Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Church and State Both Under God”

“Church and State Both Under God”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The giving of the Law and God’s ordination of civil authority are two blessings of God that intersect each other. Both the church and state are under God’s sovereign authority.

The blessing of the Law is stated in Deuteronomy 11:26-28. It was given to the Church of the Old Testament. “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.”

The Apostle Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia, “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions…” Galatians 3:19. He called believers to “walk by the Spirit, Galatians 5:16. Believers live by the Spirit by applying the word of God in their lives.

He later wrote to the church in Rome, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad…” Romans 13:3 He reminded the members of the church that God is the one who ordains all authority. Those who are in authority are His ministers for the good and welfare of all people.

In Deuteronomy 11:26-28 and Galatians 3:19 the focus is on the Law of God which is the word of God and more precisely the Ten Commandments.

In Romans, Paul was referring to civil authority and by implication civil laws. God is the one who ordains all civil authority. God’s purpose is to provide for an ordered society. Those who are governmental officers are God’s ministers for the good of all. They are charged with keeping order so as to promote good. As God is the source of all that is good, civil authorities and civil laws are subordinate to God’s law.

The Bible declared a situation in which there was a conflict between God’s law and man’s law. When the leaders of Israel commanded the Apostles to cease preaching the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Peter and John responded, “We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29

To help understand the importance of the Law and law in general, there are, what the Protestant Reformers called three uses of the Law as they are revealed in Scripture. The first use of the Law is to point to man’s hopelessness and his desperate need for a Savior. The second use of the Law is to restrain men who are untouched by any care for what is just and right unless compelled by hearing the dire threats in the law. The third use of the Law is to guide the life of a believer in pleasing God. These descriptions of the three uses of the law have been paraphrased from Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 2, chapter 7, sections 9 and 10. John Calvin articulated what the Bible teaches concerning the Law, Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 11:26-28; Galatians 3; 5 and Romans 13.

The intersection of the blessing of the Law and Civil authority is the second use of the Law. It is the means given by God to put bounds around sinful mankind. It is this use of the Law that is the foundation of every society.

“All truth is God’s truth.” The necessity of the rule of law is absolute since truth is absolute. No society can exist for very long if law is relative or applied on sliding scales.

In light of the recent riots in Baltimore, we apparently have laws that don’t apply to all. Those who have been charged by the people to execute and enforce our laws only do so selectively. This is a dangerous time.

Keep in mind that we are blessed in that our country was founded upon a principle that our government is by the people and for the people. Our founders understood God’s blessing of Law. I pray that all would recognize the danger of our current lawlessness. Devote yourself to vote for men and women who understand the necessity of the universal application of the rule of law. Understand that it is because of God’s blessing of law that we are able to guard those rights that He has given all men: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Hold dear the truth that freedom is only possible under the rule of law.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Suited to Lead… The Issue of Character”

“Suited to Lead… The Issue of Character”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

What ever happened to our understanding of character? How is it that our culture doesn’t seem to care about character? We are often asked to trust in the unknown. We have been manipulated into thinking that character doesn’t matter. Somehow, past behavior doesn’t matter either. We are told it’s not appropriate to look into someone’s past to determine how he or she might act in the future.

For Christians, God’s gift of faith should be a guide in evaluating character. For example, Christian Faith is a step into the light not a leap into the darkness. We who are Christians don’t possess a blind faith. We trust in what we have “learned, firmly believed and been convinced of” 2Timothy 3:14, namely the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.

Likewise, our evaluation of a person’s character ought to be based on certain observable facts. A person’s past can aid in determining his/her character. In fact, past actions provide a guide to future ones. Of course, there are no guarantees. We are not omniscient, yet, we can make reasonable assessments of a person’s character.

Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” was taught by Jesus not as another Law but to describe His ethic or practice. In other words, Jesus laid out the standard of life in His Kingdom. He lived what He preached in His sermon. The purpose of His sermon is to drive those who have been born again to their knees. We who profess the name of Christ do so by the sovereign grace of God who has raised us from death to life. We read the sermon and realize that it presents an impossible life-style. We are compelled to rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit of God in order to live the Christian Life. Jesus was the only one who actually lived in accordance with His sermon.

In this teaching, Jesus referred to a person’s “fruits.” Matthew 7:20, “Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” He declared that there will be false prophets. He said that these false prophets will look and dress like sheep but will actually be wolves. These wolves will seek to devour the sheep. The sheep represent the people of God. The wolves naturally, are those who are opposed to God seek to destroy God’s people. The “fruits” of these false prophets are their deeds.

The Bible is God’s word to His children. But, it is absolutely and universally true for all men. What the Bible says, God says. What God has said is binding on all people whether or not they believe it. Jesus declared a universal truth which provides a means to discern another’s character. He said what’s in a person is recognizable no matter what the circumstance or context. The character of an individual is not found in eloquence or erudition, real or imagined. It is not found in appearance or popularity. Character can be assessed by looking at past behavior. Just as recognizing false prophets is possible by examining actions. In order to recognize a man or woman of character it is necessary to study his or her past behavior. A man or woman’s past actions are his/her “fruits.”

False people have “rotten fruit” evidenced by their past actions. Sometimes these false people actually say things that might be true. They may be lifted up by those who have ulterior motives. Jesus said look at what they have produced before determining their genuineness.

More now perhaps than ever, we need leaders who are genuine. We need to look back on a man or woman’s life before we pledge our support. This principle of looking at a person’s fruits applies not only to our civil government but to all areas of life in which we must select leaders. This is so simple yet it seems absent from some of the most important decisions we make.

We can complain about those in leadership who display little or no character. We can try to outdo the experts who continue to put forth “made-up” leaders designed to attract the uninformed. Or, we can demand honesty from our leaders. Look for outlets that are willing to give accurate information about a prospective leader’s past. As Jesus instructed His disciples, look to their fruits. “Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

Only men and women of character are suited to lead. Those of character produce good fruits!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Darkness for Light”

“Darkness for Light”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
We live in a culture that seeks to call darkness light and light darkness. While this is both terrible and amazing it’s not new. The fifth Chapter of Isaiah includes a listing of “Woes.” The word woe indicates a dire warning. In Isaiah, God warned His people of a coming judgment. One of the woes listed is “Woe to those … who put darkness for light and light for darkness.” Isaiah 5:20. The verse is Hebrew parallelism. Darkness is parallel with evil and light is parallel with good.

The Prophet Isaiah wrote comprehensively about God’s judgment and salvation. Chapter 5 was addressed to God’s “vineyard”, His chosen people. God sought justice and righteousness within His people and found none! God’s indictment of wicked people continued. They are described as oppressive, self-serving, unjust and liars. The “woe” quoted from verse 5 is repeated five more times in Chapter 5.

God expects His people to know light from darkness and good from evil. He expects His people to follow “the good”. “The good” is that which is morally and ethically right. God has revealed that He is the source of “the good.” The word of God reveals that which is good. Another Prophet, Micah wrote, “He has told you, O man, what is good.” Micah 6:8a Notice, we know the good because God has told us what is good.

Further, God promised His people to work all things together for the good of those who love Him, those whom He has called, Romans 8:28.

We know that the Bible was written to believers yet it applies to all people. God does not have a sliding scale. He doesn’t grade on a curve. “All must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” 2Corinthans 5:10

One of the most blatant examples of putting darkness for light is promoted by the organization called Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood claims that they operate for the interest of women’s health. The founder of Planned Parenthood believed in eugenics shaped by her belief in evolution. Eugenics is the attempt to improve the species through genetic control. In the case of Margaret Sanger improvement of the species would come by removing the less desirable members of society, such as minorities and the disabled. One of the tools that she advocated for improvement was abortion another was sterilization of minority women. The following quote of Margaret Sanger summarized her philosophy. “More children from the fit, less from the unfit — that is the chief aim of birth control.” (Birth Control Review, May 1919, p. 12)

As a result of our sinfulness both believers and unbelievers often have a difficult time in discerning light from darkness and good from evil. Yet, there is certainty. We need not be awash in a sea of moral relativism. God has given believers His word and Spirit to understand and recognize good from evil and light from darkness, Psalm 119:105.

On the other hand, the issue of human life does not fall into the category of ethical confusion. We need not wonder what the “good” course is. The sanctity of human life is not a grey issue. God is for life! Dare I say it; those who would call death good are fools. They are putting light for darkness.

God called me to be a minister of the gospel. I am an ordained pastor. Yet, in this I am simply writing as a man who believes in the Risen Lord Jesus. I have been made a new creation by the sovereign grace of God. He has caused me to see the truth and the beauty of Christ. As a member of His family, I am obligated to declare the truth and live under His word. I dare not bless what God curses! I dare not remain silent when evil is called good.

I read somewhere that for evil to succeed all that is necessary is for good men to be silent. I am not good in the sight of God. I am a sinner. God alone is good and He expects me to stand for that which He has sanctified, namely human life. There is no middle ground when it comes to standing for the sanctity of human life.

May you be courageous in your support of human life, especially the life of the unborn.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Knowing God Requires Growing by His Means”

Knowing God Requires Growing by His Means
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
Jesus defined eternal life as knowing the one true God and Jesus Christ whom He sent, John 17:3. The life that God gives in Christ is meant to grow. Those who are in Christ have been given a life that will never end. The substance of the Christian’s Life is an ever increasing depth of intimacy with God, the Father though Jesus, the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. In these uncertain times, there is no greater gift of God than knowing His abiding presence.

God said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” Hebrews 13:5. The Apostle Paul prayed that believers would, “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” so as to be “filled with all the fullness of God, “Ephesians 3:19

The gospel is not something that we need to “settle” with God. There is no biblical warrant for invitations extended to manipulate people to accept Jesus. The Bible teaches that God who is sovereign calls His people to Himself. When God makes a sinner into a saint, life in Christ begins. And, the life begun grows by God’s design by God’s means.

God provides for spiritual growth through His “means of grace.” There are three prominent ones: the Word, Sacraments and Prayer.

The means of grace are for those who have been saved, are being saved and will be saved. In other words God’s means of grace are for Christians.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism Q/A#88, calls them “outward means whereby Christ communicates (to believers) the benefits of redemption.”

The first is the Word. As a believer reads the Bible he is strengthened by God to live for Him. This does not only refer to our private reading of Scripture, but also to its public reading. A distinctive of Reformed Worship is the reading of Scripture in the worship service. In agreement with the Bible, the Ancient Church and the Protestant Reformers, the public reading of Scripture is an element of biblical worship. As such, it is separate and distinct from the text used by the preacher for exposition. Certainly, the preaching of the word is an integral part of this means of grace. As the preacher expounds a text of Scripture, making clear its meaning, grace is received by those who have placed their trust in God. God may also choose to raise a spiritually dead person to life through the preaching of the word in concert with His Holy Spirit during corporate worship. However, the salvation of the lost is not the primary purpose of corporate worship.

The second means of grace are the Sacraments. There are two, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both are called holy ordinances. Both were instituted by Christ. Baptism was given to the church by Christ, Matthew 28:18-20. Baptism is a sacrament that looks forward to what God will do. It is a sign of the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a seal that authenticates God’s promise. It is properly administered to believers and their children. The Bible calls the other sacrament the Lord’s Supper. It is a sign and seal of the New Covenant in the blood of Christ. In this ordinance, the believer looks back at the finished work of Christ on his behalf. It is reserved for those who have been baptized and have made a profession of faith. As either or both of these sacraments are administered in accordance with Christ’s institution grace is received by those who have professed faith in Christ.

Thirdly and finally, Prayer is a means of grace. It is communication with God comprised of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication. Prayer is a means by which God bends our wills to His. We hear from Him and He has promised to answer our prayers in ways that are beyond what we can think or ask.

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He began by saying, “When you pray”, Luke 11:2. Jesus has given believers access to God’s throne of grace. Christians are exhorted to approach His throne with confidence, Hebrews 4:16.

So then, there are three: the Word, Sacraments and Prayer. Each is God’s means of nourishing, strengthening and growing His people up in Christ.

Finally, the means of grace are ordained by God to provide each believer with the assurance of His abiding presence. May you grow in the knowledge and love of Christ by these means of grace!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Where are the Christians?”

“Where are the Christians?”
The Rev. Louis B. Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
Our Church like thousands of Christian Churches throughout our Country just celebrated Easter. Every Lord’s Day is a celebration of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet, Easter Sunday is one of the greatest common celebrations of the church universal or church catholic, if you prefer.

Some churches have magnificent liturgies just for Easter Sunday. Most people feel obliged to attend the corporate gathering of God’s people on Easter Sunday. Some may not have such a desire on other Sundays. Calling oneself a Christian doesn’t make one a Christian. But, there is a sense of duty even in those who call themselves Christians to worship on Christmas and Easter.

Most churches report their highest attendance on Easter Sunday. Often the lowest attendance is on the Sunday following Easter Sunday!

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth calling her members to examine and test themselves to see if they were indeed Christians, 2Corinthians 13:5.

Luke recorded in the Acts of the Apostles that the “disciples were first called Christians in Antioch, “Acts 11:26.

A genuine Christian is one every day of the week not simply on Sundays, even Easter Sunday. Those who have received the grace of God “offer themselves as living sacrifices,” Romans 12:1. Those who know the Risen Lord Jesus die to self and live for Him.

The Triune God is the object of all true worship; the One whom Christians world-wide worshiped on Easter Sunday is the Risen Lord Jesus, the only Son of God, and the second Person of the Trinity. He rules all things. He has all power in heaven and on earth.

Jesus had a great deal to say concerning genuine faith, which is God’s gift to those who are chosen by Him. He said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisee, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” Matthew 5:20. He said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven,” Matthew 7:21. Jesus said, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven,” Matthew 10:32-33.

While thinking and meditating on the truth of genuine Christianity revealed by God in His word, I was struck by the deafening silence in the face of the homosexual lobby’s concerted agenda to dismantle God’s gift of marriage and assault Christianity. In the face of open challenge to those who profess to be Christians who indeed gave the “good” confession there was precious little offered in support of their testimony. I wondered, “Where are all the Christians? Where are the multitudes that flooded churches
on Easter Sunday? Why are we, who profess Christ silent when we see evil, being declared good and good being declared evil? God revealed His view of those who do such things. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” Isaiah 5:20 It’s not necessary for me to explain the meaning of “woe.” Its meaning is intuitively obvious. Suffice it to say that “woe” is an announcement of impending doom. Webster’s Dictionary defines “woe” as an expression of grief, regret, or distress.

If God’s has made the truth so clear, what then is our dilemma? At the risk of repeating myself, I can only conclude that the church is not teaching her members the truth. Now, I know that there are many faithful pastors reading this who persevere in teaching the plain truth of Scripture. I also know that perseverance in doing so often brings frustration. We find that people don’t want the truth. They prefer what they define as relevant. Now I am a believer in the need for the church to be relevant. Relevance must extend to the development of a Christian World-View. Relevance is of little use when it simply addresses specific life-situations. God’s word is relevant. God’s word is the lamp for our feet and a light unto our path, Psalm 119:105. The relevance God desires is that which equips and empowers His people to bring what is true into the public sphere! Are you being so equipped?