People’s Republic of Western Australia

There’s some crazy stuff happening in the state of WA. The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has been told that they’re not allowed to use certain WA public venues because their views don’t agree with the state government. The state government is Labor, led by Premier Mark McGowan. For non-Aussie readers, Labor is leftist, roughly similar to the New Democrats in Canada or the Democrats in the United States. For more, see this video clip interviewing Peter Abetz, the WA State Director of the ACL:


Do God and Satan Still Speak Together about Believers?

In the two opening chapters of Job we read of encounters between God and Satan.  The angels appeared before God, both the good and the evil.  God challenges Satan with respect to Job.  He says in Job 1:8, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”  Satan replies with cynicism.  He insinuates that Job is just motivated by self-interest.  If the blessings are gone, then Job won’t be so committed to God anymore.  God then allows Satan to go out and smite Job.   

Someone recently asked me whether that kind of conversation between Satan and God still happens today.  Does it happen today that Satan appears before God and God says, “Have you considered my servant x or y?”  And Satan says, “Let me have a go at x or y and you’ll see what happens.”  Then God lets Satan do that.  Might that be happening even at this very moment? 

We have to be careful not to follow our own personal opinions.  Any answer we give has to be based on what the Bible says.  Furthermore, we have to limit ourselves to what the Bible says.  Reflecting on this question brought me to the last book of the Bible, to Revelation chapter 12.  In Revelation 12, the ascension of Christ into heaven is described with powerful symbolic language.  The effects of Christ’s ascension are also described there.  When Christ ascended into heaven victorious from his death and resurrection, that had an impact on Satan and the evil angels.  It says in Revelation 7:9 that Satan was cast down from heaven, along with the demons.  They aren’t permitted in the presence of God in heaven after Christ’s ascension.  Revelation 12:10 says Satan is no longer able to accuse believers in the presence of God in heaven. 

So based on Revelation 12, we have to say that what happened in Job 1-2 can’t happen today anymore.  After Christ’s ascension, Satan doesn’t have that access to God that he once did.  Does that mean he’s now unaccountable to God?  Does that mean Satan is outside of God’s sovereignty?  No, God’s sovereignty is always absolute.  Regardless of whether Satan is allowed before God in heaven, God is still sovereign over Satan.  Later in Revelation 20, Satan is bound by a chain.  God binds him. 

What we can say based on Scripture is that the trials we experience today are not the result of a conversation between God and Satan like what was happening behind the scenes in the opening of Job.  Christ changes everything.  The coming of Christ fulfilled the victory God achieved over Satan in the story of Job.  So today, when we go through tough times, it’s not a face-off between God and Satan.  Yes, God is still sovereign over our trials.  Yes, he ordains our trials and he has a good and wise purpose behind them.  But just because you’re experiencing something hard, that doesn’t mean God and Satan had a conversation about it.  It doesn’t mean God allowed Satan to bring these hard things to you in order to prove Satan wrong about you.  On this point, Job’s experience is not at all a template for our experience as Christians today. 


I Recommend

This past week, I shared the following links on social media and I think they’re worth sharing here too:

Families Pushed Toward Abortion

It’s a myth that every abortion is freely chosen by the woman. Many women are pressured into having abortions, including by doctors. My wife experienced this with our youngest, and many others have too. They make it sound like it’s your duty to have an abortion if there’s the slightest indication of an abnormality.

God Loves LGBTQ People More Than We Do

Samuel Sey: “God isn’t ashamed of the gospel. He isn’t embarrassed by his word. He isn’t anxious about telling people good things that might offend them. God isn’t afraid to tell the truth about sexual sin. God isn’t tempted to lie about pornography, fornication, adultery—and especially, homosexuality and transgenderism.”

My Life as a Christian Under a Communist Regime

This is really insightful, especially this: “It may surprise you, but from my perspective the main suffering for Chinese Christians is not physical persecution or lack of religious liberty but bad theology, though the reason behind bad theology is the lack of freedom.”

Washington Post column: Kids should watch portrayal of sex acts at ‘pride’ parades

Jonathon Van Maren: “In short, we’ve gone from: How dare you accuse us of wanting to influence kids? to Of course kids should see sex acts at Pride Parades!”

From Devastation to Deliverance

“Once constantly drunk and suicidal, William shares the story of how his sister, Danica, was influential in his coming to Christ. Despite a heart-breaking loss in their family, William and Danica share about the joys of being children of the only true God and testify to the importance of the local church in this evangelism story.”


A New Citizen

Yesterday I went from being a dual-citizen to being a triple-citizen. Along with most of my family, we all took the oath and became Australian citizens. One of our daughters somehow jumped the queue and became an Aussie before the rest of us did yesterday. Now we’re all officially part of this nation Down Under. We’re thankful that this country has welcomed us. My prayer is that we can be a blessing to our new home.

Why did we do it? There are several reasons. The most important for me has to do with the gospel. Just like with the Apostle Paul and his Roman citizenship, Australian citizenship grants me certain legal protections that I didn’t have before. Being an Australian means I can’t be deported for preaching and teaching God’s Word. As it stands, there is already a law in Australia (in Victoria) that could see criminal charges brought against Christian preachers all across this Great Southern Land. We can’t be naive about the pace of social change and the challenges ahead.

Being a citizen also allows us the opportunity to be more meaningfully involved with Australian society. We can vote. The voice of voters carries more weight with politicians. Especially in a small state like Tasmania, that can have a significant impact.

As citizens, our children also now have access to the full range of benefits afforded to Australians. We were permanent residents as soon as we landed in September 2015, but PRs can’t access government programs which help university students. More opportunities open up when you’re an Australian citizen.

Being Australian doesn’t mean we’ve ceased being Canadian. We’re still Canadian citizens. It also doesn’t mean we’ll never move back to Canada — I just don’t know what God has in store for us in the coming years. Maybe we’ll be here for the remainder of my active ministry years and maybe not. If we do stay, I’d be perfectly happy with that.

So now we’re both Canadian citizens and Australian citizens. But hold on, didn’t I say at the beginning that I’m now a triple-citizen? Yes! You see, my most important citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven. Some day I won’t be a Canadian or Australian anymore. But because of what Jesus has done for me in his life, death, and resurrection, I’ll always be a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. This is the most precious citizenship of all. The benefits outweigh any afforded by any nation on earth: I have a king who knows me personally, who loves me and defends me; I have a king who will transform my lowly body to be like his glorious body; I have a king who will allow me to reign with him in my blessed inheritance.

Being Canadian is something I’ve always been thankful for. Canada has been good to us in so many ways. Now being Australian is also something to feel grateful about — it’s not a “lucky country,” but a “blessed country.” But being part of God’s kingdom tops it all.


We Distinguish: Elements/Circumstances

Many moons ago, in the days of Pine, Lynx and dial-up modems, there was an online discussion group known as Ref-net.  I can’t say I was among the first participants of this e-mail forum, but I’m quite sure I got in while it was still made up mostly of Canadian Reformed university students.  We were exploring what it means to be Reformed Christians in cyberspace.  All sorts of ideas were up for debate, including public worship.

Through the Ref-net I met a friend from South Africa who introduced me to the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW).  Though it was right there in the Three Forms of Unity, I had never really noticed it before.  Its presence is clearest in Heidelberg Catechism Answer 96, “We are not to make an image of God in any way, nor to worship him in any other manner than he has commanded in his Word.”  This is one of the rudiments and distinctives of Reformed worship.

I became involved in a number of discussions about Reformed worship on the Ref-net.  These ranged from general wrangling about the RPW as such to specific polemics on applications of the RPW to questions like psalm-singing and “days of commemoration.”  One of the objections I heard to the RPW in general was that it was impractical.  If we’re to worship God only as he has commanded, then where has God commanded us to worship at 9:30 AM?  Why do we sit in pews when God hasn’t commanded that?  In these and many other ways, no Reformed or Presbyterian church really follows the RPW.  To the lurkers it must have appeared as if this objection had just detonated the RPW into oblivion.

However, this gotcha moment didn’t last very long.  It was quickly noted that the RPW comes with an indispensable distinction.  When it comes to public worship, Reformed theologians have often distinguished between elements and circumstances.  Elements are the things God commanded in Scripture for public worship, things like preaching, singing, the reading of Scripture, prayers, etc.  Elements are governed by the RPW.  Circumstances are the incidental things which surround the elements.  Circumstances include things like the time of worship, whether one sits on pews or chairs, what temperature the room will be, and far more.  Circumstances are not governed by commands from the Bible, but by wisdom and discretion informed by the Bible.

It’s true that this distinction doesn’t appear in the Heidelberg Catechism.  Since it was written for children, you shouldn’t expect it to.  But Zacharias Ursinus (the main author of the Catechism) does use this distinction in his theological commentary on the Catechism.  It was also employed by Puritans such as John Owen and Jeremiah Burroughs.  Not surprisingly then, it becomes part of the Reformed confessional heritage in Westminster Confession 1.6, speaking of circumstances in worship “which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.”         

The historical pedigree of this distinction is sound, but the most important question is whether it’s biblical.  Certainly in the New Testament we see believers worshipping God in a variety of places – homes, synagogues, and even the temple.  We see believers worshipping God at different times:  evening, late evening, and morning.  This sort of variability observed in Scripture is what undergirds this distinction.  Outside of the elements commanded for worship, God grants liberty to his church to order the circumstances wisely.

This distinction doesn’t instantly solve every question in Reformed worship.  There are disagreements amongst Reformed and Presbyterian liturgists about what constitutes elements and circumstances.  Probably the most well-known example has to do with musical instruments.  Some, such as myself, would contend that musical accompaniment (done judiciously) is circumstantial.  Others would maintain it has the character of an element and, since it is not commanded in the New Testament, it cannot be justified by the RPW.  Note:  both sides fully affirm the RPW.  However, they differ at the application of it, specifically when it comes to defining elements and circumstances.  And no, it’s not a matter of “strict” RPW versus “loose” RPW.  You either hold to the RPW or you don’t. 

While those disagreements can be quite intense at times, we do well to note the broad consensus existing amongst confessionally Reformed churches.  There’s unanimous agreement that things like the time of the worship services and the type of seating are circumstantial.  Whether you worship in a custom-built church building or use a school gymnasium – God-pleasing worship in Spirit and truth can happen regardless.  Conversely, we all agree that what matters are the God-commanded elements.  Without elements like the reading and preaching of Scripture and prayer, you simply don’t have Reformed worship.  You have something less than authentic Christian worship.  Because of our love for the Saviour and what he’s done, we want to follow his Word carefully when it comes to the content of our worship.  But we’ll also be careful about imposing our own opinions where God has granted liberty to be different.

For more on Reformed worship, check out Aiming to Please: a Guide to Reformed Worship.