Category Archives: Christian living

Pastoral Q & A: Early Infant Loss and Salvation

One of my congregation members submitted this question:

What happens to miscarried babies/stillborns or little children that die too young to profess their faith?

The question has to do with Christians and early infant loss.  This something many of us (including my wife and I) have experienced.  Many of us have lost covenant children before they ever took a breath outside the womb.  Some of us have lost covenant children after they were born, too.  All these losses are painful.  When you have a child in the womb, or a newborn in the crib, you have hopes and dreams for him or her.  An early infant loss is often difficult, both for mothers and fathers.
        What happens to the souls of these babies?  What will happen to them at the resurrection when Christ returns?  Christians ought to remember that God has a covenant of grace with them — this covenant includes our children.  The Holy Spirit says in 1 Cor. 7:14 that the child of even just one believing spouse is holy.  That is covenantal language (cf. Deut. 7:6).  When such children are taken out of this world in their infancy, Christian parents need not doubt their final destiny.  We ought not to doubt their election and salvation.  In fact, we can and should be confident like David in 2 Samuel 12.  When the little child died who had been conceived in that adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, David expressed his confidence that this child went to be with God.  He said in 2 Samuel 12:23, “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”  David was sure that when he died, he would be reunited with his son.  That solid confidence comes from the covenant of grace that God makes with believers and their children.
          The Canons of Dort speak to the issue as well.  This is what Reformed churches confess from the Scriptures:
We must judge concerning the will of God from his Word, which declares that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they are included with their parents.  Therefore, God-fearing parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in their infancy. (Canons of Dort 1.17)
To be clear, we do not teach that salvation is an automatic thing for all the children of believers.  Under normal circumstances, a covenant child grows up and reaches an age of accountability (which varies from child to child).  They then become responsible for believing God’s gospel promises for themselves and, if they do not, they will face God’s covenant judgment.  Canons 1.17 is speaking about the (for us) exceptional circumstance where a child does not grow up and is never faced with the personal responsibility to repent and believe.  In that circumstance, because of God’s covenant mercies, we believe that the faith of the parents covers for the child.
          What a comfort that gives us when we face the tragedy of early infant loss!  Our children belong to God and if they are called out of this life in their infancy, in his grace he takes them home to himself.  That little child you lost is now in the presence of God, praising him with his angels and waiting for the day of the resurrection.  When Christ returns, that child will be raised perfect and glorified, to spend eternity in the new heavens and new earth.  God took your child directly to himself, sparing him or her from having to bear the brokenness of this world under the curse.  It was a loss to you and it hurts.  Death is an enemy and it does not belong in this world.  Yet here too we can say that Christ has conquered death and removed its sting.  We can and will grieve, but we ought not to grieve as those who have no hope.  Our hope is in God and in his gospel promises for us and our children.
        Recommended readingLittle One Lost: Living with Early Infant Loss, Glenda Mathes, Grandville: Reformed Fellowship Inc., 2012.

Pastoral Q & A — Labour Unions

I’m starting a new feature here where I’m answering questions from members of my church about various issues.  Since many of these questions are of general interest, I figured I would share the answers here.

Today’s question is about a Christian perspective on labour unions.  How should we regard them?  Can a Christian be a member of a labour union?

I’ve tackled this question before from within the Canadian context (see here).  Having done some research, I’ve noticed that Australia has some significant differences.  My answer in this post is based on the Australian context.

Historically, many Reformed people have objected to union membership on several grounds.  One of the main grounds was the unconditional oath of allegiance that labour unions required.  It used to be that if you were a member of a union you were required to promise that you would put the union above everything else, including God and your biblical convictions.  Moreover, many workplaces were “closed shops,” which meant that if you worked there you were compelled to join the union and pay the associated dues.  This is no longer the case in Australia.  Union membership is voluntary, and no one can be compelled to anything.  For example, if you don’t join a particular union associated with a workplace, neither the union nor the employer can make your life difficult (at least not legally).  If the union starts an industrial action or strike, even if you are a union member, you cannot be forced to participate.  More details can be found here.  So the situation has changed on that front.

Nevertheless, the existence of labour unions is owing to an adversarial model of industrial relations.  It’s an unbiblical notion of necessary conflict between labour and management.  Depending on their leadership and policies, some labour unions might be more militant than others.  In other scenarios, workers in a given situation might be facing an exploitative employer and a labour union could justly and fairly promote their interests.  When faced with the question, a Christian needs to look at the history of a particular union’s dealings with management and any relevant legislation as well.  It’s also worth asking whether that union would stand behind you as a Christian if you got into trouble in the workplace because of your beliefs.  The answer to that question would give you a clear indication of whether you have a place in such an organization.

Finally, a Christian also has to research the particular causes that union supports.  Here in Australia, I can think of at least one union that is openly affiliated with the Labor Party and supports its policies (including on abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, etc.).  Since their historic foundational principles are based on socialist/Marxist ideology, unions do tend to lean to the left politically speaking.  Christians should therefore be aware of whether or not their union dues are going to be supporting causes that are ethically problematic.

So can a Christian be a member of a labour union?  It depends on the union.  In some instances, a Christian will conclude that it’s possible, in others that it’s impossible.  You need to do your research and find out who you’re dealing with.  At the end of the day we can be thankful that we live in a country where we’re never compelled to make a choice contrary to our conscience.


Honour the Emperor

Social media is both a blessing and a curse, and oftentimes I’m tempted to think it may be more of the latter.  One of those double-edged things about social media is that you get to see what people are really thinking.  It’s sort of like getting everybody drunk without the alcohol.  All their inhibitions are gone, they become impulsive, and start baring what’s really in their hearts.  That can be a blessing — when you see thoughts and words that clearly are fruit of the Holy Spirit.  It can also be a blessing for pastors and other church leaders as you get to understand the areas of growth that are still needed in the lives of those entrusted to our care.  But it can also be a curse when you get frustrated with seeing blatantly unbiblical behaviour amongst God’s people online.

Right now I’m thinking about especially about the way that Christians will sometimes speak about those set over them in positions of authority.  It’s one thing to disagree with the policies, principles or actions of our political leaders.  I disagree with a lot of those too.  But it is quite another thing to disrespect those leaders.  It’s another thing to mock them.  It’s another thing to call them names.  Sometimes it seems as if professing Christians regard politicians as not even being human beings created in the image of God.  It’s as if lawfully elected men and women suddenly lose their humanity and it’s open season on them.  Christians are free to attack them.

This is problematic on two levels.  The first level has to do with the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not kill.”  Reformed believers understand that this commandment is not just about the physical act of killing someone.  It also goes to our attitudes and the roots of murder.  In the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, “I am not to dishonour, hate, injure, or kill my neighbour by thoughts, words or gestures, and much less by deeds, whether personally or through another” (QA 105).  Positively speaking, we are “to love our neighbour as ourselves, to show patience, peace, gentleness, mercy, and friendliness toward him…” (QA 107).  Is the Prime Minister your neighbour?  How about the Minister of National Defence?  Even if you don’t appreciate their policies or their actions, at the bare minimum they are still human beings created in the image of God.  They are still our neighbours and therefore the Sixth Commandment applies.  Does mocking your neighbour honour him?  Does calling your neighbour names show “patience, peace, gentleness, mercy and friendliness toward him”?

The second level on which this is problematic is more specific.  The Fifth Commandment has to do with how we interact with authority.  It’s not just about honouring our father and mother, but also about honouring government.  We are to show “honour, love, and faithfulness” to all those in authority.  We’re also to be patient “with their weaknesses and shortcomings, since it is God’s will to govern us by their hand.” (HC QA 104).  God calls us in the Fifth Commandment to honour and love our government officials, even if they are difficult to love.

This receives further attention in the New Testament.  The era in which the New Testament was written saw many people living under a tyrannical foreign ruler — the Roman Emperor.  The Roman Emperors were corrupt and wicked in many ways.  They were oppressive and they persecuted Christians.  If one were to compare today’s Prime Minister (in Canada or Australia) with, say, Nero, the PM would come off looking relatively alright.  Has your PM burned down the capital and then blamed it on the Christians?  Has he used Christians as living torches for a garden party?  No, I didn’t think so.  That places the statements about the emperor in the New Testament in context.  Statements like what we find in 1 Peter 2:17, “Honour everyone.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honour the emperor.”  Yes, that emperor.  Lest we miss the point, the Holy Spirit speaks along the same lines in Romans 13 and 1 Timothy 2.  Even if the Emperor is a wicked man with ungodly values, the Holy Spirit told believers to honour him and pray for him.  The Holy Spirit even went so far as to say that such a man is a “minister of God” (Rom. 13:6)!

I have the impression that many people underestimate the workload of our elected leaders.  Many of them work long hours in civic service.  Many of them put in these long hours out of a sense of commitment to their communities.  Even if they’re not Christians, they do want to make our communities better.  They want to serve.  Whatever their motives may be or how pure they are, we can be thankful that there are men and women willing to do this hard work.  Yes, we need more Christians to step up to the plate as well.  But, for all of us, the Scriptures are clear that those carrying the name of Christ are to respect those in this field.  The world mocks and dehumanizes politicians.  The world glories when they fall and say or do foolish things.  The world dishonours our leaders and treats them with contempt.  Do we see that Christians are called to be counter-cultural here?  Let’s find ways of disagreeing with our leaders, while at the same time loving them, respecting them, honouring them and their service, and praying for them.


Book Review: Loving Jesus More

Loving Jesus More, Phil Ryken.  Wheaton:  Crossway, 2014.  Paperback, 175 pages.

The Bible compares our relationship to the Saviour in several ways:  disciple/Teacher, sheep/Shepherd, servant/King, and more.  One of the most powerful images is that of the Bridegroom and his Bride.  Jesus is the husband, and the church is his beloved wife.  We are in this relationship with Christ where he deeply loves us and is covenantally committed to us.  Unfortunately, we don’t always reciprocate that love as we ought.  That’s what this book is about.  The title says it all:  it’s aimed at stirring up Christians to love their Saviour more.  What Christian wouldn’t want to do that?

Phil Ryken is the president of Wheaton College in Illinois.  He’s written numerous books besides this one.  Loving Jesus More came out of a series of chapel messages he delivered at Wheaton College in 2012-2013.

Though it comes from a scholar, this book is far from being academic in tone or approach.  Rather, its tenor is thoroughly devotional and pastoral.  Ryken gets to the heart of the matter, diagnosing why we don’t love the Saviour more, but also showing the way forward.  He does all of this by faithfully expositing and applying relevant Scripture passages.

For a short book, it punches well above its weight.  The writing is crisp and winsome.  Let me give you a brief sample.  In chapter 2, Ryken writes about doubt and how doubt can impact your love for the Saviour.  He notes:

Some believers spend too much time doubting their faith, and not enough time doubting their doubts.  Yes, there are some reasonable questions that thoughtful people have always raised about the Christian faith.  But there are also some very good questions that faithful people should raise about their spiritual doubts:

  • Have I studied what God has to say on this question, or have I been listening mainly to his detractors?
  • Am I well aware of the how this doubt has been addressed in the history of Christian theology, or has my thinking been relatively superficial?
  • Have I been compromising with sin in ways that make it harder for me to hear God’s voice and diminish my desire for the purity of his truth?
  • Is this a doubt that I have offered sincerely to God in prayer, or am I waiting to see if God measures up to my standards before I ask for his help?  (p.33)

The book is peppered with appropriate illustrations (many of which I’ve noted for my own preaching and teaching!).  Moreover, Loving Jesus More also includes a Study Guide with helpful questions for reflection or group discussion.

This little gem could be quite edifying reading for a number of quiet Sunday afternoons.  I’d also recommend it as a gift for those who make public profession of faith.  They’re openly stating their love for the Saviour – and we should encourage that love to grow.  And, for all of us, don’t we desire to grow in affection for the Saviour who literally loved us to death?  That growth will happen through the Scriptures, and also through faithful books like this one based on Scripture.


Top Five Tips for Better Family Worship

Family worship (or family devotions) is an important part of growing a Christian family.  In Reformed churches, Christian parents promise to disciple their children.  Regular family worship is one of the proven ways to do this.  However proven it may be, it always comes with challenges.  To assist you in overcoming these challenges, let me share my top five tips for improving family worship time.

1. Be Flexible

For a lot of us, family worship is connected to family meals.  That’s how we grew up.  There was prayer and Bible reading, possibly singing and discussion, but it was always after a meal.  Typically, it was the evening meal.  Today we live in a time when families are eating together less and less.  That issue could be discussed some other time.  However, let’s recognize that there is no biblical mandate for a family to eat together.  There is, however, a biblical mandate for Christian parents to bring up their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  If you’re going to disciple those children and family meals are difficult to organize, then it’s time to get creative.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.  I know of a Christian father who worked in the construction industry.  He put in long days, often not coming home till after his youngest children were in bed.  Yet he took his responsibilities seriously as a father called to disciple his children.  Under his leadership, the whole family got up a bit earlier in the morning and they did family worship together first thing in the morning.  That’s what I’m talking about when I say, “Be flexible.”  Find a way that works for your family and then run with it.

2. Aim for More than Just Reading the Scriptures

In our family worship, we want to be reading the Bible together.  However, there should also be some way of connecting the passage with our lives as Christians.  We ought to reflect on how this or that passage points us to Christ.  To help in that, I cannot recommend more highly the “Notes for Personal and Family Worship” in the Reformation Heritage Study Bible.  This is an outstanding resource!  It’s recently come to my attention that these notes are published separately by Reformation Heritage Books as the Family Worship Bible Guide (see here).

Every chapter of the Bible includes some helpful notes, and often thought-provoking questions.  Every one can benefit this resource, even couples with no children at home.

3. Catechize

It’s a sad truth that many Christian parents believe that catechism is just something for the church to do.  No!  It starts with parents teaching their children Christian doctrine.  Parents are the front-line youth pastors of Reformed churches.  By the time they arrive at a church catechism class, those kids should already have the basics of Christian doctrine down cold.  To help with that, I have another recommendation to make:  Starr Meade’s Training Hearts, Teaching Minds.   This book includes a week’s worth of instructional devotions on every Q and A of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  It’s all laid out for you — easy peasy.

4. Sing 

When I was growing up, I knew of one Christian family in our church that sang in their family worship.  One — that’s it.  That’s sad.  God loves to hear his people sing.  We should be singing, not only in church on Sunday, but in our homes during the week.  You say that you don’t know how to sing very well?  Well, join the crowd — neither do I.  But you know what?  It doesn’t matter.  Whether you sing well or sing poorly, God doesn’t care.  His Holy Spirit will perfect your singing as it rises to the throne of grace.  Because of what Jesus has done, Christians have every reason to lift up their voices and sing!   By the way, if you’re CanRC or FRCA and need help with tunes from our Book of Praise, there’s this awesome resource:  Jane Oosterhoff has recorded herself singing every thing in the Book of Praise.  You can find her on YouTube at this link.

5.  Take Turns Praying

Prayer has to be part of family worship too, but it doesn’t always have to fall on Dad’s shoulders.  In fact, teach your children to pray not only by hearing you pray, but by giving them opportunities to lead in prayer themselves.  Think of what you’re doing.  You’re teaching your sons to lead in prayer.  When they have a Christian girlfriend or fiancée, praying with her won’t seem odd or weird.  He knows how to lead in prayer.  You’re teaching your daughters to lead in prayer.  When they become Christian mothers and Dad isn’t around, they’ll know to how to step up to the plate.  All your boys and girls will be able to lead in prayer at study club/Young People’s, etc.  Do you see that teaching your young ones how to pray is an important part of helping them grow as disciples of Jesus Christ?  Let them learn by doing.