The State of the Church and the State of the State (Jeremiah 23:9–40)

 

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In the prophets of Samaria
I saw an unsavory thing:
they prophesied by Baal
and led my people Israel astray.
But in the prophets of Jerusalem
I have seen a horrible thing:
they commit adultery and walk in lies;
they strengthen the hands of evildoers,
so that no one turns from his evil;
all of them have become like Sodom to me,
and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.

—Jeremiah 23:13–14

In conversations concerning politics and religion, Americans frequently mention a wall of separation between church and state. That idea was intended by Jefferson as a one way street, yet most people today, ignoring the “Wrong Way” signage, are driving the opposite direction. The phrase was meant, not to keep the church from driving to Washington, but to keep Washington from driving a church—a state church on the republic.

Nevertheless, using my liberty to leverage the phrase in yet another manner, let us pray that the church is truly separate from the state in this—in holiness. Let us pray that there is a wall of separation between the sins of the state and the state of the church. Unfortunately, I believe the reason the state is full of lies is because the church is. The world is dark because the world is dark while the light has been hidden. When the world is rotting without pause, it means that which is posing as salt isn’t salty and therefore good for nothing but to be cast out.

In Israel there was to be no separation of church and state; rather, both were to be separate, set apart unto Yahweh. But both the state, that is the kings, and the church, that is the prophets and priests, had become defiled. In chapters 21–23 Jeremiah first denounces the kings and then the prophets. More time is spent on the kings in these chapters, but it’s highly likely more time is spent on the prophets in the book as a whole. Indeed, Jeremiah speaks concerning false prophets more than any other true prophet.

Whereas the main invective against the kings was their oppressing the poor, that of the prophets was their deceiving the people. The former fleeces the sheep, the latter leads them to destruction. John MacKay comments, 

“From the preceding section the impression might readily be gained that the problems facing Jeremiah had to do with the political institutions of Judah and its civil leadership. That unfortunately was true but they were by no means the exclusive source of opposition to him. Both church and state were corrupt in Judah, and in this section he focus is on the religious degeneracy of the land. …it was what they [the prophets] proclaimed in the name of the LORD that set the tone for church and state in Judah, as well as reflecting prevailing sentiment.” 

This section is “concerning the prophets,” but yet is speaks of the wickedness of the land. The implication is that the prophets are to blame. Where prophets are false, the church is false. When the church is false, the state of the state is sure to be one full of lies.

Meridian Church · Jeremiah 23:9–40 || Concerning the Prophets || Josh King

 

The Tools You Use Tell Me What You’re Building

“WHEREAS, Concerns have been raised by some evangelicals over the use of frameworks such as critical race theory and intersectionality; and

WHEREAS, Critical race theory is a set of analytical tools that explain how race has and continues to function in society, and intersectionality is the study of how different personal characteristics overlap and inform one’s experience… be it…

RESOLVED, That critical race theory and intersectionality should only be employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture—not as transcendent ideological frameworks…” —Resolution 9, On Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality

The permitted is certain to be utilized. This is what frightens me.

Yes, God’s common grace pervades the world and grows in unexpected soils, but this is no reason to promote the nutritional value of radioactive apples grown in Chernobyl. Some fields devoid of saving grace are ripe with common grace. I don’t think that’s where we’re gleaning. While Paul did quote a few pagans, he didn’t commend Stoicism or Epicureanism themselves as useful tools. I may have quoted Freud once but I’m certain I’ve never commended Freudian psychoanalysis. Critical race theory has tools within it but is itself is a theory, not a tool. Trying to use it as a tool is like trying to use abortion as a tool for life. Intersectionality as a tool for racial reconciliation is about as valuable as using the morning-after pill as a prenatal vitamin. Wrecking balls make poor hammers when you want to drive nails and build something good.

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But what about demo work? Racism, injustice, and tyranny are evils, but critical race theory and intersectionality are not the tools the saints should use to tear them down. When you use the devil’s tools to tear down the devil’s works, you’re still playing in his toolshed. Taking over a racist Nazi regime with a revolutionary Communist one is not the answer. Instead of destroying strongholds, we’ve built new ones and now labeled them safe playgrounds, with the qualifying fine print of playing by the rules of Scripture of course. We’ve traded our DeWalt tools for those of Playskool because we’ve been told they’re “safe” and cannot be used for oppression. This is just a ploy of Big Brother to keep potential usurpers under control. Also, these toy tools are likely coated in toxic paint.

Some tools are custom made for evil jobs such that the tool cannot be separated from the designated task. Further, to seek some redeeming use of such tools is folly when we already have that through which God is building up a new creation. He has promised to supply the power, we need only pick up the tool. Our task is simply to be faithful. The gospel is the tool. The Word is sufficient. If you want an analytical tool, it pierces and divides. If you want to build unity, it’ll do it and it alone. Why buy a dusty pagan stone axe when you’ve got a chain saw?

If I am told that such tools can help me in using or applying the tool, yes, perhaps the abortionist may have some information that can help a doctor deliver a baby. Common grace can indeed grow in such places. But the worldview ain’t that tool and that is what it seems I’m being permitted to pick up. I don’t feel as though I’m being asked to sniff the flower of God’s common grace so much as the manure pile it grew out of. The Word itself is the best lens by which to read both the Word and the world. When I breathe in the Word, I notice more clearly the stink of the world and am better able to spot and appreciate a flower when I find one growing there.

True, God’s big book of natural revelation does help in understanding His small book of special revelation, but it’s one thing to pick up a flower, another to pick up forceps. Look at the build date and the manufacturer. Creation was made good by our good God. Intersectionality was crafted by man post-fall (for some background on its forging, listen to this episode of Al Mohler’s The Briefing). It is an idol. I don’t need to learn from Baal to understand how YHWH liberates his people. A study of Baal may help me understand sinners, and in this way, what God is communicating to them; it might serve as a dark backdrop, contrasting God’s truth with this world’s lies; it cannot, however, in itself, serve as a tool in the way of righteousness.

Where others see permissible “analytical tools” I see a hammer and sickle: a hammer that cannot build but only tear down the church and a sickle that can only gather weeds and not wheat. Let us lay them down and take up again the sword of the Word.

An Empowering Reply to an Encouraging Inquiry

Dear Sister,

For the message you recently sent me I am downright grateful.. It was encouraging. I pray that you will find this empowering.

Screen Shot 2019-06-14 at 9.33.23 AM.pngRegarding women preaching, you’re correct, the current quake finds its epicenter in Beth Moore’s tweet that she would be preaching on Mother’s Day (reportedly at North Point Church where Andy Stanley is). On the heels of this, was news of her invitation to Truett Seminary for their National Preaching Conference”, being listed as a “Guest Preacher.” Many have been supportive of Moore, even out of reformed camps.

Frankly, I’m glad the cat is out of the bag and that she isn’t pretending to do anything otherwise than preach. She’s been flying under the radar for far too long. Calling a missile a bird might fool some, but now there is no excuse. Will we stand on the side of Biblical orthodoxy or join those attacking it?Screen Shot 2019-06-14 at 9.25.47 AM.png

Additionally, I would add that my biggest concern with Moore isn’t that she is a woman. She would be disqualified if she were a man. Mysticism, emotionalism, and poor exegesis permeate her teaching. You mentioned your past experience in the heretical Word of Faith movement and how this all sounds eerily familiar. I believe the Charismatic movement has been subtly making major inroads in Baptist circles for decades (i.e. the soft prosperity of The Prayer of Jabez). We came to a fork in the road way back and chose the wrong path. This is just the latest incident demonstrating that we haven’t turned around. Another disconcerting mark of her teaching noted way back was the use of word studies to find the broad semantic range of a word as leverage for eisegesis, that is, reading her desired meaning into a text. I don’t think Moore’s intent is to be unfaithful to the text, but that is the result.

Regarding the trajectory of the denomination, my biggest concern is how deeply this is tied to feminism, #MeToo, cultural marxism, and intersectionality as driving forces in the culture. The current is strong, and I’m afraid we’re not acting like salmon anymore. I agree, we need to hate all evil acts of abuse, but when you use the devil’s tools to destroy the devil’s works, you need to know you’re just playing around in his toolshed. We’ve come to another fork, and I think the disaster is going to be more severe. If at first fork we chose a path leading to false teaching, we’re now pondering one that leads to apostasy.

Yes, historically it has always been the orthodox belief that the office of elder is limited to qualified men. The main “Biblical” argument for including women is to recall the small number of prophetesses we find in the Scriptures. While there obviously are female prophets, we never find a woman who is “king.” Though Athaliah makes a run as queen and Jezebel is essentially pulling all the strings, these are not exactly positive role models. Nor do we find women acting as priests. The function of teaching is tied to the priests and Levites more than the prophets. The prophets preeminently spoke God’s word, rather than teach it. Also, in this vein, when Paul gives instructions concerning women prophesying in the New Testament, she is to do so manifesting that she is under a head, (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:2–16). This connects to Paul’s prohibition of a woman teaching men or exercising authority over a man in the church (1 Timothy 2:12).

The novel spin being put on 1 Timothy 2:12 today, making room for women preachers, is that it should be read as a hendiadys, that is, two words joined by a conjunction to express a single idea. If what was banned was a woman “teaching and exercising authority over a man” as a single idea, then a woman could be permitted to exercise the function of an elder, teaching, while being denied the office. This is what some are calling “soft complementarianism.” I think it’s rather a hardened compromise.

But this anticipates the question you asked, what of those men who teach in the assembly who are not elders? While it’s understandable that the question arises, as it is deployed by opponents of the Biblical view, it is a smoke screen. When a non-elder preaches he isn’t violating any prohibition. Let me demonstrate with a question. How is one to know if a man is qualified when one of those qualifications is being “apt to teach” if he is never able to teach until he is an elder?

Truly, all teaching in the church should be under the elder’s oversight, as part of his promoting truth and guarding against false teaching. When the elders permit a woman to preach, then automatically, in the very act, they and the woman involved have already violated the Scriptures, however orthodox the sermon may be.

I thank God for your recognizing the rightness and goodness of God’s order and recognizing the lies of the world and your desire to mortify them as they seek to take root in your own heart. “Feminism” is a peculiar word for that which is an attack on the feminine, saying that if womanhood is to have any value, it must be equivalent to manhood. I’ll allow Douglas Wilson to colorfully reiterate the point: “Ironically, we call this attempt by some women to be more like men “feminism,” which is a bit like calling an attempt by cats to be like dogs felinism.” And thus we have already tilted the hat to gender confusion in the church.

In reply to the accusation of belittling women, I believe the Biblical view bebigs them. Womanhood, motherhood, and sisterhood are glorious things in which women are immeasurably superior to men. Chesterton nailed the disparity when he said, “Nothing can ever overcome that one enormous sex superiority, that even the male child is born closer to his mother than to his father. No one, staring at that frightful female privilege, can quite believe in the equality of the sexes.” Equal in value, dignity and worth? Certainly. In roles? Heaven forbid!

Yes, the serpent is whispering in Eve’s ear again as you suggest, and the blame still lies with Adam, but at least in the Garden his sin was one of passivity. Now he is actively inciting his wife with snake’s crafty lies. “Become like me, and you’ll be like God.”

Dear sister, I thank God that you are feeding on that which is far more nourishing and empowering, the Word of truth.

The August Theologian: A Tale of Two Cities

“Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, ‘Thou art my glory, and the litter up of mine head.’ ” —Augustine, The City of God

Entertaining Ourselves to Hell (Galatians 2:1–10)

There were multiple apostles, but there is only one gospel. Peter was entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised, Paul, to the uncircumcised, but this speaks not of two gospels, but of the one gospel being preached by both despite distinct ministries. Phil Ryken comments, “The church can allow diversity of mission only where there is unity of message.”

Today this has been inverted. So many act as if we are all on the same mission despite the variety of messages. Paul is at pains in the first part of his letter to the Galatians to establish his apostleship and the gospel on which it was centered. In 2:1–10 he goes on to demonstrate that when the apostles compared notes, it was clear that were all sitting under the same teacher—Jesus Christ. Their gospel math was identical. Jesus is everything. Add anything to Jesus, and you lose Jesus.

There is the gospel and there are other gospels, which are no gospels. When one preaches Christ, even out of envy or ambition, Paul rejoices (Philippians 1:15–18). When one preaches a perversion of Christ, Paul pronounces a divine curse on them (Galatians 1:8–9).

The apostles didn’t lay multiple-choice foundations, but one foundation, perfectly square with the cornerstone Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:19–20). A shared name on the church sign doesn’t mean there is a shared foundation. With our eyes glued to the screens, we’ve failed to look down and see the cracks beneath and the abyss visible below. We are spectators instead of inspectors. If the crowd is big and the show is good, we assume all is well. Neil Postman was afraid that Western society was amusing itself to death. I’m afraid the western church is entertaining itself to hell. Yes, the gates of hell will not prevail against the church, but as I look at much of the modern church, judging by the foundation, she’s not the church anymore.

The August Theologian: “Looking Forward to that City…”

Incomparably more glorious than Rome, is that heavenly city in which for victory you have truth; for dignity, holiness; for peace, felicity; for life, eternity. —Augustine, The City of God

The August Theologian: Rotting from the Inside Out

On Scipio:

“He did not consider that republic flourishing whose walls stand, but whose morals are in ruins.” —Augustine, The City of God

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