Confession and Pastoral Theology: A Dark Age or a Fresh Work of God?

God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible fore-knowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness and mercy.[1]

This past Sabbath I opened the evening sermon with a brief description of the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL).  Eugene Volokh, in an article written for the Washington Post, warns that this mandate, which requires the use pronouns consistent with in individual’s gender preference, while seeming harmless, may lead to restriction of freedom:

“So people can basically force us – on pain of massive legal liability – to say what they want us to say, whether or not we want to endorse the political message associated with that term, and whether or not we think it’s a lie.”

The fines for failure to comply, could result in eviction from rental property, loss of employment, and potential fines starting at $125,000.00 and running up to $250,000.00.  Yes, those numbers are correct!

So, the age is dark… Where is the hope?  How does a pastor shepherd the flock of God in times such as this?  Let’s think about God’s providence through the lens of 1st Samuel.  Israel was in darkness.  1st Samuel continues the history of Israel following the book of Judges, which ends with the fearful statement: 

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”[2]

In the past couple of months I have suggested to my congregation that the conditions in the tabernacle at Shiloh described in chapters 1-3 of 1st Samuel allow us to change this statement and add the following  assessment to Judges 21:25:

In those days there was no priest in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Just think, Hophni and Phineas despised the sacrifices that God had appointed.  They took the portions that belonged to God; in their greed, they threatened the worshippers taking additional portions by force; and they were fornicating with the women who served in the entrance to the temple!  Worse, their father, Eli, did nothing to stop them.  Here is God’s assessment:[3]

“Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the LORD, for the men treated the offering of the LORD with contempt.”

The word of God was rare, there was no leadership in the land.  In this context, God sent a man of God to Eli with a message of judgment. God, in His grace, started to bring His word back to Israel through Samuel.  In chapter 3, God spoke to Samuel and confirmed the words of the man of God.  God was about to bring the judgment and there is “no atonement” possible.[4]  Fulfillment followed swiftly as the Israelites were defeated in battle by the Philistines.  They sent for the ark (treating it as a rabbit’s foot) thinking the ark would give them victory against their enemies.  You know the tragic results:  the slaughter was far worse, Israel fled before the Philistines, the ark was captured, Hophni and Phineas were killed.  When the news arrived in Shiloh, Eli fell over and died.  His daughter-in-law, hearing of her husband and father-in-law’s deaths, dies in childbirth.  Her final words summarize the situation: 

"The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured."[5]

Humanly, things seemed dark and hopeless...but were they?  If this was all you knew, you could understand the despair.  God, however, was providentially working His purposes.  In Chapter 5, our triune God will humble the Philistines and their false God:  Dagon.  In subsequent chapters, Samuel will establish the monarchy.  David will ascend to the throne.  In second Samuel 7:14, God promised David a descendent who will reign forever – the LORD Jesus Christ.  The capture of the ark was not a dismal end, it was part of the judgment of God on man’s sinful thoughts and actions; it was a dark beginning to the next development of God’s covenantal promise that started in Genesis 3:15. God is providentially in control.  He will achieve His purposes.  His purposes are for His glory and the good of His church.

                How is the confession pastoral?  It clearly and succinctly explains God’s providence.  It assures us that God is in control.  The forces in our culture seem powerful – Christ’s church appears to be defeated.  Our president can rule by executive order (soft dictatorship), the Supreme Court can pronounce humanistic (but self contradictory) rulings, those pushing the transgender agenda can seek to control our thinking, but God is providentially in control!  Christ is king!  Every knee will bow!  It seems like much that is good is being lost and so the age seems dark and hopeless.  Perhaps, in the midst of God’s judgment, what is really happening is that God is providentially working out His purposes.  Perhaps, the rebellious thinking of men is being exposed as self-contradictory folly.  Perhaps, just perhaps, like in the days of 1st Samuel, the age that seems hopeless is in fact a dark beginning to a new work of God that will glorify Christ.  So, dear people of God, do not seek the good things that flow from God (treating Him like a rabbit’s foot), rather seek Christ.  He should be the object of our desire.

Martin B. Blocki has served since 2003 as the Associate Pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North Hills in Pittsburgh, PA since 2002.  He is a counselor at the Biblical Counseling Institute in Pittsburgh.  Rev. Blocki graduated from Indiana University, Bloomington (BME), Arizona State University (MM), and the Reformed Presbyterian Theological  Seminary (MDiv).  Martin and his wife, Kathy, have two married sons, one daughter, and 2 grand children.

[1] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 5, Paragraph 1.

[2] Judges 21:25

[3] 1 Samuel 2:17

[4] 1 Samuel 3:11-14

[5] 1 Samuel 4:22


Martin Blocki