scotland. He went home in August 1555.
Knox’s warm welcome home by Scottish Protestant nobles saw off opposition from the Scottish bishops who found him deeply worrying and arranged a hearing with him in Edinburgh. Accompanied by his powerful allies, he appeared in front of them on May 15, 1556. The bishops cancelled the hearing and granted Knox the freedom to preach in Edinburgh. Knox’s friends among the nobility persuaded him to write to Mary of Guise, the Regent for Mary, Queen of Scots. Knox wrote a letter calling for her support of the Reformation and deposing her bishops. Mary of Guise ignored it.
Meanwhile, his new congregation in Geneva called. They had elected him their pastor on November 1, 1555. He returned to the city in September 1556. This time, he took his wife and mother-in-law with him.
The next two years were blissful for Knox. He felt at home in Geneva. Life and spirituality were unsurpassed.
But that wasn’t good enough.
In the summer of 1558, unbeknownst to Calvin, Knox anonymously published a diatribe called The first blast of the trumpet against the monstruous regiment of women. Even given the general misogyny of the time, Knox went way over the top in attacking women rulers to the point where he could have been charged with sedition. He took strong issue with Mary I of England and Mary of Guise. Wikipedia says:
In calling the “regiment” or rule of women “monstruous”, he meant that it was “unnatural”. The pamphlet has been called a classic of misogyny. Knox states that his purpose was to demonstrate “how abominable before God is the Empire or Rule of a wicked woman, yea, of a traiteresse and bastard”.
A royal proclamation banned the pamphlet in England.
The pamphlet came back to bite him when Elizabeth I ascended to the English throne. Geneva’s English speakers felt comfortable returning home now that they had a Protestant Queen. Knox left Geneva in January 1559 for Scotland. He should have arrived long before May 2 of that year, but Elizabeth I, aware of the pamphlet and deeply offended, refused to give him a passport to travel through England!
Not long afterward, Scottish authorities under Mary of Guise pronounced Knox an outlaw. He and a large group of Protestants travelled to Perth because it was a walled city they could defend in case of a siege. Once there, Knox preached an inflammatory sermon in the Church of St John the Baptist during which a small incident sparked a riot. The result was a gutted church. Not only that, but the mob went on to loot and vandalise two nearby friaries.
Later, safe in St Andrews, Knox preached there. Another riot broke out which resulted in more vandalism and looting.
Knox cannot be personally blamed for the Protestant uprisings occurring all over Scotland that year, but did he ever appeal for calm and godliness? Hmm.
On October 24, 1559, the Scottish nobility deposed Mary of Guise of the Regency. She died in Edinburgh Castle on June 10, 1560. The Treaty of Edinburgh was signed, which resulted in French and English troops returning home.
During the rest of that year the Scottish Parliament, Knox and a handful of fellow clergymen devised the Book of Discipline for the new Protestant church. Knox’s wife Margery died in December 1560. He was left to care for their two little boys.
Mary Queen of Scots returned from exile on August 19, 1561. She and Knox had several personal confrontations over his inciting rebellion, her right to rule as a woman and her impending marriage. He told her he owed her no allegiance. He continued his fiery sermons in the pulpit of St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.
On March 26, 1564, Knox married a 17-year old member of the nobility, Margaret Stewart. He was 50 years old. She bore him three daughters.
Near the end of the decade a complex civil war broke out involving nobles from both sides of the religious question. Knox moved around Scotland during this time, although he returned to Edinburgh as and when he could. He wrote his History of the Reformation in Scotland during these years.
In July 1572, he was able to freely preach once again at St Giles. However, he had grown progressively weaker. He died on November 24, 1572, surrounded by his family and friends.
Knox is the founder of Presbyterianism.
The following is taken from Maxwell’s book and describes a typical Knox liturgy from his book The Forme of Prayers (p. 123, 124).
Knox largely borrowed from Calvin but Maxwell notes a BCP influence as well. As with Calvin’s liturgy, there is no Peace.
The format is as follows for a Communion service, still divided into the Liturgies of the Word and the Upper Room:
– Confession of sins;
– Prayer for pardon;
– Psalm in metre;
– Prayer for illumination;
– Scripture reading (only one, although there were sometimes separate Scottish Readers Services before the Liturgy of the Word which included more Psalms as well as Old and New Testament readings [p. 124]);
– Sermon (lengthy, as was the Scripture reading; together, they could last over an hour [p. 124);
– Collection of alms;
– Thanksgiving and intercessions;
– Lord’s Prayer;
– Apostles’ Creed, spoken;
– Offertory, including presentation and preparation of elements and a sung Psalm;
– Words of Institution;
– Prayer of Consecration which included adoration, thanksgiving, anamnesis and Doxology;
– Ministers’ Communion;
– People’s Communion, apparently given by assistant ministers because the celebrant read the account of the Passion of Christ during this time;
– Post-Communion thanksgiving;
– Psalm 103 in metre;
– Aaronic or Apostolic blessing.
The readings appear to have been through one book of the Bible at a time until concluded — ‘in course’. The sermons were always about the readings given (p. 124).
The Forme of Prayers was never intended to be used as uniformly as England’s BCP was. Knox allowed for local variations on prayers and parts of the rite.
Although Knox sought to abolish kneeling and feasts of the Church calendar, these seem to have continued in some Scottish churches.
Communicants walked to the Lord’s Table where a separate Communion Table with chairs was installed (p. 126).
The people took their places and sat down to receive the Sacrament.
An Act passed by Scotland’s General Assembly in 1562 indicated that the Sacrament was received quarterly in the large towns and less frequently in the countryside (p. 125). Clergy were fewer outside of the former. Furthermore, people at that time were still used to infrequent Communion, perhaps only annually.
This custom of the Communion Table disappeared in the early part of the 19th century, when English Nonconformist procedure was adopted. This is reminiscent of the Zwinglian practice of receiving Communion in the pews, although people remained standing for this in Britain.
Introduced to Scotland in 1560, Knox’s The Forme of Prayers — or Book of Common Order — was used for over 80 years, despite attempts to revise it (p. 127). It was replaced in 1645 by the Westminster Directory.
Not so long ago, most Reformed (Calvinist, including Presbyterian) churches had Communion — Supper — services once a month.
Today, that tradition is changing, with more churches embracing a weekly Supper.
Those churches which have not yet done so say that the frequency of the Supper might diminish its significance to the congregation. Along with this is the rationale that, during the service, congregants will choose to reflect on either the preaching or the Supper but not both. Others say that their church’s tradition has always been for a quarterly or monthly Communion service. All of these are reasonable.
However, there is also a poor excuse, which is that the distribution of the Supper takes too much time! This lady, commenting on a Gospel Coalition post exploring the subject, supports frequent Communion. She rightly takes issue with the ‘not enough time’ excuse, pointing out:
this is the one thing the Lord commanded we do to remember Him and what He did. If you don’t have the time, please feel free to cut out the collection of money, the silly dramas [some Reformed churches feature short plays during their services], the endless singing about how great God makes you feel (not Glory to God in most contemporary Christian music), the light show, the “howdy” (greeting…where everyone walks around talking about anything but Jesus). You can’t spare 10 minutes out of the weekly hour to remember what Jesus did for you? SHAME!
However, there are deeply rooted historical reasons why Communion has been infrequent in Reformed churches.
Calvin, Zwingli and Knox
the Lord’s Table should have been spread at least once a week for the assembly of Christians, and the promises declared in it should feed us spiritually.
However, he was unable to persuade the Geneva City Council of this principle. At this time in history, large European cities often legislated on matters spiritual as well as temporal. The Council approved monthly Communion.
In Zurich, Ulrich Zwingli took the view that the Sacrament was but a mere memorial of the Last Supper and offered no means of grace. Appalled, Martin Luther took strong exception to this and told Zwingli that ‘another spirit’ moved through him.
Nonetheless, Zwingli set a quarterly Communion observance for his followers: one Sunday in the autumn, followed by Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.
John Knox promoted the Geneva pattern of Communion in his Order of Geneva (1556). Six years later, the First Book of Discipline adopted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (1562) was issued. It called for a Zwinglian quarterly observance in Scottish cities and twice a year in countryside churches.
By the 18th century, Presbyterians in Scotland received the Sacrament rarely. Many only received it annually for the following reasons: suspicion of clergymen, lack of ordained ministers and a shortage of bread because of widespread poverty.
These annual commemorations of the Supper turned into what were called Communion Seasons. The faithful began by fasting on a Thursday, attending a church service on Saturday where they received their Communion tokens, receiving the Sacrament the following day and a thanksgiving service on Monday.
If these remind us of revivals, that is indeed how they turned out. The same weekend format was adapted for American revivals, with a certain amount of religious enthusiasm.
Presbyterianism in Colonial America
By the end of the 18th century, Presbyterians in the American colonies held opposing views with regard to the frequency of Communion.
Whilst the 1787 Directory of Worship for American Presbyterianism stipulated the annual Communion Season, a Scottish-educated minister in New York City disagreed. In his 1797 book, Letters on Frequent Communion, John Mitchell Mason argued that the showmanship of the revivalist approach detracted from traditional Presbyterian piety. He advocated weekly Communion as a consistent means of grace.
Reformed Communion historically
There was one issue with frequent Communion, not only in the Presbyterian Church, but also in the Reformed congregations.
Those wishing to receive the Sacrament were required to attend preparatory classes at their church in the days before each Communion Sunday. Ministers and elders gave tokens to those whom they had deemed worthy. The recipients were then required to present the token at the service.
These circumstances made frequent Communion services impractical.
Although Communion tokens have long been history, Reformed clergy and congregations still struggle with the frequency of Communion services.
The Revd P Aasman of the Canadian Reformed Church in Grand Valley, Ontario, explains that his denomination’s Book of Praise contained a lengthy Communion liturgy and now has a shorter form. However, he writes, even then, congregations are reluctant to participate more often:
Both of these things (the length of the form and the manner of celebration) support infrequent communion and, therefore, need to be adjusted before positive change can be made.
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is concerned that their congregations might have a Zwinglian view of the Sacrament as a memorial with little to no means of grace. OPC elders D. G. Hart and John Muether posit that increased frequency of Communion services are not guaranteed to alter those perceptions where they exist. Whilst they conclude that these services should ideally be weekly, they also warn:
weekly communion might tempt partakers toward a deadening familiarity with the sacrament …
Personally, as a former Catholic, now Anglican, I would agree that frequent reception of Communion, sadly, does become overly familiar and loses its significance. That is a terrible admission to make, however, it is true. I have also seen it in other Catholics during my time. When I first became an Episcopalian, my church had monthly Communion services. (That said, the 8:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. services were always for Holy Communion as were Wednesday evening services.) I felt better prepared spiritually for less frequent Communion. I could also concentrate more on the readings and sermons during Morning Prayer Sundays. My weakness, but no doubt others’, too.
I spent quite a bit of time seeing how often Presbyterian churches have a Communion service. Here are but three examples in the PCA: one has it quarterly (the Supper elements have been prepared by the same family line for 150 years!), another has it monthly and a third has one weekly.
It will be interesting to see what the future brings in this regard.
The Puritan Board forum has a good discussion on mind-altering drugs and the Bible.
A member asked why Scripture is silent about these substances. Another long-time forum member, Steve Rafalsky, who attends a Presbyterian Church of America in Astoria, Queens, replied with much to say on the topic. And, no, the Bible is not silent on the matter.
Rafalsky took drugs in the 1960s and became a Christian when he saw how destructive the counterculture lifestyle was. His comments come highly recommended, particularly to readers under the age of 50.
In commenting on the 1960s and the legacy of that decade, Rafalsky says, in part (emphases mine):
That drug culture killed a lot of people, and drove many others mad, and influenced the mental and spiritual consciousness of collective humankind by opening a terrible Pandora’s box – an interdimensional gateway, if you will – allowing direct demonic influence to enter the archetypal human heartlands by means of these sorcerous drugs. Many pagans are aware of these things (though not from the Christian view which discerns the evil), but most of the Christians not, which will be a grave handicap in maintaining holiness in the church, seeing as we are growing so lax in letting the world into our sanctuary.
The United States changed forever. This is happening in Europe, too:
… much as Tolkien’s “shadow of Mordor” encroaching upon all of Middle Earth, or the days of Noah where “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually . . . [and] the earth [was] filled with violence through them” (Gen 6:5,13) – and what was once a relatively pleasant world (and country, for those in America) to live in, became increasingly hostile and unjust, and the culture Babylonian, that is, seductive by means of its arts, entertainments, luxuries, comforts (while multitudes elsewhere languished in misery and want). The world became more beast-like with its wars everywhere, emerging police states even in the supposedly civilized West. Ethnic groups now fostered hatred toward other groups (cf Matt 24:7 – “nation shall rise against nation”, which in the Greek is ethnos shall rise against ethnos – people groups against people groups), and social fabrics increasingly disintegrated.
This odyssey / pilgrimage to the Heavenly home now became a trek through a gauntlet of violence, and not only that, but due to the increasing wickedness the Almighty meted judgments upon this Babylonian entity. The stench of the blood and pain of 96,000,000 babies murdered in the womb (in America alone) over the brief period of 41 years, along with the celebrating all manner of sexual perversions and sin drew from Heaven great wrath, and the days were to become hard.
Some of the Puritan Board’s younger readers think this is an overstatement, however, Rafalsky is writing a book which he will self-publish about a reformed drug user who backslides and then finally sees the horror of what it is before returning to the Church.
Rafalsky has a lengthy blog post, also on Puritan Board, which parents, guardians and youth pastors might find useful. In it, he addresses the many mentions of mind-altering substances and those who administer them.
Scripture, he says, used the following Greek words in ancient translations concerning drugs and those who administer them:
With regard to pharmakeia – BAGD 2nd Edition says, that in Rev 18:23 the meaning is “sorcery, magic”, and in Rev 9:21, “magic arts”. It also gives usages in many other classical and LXX readings, but for brevity I’ll limit it to the NT usage, and will in the following citations also.
Concerning pharmakon – drug – in classical use (it’s not used in the AV NT) there are 3 meanings: 1) “poison”, 2) “magic potion, charm”, and 3) “medicine, remedy”. These are on page 854a of Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker’s, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd Edition.
Pharmakos – “poisoner, sorcerer, magician”. These entries were all found on page 1917 of Liddell and Scott.
He explains that ‘sorcerer’ and ‘magician’ in this context are not the way we understand them today, but in Revelation are used to denote:
one who administers or uses a certain class of drugs to “enchant”, to cast a psychic spell upon by use of these drugs and accompanying demonic power. It doesn’t mean a deceiver – a liar – generally or even figuratively, but specifically one who uses sorcerous potions. Liars / deceivers are already classed separately in this listing. Likewise in Rev 22:15 where a similar Greek word, pharmakos, is used for sorcerer, with the same meaning as pharmakeus in 21:8, again with liars / deceivers named separately. In these verses the usage clearly refers to drug-using-and-promoting people, so at the very least it is quite possible pharmakeia / sorceries in Revelation 18:23 – “by thy sorceries were all nations deceived” – refers to drug-related activity and not deceptive practices.
To those who doubt the meaning, Rafalsky cites an additional source (underscore and emphases in the original):
Consider this item from The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol 2, p. 558,
. . . pharmakos, magician (Rev. 22:15); pharmakeus, mixer of potions, magician (Rev. 21:8); pharmakeia, magic, sorcery (Gal. 5:20; Rev. 9:21; 18:23). The basic word pharmakon does not occur in the NT, but its meaning of medicine, magic potion, poison gives the underlying idea of the words. Potions include poisons, but there has always been a magical tradition of herbs gathered and prepared for spells, and also for encouraging the presence of spirits at magical ceremonies (cf. possibly the final sentence of Ezek. 8:17: “They put the branch to their nose”). Sorcery is classed among the works of the flesh in Gal. 5:20. [underlined and last bold and italicized emphases added –SMR]
He goes on to mention instances where hallucinogens are used in non-Christian religious rituals and explains:
we are confronted with a class of drugs that “induce magic spells” or, to put it in other words, whose affect in the consciousness enable the user to have profound mystical / spiritual experiences, as well as to come into the presence of spirit beings. This is not all of their possible effects, but enough to get us started in our examination. This is Biblically-defined “sorcery” – pharmakeia …
when Scripture speaks in Revelation 9:21 of men refusing to repent of their “sorceries” (pharmakeia) in the time of the sixth trumpet and its judgments, and in Rev 18:23 of the judgment of the harlot Babylon for (among other things) her “sorceries” (pharmakeia) which deceived the nations – those centuries prior to the latter half of the 20th might not have understood the meaning and significance of the “sorceries” written of here, for sorcery and magic arts then were practiced in the dark, away from the view of society, hidden in all its aspects due to its evil nature, widespread condemnation, and severe penalties.
How true. But, what about recreational drugs, we ask? Rafalsky states:
People smoke or ingest marijuana to attain a psychological or psychic “high” – an elevated and enhanced state of consciousness – though some would deny calling this “high” as much a pharmakeia activity as a more spiritual awareness, or not even that, but only a psychological high, or simply an enhancement of the senses . To deny that pharmakeia can involve enhanced physical sensation and pleasure through this psychic “high” – to the exclusion of overt occultism – as well as said occult activity, is an attempt to dissociate their sinning from pharmakeia activity. But this is taking refuge in lies. We must recognize that to use sorcery to indulge in sensory pleasure is as much one of its activities as the seeking of psychic, occult, and spiritual experience.
He also points out (emphasis in purple mine):
The widespread acceptance of “getting high” – “the relative innocence of this harmless substance” (if used moderately, so the reasoning goes) – has made it seem like harmless fun indeed. Many argue on this basis and will not even hear the exposition of Scripture. It has been said that such exposition is “stretching the meaning of the Greek words” – even though the meaning is clear and unequivocal. There is no stretching of the meaning of pharmakeia; its lexical import is precise: illicit drugs used to enhance the awareness of the flesh, its senses, and its state of mind or consciousness, quickened to these ends by a psychic energy not the Holy Spirit, but such as enables souls to be influenced by the demonic, or, if they are closed to this possibility, to be influenced by the demonic while completely unaware of it – thinking their “fun” state is just a super lark. Though the demonic influence is there, affecting their psyche, and they [are] blind to it. That’s a dangerous deception. Some call this, “Reefer madness hysteria.” The watchman on the wall is but called to cry out the danger approaching. We are responsible for heeding the cry.
He sums up scriptural references to drugs this way:
What we see is that there are different “levels” of Biblically-defined sorcery: occultic, spiritual, psychic high, and sensual pleasure. The enhancement by means of psychedelic agents constitutes them all pharmakeia activities.
This also includes most forms of cannibis, with the exception of those which have the THC removed, and, therefore, the high.
Rafalsky goes on to deplore the laxist attitude of Christians and clergy who say that there is nothing wrong with mind-altering drugs. On the contrary, he posits that taking them is spiritual fornication, which Scripture condemns. Of the 1960s, he says (emphasis mine):
There was an event (the term now used for military-scale biological, chemical, or nuclear events) that befell the entire world through the drug-energized sixties generation in America, as this potent counterculture permeated the nations of the world through its music, literature, art, film, and other culture-bearing vehicles. These nations and cultures of the world were leavened from within by the exciting new consciousness of the sixties and the Woodstock spirit exported into them, but it was a Trojan Horse filled with the denizens of Hell. Its impact was, in the psychic realm, the equivalent of a massive nuclear detonation. The “fallout” of this “detonation” came in the presence of malign spirits and their influence upon the new thinking: it became (seemingly) obvious to all that real vitality was not to be found in the Christian faith but in the relativity of postmodernism – the validation of everyone’s subjective truths and beliefs – and thus was the world made ripe for satanic deception on an unprecedented scale.
The damage done is irreversible. The timetable of the Sovereign God is counting down. Across the non-Western world Christians are already under severe duress, persecution increasing daily. And the signs are that a groundswell is building up in the West – the mystery of iniquity and lawlessness – and that He who restrains it will not restrain it for long (2 Thess 2:6 ff.).
There is much more. Rafalsky might sound alarmist and heavy-handed, but he was immersed in the drug culture 50 years ago and know whereof he speaks.
The term ‘recreational drug’ only became part of popular parlance around that time. Yes, there were certain groups of people who used them before, but they were small subsets of society. During the latter half of the 20th century we saw an explosion in drug use. In the 21st century, we are now seeing legalisation of substances which have no place in a Christian lifestyle.
I would highly recommend Rafalsky’s research and thoughts, although they might need to be expressed differently to a young person.
That said, he proves that Scripture has much to say on the prohibition of mind-altering drugs.