The slides from the from the the first study in our study of The Christian & The Church in Culture series can be found here. The next study will be this Sunday at 6:30pm at church.
Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category
The last few days in our country have been harrowing. For many of us, yesterday began and ended with the news of injustice ending in death. The day began with the news of yet another preventable and therefore unjust killing of an African American man by a police officer. The day ended with the news of the unjust retaliation killing of five police officers by an African American man in Dallas, TX. So again, I will write, it is very easy to be silent in times like this. It is very easy to withhold judgement until all the facts are in. It is very easy to let various situations blow over with the wind of the next big story. It is very easy to let hard realities for others have no effect on ourselves. However, the Bible calls us to a better response. At the very least, Scripture calls us to respond with tenderheartedness, self-examination, prayer, and theological precision.
We must be tenderhearted toward those in pain. This means our hearts will be broken both for the those with whom we naturally identify and those with whom we do not. Our identifying with the pain of our brothers and sisters in Christ cannot be tempered by our identity in this world.
We must examine ourselves. If we can mourn with only one side, there is a problem. If we refuse to mourn with one side until all the facts are in, but have immediately broken hearts for the other side, there is a problem. If we refuse to mourn with one side regardless of the facts, there is a problem. We must ask, are we willing, when we or someone with whom we identify has been wronged, to hear the imperatives of Romans 12:21 and 1 Peter 3:9? Both of these verses were written in the context of persecution, the latter in the context of persecution by the state.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21, ESV).
“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9, ESV).
Are we willing not only to look to Christ in faith as the One who has made satisfaction for our sin, which we must do, but also to look to Christ in faith as the One whose selflessness is an example for all who are united to him by faith? This is precisely what Scripture calls us to.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-25, ESV).
As Christians, we are to follow in the steps of our Savior who suffered at the hands of others for the sake of others. Our unwillingness to walk in this way is an unwillingness to be identified with Christ, and we must repent of such faithlessness.
We must pray. There is but one source of wisdom by which the problem of evil in this world will be solved, but there is a source for such wisdom.
We must think with theological precision, letting our thinking inform our doing. The theological issues that were forced to the fore for me last night revolved around the question of why? Why is this happening? And is there a solution?
James writes in the fourth chapter of his epistle,
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask (James 4:1-2, ESV).
In his letter James acknowledges two important points. First, our passions are longing for something we don’t have. Second, we don’t have, because we don’t ask.
What is it that our passions desire so strongly? To answer this we must understand what humanity lost in the fall. The Westminster Shorter Catechism #19 is helpful, “What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell? All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all the miseries of this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever.” We could summarize this by saying that by the fall all mankind lost their hope, identity, and security. We lost hope in that the misery, death, and hell to which we are made liable are forever. Without something changing, without some intervention there is not hope. We lost identity in that we lost communion with the One in whose image we were created. If we are going to know ourselves rightly, we must know ourselves in relation to God, but we have lost communion with him leaving us clamoring for an identity. We lost security in that we are liable to the miseries of this life which are many.
The introductory verses of Hosea make the same point. Hosea is called to live out a real life metaphor of God and his people by taking a prostitute for a wife with whom he has three children – Jezreel, No Mercy, and Not My People. Those are rather odd names, but they were given to make a point. The meaning of the names is recorded in the book of Hosea as follows.
And the LORD said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.” She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.” When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the LORD said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God” (Hosea 1:4-9, ESV).
Jezreel indicates that God will put an end to the kingdom of Israel, a loss of security. No Mercy indicates just that, God will no longer have mercy on Israel, a loss of hope. Not My People again indicates something obvious, they are not the people of God and he is not their God, a loss of identity. The same point could be made from numerous texts. For example, Genesis 3 records the fall of man into sin. As a result of Adam’s disobedience we see the following happen. Adam his wife, Eve, were removed from the Garden of Eden over which they had reigned and in which they had walked with God (a loss of identity), were told that their work would produce thorns and thistles (a loss of security), and were barred from re-entering and eating from the tree of life and living (a loss of hope).
It is this lost hope, security, and identity that our passions desire. It is this lost hope, security, and identity that we try to seek out in this world. It is this lost hope, security, and identity for which we will quite literally kill. In our effort to establish hope, security, and identity on our own two things tend to happen. First, we run to whatever we can in order to find hope, security, and identity, destroying whatever and whomever we need to take hold of it. We may run to seemingly noble realities such as family, work, intellect, financial stability, ethnic heritage, etc., or we may run to ignoble realities such as sexual conquest, drugs, rank materialism, mutilation, etc. And indeed, we may find a close enough approximation of what we are looking for to remain satisfied for quite sometime. The second thing that happens is, when our worldly source of hope, security, and identity fail us, we will eventually simply turn to easing the pain of not having hope, security, and identity, often using the same false sources and often at the expense of those around us. But make no mistake, it is the lost hope, security, and identity that our passions long for.
When we live for and by a worldly hope, security, and identity, our response to a perceived threat can quickly become extreme. Yesterday I asked a hard question regarding the effect of sin on a police officer, not to accuse, but to drive a point home. Today I will turn the tables and ask a similarly hard question going the other way, again not to accuse, but to make the point. What might be the effect on how an African American man responds to injustice from police toward black men if they are seeking to find their hope, security, and identity in their ethnic heritage? Let me be clear, this is not to say that there can be no identification with or pride in our ethnic heritage, neither is this to say that finding hope, security, and identity in ehtnic heritage is an issue unique to African Americans, nor is this to say that there is only outrage over injustice because of sinfully finding hope, security, and identity in ethnic heritage, (on this point I would point you to the many African Americans who have grieved the death of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile [and many others], who have feared for their own children’s lives, who have called out injustice as such, who do strongly identify with their African American brothers and sisteres, but who, finding their hope in Christ are just as quick to call out the injustice carried out by the man in Dallas who vengefully killed 5 police officers.), rather this is to say, when we make what this world offers by way of hope, security, and identity ultimate we defend it as such.
However, recall, James made a second point. He wrote, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2, ESV). Do you hear what he is saying? That thing that your passions so desperately long for, that lost hope, identity, and security, is yours if you ask. This is what Christ has restored by dealing with our sin on the cross. We see it so very clearly when we return to Hosea. Hosea 1:4-9 announced the loss of hope, security, and identity through the naming of Hosea’s children. Look now at what is recorded in Hosea 1:10-2:1.
Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel. Say to your brothers, “You are my people,” and to your sisters, “You have received mercy” (Hosea 1:10-2:1, ESV).
God immediately promises that he will do the work of restoring the hope, identity, and security of his people. “Where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ it shall be said to them, ‘Children of the living God’” (Hosea 1:10, ESV) – the promise of identity restored by God’s gracious initiative. “And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.” (Hosea 1:11, ESV) – the promise of security restored by God’s gracious initiative. “Say to your brothers, ‘You are my people,’ and to your sisters, ‘You have received mercy’ (Hosea 2:1, ESV) – the promise of hope restored by God’s gracious initiative. What sin stole away and our souls so desperately long for, God promises to secure for his people. Ultimately this will come through the finished work of Jesus Christ. This is why Peter writes to those Christians suffering under the heavy hand of the state,
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10, ESV).
In Christ, because of his finished work, hope, security, and identity have been restored for the people of God. We need not clamor for it in this world any longer. We can decry the injustices of this world without prejudice and without fear that by unjust means anyone in this world can rob us of the hope, security, and identity that is ours in Christ Jesus. It is this very fact that frees to suffer, to love, to fight injustice, and to conquer to the very end. Peter says as much as he continues his letter.
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:11-12, ESV).
Once again, It is very easy to be silent in times like this. It is very easy to withhold judgement until all the facts are in. It is very easy to let various situations blow over with the wind of the next big story. It is very easy to let hard realities for others have no effect on ourselves. However, the Bible calls us to a better response. At the very least, Scripture calls us to respond with tenderheartedness, self-examination, prayer, and theological precision.
For the second day in a row, I have woken up to the news of and outrage over an African American man being killed by police in a seemingly preventable scenario. Once again, our African American brothers and sisters are mourning the death of a fellow African American at the hands of one whose job it is to preserve life by working to maintain order and enforce civil law. Within the black community, sadness, anger, fear, and questions abound. Articles, blog posts, tweets, and Facebook statuses have been published expressing the feeling of being hunted, wondering if anyone cares, wondering why there is so little being said about particular situations by the church (especially the white church), trying to figure out what the way forward is, and in many cases doing everything they can step into what seems to be a massive void and provide leadership for both hurting communities and the culture at large. How should we, the church and individual Christians, respond? How should we respond to the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile (not to mention the many others who have died in similar scenarios)? How should we respond to the African American community? How should we respond to our African American friends, neighbors, and family?
First, we should be tenderhearted toward those who are hurting and weep with those who weep. Paul writes in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (English Standard Version) Again in 1 Corinthians 12:26 he writes, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (ESV). We may defensively object, “Yes, but that is talking about people within the body of Christ and specifically within a local body. How does that apply here?” Indeed it is, but let us not offer that up as a valid response as if there are not black Christians, who are members of both the body of Christ and our own communities who are broken and as if human compassion cannot extend beyond the bounds of our ecclesiastical relationships. Or, we may defensively object, “Well we don’t know the whole situation yet, we should withhold judgement until we do.” Indeed we don’t know the whole situation yet, and we likely never will. However, let us not offer this up as a valid response as if it is not okay to weep over death in every situation were we find it.
Second, to the degree that we struggle to be tenderhearted, we should take the opportunity to examine ourselves. Why can I not hurt with those who are hurting? Am I simply too callous to feel my brother’s pain? Then I should repent of my lack of love and, looking to Jesus in faith, ask God for the grace of a tender heart. Am I a prig, thinking I am above the fray of the brokenness of this world? Then I should repent of my arrogance and, looking to Jesus in faith, ask God for the grace of humility. Do I just not care about others? Then I should repent of my not considering others more significant than myself and, looking to Jesus in faith, ask God for the grace of being Christ like. In this situation, we can ask more pointed questions as well. Can I not be tenderhearted in this situation because I have believed a narrative that black people are dangerous or threatening or aggressive by virtue of being black? Then I should repent of my racism and willingness to uncritically accept false narratives and, looking to Jesus in faith, ask God for the grace of believing all people are created in his image. Can I not be tenderhearted toward hurting brothers and sisters in this situation because “it’s not my issue?” Then I should repent of dividing the body of Christ over race and, looking to Jesus in faith, ask God for the grace of gospel unity.
Third, we should pray. We should call out to God. We should call out to God for our brothers and sisters who feel enormous pain. We should ask God to help us examine ourselves and root out hidden sins in dark places of our lives. We should call to God to respond to the injustices of our world. We should call to God to raise up men and women in particular vocations who are wise in the ways leading a society in justice and truth. We should thank God for having ultimately responded to such injustices on the cross of Jesus Christ. We should ask God for wisdom and tenderheartedness and freedom from the insecurity of this world, a freedom that gives us a boldness to live in light of the gospel that we might respond rightly to the injustices of our world. We should pray.
Fourth, we should be precise with our theology. Three theological issue have come to the fore for me as I have processed the current situation 1) sin and sanctification, 2) justice and the sixth commandment, and 3) the doctrine of vocation. There are undoubtedly many more issues that need to be considered with as much precision.
The first issue with which I have been forced to wrestle stems from the difficulty I have with repentance over “otherisms” (racism, sexism, classism, etc). The difficulty for me is admitting that various attitudes I have toward the “other” do actually stem from a sinful insecurity and lack of faith in Christ. This difficulty shows that I need to think more precisely about sin and sanctification. Scripture teaches that we are totally depraved, that is, that all of our faculties have been impacted by the fall. By nature I am a sinner, bent in on myself, given chiefly to self-preservation. I am a master of self-justification. It is precisely because of these issues that I struggle so mightily with feeling threatened by the “other”. The fact that I have been socially conditioned to not use racist jargon or join the Klan or openly shun people of other ethnicities in ways that aren’t broadly socially acceptable is not proof that racism is a non-issue for me. Sin is deeper than my outward actions.
Theologians talk about the noetic effects of sin, that is the impact that sin has had on our minds. If the effect of the fall is so deep that my thought processes have been affected, then the self-examination discussed above must plunge to such depths as well. Indeed Paul instructs us in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Therefore, when it comes to sanctification, I should expect, even desire and pursue, a change in my thinking. If I cannot limit sin to outward actions, then I cannot limit sanctification to a change in outward actions. The Bible teaches me to assume that my mind is corrupted by the fall; therefore, when I am challenged to examine whether or not my thinking on a given situation is sinful, I should resist my first responses of self-justification and self-presevation.
The second area with which I have been forced to struggle in light of current events is the area of justice and the sixth commandment. The Westminster Shorter Catechism offers the following, simple, but penetrating exposition of the sixth commandment.
Q. 67. Which is the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment is, Thou shalt not kill.
Q. 68. What is required in the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.
Q. 69. What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.
The Shorter Catechism’s exposition of the sixth commandment forces me to look at the current situations with Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, as well as any number of other situations, and not ask simply was it legal, but could life have been preserved by some lawful endeavor? Legal is a bad standard for just. Indeed, legal is often found to be a far lower standard than just.
While the word used for kill in Exodus 20:13 is in fact better translated murder, our application of the sixth commandment cannot be limited to premeditated murder. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus pushes the application far beyond premeditated murder, leaving us guilty of murder merely by the thoughts we think about others. The authors of the Westminster Shorter Catechism were right to push the application of the sixth commandment both to the point of seeing anything that tends to the unjust taking of life as a violation of the sixth commandment and to the point of seeing its fulfillment as being “all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.” In this regard then, we must see that in our current situation preventable, not legal, is a better standard for just when it comes to the loss or taking of life. While a judge in any given case is bound by the strictures of law, the heart of the Christian should long for justice. If the death of Alton Sterling or Philando Castile (or any other number of people) were preventable by some lawful endeavor to preserve life, then while they may be ruled legal, they cannot be declared to be just.
The final theological point about which I have had to think is the doctrine of vocation. The doctrine of vocation can be understood as follows, “the notion that every legitimate kind of work or social function is a distinct ‘calling’ from God, requiring unique God-given gifts, skills, and talents. Moreover, the Reformation doctrine of vocation teaches that God himself is active in everyday human labor, family responsibilities, and social interactions” (From Modern Reformation, “The Doctrine of Vocation: How God Hides Himself in Human Work” by Gene Edward Veith). We do not get a pass on honoring God in what we count as our secular work. In whatever capacity we have been called, we should be seeking the glory of God not self or anything else. In whatever capacity we have been called, we teach the ways of justice, we call out for justice, and we work for justice as appropriate to our calling. It is precisely for this reason that we need to be precise in our thinking about sin and sanctification, justice and sixth commandment, and many other issues. It is precisely for this reason that we need to be willing to examine not only our actions, but also our thoughts as it pertains to our vocation and repent where sin is found to be shaping how we carry out our calling. I am not accusing anyone of anything, but to put a finer point on how all of these issues are related to the situation at hand I will ask the following question. What might be the effect on how a police officer carries out his or her calling if they have have failed to or refused to acknowledge, by God’s grace, the noetic of effects of sin in their own life as it pertains to how they think about certain people, or if they have not thought with precision on issues like justice and the sixth commandment? When we affirm the doctrine of vocation, we are affirming that by God’s grace we need to bring the full weight of the testimony of God’s Holy Word to bear on our work. We are not saying that the Bible teaches us what we need to know to be a police officer or politician or lawyer, but we are affirming that our theology, or more specifically the transforming effect of the gospel, should have a significant impact on how we do whatever it is we have been called and trained to do.
It is very easy to be silent in times like this. It is very easy to withhold judgement until all the facts are in. It is very easy to let various situations blow over with the wind of the next big story. It is very easy to let hard realities for others have no effect on ourselves. However, the Bible calls us to a better response. At the very least, Scripture calls us to respond with tenderheartedness, self-examination, prayer, and theological precision.
“We talk glibly of the ‘Christmas spirit,’ rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity on a family basis. But what we have said [pertaining to Jesus' incarnation] makes it clear that the phrase should in fact carry tremendous weight of meaning. It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of him who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas. And the Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christian all the year round.
“It is our shame and disgrace today that so many Christians – I will be more specific: so many of the soundest and most orthodox Christians – go through this world in the spirit of the priest and the Levite in our Lord’s parable, seeing human needs all around them, but (after pious wish, and perhaps a prayer, that God might meet those needs) averting their eyes and passing by on the other side. That is not the Christmas spirit. Nor is [the Christmas spirit] the spirit of those Christians – alas, they are many – whose ambition in life seems limited to building a nice middle-class Christian home, and making nice middle-class Christian friends, and bringing up their children in nice middle-class Christian ways, and who leave the submiddle-class sections of the community, Christian and non-Christian, to get on by themselves.
“The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor – spending and being spent – to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others – and not just to their own friends – in whatever way there seems need.
“There are not as many who show this spirit as there should be. If God in mercy revives us, one of the things he will do will be to work more of this spirit in our hearts and lives. If we desire spiritual quickening for ourselves individually, one step we should take is to seek to cultivate this spirit. ‘You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich’ (2 Cor 8:9). ‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus’ (Phil 2:5). ‘I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart‘ (Ps 119:32 KJV).”
-From Knowing God, by J.I. Packer
In lieu of my regular post on 1 John, I want to share a very helpful podcast. This week on The White Horse Inn, Michael Horton interviews Sam Allberry, the author of Is God Anti-Gay: And Other Questions about homosexuality, the Bible, and Same-Sex Attraction. Sam offers a helpful perspective on the many issues involved in this discussion. You can find the podcast here along with a host of other helpful resources.
What exactly did we expect? I ask, because I keep hearing from Christians, “I can’t believe this is happening!” Sure, some of it is an expression of grief over sin, but more and more of it is sounding like complete and utter shock that we actually live in a fallen world, a world opposed to God and his law, a world ravaged by the effects of sin. My goal is not to be a pessimistic, I-told-you-so, believer in total depravity. Rather, my goal is to get us to really ask, “What did we expect?”
What we expect of this world is intimately tied to what we expect from Jesus. If we don’t expect sin and brokenness around every corner, both in the Church and the world, then what exactly do we think Jesus came to do? Perhaps we are so content to hold Jesus up as simply an example to be followed rather than to proclaim him as the King of all creation who appeared for the express purpose of taking away sin because we have refused to see things as they actually are. We live in a fallen world, but it is not a world without hope; it is a world with a Savior, unless of course Jesus is merely a good moral teacher.
I’m on vacation this week, so my posts will mostly be helpful things I have found on various topics. For today, here is the Rosaria Butterfield video I referenced in our conversation the other day.
There has been a lot of talk about the last paragraph of the SCOTUS decision, the beauty of it, the grace, the wonder. Rightly so. It is a beautiful piece of writing. It states,
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded form one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
Nevermind whether or not the constitution does or doesn’t grant anyone anything. Despite the fact that I am a young(ish) Christian with a beard, lots of kids, a 4×4 truck with window stickers, and a fighting spirit who was rather drawn to crazy uncle Ron, and thinks the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag is kind of hardcore and therefore awesome, I actually know almost nothing about constitutional law. The constitutionality of the decision is simply not my issue. My issue is, and I think the church’s issue should be, the fact that if we take out the clause about the petitioners (because in our fear and pride it gets our dander up to even hear “them” mentioned in relation to marriage) and focus on how the court has talked of marriage, many (perhaps most) Christians would agree wholeheartedly. Look at just those words.
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. Marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death.
In my estimation, a significant part of the church’s struggle in understanding how to relate to and love people in the LGBTQ community is that we affirm the above statements and then tell them they can’t have it. We say, “Marriage is the greatest thing ever.” We endlessly organize marriage conferences. We celebrate family, even including “family” in the names of our churches. We preach endless sermon series on marriage. We talk about how awesome sex is – in the context of marriage. We tell our youth these are the things to which they should be looking forward. We talk about widows and widowers passing away as going to be reunited with their spouse in heaven. But here is the problem. Biblically speaking, there is a union more profound than marriage. Marriage does not embody the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people don’t become something greater than once they were. Marriage doesn’t embody a love that may endure even past death. The SCOTUS decision is essentially saying that in marriage we find our identity, security, and hope. In so far as the church has taught what is proclaimed in these few lines of the SCOTUS decision, she has taught her people to look to marriage for their identity, security, and hope. In so far as the church has taught or even encouraged people to look to marriage for their identity, security, and hope, the church has led her people in idolatry.
The Bible (most clearly in Ephesians 5:22ff) teaches that marriage is a picture of a greater union – the union of Christ and his church. The Bible teaches that the love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family in marriage is a love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family that is dependent on a greater love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family – the love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family secured for us and given to us by Jesus. The Bible does affirm that the two become one flesh, perhaps this could be fairly stated as it is the SCOTUS decision, but the fact remains, as a married man, I am fundamentally the same, a sinner in need of grace. I haven’t, by getting married, achieved some higher plane of existence – I still need Jesus. The Bible teaches that in the New Heavens and New Earth marriage won’t continue; rather, the reality to which marriage pointed will be fully consummated and unaffected by sin and no longer pictured by a shadow of the reality.
I am not so naive as to think that the Church is solely responsible for how the SCOTUS decision came out. I get that the world is full of sinners (ourselves included) who run around proclaiming with Greg Focker, “I’m a person who has feelings, and all I have to do is do what I wanna do and all I want to do is hold on to my bag and not listen to you!” However, I also get that when I went off to college I tried to go to the sister church of the church in which I grew up. I tried to go to the church that all my youth group friends went to. But at the end of the day, after weeks of sermons on marriage, sex, and family and how to improve each and have a godly version of each, I left because all of those things were years away, but I was sinning right then. I didn’t need to know how to have a godly marriage, and godly sex, and godly offspring five years from then. I needed to know there was a Savior right then. I needed the gospel. I couldn’t articulate what I felt in those terms at that point, but that was it. Was that an immature view of things? Perhaps. Maybe. Not convinced. But I do know to mature past that “immature” point I needed the gospel. I needed to hear about a Savior on whom I could fix my eyes, not a marriage I could hope one day to have. So while I don’t think that the church should bear the full weight of the SCOTUS decision, we do need to make sure we are giving our people a truly biblical picture of marriage that points to the story that is actually about sinners finding their true identity, security, and hope, and we need to make sure that story is not an afterthought. We need to stop offering sanctified versions of the world as the place to find identity, security, and hope. We need to give people the gospel. Now, as much as ever. It is only through believing the gospel and finding that we have a forgiveness of sins and a new hope, identity, and security in Jesus that outstrips anything else that we are freed and strengthened to reject the hopes, identities, and securities offered by the world.
The church has done a great job of exalting marriage as the ultimate relationship. The world is just following our lead.
Currently, in our church, we have at least two families who have adopted children, one family whose final approval for adopting two girls is imminent, at least one other who has thought very seriously about adopting, and two families who have adopted grand-children. Yet most of us have probably given very little thought as to how to pray and care for families who are showing forth the gospel through adoption. Christianity Today recently posted an article titled, “How Can Churches Best Support Parents Who Adopt from Overseas?” This article is wonderfully helpful. While the focus of the article is on supporting families through overseas adoptions, there is much that would be applicable in any adoption. In fact, in so far as the article is really only telling us to love our neighbors as we have been loved by Christ – laying down our lives for one another, there is much that is applicable for any local church seeking real christian community.
How doctrine relates to life is a topic of much debate. It is not hard to find Christians who doubt, or even deny, the value of sound theology at all, much less the relevance of doctrine for everyday life. For those who question its relevance, “doctrine” is one of the lengthier four letter words. Likewise, there are some for whom theology is merely pedantic. For those who treat theology as only an academic endeavor, theologizing is simply fun. These two positions seem miles apart, but neither camp is particularly concerned with theology as something vital. Church history provides a different perspective as it is rife with evidence that doctrine is neither properly left in the ivory tower nor properly decried as a fool’s errand. The martyrs of the church knew what they believed, and they stood in their beliefs to the very death of their mortal bodies.
When we do enter into the discussion of how doctrine relates to life, we often jump immediately to the “big issues,” the life-and-death issues. We speak in extremes and hypotheticals, and while these situations can be helpful in setting boundaries and dealing with outlier situations, our success in transferring what we learn in hard cases to common cases is often paltry, making room for various inconsistencies.
Take for example the case of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakastani girl who survived being shot for seeking an education, and a recent slideshow on The Log Cabin Democrat website titled, “Booked’s Most Memorable Mugs,” an online slideshow of mugshots of those arrested in Faulkner County that someone deemed “memorable” (of course this begs any number of other questions regarding Booked). For American Christians (if we are honest about how we think about the situation), Yousafzai is an outlier case to which we rightly apply doctrine of the imago dei to decry this injustice on the basis that, by virtue of being image bearers of the most high, all people should be afforded a basic dignity that is often withheld from women in certain cultures. Yet, when we come home, we are perfectly happy getting a laugh at the expense of those who face the unfortunate situation of having their photo taken at one of the lowest points of their life. Obviously, there are many ways in which the gravity of these two cases cannot be compared, but on the most basic level, the issues at play are the same, leaving us asking, “What happened to our commitment to human dignity?”
Doctrine is vital. Theology matters. Let us sit with one another and the Word of God and work out what we believe. As the people of God, let’s do theology. Let’s struggle, and as we struggle, let us bring what we believe to bear on life with one another and the world around us. Let us be precise with truth and with how we live in light of that truth. Let us know God and glorify him as such that the world may see our good deeds and give glory to our Father in heaven.