Obey Rulers or God?

Daniel in the Lions Den - Briton Riviere - 1872

Daniel in the Lions Den – Briton Riviere – 1872

Then they answered and said before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.”

Daniel 6:13

Earthly princes deprive themselves of all authority when they rise up against God, yea, they are unworthy to be counted among the company of men. We ought rather to spit in their faces than to obey them when they… spoil God of his right.

John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Daniel

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Here’s 3 ‘million dollar words’ (Jude in July)

JUDE in JULYIn my most recent sermon, the first from Jude’s Letter, I dropped what I called 3 ‘million dollar words’.  No one should feel silly not knowing them, many well-trod Christians don’t know them even if they intuitively feel the concepts. Words are important, however, and so these 3 should work their way into our consciousness.  The Apostle Jude is concerned with people being led away from true belief in Jesus by those who have crept in. Christians need to stick with what they’ve been given.  But in order they need to know what they’ve been given. Jude implies that Christianity is received, authoritative, and shared with all Christians.

Here’s where our 3 words come in (they’re each worth $1,000,000 and so pay attention! I paid a lot of money to learn them in seminary but I’m giving them for free today)

1) Jude says that the Christian Faith was once for all delivered to the saints (v3).  This means there is a body of beliefs (about God, Christ, human nature, salvation, etc…) that has been received as a package deal.  If something is a gift than we can’t just mess with it, or choose which parts we like and which we don’t.  This includes both belief and behaviour apparently, as Jude’s opponents get both wrong (v4). The Faith is a received gift and the word that this applies to is: Orthodoxy (adjective is orthodox).  Literally meaning “right belief and/or thought”, to be orthodox refers to be faithful to what has been handed down, respecting how it all fits together.

2) From whom do we receive it, though?  That leads to the question of authority – whose authority do we trust to teach us the truth about Jesus? Jude’s opponents, relying on their own dreams and rejecting authority (v8). Jude warns that their authority to teach spiritual truth is no good.  The authority we need to trust in is that of the apostles.  They were with Jesus, chosen by Him, and to reject them is to reject Him. Any wisdom or revelation must be tested against authority on which Faith is based, that of the apostles.  The word for this is Apostolicity (adj. apostolic). And where is this apostolic authority?  It’s in what they wrote, their accounts and teachings about Jesus in the Scriptures.  Their writing is what is authoritative for us.

3) Our third million dollar refers to the fact that we share our Christian Faith with others.  Jude points out that our salvation is a “common” one (v3). In such a self-centred, self-determining age it is humbling to know Christianity is not our possession.  We share globally with so many different types of believers and historically with so many previous generations.  This is important because we have so many cultural blind spots that other ages and cultures don’t have. It keeps us faithful when we allow them to check us.  The word for this is Catholicity (adj. catholic – notice the small ‘c’). We may think of the Roman church being “Catholic” but all catholic (small ‘c’) means is universal and undivided. To our RC friends we may have to say that we’re “too catholic to be Catholic” (thanks to Peter Leithart for the line!)  Tragically, there is Christian division but we really do share the Faith with many others even as we disagree.

orthodox, apostolic, (c)atholic – a received, authoritative, and shared faith – this is what Jude is promoting and encouraging his people to stay faithful to.  And so must we in the face of pressures and teachings from all directions.

Now you’re a millionaire.

Why Should We Pray For The Police? (and by extension, the entire city)

Police

Why should we pray for the Police?  This is not an abstract question.  For the second year in a row, my city’s Police Service have asked for 52 congregations to pray for them.  Each congregation signs up for a week and has assigned prayers for each day.  The idea is that every day of the year there are intentional intercessors praying for the Police, the communities they serve in, and the city at large.

So why should we participate?  And why should we participate with an abundance of glad enthusiasm?  I’ll offer four thoughts:

We were asked to pray.  Praying for the police is not an idea cooked up by religious leaders of our city.  Chief Devon Clunis has put out the request himself.  A Christian man himself, and one who sees faith and work necessarily related, he has risked ridicule and criticism in order to put out this plea.  He says he believes in prayer.  He also says he believes in action.  He is wise enough to know that to pray does not mean to abscond from other ways of participating.  But prayer is key.  Prayer empowers work and it is in itself a work.  According to Chief Clunis, Winnipeg has had a 14% drop in crime overall.  But there is more to do.  So we’ve been asked.  If we had a friend who made themselves vulnerable enough to ask for our prayers, we’d be remiss if we didn’t.  Our Police Chief has asked us.

We’ve been commanded to pray.  As Christians, we are commanded to honour and respect our civic leaders.  Both the Apostles Peter and Paul make this abundantly clear.  The New Testament also commands us to pray for all people, specially mentioned are those in a position to affect the civic life of others.  This means more than just the police certainly not less than them.  So this is not new.  To pray for those in authority, those who make concrete difference in our public life, is to by extension pray for the good of everyone.  We are praying for the good of our entire city when we pray for Winnipeg Police.  A command like this is general but we in this city have been given a specific call to obey it.  Christians can often forget about the wider world around us.  We can fall into the trap of praying only for our own concerns or maybe even our own lives.  We have to listen to God’s commands to cast our vision further than our own problems and situations.

There is great need for prayer.  Every large city has its issues.  Our city has its problems and recently attention has been given to this.  There is poverty, crime, violence, distrust between communities and the list goes on.  We don’t need to have all the answers in order to ask God to heal, bless, and restore Winnipeg.  Chief Clunis has made clear that he believes in crime reduction through community development.  When specific prayer requests are given to the churches from the Police Service, much of them are along the lines of prayer for troubled communities and the root causes of crime.  There is also the need to pray for police officers themselves.  They put themselves in danger often and need safety.  Police are also sinners and far from perfect.  There is need for greater justice in how they police this city.  There is great need for prayer.

This is why we’re here.   Winnipeg is a city with troubles.  Winnipeg is also a city with things going for it.  It is a difficult place to live for some.  We should want it to become a better place to live for all.  There is no better parallel then when Jeremiah wrote instructions to God’s People while they were in exile in Babylon.  Living in troubled times, on the margins of their culture, they were tempted to withdraw into their own religious bubble.  Perhaps they felt tempted to throw their hands up and see the world around them in a “hell-in-a-handbasket” way.  No! said God through Jeremiah.  They were to get involved, make their lives there, and work to the betterment of all their neighbours.  Seek the welfare of the city, they were told, which meant working for the prosperity, safety, and flourishing of the wider community.  And pray to the LORD on its behalf they were commanded (hear this echoing in Peter & Paul?).  As God’s People in Winnipeg in 2015, we are to participate and pray as well.  The city (through the Police Chief’s leadership) is even asking us to.  Why should we pray for the Police?  Because they are an instrument of God for social betterment.  Why should we pray for the communities served by them?  Because we are a part of those communities.  Why should we pray for the Police and the good of the entire city?  Because, like the Babylonian Exiles, we have been placed by God here in Winnipeg for HIs purposes.  It is the reason we’re here.

Authority and Responsibility

“Authority naturally flows to those who take responsibility. Authority routinely flees those who seek to blame others.”  Douglas Wilson

I heard it said once by a wise, old church elder that authority and responsibility are like train tracks.  Like the two iron rails they run parallel and if they are separated there will be disfunction.

Assuming authority without taking responsibility creates tyrants.  All authority will be illegitimate and turn to bullying.

Likewise, if responsibility is taken – if the buck stops with someone – then their authority should be honoured.  True authority does not need to be demanded.

train tracks