Upholding God-Ordained Marriage Is One of the Greatest Ways to Advance the Gospel, Part 5

If the church doesn’t speak now, it may be forced to forever hold its peace.

The foundation upon which society is constructed—the central unit linking people to a social structure—is the family. And the most important component of the family is the husband-wife relationship. Any changes in that relationship will produce far-reaching effects upon the community as a whole. As long as the husband-wife tie is intact, an emotional cornerstone will be created upon which the happiness and satisfaction of everyone can be constructed. But when the tie is weakened, every other bond in society also will weaken.
—W. Peter Biltchington, PhD, in 19801

 

Key point: In the debate over the meaning of marriage, the gospel itself is at risk.

  • Part 4 is available here.
  • View summaries of all the articles in this series here.
  • This post focuses on four qualities that should characterize the church’s defense of marriage. A shorter version that hones in on just one of them—urgency—is available  here.

Marriage is, and always has been, about more than individuals alone. It’s about the larger community. It’s also about children and their upbringing, including the kinds of adults they eventually will become. Consequently, it’s about the future of civilization, too. We make a big mistake if we fail to see marriage in terms of the big picture. As Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet declare, “Marriage must be both taught and portrayed as an institution that is bigger than our desires, whims, feelings, and affections.”2

Yet, the critical role of marriage in society—as important as it is—is only a part of the big picture to which we point today. Christians know that God designed marriage—one man and one woman committed to each other for life—first to foreshadow, then to represent, Christ’s relationship to His church.


Marriage is about the gospel.


Therefore, marriage is about the gospel. Manipulating it will have a detrimental effect on people and society on a multitude of levels, not the least of which will be spiritual. With God-ordained marriage being threatened, the gospel is at risk as well. Recognizing this, the church must uphold and defend marriage as God designed it. We can call His design “natural marriage” because nature echoes what the Bible says about what marriage is and what it is supposed to be.

Today, Christians have forgotten, or they may never really have understood, the true meaning of marriage. Contributing to Christians’ ignorance, the church has failed to convey to its people the rich ways in which marriage showcases the gospel. We have been exploring this important topic in this series of articles, and now we move to issue a challenge to the church to passionately uphold God-ordained marriage both within and outside its walls.

If Christians are to be spokesmen for the gospel, they must be spokesmen for marriage as well, especially since marriage is under relentless attack. Championing natural marriage will help us advance the gospel—and failing to do so will hurt the cause of Christ in immeasurable ways.

Practice What You Preach, and Speak with Passion

Last time we named the first two items on a 12-item list of qualities that should characterize the church’s defense of marriage. We said the church must defend marriage

  1. with greater sincerity and
  2. with greater authenticity.

Originally I had planned to discuss the remaining ten qualities here, but space limitations make it necessary to use next week’s post as well. This time we’ll cover items 3 through 6 on the list. As we resume our list, we’re reminded that as important as good marriages are, defending marriage isn’t just about improving marriages, but about upholding marriage.


As important as good marriages are, defending marriage isn’t just about improving marriages, but about upholding marriage.


Be Aware, Speak Up Often, and Never Misrepresent God’s Truth

Third, God’s people, both individually and corporately, must speak with greater awareness. This includes an awareness of

  • the hurt and pain associated with homosexuality (go here, here, and here),
  • the longings of children to have both a mother and a father, and
  • the benefits of natural marriage on individual and societal levels (go here and here).

With an awareness of these things, we become gravely concerned for our homosexual neighbors, family members, coworkers, and friends—and we become more determined than ever to expose the lie that limiting marriage to one man and one woman robs them of fulfillment and happiness.

There’s more. Awareness also includes a recognition of the importance of defending marriage because of its underlying meaning in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Losing marriage means losing a picture that helps everyone, whether he or she attends church or not, understand why Christ came to earth and died. If we aren’t ashamed of the gospel, then how can we be ashamed of marriage as God designed it, for in it we see the gospel? This doesn’t mean we pick fights with those who disagree with us, but it does mean we are willing to engage with people on this important issue.

Fourth, we must uphold marriage with greater frequency. When was the last time you heard a sermon, not on improving your marriage, but on God’s design for marriage and the importance of revering it and upholding it as an institution? Pastors, where are you?


Pastors, where are you?


When did you last participate in a Bible study on protecting and preserving marriage as an institution? Again, it’s important to try to help people have good marriages, but if we don’t defend the institution of marriage, we’ve failed to fully defend the gospel.

Here is an article with links to Bible studies that will help Christians uphold marriage. These can be used as Bible studies or easily adapted as sermons.

Fifth, we must speak with greater clarity. There’s a great deal of misleading information about homosexuality out there cloaked in compelling, theological jargon. The Bible, however, is unambiguous about the fact that homosexuality is a sin (also go here).

In addition, symbols God established to have specific meanings are being grossly and horrifically distorted. If the church does not seek to clarify this misinformation, who will? The need for clarity was the theme of one of my earliest posts at Word Foundations.

The Situation Is Desperate

Sixth, we must uphold marriage with greater urgency. A new poll conducted by the Pew Research Center “found that two years after Obergefell, the Supreme Court decision that required states to recognized [sic] same-sex marriages nationwide, support for allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally is at its highest point in more than 20 years.” Among Republicans and those leaning Republican, support was essentially tied, with 48 percent opposing same-sex marriage and 47 percent favoring it. We need only go back to 2013 to find a large gap among Republicans. At that time they opposed the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples 61 to 33 percent!

The survey also found that while white Protestants in the evangelical tradition oppose same-sex marriage 59 to 35 percent,

younger white evangelicals have grown more supportive: 47 percent of white evangelical Millennials and Gen Xers—age cohorts born after 1964—favor same-sex marriage, up from 29 percent in March 2016.

Additionally, while African-Americans have generally been less supportive than whites of redefining marriage, since 2015 support among blacks has increased 12 points—from 39 percent to a majority—51 percent.

Overall, 62 versus 32 percent of Americans favor same-sex marriage. Contrast that to findings in 2010, when Americans opposed the idea 48 to 42 percent.

Without question, the pro-LGBT media have had an impact on societal opinion. Even so, one survey found that the number one factor compelling people to open their minds to idea that same-sex rights are needed “is knowing somebody who is gay.” Recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel changed her position on same-sex marriage because she had “met a lesbian couple who cared for eight foster children.” Political and cultural pressure surely were factors in her change of mind, just as they are with a great many worldwide, even ordinary citizens not in politics.

Now, I want to be crystal clear about what I’m going to say next. I write with animosity toward no one, but with grave concern for all. The survey that found support for same-sex marriage among young white evangelicals at 47 percent was a different poll than the one that found knowing a homosexual to be the biggest factor pulling respondents toward supporting gay rights. Still, there is no question that knowing a homosexual is indeed pulling evangelicals, especially younger ones, in this direction. On the one hand, we can understand this, because this kind of experience personalizes the issue. It “puts a face” on the case for redefining marriage.

On the other hand, this pull proves that the church has failed completely to equip its people to think biblically about homosexuality and other related issues—the top hot-button issues of our time. As Christians, we must use our heads, not simply follow our hearts on this matter. Is this unloving? Not at all! Authentic love never ignores the truth!


In the debate over the meaning of marriage, we as Christians must use our heads, not simply follow our hearts. Authentic love never ignores the truth!


If Christians really believe the Bible, then they recognize all sexual activity outside of natural marriage as sinful and wrong, whether it is illegal or not. This includes homosexuality. Why then would they not respond as they would in other situations involving activities they know to be sinful and wrong? Does knowing a drug addict compel us to support that person’s “right” to abuse drugs? What about knowing an alcoholic, or a thief? Do we support his or her “right” to keep behaving the way he or she is behaving just because knowing that person puts a face on it for us? Of course not!


Do we support a drug addict’s “right” to abuse drugs because knowing that person “puts a face on the issue” for us? Do we support the habits of an alcoholic or a thief just because we know him or her? Of course not. Instead, for the benefit of these individuals, we seek to help them find a better path. The same ought to be true of us with regard to the homosexuals with whom we are acquainted.


Homosexual activists have succeeded in making homosexuality an identity in people’s minds, but in reality it is linked inseparably to behavior, and destructive behavior, at that! (Also go here). If we really care about someone, we will not shy away from telling him or her the truth, even though hearing the truth might be difficult at first.

What About the Children?

Moreover, we must remember that children adopted by same-sex parents are being denied a mother or a father by virtue of the design of the “marriages” of their parents. These parents may be loving and may do a great job meeting many of their children’s needs. The children may appear to be happy, and all may seem to be well. None of this changes the fact the parents’ “marriage” is denying their children an extremely critical need—that of a mom or a dad. Children need both, argues social researcher Glenn Stanton in this short but excellent piece. He is absolutely right! (Also go here.) These children are real people—every bit as real as their adopted parents. Can we please acknowledge their existence and their needs? Let’s let these children, whether we know them by name or not, personalize this issue for us!


Read “Why Children Need a Male and Female Parent” by Glenn Stanton


Jesus cared a great deal about children and warned against influencing them to sin or stumble. If we who claim to believe the Bible really believe it, we will acknowledge that children living in homes with same-sex parents are extremely vulnerable to being so influenced. Here I’m not trying to point a finger of accusation at gay or lesbian parents. Like so much of the rest of society, they have been blinded. My point here is what Christians believe about the various scenarios that have become inevitable in the aftermath of Obergefell. Today’s culture is misleading children and adults alike with the idea that homosexuality is on par with heterosexuality. But I’m not misleading anyone! you might say. Maybe you aren’t directly, but if you remain silent while the relentless attacks against natural marriage continue, you are complicit!

Speak Now!

As we have said, the situation is urgent. With marriage having been redefined by our government, our nation is changing in profound and ominous ways. With marriage under attack and the gospel threatened, religious liberty is at risk as well! Even before the Obergefell ruling, Princeton Professor Dr. Robert George predicted, among other things, how redefining marriage would affect religious liberty in America.

The church must speak now, lest it be forced to forever hold its peace.


The church must speak now, lest it be forced to forever hold its peace.


I know these are hard words, but they appear to be necessary. Next time, we’ll cover several more items on our 12-item list—and we might even reach the last one.

In the meantime, pray for the church to understand the need and rise to the occasion. With God, all things are possible!

  • Part six is available here.
  • An article showcasing all 12 qualities that must characterize the church’s case for marriage is available here.

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

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.

Notes:

1W. Peter Blitchington, Sex Roles & The Christian Family, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1980), 49. Of this book, Dr. James Dobson wrote, “Never before have I volunteered a statement of endorsement for a book, but this one deserves that distinction. These issues are crucial to the survival of the family, and I wish every Christian in America would read it.” Dr. Dobson’s endorsement appears on the cover of the book.

2Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet, Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014), 95.

image credits: all images with exception of the neighborhood street and the picture of Professor George: www.lightstock.com

Upholding God-Ordained Marriage Is One of the Greatest Ways to Advance the Gospel, Part 4

If marriage is allowed to die, future generations likely will inherit a godless culture. We simply must have an answer in defense of biblical marriage that persuades the culture to protect and esteem the biblical design for human relationships, family structure, and social order—for the sake of the gospel in America.
—S. Michael Craven1

 

Key point: To get a glimpse of the gospel, look at marriages where the husband and wife are Christians and take their Christianity seriously.

  • Go here to read an expanded version of this article.
  • Part 3 is available here.
  • View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

From 1968 to 1990, Robertson McQuilken served as the third president of Columbia International University (CIU) in Columbia, South Carolina. McQuilken distinguished “himself as a spiritual and practical visionary.” Enrollment doubled, for example, and the school founded two radio stations. Moreover, McQuilken oversaw advancements in CIU’s accreditation status, expansion of its seminary and graduate programs, and enlargement of the school’s physical campus. It was a busy and fruitful 22 years. Immediately prior to coming to CIU, Robertson had been a missionary and a church planter in Japan for 12 years.2

The decision to leave Japan to take the helm of Columbia International University, McQuilken has said, “was the most difficult I have had to make.”3 By contrast, 22 years later and eight years prior to retirement, the choice to step down was “painful” but “one of the easiest.”4

Robertson’s wife, Muriel, had Alzheimer’s disease, and she now needed round-the-clock care. Robertson felt he’d already made his decision 42 years earlier when, at his wedding, he formally “promised to take care of Muriel ‘in sickness and in health…till death do us part.’”5 Hear this 2-minute excerpt from his resignation speech.

Robertson was Muriel’s caregiver for 13 years, until she died at 81 on September 20, 2003. He declared, “I don’t see how I could have any more grief.” Yet his life was not over. Robertson would live 13 years beyond Muriel’s passing. In 2005 he remarried and even was able to return, to some extent, to a public ministry. He lived to be 88 years of age and passed away on June 2, 2016.

Supernatural Help to Reflect a Supernatural Love

While some may see this story as “too perfect” for today’s world and the relationships that prevail in it, we as believers know that God exists and offers supernatural resources to His Son’s followers. As Christians, we have “the mind of Christ” and the Holy Spirit, who produces supernatural fruit in our lives. “He who abides in Me, and I in him,” Jesus said, “bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

There’s something else we as believers have, as well. We have the relationship of Christ and His church as a model of what marriage is supposed to look like. Because the bond between Christ and His church is all about the gospel, marriage is to reflect the gospel—the best news ever announced.

Perhaps an illustration will help. Just as Mirror Lake in the image at the top reflects Oregon’s Mt. Hood on the surface of its waters, Christian marriage gives people a glimpse of Christ’s relationship to the church and the gospel.


Christians must have good marriages, but we also must uphold God’s design for marriage—for the sake of the gospel.


People who are unfamiliar with Christ’s sacrifice for His church surely can at least begin to understand it when they see sacrificial love demonstrated in Christian marriages. Yet, as important as good marriages are, we must do more than have good marriages. We also must uphold God’s design for marriage—for the sake of the gospel. It is my prayer that this retelling of the McQuilkens’ story will help Christians understand this truth.

The Responsibility to Point the Way Back

Alarmingly, society is losing its grip on what marriage is, and what it is supposed to be. In a BreakPoint commentary dated March 31, 2017 and titled “The Silent Suffering of Gay Men,” John  Stonestreet astutely observed that for a variety of reasons “the debate over gay ‘marriage’ and homosexuality has largely fizzled out…[a]nd that’s a shame, because so-called ‘progress isn’t bringing about the rosy picture we were promised.”

The church must reignite this debate! It is in a unique and strategic position to help society get out of the mess that has resulted from redefining marriage—and I don’t just mean redefining marriage through Obergefell. The meaning of marriage has been under assault for decades!


God’s people must teach the next generation of Christians why and how God’s Word is right about marriage.


To begin with, God’s people must teach the next generation of Christians why and how God’s Word is right about marriage. This includes explaining how natural marriage represents the gospel.

What the Church Must Do

Here is the beginning of a 12-item list of qualities that must characterize the church’s case for natural marriage. We’ll examine two items now, and next time the remaining ten.

First, believers must contend for marriage with greater sincerity. All too often Christians and the church have ignored the marriage issue as too controversial. It will turn people away! People will misunderstand! Yet marriage really is about the gospel, and upholding God’s design can indeed help non-Christians see and understand the gospel. We need to really believe this! As Martyn Lloyd-Jones observed, “When the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.”

Second, we must uphold marriage with greater authenticity. We need to work on our own marriages and, with God’s help, bring them to a clearer representation of Christ’s relationship with His church. Marriages like the McQuilkens’ can inspire us to do this. On a regular basis, Focus on the Family offers encouragement and appropriate challenges toward this end. Tune in to the broadcast and visit this excellent ministry online. Family Life is another such ministry. More directly, however, churches must step up to the plate to teach and equip men and women to be better husbands and wives—and to teach young people to become men and women of God who will be better husbands and wives when they’re married.

Remember, however, that as important as good marriages are, this isn’t just about having good marriages, but about upholding marriage.

We’re just getting started on our 12-item list. We have ten more items to discuss.

We’ll tackle them next time. See you then!

  • Part 5 is available here.
  • An article showcasing all 12 qualities that must characterize the church’s case for marriage is available here.

 

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

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.

Notes:

1S. Michael Craven, Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2009), 151.

2Robertson’s McQuilken’s work and ministry through the years is summarized beautifully in this this CIU video.

3,4Robertson McQuilken, A Promise Kept: The Story of an Unforgettable Love, (Carol Stream, IL: 2006), 21.

5Ibid., 22.

 

 

Upholding God-Ordained Marriage Is One of the Greatest Ways to Advance the Gospel, Part 3

[M]arriage is never only about the couple. It is always about the larger community.…In fact it always includes concern about the next generation as well. We seem to have forgotten this.
—Glenn T. Stanton and Dr. Bill Maier1

 

Key point: When we begin to explore ways biblical marriage mirrors the gospel, we find qualities that contrast sharply to the characteristics of same-sex relationships.

Part 2 is available here.
View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

In their excellent book titled Marriage on Trial: The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage and Parenting,2 Glenn Stanton and Bill Meier make the observations we have quoted above. Not coincidently, their insights apply to the gospel as well.

The gospel is never only about Christ and the church. It is always about the world. In fact it always includes concern about the next generation.

Marriage, you see, is all about the gospel.

Here are two important ways God-ordained marriage reflects the gospel—the good news—of Jesus Christ.

The Nature of the Relationship Itself

Read Ephesians 5:22-33 and reflect on the word mystery in verse 32. The relationship between Christ and His church is mysterious on many levels, one of which we see reflected in the “way of a man with a young woman.” Proverbs 30:18-19 (NIV) declares,

There are three things that are too amazing for me,
four that I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a young woman.

No same-sex “marriage” has any comparable relational mystery.


All same-sex relationships lack the relational mystery inherent in heterosexual bonds.


Significantly, it is the differences between a man and a woman that provide the platform for a healthy marriage (see Gen. 2:18-25); and similarly, it is the differences between Christ and His church (and what those are) that set the stage God to initiate a rescue operation to save humanity.

In his insightful book, Growth into Manhood, former homosexual Alan Medinger highlights four sets of contrasting qualities between masculinity and femininity. The second of these is that the essence of masculinity is initiation and the essence of femininity is response. Medinger observes that since God is the ultimate initiator, it is entirely appropriate that He would reveal Himself in the masculine role of Father. We, as responders to God, are all feminine in this sense. Moreover, Medinger notes, it is fitting that we who are followers of Christ are called His bride.3 This is at the heart of the gospel’s good news!4

We do well to elaborate a bit more. In the plan God implemented to save sinners, Christ, God’s Son, came to earth as a man and pursued them so they could experience His love and forgiveness and become His bride. As Christ’s bride, His followers share in His victories! Hymn writer Samuel John Stone (1839-1900) expressed it this way:

The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.

The Church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end:
Though there be those who hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against both foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.

Procreation

At the dawn of time, God instructed Adam and Eve, the first married couple, to “Be fruitful and multiply.” Marriage is about reproduction; yet no same-sex relationship, even if it’s called a marriage, ever can reproduce.


No homosexual union can reproduce; only a heterosexual union can do that.


The gospel is about reproduction as well. In fact, if anything has to do with reproduction, the gospel does! We see this clearly in New Testament. Go here for several examples.

God Involves His People

It is noteworthy that God invariably uses His people—members of Christ’s bride, the church—as He draws non-Christians to Himself. Consider Paul’s conversion to Christ. Jesus supernaturally appeared to him on the road to Damascus, (see Acts 9:1-9), but God also sent his servant Ananias to him in Damascus to minister to him (add vv. 10-19).

Even those who have come to Christ by reading the Bible have read Scripture human beings have printed. God uses the words and influence of His people every day to bring people to Christ. Initially we might wonder why God has placed such a limitation on Himself, but we find the answer in the truth that His people are a part of Christ’s bride, the church. We know that in a marriage relationship, both the groom and the bride are involved in the reproductive process.

We need to be careful not to press this point too far, of course. It is the Holy Spirit who regenerates and gives new life. Still, the point is made. God does not work to reproduce spiritual life without involving the bride of Christ in the process, and we as Christ’s bride cannot produce spiritual fruit without relying on Christ (see John 15:1-5).


The mysterious dynamic of the marriage relationship and the ability of the married couple to procreate are two significant ways marriage mirrors the Christian gospel.


Losing Man-Woman Marriage in Society Makes Sharing the Gospel Even Harder

So, God-ordained marriage, and God-ordained marriage alone, reflects the relationship of Christ and the church. It therefore reflects the gospel. If our society loses a clear understanding of what marriage is—and we’re far down that road already—it will lose a window through which it can gain a clear understanding of the reason Christ died. With marriage at stake, the gospel is at stake. Despite these urgent realities, the church seems oblivious to what really is happening—and ironically, she herself is the bride!


With marriage at stake, the gospel is at stake!


One of the best ways the church can demonstrate faithfulness to her Husband, and one of the most effective ways she can champion the gospel, is to articulately contend for the God-ordained definition of marriage both within and beyond her own walls. Granted, the insights we’ve highlighted here are best emphasized within the church, so let’s start there. All church leaders must be involved in this effort, but pastors are going to have to take the initiative.


Do you really care about the gospel? Then defend God-ordained marriage.


Do you really care about the gospel? Then defend God-ordained marriage. Learn, and help other believers learn, how marriage showcases the gospel.

Next time, we’ll begin to explore some specific ways God’s people can rise to this challenge.

Part 4 is available here.

 

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


Notes:

1,2Glenn T. Stanton and Dr. Bill Maier, Marriage on Trial: The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage and Parenting, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 12.

3Alan Medinger, Growth into Manhood, (Colorado Springs, CO: Shaw, 2000), 85.

4Some points of clarification are in order. We should note that both men and women are members of God’s highest creation, for God made both in His image. At the same time, as we have said, God has revealed Himself to humanity in masculine terms, as a Father. This does not mean we never see evidence of feminine traits in God or in His dealings with humanity (here is one such example).

Another important point is that we are not saying a man provides salvation for his wife. It is Christ and Christ alone who provides salvation for the church, which is made up of both male and female members. Both men and women are sinners and need Christ equally. We are affirming the ideal of marriage as presented in Ephesians 5, including the truth that the lifelong union of one man and one woman mirrors the relationship of Christ and the church.


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 passage was taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

 

Upholding God-Ordained Marriage Is One of the Greatest Ways to Advance the Gospel, Part 2

Advocates of so-called “gay marriage” make the argument “that to deny homosexuals marriage is manifestly unfair. But it’s not unfair. Gays and lesbians are not unworthy of marriage; they are incapable of marriage.”
Charles Colson

 

Key point: One reason Christians are losing the fight to preserve marriage is because the church has failed to educate its people—especially young believers—about the rich and wonderful ways God’s design for marriage reflects the gospel.

Part 1 is available here.
View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Last time we talked about the culture’s influence on the church with regard to the definition of marriage. Most in the modern evangelical church probably still believe in man-woman marriage. Even so, it’s clear the culture has influenced the church’s thinking with regard to society’s bedrock institution. More on that in a moment.

Marriage mirrors Christ’s relationship to the church, so it also represents the gospel—God’s plan of salvation and the best news ever announced.

Yet the church seems to have forgotten, or it frequently overlooks, this truth. If marriage represents the gospel, we ought not hesitate to make the case for either—or for both!

How Did We Get Here?

It is helpful to explore just how we as Christians fell into this trap. In an important BreakPoint commentary, John Stonestreet provides both insights and background. Meet Dr. Abigail Rine, who has taught classes “on gender theory at George Fox University, an evangelical school in the Quaker tradition.” She reports that her students “arrive in my class thoroughly versed in the language and categories of identity politics; they are reticent to disagree with anything for fear of seeming intolerant—except, of course, what they perceive to be intolerant.”

Unfortunately, Rine’s students find arguments for man-woman marriage intolerant, even those that articulately connect the lifelong, loving commitment of one man and one woman to childbearing, childrearing, and the relational bonds arising within the family unit. We must realize these students represent many, perhaps even most, young evangelicals.

Have these young people with Christian upbringings heard a solid biblical case for man-woman marriage? No, Stonestreet says, “only…wooden proof-texting.” Moreover, they already see marriage as the very thing defenders of traditional marriage describe as “revisionist”—a two-person union based on emotions, romance, and sex. Why do they see it this way? On a practical level, this is the definition of marriage on which they were raised! Yes, it had biblical and heterosexual overtones, but nothing deeper. This thin veneer hasn’t been enough to prevent these young people from taking the definition of marriage they were taught and reshaping it into the one the culture is promoting.


What have most Christian young people heard at church to help them understand the biblical basis for man-woman marriage? According to John Stonestreet, little more “wooden proof-texting.” This probably is true of most Christian adults as well.


Rine astutely observes that

the redefinition [of marriage] began decades ago, in the wake of the sexual revolution. Once the link between sexuality and procreation was severed in our cultural imagination, marriage morphed into an exclusive romantic bond that has only an arbitrary relationship to reproduction. It is this redefinition, arguably, that has given rise to the same-sex marriage movement, rather than the other way around, and as the broader culture has shifted on this issue, so have many young evangelicals.

Stonestreet notes that the idea of marriage as an arena for sexual intimacy alone, divorced from procreation, is promoted everywhere. “Even in the Church,” he admits, “children have become an optional add-on to married life rather than its primary purpose.” The church, influenced by the culture, has unwittingly set the stage for the young people in its midst to become convinced of a thoroughly unbiblical idea!


The church, influenced by the culture, has unwittingly set the stage for the young people in its midst to become convinced of a thoroughly unbiblical idea.


What can the church do about this? Obviously, it needs to rediscover and reaffirm the connection between marriage and children. Put another way, it needs once again to celebrate children as assets and blessings. Scripture declares,

Don’t you see that children are GOD’s best gift?
the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?
Like a warrior’s fistful of arrows
Are the children of a vigorous youth.
Oh, how blessed are you parents,
with your quivers full of children!
Your enemies don’t stand a chance against you;
You’ll sweep them right off your doorstep (Psalm 127:3-5, The Message)

This doesn’t mean making childless couples or couples with one or two children feel guilty. It does mean encouraging parents and celebrating children in both large and small families. Moreover, the church must not miss the big picture. Having children isn’t just about families and the individuals within them, but society as well.1

Perhaps even more fundamentally, however, the church needs to rediscover and uphold the truth that a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman mirrors the gospel. It also needs to train Christians, especially young believers, along these lines.

Next time we will examine two specific ways marriage reflects the gospel. The church can start with these truths and begin to emphasize and teach them with fresh enthusiasm. Actually, it must!

Be sure to return!

Part 3 is available here.

 

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

top image: Parents with child statue, Hrobákova street, Petržalka, Bratislava


Note:

1Go here, here, and here.


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture in this article has been taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Upholding God-Ordained Marriage Is One of the Greatest Ways to Advance the Gospel, Part 1

Marriage is not a human invention; it is a divine revelation. Its design never was our own made-up arrangement of infinite malleability. It was given to us, at the beginning of all things, as a brightly shining fixity of eternal significance. We might not always live up to its true grandeur. None of us does so perfectly. But we have no right to redefine it, and we have every reason to revere it.
Ray Ortlund

 

Key point: When Christians understand the meaning and significance of marriage, they will be compelled to defend it.

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Jesus’ disciples frequently didn’t understand what their Master was teaching. For one thing, Jesus regularly said what His hearers least expected. Add to this that the disciples had their own expectations, and these had been shaped by the mood and culture of the day.

Consider Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ. Apparently very soon after making his confession, Peter rebuked Jesus for saying He—Jesus—would suffer, die, and rise again. Jesus responded with some very strong words: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Unwittingly and unintentionally, Peter spoke on behalf of Satan!

These and similar situations in the Gospels might well prompt us to ask, “Why did the disciples fail to understand?” I would like to suggest we ought to be asking another, more pertinent question: How is it that we fail to understand spiritual truths that also are of paramount importance? Well, we also have been influenced by the culture.


Why do we fail to understand spiritual truths that are just as important as those truths the disciples failed to see? We, too, have been influenced by the culture!


The Truth About Marriage

The meaning and significance of marriage provide perhaps the best examples. In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul wrote,

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

I fear many Christians today find it difficult to deal with this passage without cringing over the word submit in verse 22. This is clear evidence of the culture’s influence. Of course, we need to be sensitive to the perspectives and hurts of those we’re trying to reach—but note carefully—in verse 21, which immediately precedes the statements he makes about marriage, Paul writes, “submitting to one another in the fear of God.” Thus, the context affirms mutual deferment of self for others.

There’s something even more important. Marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church. Thus, especially among Christians, marriage is to model that relationship. Jesus is Lord, but He never “lords it over” anyone. Likewise, no husband ever has the right to “lord it over” his wife.


Jesus is Lord, but He never “lords it over” anyone. Likewise, no husband ever has the right to “lord it over” his wife.


Marriage Showcases the Gospel

You see, Christ does not expect His followers to submit to Him without ever having submitted Himself for their benefit. Because marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church, it’s also a picture of the gospel. A church in England drives this point home clearly and effectively with this video.

This is what 21st century Christians in the West seem to be so slow to understand—despite the renewed emphasis on the importance of the gospel in evangelical circles. Our lack of understanding weakens our presentation of the gospel.


Failing to understand the connections between marriage and the gospel actually weakens our ability to effectively present the gospel.


“I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” Paul declared. We can be certain he wasn’t ashamed of marriage, either, even though he may never have married. If we claim to be unashamed of the gospel but hesitate to defend marriage, perhaps we’re not as supportive of the gospel as we think.


If we claim to be unashamed of the gospel but hesitate to defend marriage, perhaps we’re not as supportive of the gospel as we think.


Just how did we get to this point? We’ll explore that question next time. Stay tuned!

Part 2 is available here.

 

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

top image: Courtship by Edmund Leighton

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.

 

Absolute Truth Really Is All About God

 Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 17

Consider the atheist who is outraged at seeing a violent murder on the ten o’clock news. He is very upset and hopes that the murderer will be punished for his wicked actions. But in his view of the world, why should he be angry? In an atheistic, evolutionary universe where people are just animals, murder is no different than a lion killing an antelope. But we don’t punish the lion! If people are just chemical accidents, then why punish one for killing another?…[Moreover, m]any atheists behave morally and expect others to behave morally as well. But absolute morality simply does not comport with atheism.
Dr. Jason Lisle

Truth always carries with it confrontation. Truth demands confrontation; loving confrontation nevertheless. If our reflex action is always accommodation regardless of the centrality of the truth involved, there is something wrong.
Francis Schaeffer

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Part 16 is available here.

The Declaration of Independence begins with this insightful and profound statement:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

The acknowledgement of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” is more than significant. The Founders affirmed the existence of a set of standards coming from God and reflected in nature, or the natural world. It’s true that the Declaration does not mention a specific God; the point of the document was not theological. Moreover, our early leaders believed strongly in religious liberty. Even so, God’s existence is assumed, not argued—and equally assumed is the idea that laws, including principles that affirm human dignity and a set of standards of right and wrong, are an inherent part of the natural order of things. These standards originate from outside—and not from within—humanity and human reason.


Truth comes from outside human beings, not from within.


Writing for the Heritage Foundation, Mark David Hall addresses the question “Did America Have a Christian Founding?” He essentially answers by saying, “It depends on what is meant by ‘a Christian founding,’” but affirms the answer is yes if the phrase means biblical principles and ideas strongly influenced America’s architects. “I believe,” Hall writes, “that an excellent case can be made that Christianity had a profound influence on the Founders.” He cites five specific examples, including these.

  1. Their faith taught them that humans were sinful.…
  2. They firmly believed that God ordained moral standards, that legislation should be made in accordance with these standards, and that moral laws took precedence over human laws.

The idea of absolute truth, therefore, was an important principle informing and guiding America’s Founders as they led the Colonies to separate from Great Britain and as they drafted the US Constitution. Although it didn’t originate in the United States, the affirmation of absolute truth can rightly be called an American ideal.

Last week we highlighted five specific characteristics of Alliance Defending Freedom’s clients, and we used Blaine Adamson, Jack Phillips, and Barronelle Stutzman as representative examples. Against the backdrop of America’s founding, I want to underscore a point we dare not miss from our previous discussion. Here I am elaborating on last week’s fifth point, the importance of affirming and living by the right principles.

Blaine Adamson, Darold and Barronelle Stutzman, Kelvin Cochran, Evelyn and Donald Knapp, and Jack Phillips

Adamson, Phillips, Stutzman, and others are upholding principles that originated outside themselves. They are not willing to risk everything to have the right to follow their own feelings on a matter. If an individual is going to risk everything, he or she ought to risk it for something more certain than that! ADF clients are upholding the truth—absolute truth that reflects universal standards of right and wrong. These arise from God and His character.

God is the Architect of all that is, including morality and ethics.
Ancient of Days by William Blake (1757-1827)1

Yet their convictions run even deeper than that. Their beliefs are rooted, not just in ideals or principles, but in God Himself and their sense of accountability to Him. Last week’s three-minute audio clip contained clear evidence of this from the perspective of each client. This one-minute excerpt presents that core evidence. You’ll hear Adamson first, Phillips second, and Stutzman third.

To be clear, an individual doesn’t have to believe in God to believe in moral principles or absolute truth. However, the existence of absolutes is best explained by the existence of God, as apologist J. Warner Wallace has pointed out.

Confronted with the hostility, pressure, and expressions of hate that ADF clients surely must experience, these courageous men and women are not following their feelings. They’re not following their opinions either, although their opinions align with what they know to be true.


Alliance Defending Freedom’s clients aren’t following their feelings or opinions. Rather, they’re putting everything on the line because of what they know to be true and because they are compelled to obey the God who is the source of all truth.


They are putting everything on the line because of what they know to be true and because they are compelled to obey the God who is the source of all truth. It’s all the more reason to follow their examples. As Barrnelle Stutzman affirms, “you can’t be lukewarm” in your commitment to Christ.

What have you risked lately because you’re a Christian?

 

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

1Use of Blake’s work is not to be construed as an endorsement of his religious views. Ancient of Days does, however, symbolically highlight a number of divine traits that are consistent with the authority and creative power of the God of orthodox Christianity, which we do affirm.

top image: portion of an 1869 US postage stamp commemorating the presentation of the Declaration of Independence