Friday, February 23, 2007

The Moral Objection to Socialism

Having grown up in Canada, and benefited from the free healthcare and highly subsidized public education system, I can say that the social democratic model of government is not all that bad, so long as there is a rigorous system of rights in place that the State is obliged to respect.

But the subject of human rights raises interesting questions about the moral status of socialism. In point of fact, I would like to argue that if human rights do indeed exist, they furnish us with a cogent moral objection to socialism and the welfare state. Namely, I would like to argue that people have certain rights that no individual or group can violate. Furthermore, where a capitalistic economy is made possible by the free exchange of goods and the voluntary participation of rational agents, socialism is only be made possible by the coercive violence of the State. By trumping the rights of its citizens, it uses violence to force them to pay for public goods through taxation. Insofar as socialism is sustained and maintained by violence, and impinges on the rights of its citizens, it must be rejected.

Let me use the example of welfare in Canada. Having a welfare system means every Canadian is forced to pay part of their income to other Canadians. For every every 5-day work week, for example, the government forces its citizens to effectively work one of those days for another Canadian. Where other countries may rely on voluntary charitees to take care of the poor, the Canadian government obliges all of its citizens to contribue through taxation. If a Canadian should object to having their hard earned income go to strangers, and subsequently decides to withold paying taxes to the government, one of several things will happen, keeping in mind that the State has a monopoly on the use of coercive force in society. If a citizen fails to pay their taxes either they will be (a) fined, (b) have their property confiscated, (c) their children taken away by Child Services, (d) serve jail time, or, should they resist arrest, they may even (e) be shot. In other words, Canadians risk life and limb should they refuse to participate in the welfare system. In the name of the 'common good', the State is prepared to forfit the rights of its citizens to life, bodily intergrity and personal property, and will threaten them with violence should they decide not to help their neighbor.

There are legitimate uses of violent force. Repelling a thief, murderer, or rapist for instance. But refusing to give to charity is not a legitimate reason to use violent force against the citizens of a free country. And that's what socialism tries to be, isn't it? Forced charity? Imagine if the Salvation Army began to arm its volunteers with weapons, so that instead of ringing a bell in front of the Walmart during Christmas, they would be shooting an AK-47 into the air, and threatening to kill the shoppers if they refused to contribute to the charity. As ridiculous as that sounds, that is precisely what welfare states like Canada are doing to their citizens. So I ask you, is it right to threaten a person with death if they refuse to give to charity (or welfare)? I think not. Charity should always be voluntary, and never be forced.

But think of all the other State-sponsored things that are paid for by taxpayers. Museums and concert halls, ice rinks and skateboard parks, secular schools and libraries. Sure, these things are nice to have. But they can just as easily be built and funded by the private sector through voluntary donations. By keeping it voluntary rights will be respected. Violence is unecessary. Such projects can only be built at public expense by threatening citizens with violent coercion should they refuse to underwrite the projects through taxation. That is simply immoral. Insofar as socialism depends upon the violent coercive force of the State, it too is immoral. The State should have no right to violate the rights of its citizens, even in the name of public good. Hence, my moral objection to socialism.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Separation and Excommunication

The Anglican church is undergoing a new round of upheavals. Many people would not be too surprised at the newest developments. The Anglican church was founded, after all, as a means for King Henry VIII to get a divorce. But despite its dubious beginnings, the Anglican church has always had its share of orthodox believers who have struggled to remain true to the Christian faith. Names that come to mind would include J.C. Ryle, J.I Packer, N.T. Wright, etc.

But as I say, the Episcopal Church (TEC) is now going through a particularly bad struggle, largely because of two recent developments. First, the ordination in 2003 of a non-celibate gay bishop by the name of Gene Robinson. And second, the election in 2006 of Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first female Presiding Bishop of the USA.

In all fairness, non-celibate gay priests have been ordained in the TEC for years with little or no fuss. And the Anglican church has always had an abundance of unconverted clergy who believed little or nothing of the Christian faith, such as Ms. Schori. But the election of both a gay bishop and unconverted presiding bishop was the last straw for orthodox Anglicans in the Episcopal Church. After years of holding out, it seems their hope has finally turned to despair. Until now many orthodox Anglicans have been content to stay within an increasingly apostate denomination, hoping for some kind of renewal or reformation to take place. But since the events of 2003 and 2006, more and more congregations have been leaving the TEC and aligning themselves with orthodox bishops in the global south, primarily from Africa and South America. And yet although many Anglicans have left, many more are choosing to stay. My questions is, why? How can anyone possibly stay associated with the TEC given all that has come to pass?

Orthodox Anglicans pride themselves on adhering to Scripture where the heterdox do not. Their insistence on the sinfulness of homosexual acts is one example of being faithful to Scripture. But that is not the only subejct that Scripture speaks to. The Bible is also very clear on the steps that need to be taken when gross immorality infects the church. Essentially there are three steps.

First, (a) the erring brother or sister must be approached three times, confronted with their sins, and asked to repent (Matthew 18:15-20). If the person repents and amends their ways, then all is well.

If they do not repent then one of two things must happen.

Either, (b) the person must be excommunicated or banned from the church and treated as an unbeliever (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5) or failing that, then (c) the faithful believer must separate themselves from the false teachers or church (2 John 9-11).

To summarize the steps are (a) confrontation, followed by either (b) excommunication or (c) separation. Now has does this three point process square with the history of heresy in the TEC?

In point of fact, orthodox Anglicans have been battling heresy in the TEC for many years... for decades, if not for centuries. Little or no progress has been made. Meaning, the TEC has remained unrepentant despite the repeated efforts of orthodox Anglican at reformation and reconciliation. The next step to have taken, therefore, would be to (b) excommunicate offending members of the TEC. The only thing is, it seems as though the majority of priests and bishops in the TEC are apostates or unbelievers, meaning the heterodox are presently in control of the denomination. Excommunicatin would have to come from the highest level. But if the latest meeting of the Primates in Dar Es Salaam is any indication, only a minority in the Anglican church are willing to excommunicate the TEC. There is little hope that the TEC will be excommunicated from the Anglican communion if it does not repent. That isn't to say that some progress has not been made. In the recent meeting the Primates called on the TEC to stop ordaining non-celibate gay bishops. But given the fact that the Primates completely avoided calling on the TEC to repent of her innumerable other heresies, one is forced to conclude that little or nothing will be done to bring the TEC back onto the straight and narrow way of following Christ.

Therefore, only one option remains for orthodox Anglican believers. Namely (c) to separate themselves from the apostate TEC, and to join themselves to a faithful church. Separation is a Biblical command that cannot be disobeyed. It has been instituted by God to protect the faithful from the influence of ungodly and false teachers who threaten to endanger the souls of the faithful. If you believe in the authority of Scripture, then you must also believe in the command to separate.

If you are an orthodox Anglican in the TEC, I abjure you, by the authority of Scripture, to come out from among the unbelievers and to join yourself to a Bible-believing, gospel-preaching, Christ-glorifying, orthodox Church. You have one life to live. You can live it in obedience or disobedience to God. So use it wisely. There are faithful priests and congregations that have left the material comforts of the TEC in order to live in faithfulness to God. They deserve your financial support. Your tithes and offering belong to God, not to an apostate denomination. For this and many other reasons you must separate from the blasphemers. There is no other way.

May God have mercy on the TEC.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Religious Freedom in Canada

I am originally from Montréal, Canada. By the grace of God I married a beautiful and godly Texan girl, and am in the process of imigrating to the United States. One of the reasons why we decided to make our home in the U.S. rather than in Canada has to do with the fact that Canada does not uphold or respect the rights of its citizens.

An an english-speaking Canadian and graphic designer who grew up in a province with draconian language laws (ie: Quebec), there are plenty of examples I could provide to show that the Canadian government has little regard for upholding the rights of its citizens. Stores and businesses, for example, are liable to prosecution by the provincial government if they do not conform to language laws that prohibit advertising in english. In other words, businesses in Quebec cannot advertise in english without having to follow severe restrictions, even when that business largely caters to english-speaking clientele. Sadly, despite being an officially bilingual country, Canada did nothing to protect my rights. But language issues were only peripheral to our decision to remain in the United States. At the heart of our consideration was the issue of religious freedoms.

In point of fact, Canada abrogates the religious freedoms of its citizens whenever homosexuals or abortionists object to them. In almost every case where a Christian individual or organization has, on moral grounds, objected to providing a service to homosexual couples or organizations, they have been brought before the courts and either fined or jailed for their objection. In fact, the Christian moral objection to homosexuality has increasingly been regarded by the courts as a 'hate crime', and there is already legal precedent in Canadian courts for labelling the Bible as 'hate literature' for its condemnation of homosexual practice. A wonderful article written by Dr. Chris Kempling documenting some instances of this religious persecution can be found here.

But there are other examples not covered by that article. For instance, Canada has made it illegal to spank children, and has used the law to persecute Christians who believe that spanking is lawful. The government has even used the law to take children away from their parents. No doubt there are many cases in Canadian society where discipline turns into child abuse, which should be, and is, illegal and liable to prosecution in the courts. But the Canadian law now forbids all spanking. As a result, a group of Mennonites have fled Canada for the U.S. See the article here. If my wife and I had chosen to stay in Canada and raise children according to Biblical principles, which includes the possibility of spanking, we would be liable to be jailed and have our children taken away by the State. That, combined with the increasing tendency to force even homeschooled children to study government issued materials that promote a secular worldview that is antithetical to Christian, and which favors homosexual practices in particular, can you blame me for not wanting to live in Canada any longer?

As a socialist, or social-democratic state, it is inevitable that the rights of Canadian citizens will be increasingly taken away. It is part of the socialist worldview to abrogate the natural rights of its citizens whenever they come into conflict with the States' goals, or with the 'common good'.

Christians, of course, cannot share that worldview. We know that God alone is absolute, and that the State's authority is only derivative of God's. The State is part of God's good order of creation so long as it restricts itself to its proper sphere of authority, namely to the enforcement of just criminal law. The Canadian government has refused to accept this role, and has chosen to increasingly control all aspects of life and society, effectively annuling other God-ordained authorities such as the church, family, school, and business. If Canada continues to follow the path of rebellion, it will no longer be a safe haven for orthodox Christians. Apostates from the United, Anglican, and Presbyterian churches will, of course be quite safe, but only at the cost of their immortal souls.

May the Triune God have mercy on the Christians living in Canada. May He never allow Canada to fall completely away into sin and religious persecution. And may He keep the U.S. a country where religious liberties are protected so that Christians can worship God freely. Amen.

Monday, February 5, 2007

A Decade of Catechising

As I come closer to entering into the pastorate, I find myself weighing the relative value of different sorts of preaching, and the effects these would have for developing a spiritually healthy congregation. I wonder for example, whether topical, expository, or doctrinal preaching is what is most needed in our day and age.

In all the years of being a Christian I was never catechised in my Church. Nor have I ever been taught in a systematic way, the whole of the Christian faith. That I had to do on my own time. Typically I have attended churches whose preaching and Bible studies were either expository or topical. But despite the wonderful possibilities inherent in both those forms of preaching, I found little to learn because what was being taught was so repetitive and shallow. It always seemed as though none of the serious questions of theology and of life were ever being addressed or even asked. That is to say, even though we would go through an entire book or epistle, and you would expect that the deep teachings of Scripture could be brought out, the preacher or teacher would typically concentrate on the same limited range of issues. We would invariably either cover the need to have faith in Christ, the fact that salvation is by grace, the need for revival, how to have successful relationships in life, etc. Or, if a Bible study or sermon was considered espeically 'in depth' it would usually involve some kind of esoteric eschatological speculation.

As I talk to Christians, even those who have belonged to faithful 'Bible-believing' churches over the course of many years, I find that there's a theological shallowness that can only spell immanent danger for the Church. What did our godly forefathers do?

One thing they did was catechise; to systematically go through the faith and practice of the Christian church in order to ensure that everyone knew what it was to believe in God, and to obey him in life, and why these were necessary.

Could it be that some people think of catechising as a 'burden'? Could it be that some people think of dogmatic theology as a body of propositions to be laboriously learned as one might do in school, rather than as the life giving message that it is? How else can one put all their faith in Christ, eschew the temptations and worries of this world, and boldly proclaim the gospel in word and deed, if we have no foundations upon which to stand? Good theology is that foundation, is it not?

Perhaps a decade of catechising would revive the churches in North America. Rather than pursue random topical and expository studies, a more directed, logical, and thorough approach to the faith is needed.

Of all the catechisms I've seen, none compares to the Heidelberg Catechism. Yes, I take exception to its insistence on infant baptism. Nonetheless, I find it to be a remarkable and reliable guide to the three symbols that every Christian should know by heart: the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, all presented in a throroughly Trinitarian manner. Even though it is a Reformed document, even non-Reformed Chritians like myself can profit greatly from it. If someone were to preach that faith, systematically, rigorously, devotionally, constantly... what kind of change might be wrought in the hearts and minds of people who, perhaps, have never really seriously considered plumbing the heights and depths of our faith in Christ?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Next Ecumenical Council

It is becoming increasingly clear to me that the universal church needs to call another Ecumenical Council dealing with the issue of sexuality, in order to decide the issues once and for all, to draw the line of orthodoxy in the sand, and to preserve the Christian faith in our time.

We live in a dangerous age. A time of spiritual testing. A once Christian West is rushing to abandon her first love, and is now actively using political and social coercision to silence the churches. The latest attempt of the American Democratic party to stiffle religious free speech ( is just once example of the subtleness of the attacks in the US. The US, of course, is not alone in increasingly persecuting Christians. We see it everywhere, such as in Canada and the UK (see Examples abound. But please don't misunderstand me. I have no love of official state-sponsored Christendom. History has unequivocally shown that state churches always result in widespread corruption. Nor do I believe a theocracy can be acheived this side of paradise. History has shown that that too always ends in failure. Yet the increasing tendency of our governments is nontheless alarming.

Many of the present attacks involve issues related to human sexuality. Christians who oppose homosexuality, abortion, and other evils on moral grounds are being imprisoned by the government, and forced by legal means to financially support practices they think abominable. But the coercive actions taken against Christians by the government is not the worst thing to happen to the churches. I'm sure that in the long run it will actually strengthen our resolve, wake us out of our complacency, and re-ignite the fire that once burned for Christ within our hearts. That being said, let me add that state enforced societal corruption is not the worst thing.

The worst thing is having pseudo and nominal Christians denying the clear teaching of Scripture, and trumpting, condoning, and encouraging sin in the name of Christ. It confuses young Christians who do not have the benefit of hearing sound theology in their churches. It causes Christians who should know better to stumble. Worse still, it hardens the hearts of unbelievers who hear the advocacy of sin by false Christians and are thus bound even tigher in the grip of abomination. They teach in the name of Christ what is only fit for the devil.

That is why I think a new Ecumenical Council should be called. So that the Christian faith can be authoritively defined. So that apostate denominations can be more readily identified. The matter, I think, would be simple enough. All the major denominations that have been faithful to Nicene and Chalcedonian orthodoxy have already issued statements that unequivicobly speak to the truth of the matters under consideration. Let me put just a few of the questions as bluntly as I can.

PRO: Is marriage between one man and one woman? Yes. Is sex within marriage holy? Yes.

CON: Is abortion moral? No. Is homosexuality moral? No. Is homosexual marriage valid? No. Is sex outside of marriage moral? No. Should active homosexuals be ordained to the priesthood/pastorate? No. Should women be ordained to the priesthood/pastorate? No.

Most faithful denominations already recognize the authority and usefulness of the early creeds up to Chalcedon. And as I said, most have already issued authoritative statements and declarations relating to the questions above. It doesn't matter whether you are a Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, Mennonite, Eastern Orthodox, PCA, or OCA, etc. The list goes on and on. The faithful are of one mind in these matters. I submit that the truth must be canonized, and declared with all the authority of the ancient Creeds, so that we might present a united Christian front against the culture of iniquity. So that all Christians can unequivocally point to a canon of Orthodoxy, declare the truth of the faith, and stand fast in the face of persecution from all sides.

The mechanics of such a Council, would, of course, prove a difficulty. Long standing differences, important differences, would have to be set aside, if only for a moment, so that the truth of the faith in these points could be declared together. Though in normal circumstances Reformed, Baptist and Catholic Christians would have little to do with each other, in the new climate of persecution faced by Christians in our societies, I would suggest that we no longer have the luxury of being estranged. We must stand together, at least on this point. We do it for the Trinity. We must also do it for sexuality. And in all things we should remember, that what is impossible for man, is possible for God.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.