No digital territory is neutral

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I am not bothered by traveling between digital geographies.

I want the freedom to do so. May there be many to choose from.

Granted, when you step inside the theme park of a Big Tech oligarch, it is not a public domain sidewalk. Nor should you force him to make it one.

No digital territory is neutral. When you set up shop on a platform you are necessarily under their company’s jurisdiction. Their rules. Using their infrastructure. Adding to their bottom-line.

It’s good for digital pilgrims start their own colonies. It is fitting that communities with fundamentally worldviews stake out their own digital property or town squares: social media, video-sharing, microblogging, podcasting platforms, marketplaces, job boards, news outlets, moderation systems, etc.

Much like a union of states, citizens can freely travel between the territories. But they should know the rules of the land they are operating in.

Perhaps in your community I can’t always use natural pronouns. Perhaps in mine you can’t promote puberty-blockers.

A friend asked me: “Why isn’t anyone trying to create a liberal Parler/Gab?”

There already is one. It’s called Twitter.

The Most Blessed

You cannot receive the glory of never having received glory.

You cannot become the kind of God that never became a God.

You cannot inherit the status of never having inherited your status.

You cannot be given the right to say, “I was never given any rights.”

Anything you inherit, anything you receive, anything you are given, and anything you become will never be worthy of the kind of worship due to a God that never inherited, never received, never was given, and never became who is.

God is special.

Of man we say, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)

But of God we say, “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” (Romans 11:34-35)

He gives, and we receive.

He bestows, and we inherit.

“It is more blessed to give than it is to receive.”

And that makes him the most blessed of all.

He has only ever given what he never received.

And we only have what we have received.

Jesus on Grace

Jesus had a lot to say about grace without using the term.

Simple sayings:

  • Those who believe have eternal life (John 5:24).
  • All those believing will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16; may be John the narrator speaking)
  • All those who come to the Son are favorably raised to life (John 6:35-40).

My favorites:

  • Parable: An ungodly but contrite man is freely justified (Luke 18:9-14).
  • Jesus forgives sinful woman (Luke 7:36-49). Then illustrates that the one forgiven little loves little.

Others:

  • Jesus successfully keeps believers he specifically prays for (John 17:6-26).
  • God’s generous and shocking reward-economy in a parable (Matthew 20:1-16).
  • God freely gives to those who simply ask (Matthew 7:7-12).
  • Jesus tells thief on cross he’ll be with him today in paradise (Luke 23:43).
  • All sins besides blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be forgiven (Matthew 12:30-32).
  • The humble will be exalted (Matthew 23:12).
  • Forgiveness of huge debt background for parable of unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:15-35).
  • Jesus seeks out lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7).
  • Generous father forgives prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).
  • Jesus heals a rowdy, loud blind beggar (Luke 18:35-43).
  • Jesus forgives scumbag Zaachaeus (Luke 19:1-10).

These are good to meditate on!

The Flyover Samaritan

A parable for who pray, “I thank you, Lord, that I am not like those who do not wear masks.” Designed to grate against metropolitan snobbery..

Dewitt trailer park residents fed up with poor living conditions | WSTM

A low-income family in a rural flyover country trailer park prepares for Thanksgiving.

To them this means BBQ.

They have a giant Trump flag. Their front lawn has disassembled old cars. They avoid vaccines due to conspiracy theories. Almost everything they share on Facebook has an automatic “disputed” attachment and has a corresponding Snopes article. They spend much of their discretionary income on lottery tickets. They drink mass-market beer and smoke. They think the virus is overblown. To them, mask-mandates are a conspiracy to encroach upon basic liberties so that their guns can be taken away.

America's trailer parks: the residents may be poor but the owners are  getting rich | Life and style | The Guardian

Joe lives down the road and is a recent widower. He has always been a cranky man and has never been polite. He doesn’t socially contribute in any positive way and is awkward to be around. He scowls at kids who cross his lawn. Since his wife died he has been even more sullen, miserable, and isolated.

So they send one of their kids to invite him over for Thanksgiving. Inviting him over violates a local gathering mandate. The boy who knocks on Bubba’s door isn’t even wearing a mask.

He arrives and they put some cheap beers and BBQ in his hands. He sits in Dad’s nice chair and they watch NFL football. They yell at the TV together and snicker at commercials. They see him sorta-maybe smile for the first time. They send him home with a big bowl of leftovers and give him a very sweaty handshake on his way out.

Because they love him.


The big point: We can’t judge someone’s neighbor-love based on them not sharing mainstream sensibilities about the pandemic.

J.I. Packer on Knowing God

“Imagine, now, that we are going to be introduced to someone whom we feel to be ‘above’ us…Think of meeting the queen of England or the president of the United States…we would like to get to know this exalted person, but we fully realize that this is a matter for him to decide, not us.

“But if…he starts at once to take us into his confidence, and tells us frankly what is in his mind on matters of common concern, and if he goes on to invite us to join him in particular undertakings he has planned, and asks us to make ourselves permanently available for this kind of collaboration whenever he needs us, then we shall feel enormously privileged, and it will make a world of difference to our general outlook. If life seemed unimportant and dreary hitherto, it will not seem so anymore, now that the great man has enrolled us among his personal assistants. Here is something to write home about – and something to live up to!

“Now this, so far as it goes, is an illustration of what it means to know God. Well might God say through Jeremiah, “Let him that glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me” – for knowing God is a relationship calculated to thrill a person’s heart.

“What happens is that the almighty Creator, the Lord of hosts, the great God before whom the nations are as a drop in a bucket, comes to you and begins to talk to you through the words and truths of Holy Scripture. Perhaps you have been acquainted with the Bible and Christian truth for many years, and it has meant little to you; but one day you wake up to the fact that God is actually speaking to you – you! – through the biblical message. As you listen to what God is saying, you find yourself brought very low; for God talks to you about your sin, and guilt, and weakness, and blindness, and folly, and compels you to judge yourself hopeless and helpless, and to cry out for forgiveness.

“But this is not all. You come to realize as you listen that God is actually opening his heart to you, making friends with you and enlisting you as a colleague… It is a staggering thing, but it is true – the relationship in which sinful human beings know God is one in which God, so to speak, takes them onto his staff, to be henceforth his fellow workers and personal friends.” (J. I. Packer, Knowing God)

(HT: Daniel Pentimone)

Where two or three are gathered in my name

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This might mean the exact opposite of how you’ve heard it used:

“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20)

This is not about casual, ad hoc churches that, like vapors, emerge briefly and then disappear. Neither is it about the mere universal church that spans the globe, inclusive of all Christians, expressed in unplanned intersections of believers at a coffee shop.

The context (18:15-20) is more serious. It describes a protocol of increasing escalation of confrontation that eventually arrives, if necessary, at excommunication. Let’s read it:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

It refers to identifiable, regular, governed gatherings that are organized enough to recognize leadership and implement, in a church-wide coordinated way, church discipline.

The verse is about Jesus putting his divine stamp of approval, as though bodily present, on a properly administered act of church discipline.

Paul uses similar language referring to church discipline:

“For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 5:3-5)

It’s the kind of thing that would be exercised on “anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler.” (1 Corinthians 5:11)

Or someone who, though having called themselves a brother, has (via persistent bad behavior or undue absence) separated themselves from the local church they were once committed to.

So if you’re inclined to think that the passage means you don’t need a well-regulated church, submission to elders, church discipline (e.g. excommunication), or a regular, identifiable gathering, or some semblance of church membership (at least defined as identifiable, mutually affirmed recognition of Christian faith and belonging), then you’re taking the text in the exact opposite direction.

Churches are outpost-embassies of a kingdom that are marked by authority, governance, corporate unity, and regular gatherings. If you find yourself needing restoration from sin, but refuse the gentle (and then increasingly firm) pleadings of your local church, you just might find your name announced at a church members meeting.

And if you have refused to attach yourself to a local church, it’s as though you’ve preemptively excommunicated yourself from God’s people.

Sober up and fear God. That act of discipline (Paul favorably called it “judging” and “purging” in 1 Corinthians 5:13), rightly administered, is given as though Jesus sits bodily on his throne at the local church. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20)

Church and COVID-19

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We are commanded to meet.

“… not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25)

A church by definition gathers.

The Christian church is a dignified, governed, regularly gathered assembly.

Zoom is a shadow, not the substance of this.

Churches are singular units.

Churches are singular units and have a responsibility to substantially meet as singular units. Meeting only as small groups of less than 10, for example, does not fulfill the gathering responsibilities of a larger church.

We need to get close enough for the “one anothers”.

Various commands in the New Testament that are impossible to obey without gathering, e.g. practicing the Lord’s Supper and exchanging affectionate greetings of touch.

Every believer has a responsibility to relationally connect such that the “one another” commands of the New Testament are obeyed, including extending forgiveness and forbearance. If you’re not close enough to need to forgive people in your church, you’re not close enough to people in your church.

Earnest, up-front obedience was appropriate.

“The magistrate has genuine authority in times of emergency to command the church to do certain things, or refrain from certain things (as with a quarantine in a time of plague). When the church complies, it is obedience, not happenstance agreement.” (Douglas Wilson)

“As a general law of neutral applicability, a quarantine at times interferes incidentally with the worship of God. This incidental interference in itself does not necessarily exceed the civil sphere’s authority as long as it is understood to be temporary and localized, lasting no longer and extending no farther than the conditions that gave rise to it… It is hoped that [church leadership] exercised submission to the civil authority, modeling it for the sheep, when the crisis was in its early stages and no one knew the degree to which a clear and present danger existed.” (Evangelical Presbytery)

Corrupt government exceeds its God-given authority.

“At the same time, because no human authority is absolute, and because every form of human authority can be corrupted, those under authority, including the church (and especially the church), have the authority to identify when the genuine authority of the magistrate is being abused or mishandled to the point where it is now legitimate to disregard what they are saying.” (Douglas Wilson)

“Yet, through a protracted, extensive, and comprehensive quarantine whose sway over the lives of the people is nearly absolute, the civil sphere does exceed its authority. When a sphere exceeds its authority and acts ultra vires, its acts are void. Even for acts that are void from the beginning or become void over time, familial and ecclesiastical spheres must approach the proper response thereto through prayer, wisdom, humility, and honor, if not exact obedience, to the civil sphere.” (Evangelical Presbytery)

Churches have authority to govern their domain.

Like fathers over families, elders over churches have final administrative say over the domain and regular life of a church fellowship. While there may be temporary, incidental overlap or interference between the domain of civil government and the domain of church, it is to be treated as short-lived, limited, quickly expiring, and dangerously open to abuse. Elders have a responsibility to decide when such inordinate or prolonged interference has occurred. And they have the authority to decide what is best for the spiritual health of their gathered people.

Elders must practice wisdom.

Elders have a responsibility to take everything into account when deciding when they must practice peaceful civil obedience in meeting as a church:

  • Whether they are being prohibited, even incidentally, from obeying what God commands.
  • Local infection and fatality rate.
  • The point at which the gathering is being sinfully and treacherously neglected.
  • Whether the laws are genuinely held and neutrally applied by leadership.
  • Whether the government is overreaching its God-ordained limits of responsibility.

Is going to church selfish during a pandemic?

An excellent article summarized:

  1. Everyone is morally obligated to worship the living God at church:

“Going to church is not a private, personal habit that some people enjoy, but others don’t. It is a moral duty binding on everyone. Everyone in Britain is morally obligated to worship the living God at church, just as they are obligated not to steal from shops, and to tell the truth… We understand how going to church in a pandemic could look selfish to a secular society, which sees religion as a bunch of private, personal beliefs.”

  1. Churches are essential services:

“The closest equivalent to church is not education, or politics, or the economy, but the supermarkets, and the hospitals, which we were all quite clear were “essential services”. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deut 8:3).

  1. The risk of not worshipping is greater than COVID:

“The Christian church believes that the risks to our nation of not worshipping the living God through his Son Jesus Christ far outweigh the risks presented by COVID…”

  1. It is especially appropriate to go to church in a time of crisis:

“This is precisely the time to explain that Jesus Christ isn’t just an invisible friend or buddy, or “life-force”. He is God the Son, who has entered history, become man, was crucified, buried, and has risen. He is the Lord of all and he is coming back to hold us all to account. So, in a challenging time, with serious public health risks, getting along to church isn’t a self-indulgent habit that sacrifices my neighbour’s safety. It is an act of love for God, and love for neighbour, of the highest importance.”

The Danger of Whataboutery

“If you see a generality and immediately think of exceptions, you’ve absorbed the spirit of the age.” (Michael Foster)

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Consider the Book of Proverbs. It packs a punch with pithy one-liners. It doesn’t entertain exceptions. It doesn’t let sophistication get in the way of making a point. It traffics in proverbial truisms.

This is the typical language of Biblical wisdom: Simplified summaries of creational norms. Redemptive patterns are expressed, not in a tome of nuance, but in the terse equivalent of a tweet.

But the heart has its way of rebelling against wisdom:

“What about… ?”

Whataboutery is suffocating. It prevents us from breathing in the proverbial language of wisdom.

Whataboutism dulls our receptivity to straightforward wisdom. Claiming to be wise, we become fools as we stiff-arm proverbial wisdom with:

  • Nitpicking, persnickety, fussy pedantry
  • Love for the praise of man; cringing over what others think
  • Fretting over excess or misuse of truth
  • Missing the “moment” or spirit of the age
  • Inability to appreciate appropriate cultural expressions of creational norms
  • Inability to appreciate courage or boldness; cowardice
  • Using abuse or trauma as an excuse

What modern wisdom teachers on adolescence, parenting, finance, work ethic, fitness, manhood, womanhood, marriage, church, and evangelism are we disregarding because we have no esteemed place for the language of bold proverbial wisdom?

And how many wisdom teachers decide to stay silent because the internet smothers them with whataboutery?

Be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Absorb Proverbs, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Epistle of James. Train your mind to be receptive to language of wisdom.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)