Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 3

Relativism’s Bitter Fruit

They’ve got this foolish concept that man evolved from something that even a microscope cannot see it. They’ve got this foolish idea that once upon a time I lived in water and then crawled out of the water, lost my tail, and became a monkey. They’ve got this foolish idea that man evolved from an animal.…If man once came from monkey, where are the monkeys that are having men today? Who put a stop on the play? Horses are still bringing forth colts. Cows are still having calves. Chickens are still having chickens. If monkey first made man, where is monkey now?…And one of the reasons why men, boys and girls, are acting the way they’re acting is because the schools are telling them that they’re animals. We’ve got to tell them that they are God’s choicest creation!

Rev. E. V. Hill, speaking at a Promise Keepers event at Anaheim Stadium (now Angel Stadium) in Anaheim, California, June 30, 19941

Last time I made a bold claim. I used the sinking of the Titanic as an example of how false beliefs can give rise to some very horrific scenarios. I said relativism, because of its reliance on feelings rather than truth, “sets up one false idea after another! Relativists might ‘get it right’ from time to time but won’t consistently. And yes, the results can be just as disastrous as the sinking of the Titanic—and even worse!”

You may think I’m grandstanding, but I assure you, I’m not. To validate my point, however, I’ll need to show the relationship between relativism and evolution, as well as the relationships between evolution and several other movements and ideas. Alan Wilson and Matt Thomas, whom we met last week, will help us see these connections.

Relativism, Evolution, and a Materialistic Worldview

Alan Wilson had just completed his first semester of college and came home to talk to his pastor, Matt Thomas, about absolute truth, morality, and right and wrong. Matt helped Alan see what really was going on with regard to his fellow students’ perspectives about morality and values. Not surprisingly, nearly all Alan’s fellow students had taken positions that differed strongly from what Alan had been taught as a child and as a teenager, both at home and at church.

Matt explained that they didn’t believe what they believed about things like right and wrong, abortion, homosexuality, and absolute truth because they’d evaluated each item individually. Instead they had adopted a worldview—a set of presuppositions about life and the world—that gave way to their beliefs about all of these issues and more. They’d even done this unconsciously, “under the radar.” You can read an account of most of Alan’s and Matt’s conversation here. In their conversation, Pastor Thomas alluded to a connection between relativism and evolution. Simply put, the former descended from the latter. Can you spot the place(s) Matt alluded to these? See if you can, then see if you agree with my assessment. Matt told Alan,

“It’s important to remember that a worldview can’t be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt. Worldviews require faith. Someone may think they are really throwing their weight around when they ask you how anyone can be certain a particular lifestyle choice or action is wrong, but on what authority does he base his conclusion that no one can speak with such certainty? His belief that that no objective standard of right and wrong exists rests on his assumption that God doesn’t exist—or at least on his adherence to a belief system that assumes God’s nonexistence. Sure, he may say he believes in God, but think about it—the God in which he believes permits people to do whatever they feel like doing. That doesn’t sound like much of a God, does it?” Alan nodded, indicating to Matt that what he was saying made a great deal of sense. Matt added, “Evolutionists may claim that evolution is pure science and that all objections to it are totally religious and therefore invalid—but many of them cling to their belief in Darwinism with religious fervor. Just as theism is a religious belief, so is atheism.”

Faulty Ideas

You see, the theory of evolution says life on earth, including human life, originated as a result of random chance. If that is the case, then a meaningful, purposeful, personal God does not exist. Neither does absolute truth, so each person might as well “make up his or her own truth.” This is relativism arising from a materialistic worldview (a set of presuppositions that says the material universe is all there is). You can talk all you want about how God used evolutionary processes to create life; but, respectfully, all such talk is just hot air. Evolution by definition relies heavily on chance and random processes; so if God intentionally used any process, it couldn’t have been random. In other words, the idea that God “created” through evolutionary processes is a non-starter. It violates the law of non-contradiction. Just as smooth wrinkles can’t exist, neither can purposeful chance (also go here).

It’s especially true that random forces can’t account for the uniqueness of human beings. People have instincts, just like animals do; but they also have many qualities other life forms do not, including the abilities to reason, relate, communicate, appreciate beauty, and abhor ugliness. Nature says loudly and clearly that random forces could never have given rise to human life.

Evolutionists will object and say that chance isn’t the only force involved in evolution; things like mutations and natural selection also are involved. Mutations and natural selection clearly do influence what characteristics thrive from generation to generation within a specific species, but it’s difficult to see how these factors could even have been present at the origin of life. Various genetic changes within a species—we call these examples of microevolution —do not give rise to another species altogether. That would be macroevolution.


Darwinists often cite examples of microevolution to prove that macroevolution actually took place. This is misleading, at best.


Without macroevolution, the entire theory that one type of animal—say, a human being—descended from a completely different type, such as a reptile or a fish, completely breaks down (see the quote from E. V. Hill at the top). Darwinists have a habit of citing examples of microevolution to prove that macroevolution actually took place. This is misleading, at best.

A growing number of professional scientists are speaking out and expressing scientific doubts about Darwinism. You can learn more about their concerns here.

Connecting the Dots

Perhaps one day we will be able to examine evolution more specifically, but for now I want to take a “wide-angle” look at evolution by connecting the dots between it and its descendants. Along these lines, there’s more to relate about Alan’s visit with his pastor. That visit really challenged Alan’s thinking and opened his eyes. Over time Alan began to see relationships not only between evolution and relativism, but also between evolution each of the following.

  • a lack of personal restraint in society
  • the sexual revolution and its fruit, including promiscuity, reliance on abortion as birth control, homosexuality, the redefinition of marriage, and transgenderism
  • environmentalism, including efforts to combat global warming by eliminating use of fossil fuels and relying exclusively on “clean energy”
  • the animal rights movement
  • population control
  • the eugenics movement

There even is a connection between evolution and Hitler’s efforts to eliminate the Jewish people. Go here to learn more about how Alan came to see all these connections. Keep in mind that this account originally was written in June of 2015, so some of the examples cited won’t now be front-page news. That’s OK. They still make their points quite well.

Relativism, you see, does not stand alone, so as we examine the damage it has caused, we need to see this damage in terms of the big picture—relativism and other related ideas and movements.

A quick review: We’ve seen that relativism is connected to evolution, which is related to each of the bulleted items above and to the Nazis’ genocidal effort against the Jews. It doesn’t stop with these, either. This article points to even more (also go here). Thus, as bad as the Titanic disaster was, relativism and its friends and family members have given rise to many more—and worse—horrific atrocities.

Good Intentions, Good Feelings, and Horrific Results

In closing, I’d like to add one more specific example to the above list. The video below featuring John Stossel obviously was made several years ago. Here is a video he made on the same topic made more recently.

In neither one did Stossel discuss how the problems highlighted relate to a particular worldview, but you can, can’t you? How has a particular worldview contributed to the problems Stossel describes, and how is relativism is a part of the mix?

We’ll return to our series on absolute truth in two weeks to discuss some of the benefits arising from a belief in absolutes. Be sure to return next week for a very special post.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

1video of Dr. Hill’s presentation, available at the Promise Keepers website

 

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 2

Relativism’s Flaws

It becomes very difficult to live in a completely relativistic world.…Suppose you are waiting in your car at a train crossing, and a train is coming down the tracks at 60 miles an hour. You know that if you drive your car out in front of that train, you are not going to be “relatively” dead—you are going to be “absolutely” dead. We can’t live by [a perspective that doesn’t acknowledge this and other clear realities].
—Dr. D. James Kennedy1

We are discussing the importance of contending for absolute truth in a world captivated by relativism. Last week we examined why people are so taken in by this philosophy. Relativism has a great deal of emotional and social appeal, but it isn’t intellectually sound. Here are seven reasons why.

First, relativism is inconsistent.

We alluded to this in the one-minute commentary we cited at the beginning of last week’s post:

Christians believe in absolute standards of right and wrong, standards determined by the character of a holy God. Believing in absolutes necessarily means believing all opinions are not equally valid. Relativists reject this perspective outright, so they don’t really see all opinions as equal, either—but they pretend to anyway, using “tolerance” as a mantra.

An astute observer of culture as well as a skilled preacher, Dr. D. James Kennedy noted that students everywhere in America are taught that absolute truth doesn’t exist. When one teacher said to his class that no one can know anything with certainty, a student responded, “Are you sure of that?”

“Yes, absolutely certain.”2 

This defies all logic. No one can credibly assert we can know that nothing is knowable! The first law of rational thought is the law of non-contradiction, which says that a principle and its opposite can’t mutually be true. Both can be wrong, but both cannot be right.

Trying to defy the law of non-contradiction can exact a heavy price. Inevitably, relativism prompts people to assume things that are absolutely false, and sooner or later, reality hits.

One is reminded of the “unsinkable” Titanic. On her maiden voyage in April of 1912, this luxury ship hit an iceberg and plunged to a watery grave, carrying 1,500 passengers and crew with her. My point is not that the designers and builders of the Titanic believed the ship to be unsinkable because they didn’t believe in absolute truth; probably other factors were involved, including arrogance and “the best information available.” Reality doesn’t play favorites, however; it doesn’t care what elements make up the foundation underlying any false idea. Even “good intentions” won’t hold reality at bay. Foundations are vitally important because shaky ones give rise to shaky ideas and solid ones uphold reliable ideas. We need to see that because feelings are a poor foundation for living one’s life (also go here), relativism sets up one false idea after another! Relativists might “get it right” from time to time but won’t consistently. And yes, the results can be just as disastrous as the sinking of the Titanic—and even worse!

Second, absolutes do exist, and they are self-evident. They are in place and in effect every day, profoundly, yet quite often subtly, influencing the lives and behavior of everyone, everywhere, in all circumstances and situations. Every time a person looks at his watch, takes a measurement of some sort, uses a cell phone, drives a car, eats a meal or a snack, writes a check, or does any one of a countless number of other things, that person is relying on standards and principles he or she assumes to be reliably true.


Every time a person looks at his watch, takes a measurement of some sort, uses a cell phone, drives a car, eats a meal or a snack, writes a check, or does any one of a countless number of other things, that person is relying on standards and principles he or she assumes to be reliably true. 


These principles don’t always have to be extremely precise in every situation, but they are precise enough to rule out any arbitrary or random influence.

Sometimes absolutes aren’t this subtle, and in crisis situations they even can be extremely precise and demanding. Just ask the crew of Apollo 13, which lifted off at 2:13 p.m. EST on April 11, 1970, from the Kennedy Space Center. You may recall that this mission would have produced the third landing on the moon had it not been for an explosion that changed everything. When the spacecraft was 200,000 miles from the earth and 45,000 miles from the moon, tanks carrying oxygen and hydrogen exploded, causing the spacecraft to shake violently.

As soon as Mission Control [MC] realized the extent of the damage, those in charge changed the goal of the mission: Get the crew back alive! To accomplish this, MC worked feverishly around the clock to overcome obstacles. They performed endless calculations to make sure that their actions and those of the crew would enhance rather than thwart the chances of a safe return.

In other words, they grappled with absolutes! Here is a report of the drama that unfolded. Let’s examine just one episode from that report. The Command Module [CM] and the Lunar Module [LM] had to be separated before the final leg of the journey home.

How could the two sections be separated in a way that would place the LM far enough away from CM before re-entry occurred? Normal separation procedures were not possible because of a lack of power and the lack of the service module, which by then had been jettisoned. The SM had been badly damaged anyway. MC had anticipated this issue and had contacted Grumman Aerospace Corporation, the manufacturer of the LM, to help resolve it:

Grumman called on the engineering expertise of the University of Toronto. A team of six UT engineers was formed, led by senior scientist Bernard Etkin, to solve the problem in one day. The team concluded that pressurizing the tunnel connecting the Lunar Module to the Command Module just before separation would provide the force necessary to push the two modules a safe distance away from each other just prior to re-entry. The team had 6 hours to compute the pressure required, using slide rules. They needed an accurate calculation, as too high a pressure might damage the hatch and its seal, causing the astronauts to burn up; too low a pressure would fail to provide sufficient separation of the LM. Grumman relayed their calculation to NASA, and from there in turn to the astronauts, who used it successfully.

Again, MC and the crew of Apollo 13 had to overcome obstacles by wrestling with absolutes. Even so, the unyielding realities they discovered—and with which they essentially cooperated—became their allies in the effort to bring the crew safely back to earth.

Third, people everywhere benefit from absolutes in the physical world, whether they realize it or not. For example, gravity makes ordered life on the earth possible.

Here is what we said in part 5 of “Misinformed and Misled: How a Distorted Perspective on Rights is Leading America into Tyranny.”

With very few exceptions, it isn’t desirable for people to live in a world of fantasy and illusion. Mature people must grapple with reality. People need to eat! The bills have to be paid! The real world is messy, but it is the one we live in—yet it’s also the one in which we can find fulfillment and satisfaction, if we adjust to life’s demands and cooperate with its realities.

The law of gravity provides a great example. No one can step out of a 10th story window and expect to go anywhere but down, and fast! Gravity prevents us from safely doing a great number of things. Yet when we cooperate with it, we benefit immensely. Why? In a great many ways, gravity, which is part of “the natural order of things,” makes ordered life on earth possible.

Marriage, as humanity has understood it for centuries, is very much like gravity in this regard. When a society respects marriage as an institution uniting one man and one woman in a committed, lifelong relationship, it’s clear that it limits that society in certain ways. Perhaps it’s not as clear that it liberates it in many more! Clear or not, this is the truth!

This affirmation about marriage reflects our fourth principle: Absolutes exist in the moral realm, just as they do in the physical realm. Proof of their existence may not be as convincing initially as proof of absolutes in the physical realm, but evidence still abounds.

Charles Colson, who converted to Christianity in the throes of Watergate, became an articulate defender of the Christian faith and of absolute truth. Once a TV host who had completed an interview with him told him how frustrated he was with Christians. “You’re absolutists,” he said. “You’re trying to impose your views on others.”

Colson tried to explain that believing in absolutes doesn’t make an individual an absolutist, and that a great many benefits come from a belief in absolute truth—but he was getting nowhere. Then he recalled that the man loved sailing. “Have you ever been out in your boat at night, under a cloudless sky, and used the stars to determine your direction?” The man answered that he had. Colson added, “Suppose for just a moment the stars had no reliable order, that one night they were positioned in one pattern across the night sky and the next night they were totally rearranged. Could you navigate then?”

“No,” said the TV host, “of course I couldn’t.” The tone of his voice let Colson know he just might have gotten through. Just as the set and unyielding pattern of the stars can prevent an experienced sailor from getting lost at sea, the moral map made up of absolute, unyielding principles can keep a person from making a great many perilous turns in life. 


Just as the set and unyielding pattern of the stars can prevent an experienced sailor from getting lost at sea, the moral map made up of absolute, unyielding principles can keep a person from making a great many perilous turns in life. 


Now, imagine now that you are a “fly on the wall” in the office of Pastor Matt Thomas as he talks to Alan Wilson, a college freshman in his church. You can read Alan’s story and an account of the conversation between Alan and his pastor here. This account sheds even more light on the nature of absolute truth. Here is the concluding paragraph.

Matt went on to point out that those who say they don’t believe in right and wrong actually don’t live that way. They may say absolute truth doesn’t exist, but if someone steals from them, they will be the first ones to appeal to a standard, and on the basis of that standard, object. “All people,” said Matt, “appeal to various values and standards, even if they never realize they are doing so. Innately, each person has a standard of fairness he or she is quick to advocate.”

The last point pastor Matt made in the report is our fifth. People—even those who claim to be relativists—appeal to absolutes in the moral realm, especially when they feel their own rights have been violated.

If relativism were true, then the Watergate scandal wouldn’t have mattered, would it? Yet even today, nearly 45 years later, almost no one would suggest that the lawbreakers shouldn’t have been prosecuted. Dr. Mark Corts, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, at the time, wrote about the scandal in the May 2, 1973 edition of the church’s weekly newsletter. Even though Dr. Corts understandably used “Christian terms” like commandments and sin, his point about the importance of a moral foundation should demonstrate even to relativists that their prize philosophy robs everyone—not just Christians—of benefits only moral absolutes can offer.

The President [Nixon] is trying to clean house. Yesterday four staff resignations were accepted and the President has pledged that the guilty parties will be brought to justice. Sin does have a way of finding us out and this has been demonstrated in no more vivid way than the Watergate affair.…

In the end, greed or covetousness is the king of sins. The last of the commandments was intended to summarize all the rest which Moses gave. But in the final analysis, greed, bald covetousness is at the bottom of all sin. It is an expression of man challenging God, to get what he wants instead of what God wants for him, and to get it at any cost. It was totally unnecessary for the masterminds behind the President’s re-election campaign to bug the Democratic headquarters, for right near the whole country knew the outcome of the election already, including probably McGovern. Why then did those political dock workers do what they did? I believe they did it because of greed, covetousness. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Feeling the end justifies the means, they felt “the other side” were enemies of the republic. And in their misguided zeal, they became what they were fighting, enemies of the republic. For if we cannot have some moral base in our political system, [no foundation will exist] for the American people to express their feelings, exercise their rights, and share in the selection of their leaders. Everyone [sic] of us has something to learn from this experience. The moral lessons for us seem to be abounding everywhere in public life. But then what else can we expect in a world that had become morally schizophrenic, with no absolute standards, and each man “doing what is right in his own sight”?

Also, consider this. Who, even today, would oppose Dr. Martin Luther King, the great civil rights leader whom we honor this coming Monday and every year on or near his birthday? King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail about how an otherwise law-abiding citizen could legitimately advocate breaking some laws, even as he or she obeyed others. King explained that “there are two kinds of laws: just laws…and unjust laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws, but conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” Here Dr. King not only acknowledged the existence of absolute truth; he also affirmed its authority.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,. affirmed both the existence and authority of absolute truth.


On a personal level as well, people, even those who claim they don’t believe in God, inevitably will appeal to a standard of right and wrong whenever they feel their own personal rights have been violated. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis astutely observed,

Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining “It’s not fair” before you can say Jack Robinson. A nation may say treaties do not matter, but then, next minute, they spoil their case by saying that the particular treaty they want to break was an unfair one. But if treaties do not matter, and if there is no such thing as Right and Wrong—in other words, if there is no Law of Nature—what is the difference between a fair treaty and an unfair one? Have they not let the cat out of the bag and shown that, whatever they say, they really know the Law of Nature just like anyone else?

It seems, then, we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may be sometimes mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong; but they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table.

Sixth, it’s clear, therefore, that people know innately that absolute truth exists.

If relativism were true and absolute truth were not real, people would not even need to be told absolutes don’t exist! Something deep inside the human spirit, however, says they do, and people listen to these inside voices. Individuals reveal this on a daily basis with both their words and actions, as we have seen. Scripture says the law is “written in their hearts.”

We began by saying that relativism is inconsistent. To this principle we now add elements that make up our seventh point. We have seen the evidence for these elements throughout this post. Relativism is inconsistent—so much so that it collapses under its own weight. It does not work in the real world.

Unfortunately, the elements that entice people to affirm relativism also act to blind them to its inconsistencies and failures. On this point, advocates of absolute truth must be relentless in helping people see what really is happening.

We summarize our post today with these statements from a previous article.

The natural world gives us a window into the unchanging nature of God and therefore the unchanging nature of morality—right and wrong. Truth is like the law of gravity. It is not something that is negotiable, nor is it something that can be invented by each person. Instead, it is observable. It also is discovered, and it applies to everyone at all times and in all places. Adjusting ourselves to accept and conform to the realities we discover paves the way for fulfillment and happiness in life.

Next week, we’ll examine some of the destruction and devastation relativism and its philosophical ancestor, evolution, have caused.

Stay tuned!

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Notes:

1Jerry Newcombe, compiler, The Wit and Wisdom of D. James Kennedy, (Fort Lauderdale, FL: Truth in Action Ministries, 2013), 1-2.

2Ibid., 1.

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 1

Relativism’s Enticement

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Two-and-a-half years ago I wrote a series of very brief articles for use as one-minute radio spots. Some of them offered observations about current events that now seem out-of-date; but many, like this one, remain timeless.

If It Sounds Good—Beware!

The sexual revolution of the 1960s didn’t just change people’s thinking about sexuality; it brought about a shift in perspectives on right and wrong. People today don’t see truth, right, and wrong as things to be discovered; they believe each person can create his or her own truth.1 This is relativism, which says all opinions are equally valid. This sounds good, but it is fatally flawed.

Christians believe in absolute standards of right and wrong, standards determined by the character of a holy God. Believing in absolutes necessarily means believing all opinions are not equally valid. Relativists reject this perspective outright, so they don’t really see all opinions as equal, either—but they pretend to anyway, using “tolerance” as a mantra. So, modern “tolerance” leaves no room for a belief in absolutes.

In this and several future posts, I’d like to explore these ideas. This week, let’s examine elements behind the phrase “This sounds good,” which is located near the bottom of the first paragraph. Unfortunately, relativism is very enticing—so much so that even many Christians have bought into the idea that truth is relative. In our post for December 9, 2016, we cited these statistics:

  • More than 25 years ago, 51 percent of evangelical Christians rejected a belief in absolutes.
  • In 1994, the percentage rose to 62 percent, and
  • in 1999, to 78 percent.
  • In 2011 the percentage of evangelical Christians not believing in absolute truth reached a staggering 91 percent!

The article for December 9 went on to lament that the results of ballot initiatives in 2016 offered no encouragement at all that the trend had reversed since 2011.

People in the general population readily can be carried along by the cultural tide, and Christians can too if they haven’t been properly grounded at church. Sadly, the church has failed in its duty to declare the truth and to ground believers in it. In a previous post titled “Eight Menacing Trends,” we explored the church’s failure in this regard. Please, carve out a few minutes to read or review this important article!

Against this backdrop, let’s explore why the philosophy of relativism is so widely attractive. We need to understand this if we are going to be effective in persuading people to recognize the existence of absolutes. Consider the following realities.

First, relativism appeals to people’s emotions. The notion that everyone can be right in what he or she believes sounds good and noble.

Second, relativism appeals to people’s imaginations. As a philosophy, it offers people the opportunity to create their own world of “reality.” One is reminded of what Walt Disney said of Fantasyland at the opening of Disneyland on July 17, 1955: “Here is a land of imagination, hopes and dreams. In this timeless land of enchantment the age of chivalry, magic and make-believe are reborn and fairy tales come true. Fantasyland is dedicated to the young and the young at heart, to those who believe that when you wish upon a star your dreams do come true.” Visiting Fantasyland is one thing, but relativism invites people to live there. This portends disaster, because fantasies can’t survive in the real world.


Visiting Fantasyland is one thing, but relativism invites people to live there.



Castle Neuschwanstein of Bavaria, one of the structures that inspired the Cinderella’s Castles located at the Disney theme parks

Third, social pressure to espouse relativism is extremely intense. This factor has at least two aspects. First, to reject relativism is to reject a belief held by “everyone else.” Who wants to be different from the crowd?

Fourth, add to the loneliness of being in the minority the difficulty of taking an unpopular stand. This is the second aspect to the social pressure surrounding a belief in relativism, and it has both positive and negative forces. On the one hand, believing truth to be relative positions a person to be seen as affirming and “tolerant” of others. Who among us doesn’t want to be viewed as magnanimous? On the other, a person who says absolute truth exists has taken a position that makes him or her a target of vicious criticism. Of course, no one wants to be condemned as judgmental or to be accused of hate—but do you see the irony here? Those who condemn people for being hateful and judgmental actually are being hateful and judgmental themselves!

Fifth, believing in absolutes not only puts a person at risk for vitriol and strong criticism; it also requires a person to think through his or her position and to defend it intellectually, at least in his or her own mind. Put another way, believing truth to be relative is the “PLR”—the “path of least resistance.”

Sixth, relativism appeals to human pride.

I want to spend just a few minutes exploring this last item, for it probably is the primary reason relativism is so attractive. Scripture proves just how relevant it is even in its opening pages, because even there it reveals pride as a core reason for the mess in which humanity finds itself.

In Genesis 1 and 2 we see that at the dawn of creation God created a perfect world with a perfect garden, and He put Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, in it and given them constructive work to do. He placed only one prohibition on them; they were not to eat from the fruit from one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (see Gen. 1:26-31; 2:15-25). Perfection disappeared in Genesis 3. Satan, in the form of the serpent, enticed Eve to disobey God. Here is how it happened.

1 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate (Gen. 3:1-6, emphasis added).

We see here that Satan not only enticed Eve with good-looking fruit and with lies that confused her about God’s intentions for her and for Adam, he also enticed her with the temptation to play god! This temptation appeals to pride as does nothing else! Note also the connections between pride, playing God, and relativism. Essentially Satan said, “Eve, you can make up your own reality! You can make up your own truth! You can become like God!”

Instead, when they sinned, Adam and Eve died spiritually and began to die physically as well. God also expelled them from the perfect environment where He originally had placed them. The top image is a detailed section of Italian painter Masaccio’s 1425 fresco titled “The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden.” The artist didn’t get everything right in his painting; God clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins before expelling them. His depictions Adam’s and Eve’s expressions of horror and shame, however, are quite fitting and appropriate.

The late Dr. Mark Corts pastored Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for nearly 40 years. A powerful and insightful preacher, Dr. Corts offered many keen observations from the pulpit during his ministry. Here is one of them: The essence of sin is always trying to be like God without God.


The essence of sin is always trying to be like God without God.
—Dr. Mark Corts—


After we—the members of the human race—fell into sin, God implemented a plan to make us like Himself, but that plan requires us to surrender to Him and follow His way, not our own.

We said earlier in the radio commentary that “Christians believe in absolute standards of right and wrong, standards determined by the character of a holy God.” We’ll explore this statement in a future post, but for now, don’t miss these important points.

  1. God determines reality; people don’t.
  2. As people created by God, we must live in the real world, the world God also has created.
  3. When a person buys into the lie of relativism and attempts to come up with his or her own reality and live according to it, that person is playing god.
  4. Pride always is at the heart of the temptation to play god.

In a classic and entertaining lecture called “God’s Way or My Way,” speaker and bestselling author Frank Peretti examines the disastrous results of trying to live one’s own way rather than God’s. Peretti’s speech recently was made available on Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk radio program. I commend these broadcasts to you as a wonderful introduction to the battle for the recognition of absolute truth.

Next week, we’ll continue our discussion of this critical battle. Be sure to return.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Note:

1Josh McDowell discussed the nature of truth on the Focus on the Family radio broadcast, May 22-23, 2007

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

 

Christmas—Divinely Orchestrated, Part 3: The Wonderful, Glorious Aftermath of Christmas

Every once in a while, I am asked, “What’s it like to be adopted?” I was two days old when my parents chose me to be their son. Being adopted is an amazing thing. I was taken from a situation that probably would not have turned out well and was given the opportunity to grow up in a loving Christian home. I became a member of a new family. I had a new identity, a new name, a new opportunity, and eventually a new inheritance. I was chosen! Adoption into God’s family is all of that and infinitely more.
Rod Martin

In ancient Israel slavery was permitted but regulated by Old Testament law. God never intended for people to be mistreated or abused. Among other things, the regulations included a limited time frame for servitude. Exodus 21:1-6 and Deuteronomy 15:12-18 highlight this limitation, but in these passages is another provision that absolutely arrests our attention. In Deuteronomy through Moses, the Lord declared,

Moses received the law from God and then gave it to the Israelites.

12 “If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13 And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; 14 you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the Lord your God has blessed you with, you shall give to him. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today. 16 And if it happens that he says to you, ‘I will not go away from you,’ because he loves you and your house, since he prospers with you, 17 then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his ear to the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also to your female servant you shall do likewise. 18 It shall not seem hard to you when you send him away free from you; for he has been worth a double hired servant in serving you six years. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do.”

Imagine having been a servant for six long years. The day of your release is near, and this is a date on the calendar you looked forward to, especially in the early days of your time of service. Yet now, as you think about leaving your master, you wonder if you really desire your freedom more than serving him. Your master is a kind man who’s been good to you and treated you extremely well. He even loves you, and you have grown to love him. In the end, you come to realize that while you once couldn’t wait for the day when you would be set free, you now want to serve your master the rest of your life.

It’s difficult in our culture to imagine being willing to remain in service to a master and to choose that life over freedom, but Old Testament law made a provision for such a choice. The key to understanding the choice isn’t in contrasting freedom to servitude; we’ll hit a dead end there! The key is in understanding the heart of a master who creates and maintains a loving and warm environment from which even his servant cannot walk away.

Who means so much to you—who has treated you so wonderfully and so well—that you want to serve that person forever? For Christians, this shouldn’t be a difficult question to answer. Christmas, which we just recently have celebrated, reminds us of the Lord’s great love for us—a love that is without parallel in the world. For the past two weeks, we have considered God’s great overture of love as presented in Galatians 4:4-5 (NKJV).

4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under  the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

Two weeks ago, we explored the meaning of the phrase “the fullness of the time.” Last week we examined the truths that “[1] God sent forth His Son, [2] born of a woman, [3] born under the law [4] to redeem those who were under the law.” This week we want to discover something of what God ultimately intended when He initiated Christmas— “that we might receive the adoption as sons.” This is the glorious, wonderful, aftermath of Christmas! On what more wonderful theme can we reflect as we transition into a new year?

As we explore this topic, keep in mind that the spiritual truths we will examine are absolute, concrete realities for those who believe in Christ. We are not considering something we want to happen or imaging a scenario that is “too good to be true.” No! Instead, it is true, and we as Christians need to live accordingly!

Consider these passages that showcase the theme of adoption into God’s family. Links have been added for clarity and to enhance personal study.

  • [D]ear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. 13 For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. (Rom. 8:12-17, NLT).


The Apostle Paul by Rembrandt

  • [Y]ou are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you (Gal. 3:26-29, NLT).
  • All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure (Eph. 1:3-5, NLT).
  • See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. 2 Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. 3 And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure. 4 Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God. 5 And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him. 6 Anyone who continues to live in him will not sin. But anyone who keeps on sinning does not know him or understand who he is.7 Dear children, don’t let anyone deceive you about this: When people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous. 8 But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. 9 Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God. 10 So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God (1 John 3:1-10, NLT).

This last passage is a powerful reminder that being adopted into God’s family changes everything about the believer’s perspective. The world cannot understand a Christian’s motivation to live a pure life, but the Christian knows: Anyone who is in Christ “is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17 NKJV). The Christian isn’t reformed, but transformed because of being made alive in Christ and being adopted into God’s family! In a small way, in the language of our opening illustration, it’s like the difference between your serving your master because you have to, and choosing to serve him because no one else in the world ever has loved you as he has or treated you so well.

One evening, a fire broke out in a home where a grandmother lived with her young grandson. The fire spread rapidly, trapping the young boy in his room. The grandmother attempted to save him but perished in the fire; and it appeared the boy, too, would not survive. Then a man broke through the crowd of onlookers. He grabbed hold of the iron drainpipe that ran down the side of the house next to the boy’s bedroom window. Climbing up, rescuing the child, and climbing back down again as the lad held tightly onto his neck, the man brought him at last to safety.

The child’s life had been spared, but who now would be his guardian? He had no other living relatives. Two months after the fire, a hearing was held. Several people in the town asked to be considered, including a professor at a nearby college, a restaurant owner, and one of the community’s wealthiest couples. All of them presented compelling cases for the boy to come live with them, but the judge noted he seemed indifferent to each one. Then a man walked to the front of the room and said he wanted to adopt the orphaned youngster. He held up his hands before the crowd so everyone present could see they were badly discolored and scared.

The boy looked up when he heard the man speak. Beaming with delight, he ran into his arms. He knew this man had rescued him from the fire. The hot iron pipe had burned the man’s hands, leaving them permanently blemished. No one needed to say anything more. Those scars demonstrated to the judge and to everyone else present that the boy’s rightful place was in the home of the man who had saved him.

After relating this story, Dr. Bill Bright writes that just as the rescuer’s scars ended the debate over whom should have custody of the young boy, Jesus’ nail-scared hands demonstrate decisively that we belong to the One who died for us on the cross. Realizing no one ever could love us more or in any better way than Jesus has, we understand that living for Him and serving Him are the greatest privileges of our lives.

It makes sense, then, that these will be the greatest privileges we will have in 2017, as well.

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

image credits: looking down the road (top image) and Christmas tree: lightstock.com

Scriptures marked NKJV have been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scriptures marked NLT have been taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

Christmas—Divinely Orchestrated, Part 2

Becoming One of Us and Paying Our Penalty

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.…For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
John 1:1,14; 3:17

God acts like the judge in this anecdote. It is on record that of two young men who studied law together, one rose to a seat on the Bench, while the other took to drink and wasted his life. On one occasion this poor fellow was brought before his old companion, charged with a crime. The lawyers present wondered what kind of justice would be administered by the judge under such trying circumstances. To their surprise, he sentenced his one-time companion to the heaviest penalty the law would allow, and then paid the fine himself and set his old friend free.…[You see,] God the Father, God the Son [Jesus Christ], and God the Holy Spirit are one God. The same God against whom we had sinned passed the judgment, paid the penalty, and now offers you a full and free pardon, based upon [His own] absolute righteousness.
Robert Laidlaw

Last week we began exploring ways in which God prepared the world arrival of His Son. We considered Galatians 4:4-5 in the New King James Version; let’s read it now in the New International Version.

4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

Using the NIV’s rendering, we indicated that “the set time had fully come” after God had placed on the world stage “all that was required for the birth of His Son as far as the world’s national, political, spiritual, linguistic, and commercial climates were concerned.”

This week we will give attention to these phrases in the passage.

  • God sent his Son
  • born of a woman
  • born under the law
  • to redeem those under the law

God’s work to prepare the world externally for His Son’s birth was remarkable, but equally remarkable were His “internal” actions to involve human beings in the process. The names of these people represent lives that were directly involved in Jesus’ birth and the events surrounding it. While some were willing participants, others God used without their thoroughly knowing or understanding: Zechariah, ElizabethMary, Joseph, Caesar AugustusShepherds, Herod the Great, and Wise Men from the East.

In particular, God’s bringing Mary and Joseph into the process leaves us in awe and wonder. Risking rumor and great misunderstanding, the couple obeyed God and even were honored to have the special responsibilities He was giving them. Remember what the Lord was doing; Paul told us in Galatians 4:4: “God sent his Son” to the earth. Jesus would make a very unusual entrance in some ways and a very ordinary entrance in others.

How was His birth unique? First, His existence did not begin at conception, because He had no beginning. As God, He has been alive from eternity past. Second, He was conceived in a virgin. Mary had had no sexual activity with any man. Third, related to this, the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and caused the conception to occur. Fourth, although He became a human being, Jesus never ceased to be God. Finally (although this isn’t an exhaustive list), Jesus was born without having been or tainted or marred by sin and would remain holy and righteous.

Yet His birth was quite ordinary as well. Jesus was born as a real baby into the world’s surroundings—surroundings that actually were quite primitive for a child’s birth, even according to the standards of His day.

He cried, became hungry, and “had to have his diaper changed.” Moreover, He grew as other children did. He experienced childhood and grew into manhood.

As the apostle John stated in His Gospel, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Being God’s Son, Jesus revealed divine glory in the process, thus bringing us truth about God (see v. 14)—and about life, death, sin, salvation, and us!

The apostle Paul underscored the reality that Jesus was both divine and human in these two phrases in Galatians 4:4: “God sent his Son” and “born of a woman.” This is the miracle of the incarnation, God in human flesh! Christmas emphasizes the miracle for us, and, pondering it, we are overwhelmed—especially when we realize why Jesus came. He came to die—to give His life to pay the penalty for the sins of humanity.


Jesus came to die to pay the penalty for people’s sins.


Here’s the deal. Everyone has sinned and disobeyed God’s law, and in the Court of Heaven, the penalty for even the “slightest” sin is death. Jesus was crucified; He was executed on a Roman cross as though He had committed a capital crime. Instead, everyone else was guilty! Dying as One who was totally innocent, Jesus made it possible for sinners to be forgiven of their sins and to come to know God and have fellowship with Him.

But did Jesus have to die? Yes, he absolutely had to die to solve the core problem facing humanity. Not only was no other remedy for the problem of human sin available, no other remedy even was possible! As Paul wrote in Romans 5:6-8,

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

In a previous post, we cited these insightful words from Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer. Originally offered in one of Schaeffer’s Christmas sermons, they are especially powerful now. Jesus, God’s only Son,

lies in the manger for a reason. Because He loves the world, He has come not just to eliminate the peripheral results of man’s fall (though these will be totally removed at His second coming); He is here to cut the nerve of man’s real dilemma, to solve the problem from which all other problems flow. The “condition of man” is not what modern man thinks it is. Man is a sinner who needs an overwhelming love. Jesus has come to save His people from their sins. This is not to say that He has no interest in…other things now, but we must not get the matters reversed—the central thing is central1


The “condition of man” is not what modern man thinks it is.
—Francis Schaeffer—


So Jesus came to die. Significantly, His death could not count as payment for anyone else’s sin unless three things were true of Him. Already we have highlighted the first two, which address Jesus’ divinity and humanity separately.

  1. Jesus had to be God and totally sinless Himself, and
  2. He had to be a human being, for only a human can die for another person.

The third quality combines the essential requirements of humanity and divinity into one.

  1. As a human being, Jesus had to have lived a sinless life, despite temptations to do wrong. Had He sinned, His death would go to pay for His own sins and could not be applied to anyone else’s account.

Thankfully, Jesus was “born under the law” and obeyed it perfectly. He Himself said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). Moreover, the inspired writer of Hebrews testified, “For we [who have asked God to credit Jesus’ death to our accounts] do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Heb. 4:15). The writer continued, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (v. 16).

Those who have believed in Jesus and received Him into their lives—those who have had His death credited to their accounts and on that basis experienced God’s forgiveness—have been redeemed, or bought back, by God. Through His death, therefore, Jesus accomplished the purpose for which He came—“to redeem those under the law.”  

Remember that this statement comes from Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians. Of all people, they needed to hear this! They were being enticed to think that what Jesus already had done on the cross wasn’t enough to secure their forgiveness, that they also needed to keep various aspects of the law. Paul reminded them that for their salvation, Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection needed nothing from them other than turning away from the old way of life and being willing to be bought back. Christians live exemplary lives, not to obtain salvation, but because they have been saved.

Thus, the Christmas gift of Jesus means an offer of salvation to all. Relying on Him for redemption, we escape the punishment of hell that our sin otherwise would require us to endure!

This is the good news of Christmas, but there is more! It gets even better! Next week we’ll explore what receiving “adoption to sonship” means for us in practical terms. I can think of no more wonderful realities to explore as we transition into a new year.

I close this week with President Ronald Reagan’s Christmas address, delivered 35 years ago this year, on December 23, 1981:

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Note:

1Francis Schaeffer, “What Difference Has Looking Made? (A Christmas Study)” No Little People, in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Vol. 3: A Christian View of Spirituality, (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982) 123-124.

top image: Announcement to the Shepherds by Abraham Bloemaert, c. 1600

image credits: Mary in labor and Jesus on the cross: www.lumoproject.com

Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations in this article are from the New International Version. THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

 

 

 

Christmas—Divinely Orchestrated, Part 1

Setting the Stage for Jesus’ Birth

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men.
Benjamin Franklin, at the Constitutional Convention of 1787—

The LORD has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all.
He makes nations great, and destroys them; He enlarges nations, and guides them.
Psalm 103:19; Job 12:23

One day in a fall semester Greek class during my time in seminary, my New Testament Greek professor spoke in a very serious tone to me and my fellow students. He was giving us an appropriate and timely warning. “Friends, let me tell you something very important. This may be the most important thing you hear all semester. If you buy anything for your children for Christmas this year that carries the label “SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED” on the box, pay someone to put it together for you!”

Unfortunately, a great many Christmas gifts don’t come fully assembled right out of the box, so moms, and perhaps especially dads, have stories to tell about putting toys and other gifts together through the years. You can hear one such story from one of America’s finest preachers here.

“Some assembly” also was required leading up to the very first Christmas. In Galatians 4:4-5, the apostle Paul wrote,

4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

The phrase “fullness of the time” is both interesting and significant. The New Living Translation renders verse 4 this way: “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.”

We must not assume that “the right time” or circumstances came automatically. Rather, God’s hand was involved in setting the stage for His Son’s arrival. Thus, when Jesus came, everything was in place. In ways that clearly underscored God’s absolute control over history but that didn’t treat human beings as robots devoid of free will, God prepared the world for His Son’s birth. Once He had done so, the time was right. We stand in marvel and awe over all that God did! We must understand that we are the direct beneficiaries of His work!

The ancient Greeks had two words that were translated “time.” Simply put, one of them refers to a season of time or opportunity and the other to chronological time. Learn more about these Greek words here.

In Galatians 4:4, Paul used the word chronos, the term from which our English word chronology is derived. “Fullness of time” refers to events and circumstances God brought together in history that made that point in time perfect for Jesus’ arrival. Bible scholar Warren Wiersbe1 mentions several factors.

  • Old religions were fading out, essentially collapsing under their own weight as they proved to lack substance and validity. New religious teachings were taking hold and enticing potential adherents. Spiritual hunger was pervasive.
  • Talk of a Deliverer also was widespread. The Jews in particular were expecting a Deliverer to free them from oppression.
  • Thus, across the Roman Empire, people were anxious with anticipation and expectation.
  • Furthermore, the Roman Empire’s grip on much of the then-known world meant an extensive peace prevailed; so did a practical unity among various peoples ruled by the Romans, even though many weren’t happy with Roman rule.

  • Related to this, Roman citizens enjoyed legal protection of their rights.
  • The system of roads across the empire enhanced both travel and commerce.
  • Greek and Roman military victories put the Latin and Greek languages in widespread use, enhancing communication as well (also go here).

All of this would enhance the spread of the religious movement that soon would come—Christianity. As the Psalmist wrote, “[T]he kingdom is the LORD’s, And He rules over the nations” (Ps. 22:28).

We can add to the above list that God also was arranging for hundreds of situations to unfold in fulfillment of ancient prophecies regarding the Messiah. In a devotional dated May 6, 2009 and appearing in Our Daily Bread, Joseph Stowell mentions this factor as well as the external conditions that God made ripe for the spread of Christianity.

Jesus’ arrival during the Roman Empire’s Pax Romana (the peace of Rome) was perfect timing. The known world was united by one language of commerce [Latin; also go here]. A network of global trade routes provided open access to the whole world. All of this guaranteed that the gospel could move rapidly in one tongue. No visas. No impenetrable borders. Only unhindered access to help spread the news of the Savior whose crucifixion fulfilled the prophecy of the Lamb who would be slain for our sins (Isa. 53). All in God’s perfect timing!

Adriaen van de Venne: Fishers of Men

Thus, God brought together—He “assembled”—all that was required for the birth of His Son as far as the world’s national, political, spiritual, linguistic, and commercial climates were concerned. Christmas is about Jesus, of course; but it’s about the world as well—and not just the world generally, but people specifically, including you and me. God is the ultimate expert orchestrator!


In preparation for His Son’s birth, God assembled everything that was required on the world stage relating to the national, political, spiritual, linguistic, and commercial facets of life.


As the first Christmas approached, divine “assembly” also was essential in more intimate and personal realms. Next week, we will consider the remainder of verse 4 and the first portion of verse 5: “God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.”

Probably no task of assembly ever has been greater, but no God is more powerful than ours.

Furthermore, no Christmas gift ever has been as wonderful as Jesus!

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Note:

1Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, New Testament, vol. 1, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1989), 706.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

One Scripture quotation has been taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Photo credits: top (first) image and third image: www.lumoproject.com

 

The Challenge Before Us

[I]f we and our posterity reject religious instruction and authority, violate the rules of eternal justice, trifle with the injunctions of morality, and recklessly destroy the political constitution, which holds us together, no man can tell, how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us, that shall bury all our glory in profound obscurity.
Daniel Webster, February 23, 1852, speaking before the New York Historical Society—

Daniel Webster

The results of the 2016 election are instructive for Christians on many levels. While believers have much for which to be thankful, some of the ballot initiatives sound alarm bells for Christians, the culture, and the nation at large.

By 65 percent to 35 percent, Colorado voters passed a law allowing doctors to prescribe a life-ending drug to a terminally-ill patient who requests it. Melissa Ortiz, a resident of Washington, DC, which also recently passed a similar law, is alarmed. She writes, “Joining five other states that have legalized this practice, the tragic choice by Colorado voters reflects how our nation is quick to devalue life and deny that suffering has meaning.” Ortiz and others are rightly concerned that the “right to die” will in many cases become pressure to die: In states that allow a doctor to prescribe end-of-life drugs to a terminally-ill patient’s request, “a growing number of sick people are being denied medical treatment coverage and offered assisted suicide instead.”


In states that permit physician-assisted suicide, the “right to die” often is becoming the pressure to die.


Here’s another alarm bell. A recent survey found that 60 percent of Christians agreed that “physicians should be allowed to assist terminally ill patients in ending their life.” Moreover, 38 percent of evangelicals agreed, either somewhat or strongly, with this idea: “When a person is facing a painful terminal disease, it is morally acceptable to ask for a physician’s aid in taking his or her own life.”

Assisted-suicide wasn’t the only issue before voters. In at least 3—and probably in 4—out of 5 states, they approved laws permitting the use of marijuana for recreational purposes. In California, Massachusetts, and Nevada, the votes weren’t even close. Recreational marijuana also likely passed in Maine. Only in Arizona was it narrowly defeated, although Arizona permits the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Voters in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota approved laws allowing for medical marijuana use. Thus, now more than half of the states have laws permitting marijuana usage in some form. Many sound, practical reasons exist for opposing the legalization of pot for fun—and many even exist for opposing medical marijuana as well (also go here and here).

What should Christians believe about this issue? The Family Research Council’s Rob Schwarzwalder addresses this question clearly and concisely in this article. He reminds us of the physical dangers the drug poses, that as believers we are stewards of our bodies, that we have an obligation to obey the law (marijuana use still is illegal at the federal level), and that substance abuse has ties to the occult. Moreover, contends Schwarzwalder, the Christian is to exercise self-control in the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, “substance abuse, including the use of marijuana as a vehicle for recreation, offers a stark contrast to submission to the King of kings.”

What do Christians believe about marijuana usage? A survey done in 2013 found that among 18-29 year olds who call themselves Christians, 45 percent admitted to having used marijuana, and 50 percent either “strongly favored” or “favored” legalizing the substance. Among all age groups of Christians, 39 percent favored legalization and 54 percent opposed it.

In discussing the results of these ballot initiatives, WallBuilders Live! co-host David Barton lamented the place where the culture—and Christians—have arrived. Physician-assisted suicide and marijuana usage—especially recreational marijuana—could not have been approved without a widespread disregard for moral and ethical standards of right and wrong. The culture, and Christians as well, have abandoned a belief in absolute truth. Read and hear David Barton’s comments on this page.

This is not to say every question has a simple, straightforward, up or down answer from a biblical perspective. Some issues are more complicated than others; some leave room for debate among sincere Christians. Discussion among Christians over medical marijuana use is understandable, for example; but let’s not be naïve. Legalization of medical marijuana often is a gateway to legalization of recreational pot—and as we already have said, use of the substance is against federal law.

Abusing one’s body with drugs and taking one’s own life, however, are crystal clear issues, and Barton is right. Acceptance of these unethical and unbiblical ideas has occurred because the foundational concept has eroded that absolute truth exists and applies to everyone, everywhere, in all circumstances. Sadly, the American people, including Christians, no longer believe in right and wrong.

Author and Christian speaker Josh McDowell has studied this trend. He cites surveys to back up his contention that even Christians are abandoning the idea that truth is objective and exists apart from themselves.

  • More than 25 years ago, 51 percent of evangelical Christians rejected a belief in absolutes.
  • In 1994, the percentage rose to 62 percent, and
  • in 1999, to 78 percent.
  • In 2011 the percentage of evangelical Christians not believing in absolute truth reached a staggering 91 percent!

Can anyone cite any evidence that the number has improved since 2011? David Barton is right. Ballot initiatives don’t offer any encouragement!

Yet another poll cited by McDowell found that just six percent of American teens believe in the existence of truth apart from themselves. Also, there’s just a 5 percent difference between Christian and non-Christians on this issue.

Conservatism, contends David Barton, is being redefined by the cultural tide. Whereas being a conservative used to automatically mean, among other things, upholding traditional moral and ethical standards, the connection between these values and conservatism is being severed. Barton rightly points out that “we know from the Declaration of Independence that limited government starts with your view of God. If you don’t have a God-view and a moral view of government, you will not end up with limited government. So that’s the one thing that I think we have to work on in coming years.”

Indeed, without abandoning its primary responsibility of spreading the gospel, the church must help its own members and the culture understand that absolute truth not only exists, but will be an ally if we cooperate with it.

Christians who don’t believe in absolutes have missed a core teaching of the Bible and the Christian faith. Americans who don’t believe in them have missed a central tenet of the human experience and the American experiment.

The need is critical. Much more needs to be said about it, so we’ll explore it in greater depth in future posts.

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Thanksgiving in America 101, Part 2

 Thanksgiving and Religious Liberty

Government is instituted to protect property of every sort…. Conscience is the most sacred of all property.1

A man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them.2

—Founding Father James Madison—

James Madison played a vital role in the founding of the United States, serving the new nation in a variety of important position during its earliest years. He was

  • influential in drafting the Virginia constitution,
  • a member of the Virginia House of Delegates (1776-1777; 1784-1786),
  • a member of the Continental Congress (1780-1783; 1786-1788),
  • a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, representing Virginia,
  • a member of the US House of Representatives from the 5th district of Virginia (1789-1793)
  • a member of the US House of Representatives from the 15th district of Virginia (1793-1797),
  • Secretary of State under President Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809), and
  • the 4th President of the United States (1809-1817).

Significantly, Madison has been called the Father of the US Constitution and the Father of the Bill of Rights (also go here). His work in getting the Constitution ratified was vital on many levels, including his role in addressing the states’ demand that the Constitution include a bill of rights.

Running against James Monroe for one of Virginia’s seats in the newly created House of Representatives, Madison promised to work diligently to add a bill of rights (also go here). He was elected and kept his promise. In the 12 articles that made up the proposed bill of rights sent to the states for ratification on September 25, 1789, “several of Madison’s concepts, if not his exact wording,” appeared. On December 15, 1791, 10 of the 12 were ratified by the required three-fourths of state legislatures, and they have stood through the years as America’s official Bill of Rights.3 These amendments wisely were enacted to restrain the federal government from encroaching on the liberties of America’s citizens—and again, James Madison had no small part in the process. Author and historian William J. Bennett writes that “no figure of antiquity—no Greek like Pericles or Solon, no Roman like Cicero or Cincinnatus—can claim an equal standing with Madison as lawgiver and champion of liberty.”

bill_of_rights_pg1of1_ac

Understanding Madison’s contribution to American liberty will help us appreciate the importance of a special part of his proclamation for a day of prayer and thanksgiving. On July 23, 1813, President Madison issued a proclamation setting aside Thursday, September 9 of that same year for prayer, and to render unto God “thanks for the many blessings He has bestowed on the people of the United States.”

At the time, the United States was involved in the War of 1812, a conflict that had begun the previous year and that would not end until 1815. James “Madison had not seriously prepared for war and lacked a strategy or good generals. The war began poorly, as Americans suffered defeat after defeat by smaller forces.”

battle_of_queenston_heights_artist_unknown

In October of 1812, US Forces were defeated at the Battle of Queenston Heights in Canada.

October of 1813, however, witnessed a turning point for America, and by the war’s end in 1815, a renewed spirit of patriotism spread throughout the nation. Let us not overlook the fact that the president called the nation to prayer just weeks before the tide began to turn for the United States.


Let us not overlook the fact that the president called the nation to prayer just weeks before the tide began to turn for the United States.


In his proclamation, which you can read here, America’s chief executive highlighted several examples of God’s favor on America, including the fact

that He has blessed the United States with a political Constitution rounded on the will and authority of the whole people and guaranteeing to each individual security, not only of his person and his property, but of those sacred rights of conscience so essential to his present happiness and so dear to his future hopes.

This clause reflects some of Madison’s priorities as he worked on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He, as much or more than all the other men who deliberated over the details of both, keenly understood that to maintain a free society, religious liberty and rights of conscience had to be protected.


Only when religious liberty and rights of conscience are protected can the people of a nation remain free.


In his proclamation, Madison also referred directly to the war that was at hand and the challenges it had brought upon the young nation. Accordingly, he underscored the need for calling out to God. The needs were great, so the occasion would be a serious one. September 9 was to be “a day of public humiliation and prayer.”

Having issued the call and set forth the rationale for observing the special day, President James Madison went out of his way to emphasize that no one would be forced to participate. Hear these words from the past and realize their import for the present.

If the public homage of a people can ever be worthy the favorable regard of the Holy and Omniscient Being to whom it is addressed, it must be that in which those who join in it are guided only by their free choice, by the impulse of their hearts and the dictates of their consciences; and such a spectacle must be interesting to all Christian nations as proving that religion, that gift of Heaven for the good of man, freed from all coercive edicts, from that unhallowed connection with the powers of this world which corrupts religion into an instrument or an usurper of the policy of the state, and making no appeal but to reason, to the heart, and to the conscience, can spread its benign influence everywhere and can attract to the divine altar those freewill offerings of humble supplication, thanksgiving, and praise which alone can be acceptable to Him whom no hypocrisy can deceive and no forced sacrifices propitiate.

Last week we observed Thanksgiving and highlighted the history of the holiday in America, even before it became an annual observance.

Freedom_from_Want

Two weeks ago, we considered florist Barronelle Stutzman’s appearance before the Supreme Court in Washington state. Refusing to violate her conscience, Mrs. Stutzman turned down the opportunity to arrange flowers for the same-sex wedding of a longtime friend. She subsequently was sued, and she may lose everything for taking this stand.

barronelle-stuzman-courtsey-adf

It is against this backdrop that we consider President Madison’s centuries-old proclamation, one of the early calls for prayer and thanksgiving issued in America. Recognizing both Madison’s roles in the founding of our nation as well as the fact the 1813 prayer observance occurred within a few years of the ratification of the Constitution, we need to make sure we take to heart our fourth president’s clear statements about religious liberty.

If under the Constitution no one could be forced to violate his or her conscience to participate in a solemn day of thanksgiving and prayer, then, under the same Constitution, neither can anyone ever be required to violate his or her conscience regarding the definition of marriage. James Madison is in a position to speak authoritatively on the matter, and while he didn’t specifically address Barronelle’s situation, he’s told us enough to eliminate every doubt about where he would stand—and where the Constitution stands. It’s crystal clear where James Madison would stand on same-sex marriage, but even apart from that, it’s also abundantly evident that he would say the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, upholds Barronelle Stutzman’s rights of conscience.

Read carefully again, if you have not already, the two quotes from James Madison at the top of this post. Significantly, our 4th president also said, “Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power.”


Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power.
403px-james_madison_sig-svg


James Madison’s insights could not be more relevant for America today, 203 years later, near the close of 2016. Let us fight to preserve the principles for which he labored tirelessly more than two centuries ago.

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Notes:

1http://www.heritage.org/initiatives/first-principles/primary-sources/madison-on-property

2https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/jamesmadis398100.html

3The special program “We Hold These Truths” by Norman Corwin commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights on December 15, 1941.

 

Thanksgiving in America 101, Part 1

Thanksgiving in America Through the Years

The mercies which, notwithstanding our great Unworthiness, we are constantly receiving at the Hands of Almighty God, ought ever to remind us of our obligations to him; and it becomes our especial duty at the Close of a year, to unite together in rendering thanks to the Divine Dispenser of all good for the bounties of his providence conferred on us in the course thereof.
—The Council and Assembly of the State of New Hampshire on November 19th, 1778, as they began their “Proclamation of a Public Thanksgiving”—

Days of thanksgiving and prayer in North America typically are considered to have their genesis in what often is called the “First Thanksgiving”—a three-day feast held by the Pilgrims with their Native American friends in 1621 after they’d been blessed with a bountiful harvest. Edward Winslow, who participated in the event, wrote,

[O]ur harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

The previous winter had not been kind to the Pilgrims; half of their number had died, leaving but fifty of the original party that had traveled across the Atlantic on the Mayflower. Secular attempts to remove the religious element from the historical record have fostered a great many misconceptions about the Pilgrims. The true story of their arrival in the New World and their efforts to settle and prosper in New England is both interesting and inspiring. It’s also instructive for 21st century Americans.

pilgrims

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930).

The Pilgrims essentially planted the seeds from which would spring the United States of America. Often recalling the Pilgrims, their community, and their struggles in the New World, Thanksgiving proclamations in the United States have a rich history. Even before the Colonies emerged victorious from the Revolutionary War, proclamations recommending prayer and thanksgiving were issued. Moreover, from America’s earliest days as a nation, the leaders of the United States, including the Continental Congress and George Washington, designated specific days and encouraged the people to offer prayers and thanks to God. Such declarations came not just from the national government, but from the states as well.

An Annual Observance Gains Traction

sarah_hale_portraitHow did Thanksgiving become a national holiday in America? The idea gained traction during the Civil War. It was championed by Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879), a writer and an editor of ladies’ magazines for many years. Encouraged in part by several editorials Hale had penned as well as a personal letter Hale wrote to him, President Abraham Lincoln issued the first of what would become an unbroken line of annual presidential Thanksgiving proclamations. The tradition has lasted for more than 150 years, even to the present day.


You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.
—Sarah Josepha Hale, in a letter to President Abraham Lincoln dated September 28, 1863—


The proclamations truly are remarkable. Yet, as we might expect in our modern day as secularism has strengthened its grip on the culture, some more recent proclamations point less to God and more to community, diversity, and multiculturalism. Even so, with a holiday rooted so deeply in tradition and in America’s Christian heritage, it has been nearly impossible for our leaders to depart totally from acknowledging God and His care. On this page, you’ll find some excerpts from these documents—a few from America’s earliest days and at least one from each president since Abraham Lincoln. Reading them, you’ll be encouraged, moved, and inspired.

A Federal Holiday Is Set

Of course, a presidential proclamation alone does not officially establish a federal holiday. Thanksgiving became an official national holiday in 1941, after three years of confusion and chaos. Confusion? Really? Over Thanksgiving? No kidding!

In 1789, President George Washington’s Proclamation for a Day of National Thanksgiving called for the observance to be held on November 26, the final Thursday in the month. With the first annual Thanksgiving Day recognized by President Lincoln in 1863 and with nearly all those that followed through 1938,Thanksgiving day was observed, again, on the last Thursday in November. Andrew Johnson’s proclamation in 1865 and Ulysses S. Grant’s proclamation in 1869 represent the only departures.

FRooseveltIn 1933, the same year that Franklin Roosevelt took office, November had five Thursdays. Placing Thanksgiving on the traditional final Thursday of the month would make for a short Christmas shopping season, and merchants feared this would translate into smaller profits. They asked the new president to designate November 23 as Thanksgiving Day to lengthen the gift-buying period—and hopefully to increase their income. Remember that at that time America was in the throes of the Great Depression. Roosevelt stuck with tradition that year and the next (see also here), but in 1939, the calendar was a carbon copy of the one for the year in which FDR had been inaugurated. That year he departed from tradition and designated “Thursday, the twenty-third of November, 1939, as a day of general thanksgiving.”

An uproar ensued. Some businessmen were happy with the change, but many merchants who owned smaller shops worried customers might flock to the larger stores. Lengthening the Christmas shopping season, moreover, meant shortening the season for purchasing fall clothes, and this could have a potential negative effect for retailers as well. Calendars, which had been printed far in advance, no longer were accurate. And what about the football games that already had been scheduled? That issue, too, was a big deal!

Some states resisted the change while others went along with it, creating a situation for some extended families in which relatives wanting to get together lived in states observing the holiday a week apart (see here, here, and here). If you were fortunate enough to live in Texas or Colorado, you might could enjoy both the 23rd and the 30th as Thanksgiving Days, if your employer went along. These two states recognized both days!

jack_benny_1933_publicity_photoDue to the confusion and upheaval, FDR’s chosen date for the holiday was given a special name: Franksgiving! The writers of the Jack Benny radio program had great fun with the idea of two Thanksgivings. (This is a picture of Jack in 1933.) Hear Jack’s sidekick, Mary Livingstone, read a special poem about it on this page.

The president departed from tradition in1940 and 1941 as well. In 1940, even though November had just four Thursdays, Roosevelt proclaimed Thursday, November 21—the third Thursday—as Thanksgiving (also go here). In 1941 he did it again, declaring November 20 as the official day.

President Roosevelt issued his 1941 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation on November 8. Yet, even before then, Congress had taken the initiative to settle the confusion and frustration FDR’s departure from tradition had caused. The lawmakers’ efforts, however, would not take effect until 1942. On October 6, 1941, the US House of Representatives passed a joint resolution that officially established Thanksgiving as an annual holiday on the final Thursday of each November.

joint-res-xl

 

A few weeks later, in December, the Senate passed an amendment naming the fourth Thursday as the official day.

amendment-l

The House agreed, and the president signed the bill on December 26, 1941.

The fourth Thursday in November typically is the last Thursday of the month, but in two instances it is not—when it falls on the 22nd, and when it falls on the 23rd. This represented a small, but acceptable, departure from tradition. At last the issue had been settled. Accordingly, in 1942, President Roosevelt invited “the attention of the people to the joint resolution of Congress approved December 26, 1941, which designates the fourth Thursday in November of each year as Thanksgiving Day,” and he added, “and I request that both Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1942, and New Year’s Day, January 1, 1943, be observed in prayer, publicly and privately.”

Revelations from the Proclamations

While the Thanksgiving Proclamations of yesteryear are windows that allow us to learn about America’s godly heritage, we must not miss lessons they have for us today, in 2016. The proclamations don’t just reveal, they also issue an appeal.


America’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamations don’t just reveal truth about our country, they also issue an appeal.


I conclude this week’s post by focusing on the first of these elements; next week we will highlight a presidential Thanksgiving Day proclamation from the past and discuss how it issues a strong appeal to us in modern America.

What do presidential Thanksgiving proclamations reveal about us as a country, and about our leaders? In an article titled “Thanksgiving Through the Years,” the Heritage Foundation’s Lee Edwards examines trends in American presidents’ Thanksgiving proclamations and notes that “with the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the coming of secular progressivism, God was given an increasingly secondary role while the ‘civic spirit’ of America was extolled.” Ronald Reagan, Lee affirms, was an exception to this trend.

Lee’s article is well worth reading, as it offers a window into America’s spiritual and cultural drift during the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Here’s an example. In 2013, one conservative news outlet highlighted just how remarkable it was that President Obama had mentioned God in his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation that year.

Also worth reading is an excellent piece published last year in The Federalist titled “What Our Presidents’ Thanksgiving Proclamations Tell Us About America.” Freelance writer Samantha Strayer contends,

Just as the status of a check-engine light speaks to the soundness of a vehicle, there are indicators throughout society that speak to the soundness of a nation. In a land as vast and populated as ours, with technological advancements once the sole province of science-fiction, it is nearly impossible to count such indicators.

But there is one—simple, short, and easy to read—that clearly reflects the spiritual health of the country: the annual Thanksgiving Day Proclamation.

Strayer goes on to contrast George Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation to President Barak Obama’s 2015 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation in relation to three elements—

  • Service of God Versus Service to Others
  • Executive Versus Legislative Dominance, and
  • Reflection Versus a Jacked-Up Historical Account

I conclude here by commending Strayer’s article to you, and by encouraging you on this sacred holiday, not only to offer heartfelt thanks to God for His manifold blessings to our nation, but also to offer prayers on America’s behalf, that we might repent of our sins, both individual and corporate, and recover a sense of accountability to “the great Lord and Ruler of Nations.”

May it be so.

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

top image: The Landing of the Pilgrims by Henry A. Bacon

 

 

An Argument Every Homosexual Rights Activist Ought to Understand and Acknowledge as Valid

Our government is supposed to protect our First Amendment rights—freedom of religion and expression. But the government is telling me I can only be a faithful Christian within the four walls of my church. That’s impossible and it’s unjust. What would Rob and Curt say if the government told them they could only be who they are in their own homes? [emphasis added]
Barronelle Stutzman, in an op-ed piece published in the Washington Post on May 13, 1915, naming the men who wanted her to create floral arrangements for their same-sex wedding and defending her right to decline the opportunity because doing so would have violated her deeply held religious beliefs—

Previously at Word Foundations we have discussed how a typical homosexual activist looks at and assesses even polite refusals from Christian business owners to participate in same-sex weddings. Based on his or her deeply held religious beliefs, a baker, florist, photographer, or other professional might say, “I’m sorry, I don’t do gay weddings. I can recommend some other vendors to you, but because I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, I must decline your request for my services.” Even though such a refusal is based, not on hate, but on deeply held religious convictions about marriage, the homosexual has difficulty seeing this. Here’s why.

[O]ne hundred years ago, people viewed homosexuality as a behavior. (By the way, this is exactly the way Scripture sees it and treats it.) Fifty years ago, society viewed it as a condition. Our culture today sees it as an identity. This is [a big] reason gays and lesbians have difficulty understanding Christians’ claim to “love the sinner but hate the sin.” A gay man believes, “If you hate homosexuality, you must hate me, because that’s who I am.”

I call this the identity argument. For many years we’ve heard it from homosexual activists and others demanding same-sex for marriage: I can’t violate who I am!

It’s bad enough that the cultural narrative says homosexuality is fine, but it does more. It fuses homosexuality and identity together. For this and numerous other reasons, gays and lesbians cannot separate their sexual orientation from themselves as people. To them, it’s personal.


The identity argument says, “This is who I am, and I have to live that out and express it.”


Here I won’t try to analyze the identity argument on the part of homosexuals or try to explain its weaknesses. You can read more about my perspective on homosexuality in the article that carries the above quote. For now, my point is that even if we believe homosexuals are misapplying the identity argument, we need to realize its power, including how this perspective sets the stage emotional wounding when gays and lesbians hear concerns raised about the destructive nature of homosexual behavior. Moreover, we need to consistently respect them as people as well as their right to hold to their views.

That said, let’s now turn our attention to the convictions of Christian vendors who feel compelled to refuse to participate in same-sex weddings. Barronelle Stutzman is one such vendor. She’s a florist in Richland, Washington. Rob Ingersoll had been Barronelle’s customer and friend for many years, and never once had his sexual orientation been an issue in their friendship. Then same-sex marriage became legal in Washington state. Rob was planning to “marry” his partner, Curt Freed, and he asked Barronelle to arrange flowers for the wedding. Despite their longstanding friendship, Barronelle felt she had no choice but to decline. She became the target of a lawsuit. Here’s her story.

Barronelle Stutzman’s case has made it all the way to the Washington state Supreme Court. Oral arguments were presented to the court this week, on Tuesday, November 15. Go here, here, and here for reports.

img-barronelle-press-conference-1

On Saturday, November 12, three days prior to her appearance in court, Barronelle offered her perspective on her case through the Spokesman-Review, a Spokane newspaper. Here is a portion of what she wrote.

Since I never hid my faith, I always figured Rob understood that my beliefs shape not only how I look at the world, but how I envision and create my art—the art he appreciated for so long. So it wasn’t that I wouldn’t create something to celebrate his same-sex wedding—I couldn’t. This wasn’t about selling him flowers, or celebrating a birthday. This involved what, to me, is an event of unique spiritual significance—a sacred covenant. Art, like faith, comes from the heart, from who I am. I couldn’t deny my faith—even for so dear a friend—without damaging the very creativity he was asking for.

If you’re not a person of faith, that may sound odd. But Rob said he understood, and I took him at his word. He may not have shared my beliefs, but he knew I genuinely cared about him. I still do, and I miss him coming into the shop. But the state is trying to use his case to force me to create artistic expressions that violate my deepest beliefs. It’s moving to dissolve my most precious freedom, erode my life’s work and savings and take away the financial security of those who work with me.

If you didn’t read the above statements carefully you might have missed it. Note that Barronelle writes, “it wasn’t that I wouldn’t create something special for his same-sex wedding—I couldn’t.…Art, like faith, comes from the heart, from who I am. I couldn’t deny my faith—even for so dear a friend—without damaging the very creativity he was asking for.”

Here, Barronelle, rightly, I believe, has made the identity argument. It isn’t just that she holds to Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality; she is a Christian, and that identity drives her thinking, actions, and affections—all she is and does. Hers is an argument that, of all people, homosexual activists should understand and acknowledge as valid.


Barronelle Stutzman has made the identity argument. Even though homosexual activists will disagree with her conclusions, they still should respect her argument and acknowledge it as valid. After all, they themselves make a parallel case in defense of their position.


Clearly, Barronelle respects Rob’s and Curt’s convictions about who they are, for, as we noted at the top, she has said, “What would Rob and Curt say if the government told them they could only be who they are in their own homes?”

Yet the Richland florist also is right on target when she says, “If you’re not a person of faith, that [what I have written about my perspective] may sound odd.” Even if does sound odd, a Christian’s identity argument should be respected in the marketplace of ideas, just as is a similar argument from gays and lesbians.

Otherwise, it will be impossible to preserve genuine liberty and freedom in the United States of America.

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.