White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

Prayer at Ground Zero

This coming weekend the US will pause to remember those whose lives were lost so tragically in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Adding fuel to the growing fires of public debate over the role of religion in public life, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his decision not to include prayers for the official event.

Theory is tested in specific cases, and this is one more opportunity to wrestle with a larger question. It’s one thing when a political leader has to choose a clerical representative out of an array of Christian denominations. Today, however, representing the religious diversity of the Republic in public ceremonies is more complicated.

On one hand, this is a constitutional issue. Especially given the history of civil religion in America, it’s implausible to imagine that the nation’s founders ever intended anything like the separation of religion and public life that the mantra “separation of church and state” has come to embody. On the other hand, it is a theological issue. In other words, even if Mayor Bloomberg has no constitutional reason to avoid the liturgical interjections in public commemorations that were included by his predecessor, the debate returns us to a recurring question of decisive importance to Christians. It’s not a question of whether prayer at public occasions of this kind is sanctioned by our Constitution, but, for Christians at least, whether we can participate (much less encourage) such acts of “non-sectarian” worship.

In a recent USA Today opinion piece, Jay Sekulow, a Christian activist and chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, reproved Mayor Bloomberg for his decision (see the piece here). Recounting the history of national days of prayer, including the inter-religious “Prayer for America” event at Yankee Stadium in the aftermath of 9/11, Mr. Sekulow’s call betrays assumptions about prayer that, in my view, can only trivialize this sacred act in the long run.

Nowhere in Mr. Sekulow’s article is prayer defined in its vertical relation, as an act of worship directed to a particular deity-much less, through a particular mediator. Rather, the therapeutic idiom takes over. At least in the public argument, the idea is that prayer’s value lies in its subjective effect. The references are to “the many Americans who find solace and healing in prayer,” helping victims and their families “cope with the lost of loved ones.”

Beyond individual solace, such civil demonstrations of piety serve a therapeutic function for the nation as a whole, echoing the romantic nineteenth-century idea of a “national soul.” “In the days following 9/11, prayer was an integral part of the grieving process. Thousands attended the ‘Prayer for America’ event at Yankee Stadium, where representatives of many faiths offered prayers. It was an event that united, not divided, Americans.”

As the matter was put by another critic of the mayor’s decision, “Prayer is not always about religion, it is instead often about relief and repose.”

But all of this presses the question: Is the purpose of prayer mainly therapeutic: personal and national catharsis? Is it basically horizontal-human-centered (whether in individual or national images)? Or is it a solemn act of “calling on the name of the LORD” (i.e., Yahweh, the Father of Jesus Christ)? Does such an act have a personal object? Is that personal object the God who is revealed in Scripture as the Holy Trinity? Is the prayer directed to the Father, through the mediation of the incarnate Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit by whom we confess “Jesus as Lord”?

Imagine Elijah calling for a revival by trying to negotiate a public prayer or perhaps series of public prayers led by the prophets of Baal and the prophets of Yahweh. Israel, after all, has always been a religious nation. Isn’t it more important for the nation to acknowledge its piety than to become too obsessed with the theological specifics? The nation was divided, after all, and the point is to bring the people together through prayer, to bring them consolation in the face of national disaster. Of course, this isn’t how the story plays out at Mount Carmel, as the God of Israel proved that he alone is God and Baal is a helpless idol.

We don’t live under the old covenant, driving the prophets of Baal through with the sword. Rather, we have the privilege of religious freedom for true and false worship in this country. Nevertheless, we do not expect the state to create opportunities for the advance of Christ’s kingdom through his means of grace.

It is in churches where we confess our sins and our faith in Christ as he is clothed in the gospel. Here, we gather as a communion of saints gathered “from every tribe, tongue, people and nation” (Rev 5:9), not as a modern nation-state. We call upon the name of the LORD, which is none other than Jesus Christ, not merely for therapeutic consolation in our troubles (though this aspect is included), but for salvation from the guilt and tyranny of sin and the death penalty that it imposes. Here, with our brothers and sisters and before the face of the Triune God, our prayers acknowledge God’s justice in our condemnation and joy in God’s grace to us in his Son. With Christ as our Mediator, we are free to enter the Father’s presence with boldness, interceding for ourselves and for others, for needs pertaining to body and soul.

Prayer is also an act of witness. What are we testifying to when we seek state acts of generic devotion to the Unknown God? To what-or whom-are we witnessing when we give the impression that people can find consolation from any “God” apart from the Father who is known only in his Son and is otherwise a judge who will not let sinners go unpunished? True prayer arises as a Spirit-given response to the Word that proclaims God’s righteous judgment and gracious forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

Doubtless, such an approach will offend on all sides. Secularists will level the charge of bigotry at those who deny everlasting consolation to victims of horrific tragedies apart from Christ. Those who seek to hold on to the last vestiges of civil religion will scold fellow Christians who insist on the scandalous particularity of the gospel-in effect, surrendering the public square to secularists.

However, Christianity at its best is always an odd sect in a world of idolatry and superstition. The power lies not in its ability to negotiate general piety for a national soul, but in its most particular and offensive message: the gospel of Christ. We don’t evacuate the public square that we share with our neighbors-even the “prophets of Baal.” Rather, we testify there that Christ alone is Lord, that he alone has conquered death and hell, that our greatest terror and consolation have to do with headlines much more serious and all-encompassing than the genuine tragedy of 9/11. We don’t need Mayor Bloomberg to help us with that. In fact, in the very act of doing so, we have to surrender the most important things we are called to say.

It is precisely because God is more important than we are, sin is much greater than something that others do to us, redemption is far greater than therapeutic consolation, and love for our neighbors encourages us to proclaim the everlasting consolation of the gospel, that we dare not trivialize that dangerous, wonderful and absolutely effective act of calling on the name of the Lord in life and in death.


For further reading from our friends:

Carl Trueman reminds the SBC why they should be pleased they aren’t invited to the “National Cathedral” on 9/11:
A Lesson from Marx for the SBC

Bill Cwirla reflects on religion and 9/11:
No Clergy at Ground Zero

Where in the world (wide web) is Mike Horton?

We’ve recently fielded several inquiries from folks wondering if Mike Horton is on Twitter or Facebook. He is not. A few people who have appreciated his work have set up various accounts or fan pages and we’ve encouraged them to clearly identify that they are not the “official” or personal Mike Horton outlets on Twitter or Facebook.

At this time, the only official Twitter outlets are through the @ModRef and @WhiteHorseInn accounts. We also have Facebook pages for both Modern Reformation and White Horse Inn. Mike also regularly writes for our blog, and sometimes even comments!

Mike doesn’t handle much personal correspondence: he’s got at least two or three books in the hopper, plus his White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation duties, plus his seminary teaching responsibilities, plus his pastoral responsibilities, plus his family obligations. White Horse Inn is set up to handle as many of your questions as we can; we’ll often direct you to previous broadcasts or issues to help think through the question you have. We also regularly point you back to your local church and pastor.

Our contact numbers are:
Office: 760.739.9001 (open M-W, 8:00 am to 4:30 pm/pacific time)
Email: info@whitehorseinn.org
Mail: 1725 Bear Valley Pkwy., Escondido CA 92027

We regularly pass along reader and listener letters and emails to Mike and the rest of the hosts on the White Horse Inn. They’ve been broadcasting for twenty years and it encourages them to know that people are listening and being changed by their work.

We also may be coming to a city near you sometime soon (how’s that for over-qualification). Be sure to keep an eye on our calendar page to see where Mike and the other hosts will be speaking. If you haven’t yet registered, our January 2012 conference at sea will be a great opportunity to get up close and personal with each of the guys. You’ll also be able to meet folks from around the world who are being encouraged by the same broadcasts and magazine articles that you are listening to and reading.

WHI-1065 | Preaching the Gospel to Yourself

Throughout this year on White Horse Inn, the hosts have been making the argument that unlike the law the gospel is not in us by nature but must be preached into us from the outside. This is why the proclamation of “Christ and him crucified” is the primary task of the Great Commission. But if the gospel is really to be understood as a foreign announcement, is it enough to hear about it in sermons once a week? If the law is in us by nature and our consciences regularly accuse us of sin hour by hour, shouldn’t we learn to preach the gospel to ourselves? Michael Horton discusses this issue with Joe Thorn, author of Note To Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself. The second half of the program features a discussion between Michael Horton and White Horse Inn executive director Eric Landry about our upcoming conference cruise, “Conversations for a Modern Reformation.”

RELATED ARTICLES

Christ Died for Christians Too
Rod Rosenbladt
Catechesis
Michael Horton
Gospel-Driven Sanctification
Jerry Bridges
WHI Discussion Group Questions
PDF Document

MUSIC SELECTION

Music

PROGRAM AUDIO

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

Note to Self
Joe Thorn
The Gospel Commission
Michael Horton
The Gospel Driven Life
Michael Horton

RECOMMENDED AUDIO

Justification & Imputed Righteousness
WHI-861
Guilt, Grace & Gratitude
WHI-208
The Preached Word
WHI-494

Putting Amazing Back Into Grace…in New England!

You are cordially invited to picturesque Bradford, Mass. for a Reformation weekend conference at historic First Church of Christ. A coalition of seven area churches is partnering with White Horse Inn to present Mike Horton and Gordon Isaac on Putting Amazing Back Into Grace: Returning to the Roots of Treasuring Christ.

Here’s Mike’s invitation:

You can register here. We hope to see you there!

We Prefer Mad Men

Shane Rosenthal, the executive producer of the White Horse Inn radio broadcast sent this over today. It’s a sign advertising space for lease in a mixed use facility that used to be a church. The sign won a prestigious award from the American Advertising Federation. You can read more about the campaign and the award in this article from InsiderLousiville.com.

So, now you get to be Don Draper: how would you advertise a sacred space that has been set apart for common use? As a pastor of a church that meets in a high school auditorium, it breaks my heart to see such a space used for offices. I can imagine that there were a number of churches in Louisville that would have jumped at the chance to relocate into that building.

Social Justice: Social Gospel? | September / October 2011 Modern Reformation

Social Justice: Social Gospel?
September / October 2011

In this issue, we shift gears in Matthew 28:18-20, taking up an important discussion of the gospel and social justice. We believe that a Reformation understanding of law and gospel, two-kingdoms theology, and the uniqueness of the task given by God to the church should be brought to bear on this sometimes controversial topic. Our editor-in-chief Michael Horton helps us recognize that the commission and the commandment each has its own logic, means, and application, and that these differences must be recognized so that each one can flourish as God intends. Seminary professor David VanDrunen explains the difference between the church as an institution with offices and means of grace and the church as an organism, or a community of faith and life. Next, Kim Riddlebarger, pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim and White Horse Inn co-host, spells out the debates concerning eschatology—in particular, amillennialism—that frequently underwrite discussions about the role of the church in relation to culture. Then another White Horse Inn co-host, Ken Jones, also pastor of Glendale Missionary Baptist Church, offers a well-informed discussion of the black church and social justice. And when it comes to realistic strategies for making a difference in this world and loving one’s neighbor, Tim Blackmon—a Christian Reformed minister who serves at the American Protestant Church of The Hague in the Netherlands—encourages us to recover the lost art of hospitality. Finally, looking in passages of Scripture at examples of Jesus’ miracles and service to the poor, Presbyterian pastor Jon Payne reminds us that these events function first as testimonies to Christ’s true status as God’s Messiah.

As you peruse this issue, remember that the gospel alone is the power of God unto salvation. Christ’s liberality and merciful charity to us on the cross does indeed have the power to inspire us to grateful lives of service to the poor and the weak. But remember the words of Lee Iacocca when it concerns the mission of the church, “Keep the main thing the main thing.”

Click here to see the Table of Contents

What is the Church?

Along with the good folks at Fourth Presbyterian Church and our friends at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, we cordially invite you to the Washington Conference on the Christian Life to be held October 7-8, 2011 at Fourth Presbyterian in Bethesda, MD.

The Washington Conference on the Christian Life is a new conference in the Washington, DC area which seeks to equip and edify the Church through engaging, vital topics relevant to the Christian life. The topic this year is the church:

What is the Church? Is it a building or institution? Is it people or a specific Age? Is it a word to be avoided or cherished? We use “Church” to refer to all kinds of things, from the mundane to the religious, yet Scripture often employs it in terms of the highest and most intimate relationship we can have with God –  “the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12) — and the most noble of purposes — “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Today we often fail to grasp the Church’s enduring status, life, and mission because we have forgotten whom God intended her to be. We have a pressing need to return to biblical foundations while taking account of where we are and where we are going as a Church, so that we can live more faithfully as the body of Christ and find our own health as Christians within her life. Join us for this foundational year as we seek to remind ourselves of the centrality of the Church for God’s purposes and the faithful living of the Christian life.

Mike Horton will be speaking on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. on “What is the Church?” and again on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. on “The Church and the Future.”

You can register for the conference here.

Mike will be preaching on Sunday, October 9th at Christ Reformed Church in Washington, D.C. at 9:15 a.m.  The service will be followed by a special lecture on The Great Commission and Social Justice at 11:00 a.m., as part of church’s lecture series on Christianity and Politics. For more information, please visit the church’s website.

What a concept–Shepherding Pastors

The Gospel Coalition has released another video discussion. In this video Mike Horton leads a discussion with Tim Keller and Matt Chandler concerning the ministry of the church in their shepherding of the sheep.

People Want a Pastor from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

The Final (for now…) Post of the Conversation Between Mike and Tullian

Tullian Tchividjian has conduced a four-part conversation with Mike Horton dealing with some hot topics in the blogosphere concerning legalism and license among other important distinctions. Part one is here, part two can be found here, and the penultimate installment can be read here. The fourth and final section of the conversation has been posted here.

Here’s a teaser:

Tullian: I’ve argued that that there is one primary enemy of the gospel—legalism—but it comes in two forms. Some people avoid the gospel and try to “save” themselves by keeping the rules, doing what they’re told, maintaining the standards, and so on (I call this “front-door legalism”). Other people avoid the gospel and try to “save” themselves by breaking the rules, doing whatever they want, developing their own autonomous standards, and so on (I call this “back-door legalism”). In other words, there are two “laws” we can choose to live by other than Christ: the law which says “I can find freedom and fullness of life if I keep the rules” or the law which says “I can find freedom and fullness of life if I break the rules.” Either way you’re still trying to “save” yourself—which means both are legalistic because both are self-salvation projects. So that, what some call license is just another form of legalism. How would you respond?

Yes, that’s a great point, Tullian, and I hope everybody takes it to heart in this conversation. “Make a rule” or “break a rule” really belong to the same passion for autonomy (self-rule). We want to remain in control of our lives and our destiny, so the only choice is whether we’ll conquer the mountain by asceticism or by license. However, when Christ comes to us, he does not come to improve the old self, to bouy its self-confidence and encourage its pride. Christ comes to kill us in order to make us alive in him, as new creatures. The gospel is the answer both to the guilt and the tyranny of sin and other lords that cannot liberate but hold us to their breast in a death grip.

Why presidential candidates’ faith matters

The following is by Rev. Dr. Brian Lee, pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Washington, D.C. and is used with his permission. Dr. Lee orginially posted this on the blog The Daily Caller


Twenty-five presidential elections ago, a New York Times reporter wondered aloud whether a major nominating convention was a political event or “an assemblage of religious enthusiasts.” This was a fair assessment, as the delegates sang “Onward, Christian Soldiers” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and closed the convention by singing “The Doxology.”

“We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord,” the candidate thundered in his speech, which was subtly titled “A Confession of Faith.”

The party was Progressive, and the candidate’s name was Theodore Roosevelt.

Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times, has resolved in a recent editorial to ask tougher questions about the faith of the Republican candidates for president. He believes 2012—or was it 1912?—offers an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life, since so many candidates belong to “mysterious or suspect” churches.

Perhaps the real question to be asked regarding faith and politics is whether our journalists can be trusted to ask the questions that matter. For starters, Keller wants to know whether the Republican candidates would have “any hesitation” appointing a Muslim or an atheist to the federal bench. Conveniently, anyone who has read Keller’s editorial doesn’t have to bother asking him the obvious rejoinder:

Would you, candidate Keller, have any hesitation appointing an evangelical Christian to the federal bench?

The answer is all too clear.

Besides playing schoolyard gotcha to Keller’s gotcha—”It takes a religious bigot to know one!”—his article raises important questions about how and why we should ask questions about the religious faith of our candidates. Because we must ask such questions.

Candidates’ faith matters because it reveals their character and intellect. Whether and how candidates professes their faith—or unbelief—reveals how they think, and how they respect the beliefs of others. I would no sooner choose to elect a bigoted atheist than a bigoted Christian.

And most especially, we must ask questions about faith when candidates invoke their faith as playing an active role in their public life, and views of governance. Given the importance of talking about faith, it’s a shame Keller’s faith questions give questioning faith such a bad name.

* * *

Let’s start with faith and reason.

Keller opens his article by comparing religious faith to belief in extraterrestrials, and deprecates the Catholic teaching of the Eucharist as a youthful folly. You get the impression he stopped believing his priest about the time he learned the truth about Santa, and for the same reasons.

Keller betrays a classic naturalist bigotry against the supernaturalist in his treatment of the Eucharist. He is not content to personally deny miracles, but rather insists upon the utter impossibility of miracles. He therefore implies with subtle smugness that faith in miracles betrays a fundamental irrationality or childishness. As though anyone dim enough to believe the Catholic teaching of the Mass may at any time try to eat a stone hoping that it may turn into bread.

Christian belief in miracles—whether it be the cardinal doctrine of the Resurrection or ex nihilo Creation—does not imply irrationality, or disbelief in science or history. It is not an obstacle to the practice of science, as any journalist could discover by talking to any one of the many believing scientists. In fact, many have argued exactly the opposite: that the rise and flowering of modern science required belief in a God who both establishes the “laws” of nature and has the power to suspend them.

Isn’t it ironic that on the two scientific hot-button issues of the day—global warming and evolution—Christians are derided for being too skeptical in their approach to the empirical evidence? For insisting that theories be labeled as such, and serve only in a qualified manner as the basis for action in the world?

It does not require a lack of intellect to believe in a miracle. This too is demonstrable. Journalists and historians more capable than I, a humble pastor, can illustrate countless brilliant men and women who have confessed the miracles of Scripture, not only prior to the enlightenment, but today. These people all functioned perfectly well in “the reality-based community.”

The relevant faith questions for politicians are: “What kind of miracles does your God work?” and “How will that impact your governance?”

* * *

Now let’s talk about faith and character.

First, it’s important to note that character is not unrelated to intelligence. By implying that Christians lack reason, Keller is also implying that they lack the ability to exercise moral reasoning. He is impugning their character.

As a journalist, Keller could himself answer a couple of questions of fact about Christians and character. How are Christians commanded to act toward their neighbor (hint: Love). How have Christians in power, in fact, acted? The question is not whether they have been perfect, or sinless. No one is so historically naïve to suggest that. The question is whether they have tended to behave better or worse than those who professed no belief at all, or promoted atheism.

The last century provides a very grim record of unbelieving governance. We recently fought a long, cold war against godless communism. Perhaps that history is still relevant to why the American electorate overwhelming votes for candidates who profess the Christian faith. This includes not only the right, but also the center and the left—even if the latter two don’t care so much whether the candidate (wink, wink) really means it.

Has our politics changed all that much since 1912, or only our political reporters? Is it the case that as our nation’s elites get further and further from the faith of their fathers, the proclivities of all sincere believers look more and more suspect to them?

Questions need to be asked, and answered, when faith enters the public square. But when those who ask treat faith itself as an alien matter, they call into question their own qualifications for doing so.

Page 52 of 98« First...102030...5051525354...607080...Last »