Monthly Archives: July 2015

In the World, Not of It

In a recent post, I shared my thoughts about how Christians should respond to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling legalizing gay marriage. This ruling reflected the state of our society: we cannot consider America a “Christian nation” at this time. Likewise, our response to the ruling should be a reflection of our faith. Neither the Supreme Court ruling, nor the Church’s response, occurs in a vacuum.

Christians should not be surprised by the Supreme Court’s ruling. Neither should we be surprised that a growing majority of Americans have come to favor legalizing same-sex marriage in recent years and, as a corollary, have come to view pro-traditional-family Christians as bigoted, hateful homophobes. Jesus warned us that Christians would always find themselves as “outsiders” in the world:

“But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.
“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:13-22, NASB).

Most American evangelicals have lived comfortably in a society that has been at least courteous to, and at times even supportive of, our faith. However, as the above passage and countless other Bible verses show, Christians should not really be surprised that society is growing increasingly hostile towards us. We should be surprised that we have enjoyed a somewhat favorable status in American society for so long. Jesus warned His disciples that the world would hate them.

As the world’s hostility becomes more visible, how should Christians respond?

First, I would urge Christians to begin reading the Bible from a different perspective. We have grown accustomed to reading the Bible as if it were written to people with a socio-cultural experience similar to our own. We imagine Jesus and the disciples as a bunch of working-class guys—like the working-class guys we know from our jobs. However, American comforts would have been foreign to them. When Jesus told His disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” they probably took it literally: Pray for food for the day. They did not think long-term, budgeting a two-week paycheck so that you can buy several weeks worth of groceries and make your car payment. Their idea of “prosperity” was probably having leftovers after dinner. The so-called gospel proclaimed by some preachers—those who claim that faith in God will bring us health, wealth, success, and comfort—would seem odd to the first Christians. To them, faith meant that you would still call yourself a Christian and believe you had eternity with Jesus as the executioner’s sword was coming toward your throat.

The Bible was written primarily to oppressed people. The Old Testament was written to a small country, which was frequently threatened by the great empires of its day. The New Testament was written to members of a fledgling religious sect, considered extremist by many and treasonous (after all, they claimed that Jesus was their King) by the government. Their neighbors probably thought the early Christians were as odd as the Amish, as wacky as the Heaven’s Gate flying-saucer cult, and perhaps as dangerous to society as an Islamic terrorist organization.

As you read the Bible, take time to remember that Jesus is speaking to “outsiders.” Paul is writing to people who may have to sneak to church (the church in Ephesus did not run newspaper ads), whereas we casually arrive, carrying our big Bibles for all to see.

The Bible is speaking to people who hear the word temptation and think, “The Romans might threaten to throw me into an arena with lions if I say ‘Jesus is Lord.'” They probably did not equate “temptation” with an ice cream sundae.

We need to repent of a world view guided by the secular culture:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2, NASB).

Scripture should renew our minds, transforming us so that we may no longer be conformed to this world. Many Christians are shocked when the Supreme Court determines that marriage should be defined by whatever makes some people happy. Yet, how many Christians base their life choices on personal happiness instead of the “good and acceptable and perfect” will of God? How often do we try to “baptize” sinful attitudes (pride, self-righteousness, greed) and try to make them seem spiritual?

Perhaps more can be written on this topic. I expect that future posts will be written from this perspective, as it has begun to shape how I read Scripture during my daily devotions.

I will conclude by saying that the standard American brand of Christianity will not be adequate to stand against the most recent onslaughts against our faith. We need to reclaim the faith that recognizes that we are strangers and pilgrims in this world.

[PS: In my previous post, I proposed that the church should “eliminate the connection between civil marriage (which requires a license) and holy matrimony (which is a sacrament or ordinance performed by the church or other religious body).” I would like to clarify that this was not intended as approval of redefinition of marriage. Rather, it should be seen as more of an example of resistance against the ruling: Christians and other religious groups should never have allowed the secular government to define marriage for us, and we have reached a point where a state-issued marriage license no longer means what true Christian churches mean when we speak of “marriage.”]

Categories: Bible meditations, Christians and Culture, Current events | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Same-sex Marriage: How Should the Church Respond?

It has been over a week since the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage must be allowed in all 50 states. I have waited until now to post, in part to avoid making the sort of knee-jerk responses that have flown around the Internet. To listen to some people, you would think that every Bible-following church in America will be forced to lock its doors next week, and that Jesus has retired as King of Kings and turned all authority over to Satan.

There are a number of reasons for Christians to be concerned about its ruling in the case, Obergefell v. Hodges. One is the likely “normalization” of homosexual marriage. Judging from previous history, it is likely that children born 20 years from now will not have a clue that same-sex marriage was ever considered unusual, let alone illegal. It will probably be as socially acceptable in 20 years as inter-racial marriage is today. Whereas there is nothing in the Bible prohibiting inter-racial marriage, Scripture is unanimous in its condemnation of homosexuality. It will become increasingly challenging for the church to teach a biblical view of marriage in a society where same-sex marriage is commonplace. However, this is nothing new; we have faced this challenge with the issue of premarital sex over the last couple generations.

Another major factor is the implications of this ruling for freedom of religion. I do not fear that allowing two men to marry will somehow harm my own marriage. However, I am concerned that a government which legalizes gay marriage will one day require me to accept and approve of it. Will my church be prohibited from “discriminating against homosexuals” by refusing to violate Scriptural teaching and church tradition to perform homosexual weddings. Many proponents of the Supreme Court’s ruling say this is not the case, and that the ruling includes a “conscience clause” for religious organizations. The Court’s majority ruling reads as follows:

“Finally, the First Amendment ensures that religions, those who adhere to religious doctrines, and others have protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.”

On the surface, it sounds good. The ruling says that religious groups and persons may continue to “teach” or “advocate” their beliefs; however, it really does not go further than that. As Chief Justice John Roberts noted in his dissenting opinion: “The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to ‘exercise‘ religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.” Judging from previous landmark rulings by the Supreme Court, the lack of this word could lay the foundation for future erosion of religious freedom in same-sex marriage.

So, how should we as Christians respond to the ruling?

We must remain faithful to God and His Word. When ordered by the local authorities to stop preaching Christ, the apostles said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Even in the face of persecution, the early Christians chose to obey God’s will when it conflicted with the laws of man. We must do likewise.

Second, we must focus on the entire Gospel, rather than emphasizing one sin. While the Bible teaches against homosexuality, it also condemns many other sins. Yes, the Bible does say that homosexual behavior is “an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22). However, it also identifies several other sins as abominations. On the basis of Proverbs 6:16-19, are we willing to excommunicate liars, people who create strife among brethren, or those with haughty eyes? Many Christians will have nothing to do with a homosexual, but if someone has pride we will probably appoint him to a place of leadership in the church.

As Christians, we should not endorse any sin. Yes, we live in a world filled with sinners, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The proper response to all sin is confession and repentance, not endorsement, excuses or approval. On the other hand, our first responsibility is to confess and repent from our own sins. Far too many Christians are eager to complain about the Supreme Court’s ruling while making excuses for their own lust or other sinful behavior.

Third, remember that Jesus Christ came to save all sinners. Homosexuality is often listed with other sins:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, NASB).

All of these are sins that Jesus came to forgive. None are beyond His grace of power to deliver. Our job as Christians is to preach the Gospel and introduce them to Jesus. It is our responsibility to proclaim Jesus. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to transform sinners’ lives when they repent and come to Him.

I would like to close with what may be my most radical proposal in this post. It came to me probably within 24 hours of hearing about the Supreme Court’s ruling, but I have heard similar proposals from some politicians since then. A few states even considered eliminating state-issued marriage licenses in response to the Court’s ruling.

Let us, as the Church, eliminate the connection between civil marriage (which requires a license) and holy matrimony (which is a sacrament or ordinance performed by the church or other religious body). If a couple wants a marriage license so that their union can be recognized by the state, let them go to the courthouse and have a ceremony officiated by a justice of the peace or other government official. If they want their union blessed by God, let them come to the church and receive the sacrament of holy matrimony (or whatever wording your religion prefers—different religious bodies prefer different terminology and even many churches dislike the word “sacrament”). If they want both, they are free to do both and then decide which ceremony really matters for the purposes of consummating their relationship or defining anniversary celebrations. This will allow civic officials to grant legal benefits to people under state and federal laws, while allowing religious bodies to continue to determine who is eligible to receive a religious ceremony that implies divine blessing.

The Supreme Court’s ruling will not be the last word about same-sex marriage. States will revise their ordinances based on this ruling. Religious bodies will have to decide how they will respond. Public debate will continue, as it has for abortion. The challenge for Christians is to remain faithful to God and learn how to follow Him in a society that is increasingly hostile to our faith.

Categories: Christians and Culture, Current events | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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