Archives For Joe Carter

“Today, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments in the case known as Obergefell v. Hodges. The decision in this case will eventually determine the legal definition of marriage in the fifty states. Few issues loom so large over the nation’s future. Christians should pray for the nine justices of the Supreme Court today, aware of the magnitude of the issues before the Court. Love of neighbor also means that we pray that marriage be honored as the union of a man and a woman.” This begins Al Mohler’s essay on the decision before the Supreme Court.

Here are two articles that explain the issues before the Supreme Court.

Lyle Denniston writes Same-sex marriage: The decisive questions. He summarizes the three key issues before the Supreme Court in question form Who decides?  What right is at issue? What is the constitutional test?” He then explains the major arguments/decisions facing the Supreme Court under each of those major questions. It is very helpful in articulating the issues of decision before the Court.

Joe Carter, in his always helpful 9 Things series, writes 9 Things You Should Know About Same-Sex Marriage. This, too, gives a brief oversight of the issues surrounding this discussion and decision.

As Christians, we pray, we remain informed, we pray, we ponder and reflect, we pray, we engage with convictional kindness, we pray . . .

Ultimately our trust and our hope is in the Lord!


The Scriptures are replete with exhortations, illustrations and examples of the importance of singing.

Think of the Psalms.

Think of Paul’s exhortation to engage in worship of our great God through our Lord Jesus Christ by/in the Holy Spirit to the believers in Ephesus: “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Eph. 5:18b-20). And think of his exhortation repeated to those in Colossae: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Col. 3:16).

One could summarize that redeemed people sing.

But there are a number of appropriate questions that arise from this foundational truth. Questions like:

  • What are we to sing?
  • Are we to sing only Scripture?
  • How do we determine what to sing?
  • How do we distinguish between what is fitting and appropriate to sing and be edified, and to edify others, for the Christian, or for a Christian concert, and what is fitting and appropriate to sing for the church, the gathered people of God?
  • Since singing consists of lyrics and melody, how do we discern what is biblical, what is God-honoring, what is people-edifying?
  • How does one discern between one’s own preferences and a biblically faithful theology expressed in music, and, as importantly, how does one respond?

These are all important questions to consider as we think about music and singing in our own lives as Christians, the place of music in our own spiritual lives and the singing of music corporately as the people of God.

Recently The National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC) sponsored a conference on “The Worship of God.” During a panel Q & A a question was asked about Reformed rap artists, the questioner pointing out that though the style may be offensive to some, the doctrine contained in the lyrics of the songs is sound.

This form of music was condemned by all of the panelists. The conclusion was that these artists are “disobedient cowards,” they are “serving their flesh,” and through this means of artistic expression “follow the world” and manifest “a picture of weakness and surrender.” In many ways, these panelists reveal how not to think through such matters.

If you were asked this question, how would you respond? Why? How would you support your response biblically?

Here are a number of responses from those who defend this form of music and musical expression. Though this sort of music and musical expression is not my preference, though it is my son’s, and though it is a form that is not particularly conducive for corporate singing, it is a form that abides by Paul’s exhortations above. This is also affirmed by the statements made by these respondents below.

Mike Cosper, “Creation, Culture, Redemption, and Hip Hop: A Response to the NCFIC Panel

Ligon Duncan, “The Holy Hip Hop Hullabaloo

Carl and Karen Ellis, “A Letter to Our Young Brothers and Sisters

Al Mohler, “Thinking about Thinking about Rap – Unexpected Thoughts over Thanksgiving

Owen Strachan, “Did a NCFIC Panel Really Say That Reformed Rappers Are ‘Disobedient Cowards’?

Douglas Wilson, “Rap Tide

Here are two posts that attempt to summarize some of the major rejoinders to the panel’s response, both defending and affirming Christian rap.

Thabiti Anyabwile, “A Round-Up of the Holy Hip Hop Squabble

Joe Carter, “Debatable: Is Christian Hip Hop Ungodly?

I appreciate Mohler’s explanation of how he processes this followed by his summary:

No, I allow myself those arguments in my head when I want to absolutize my preferences and satisfy myself in the righteousness and superiority of my own musical taste and theology. The problem for me is that my theology of music will not allow me to stay self-satisfied on the matter, and by God’s grace I have not made arguments out loud that would violate that theology.

Rap music is not my music. I do not come from a culture in which rap music is the medium of communication and I do not have the ear for it that I have for other forms of music. But I do admire its virtuosity and the hold that is has on so many, for whom it is a first and dominant musical language. I want that language taken for the cause of the Gospel and I pray to see a generation of young Gospel-driven rappers take dominion of that music for the glory of God. I see that happening now, and I rejoice in it. I want to see them grow even more in influence, reaching people I cannot reach with music that will reach millions who desperately need the Gospel. The same way that folks who first heard Bach desperately needed to hear the Gospel.

The good, the beautiful, and the true are to be combined to the greatest extent possible in every Christian endeavor, rap included. I have no idea how to evaluate any given rap musical expression, but rappers know. I do know how to evaluate the words, and when the words are saturated with the Gospel and biblical truth that is a wonderful thing. Our rapping Gospel friends will encourage one another to the greatest artistic expression. I want to encourage them in the Gospel. Let Bach’s maxim drive them all — to make (their) music the “handmaid of theology.”

Bach’s English Suite No. 3 in G Minor is playing as I write this. It makes me happy to hear it. But knowing that the Gospel is being taken to the ears and hearts of new generation by a cadre of gifted young Gospel rappers makes me far happier.

For the final statement on this matter, I encourage you to read the testimony of one of these Reformed rappers, Lecrae Moore in “Lecrae’s Arresting Call to Serve Christ.” God miraculously spared and saved him by the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was literally arrested for possession of drugs and it was through that experience that the Holy Spirit arrested him spiritually as well.

Lecrae’s conversion resulted in the conversion of everything about him and his life. This is true and real transformation. All is made new (2 Cor. 5:17). He began serving through singing at juvenile detention centers. He has since served at numerous Billy Graham crusades. He notes,

It is very humbling that I get to do this, and I don’t want to get used to it. People are hungering and thirsting for something. I want to serve them with quality music, and more importantly, deliver a message that will challenge and inspire change in their lives.

He prepares for the gospel message through song at these crusades in the following manner:

I spend time in prayer and meditate on God’s truth, and allow that truth to penetrate my heart. If I don’t believe it can change anyone, they are just empty words.

Though Lecrae is one of the better known Christian rap artists, he never wants to forget what he once was, and what he now is through what God has done for him.

have to remember what God did for me. He loved me when I was unlovable. I feel fortunate to have a huge family that extends beyond race and culture. Now, I also have a Father who shepherds us all. When I think about that, it blows my mind. There’s nothing like it.

Clergy and Housing Allowance: Summary

Greg Strand – November 26, 2013 7 Comments

In a lawsuit that was brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), Judge Barbara Crabb of the U.S District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin ruled this past Friday that the clergy housing allowance for those living in their own homes is unconstitutional: “Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Lew

Crabb claims that the exemption “provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise.” Furthermore, Crabb concludes that no reason was given by the defendants that proved this tax on housing allowance for clergy was more burdensome for them than most others who must pay taxes on income used for housing expenses.

Although it is undoubtedly true that taxes impose a burden on ministers, the same is true for all taxpayers. Defendants [referring to the Federal Justice Department] do not identify any reason why a requirement on ministers to pay taxes on a housing allowance is more burdensome for them than for the many millions of others who must pay taxes on income used for housing expenses. In any event, the Supreme Court has rejected the view that the mere payment of a generally applicable tax may qualify as a substantial burden on free exercise.

This would have a significant impact on clergy, certainly including those serving vocationally in ministry in our local EFC churches. Below I include a round-up to get you “up to speed” on the decision, the history and some of the possible implications. I conclude with a summary.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service, “Federal judge: Clergy tax-free housing allowance is unconstitutional

A federal judge has ruled that an Internal Revenue Service exemption that allows clergy to shield a portion of their salary from federal income taxes is unconstitutional.

The clergy housing exemption applies to an estimated 44,000 ministers, priests, rabbis, imams and others. If the ruling stands, some clergy members could experience an estimated 5 to 10 percent cut in take-home pay.

The suit was filed by the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation on grounds that the housing allowance violates the separation of church and state and the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. The group’s founders have said that if tax-exempt religious groups are allowed a housing subsidy, other tax-exempt groups, such as FFRF, should get one, too.

Katelyn Beaty, Christianity Today, “Judge Strikes Down Housing Tax Break for Pastors

One of the most important tax breaks available to American pastors is unconstitutional.

At least, according to a federal judge’s assessment of an atheist group’s complaint that the IRS’s clergy housing allowance—which will save pastors $700 million this year in income taxes—violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of Wisconsin ruled that the second part of IRS Code Sec. 107, which exempts clergy from paying income taxes on compensation considered a housing allowance, “provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise.”

“The significance of the benefit simply underscores the problem with the law, which is that it violates the well-established principle under the First Amendment that ‘[a]bsent the most unusual circumstances, one’s religion ought not affect one’s legal rights or duties or benefits,'” wrote Crabb in a ruling first reported by the Wisconsin State Journal.

Richard R. Hammer, “Five Takeways from Friday’s Housing Allowance Ruling” I include two of his key takeways.

Third, a ruling by a federal district court judge in Wisconsin is not binding on other courts, and does not apply to minsters in other states. If the ruling is appealed and affirmed by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, it will apply to ministers in that circuit (Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin). It would become a national precedent binding on ministers in all states only if affirmed by the United States Supreme Court (an unlikely outcome). As a result, churches should continue to designate housing allowances for ministerial employees for 2014, and church pension plans should continue to designate housing allowances for retired ministers.

Fifth, the financial impact of this ruling will be significant, especially for ministers who purchased homes in reliance on the continuing availability of the housing allowance. This impact would be mitigated if Congress eliminates the treatment of ministers as self-employed for Social Security. Most ministers are employees for income tax reporting, but the tax code treats all of them as self-employed for Social Security. This is sometimes referred to as the “dual tax status” of ministers. The financial impact can be significant, since self-employed persons pay the “self-employment tax” which is 15.3 percent of net earnings, while employees and employers split the Social Security and Medicare (FICA) tax rate of 15.3 percent, with each paying 7.65 percent. There is little Congress can do to overturn a federal district court’s interpretation of the Constitution, but it can materially reduce the financial impact of the district court’s ruling on ministers, which in many cases will be substantial, by revoking their mandatory self-employed status for Social Security.

Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), “Federal District Court Rules Clergy Housing Exclusion Unconstitutional

The district court’s decision on the clergy housing exclusion may be appealed to the Seventh Circuit. Since the case was filed over two years ago, attorneys for the federal government have defended the constitutionality of the clergy housing exclusion and have argued that FFRF lacked legal standing to bring the challenge in the first place.

ECFA, “Judge Declares Clergy Housing Exclusion Unconstitutional”

In a decision that is sending shockwaves across the religious community, a federal district court judge has declared a portion of the statue unconstitutional, leaving many ministers wondering what the impact of this case will be.

[If it stands] this ruling in effect would force clergy of nearly every religion across America to pay additional taxes, regardless of faith or creed. This will either force congregations to increase clergy compensation to offset these taxes or require pastors to dig deep to see if they are able to absorb these taxes. In most cases, this will lead to several thousand dollars in additional taxes each year for clergy.

Joe Carter, “Federal Judge Declares Clergy Housing Exemption To Be Unconstitutional

The parsonage exemption, for instance, provides a preference for institutional churches whose ecclesiastical properties are owned by a central governing body (e.g., Roman Catholic). Smaller, independent, local churches often have less money to provide a parsonage. It also presents a bias in favor of wealthy, established churches over younger congregations and church startups. For instance, how could a congregation that can’t even afford a church building afford to buy a parsonage?

Both the parsonage and pastor housing exemption are part of a legal tradition that serve to prevent the entanglement of the state in ecclesiological concerns. By her decision, though, Judge Crabb has — albeit unintentionally — incorporated a form of denominational favoritism into the tax code. In her attempt to prevent an imaginary violation of the Establishment Clause she has inadvertently created a real infringement.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, “ERLC And Guidestone united in protecting pastor’s housing allowance

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and GuideStone Financial Resources stand together in opposition to a ruling issued by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin, who ruled unconstitutional a provision in US tax code that allows for ministers to deduct their housing allowance.

Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, reacted to the ruling:

“The clergy housing allowance isn’t a government establishment of religion, but just the reverse. The allowance is neutral to all religions. Without it, clergy in small congregations of all sorts would be penalized and harmed.”


  • This decision by Judge Crabb in Wisconsin is not binding on other states.
  • Appeals will prolong a decision.
  • If Judge Crabb’s ruling is appealed and affirmed by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, then clergy serving in States of the circuit would be affected – Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
  • This ruling would become national law affecting all clergy only if it is appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court and they were to affirm the decision, which Hammer notes, is “an unlikely outcome.”
  • In 2014 the housing allowance exclusion will continue as it has. Hammer recommends that “churches should continue to designate housing allowances for ministerial employees for 2014, and church pension plans should continue to designate housing allowances for retired ministers.”

How Society Changes

Greg Strand – May 22, 2013 Leave a comment

Most know, feel and experience the reality of our culture and society changing. But how does it change? How do values and mores shift and change and become embedded in the culture and codified in law/policy?

Recently Joe Carter writes about “How to change a society in 5 easy steps.”  He focuses on the incredible changes that have occurred over the past years, and the fact that they are happening with increasing speed. We are living in a day in which we are experiencing a moral tsunami which does not abate, and, to shift the metaphor, the speed with which the moral dominoes are falling is increasing.

Carter refers to the Overton Window, which was developed by the late Joseph P. Overton in the 1990s. Overton addresses a “‘window’ in the range of public reactions to ideas in public discourse.” Within this window is a spectrum of responses to a specific issue, and all issues of response will fall somewhere on a continuum. He also argues that responses will change incrementally. As noted by Carter, “All issues fall somewhere along this policy continuum, which can be roughly outlined as: Unthinkable, Radical, Acceptable, Sensible, Popular, Policy. When the window moves or expands, ideas can accordingly become more or less politically acceptable.”

Though Overton’s model addressed changes in the political climate, Carter applies it to the changes occurring in our culture and society. In essence, “if the goal were to undermine cultural institutions, the process for getting from Unthinkable to Policy would be these five easy steps” (I only include the steps):

Step #1: From Unthinkable to Radical
Step #2: From Radical to Acceptable
Step #3: From Acceptable to Sensible
Step #4: From Sensible to Popular
Step #5: From Popular to Policy

Carter applies this to the moral issues of abortion, no-fault divorce and same-sex “marriage.” It would be fitting to many of the other moral issues of the day as well, especially as they intersect with the heart of what people think and how they engage in life and culture. This would often be described not as “taking action” but rather “deliberate inaction.” It is not that Christians don’t have moral scruples. It is just that they remain quiet, silent or inactive in response to the strong culture conformist ethos.

Carter bemoans the fact that:

America has produced an overwhelming number of Christians who are adept at explaining why they can support issues that are antithetical to Christianity and depressingly few who can give reasons why we should adhere to the teachings of scripture and the wisdom of the church.

Once a moral issue has moved from Unthinkable to Policy, is there any possibility of reversing it?

History has shown that dedicated Christians can close the Overton Window and reverse the shift from ‘policy’ to ‘unthinkable’ (look at William Wilberforce). But it requires a people who have courage and conviction and a willingness to be despised for the truth. Do current generations have such virtues? Maybe we don’t. But I’m holding out hope that our grandkids will be born that way.

Undergirding it all, we, as Christians, pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10)!

Kirsten Powers writing a “Column” in the USA Today under the title “Philadelphia abortion clinic horror” begins her article in the following way:

Infant beheadings. Severed baby feet in jars. A child screaming after it was delivered alive during an abortion procedure. Haven’t heard about these sickening accusations?

It’s not your fault. Since the murder trial of Pennsylvania abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell began March 18, there has been precious little coverage of the case that should be on every news show and front page. The revolting revelations of Gosnell’s former staff, who have been testifying to what they witnessed and did during late-term abortions, should shock anyone with a heart.

As noted on Summit Ministries blog,

Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell is accused of killing seven born-alive babies (many more actually died — hundreds more) and one grown woman in his abortion clinic. Testimony from former employees in recent days has included descriptions of literal beheadings, as Gosnell and his staff rushed from room to room using scissors to sever the spinal cords of minute-old infants. One woman died at the hands of his ill-equipped, unqualified medical staff. Jars of severed baby feet served as macabre decorations at Gosnell’s office, some have said.

Joe Carter has given a brief overview of this murderer and the grisly ways in which he and his staff treated women and murdered babies. Trevin Wax does a similar thing while addressing reasons why the media has said nothing about it.  Another has also pointed out the silence of media, which is appalling. As one noted, “The dead babies. The exploited women. The racism. The numerous governmental failures. It just is insanely newsworthy.”

There has also been a 21 minute documentary,“3801 Lancaster,” exposing Kermit Gosnell by explaining the horrific acts committed against women and children at this abortuary, the Philadelphia Women’s Medical Society, and the cover-up by state and local oversight agencies. It is almost beyond belief! Please be discerning before you watch this as it contains graphic pictures of aborted babies and tragic testimonies from some of those who were abused. It is not necessarily something everyone should watch or hear, but some must. It is factual and these atrocities cannot and should not be hidden, particularly since we hear nothing from the media.

For regular updates on the court proceedings, Andrée Seu Peterson has been writing summaries.

On the one hand, this silence of the media ought not to surprise us. It reflects the culture in which we live where they will promote their agenda and, often, attack Christians and Christianity. But on the other hand, we can be grateful that this sort of barbarism committed against humanity, specifically exploiting those who may be considered marginal and most needy, still offends consciences. Unlike the silence of the media, we must not to be silent. In love and with justice, we will stand with and for those fellow image bearers, and we will stand, in love and with justice, against those who exploit them for their own gain.

Lord, have mercy!