Election 2020- God, Government and RBG

Bernie Diaz, September 24, 2020

Part of my intention in posting a recent two-part post for this blog, Reclaiming America, was to biblically ground a political worldview for the upcoming presidential election in November. Looking at government as God does has never been more needed in my lifetime than now.

As per the objective of sharing my captive thoughts to Christ with you in this space, I’d like to begin having my readers think through this 2020 election, with a view to ‘render to Caesar’ (government) what is his, and to Christ what is his – both under the Lord’s dominion, with the emphasis of those initial posts exhorting Christians to focus their attention on reviving and reclaiming the church – it’s theological fidelity, before concentrating on reviving a nation of 330 million plus citizens, which is neither our mandate or mission, nor is it within our means to do so.

However, in the interests of rendering to Caesar our proper vote from a Christian perspective, we must be informed with and be engaged in our political process, for as long as we have the right to do so.

If there weren’t enough political hot potatoes to handle already, in forging a biblical worldview of our country (e.g. COVID-19, racial and civil unrest, the economy) it’s government and the two candidates vying for the White House, news came forth late last week that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the diminutive firebrand who in her 80s became a legal, cultural and feminist icon, died from complications of pancreatic cancer.

Ordinarily, a death of one of the high court’s justices would not spur as much anxiety, political analysis and speculation as Ginsburg’s has this past week, but then again, she was no ordinary justice. 

Ginsburg, a former attorney who argued cases on behalf of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) before the Supreme Court on a half-dozen occasions, was an architect of the fight for women’s rights in the 1970s, before serving 27 years on the nation’s highest court, becoming perhaps its most prominent member.

Having been by her own admission a rather radical, leftist and liberal activist, in and out of her chair, her death has already set in motion what promises to be a tumultuous and critically important political battle over who will succeed her, thrusting this Supreme Court vacancy into the spotlight of the presidential campaign.

Ginsburg’s death will have profound consequences for the court and the country. Inside the court, not only is the leader of the liberal wing gone, but with the court about to open a new term, the chief justice no longer holds the controlling vote in closely contested,’5-4’ type cases such as abortion and family law, impacted by the sexual revolution and religious freedom.

The implications of Ginsburg’s vacancy on the high court are massive, affirming the rationale for why a majority of evangelicals elected Donald Trump as President of the United States in 2016. It is the President who exercises the given authority to appoint Supreme Court and federal court justices in our country.

The President has practically only two options to choose from in making these federal appointments, both having to do with one’s interpretation of government’s role and this nation’s constitution itself. Will he appoint a justice who understood that our constitution was meant to be interpreted by the author’s original intent, which was for it to be an objective and time transcendent document of law and values (‘originalist’ view)? Or, a justice who believes that the constitution and it’s Bill of Rights is a subjective, evolving document, meant to be interpreted by following the prevailing winds of an American culture and court at any given time?

That is the ideological divide that marks the court. Either government is about the separation of powers and authority as the founders intended, between the executive (White House), legislative (congress) and the judicial (SCOTUS), or it is not. One branch of government was never intended to usurp the authority of the other, as the Supreme Court has over the last several decades, with its controversial decisions on cases and matters of faith, family and freedom.

The legislative body of government ordained by God and elected ‘by the people for the people,’ never made law legalizing abortion or ‘same-sex marriage.’

Rather, it was the judicial body that made those laws in essence by their slim majority decisions in both 1973 (Roe v. Wade) and 2015 (Obergefell) respectively, among a host of others.

 What is God’s Role for Government?

Government is one of the three institutions which God created to anchor and order mankind, along with marriage and the church, as revealed in scripture. That same scripture being all ‘sufficient and necessary,’ is what reveals God’s purpose for government (Ro. 13:1-8).

After calling for Christians to reasonably submit to the governing authorities God has placed over us (Ro. 13:1-2) and dutifully doing so in paying taxes (vv. 5-7), sandwiched in between those passages are two very clear, New Testament verses which lay out the nature and greatest priority of a government:

3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer (Ro. 13:3-4, ESV).

In other and more simple terms, government is mandated by God to administer law and order to a given society, American and otherwise. Those who profess Christ and are supporting the more violent and unlawful protesting taking place in this country should pay particular attention to this.

The government does not “bear the sword in vain”, or for nothing, meaning a firm response to violence and anarchy, including the call to execute capital punishment today, as ordained to be a swift and most severe form of punishment and deterrent to cold-blooded and premeditated murder that aims to limit evil and promote good and godly behavior, while upholding the sanctity of innocent life, from womb to tomb.  

Commenting on this doctrine, the reformer John Calvin wrote, “.. The Lord has designed in this way to provide for the tranquillity of the good, and to restrain the waywardness of the wicked; by which two things the safety of mankind is secured: for except the furyof the wicked be resisted, and the innocent be protected from their violence, all things would come to an entire confusion.”

It is that scriptural worldview which informed so many of the reformers and founding fathers of this nation, including it’s first President, George Washington who said of Government’s power and authority to keep law and order, “Government is not reason; it is not eloquence. It is force. And force, like fire, is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

That quote affirmed the apostle Paul’s inspired admonition from Romans 13 for citizens to heed government’s primary purpose of keeping law and order, “Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval..”  

In conclusion of this thought, ‘captive to Christ’, may we begin our consideration of casting a vote on November third, by reconciling the law of love for individual Christians with God’s purpose for law, order and government- affirmed by this nation’s foundational documents in mind and with a certain Supreme Court vacancy up for grabs.

Let’s pray that we may see the good that results from applying the principles of God’s word and the horror that results from rejecting them, as we at the very least, seek to keep out of office those who attempt to explicitly oppose God’s authority. This is where election worldview starts.

Reclaiming America For Christ- Pt.2 How About the Church?

Bernie Diaz, September 16, 2020

In part one of this post, I argued that the idea of ‘Reclaiming America for Christ’ as a politically based agenda for the church is not one that can be biblically justified, as appealing as that idea may sound to patriotic ears.

We all want a better America and we could sure use a more moral and just America in our days of civil unrest, COVID-19 craziness and economic uncertainty right now, yet God’s people should know that we are to do his work, his way and civil revival nor revolution are his ways – particularly by political means.

Therefore, although Christians have by God’s grace the freedom if not the responsibility to vote and vote well, the church itself must be ‘reclaimed’ or return to its Lord and Savior- at least theologically, by getting on the same page biblically, before it becomes more preoccupied with our upcoming presidential election than it already is, according to the just released, biennial Lifeway and Ligonier survey on the State of Theology for 2020. 

Perhaps the biggest change in this theological survey of Americans and confessing evangelicals in comparison to 2016, is the finding that evangelicals are half as likely to believe that Christians should be silent on political issues than they were in the prior election cycle. Action on social media right now would seem to affirm this finding, that professing believers are becoming more politically passionate and engaged than in 2016, but at what cost?

Are Christians becoming more politically literate and energized while becoming less so – biblically and theologically? The State of Theology’s survey results are mixed on that question. Among the good news from evangelicals is their doctrine and near unanimous beliefs about God:

  • God is a perfect being (97%)
  • God is a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (96%)
  • God cares about our day-to-day decisions (87%)

What is not so good according to the survey results, was the uncertainty among evangelicals in their doctrine about the persons and nature of the Trinity, beginning with Jesus Christ, where a disappointingly high number still believe the heresy of Arianism, which teaches that Jesus is not God but rather his greatest ‘creation.’

Two-thirds (65%) affirmed the statement that “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.” Moreover, in a question that was new to the survey this year, a sizable minority (30%) of those with evangelical beliefs do not believe that Jesus is God but instead think he is simply a “great teacher.” Frankly, a rejection of the doctrine of the deity or divinity of Jesus, could disqualify one from even claiming to be a Christian, evangelical or otherwise.

As to the Holy Spirit, nearly half (46%) of professing believers say the Spirit is a “force” rather than a person. And almost 2 in 10 believe the Spirit can tell them to do something which is forbidden in the Bible. Both of those assertions are contradictions in themselves with respect to the biblical and evangelical faith and betray a lack of scriptural understanding.

What is an Evangelical?

You’ll note I have not and will not cite the stats or make any analysis of mainstream attitudes of theology among Americans as a nation, from the survey, since we should assume non-confessing believers will have limited if any correct understanding or theology about God and his gospel anyway. They are what they are and are in need of the gospel.

However, the survey’s results are most meaningful when considering the identity of evangelical Christians, a term which traces its roots to a few centuries back, but began to take hold as a label in describing many Christians in the U.S. around the early 20th century to the present.

‘Social gospel’ and other liberal leaning Christians tend to shy away today from the evangelical label, believing as many secularists and politicos do, that evangelical Christian is code for, ‘ A Republican,’ who talks about God a lot in the United States. That stereotype has unfortunately infiltrated much of our county’s discourse over the last generation of time, due to the apparent allegiance or marriage that has taken place between the GOP and politically and often biblically conservative Christians (i.e. ‘The Moral Majority’ and the ‘Religious Right’).

Political partisanship aside, evangelicals are typically characterized by whether one strongly agrees with each of the following four statements for the purposes of discussion:

The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe (Sola Scriptura– Scripture Alone).

It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.

Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin (Sola Gratia – Grace Alone).  

–  Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation (Solus Cristos – Christ Alone).

Interestingly enough, one could say that the above evangelical beliefs are doctrines which parallel at least three of the five sola’s of the Protestant reformation.  

So, what does theology and doctrine have to do with “Reclaiming America?” The answer to that question has more to do with the reformation sola of God’s glory alone (Soli Deo Gloria), than simply casting a vote at the ballot box.

God is most glorified by kingdom citizens who understand that their true “citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20) and therefore, are ‘strangers on earth,’ as the apostle Peter’s first letter to the early churches implies, echoing the calling of Israel’s remnant to live as exiles while in Babylonian captivity.

Or to put it another way, we belong to God, not to any political party. It was in Babylon where God’s chosen people were commanded to be theologically and doctrinally pure, to plant themselves in a community, congregate as a people, live godly lives and pray for and seek the ‘welfare of the city’ where they had been sent (Jer. 29:4-9).

Yes, Christians as American citizens of the ‘City of Man’ (non-believers, pagans) as Augustine would put it, should seek the welfare of and justice for their country and communities. Participation in politics is a part of that- it is just not primary to the Lord’s kingdom advance in the U.S.A.

By majoring in the majors, meaning proper theology and doctrine in contrast to some of the State of Theology survey results above, disciples of Christ should be better informed and therefore wiser when they vote.

Voting in God’s will – ‘WWJVT’ (Who Would Jesus Vote For), will best serve this nation and will best be accomplished when true ‘evangelicals’ best and most consistently know their Lord, Savior, God and scriptures.

Let’s get Christian noses in Bibles and in the fellowship of God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated and Spirit-filled churches, doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way, before we worry about who and what we vote for on election day.  

Reclaiming America For Christ?

Bernie Diaz, September 9, 2020

Back in the mid 90’s a powerful and influential church ministry based out of South Florida, hosted a conference for Christians, which was covered quite closely by the local and secular news media at the time, entitled, Reclaiming America for Christ. The title for the conference alone, must have sent shivers up their spine.  

As a member of the Christian media community and a card-carrying member of the Christian Coalition (remember Pat Robertson anyone?) back then, I was a fired-up, politically astute Christian, studying American History via the influence of David Barton’s WallBuilders ministry and I was ready to attend the conference, interview Christian leaders and charge hell on earth (made up exclusively of Democrats and liberals of course- LOL!) with a squirt gun until… I began to think about something.

I began to think some time thereafter and question myself, if God was truly interested in having his church ‘reclaim America?’ Is that the Christian’s end-game? Understanding the counter-cultural nature of God’s kingdom on earth and the “narrow gate” by which true believers must pass through in order to enter it (Lu. 13:23-30), I began to wonder if God’s revealed will and world was for the church to be in the business of reviving a nation’s society and culture at any time or place, leaving it in its largely unredeemed state, little more than a relatively peaceful, prideful, flag-waving country of self-righteous, modern-day Pharisees?

Perhaps the call on that church to ‘reclaim America’ had more to do with its post-millennial eschatology (end times study), which strives to make a people or nation ready to receive the return of King Jesus as its Lord of planet earth. Or for others, it might have been the preservation of America’s founding roots, history (now under much scrutiny) and Judeo-Christian culture. Perhaps it was all of the above and more.

Regardless, my study of scripture and observation of the church and state of America over the last generation, has revealed a dichotomy that few evangelicals have paused to consider. That being that our Christianity and the advance of the cause and kingdom of Christ and his church, may come in conflict with and far supersedes America’s present and future.

Let’s think about it. Aside from God’s choice and preservation of the remnant of a nation (Israel) to be a lighthouse of his law and covenants to the world, the Bible gives us no specific preference or partisanship for one country’s future over another. He has blessed the U.S. greatly of course and some more than others, that sought to fear him or acknowledge his presence and propagate the justice found in his word and nature, but yet he has allowed his people – even called them to live as virtual ‘strangers on earth’ everywhere (1 Peter), as exiles (see Babylon in Jer. 29) and foreigners whose real citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).

Think about it. We have more in common with our brother or sister in Zambia, than our unbelieving friend and neighbor here, who happens to share our political persuasion.

Can a Dead Nation Revive Itself?

In light of our country’s current season of COVID-19, civil and racial unrest and economic uncertainty, many well-intended Americans and even more evangelically minded Christians have been calling and praying for a national revival, for God to reclaim America for Christ even. That sounds great at first glance, but can revival come to a nation that is in large part, spiritually dead (Ro. 3:10-23, Eph. 2:1-2)? If so, what are we praying for?

If one looks at the ‘Great Awakenings’ that have occurred in America – most notably of the 18th and 19th centuries, it was the church which began to revive and thrive in disciples made, matured and multiplied, beginning in pockets of smaller, repentant and prayerful circles of believers.

Revival existed by way of  Christians showing and sharing Christ, newly empowered by the Holy Spirit and energized by gospel oriented, hard-hitting and truth-telling preachers (e.g. Edwards and Whitefield) in such a way as to be used of God to rouse larger portions of a sleeping giant of a nation. Those revivals were wonderful, they glorified God and brought thousands more into the kingdom, justified and revived by a repentant faith given to them by their Lord and Savior (2 Tim. 2:25-26), but the objective was not primarily to revive the culture and status of the nation itself.

True biblically based revivals are unmanufactured. They are extraordinary movements of the spirit of God, manifest in extraordinary ways among his people, redeeming more of his people.

They are not intended to merely reflect a nation that may resemble the name of Christ culturally, while remaining by and large, dead, deaf, dumb and blind to his true value and majesty.   

But rather, revival in the church of Jesus Christ is meant to point the millions of unredeemed citizens in a nation to the only person and source of redemption which may be found, where there is life – now and forevermore (Jo. 14:6; Acts 4:12).

In other words, a godly country can only reflect a godly or righteous people, which can only happen and last, if manifested by a people that have been born-again, and declared righteous (justified) by their holy and righteous God. Anything else, will be a politically driven and temporal season of moralism at best, and Phariseeism at worse.

There will be a time where God’s kingdom on earth, a future, Edenic world, reclaimed and ruled by Christ will come and in which every knee will bow and tongue will confess Jesus as Lord (Phil. 2). The entire world will be reclaimed and enjoyed in my view, for a historic and literal 1,000 year reign (Dan. 7:13-14; Rev. 20). I can’t wait for that time to come and every living Christian today should feel the same in anxious anticipation of it. That is the believer’s hope of glory in the second coming of King Jesus.

How Now Shall We Reclaim Christ?

How now shall we revive America? God commands us to pray for common grace, saving grace and peace to come to our land and for its leadership (1 Tim. 2:1-4) as we humbly submit to its authority (Ro. 13:1-7; Ti. 3:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:13-17) whenever possible.

So, let’s ‘render to Caesar’ what is his – including a Biblically informed vote from law-abiding and tax-paying Christian citizens. But let’s not be under any illusions that the upcoming election will produce nationwide revival in and of itself, or that a neo-messiah will occupy the White House. Ultimately, before and as Christ comes back, things will get worse before they get better (Matt. 24:9,12; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; Rev. 19:11-16).  

Revival and restoration will come to whatever remains of the United States when Jesus is good and ready to move his rightful throne from heaven to earth. Until then, God’s people should be the church and let the state be the state. How does the church begin to do that? We’ll look at the state of the church before we concern ourselves with the state itself in our next post.

Knowing the ‘Sheep and the Goats’

Bernie Diaz, September 2, 2020

This past week was not the first time that I have preached from a passage of scripture for our church to only find it applied and perfectly relevant to a corresponding national news item or report.

This past Sunday I explained from my text of 2 Timothy 2 (“Doing the Lord’s Work the Lord’s Way’), that God’s word of which we are to be “approved workers of” (v.15), leads us to a firm foundation of the faith that both encourages and exhorts Christians to obedience in a two-part inscription or statement from verse 19 that could be etched in stone.

The first, is the encouraging reality that, “The Lord knows those who are his” referring to the assurance of God’s sovereign hold of the elect in his church, those he has saved, by his predestining love before the ‘foundation of the world’ and secondly, that the elect will manifest themselves as legitimate sheep of the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”

Indeed, real-deal, born-again Christians habitually depart from, avoid or reject sin which results in good works as the result of, rather than the cause of saving faith. Now, what makes that orthodox truth such a newsworthy reflection of my Sunday text?

A news story reported the results of a survey that shows that the majority of Americans no longer believe that Jesus is the path to salvation and instead believe that being a good person is good enough.

As part of the ongoing release of a Christian university-based research center’s worldview inventory — exploring perceptions of sin and salvation — from George Barna, the group’s director, the survey shows that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that having some kind of faith is more important than the particular faith with which someone aligns with.

Well, if we’re talking about mainstream and pluralistic America today, those findings shouldn’t seem terribly surprising, but what can be considered as alarming to American church leaders, were the findings that Sixty-eight percent who embrace that notion identify as Christians, including 56% of self-described evangelicals and 62% of those who identify as Pentecostals. Sixty-seven percent of mainline Protestants and 77% of Catholics also embraced that idea, the findings show, which is compelling in itself.

Furthermore, the poll reported that slightly over half of Christian respondents said they believe someone can attain salvation by “being or doing good.” Now, there’s a big problem in the church of the United States when a survey finds that a majority of people who describe themselves as Christian accept a “works-oriented” means to God’s salvation- you think?

A Flock Diagnosis

The above news report if believed to be true, means more than one serious conclusion can be reached about the nature of faith in the American church: one, Christians who believe that salvation can be earned need to re-read the New Testament (Matt. 19:16; Ro. 4:5; Ja. 2:10, 1 Pet. 2:22), or tragically – for the first time, in order to understand the true nature of the gospel and the repentant faith demanded of one in order to receive its benefits.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8-9, ESV).

The second conclusion of this survey is that as Jesus Christ, the builder and cornerstone of his church has said, he does truly know who are his  sheep (John 10) , and who are the goats, as they will be separated from each other on judgment day (Matt. 25:32-33).

The analogy of the sheep and goats to believers and non-believers in a church environment found in the Lord’s parable, refers to sheep – disciples or true followers of Jesus who produce a working, loving and ministering faith that reveals a transformed heart and life by the gospel and the Holy Spirit’s power (Matt. 25:34-36), contrasted with the self-righteous ‘fan’ of Jesus, whose faith possession never matches their faith profession (Matt. 25:37-46).

Wheat or Weeds?

The point is that while goats may resemble sheep in some ways in a field, they will be ultimately discovered for what they truly are. Perhaps an even better analogy affirming the results of the survey and the notion of nominal (in name only) Christians infecting the church, may be found in the Lord’s parable of the ‘Wheat and the Tares’ (Matt. 13:36-43).

It is there in that short story, in which we find the discovery of false professors (tares or weeds) fellowshipping in a local church and a world of true believers (wheat). 

The historical context of the story reveals that in the agricultural society of Christ’s time, many farmers depended on the quality of their crops. An enemy sowing weeds – think Satan, would want to sabotage such a business.

The tares in the parable were likely a particular kind of weed, until mature, appeared as wheat. Without modern weed killers, what would a wise farmer do in such a dilemma? Instead of tearing out the wheat with the tares, the landowner in this parable wisely waited until the harvest reaping time. After harvesting the whole field, the tares could be separated and burned. Thus, the wheat would be saved in the barn.

Similarly, in the explanation of this parable, Christ declares that He Himself is the sower. He spreads His redeemed seed, true believers, in the field of the world. Through His grace, these Christians bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-24) that confirms saving faith. Therefore, when the kingdom of heaven comes to its fruition, heaven will be a reality and there will no longer be “weeds” among the “wheat.” They will each arrive at their final place of destination. But for now, both good and bad seeds grow up in the world and may even congregate together in a church.

The implications of these two parables affirmed by American and “Christian” attitudes found in the survey should be clear enough, particularly for Christian disciple makers. That being that pastors and sheep should be doing proper ‘fruit inspection’ – not to be confused with sin sniffing, of professing believers whose lips and lives do not seem to add up. The poll results confirm that many- perhaps even a majority of Christians who claim to be Christians are not, as evidenced by a basic misunderstanding if not outright ignorance of the gospel itself. For that reason alone, evangelism and disciple–making may very well start in the house of God, the local church itself, where the sheep and the wheat can lovingly find and witness to the goats and weeds while time remains before the great and final harvest.

‘School Days, School Days, Dear old Coronavirus Rule Days’

Bernie Diaz, August 6, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic which took the world by storm in March has brought obvious and landmark changes to the United States and its society, in terms of public health and safety, the economy, day to day life, corporate church gatherings as well as the nature of school and education in the many months since.

Public school campuses have remained vacant since April, noticeably so at the present moment – the traditional ‘back to school’ time that gave us that   oldies pop hit, “See You in September, when the summer’s through.” Actually, most school students and teachers are seeing each other exclusively through a computer screen until further notice, which could last at a minimum through the end of this now infamous calendar year of 2020.

Is that a bad thing? From a Christian and biblical worldview, perhaps not, as the overwhelming majority of the near 51 million school students in the U.S. have become reacquainted with their homes and families as the central location and influence of their daily educational life- whether they wanted it that way or not as the result of the coronavirus’ impact on public policy.

Believe me, leftist and liberal government school activists are perplexed over what to do with this conundrum. Should they support this movement of a more home-based educational model for K-12 students, loosening their grip on educational control over American school children, or remain firm in their pre-occupation with the pandemic, which strives to eliminate even the slightest possibility that a student or school faculty member could contract the coronavirus at any time or place, thereby shuttering school facilities.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat and ardent public-school advocate, has suggested that remote learning could become a permanent part of life for New York students, even after the pandemic ends:

The old model of everybody goes and sits in a classroom and the teacher is in front of that classroom and teaches that class and you do that all across the city, all across the state, all these buildings, all these physical classrooms, Cuomo said during a press briefing in New York City. “Why? With all the technology you have?”

Cuomo didn’t say buildings won’t reopen at all. But their state is exploring the possibility that schools will use distance learning in bigger ways in the future.

From my point of view, the quarantining of students at home for distance learning, has become A silver lining in the coronavirus cloud of the mayhem that surrounds us, by introducing a massive number of children and families to the nature of, or at least a semblance of traditional family based (homeschool) education.

As I posted here back in April, this educational coronavirus consequence- children returning to a form of homeschooling, which, “… was the norm for civilized society over the many millennia of human history up until the dawn of the 20th century, to which I say, ‘Welcome back!”

That said, compassion and aid will be needed for families and households absent a more nuclear, two-parent arrangement at home, where school-age children may be left at home without adult supervision and school work help, as some working families will struggle to find adequate care for their kids during school hours. Perhaps those circumstances may even lead to a church-based growth in private school education and/or tutoring and homeschool, co-operative type ministries to fill in such gaps.

Back to the Future?

Make no mistake, COVID-19 has brought a radical reassessment of elementary and secondary schools to education officials and families. According to a WORLD magazine report, a survey found 40 percent of parents compelled to school at home because of the pandemic said they’d be more likely to homeschool in the future. While no one knows how long this movement may last, homeschool co-ops, Facebook groups, and online schools are reporting exponential growth.

In fact, last month, so many people filed online requests to homeschool in North Carolina that the portal temporarily shut down. As WORLD noted, “Parents across the country are stitching together a patchwork of online schools and traditional curricula, hoping homeschooling will offer stability and safety for their kids.”

That it does and most notably, it presents the opportunity for parents of faith- evangelical Christians in particular, to guide their child’s education through a more biblical perspective and to the hands-on supervision of a government run curriculum which is constantly evolving in the inculcation – really indoctrination, of children in the sexual revolution with LGBTQ history and ethics classes, beginning as early as in elementary schools.

This bit of providence from God, granting the exposure to homeschooling and a way out of the government based monopoly on education by virtue of this pandemic, may be an impetus for more families to consider the sacrifices necessary to keep children home in or at some alternative form of schooling, that harmonizes the parental responsibility for discipleship and education that the scriptures imply (Deut. 6; Psa. 78; Eph. 6; Col. 3).

Is an all-exclusive biblically-based education mandated or at least exhorted for Christian households? Well, consider the foundational wisdom of education found in the scriptures itself, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction (Pro. 1:7).”

Isn’t the accumulation of knowledge the basis of an education? That’s a rhetorical question. Since it is, what is the condition stated in the scripture for acquiring that knowledge? The verse states the answer clearly and directly as being, “the fear” or holy and reverent awe of God as revealed in the Bible. In other words, a proper understanding of reading, writing and arithmetic, to say nothing of history, social studies, science and biology for the Christian student must begin with a ‘fear of the Lord’ rather than being ‘foolish’ in despising (hating or ignoring) that kind of “instruction.”

Indeed, the two most recent generations or so of American, public school education has borne out the reality of Voddie Baucham’s diagnosis that, ‘When you send your child to Caesar you get back a Roman.’

As I’ve previously argued and asked in this space before and elsewhere, “Who should be the final and decisive authority of our children’s education?” Secondly, might this ‘taste of homeschooling savored in the mouths of parents and children – a silver lining in the Coronavirus cloud, lead to a revaluation if not a revival, of elementary and secondary education for our kids and country?’   

The Epidemic Behind the COVID-19 Pandemic

Bernie Diaz, August 19, 2020

While there is talk of a slowdown or another ‘flattening’ of the coronavirus curve in America over the past couple of weeks, not much attention has been paid to the epidemic that has mushroomed out of the COVID-19 pandemic which has crippled so much of our nation – emotionally, mentally and spiritually, as much perhaps as physically or economically.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has just painted a fairly grim picture of the nation’s mental health. The number of Americans contemplating suicide is soaring, and many more are showing signs of mental disorders, according to a CDC survey. The report showed that nearly 41% of the 5,400 plus people who responded to the late-June survey reported “at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition.”  These numbers are three to four times higher than what the CDC was seeing at the same time last year.

In fact, almost 11% of US adults said they had seriously contemplated suicide within the last 30 days — and young adults are apparently feeling the greatest emotional turmoil of any age group, as more than 25% of the 18-to-24 crowd said they had considered taking their life, with disproportionately higher numbers among Blacks and Hispanics.

The CDC survey also noted that more than 13% of Americans said they started abusing alcohol, drugs or some other substance to cope with the stress of the coronavirus pandemic, or that their substance abuse has worsened as a result. Those findings are not surprising to some – least of all to me.

What kind of mental health numbers we would expect when American citizens are faced with a daily deluge of negatively skewed, near apocalyptic stories and raw statistics of COVID related cases, unemployment, company closings and death in the mainstream media, absent virtually any vestige of balanced perspective and reporting, which could provide depth and balance to the pandemic, which officials seem more intent on feeding as panic?

One, notable nationwide mental health organization, predicted the decline of the country’s mental health due to isolation, uncertainty, and unemployment caused by COVID-19, McClatchy News reported.

The pandemic so far, and the months or years of it still to come, will plant the seeds for as many as 75,000 “deaths of despair,” Well Being Trust estimated. All the traumas it’s caused, be they mental, emotional, financial or all the above, won’t end with a vaccine — those troubles will likely outlive the pandemic by years, according to the Trust.

This is an alarm for Christian thinkers, who seek to see the world as God does through a biblical lens, being that followers of Jesus have not been given a spirit of fear, “but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). The Bible is replete with scriptures in which faith in God and his sovereign and providential control of the world and life’s circumstances, are meant to comfort and conquer fear- particularly the irrational kind, so prevalent today (e.g. Psa. 23:4; 27:1; 34:4,7; 56:3; Pro. 12:25; Isa. 35:4; 41:10; 56:3; Matt. 6:34; Phil. 4:6-7; 1 Jo. 4:18).  

Facts Conquer Fear

The Christian faith is built upon a foundation of truth- reality and facts- historical and otherwise that not only informs Bible-reading Christians, but by virtue of it being a gift grace from God (Eph. 2:8-9), which provides saving faith. Christians become Christians because they believe- place all their heart and soul’s trust in a real, historical God man who came from eternity past to inhabit his world and redeem his people with a cross, then vindicating that atoning death with a resurrection that conquered sin, death and the devil.

What’s the point of that? Simply that the biblical faith is grounded in facts, which conquer fear. Similarly, the facts concerning the coronavirus should be conquering the unwarranted fears of many if not most Americans.

The accuracy of the above argument, was confirmed when a published report stated that Americans “dramatically misunderstand” the risk of death they face during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the findings of a joint Franklin Templeton-Gallup research project released last month.

Researchers found that Americans overestimate the mortality rate for people aged 55 or younger, according to data from again, the CDC.

For example, respondents estimated that people aged 44 or younger accounted for 30 percent of U.S. COVID-19 deaths, when the actual figure for that age group was 2.7 percent. Conversely, Americans estimated that people aged 55 or older accounted for roughly 57 percent of COVID-19 deaths, when the actual figure was 92 percent.

The misconception “translates directly into a degree of fear for one’s health that for most people vastly exceeds the actual risk,” according to an officer at Franklin Templeton. Though the poll was conducted in an economic context, the findings are more than applicable here.

The CDC’s website noted “the risk for severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age, with older adults at highest risk.” Researchers also identified “partisanship and social media” as key factors in the discrepancies.

“Fear and anger are the most reliable drivers of engagement; scary tales of young victims of the pandemic, intimating that we are all at risk of dying, quickly go viral; so do stories that blame everything on your political adversaries,” according to the official statement of the poll. “Both social and traditional media have been churning out both types of narratives in order to generate more clicks and increase their audience.”

Media hype and politics in a presidential election season, thus seem to have more to do with the hysteria surrounding COVID-19 than actual data. In my home state of Florida for example, news reports point to our being an “epicenter” and mass of uncontrollable cases of the virus, without mentioning that the Sunshine State ranks 18th in the nation in the per capita (percentage of population) number of confirmed cases, despite being the fourth most populous state in the country.

How often do your local newspaper, radio or television outlets report the fact that even though there have been more than 5 million reported cases of COVID-19 and 167,000 or so deaths to date in the United States, those raw and seemingly huge numbers, represent less than 10% of those that have tested for the coronavirus and represent a 97-98% recovery rate?

 When has the press reported that despite the serious nature of this virus, the average American is more likely to die of an accident or Alzheimer’s disease than the coronavirus? Wouldn’t that information have some bearing on your daily attitudes and actions?  

Most news outlets report COVID-19 numbers without the kind of perspective that can enable citizens to make wise, calculated decisions of how to live, worship, work and play in this pandemic, which should be based in my view, more on probabilities than just mere possibilities, or in other words, more on facts than fear. After all, we make life decisions based upon that rationale everyday don’t we?

Do I decide to get on an airplane for a business or vacation trip based upon the possibility of the plane being hijacked or blown out of the sky, or on the inherent probability that such an event is not likely to happen at all? How could we drive a car, let our children go to school (whenever that happens again) or participate in any other of the myriad activities of our everyday life that we do with little or no fear, because we take probabilities rather than possibilities into account?

For the Christian, all of this takes greater focus when we are reminded that in Christ, the risk of death here and now – no matter how great or small, is a promised promotion or graduation to being ‘absent from the body and present with the Lord,’, which the apostle Paul also said is “far better.” Those are facts, not fear.

Therefore, may the prevention and treatment cures for COVID-19 turn out to be better than all of the neighboring damage of the virus itself.  

Social Justice or Social Change in Presidential Politics?

Bernie Diaz, August 13 ,2020

Finally, this week, we got a break in the news from all the COVID craziness and the daily counts of cases and fatalities both near and far (as best as can be determined).

Two stories that broke this week begging for the attention of a Christian worldview or ‘thoughts to be taken captive to Christ’ – were both Presidential in nature. First and at long last, the Democratic Party’s candidate for the upcoming Presidential election in November, Joe Biden, picked a running mate, Kamala Harris, who had once opposed Biden for the party’s nomination and has held the titles of district attorney for the city of San Francisco, attorney general and more recently, as U.S. Senator for the state of California.

Many politicos thus far, have heralded the selection as “safe” for the Democratic party, being that Harris is a black woman of Jamaican and Indian descent, thus making her a dual, ‘intersectional’ candidate, belonging to at least two ‘minority’ categories of today’s ‘identity politics,’ which focuses more attention on one’s minority status (Harris ‘intersects’ with being black and female) than the content of one’s character or political agenda.

While there is no denying Harris’ job qualifications in terms of her intellectual prowess or experience (as a local and state elected official), there is also no denying the calculated, political correctness and timing of this choice of a Vice-Presidential side-kick who has had more than one heated disagreement over policy with her boss to be.

For one, prominent African-American leaders from virtually every field and institution in this county had mandated- not merely suggested, that Biden choose a Black woman as his running mate, regardless of his personal preferences, in the wake of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter and civil unrest as a condition of the support of the black and liberal vote at the polls (or mail-in ballots).

Secondly, Harris could be just a heartbeat away from the Oval Office (no woman has ever occupied it), being more than 20 years younger than the presidential candidate, offering a much needed counter balance of health and vitality, if not competency to the Democratic ticket to boot, as Biden, at 77, would be the oldest person ever elected president in U.S. history if he were to defeat President Donald Trump in November.

More Social Justice or Social Change?

While some voters may celebrate or take solace in the selection of Kamala Harris as a Vice-Presidential candidate in the name and spirit of social justice and racial reconciliation, Christian voters holding to biblical convictions, would do well to be aware of this ticket’s possible implications on the surging social changes taking place in our country.

An excellent argument can be made for evangelical believers to prioritize life, freedom of faith and family as policy positions worthy of our greatest consideration when pondering our vote for the Presidential ticket of the United States and the Democratic Party’s tandem does pose a problem for those prioritizing those issues at the ballot box.

The Susan B. Anthony List and March for Life organizations said the Biden campaign’s announcement of Harris as his running mate, made the 2020 Democratic ticket “the most pro-abortion in history.” That is saying something, in light of the pro-abortion, two-term Presidency of Barack Obama and his Vice-President……Joe Biden.

Harris also holds the lesser-known distinction of being a defendant in a lawsuit brought by pro-life activists from the Center for Medical Progress. CMP’s David Daleiden argued in his lawsuit against Planned Parenthood that Harris, as the state’s DA, singled him out for prosecution because his undercover videos found evidence that Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting from the sale of body parts from aborted babies.

Aside from supporting the repeal of the federal Hyde Amendment, which keeps federal taxpayer dollars from paying for abortion, Harris threatened  religious liberty last year, when she tweeted that the “freedom to worship” should “never be used to discriminate or undermine other Americans’ civil rights” in reference to religious employers’ ability to let their faith inform their hiring and firing decisions, which of course directly impacts churches,  Christian schools and universities.

And as for God’s foundational institution of marriage and family, Biden described Harris’ platform of social policies – including LGTBQ+ during the  presidential debates, as standing to his left and nearly as far left as socialist Senator Bernie Sanders, of Vermont.

Therefore, Christians need to ask themselves if the appearance of social justice trumps (pun intended) the support of greater immoral, social change when they vote?

The Fall of a Christian President

Lest I be found too biased in my worldview analysis of the above presidential story, we cannot ignore the other, being Liberty University’s announcement this week that it had placed it’s President Jerry Falwell, Jr. on an indefinite leave of absence, in the wake of his latest public peccadillo or controversy.

Falwell Jr., the son of the late Moral Majority and “Religious Right” leader Jerry Falwell Sr., was sidelined by the nation’s largest, private Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia.

In its official statement, Liberty cited the “substantial pressure” on his leadership as well as the “concerns of everyone in the LU community,” as reasons for Falwell’s leave of absence, though the decision was made after a recent photo circulated of him (which he had posted) posing with a woman at a party with their zippers down and midsections exposed and a possible alcoholic beverage in hand.

One LU professor celebrated the school board’s decision as addressing “a disconnect between what the university has been asking from its students and … hypocritical behavior from leadership.” Liberty’s student code of conduct regulates the social behavior of its students as a condition of enrollment.

According to Christianity Today, the response to the vacation photos of Falwell had swelled on Twitter last week, as Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, a former pastor who serves as an advisor to Liberty’s music department and spoke at a campus-wide convocation last year, tweeted, “Jerry Falwell Jr’s ongoing behavior is appalling … I’m convinced Falwell should step down.” While Falwell’s future at the helm of Liberty seems to be tenuous at best, the lesson for disciples of Christ, is that wisdom and the appearance of righteousness or the lack thereof, matters- matters much, in a day where our antagonistic, post-Christian culture is looking for every excuse to being reproach or shame on the name and church of Jesus Christ.

Presidential election campaigns in a pluralistic society aside, character still counts when we’re talking about Christian leaders- in or out of the church. Whether we believe it to be fair or not, public, Christian leaders are under greater scrutiny than ever before as paragons of virtue in Christlikeness or examples of worldly darkness and compromise when they fall.

When the apostle Paul wrote the Ephesian church about their new, born-again walk as life-transformed Christians (Eph. 5:1-12), he noted that participation in and the appearance of the former unredeemed life of sin and debauchery should not even “be named” among them, including, “filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place…”

Social media use (which led to Falwell’s massive error in judgment) raises the stakes of Christian integrity, which is the idea that we are who Christ saved us to be when no one else is looking. Now, due to platforms like Twitter and Instagram, everyone can see who we really are.

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out (Pro. 10:9, ESV).

It’s been said that a Christian leader who is like Christ, is one who has clean hands of unreproachable integrity. As Dave Harvey wrote, “The life you live in private determines the ministry you can have in public.” May Jerry Falwell Jr. prayerfully learn that lesson and turn to that life of integrity.

Looking for Racism in All the Wrong Places

Bernie Diaz, August 5, 2020

A recent poll on race relations in the U.S. unsurprisingly shows that a majority (56%) of participants believe the country has a racism problem – with women and Democratic party voters leading the way in even greater numbers.

The survey also found to little surprise, that attitudes about race fell largely along racial lines, with well over 70% of Hispanics and Blacks believing racism is rampant in America, while a slim majority of 51% of ‘Whites’ agreed. One thing we can all agree on, is that our nation is divided once more – red and blue politically, and white and black societally, including its varying shades of color.

Where there was agreement among a majority of all those polled, was the support of the protests that have taken place since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, May 25th. That finding comes despite the recent surge of protests, which have moved on from those that were often peaceful and legal, to the ongoing waves of violent and anarchist like protests and movements, that continue to defame and deface both public and private property, if not endangering life itself in the name of social justice.

Authorities have declared riots in Portland, Oregon, after protesters surrounded the city’s federal courthouse building where deployed U.S. agents are holed up. Ahead of the declaration, thousands of demonstrators marched in the city chanting, “Feds go home” and calling out the names of African Americans killed by police.

At least six federal officers were injured after firing tear gas to clear out rowdy protesters during that siege. Tragically, at least three of them may not recover their vision after demonstrators, who have shown up in crowds of over 1,000 for more than 50 consecutive nights, shined lasers in their eyes and threw fireworks at the federal courthouse, officials said.

Elsewhere, a murder and more protest mayhem occurred in Austin, Texas, where a person driving through a demonstration shot and killed a 28-year-old man. Protesters in Oakland, CA, vandalized a police station and set fire to a courthouse after one peaceful evening march and Seattle’s Police Chief said officers arrested another 50 people over a weekend for assaulting officers, obstruction, and failing to disperse.

I somehow fail to see the connection and benefit in drawing attention to racism by inciting violence, injuring innocent life and rebelling against any reasonable form of law and order in the name of racial equality and reconciliation.

But that said, I mention the above poll’s results because voters and citizens can be so easily swayed by mainstream media, culture and opinion- such as the current perspective on protests, that it misses the more subtle though significant forms of racism that are yes, even systemic, under our very noses.

For those that seek to move on from following the news of civil unrest for little more than the effect of gazing on videos of fires and violence, the greatest and most systemic form of racial violence that is finally beginning to come to light, are the historic and racist roots of Planned Parenthood and their still on-going agenda targeting the innocent lives of unborn minority babies.

The Racism of Abortion

A New York branch of the Planned Parenthood abortion chain shockingly and publicly distanced itself from its founder, Margaret Sanger, recently amid accusations of “systemic racism” within the organization.

Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood (the single biggest provider of abortions in the United States, at nearly 350,000 a year), in New York in 1916, was a well-known eugenicist who believed certain groups of human beings were “weeds,” “reckless breeders” and “morons” who should not have children.

According to the New York Times, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York plans to rename its Manhattan abortion facility, which has long bore Sanger’s name. It also asked city leaders to remove her name from a street sign nearby. The abortion group’s leaders pointed to Sanger’s eugenics beliefs “rooted in racism, ableism and classism” as the reason for the change.

“The removal of Margaret Sanger’s name from our building is both a necessary and overdue step to reckon with our legacy and acknowledge Planned Parenthood’s contributions to historical reproductive harm within communities of color,” said Karen Seltzer, who chairs the board of the New York affiliate.

With greater revelation of the twisted and sordid past of PP becoming a bit more mainstreamed of late, some healthy skeptics see it as little more than a politically correct campaign of damage control. “Planned Parenthood can rename a building, but it can’t whitewash its eugenics roots,” U.S. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska responded. “Planned Parenthood can try to forget its founder’s racist screeds, but it cannot escape the undeniable fact that it makes hundreds of millions of dollars each year by telling an ugly lie that certain lives are disposable and then disposing of them. Big abortion has always been, and will always be, in the business of violence and dehumanization.”

In fact, since abortion became legal nation-wide in 1973 (via Roe vs. Wade), an estimated 20 million unborn black babies have been aborted in America, many of them at Planned Parenthood. And in New York City, where Sanger started the abortion chain, city health data indicates that more African American babies are aborted in the city than are born each year. Yes, that means that more than one out of every two pregnancies there result in the death of preborn black children.

Where is the political and cultural left’s outcry for racial justice there? Just over a week ago, Planned Parenthood continued its fight against legislation that protects unborn babies from discrimination based on their sex, race or a disability.

It should go without saying that Planned Parenthood and it’s cronies have little to do with the moniker of actually being ‘pro-choice,’ since they oppose each and every single bit of state or federally proposed law that would give the choice of pregnant mothers to view ultrasounds of their children, or for parents to be given notice, if not approval of their own child’s pregnancies and abortion considerations or even waiting periods. Where is the choice there?

Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser urged PP to not only disavow its founder but also its current racist and eugenics practices. “The next step for Planned Parenthood is recognizing that Margaret Sanger’s racist legacy continues today, as abortion continues to disproportionately impact minority communities, especially the black community,” Dannenfelser said.

Is her view just another case of conservative hyperbole? Well, today about eight out of every ten PP centers are in minority communities. What a coincidence! They closed seventeen abortion facilities in one year but sold 20% more abortions. How did they do that? By targeting minority neighborhoods in major cities like Miami.

Currently, 94% of America’s abortion facilities are in major metropolitan cities and African-American women, who make up 13% of the female population account for nearly 40% of all abortions. Hispanic-American women makeup another 13% of the female population, but account for another 20% of all abortions.

Can we connect the dots? Discrimination of adults of color, has been institutionally and rightfully criminalized in this country for more than a generation, but not as far as babies are concerned. Remember Dred vs. Scott and that 1850’s Supreme Court decision that said blacks were somewhat less than, or inferior to whites? Well babies of all colors are thought of the same way today. Racism and discrimination is still alive and well in the U.S. among the unborn and don’t we think it’s about time that something should be said and done about it?

After all, 2,000 black and Hispanic babies will be killed today by abortion in this country. There are forty abortion-selling centers in Miami alone, doing more than their fair share of that killing, in contrast to a handful of pregnancy health centers in that area that are striving to give true ‘choice.’ 

One expert told the New York Times that Sanger’s views have been “misinterpreted,” and she was following the popular beliefs of the day. But Sanger was not just a follower. She helped to lead the eugenics movement, frequently promoting discrimination through her writing and speaking, including in a speech to the KKK in 1926.

When she wrote about getting rid of people with diseases and disabilities through sterilization and segregation, she wrote in a 1939 letter to a friend, “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population.” I bet she didn’t.

Well, the word is finally getting out about Planned Parenthood and what will they and the political party of death do about it?

Shining Light on the Darkness of Abortion

As for the church of Jesus Christ, now is a good time to not only be the salt and light that our Lord commanded us to be in our world (Matt.5) but to shine light on it..

..Walk as children of light  (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible.. (Eph. 5:8b-13, ESV).

Being an image and light bearer of God, means that we have to do hard things to shine the light of Christ- the light and love of the gospel even in the darkest of places, and abortion facilities and Planned Parenthood offices are among them.

Suppose you lived next door to a real mean, ornery neighbor who was hostile and put up “don’t trespass” signs all over his property to keep folks like you out. One day, you hear a child screaming from the back yard of that home and see the child is choking on something. 

Instinctively, you jump the fence knowing about the trespass signs and what the law might say about it, in order to save the child. Would that be the right thing to do? There are times in which God has called for courageous conduct throughout scripture, so that His people could rescue or save or deliver innocent victims from harm’s way (Pro. 24:11, 31:8).

There’s a story about a certain nation and government that was intimidated by a growing minority population and putting them into slavery didn’t kill them off. Does that sound like British or American history? Guess again. It was Egypt in its dealing with Israel (Exo. 1:15-21). 

God rewarded the faithfulness of that early ‘crisis pregnancy center’ in Egypt. These mid-wives were pro-life warriors back in the day as we must come together as the American church to be so again.

Yes, racism is an issue- one of sin rather than skin really. But if we want to shed light on it, let’s begin where life begins – in the womb. #PBLM? Pre-Born Black Lives Matter to God and his Son’s church.

The Civil Disobedience of the Coronavirus

Bernie Diaz, July 30, 2020

I thought three blog posts on the nature of church and state relations to the Coronavirus pandemic from early April to June, would have sufficed to cover the issue from a Biblical worldview. ‘Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s right (Mark 12)?’ That simple.

However, I wasn’t counting on a U.S. Governor or two and the Supreme Court of the United States stirring the ire of America’s evangelical “Truth Warrior”, Pastor and Author John MacArthur, to enter into the fray last week and bring the church into debate and controversy over the radical act of Christians practicing civil disobedience, as the result of governmental decisions to restrict corporate worship – including MacArthur’s own church in Southern California.

Pastor MacArthur and the rest of the religious community there had willingly accepted the lockdown or quarantine of churches, communities and business in mid-March when the pandemic’s initial wave hit full boar and news of infection cases, hospitalizations and fatalities dominated our national landscape, leading to the most dire of predictions among epidemiologists and government officials – since proven to be largely untrue, though COVID 19 remains a real and serious thing.

Although the idea of masks had not yet been mainstreamed as a mitigation guideline at that time, there was little doubt that COVID 19 was not your ‘grandfather’s flu’ and not to be trifled with. But that was then and this is now.

After four months of mitigation and cabin fever, and the reality that the ‘sky had not fallen,’ nor the rapture of the church and the Day of the Lord had taken place, California and Nevada’s recent orders scaling back church congregational meetings to no more than 50 worshippers if at all, was too much for dozens of churches out west to take.

Last Sunday, more than 3,000 congregants – many without masks, filled Grace Community Church’s sanctuary in the wake of their leadership’s statement or ‘declaration of independence’, being published on Friday, stating that the church would not comply with Governor Gavin Newsom’s coronavirus restrictions in the aftermath of a surge in COVID cases there, arguing that the government had overstepped its authority by regulating worship – a big time no-no.

In obedience to the Bible’s command to not forsake its assembling (Heb. 10:25), MacArthur argued that the state had “exceeded its legitimate jurisdiction” in severely limiting or suspending services. He may have a point there.

I personally stand with MacArthur –  one of the most influential and impactful exegetes and expositors of at least the last generation, with an important caveat to tag onto my stance.

Pastor MacArthur relied on to little surprise, a biblical argument to make his case (“Christ, not Caesar, Is Head of the Church) as to why he and his church’s leadership team could not “.. acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gatherings.”

He could have made a justifiable case for opposing the state’s congregational bans on both practical and even constitutional grounds as well as the biblical, but chose not to, so I will.

  • The Practical  

John MacArthur did make the point that COVID circumstances had changed over the last four months, influencing their change of heart. What changed? In spite of a recent surge in positive test cases in his state among others, he stated in his Sunday sermon that the chances of those that are either hospitalized for a serious medical response to infection of the virus, or who die from it is incredibly slim.

Therefore, does the state’s restrictions match up with the math? In other words, should the church decide to gather and for that matter, should our communities and country remain open, closed or shuttered based on the mere possibilities of Coronavirus infections or fatalities, or the probabilities of such? That is a provocative question to wrestle with.

For example, in my home state of Florida- another “epicenter” of the pandemic, what is often ignored or underreported, is that currently, just over one in ten of the three million plus tests that have been taken have been “confirmed” as positive. Nearly nine out of every ten of those cases which have tested positive here, have recovered from the effects of the virus.

Nationally and remarkably, considering the media attention paid to the pandemic, only three percent of the near four and one-half million cases of the virus have resulted in death. In fact, if one goes as far as to tabulate the likelihood of the average American dying from COVID 19, the statistical probability stands at 0.05% or less than one-half of one percent of our population being at risk of dying from the virus.

Factoring in the confirmed test cases, hospitalizations and deaths of those that are elderly and/or have pre-existing health conditions (one-half of my state’s fatalities have come from nursing home facilities), the numbers drop even more significantly. Therefore, have those numbers or probabilities justified the states’ response to the pandemic?

  • The Constitutional

Though Pastor MacArthur made the point that his church’s declaration and act of civil disobedience was not made from a constitutional perspective, he could have made a rather compelling argument, based upon the “free exercise” clause of our constitution’s first amendment right of religious freedom.

The founding fathers of this country drew clear and distinguishable lines of jurisdiction between the church and state, principles that safeguarded the liberty of places of worship to congregate and practice their faith as they see fit without government intrusion or regulation.

Is that freedom absolute? Admittedly it is not. The Supreme Court certainly made that clear in its controversial 5-4 ruling last week that rejected a Nevada church’s request to block the state government from enforcing a cap on attendance at religious services.

What I found most alarming in that decision though, as a Christian keeping a close eye on the issue of religious liberty, was what I believe to be the discriminatory nature of the decision, which allows large gatherings in casinos, restaurants, gyms and stores with little or no restrictions, to say nothing of the free exercise of protesters on our streets to congregate and in some cases, defame public and private property with or without facial coverings.

How essential are those meetings (Is Church “Essential?”)?  Justice Neil Gorsuch in his dissenting opinion of the Nevada case, said it well when he wrote, “The world we inhabit today, with a pandemic upon us, poses unusual challenges…  But there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel.” Echoing Gorsuch, justice Samuel Alito wrote, “A public health emergency does not give Governors and other public officials carte blanche to disregard the Constitution for as long as the medical problem persists.”

All that said, John MacArthur to his credit took his church with an exhortation to others, to the scriptures to ground his position to practice civil disobedience.

Rendering to Caesar and God

One challenge that any church leader and member must undertake, as MacArthur and his team of elders did I’m sure, is making the case of whether or not a congregational order like California’s, prohibits or temporarily restricts- too severely, the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  • The Biblical

The tension which exists and leads to my caveat on Grace Church’s stance, is the clarity of the application between two equally scriptural commands which can be in conflict with one another. In one command, the Bible teaches clearly that Christians are to submit to the authority of God’s ordained institution of government at every level (Ro. 13; 1 Pet. 2), which would theoretically include Coronavirus oriented law and order.

And the other command is that the gospel and the entire counsel of God’s word is to be preached in the gathering of the local church (2 Tim. 3:16-4:2), and that furthermore, the function of biblical fellowship and discipleship is to take place personally and corporately in person.

The New Testament argues that God’s people grow by the means of grace he has provided the church, which includes the word, prayer and the interpersonal and relational fellowship of the body of Christ- the local assembly and community of faith, which is called to sing, pray and preach the word together, breaking bread and observing the ordinances of both baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42-47; Eph. 5:19; Col.3:16), all of which can be done at only the most minimal and temporary level online, through a video screen.

For the church to be the church and all that entails (including ministry, discipline, the love and support of the “one anothers”), the church must come together as intended, in the flesh (Ro. 16; 1 Cor. 16; 2 Cor. 3; 1 Thess. 5). MacArthur convincingly makes that case from the word of God.

However, as the 9Marks ministry of Pastor and Author Mark Dever countered in response to MacArthur’s church statement in particular, was the need for biblical nuance – yes, even Christian freedom or liberty to have a different conviction of conscience in  applying the word to this extraordinary Coronavirus season of life and ministry.  

Afterall, calculating the probabilities of COVID death are one thing and experiencing a fatality or it’s fatal risks within one’s own family, faith family or with a close friend is quite another. Public safety and health are legitimate concerns and a responsibility of the state as well as the church, which is to ‘love neighbors as ourselves.’

As to the exceptional circumstances given in scripture in justifying civil disobedience,  a state’s lockdown or severe restrictions of gospel ministry may very well qualify. Don’t we support the ‘underground’, biblical church’s gathering for the same reasons in oppressive countries like China, Cuba and parts of the Middle East? MacArthur may have been right in appealing to the apostles Acts 4 stand, to render to God what is God’s, when they said they would ‘obey God rather than man’ when they defied the authorities order to refrain from preaching the gospel in public in Jerusalem.

The key however, is found in the words, “may have been right” which I have posited for the position that Grace church took, among dozens of others that have done the same. Whereas faced with the same government order and circumstances in my community and with my church, I may have voted amongst my fellow elders to take the same action as MacArthur’s church, I also see the ‘wiggle room’ or Romans 14 freedom to have concluded otherwise, in the wisdom application of this issue, which seems to have taken on the nature of that which is “disputable” according to the apostle Paul.

Based upon the biblical doctrine of conscience and its call for unity and love (Ro. 14; 1 Cor. 8 and 10), above even the right to exercise personal and in this case corporate freedoms when in doubt, I will not condemn a church for leaning on their decision to submit to their governing authorities.

While I personally remain in support of John MacArthur and his church’s stand of civil disobedience in California, I extend understanding, grace and peace to fellow disciples and undershepherds of the local church who have decided otherwise, while exhorting them at the same time to prayerfully prepare to engage with the state and the next round of rendering that which is God’s and that which is Caesar’s.

The Progress of a Pilgrim who “Knew” God

Bernie Diaz, July 21, 2020

May the Lord rise up a new generation of biblically bathed pastors, preachers and theologians for our troubled times… because we just lost another great one, who has been called home.

James Innell (J.I.) Packer, one of the most oft-published, quoted and influential, evangelical theologians over the last century, went to be with the Lord of glory late last week, just days short of his 94th birthday.

This “good and faithful servant” of the Lord, was a lifelong Anglican churchman who spent the first half of his life in England and the second half in Canada but who was perhaps most popular here in the United States. Why?

He was a student and expert on the ‘Puritans’ – a brotherhood of pastors and theologians, whom he regarded as “the Redwoods of the Christian faith”, having revolutionized Christianity in the 16th and 17th centuries on both sides of the Atlantic, with their dedication to piety and sanctification to God, only matched by their zeal for God’s glory and sovereign grace in salvation.

Packer long fanned the flames of that historic church movement, which has continued to influence and inspire the church from yesterday to today, as noted in the preaching and teaching ministries of men like: Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, John MacArthur, John Piper and R.C. Sproul, among many others.

In fact, I personally have been encouraged and exhorted in my ministry by these Puritan forefathers of the faith, due in large part to Packer’s work on their legacy (The Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life).

In turn, Packer drew inspiration and much of his ministerial motivation from Puritan John Bunyan’s classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress, which he read every year of his Christian life. Throughout his nearly 70 years of writing and ministry, he stressed the importance of knowing and praying to and communing with the triune God.

He further called for the church to take holiness and repentance seriously by walking in the Spirit (Keep in Step with the Spirit) and fighting against indwelling sin.

J.I. Packer defended the infallibility and inerrancy of scripture and biblical authority as a whole and championed the cause of disciple-making to boot. He did all this and more even in the face of controversy, championing other biblically based causes without compromise, though he may have erred – good motives notwithstanding, with his support of the mid 90’s ECT (Evangelical and Catholics Together) statement, which called for ecumenical cooperation between biblical evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism in the cause of political, culture war advancement.

The Best of Packer

ECT notwithstanding, I am most indebted to Packer however, for two of his works – perhaps the two that will leave his greatest legacy to the biblical church for generations to come. The first, his 1973 classic, Knowing God, was not your typical book on theology and certainly was not a traditional, systematic theology text, as many of us come to think of them academically, as it came from the pastoral heart of a man who knew God intimately, and wanted to make him known to readers in the same way.

He took the most fundamental doctrines (truths) of the Christian faith and made them understandable and relevant in such a way, as to lead millions of readers to go deeper into their personal relationship with God and lead them to more holy, God-glorifying lives. He once said his conviction to write his landmark best-seller, was because, “… ignorance of God lies at the root of much of the church’s weakness today.”

Packer knew that Knowing God – what we think of our creator, reveals much of our heart.  In its pages he wrote: “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.”

As to his other great work of legacy to the church, many of us by the turn of the 20th century, probably didn’t see the need for yet another translation of the Bible into English, but Packer jumped at the opportunity to join a project that could be among the most significant investments he could ever make to the global church, that being the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible, which Packer named, serving as the General Editor of that award-winning study Bible, which I take to my pulpit (or online office desk) on each and every Sunday I preach God’s Word.

Published in 2001, Packer reflected on the ESV and said, “I look back on what we did in producing that version, I find myself suspecting very strongly that this was the most important thing that I have ever done for the Kingdom.” He may very well be right, in having helped to develop an excellent and readable, word for word or formal equivalent translation of the vocabulary and structure of the original biblical languages into English.

J.I. Packer did lots of things right for the kingdom and cause of Jesus Christ, by above all, calling Christian people to holiness – to move from spiritual superficiality and to follow the Lord’s example – and that of other great men and women of the faith, to spiritual maturity.

When asked not long before his death what his final words to the church might be, Packer replied, “I think I can boil it down to four words: “Glorify Christ every way.” Not only might that serve as an epitaph for what Packer did in his lifetime and what he is doing now, but should serve as of course, a scripturally bound clarion call (1 Cor. 10:31) for each and every born-again believer and disciple of Christ today.