Upholding Clarity in an Age of Confusion: The Nashville Statement, Part 4

Spiritual Warfare Is Serious Business

“Cheshire Puss,” she began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider. “Come, it’s pleased so far,” thought Alice, and she went on. “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
—Lewis Caroll in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

There is a way that seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.
Proverbs 14:12; 16:25

[B]ecause of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.
—the apostle Paul to the Corinthian Christians in 1 Corinthians 7:2

 

Key point: Article 2 and many other elements of the Nashville Statement not only affirm God’s plan for humanity but also expose the stark contrast between God’s way and man’s way. The conflict between these two perspectives constitutes the great cosmic battle of the universe.

 

You can access summaries of all the articles in this series here.

In several recent posts we have been considering various elements of the Nashville Statement on Biblical Sexuality. This declaration not only seeks to uphold God’s plan; it also exposes just how distant man’s way is from the Creator’s. We see this divergence in many places in the statement, including Article 2.

WE AFFIRM that God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.

WE DENY that any affections, desires, or commitments ever justify sexual intercourse before or outside marriage; nor do they justify any form of sexual immorality.

Note the phrases that describe the two opposing sides in this spiritual fight-to-the-finish:

“God’s revealed will” versus individual “affections, desires [and] commitments.”

The Cosmic Battle

The collision of these two ideas represents what Christian leader and educator Del Tackett calls the great cosmic battle. Did you think the cosmic battle was between God and Satan only? Not so. Members of the human race have the opportunity to choose whether they will follow God’s way or their own—and their own prideful way mirrors Satan’s. An individual is on one side or the other; no one can escape or opt out of the cosmic battle.

Note carefully: Not all sexual activity is sinful. As Article 2 states, “God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.” With this in mind, ask yourself this: What else are “affections, desires, and commitments” but “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life”? (See 1 John 2:16 in the context of vv. 15-17.)


Affections, desires, and  commitments that attempt to justify sexual immorality are what the apostle John calls “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” in 1 John 2:15-17.


The divergence between these two opposing sides brings to mind an overlapping conflict—the one between relativism and absolute truth, We have explored this contest frequently in weeks past.

  • Relativism is the idea that everyone can make up and live according to his or her own truth, which, relativism says, is no more or less valid than the “truth” created by anyone else. According to this perspective, truth is subjective; it is inside each person and therefore conforms to individual preferences and whims.
  • Contrast that to absolute truth, which has truth as its object. In other words, absolutes are objective, or outside individual preferences, feelings, opinions, and inclinations. Moreover, absolute truth is based on God’s character and will. As such, it involves principles that apply to everyone, everywhere, at all times, and in all circumstances. Absolutes represent “God’s revealed will,” as Article 2 puts it.

God’s Way or My Way

Best-selling author Frank Peretti also is a riveting speaker who actually performs when he talks. His vocal gymnastics are mesmerizing! Peretti exposes the folly of relativism in this minute-and-a-half clip from his classic message, “God’s Way or My Way.”


With what does relativism ultimately leave you? Just feelings!
—Frank Peretti—


Mr. Peretti has nailed it! Thankfully, he has the courage to point this out forthrightly and without apology. Do we have the courage to openly agree with him? Read on to find out why we must join Mr. Peretti in his affirmations.

Pervasive Misinformation

We find relativism promoted everywhere in popular culture. Not only that, but it has been promoted for decades. Consider this pivotal scene from the 1977 blockbuster Star Wars. Because the term Star Wars became the name for the entire series, this movie later was renamed Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope. Keep in mind the Star Wars movies promote Eastern religious ideas as well as the relativistic concept of “getting in touch with one’s feelings.” In this first Star Wars installment, we vividly see the overlap between these in more than one scene. This clip depicts Luke’s lightsaber training abroad the Millennium Falcon.

So, what about “stretching out with one’s feelings”? Frank Peretti warns against this specifically in his presentation.

Going “with the fuzzies” ultimately will exact a high price, but apparently not in Luke Skywalker’s world. Remember that we don’t live in Luke’s world! Moreover, Luke doesn’t even exist!

Even so, despite the obvious stupidity of essentially blindfolding oneself and fighting according to instincts and feelings, Luke not only successfully fought the remote satellite during his training but also dealt a deathblow to the Empire’s Death Star at the end of the movie. Do you remember what happened? Luke ditched his targeting computer to rely on his feelings and “the Force flowing within him.” You can watch the scene here.

Don’t be taken in! If reality had been allowed to play out, this episode in the Star Wars saga would have been named A Dashed Hope rather than A New Hope. It is, after all, science fiction!


Had reality been allowed to play out, this episode in the Star Wars saga would have been named A Dashed Hope rather than A New Hope.


Human feelings are not reliable guides for life! This isn’t what we hear in our culture, though! Follow your feelings! Only you can determine what’s best for you! If it feels right it must be right. These ideas, as compelling as they are, simply are not true!

Relativism’s Enticement

Despite its gaping flaws, relativism remains popular and widely accepted. We explored numerous reasons why when we began our series on this subject. We do well to revisit that discussion here. The following is a summary. Go here for a more complete presentation.

Why is relativism so attractive?

  • First, it 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.” Here’s the harsh truth, though: Visiting Fantasyland with an intention of exiting is one thing, but relativism invites people to live there. Fantasies can’t survive long-term in the real world.
  • 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. Who among us doesn’t want to be viewed as magnanimous? Moreover, the person who says absolute truth exists has taken a position that makes him or her a target of vicious criticism. It’s ironic, though, that the very people who say no one ought to judge will, in a heartbeat, judge advocates of absolute truth!
  • 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. Let’s face it. Anyone making up his or her own truth and following it actually is playing god, even if he or she doesn’t realize it. Either way, it has tremendous appeal!

The Bottom Line

So, Article 2, like just about everything else in the Nashville Statement, places God’s way right beside man’s way and exposes the stark contrast between the two.

Dr. Michael Brown is very much on target in his assessment of the situation. He cites numerous vehement objections to the Nashville Statement from non-Christians; then he says,

The problem [these people are having] is not with the Nashville Statement. It is with the Bible, since the statement only reaffirms what the Bible clearly teaches, namely that: 1) God made humans male and female; 2) marriage, as intended by God, is the lifelong union of a man and a woman; 3) homosexual practice is always sinful in God’s sight; 4) God offers forgiveness for all human beings through the cross of Jesus; and 5) those who struggle with same-sex attraction or gender identity confusion can be welcomed into the Body of Christ like any other struggling individual, as long as they do not celebrate or affirm that which is wrong.

The way of man is deeply flawed. Some weaknesses are so glaring that, as we have seen, they’re easy to point out.

Are we willing to try to point them out? Are we willing to exercise love and compassion as we do? Are we willing to uphold God’s way over man’s?

If we are, we truly will give our neighbors, family members, and friends in this country and in the world a new hope!

Let these words from Frank Peretti inspire you and encourage you as you take your stand.


When you know the Lord—when you know the transcendent, personal, loving God—you’ve got something that you can carry with you and pass on to your children. Something they can be sure of, solid ground that they can walk on. You’ve got something that is true!
—Frank Peretti—


 

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

top image: www.lightstock.com

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.

 

 

Upholding Clarity in an Age of Confusion: The Nashville Statement, Part 3

Flawless Design

Marriage is based on the truth that men and women are complementary, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the reality that children need a mother and a father. Redefining marriage does not simply expand the existing understanding of marriage; it rejects these truths.
Ryan Anderson

 

Key point: Marriage cannot function as God intended it to function and bring its manifold benefits to individuals and society if its design is rejected or changed.

 

An abbreviated version of this article is available here.

You can access summaries of all the articles in this series here.

We have been considering The Nashville Statement on Biblical Sexuality. This declaration is critical not only as a statement for Christians within the church, but also as a statement to the world about what human sexuality is, what it should be, and about how people ought to relate to one another, for the good of all.

Biblical Clarity

The Bible speaks without ambiguity about maleness, femaleness, human sexuality, and marriage. Quoting Genesis, Jesus asked the Pharisees, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”?'” (Matt. 19:4-5; Gen. 2:24). As we observed in a previous post,

For what reason, then, shall a man “leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-5; Mark 10:6-8)? The answer is clear. It first is stated in Genesis and then restated by Jesus in Matthew and Mark: Because God created human beings as male and female!

God-ordained marriage unites two separate individuals from two separate families into one, new family; and the children the couple produces from their union also are a part of that same family. The family, with man-woman marriage as in integral part of it, was not an afterthought in God’s mind as one of several alternatives for social order in human societies. Rather,

marriage and family have been inscribed by the Divine Architect into the order of Creation. Marriage is ontologically between one man and one woman, ordered toward the union of the spouses, open to children and formative of family. Family is the first vital cell of society, the first government, and the first mediating institution of our social order. The future of a free and healthy society passes through marriage and the family.

Since marriage was established when God first created human beings as male and female, it is appropriate that Article 1 in The Nashville Statement would focus on what marriage is and what it is not.

WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.

WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.

The Workings of a Watch Showcase the Brilliance of Design

Many insights can be gleaned from this excellent article, but here I’d like to focus on the word “designed” and its implications. To design is “to create, fashion, execute, or construct according to [a] plan.”

To better understand and appreciate what it means to design something, we should take a close look at an item that has been designed. A pocket watch is a great example. A three-and-a-half-minute video is available that uses 3-D animation to demonstrate the five elements that make the watch function. Those elements are

  1. energy,
  2. wheels,
  3. escapement,
  4. controller, and
  5. time indicator.

You can view this video here.

As an alternative, the following presentation is just one minute long. While it doesn’t name the parts of a watch, it also uses 3-D animation to visually demonstrate how all the separate pieces work together. Keep in mind the parts work—and so does the watch—because the right components have been created and placed in strategic relationships with one another. In other words, the watch was designed, and built according to the design.

Notice that a builder cannot duplicate some parts and leave others out and expect everything to work smoothly—or at all. Nor can he or she put the parts together “any old way.” The design must be followed for the item to function as it should.


A watchmaker cannot duplicate some parts and leave others out and expect everything to work smoothly—or at all. Nor can he or she put the parts together “any old way.” The design must be followed for the timepiece to function as it should.


Divine Design

How can we realize these things about mechanical items but miss parallel principles with regard to marriage? God’s design is perfect! Marriages don’t always function as they should, but this is because of human imperfection and sin, not because of the design!


God’s design is perfect! Marriages don’t always function as they should, but this is because of human imperfection and sin, not because of the design!


The One who created human beings as male and female established marriage as a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman. He did this, not to frustrate, but to benefit—to benefit the couples directly involved, their children, and society at large.

Inherent in God’s design for marriage is the complementarity of men and women, who are alike in that both are human beings, yet different from one another in a variety of ways, including physically, emotionally, relationally, and mentally (go herehere, herehere, and here). For example, male and female brains are different. And it isn’t just Christians who recognize these differences. Moreover, it’s noteworthy that male-female differences are the source of a great deal of humor.

The writers of two blockbuster television sitcoms—I Love Lucy and Everybody Loves Raymond, used these differences as a basis for countless episodes.

From the Very Start

The differences between men and women provide wonderful advantages for a couple and their children. We see these benefits underscored even at the beginning of time. Genesis 2:18 indicates the first man and the first woman were suitable partners.

And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”

The New International Version renders the verse this way.

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

“Suitable helper” is the typical English translation of the Hebrew phrase

‘ēzer kenegdô, 

says Old Testament scholar and seminary professor Dr. Daniel Kim. In a thorough discussion about the best way to translate the phrase, and consequently the entire verse, Dr. Kim reaches this conclusion.

I suggest a meaningful translation of Gen. 2:18 in today’s context might be: “I will make for him a helper, as one who is his counterpart.”  There are other methods by which one can convey the right meaning, such as shifting word order, using other synonyms, or even employing more words. Some examples are: “I will make a helper for him, one who is his perfect match,” or, “I will make a counterpart for him, one who is able to help in his time of need.”

You can explore a few of the linguistic and interpretative considerations that led Dr. Kim to reach this conclusion here. Yet, as helpful as they are, even these renderings don’t convey all the ideas the Hebrew words do, and that’s why we need scholars and teachers who can explain the depth of meanings represented in various passages of Scripture. In addition, in this instance in particular, they can help us come to appreciate in new and fresh ways how God designed marriage and how, when we follow His plan, countless people benefit.

Unfortunately, society has rejected God’s model for marriage, and it even is denying obvious realities in nature and in the human experience about what it means to be male or female. The church needs to rediscover God’s design for marriage, appreciate it anew, and encourage society at large also to understand and appreciate its benefits.

Parallels

Returning once more to the watch illustration, we repeat what we said earlier about  its design: A watch maker cannot duplicate some parts of the watch and leave others out and expect everything to work smoothly—or at all. Nor can he or she put the parts together “any old way.” The design must be followed for the watch to function as it should.

Against the backdrop of a functioning mechanical watch, we now will note four parallel traits that are true of both the watch and of marriage.

First, the parts fit together. Gear teeth interlock. Hubs hold wheels and gears in their proper places. Springs have the necessary space to be tightened and to loosen as the watch carries out its planned function. A husband and wife also fit together. We see this most obviously in the physical realm, but it also is true on a multitude of other levels as well. In neither the watch nor in marriage are the players or parts identical, but they are compatible.

Second, the parts work together to accomplish a positive purpose. Gears turn with other gears; springs tighten and then unwind slowly, and hands move because they perform their functions in harmony with all the other parts. Likewise, in a marriage as it was designed to function, a husband and his wife also work together. These beautiful words from Ecclesiastes 4 come to mind. While friendship is one context for these verses, marriage is the most fitting scenario. Note that verse 12 hints at God’s role in strengthening the couple’s partnership.

Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor.
10 For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up.
11 Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm;
But how can one be warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.
And a threefold cord is not quickly broken (Eccl. 4:9-12).

Third, as the parts work together, they also work against each other—not in an adversarial way, but in a way that enhances the function and role of each, as well as the overall performance of the larger item of which they are parts. How have we missed this? Because of the differences between components, each one is able to fulfill its role of pushing, prodding, nudging, and halting various other parts when actions like these are necessary. In marriage, we see this in that the husband and wife counterbalance each other when needed. Consider this pivotal scene from the move Rocky II. Rocky is lethargic and unmotivated to train for his upcoming fight with Apollo Creed, but then his wife Adrian comes out of her coma, they see their baby together, and…

A Lesson Arising from Article 1

To these three observations we now add a fourth. This is the insight we dare not miss! It’s a principle inherent in Article 1 of the Nashville Statement. We must resolve to find positive ways to share it with society at large.

Just as the most effective way to ruin a watch would be to reject or to try to reshape or redefine its design, the most effective way to ruin marriage is to reject, alter, and/or redefine its design.


Just as the most effective way to ruin a watch would be to reject or to try to reshape or redefine its design, the most effective way to ruin marriage is to reject, alter, and/or redefine its design.


It isn’t hateful or unloving to declare this. Rather, withholding the information would be unloving.

How fitting, then, that the first article in The Nashville Statement reaffirms and upholds God’s flawless design for marriage!

Part 4 is available here.

 

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

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

The passage marked NIV has been 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 Clarity in an Age of Confusion: The Nashville Statement, Part 2

Combatting the Devil’s Lies with the Truth of Scripture

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’?”
Genesis 3:1

Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”
Matthew 4:5-6, where Satan uses a quotation from Psalm 91:11-12 to tempt Jesus to sin (Christ’s temptations [see Matt. 4:1-11] are depicted in the 12th century mosaic  pictured above and located at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy)—

The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!
William Shakespeare, in The Merchant of Venice

 

You can access summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Key point: The gospel and its teachings on sexuality and holy living unite believers in Christ but also expose those who approve of homosexuality as believing something that directly contradicts biblical teaching.

Last time we began a series of articles on The Nashville Statement on Biblical Sexuality, a declaration that reaffirms what biblical teachings about God’s creation of human beings as male and female and about human sexual relationships. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) spearheaded the document. Of it, CBMW president Denny Burk wrote,

I would say that by far, the most push-back that I have heard today has related to Article 10, which says this:

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

Evangelicals who have been drifting away from biblical fidelity on these issues have often been running under the cover of confusion—confusion about what is essential and what is not essential to the Christian faith. From the very beginning of the Christian faith, sexual morality has always been central. Those who wish to follow Jesus must pursue sexually pure lives. A person may follow Jesus, or he may pursue sexual immorality. But he cannot do both. He must choose. One path leads to eternal life, and the other does not. These are not new teachings. They are the ancient faith.

And yet, there are many “evangelicals” who are trying to convince other evangelicals that homosexual immorality is a special case. They are trying to convince people that same-sex immorality and following Jesus can indeed go together. One of the main reasons for The Nashville Statement is to expose this contradiction.

Burk goes on to cite 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 in the New American Standard Bible. Here we will quote it from the New International Version. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul wrote,

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

Believers, Burk rightly contends, cannot pretend verse 8 is not in the text. I would add that neither can believers pretend that approval of homosexuality or any of the other sins named in Romans 1:18-32 (NIV, NKJV) isn’t sinful. It is sinful, just as Paul explicitly indicated in verse 32. Paul wrote about people “who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them (emphasis added).”

Satan—A Brilliant Strategist

How has Satan succeeded in getting so many who claim to follow Christ to approve of homosexuality and same-sex marriage? Well, he is very shrewd. Certainly he is glad to hear someone say, “I know what I’m doing is against biblical teaching and is sinful, but it’s my life and I’ll live it the way I choose.” A few people might make choices and statements like this one, but this kind of scenario is rare. When people sin, they’re far more comfortable believing a lie about their beliefs and behavior than the truth.

Think of how many more individuals Satan can lure away from God if he can convince them that something the Bible clearly teaches to be sinful isn’t really all that bad. If Satan can get people to believe either (1) that God doesn’t disapprove of a particular sinful activity or (2) that He actually approves of it, he can lead people away from God just as powerfully as the Pied Piper of Hamelin led away the children of the town with his music.

Illustration by Kate Greenaway

“But wait!” someone might say. “Can Satan really do that?” Yes. He can and he does. This kind of trickery is easier than you might think. After all, Satan is “the commander of the powers of the unseen world…[who is] at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God” (Eph. 2:2, NLT). Remember, too, that we’re talking about the one who “walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour,” but who also “transforms himself into an angel of light.”

Satan Twists Scripture and Uses His Distorted Interpretations to Deceive

Let me use a simple example. What Satan has done with regard to homosexuality is a good bit more complicated and involved, but this illustration will help us understand in a general way Satan’s ability to deceive.

Suppose someone were to tell you that God actually does not disapprove of stealing. Another individual goes even further, saying He even approves of it. Both people cite Ephesians 4:28. They claim this verse says,

If a man steals, let him steal; no more let him labor with his hands.

What would be your response? Keep in mind these people are using Scripture to back up their claim.

Truthfully, the English words they’re using are correctly translated—but that doesn’t mean the translation as a whole is accurate. Here’s another rendering of Ephesians 4:28 that uses the very same words, yet faithfully represents what Paul really meant.

If a man steals, let him steal no more; let him labor with his hands.

What is the difference between these two statements? Only the location of one element of punctuation—a semicolon! In this illustration, by moving just one semicolon, the devil can change a biblical statement and get it to say the exact opposite of what the inspired writer originally intended.1

“Well,” our advocates of stealing might say, the original Greek manuscripts of the New Testament have no punctuation marks.” Yes, that’s true, but what Paul wrote never can justify placing a semicolon after the phrase “let him steal” in the English translation we cited.

Here’s what Ephesians 4:28 says in its entirety.

Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.

You see, even though the words are accurately translated in both of the above summaries, the translation in the first one affirms the opposite of what Paul actually wrote. Note that to discover the truth in this instance, we really didn’t have to dig all that deeply.

Countering Deception by Reaffirming the Truth of Scripture

We do have to dig deeply to effectively counter pro-gay theological arguments, but a first step in refuting them is to accept what Scripture teaches at face value. This is an important Bible study principle. When approaching any particular Scripture, we do well first to ask, “What does it appear to say?” Almost always, the answer will point us in the right direction. When we dig deeper—and certainly we always should—we will find insights we had not initially noticed, and sometimes we will discover minor qualifications and nuances. We won’t find passages appearing to teach one thing while actually promoting the opposite idea.


How can we know the intended meaning of a passage of Scripture? We first should ask, “What does the passage appear to say?” The answer will nearly always point us in the right direction.


“But what about Jesus’ telling His followers to pluck their eyes out?” Doesn’t such a statement seem, initially, at least, to mean something other than what was said?” This is a good question. The answer actually is no. In this instance Jesus used a hyperbole, a literary device where exaggeration is employed to drive home a particular point. We never should take a hyperbole literally, but we need to take its intended meaning seriously. In fact, this is the main purpose of this literary device.

Hyperboles and other literary devices need not derail us from properly interpreting Scripture. Recognizing them, we see that they season the spoken and written word—yet they need to be recognized for what they are so they can be properly understood. Other factors such as history, culture, and geography should be taken into account as well. Go here to read a brief discussion of some basic guidelines for biblical interpretation.

The Bible Is Clear About Homosexuality

Let’s now discuss what the Bible teaches about homosexuality. We can summarize its message this way: Homosexual activity is sinful, a violation of God’s holy character, and contrary to His design for humanity.


The Bible teaches that homosexual activity is sinful, a violation of God’s holy character, and contrary to His design for humanity.


Three passages from the Old Testament mention sexual contact between persons of the same sex, and three from the New Testament mention same-sex intimacy or refer directly to those who practice it. The passages are Genesis 19:1-29; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:8-10.

It’s important to say we must keep the historical context of Leviticus 20:13 in mind. Homosexuality was deemed a capital crime for Israel when she became a nation. Her neighbors were pagan peoples, and God wanted His people to testify to His holiness before the world. We should not see the death penalty for homosexual activity as applicable for us today.

It’s also important to say that we must never assume anyone is beyond the hope and transforming power of God’s saving reach. First Corinthians 6:9-11 demonstrates this truth. God had saved some of the Corinthians out of homosexuality, demonstrating that His specialty is changing people from the inside out, no matter how entrenched in sinful practices they were. Paul wrote,

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (emphasis added).

Diligent study will uncover many more insights, but for now, let’s let these passages speak for themselves. As we read them, we notice they’re quite straightforward in their teaching. If literary devices ever created challenges to interpreting any passage of Scripture, they certainly don’t with regard to these. One has to perform a great many linguistic, grammatical, and interpretative contortions (also go here) to make the case these passages say something totally opposed to what they appear to say at first reading.


An individual has to perform a great many linguistic, grammatical, and interpretative contortions to make the case that Bible passages on homosexuality actually convey ideas opposite those they appear to uphold at first reading.


Even so, as we have indicated, Satan has been extremely successful in getting people to believe Scripture teaches God doesn’t disapprove of homosexuality, and even that in certain situations He approves of it.

This makes the Nashville Statement all the more necessary, and all the more timely. Let’s expose Satan’s trickery for what it is!

As Jesus said, “The truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

Part 3 is available here.

 

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

For further study:

  • Joe Dallas, “Responding to Pro-Gay Arguments,” available here; also available online here
  • Upholding God-Ordained Marriage Is One of the Greatest Ways to Advance the Gospel, Part 7—Why We Must Never “Agree to Disagree” on Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage, available here

Note:

1Safe Exit: Balancing grace and truth on the complicated subject of same-sex attraction, (PFOX—Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, 2015), 64. Go here for more information.

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

Passages marked NIV are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

One Scripture, which is marked NLT,  was 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.

Upholding Clarity in an Age of Confusion: The Nashville Statement, Part 1

Taking a Stand

Anyone who has pored over the arguments for homosexuality…knows they’re rubbish. When the dust settles, the case for accepting and “celebrating” same-sex relationships has never and will never be a rational one. It is emotional, built of beaming stock photos, upbeat music, and a glib disregard for the consequences for children growing up with two parents of the same sex, and the grim reality of the gay lifestyle.
G. Shane Morris

 

Key point: The Nashville Statement on Biblical Sexuality was signed by scores of Christian leaders and released in late August to restate and affirm what the Bible teaches about human sexuality, being created by God in His image as male and female human beings, and the meaning of marriage. In a day of cultural confusion and ambiguity over what is right and proper with regard to these important issues, it is a much needed statement.

 

You can access summaries of all the articles in this series here.

At Stand to Reason’s reTHINK Apologetics Conference held at Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama on April 21-22, 2017, speaker and author Brett Kunkle likened subjective truth to ice cream preferences and objective truth to medicine. These analogies are quite appropriate. Ask five people to name their favorite flavors of ice cream and you may very well get five different answers—but a doctor diagnoses a disease or condition according to what he or she thinks it is, not according to desires or preferences. When surgery is needed, the patient’s well-being, and possibly even his or her life, depend on a doctor who is understanding, yet well-informed about what the problem really is. The doctor, especially, must not shy away from reality!

Jack Benny

This humorous exchange from the Jack Benny radio program airing October 18, 1953, illustrates the problem. The clip features Benny, voice talent Mel Blanc, and actress Veola Vonn.

Unfortunately, Christians often are squeamish—or at least less than confident—with regard to the truth about a great many critical issues today, including sexuality, homosexuality, and the meaning of marriage.

We must be compassionate and loving—absolutely. No one ever has an excuse for hatred or gay-bashing. We must realize that we who never have experienced same-sex attraction are in no less need of a Savior than the most militant homosexual activist. Yet we also need to see that it’s impossible to love authentically without upholding the truth. To uphold it effectively, we must know it and understand it.

Affirming Scriptural Teaching

For these and many other reasons, it’s encouraging that on Tuesday, August 29, a group of evangelical leaders released a statement upholding biblical teachings on sexuality and marriage. The Nashville Statement comes officially from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC) also was involved. Like many other confessions and statements in church history, The Nashville Statement bears the name of the city in which it was forged and refined.

Denny Burk

CBMW President Denny Burk cited the following as examples. In early church history, “The Nicene Creed (325), the Constantinopolitan Creed (381), [and] the Chalcedonian Creed (451)” were drafted and released. Burk added, “Even more recently, there was the Barmen Declaration (1934), The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978), The Danvers Statement (1987), and the Manhattan Declaration (2009).…In each case, the name simply indicates where the statements were drawn up.” (Hyperlinks have been added.)

Established in 1987, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has a  mission of setting “forth the teachings of the Bible about the complementary differences between men and women, created equally in the image of God, because these teachings are essential for obedience to Scripture and for the health of the family and the church.”

The Nashville Statement’s Preamble says in part,

[The] secular spirit of our age presents a great challenge to the Christian church. Will the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lose her biblical conviction, clarity, and courage, and blend into the spirit of the age? Or will she hold fast to the word of life, draw courage from Jesus, and unashamedly proclaim his way as the way of life? Will she maintain her clear, counter-cultural witness to a world that seems bent on ruin?

We are persuaded that faithfulness in our generation means declaring once again the true story of the world and of our place in it—particularly as male and female. Christian Scripture teaches that there is but one God who alone is Creator and Lord of all. To him alone, every person owes glad-hearted thanksgiving, heart-felt praise, and total allegiance. This is the path not only of glorifying God, but of knowing ourselves. To forget our Creator is to forget who we are, for he made us for himself. And we cannot know ourselves truly without truly knowing him who made us. We did not make ourselves. We are not our own. Our true identity, as male and female persons, is given by God. It is not only foolish, but hopeless, to try to make ourselves what God did not create us to be.


It is not only foolish, but hopeless, to try to make ourselves what God did not create us to be.
—Preamble to the Nashville Statement on Biblical Sexuality—


Pushback

The entire Preamble is available here. It is followed by fourteen articles, each offering an affirmation and a denial. We will consider several of these in future posts, but for now, we should recognize that the drafters and signatories of The Nashville Statement didn’t affirm it for acclaim or popularity. Reaction was both harsh and swift.

    • A headline in the New York Daily News declared, “Evangelical council’s manifesto about ‘biblical sexuality’ and same-sex sin is straight out of the 1980s.”
    • “The Huffington Post” carried this article: “Evangelical Leaders Release Anti-LGBTQ Statement On Human Sexuality.”
    • At salon.com, this article carried news about the Nashville Statement. Here is the headline: “Evangelicals’ bigotry-filled Nashville Statement is denounced for its anti-LGBT message.” The last sentence reads, “The statement was denounced on social media as ‘un-American toilet paper’ written by hypocrites.”
    • Nashville Mayor Megan Barry tweeted, “The @CBMWorg‘s so-called “Nashville Statement” is poorly named and does not represent the inclusive values of the city & people of Nashville.”
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry
    • Offended by the name of their city in the name of the CBMW statement, a group of Nashville residents issued what they called the “Accurate Nashville Statement.” The headline of an article about the counter-statement states that it “Embraces LGBTQ With Love to Counter Bigoted Hate.”
    • In an article appearing in the Chicago Tribune, Rex Huppke drew up his own “Chicago Statement.” It declares that while the Nashville Statement says being gay, lesbian, or transgendered offends God, failing to affirm the wide range of differences existing within the human family is what really offends Him. Also offensive to Him, according to Ruppke’s “Chicago Statement,” is overlooking the fact that it is “wildly and dangerously damaging” to tell “LBGT people that they’re sinners, that their identity is wrong, [and] that they’re somehow imperfect.” Moreover, this is “a sin in and of itself.”
    • A group at the House for all Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, issued a counter-statement that sought to refute  CBMW’s declaration point-by-point.
    • A group calling itself “Christians United” issued a statement “In Support of LGBT+ Inclusion in the Church.”
    • Jen Hatmaker, an “evangelical” speaker, author, and HGTV television personality, came out in support of same-sex marriage in 2016. Her beliefs prompted LifeWay Christian Stores in October to stop selling her books. After the Nashville Statement was released, Hatmaker tweeted, “The fruit of the “Nashville Statement” is suffering, rejection, shame, and despair. The timing is callous beyond words.”
    • In response to the Nashville Statement, in a series of tweets, Jesuit priest James Martin issued his own series of articles of affirmation and denial, including this one: “I affirm: That LGBT people are some of the holiest people I know. I deny: That Jesus wants us to judge others, when he clearly forbade it.”

One certainly would expect strong opposition from those who don’t claim to be Christians, but here we see several people describing themselves as both evangelical and Christian expressing their disagreement in the strongest of terms. It’s interesting they so harshly condemn judging others, yet their condemnations against judging also are judgments. In other words, these people are doing exactly what they are accusing the drafters and signers of the Nashville Statement of doing. One wonders if this insight has totally slipped by these individuals.


In condemning the practice of judging others, critics of those who support the Nashville Statement are themselves judging others.


Widespread, Diverse Support

According to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Professor Owen Strachan,

Owen Strachan

The secular pushback to the document was altogether expected. But an article in the Washington Post—bearing the gentle title “Why even conservative evangelicals are unhappy with the anti-LGBT Nashville Statement”—argues that “conservative evangelicals” are opposing the statement. Not many are, it turns out; Katelyn Beaty quotes all of five evangelicals, most of whom agree with the document’s core commitments, but object to its tone. Given that more than 170 men and women signed the statement, things seem a bit overblown on this point.…

[Actually,]  it’s not hard to see why a stunning number of evangelicals signed it: like biblical figures themselves, it calls sin what the Bible calls sin (see Deuteronomy 22:5, Roman 1:26-27, and 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 for starters) while holding out the hope of salvation for every sinner of every kind, however far from God they may be.

Brandon Showalter

Writing for The Christian Post, Brandon Showalter authored an article carrying the headline, “Broad Coalition of Evangelicals Releases ‘Nashville Statement’ on Human Sexuality, Identity.” Mr. Showalter points out that the signers are diverse in terms of age, race, sex, and denominational representation. Can Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Baptists, leaders from non-denominational churches and ministries, and leaders from “almost every other historic Orthodox Protestant tradition” agree on what the Bible teaches about marriage and sexuality? The Nashville Statement offers strong evidence in the affirmative, because signers come from all of these groups. The professions represented are diverse as well; they include “theologians, Bible scholars, church pastors and ministry leaders, seminary presidents, college professors, Christian public policy thinkers, and writers.” Moreover, the number of signers continues to grow.

Even though support is broad, the strong opposition to the Nashville Statement, especially from inside evangelical circles—even from a few—underscores one of many reasons the declaration was and is so desperately needed.

Satan is a very cunning deceiver. He doesn’t just mislead people who mean harm, but also people who mean well.

Next time, we’ll explore just how effective a misleader he really is.

Part 2 is available here.

 

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

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

One Scripture, which is marked NLT,  was 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.

image credit: top image, www.lightstock.com

 

 

 

Behold the Irony, Part 3

Observations Highlighting the Ironies and the Blindness of the “Progressive” Left

Those indoctrinated by leftist thinking become largely incapable of making accurate moral judgments.
Dennis Prager

Key point: Liberty and license cannot coexist indefinitely, but leftists pretend they can. Their version of liberty actually is a cruel form of tyranny, and this is why they must be stopped. Thankfully, Alliance Defending Freedom is challenging the tyranny of the left by defending authentic liberty in court.

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

M. C. Escher (1898-1972) was a Dutch artist who became well-known for depicting impossible objects and situations. The lithograph titled Relativity (pictured above) is one of his well-known works. He also created Waterfall

and Drawing Hands

Go here to see several more images by Escher that both fascinate and boggle the mind.

While it’s interesting and even fun to imagine a world in which these and other impossible constructions exist, we must remember they exist only in our imaginations. The various impossible images created by Escher violate specific physical laws that cannot be overruled in the real world. As long as we understand this, no harm is done.

Reality Is an Irresistible Force

The faulty imaginings of the “progressive” left, however, aren’t leaving the world unscathed. Rather, they are harming millions of people and a great many foundational institutions. It is time to expose these ideas as foolish, unrealistic, and—yes—extremely harmful. This is one of the goals of this series of posts.

Last time we reviewed two cases in which Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is directly involved—Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Country Mill Farms v. City of East Lansing. In these cases, ADF rightly contends that Jack Phillips and Steve Tennes, a cake artist and a farmer, respectively, should be free to run their businesses according to their deeply held beliefs without being penalized by the government.

Let’s draw some conclusions from these cases about the perspectives of those working against Jack’s and Steve’s religious freedom and liberty. As we consider these legal battles, we will see the inconsistencies of the political left’s thinking. We will see that in the name of tolerance, leftists are notoriously intolerant of Christians and others with traditional beliefs about marriage and the family. Please read part 2 for summaries of Jack’s and Steve’s cases.

First, Jack Phillips serves all customers who come into his shop. As we noted last time, he told Charlie Craig and David Mullins, the same-sex couple who asked him to bake them a wedding cake, “I’ll make you a birthday cake, shower cake, I’ll sell you cookies and brownies. I just don’t do cakes for same-sex weddings.” The issue, therefore, isn’t one of discrimination against homosexuals, but one of not wanting to lend one’s talent to support a specific event deemed morally wrong. This is a nuance that the progressive left refuses to see.

Second, Jack named his bakery Masterpiece Cakeshop for a reason. He’s an artist, and his work involves artistic expression. See for yourself in the first few moments of this ADF video.

Jack’s creative work is rightly considered a form of expression protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. As ADF Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco (Tuh-DESS’-koh) affirms,

Jack’s ability to make a living and run his family business shouldn’t be threatened simply because he exercised his artistic freedom. Artists speak through their art, and when Jack designs custom wedding cakes, he is promoting and celebrating the couple’s wedding. Jack will gladly allow anyone to purchase any product he sells, but he simply can’t put his artistic talents to use on a custom cake for an event so at odds with his faith convictions.

Tedesco adds,

The ACLU…would rather use the strong-arm of government to eradicate from the public square people whose views differ from the government’s. We hope the Supreme Court will affirm how illegitimate that is.”

Third, note that in 2015 the Colorado Civil Rights Commission reviewed cases for three other bakers who declined to make cakes that expressed opposition to same-sex marriage. The commission found that all three had a right to act according to the dictates of their consciences. If they have that right, why doesn’t Jack Phillips? ADF is spot on when it says, “The commission’s inconsistent rulings mean that the owners of these three cake shops may run them according to their beliefs, while Jack cannot.  He risks losing his life-long business altogether if he continues to run it consistent with his faith. Such blatant religious discrimination has no place in our society.”


The inconsistent rulings of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission “mean that the owners of…three cake shops [who turned down requests for cakes opposing same-sex marriage] may run them according to their beliefs, while Jack cannot.”
—Jeremy Tedesco, Senior Legal Counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom—


So, the demand from the left is that to stay in business, Jack Phillips must serve all customers. Actually, he does—but the left goes further. Leftists insist he must serve all customers in every situation. Jack draws the line at the point of the meaning of marriage—the very same place where the three other cake artists reviewed by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission drew the line. Equality is the watchword of the gay rights movement—but refusing to acknowledge that Jack Phillips has the same rights other cake artists enjoy isn’t equality. Not even close. It’s bigotry.

Contrast that to Jack’s position, which is an authentic two-way street. Jack has said,

Regardless of your viewpoint about same-sex marriage, shouldn’t we all agree that the government shouldn’t force us to speak or act in a way that violates our deepest convictions?

Laws like the one in Colorado will result in kindhearted Americans being dragged before state commissions and courts and punished by the government for peacefully seeking to live and work consistent with their belief about marriage.

The couple who came into my shop that day five years ago are free to hold their beliefs about marriage; all I ask is that I be allowed the equal opportunity to keep mine.


The couple who came into my shop that day five years ago are free to hold their beliefs about marriage; all I ask is that I be allowed the equal opportunity to keep mine.
—Jack Phillips—


Fourth, in the case involving Steve Tennes and Country Mill Farms, East Lansing passed an ordinance that prevents Tennes from selling his produce to any and all who would choose to do business with him, in every situation that would arise at the East Lansing Farmers Market. Kate Anderson, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, put it this way: “All Steve wants to do is sell his food to anyone who wants to buy it, but the city isn’t letting him.” Isn’t this the kind of business activity progressives are demanding of Jack Phillips? Yet Steve is being excluded.


All Steve wants to do is sell his food to anyone who wants to buy it, but the city isn’t letting him.
—Kate Anderson, Legal Counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom—


Fifth, the tactics of East Lansing officials indicate they’re all too willing to send this message: “People can believe whatever they want, but unless they agree with us about sexuality and marriage, they will not be allowed to do business in our city.” The new policy says farmers market merchants must be in agreement and in compliance with the city’s “Human Relations Ordinance and its public policy against discrimination…while at the market and as a general business practice.” Mark it down. Steve Tennes has no problem selling to whomever wishes to buy from him—in fact, that is why he wants to participate in the first place! He does have a problem being told what he has to believe in order to be a vendor!

Kate Anderson explains,

What (Tennes) did [with regard to his beliefs about marriage] was not illegal. [See part 2 of this series of posts.] They [Steve and his family] are running their farm according to their beliefs, which is the right of every American. What is wrong here is the city of East Lansing targeting them and trying to discriminate against them for acting upon their beliefs and for believing.

What could be more un-American than being told what you have to believe to business in a particular public location? This isn’t just un-American. It’s tyrannical.

Sixth, the left has lectured Christians for decades about morality. Believers and other traditionalists have been told, “You can’t legislate morality” and “Don’t cram your values and religion down our throats!”

Far too few Americans understand that liberty and freedom are rarities in the world. Liberty in a nation is possible only when religion and morality restrain the population from using their freedoms to exploit and oppress others. Our Founders and early leaders understood this, and truthfully, it’s something both conservatives and liberals often fail to grasp. In his last book, The Great Evangelical Disaster, Francis Schaeffer explained the delicate balance between freedom, including individual liberty, and the societal order necessary for freedom to exist.

In our own country we have enjoyed enormous human freedom. But at the same time this freedom has been founded upon forms of government, law, culture, and social morality which have given stability to individual and social life, and have kept our freedoms from leading to chaos. There is a balance here between form and freedom which we have come to take as natural in the world. But it is not natural. And we are utterly foolish if we do not recognize that this unique balance which we have inherited from the Reformation thought-forms is not automatic in a fallen world. This is clear when we look at the long span of history. But it is equally clear when we read the daily newspaper and see half the world locked in totalitarian oppression.1,2

As we said, both conservatives and liberals have difficulty seeing this—but my point here is that leftist radicals are  inconsistent, hypocritical, and unrealistic. They tell us tells us we are cramming our values down their throats, but they then turn around and tell people who believe in natural marriage they must abandon their beliefs to participate in society’s routine activities. Who’s really doing the cramming?


The left is inconsistent and hypocritical. “Progressives” tell us we are shoving our values down their throats, but then they turn around and tell people who believe in natural marriage they must abandon their beliefs to participate in society’s routine activities. Who’s really doing the cramming? 


Speaking of the left’s bigotry and of history’s testimony, Dennis Prager astutely observes,

Society may no longer define marriage in the only way marriage has ever been defined in the annals of recorded history. Many societies allowed polygamy, many allowed child marriages, some allowed marriage within families; but none, in thousands of years, defined marriage as the union of people of the same sex.

Seventh, one of the tactics the left has perfected is that of using words in judgmental and manipulative ways. Writing about Steve’s case for the Gay Star News, Joe Morgan declares, “An apple farmer in Michigan is claiming he is banned from selling his fruit at a farmer’s market because of this homophobic religious views.”

You can’t have an honest and fair debate with leftists, because they don’t respect you as an equal player in the marketplace of ideas. Instead, you’re a bad person—get this!—to hold to the millennia-old definition of marriage! Amazing! This is not the American way! It’s not equality. It’s not fairness. It’s not tolerance. Rather, it is unequal, unfair, and intolerant.

Behold the irony!

 

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

Notes:

1Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster, (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1984), 21-22.

2See this article for more from Francis Schaeffer.