Article 4—God’s Law: Explanation by Tom Ascol

WE AFFIRM that God’s law, as summarized in the ten commandments, more succinctly summarized in the two great commandments, and manifested in Jesus Christ, is the only standard of unchanging righteousness. Violation of that law is what constitutes sin.

WE DENY that any obligation that does not arise from God’s commandments can be legitimately imposed on Christians as a prescription for righteous living. We further deny the legitimacy of any charge of sin or call to repentance that does not arise from a violation of God’s commandments.

The same God who gave us the gospel has also given us his law. This point can be easily overlooked by Christians who are concerned to be centered on the gospel. That concern is appropriate and those believers who have lived through seasons where the gospel was neglected or at best assumed are understandably sensitive to anything that would compete with its pride of place in the life of the church. However, we can never honor God’s gospel by despising his law.

In fact, lack of clarity about the nature and significance of the law inevitably results in a lack of clarity or even confusion about the gospel. A clear understanding of God’s law provides the foundation for the proclamation of the gospel. I agree with John Bunyan, who wrote, “The man who does not know the nature of the law cannot know the nature of sin. And he who does not know the nature of sin cannot know the nature of the Savior.”

Article 4 of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel is vital because it gets at the foundation of much that is being erroneously advocated under the banner of social justice. John Newton wisely observed,

Ignorance of the nature and design of the law is at the bottom of most religious mistakes. This is the root of self-righteousness, the grand reason why the Gospel of Christ is no more regarded, and the cause of that uncertainty and inconsistency in many, who, though they profess themselves teachers, understand not what they say, nor whereof they affirm.

The God who saves us is the same God who created us and who rules us. He has revealed his will to us in his law. Our duty, therefore, can only be defined in terms of what he has commanded.

Obviously, Scripture reveals various types of commandments that have come from God. To rightly understand our relationship to all that has been commanded we must make distinctions, as Paul clearly does in Romans 2:25-27.

Historically, interpreters from Thomas Aquinas to John Calvin to the Puritans to the Westminster & Second London Confessions of Faith have all recognized a three-fold division within the commandments in order to understand God’s law. As John MacArthur helpfully explains,

“We can divide the law of God into three parts: the moral law, the judicial law, and the ceremonial law. The moral law was for all men, the judicial law was just for Israel, and the ceremonial law was for Israel’s worship of God. So the moral law encompasses all men, it is narrowed down to Israel in the judicial law, and to the worship of Israel toward God in the ceremonial law.”

It is that moral law that the statement affirms as God’s unchanging standard of righteousness. In other words, God and God alone has the authority to tell us what constitutes righteousness and, conversely, what sin is.

This is vital for Christians to keep in mind as we think about how people should live. We are not free to live only for ourselves. We were made for God and must love him supremely above all else. Along with that we must love our neighbors–our fellow image-bearers–sincerely.

What does such love look like? It looks like obedience to God’s commandments. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15) and Paul writes, “For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:9).

What does sin look like? Violation of God’s commandments (1 John 3:4). Before we call anyone to repentance we should be clear that the offense in view is actually a violation of God’s law. And before we start justifying ourselves by thinking that the moral law only governs our outward actions, we must remember the strictness and spirituality of that law as explained by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Both the physical act of adultery as well as the lustful, sexual desires are violations of the seventh commandment.

Though the law of God was never designed to provide a way of salvation for sinners, it does show us what God requires. That remains just as true for Christians as for unbelievers. It also helps us to understand and appreciate all that Jesus has provided for us by his life of obedience and death in behalf of lawbreakers.

It is impossible for people to live without standards of right and wrong. When God’s standard that he has revealed in his law is ignored, neglected or assumed, you can be sure that other, man-made standards will be enforced. That is why J. Gresham Machen’s words are as true now as they were when he wrote them in the early part of the twentieth century:

A new and more powerful proclamation of [the] law is perhaps the most pressing need of the hour; men would have little difficulty with the gospel if they had only learned the lesson of the law…. So it always is; a low view of law always brings legalism in religion; a high view of law makes a man a seeker after grace. Pray God that the high view may again prevail.

Article 1—Scripture: Explanation by Tom Ascol

WE AFFIRM that the Bible is God’s Word, breathed out by him. It is inerrant, infallible, and the final authority for determining what is true (what we must believe) and what is right (how we must live). All truth claims and ethical standards must be tested by God’s final Word, which is Scripture alone.

WE DENY that Christian belief, character, or conduct can be dictated by any other authority, and we deny that the postmodern ideologies derived from intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory are consistent with biblical teaching. We further deny that competency to teach on any biblical issue comes from any qualification for spiritual people other than clear understanding and simple communication of what is revealed in Scripture.

The first article in the “Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel” addresses the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. This is highly appropriate for a document that that has been issued in order to defend and affirm the gospel of Jesus Christ. How do we know what that gospel is? To what source do those who profess that gospel look for their marching orders? The answer is Scripture and Scripture alone.

The classic passage in the Bible about its nature and authority is 2 Timothy 3:16-17. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

If the Bible is truly our final authority then other philosophies cannot be. That does not mean that there is nothing useful or true to be found in such philosophies, but that only what is found in them that corresponds to reality as revealed in Scripture is to be accepted. Biology, sociology, psychology, as well as other disciplines, can provide helpful descriptions of reality. Their claims, however, must all be evaluated in the light of Scripture.

This is precisely what God’s people are required to do.

And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn” (Isaiah 8:19-20, my emphasis).

If the chirpings and mutterings that derive from various aspects of intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory do not accord with God’s written Word, then they are to be dismissed as having no light in them. The Apostle Paul applies this prophetic assessment when he writes, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

The whole “Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel” is an attempt to take Paul’s admonition to heart and clarify key doctrines that are in danger of being undermined by worldly philosophies. These philosophies, if left unchecked, will undermine the gospel of Christ and lead people away from Him.

The statement asserts that “all truth claims and ethical standards must be tested by God’s final Word, which is Scripture alone.” Since Scripture is breathed out by God (θεόπνευστος), it is inerrant and, therefore, authoritative. What it teaches, we are obligated to believe. Where it leads, we are obligated to follow. When anyone tries to influence our faith or conduct as believers we must evaluate what is being said by the Bible. If what is being taught is not explicitly stated or inferentially contained in the Holy Scriptures then Christians are not to be bound by it as if it comes from God.

What this practically means is that every time we accept teaching that tells us what we “must,” “ought” or “should” believe or do as Christians it is because such teaching derives from God’s Word.

The most faithful, helpful Christian leaders and teachers, then, are those who most clearly understand and simply teach what God has revealed in the Bible. A person’s background or experience may provide peculiar opportunities for understanding Scripture in more personal or practical ways, but it is only competency in handling the Word of God that makes such a person a trustworthy spiritual guide.

Spiritual people, that is, those who have been born of God’s Spirit and are trusting Jesus Christ as Lord, want to grow in His grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18). This is both a privilege and a responsibility and is what leads to spiritual maturity. Such maturity, far more than one’s race, sex or life experiences, is what qualifies a believer to be helpful to others in knowing and following Christ.

Ours is a day when authority is perhaps the most crucial issue confronting us. We are like the servants in Jesus’ parable of the ten minas (Luke 19:11-27). Instead of carrying out his business as we await his return, too often our attitude says, “We do not want this man to reign over us” (14). Yet, Christ is our only King. Because of that, his Word is our final authority.

In Romans 12:2 Paul gives us a straightforward command. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The only way to obey this admonition and to avoid being pressed into the world’s ways of thinking, feeling, and aspiring is by the continual training and renewing of our minds. That is, we must keep growing in our understanding and application of Scripture. We must learn it, believe it, and submit our lives to it.

Only by such commitment to God’s Word will Christians be able to distinguish between truth and error and avoid being led astray by false teaching that creeps into our churches.

White Privilege

White privilege is generally regarded as a system of unearned privileges and advantages that have been unjustly provided to white people simply because of their race.

The concept traces back to W.E.B Dubois in the 1930s who spoke of a psychological wage that every white man earned each day simply by being white. The idea was refined and given new expression in a 1988 essay written by radical feminist, Peggy McIntosh, who is a Senior Research Associate of the Wellesley Centers for Women. She wrote an essay on Male Privilege and White Privilege that was quickly released in its shorter form entitled, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”

The essay is a personal account of McIntosh’s perceptions of her own life of privilege. She attributes many of the benefits and advantages she has to the fact that she is white and then extrapolates that to all white people. Her analogy is that all white people have a knapsack full of privileges that they enjoy but which they “have been carefully taught not to recognize.” Thus, their knapsacks and privileges are invisible to them.

McIntosh lists 26 privileges that whites possess unthinkingly and includes everything from being able to be in the company of people of their own race most of the time to being able to purchase “flesh-colored” band-aids and have them match their skin tone.

In one sense the case for white privilege is easy to make in most Western societies. Any group who is largely responsible for the establishment of the culture of a society will inevitably enjoy more privileges in that society than other groups. This is true for Chinese in China, Zambians in Zambia, and the Swedes in Sweden—regardless of the color of their skin.

It was also true for murderers, thieves, highway robbers and other criminals running from the law in the late 19th century when they settled in Logan County, Kentucky. “Rogues Harbor,” as the settlement came to be called, was run by and set up to benefit, well, to benefit rogues. The depth of their “privilege” was driven home to law-abiding citizens when the so-called “regulators” where defeated in a battle against the rogues, thus continuing the inequities of that society for years to come. Only when the law finally crossed the Alleghanies did the western frontier begin to experience greater degrees of its rule.

Do some people have more advantages than others? Of course. It is inevitable and obvious. Who would deny that all people do not enjoy the same opportunities, benefits or blessings in life? Call that privilege if you will, but the reality is that such disparities are simply a part of God’s providential ordering of the world. “For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another” (Psalm 75:6-7).

The creators and promoters of “white privilege” have simply taken that reality and racialized it in an attempt to explain disparities that they observe among people of different color. Some have gone further and weaponized the concept in a misguided attempt to provide equal outcomes for different groups of people. Thus, whites are told to “check their privilege” in order to flatten out any disparities between themselves and those who are not white.

Furthermore, observable disparities between people are far from always being only beneficial or detrimental. This is evident with physical disparities. Some people are tall; some short. Some are strong; some weak. Some are genetically predisposed to long life; others to early deaths.

But is height always a privilege? Not if you are flying coach on Delta it isn’t! Or if you are riding in the back seat of a Honda Civic.

The problem with white privilege is that it has quickly become a worldview for those who insist on seeing everything through a racialized lens. People are divided up into groups of greater or lesser privilege based on race. This, then, provides a rationale for people thinking about themselves as either oppressed by those who have privilege or oppressing those without it.

In addition to fostering a superficial way of thinking about the world, the idea of white privilege also breeds a sense of white guilt. White people are made to feel like they must always check their privilege or else maintain an oppressive posture over those who are not white. This encourages a victim-mentality in those who are not white, sending the false message that no matter what they do, they cannot overcome the unearned privilege of those who are white.

Scripture calls us to accept responsibility for our own lives, no matter how privileged or underprivileged we may be. In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus makes the point that three servants were given unequal amounts of money—or we might say, privilege—but each one of them was expected to exercise wise stewardship over what they were given. The servant who received five talents made five more and was commended and rewarded. In the exact same way, the servant who received only two talents was commended and rewarded. Only the servant who buried his lone talent and did nothing with it was rebuked and condemned by the master.

The Bible teaches us to see all of life as grace and to recognize that we stand before Him as His image-bearers who are accountable to Him. Whether He puts one, two or five talents in my hand, I must recognize that it is more than I deserve and I must make the most of what has been entrusted to me. That is, I must use whatever gifts and opportunities—whatever privileges—God gives me to honor Him by doing good to others, especially to those with greater needs.

I am not to covet those who have more nor disdain or neglect those who have less. Rather, I am to thank God for His grace, look to Him for the greatest gift of salvation in Christ, and seek to live my life wholly for His glory.


What’s Wrong with Woke?

If you haven’t heard about being “woke” then that means that you aren’t. Over the last year or so evangelicals have been calling for evangelical churches to get woke so that they might more successfully deal with racism and injustice in America.

The most prominent voice among those issuing this call is Pastor Eric Mason, the founder and lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He defines “woke” as an “urban colloquialism used by black nationalists and those who are in the black consciousness movement” to describe becoming fully aware of “the systemic, sociological, economic and comprehensive disenfranchisement of African-Americans” (DTS chapel sermon; online) Next month Moody will release a book by Dr. Mason that addresses this issue more thoroughly. It is entitled, Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice.

The concept has its roots in the latter part of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s with the rise of the Black Power movement. Leaders of that movement contended that racism was not merely a barrier to be overcome in America but rather an “all-encompassing reality” in which African-Americans live (Steele, White Guilt, 32).

In 2008 Erykah Badu released a song entitled, “Master Teacher,” which repeats the refrain, “I stay woke.” Over the next several years the word began to gain currency in urban colloquial speech.

After the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, the term became solidified in modern vocabulary to refer to being fully aware of systemic racism in America. The Black Lives Matter movement has helped make the word popular by employing it in many of their promotional pieces.

African-Americans are encouraged and even expected to be “woke” if they are going to understand racism for what it really is. But for a white person to be considered “woke” is taken by many as a badge of honor. It is a sign that despite his or her place of privilege he or she has come to see things from the perspective of those who have been or are being systematically oppressed.

The great problem of the idea of being woke is that it is built on a presupposition that does not like to be challenged or even questioned. It presumes that racism in America is systemic and institutional in the sense that the whole society is built upon and organized around principles and practices that discriminate against black people. The only way to be considered woke is to accept that as a fact. To question or challenge that assumption is to be culturally blind at best and at worst, to be a racist.

One of the many things I love about the Bible is that it reveals reality to us and always calls us to face realities honestly. This goes for both seen and unseen realities. The Bible clearly reveals that God created this world and everything in it to be good and upright. It also reveals that sin has come and corrupted everything. Because of sin, nothing is the way that it is supposed to be or the way that God created it to be.

Sin separates us from God, turns us against one another and turns us in on ourselves. As a result, all of our relationships are corrupted and in need of restoration. This means that everything that sinful human beings touch becomes corrupted—including all human institutions and systems. As a result, people are often treated unjustly in this world.

That injustice is always the result of sin. It is not, however, always the result of racism. If the presuppositions of “wokeness” are uncritically accepted, then every injustice against a black person can be attributed to systemic racism. This will inevitably lead to wrong solutions being applied to real problems because some acts of injustice may have nothing to do with race at all. Furthermore, it will tend to create a cultural context where real racism gets downplayed or overlooked because unjustified accusations of racism are hurled about indiscriminately.

The good news is that the Bible reveals to us reality about not only sin and injustice but also about God’s solution for both. The very reason that God sent His Son, Jesus, into the world is to redeem us from sin and to make all things new. The grace that we receive in Christ is sufficient for us to live full, productive lives in a world of sin and injustice.

Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4 are very instructive at this point. He describes himself as being “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (8-9). Then he concludes the section by sharing with us the secret of how Christians can live joyful, hope-filled lives in the midst of such oppression.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

For those who are trusting the crucified, risen Savior, we can be sure that even as outwardly we are wasting away and being forced to endure affliction, those afflictions in reality are “light” and “momentary” and are in fact working for us an eternal weight of glory. We will see this and be assured of this as we look realistically not only at outward realities, but also at unseen, eternal realities that are ours in Christ.

It is only in the light of those eternal realities that we will be awakened to see this present world with all of its brokenness as it really is and will be able to address its injustices with truth and grace.