Monday, November 28, 2011

The Profitable Employee

    Probably most Americans today are thieves. No, they do not go around holding up corner grocery stores or breaking into homes, but they steal nonetheless. They steal from their employers.

    Let's be honest and admit it. How much time do we spend each day at work not engaged in productive labor, "goofing off" – talking with others when we should be working? How many things have we taken home from the job for our personal use that belonged to the company? How many times have we used the company telephone or company e-mail for personal business, and on company time? How many times have we padded the paperwork to make it appear that we did more work than we actually did? The truth of the matter is that we have probably all done some of these things at one time or another.

    To most of us this seems pretty trivial, the pettiest of petty theft, but it is not. It involves an important moral principle: we owe it our employer to do what he is paying us to do. When we are derelict in our duty we are essentially stealing from him, and this, in turn, dishonors God.    

    Writing to Titus, Paul instructs him to "exhort bondservants to be obedient to their own masters, to be well-pleasing in all things, not answering back, not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity . . ." (Tit. 2:9,10; NKJV). Here there are several things that are required of those who work for others. First, we owe obedience – we need to do as we are told! The job won't get done if we don't follow instructions, and everyone loses as a result.

    Second, we need to be respectful: ". . .be well-pleasing in all things, not answering back." We need to try to please the boss and not argue with him. We should always be courteous and respectful.

    Third, don't steal! ". . . not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity . . ." This is especially true if we are being paid by the hour. If we stop working in order to socialize on the job we are defrauding our employer. And, of course, it goes without saying that we should never take company property!    

    What is especially remarkable is that this passage, and others like it, are not addressed to employees who are free to leave their employer if they are dissatisfied with their working conditions. Rather, it is addressed to "bondservants" – it uses the common Greek word for "slave" (doulos) and the Greek word for slavemaster (despotes). Slaves had no choice about whom they served, and some of their masters could be cruel and tyrannical. Yet God wanted the slaves to serve their masters faithfully. How much more do we owe those for whom we work as a matter of free choice, who are paying us for our services!

    God is also concerned about the manner in which we perform our duties. For example in Col. 3:22-25 we are told to obey our masters, "not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God" (v. 22). "Eyeservice" means merely creating the appearance of work in order to impress the boss. When he's not looking, we slack off. Oftentimes today employees will cut corners, fluff up the numbers, or ignore problems in order to produce numbers. But this only produces a paper result, not a satisfied customer, and defeats the whole purpose of work. There is no pride in our workmanship. It is also fundamentally dishonest.

    Paul then goes on to say, echoing the language of Eccl. 9:10, that "whatever you do, do it heartily (lit. "work from the soul"), as to the Lord and not to men" (v. 23). In other words, we are to be conscientious about our work and always try to do our very best. We might think, with good reason, that our boss is an absolute moron and a jerk (and we speak from our own personal experience in this), but we should do our best anyway, for the Lord's sake if not for the boss's. God sees what kind of job we are doing, and in His time we will get our reward.

    A.W. Pink put it like this: "Let each reader of these pages who is an employee ask himself or herself, how far am I really making a genuine, prayerful and diligent endeavor to comply with God's requirements in the performance of my duties?" (Practical Christianity, Baker, 1974, p. 185).

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Thanksgiving Meditation - - Psalm 103

     In the 103rd Psalm David exhorts his soul to "bless the Lord."  In our modern secular age we might wonder "why?"  If, as is widely assumed these days, everything has a natural cause, then one might suppose that there is nothing for which to thank God.  Presumably He had nothing to do with it.
     David, however, saw things differently.  He recognized several important facts of life.    
     First of all, he recognized the sovereignty of God.  "The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all" (v. 19; NKJV).  The world did not bring itself into existence, and it does not continue to exist on its own.  Above it all is God, eternal and omnipotent, Creator of heaven and earth.
     Secondly, David recognized the transitory nature of human life.  "As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes.  For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more" (vv. 15,16).  Some of us live into our 80's, a few into their 90's, and then we are gone.  To us a lifetime may seem like a long time, but in the cosmic scheme of things it is nothing.  Most of us probably cannot remember who are great-great-grandparents were, let alone our more remote ancestors.  We are alive today and forgotten tomorrow.
     Thirdly, David was conscious of the fact that at one particular point in history God revealed Himself to mankind: "He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel" (v.7).  Mount Sinai was a dramatic turning point in human history, when monotheism dawned upon the human consciousness.  God revealed directly to Moses what could not otherwise be known.  The Torah became the foundation of Western Civilization.
     That being said, what do we know about God?  First of all, that He is a God of justice: "The Lord executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed" (v. 6).  We experience a kind of rough-hewn justice here and now: economies collapse and tyrannies are overthrown.  Perfect justice, however, will come later, at the Last Judgment, when all will be made right.
     But what we also know about God is that He is compassionate, and much of the psalm is taken up with this theme.  When we sin, God anger does not last forever (v. 9).  He has not punished us fully as we deserve (v. 10).  He forgives sin (v. 12) and takes pity on our weakness (v. 14).  The psalmist can even compare the love of God to that of a human father for his helpless children (v. 13).
     It is in light of all of this that David was able to say "Bless the Lord, O my soul; all that is within me, bless His holy name!" (v. 1).  He was mindful of the fact that God had forgiven his sins, preserved his life, and blessed him with many good things (vv. 3-5).
     It is important to note one critical factor, however.  God does not shower His blessings upon all mankind indiscriminately, but rather His mercy is "on those who fear Him . . . to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them" (vv. 17,18).  To "fear" in this context means to hold Him in reverent awe and to fear to disobey Him.  In David's context the "covenant" was the covenant that God had made with Israel, which involved keeping God's commandments and abstaining from the wicked practices of the surrounding nations.  In order to know God and receive His blessing, we must seek Him in humble submission to His will.  Otherwise we can expect nothing from Him but His frown.
     On Thanksgiving Day let us "forget not all His benefits" (v. 2)!                    

Monday, November 21, 2011

Why Obey?


    Obey! The very word makes us cringe. It represents the assertion of authority by one person over another. We object to it because it is a threat to our personal autonomy, a form of abject slavery.

    We would like to think that we are free to do as we please and that we are accountable to no one for our actions. We live in a free country. It is even a part of our national creed to believe that "governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed." Presumably we obey the government only because we created it and elected its officials. They are no so much our masters as our servants.

    The statement in the Declaration of Independence, however, is patently false. Governments do not derive their just powers from the consent of the governed; they derive them from God.

    The sanctity of all legitimate human authority rests on the Fifth Commandment: "Honor your father and your mother." So serious was this social obligation that the death penalty was prescribed for those who broke it. The parents of an incorrigible son were to bring him before the elders of the city and denounce him in open court. The juvenile delinquent was then to be stoned to death. ". . . so will you put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear" (Dt. 21:18-21; NKJV).

    It is clear from the teachings of Scripture elsewhere that this principle of respect for one's parents extends to human authority in general, in particular to the civil magistrates. In Romans chapter 13 the apostle Paul enjoins Christians to "be subject to the governing authorities." In particular we are to obey the law, pay our taxes and give those in authority our personal respect. "Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor" (v. 7).

    What is remarkable about this passage is that it was written when the Roman Empire controlled the Mediterranean world, and most of its subject peoples were not Romans. The Jews in particular chafed under Roman rule. The Roman Empire was not a democracy and most of its officials could hardly be called "Christian." Yet Paul could say that the civil magistrate "is God's minister to you for good"(v.4).

    How could he say such a thing? The reason is given in verse 1: "For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God." In other words, civil government per se has been ordained by God in order to maintain order in society, and God rules over political developments through His providence. Therefore we are to obey the government, not just from a fear of punishment, "but also for conscience' sake" (v. 5). Submission to the government is our moral duty, and it should be discharged conscientiously.

    If we are always looking for ways to skirt the law, to cheat when we think no one is looking, then we make the government official's job that much more difficult. Moreover, this is not a duty we owe just to individual officials; we owe it to society as a whole. Anarchy adversely affects everyone, and it is in the interest of us all to maintain the rule of law. General lawlessness in society eventually leads to increasingly harsh and repressive measures by the government. Civil liberty cannot exist in the midst of a depraved population.

    This does not mean, however, that the power of the government is unlimited. If human authority is established by God it is also limited by God. Rulers are expected to rule justly. The government cannot usurp the place of God Himself – that is tantamount to idolatry. When the apostles were ordered to stop preaching, their answer was "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29; cf. 4:19,20). The will of God is always supreme; human government is always a subordinate authority.

    Regrettably those of us who grew up in the '60's scarcely have any concept of authority at all. We have sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind. First the children rebelled against their parents, and then the wives rebelled against their husbands. The divorce rate soared, the family structure collapsed, and now the specter of social chaos is staring us in the face. Even common courtesy and respect have largely gone by the wayside.

    "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come; For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (II Tim. 3:1-4)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Capitalism and the Sabbath


    Perhaps nowhere is the clash between Capitalism and Christianity seen more clearly than on the issue of the Sabbath.

    Adam Smith famously maintained that in a free market economy an individual is "led by an invisible hand to promote an end which has no part of his attention." ". . .the study of his own advantage naturally, or rather necessarily, leads him to prefer that employment [of resources] which is most advantageous to the society" (Wealth of Nations, Book IV, Chapter II).

    Frankly, we think that this is a morally dubious proposition. Human nature is self-oriented, and self interest leads naturally to . . . the exploitation of others. Absent government regulation, an active labor movement, or some sort of moral restraint, the profit motive will lead the strong to take advantage of the weak, and frankly, leave them impoverished.

    We have been distressed to see businesses apparently acting without conscience. Convenience stores sell beer, cigarettes, lottery tickets and pornography. The "entertainment" industry regularly exploits sex and violence. The food industry pushes oversized portions larded with salt, sugar and fat, creating an obesity pandemic. And most incredibly of all, we find pharmacies selling tobacco products in complete disregard for their own professional standards! It seems that all too often the public welfare is sacrificed on the altar of corporate profits.

    In the current economic crisis conditions in the labor market are especially heart-wrenching. Employers are reluctant to hire, and when they do it is often for part-time or temporary positions at entry level wages on the second shift with no benefits. We were especially appalled to find some local employers (non-union manufacturing jobs) with horrendous mandatory overtime policies. Employees are required to work up to seven days a week and from ten to twelve hours a day. One employer had its employees work 21 days straight. Overtime for the day shift can begin at 4:00 a.m. Under these conditions almost anything in the employee's personal life that requires attention can cost him his job. Apparently it is all legal here in Pennsylvania. Workers with families and obligations outside the job need not apply!

    Some of us are old enough to remember a time when there were "blue laws." Only a very few businesses providing essential public services were permitted to be open on Sundays. These laws have largely gone by the wayside, another casualty of modern "progress" and secular thinking, but in light of current conditions it might be time to bring them back.

    The Sabbath was ancient Israel's labor law. It placed certain restrictions on what an employer could demand from his employees. "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you" (Deut. 5:13,14; NKJV).

    Jesus once told the Pharisees, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mk. 2:27). The Sabbath essentially serves a humanitarian purpose, and it is not hard to see why.

    First of all, we need periodic rest. What our Creator knows is that physically, mentally and emotionally we need regular intervals between periods of work in which we can relax and refresh ourselves. We are not machines that can run continuously forever without maintenance! We work better on the other six days of the week when we have had time to rest on the seventh.

    Secondly, we need to spend time with our families. Marriages are collapsing and children are growing up without adequate parenting. We need to gather around the dinner table and reconnect. Where will America's future workers learn the values of honesty and hard work if not from their parents and churches?

    Thirdly, we need the Sabbath to keep life in its proper perspective. If all we ever do is work, and if all we ever think about is money, then frankly we will become crassly materialistic and subhuman. We will sacrifice family, friends and faith on the altars of Mammon. Six days have been allotted for work, and on the seventh day we need to turn our attention to the higher concerns of life. We need to be in a house of worship thinking about God and how everything fits into the cosmic scheme of things. That, in turn, will give a sense of meaning and purpose to what we do on the other six days.

    Self-interest may be what drives the marketplace, but it is not moral. What God requires of us is a decent regard for the welfare of our fellow human beings. "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! . . .Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth" (James 5:1,4).



Friday, November 11, 2011

Letter to a Unitarian Minister

The following is an extract from a letter we once sent to a Unitarian minister, whose sermon "Where Is Our Holy Text?" we happened to hear one Sunday morning. The minister was emphatic in denying that the Bible is a divinely inspired text, and cited a canon of several feminist authors as her own "holy text."


    "I appreciate the candor and frankness with which you expressed your opinions, but I do feel that they call for some sort of response. I was fortunate to have attended an evangelical seminary (Westminster, in Philadelphia), and to have been exposed to a body of conservative biblical scholarship that has examined liberal critical objections to the Bible and nevertheless found the Scriptures to be trustworthy. I was especially privileged to have taken courses under Leon Morris and Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, both of whom have written a number of very fine commentaries on various books of the New Testament. Personally, at the end of the day, I can see no reason to question the veracity and authority of the Bible.

    "I might also point out that the 'Sunday school faith' you described in your sermon was the faith of Athanasius and Augustine, of Thomas Aquinas and the Protestant Reformers, of Jonathan Edwards and the great Princeton theologians of the 19th century. It is the historic faith of the Christian Church. It deserves to be treated with more respect than you gave it in your sermon.

    "I think that you probably approached the crux of the issue when you quoted a statement from the Humanist Manifesto of 1933 to the effect that 'All reality is self-creating.' If this statement were actually true, then you would be perfectly justified in your attempt to marginalize God. The statement, however, is palpable nonsense. If something does not yet exist, then by the very nature of the case it lacks the power to do anything. It can cause no effect, and it certainly cannot bring itself into existence. Or, to rephrase the question in more concrete biological terms, we might ask 'How did life begin'? Under a strict evolutionary scenario that excludes the possibility of 'Intelligent Design,' at some point what amounts to spontaneous generation must have occurred, which, as we know from scientific experiment, is impossible. This, then, brings us right back to the inescapable question of God. If, in fact, we have been created by a Supreme Being, then the Westminster Shorter Catechism is absolutely correct when it says that 'The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.'

    "I know that the Unitarian Universalist Association is proud of the freedom of thought that it seeks to foster within its fellowship. But at some point we as human beings have to deal with questions of ultimate truth. Is there a God? Does life have meaning and purpose? Is there really a difference between good and evil? Is there life after death? At death these issues will be inescapable, no matter how hard we tried to avoid them in life. And apart from some form of divine revelation we have no means of answering these questions, and we are left in profound ignorance of the matters most important to us. Given the attitude of Unitarians toward Scripture it is hard for me to see what can save you from the kind of abject nihilism typified by Friedrich Nietzsche. You profess to believe in a very idealistic set of social principles, but they are suspended in metaphysical thin air. The ever looming danger is that someday your ethics will catch up to your intellectual skepticism, and then you will have nothing left at all to offer society. That kind of moral skepticism is, in fact, the general trend in society today. . .

    "I will probably decline any further opportunities to participate in Unitarian church services. I have no desire to give human beings the place of honor that rightfully belongs to God alone. I noticed that your responsive reading last Sunday came from the writings of William Ellery Channing. William Ellery Channing did not give me life and health, the air I breathe or the bread I eat; much less did he die for my sins. I owe Channing nothing; I owe Christ everything. I shall worship Him Who deserves my praise and no one else. 'Therefore God has also highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father'(Phil. 2:9-11; NKJV)."



Robert W. Wheeler



Monday, November 7, 2011

The Problem with Liberal Theology

    One of the strangest things to emerge from the muddled human brain is the notion that we can make up the truth. The statement is an oxymoron, of course. If you "made it up" it would not be "truth" -- it would be fiction. Yet when it comes to religion it is absolutely amazing to see how many people think that you can make up your own ideas about God!

    Astonishingly, this is what passes for serious theology in many of our leading seminaries. It is generally known as Liberal Theology, and it is very widely accepted today.

    How can that possibly be? The problem started over two hundred years ago. During the so-called "Enlightenment" critics attacked the credibility and trustworthiness of the Bible. Intelligent, educated people were made to feel that they could no longer believe in the Sacred Scriptures. Yet many did not want to give up their faith. It finally fell to a German theologian, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) to come up with what appeared to be a solution. Our faith, according to him, does not rest on the findings of science or reason, but rather on an inner sense of religious truth – an inward feeling or personal experience. We know God intuitively, and therefore it does not matter whether or not the Bible is literally true.

    But there is a problem here – a very serious one. If religion is a matter of our inward, subjective feelings, then what shapes the content of theology? What makes a theological statement true or false? For the next two hundred years German theologians devoted their attention to the problem, and came up with a bewildering array of answers. Yet the sheer diversity of opinion underscored the underlying problem: in the final analysis it was all made up. Most of it had little connection with anything that the historical Jesus actually said or taught.

    The problem of unorthodox theology is nothing new – it was existed since the very beginning of the Christian Church. And the Church was warned against this from the very beginning as well.

    The anatomy of heterodoxy is described for us vividly in II Peter 2:1-3. Here we are told that "there will be false teachers among you" (v. 1; NKJV). Ironically they will deny "the Lord who bought them" – they will claim to be Christians but will deny Christ. One might wonder, why? If one has no use for Christ (or, one thinks that the historical Jesus cannot be known) why bother with Christianity at all? Why not simply identify oneself with something else? According to the text the apparent reason is that the false teachers have ulterior motives. What drives them is "covetousness." They are in it for personal gain. In some cases it might be simply money. In other cases it might be the prestige and security of a tenured faculty position.

    How, then, do these teachers operate? The text says that they use "deceptive words," or "made-up sayings," as it might be more literally translate (the NIV has "stories they have made up"). The message is tailored for the effect.

    Whatever the motive, the results are devastating. False teaching causes "destructive heresies" (v. 1), and as a result "the way of the truth will be blasphemed" (v. 2). Christianity ends up being discredited because of something that really isn't Christianity.

    And where does it all lead in the end?: ". . . their judgment . . . is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep" (v. 3, NASV).

    Today error takes many different forms. Besides the liberal theologians in their ivory towers there are various cults and even fringe movements within the Evangelical community. Even everyday, ordinary people are guilty of making up their own theology. They pick and choose what they want to believe, and justify it all by saying "This is what I think." But whatever form the error takes, the end result is the same: the true gospel is not preached, people are led astray, and the church is discredited.

    In effect false theology is a form of idolatry. Instead of worshipping the one true and living God, we worship the various gods of our own imaginations.

    The message of Christianity, however, is not malleable, something that can be reshaped and molded at will. The objective facts stand as they are, and as they have been revealed to us. To try to invent something else is merely an exercise in self-delusion, and it dishonors God. Creativity in theology is a vice and not a virtue.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


    Is God still relevant? The general trend in Western thought for the past couple of centuries has been in the direction of growing secularism. The underlying assumption is that human reason alone is sufficient to arrive at truth, and that consequently any type of religious revelation is unnecessary. Thus we have attempted to exclude God from our thinking. We pretty much think and act as if God did not exist.

    In more recent times there has been an attempt to move away form the rationalism of modern scientific thinking, but this, unfortunately, has not resulted in a revival of religion. On the contrary, we seem to have become even more atheistic than ever, denying the existence of universal truths altogether. To this "Post-Modern" way of thinking there are no such things as moral absolutes.

    But what if God really exists? What becomes of our secular thinking then?

    The New Testament raises this question in a very pointed way in Romans chapter 1. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men . . ." (v. 18; NKJV). God is angry with us. Why? Because of our "ungodliness" and "unrighteousness." The Greek word translated "ungodliness" basically means "impiety," a lack of reverence or devotion to God. Or, to use a more modern term, it is frankly what goes by the name today of "secularism." "Unrighteousness" is the failure to live in accordance with God's law, especially as that failure involves the mistreatment of others. Thus we stand accused of crimes against both God and our fellow human beings. This is the reason that God is angry with us.

    "Ah," but the modern secularist replies, "there is no evidence that God exists! There is no reason to believe in His existence."

    The inspired apostle, however, continues his indictment. God is angry with men because they "suppress the truth in unrighteousness." He goes on to explain what he means. ". . . because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse" (vv. 19,20). We are surrounded by the evidence of God's goodness, wisdom and power. The sheer complexity of nature points to an intelligent Designer. (An evolutionist, of course, would deny this, but we have already dealt with the question of evolution in a previous blog post – cf. "Why Evolution Is False," Oct. 5, 2011).

    But what has our response been to all of this evidence? ". . . because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools . . . " (vv. 21,22). Here we see traced out for us the whole course of modern philosophy, talking itself into absurdities, and never arriving at a firm conclusion.

    And what is the judgment of God upon all of this? "Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen" (vv. 24,25). In other words, the moral disintegration of Western society is the direct result of our refusal to acknowledge God. Secularism has been our undoing.

    Sad to say, many Americans today choose to live as though God does not exist. They never visit a house of worship, engage in private prayer, or read the Bible. They never thank Him for His blessings towards them, and they never consider what His will might be when they make personal decisions. For all practical purposes we have become a godless society. How tragically mistaken we are! We are headed for the abyss, and yet we will not turn back and change our ways. What can become of us?