Upholding God-Ordained Marriage Is One of the Greatest Ways to Advance the Gospel, Part 10

Just Like the Natural World, Man-Woman Marriage Has God’s Fingerprints All Over It!

Marriage is common. It does not appear profound.…Marriage does not astound us. That is why Paul alerts us to the “profound mystery” revealed in a Christian marriage. We need new eyes to discern the glory God has put there. There is a reason why marriage appears in Genesis 2. The context is the creation of the universe, in Genesis 1. I have never seen a creation of a universe. But I have sen many weddings. Marriage may be common to us, but it is why the universe was created, and not for Adam and Eve only, but even more for Christ and his church.
—Ray Ortlund1

Key point: Marriage is about a great deal more than two people. It’s also about children, and ultimately, it’s about God.

Part 9 is available here.
View summaries of all the article in this series here.
An article carrying the content of parts 8, 9, and 10 of this series is available here.

We’ve been considering lessons for the American evangelical church arising from Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees in Matthew 19. Here is our list thus far.

Rembrandt’s depiction of Matthew’s being guided by an angel as he wrote his Gospel

  • First, Jesus’ question to the Pharisees— “Have you not read” the Genesis account of the creation of man and woman and the establishment of marriage? —is a question I believe He also would ask church leaders and Christians today. I do not mean we as evangelicals are Pharisees or pharisaical but that we ought to be familiar with the Genesis account and its implications for us in this morally decadent culture. We made this point in this post.
  • Second, the fact that Jesus went back to Genesis—wherein are recorded God’s words and actions at the dawn of time—ought to carry great weight with us.
  • Third, in creating human beings as male and female, God simultaneously established marriage as the first and most important institution.
  • Fourth, When Jesus quoted Genesis 2:24 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,” He meant that because God had created human beings male and female, a man shall leave his parents and be joined to his wife in a one-flesh union.

We made the second, third, and fourth points in this post. We move now in this final post in this series to consider four additional truths, all of which underscore the legitimacy of heterosexual marriage. All these insights will help us as we seek to link man-woman marriage to the gospel, and as we work to preserve marriage in the culture for the gospel’s sake.

Only a Heterosexual Union Can Reflect Unity and Diversity Within the Godhead

Fifth, Jesus went on to say, “So then, they are no longer two but one flesh.” Having quoted Genesis 2:24 in Matthew 19:5, the Master Teacher underscored the “one-flesh principle” of man-woman marriage in 19:6. A husband and wife are to become one flesh, not just physically, but on many levels, including relationally, socially, financially, and in other ways as well. While a married person’s individuality does not cease, it no longer has independence as its primary focus, but oneness with the marital partner.

We could say a great deal about this, but here we want to emphasize this point: Marital oneness reflects the oneness we see in the triune Godhead. In John 10:30, Jesus said, “I and My Father are one.” Jesus is God, but He is neither the Father nor the Spirit. In a variety of ways, He is different from each one. Yet there is unity among the Trinity’s Members.

We see evidence of the Trinity even before God made human beings. On the cusp of creating humanity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit discussed the matter.

26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:26-28).

Within the Godhead, as we have indicated, we see both unity and diversity. Not coincidentally, while both men and women are equal in worth and are equally made in God’s image, men reflect His image in a variety of ways that women typically do not, and vice versa. Let’s put it another way. Men and women are both human, yet they are different (also go here, here, and here); there is unity and diversity among them. These are God’s “fingerprints” on His highest creation! The fact that human beings consist of both males and females represents not only the wide range of ways people showcase God’s image, but also the unity and diversity that coexists within the Godhead.

These truths lead us to an inescapable conclusion. While all people, both males and females, are made in God’s image, the one-flesh nature of man-woman marriage reflects His image in ways no individual man or woman can—and in ways no same-sex couple can, whether the state says they are “married” or not. Here we are in no way equating singleness with same-sex marriage. Rather, we’re upholding man-woman marriage as uniquely able to reflect the broad range of ways God’s image is evident in human beings. This is especially critical for children, whose first impressions about God come from their parents.


The one-flesh nature of man-woman marriage reflects God’s image in ways no individual man or woman can—and in ways that no same-sex couple can, whether the state says they are “married” or not.


Scriptural Context Offers an Additional Insight

Sixth, it is noteworthy that the next encounter Jesus had, as recorded in Matthew and Mark, involved children. Jesus did speak briefly to His disciples about celibacy on the heels of his conversation with the Pharisees (see Matt. 19:11-12 in the parallel passages we just cited), but this teaching readily can be seen as the last portion of His teaching on marriage and divorce, which had been prompted by the Pharisees’ question.

Matthew 19:13 says, “Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray….” Mark writes in what we now know as Mark 10:13, “Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them….” While we need to be careful not to read too much into this, at the same time we need to remember that nothing in Scripture appears coincidentally. Marriage and children are inseparably linked. Children follow marriage, but only man-woman marriage. Yes, children can be born outside of marriage, but God’s ideal is that they come as a result of the sexual oneness their parents have experienced in being married to each other.

There’s something else. What better expression of a one-flesh relationship could their be than a child? This point alone disqualifies same-sex relationships from being described as one-flesh unions.

The disciples rebuked those who brought the children to the Master, “but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14). Similarly, we read this in Mark’s account.

13 Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” 16 And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them (Mark 10:13-16).

Luke’s Account Opens the Door to Yet Another Insight

A seventh point—one related to the sixth—arises. Although Matthew and Mark are the two synoptic Gospels that record Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees and His teaching about marriage and divorce, all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) record Jesus’ blessing the children. We do well to note from Luke’s chronology what happened before and after our Lord welcomed the children and blessed them. Here is the text of Luke 18:9-30.

Items 172-175 in this chart provide a “big picture” summary of the series of events we’re highlighting in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Note that in item 175, “Jesus speaks to the rich young man,” is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Here is a biblegateway.com page presenting the texts of all three Gospel accounts.

We should make a brief statement at this point about Gospel chronology. In an article about events in the Gospels that at first seem contradictory, we read, “Taken at face value, the Gospels seem to intend a sequential account of Christ’s life: they progress through his birth, baptism, temptation, ministry, passion, death and then resurrection.” Even so, the article goes on to say, accounts differ over the order of some events. In other words, offering a strict chronology was not the Gospel writers’ primary concern. Yet we still must think of the order in which the events are recorded as having been inspired or God-breathed, since the words themselves are God-breathed and absolutely true.

James Tissot’s depiction of Luke

Both events that “bookend” Jesus’ blessing the children in Luke’s Gospel—

  • His relating the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector as well as
  • His encounter with the rich young ruler—

more than likely took place close to His encounter with the Pharisees and His teaching on marriage and divorce. Is there a point to be made here? I believe there is.

God hates pride! Either overtly and by implication, Jesus condemned pride in His parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (see Luke 18:9-14), in His blessing of the little children (see Matt. 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17), and in His instructions to the rich young man (see Matt. 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30).

How does all of this relate to His teachings on marriage and divorce? (See Matt. 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12).

  1. First, the Pharisees themselves were full of pride.
  2. Second, successful marriages require humility (also go here).
  3. Third, while divorce occurs for a wide variety of reasons, pride is likely present somewhere in every divorce occurring today. Pride had to be a factor in a man’s writing a certificate of divorce, the practice about which the Pharisees asked Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning [when God established marriage] it was not so” (Matt. 19:8, emphasis added).
  4. Our fourth observation notes the clear link between pride and homosexuality in the modern gay rights movement. Militant homosexual activists have made the word pride practically synonymous with the radical homosexual agenda. This association of pride with overt sin is not coincidental but a natural result of following one’s own way—or the way of the prevailing secular culture—rather than God’s. This is especially true if inclinations and base desires are left unchecked.

Pride Unmasked

This fourth point is heartbreaking beyond words, and we must weep for our homosexual friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family members. We also must pray for them and love them unconditionally. Moreover, in loving them, we must seek to tell them the truth about their behavior. In Romans 1:18-32, Paul describes the path taken by those who reject God and natural law—the principles God has revealed in the natural world. Homosexuality isn’t the only sin of which these people are guilty, but it is impossible to be fair to the biblical text and separate homosexuality from Paul’s description. In English in the New King James Version, what Paul wrote in verses 28-32 forms one long sentence.

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 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.

Note the use of the words translated proud and boasters in verse 30. Significantly, both Greek words appear together in just one other verse in the New Testament, 2 Timothy 3:2. Paul reversed the order in his letter to Timothy. Here is the entire context of the verse, with the words we’re highlighting printed in bold text.

31 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!

Pride, therefore, is nothing to be proud of!

Jesus Did Not Misrepresent Himself

Eighth, we must not be naïve. There are those who will point to this passage and say Jesus wasn’t talking about the definition of marriage when He spoke against divorce. It is clear, however, that Jesus appealed to and upheld the age-old definition of marriage to speak against divorce.

As we have seen in this and in previous posts, God didn’t arbitrarily ordain that marriage would be a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman. Instead, in making man and woman in His image, He established marriage. God made every person, whether male or female, in His image; but the world gets to see even more of God’s nature than individual people can reflect. Marriage provides an even clearer picture of God and what He is like. God is unchanging, so we can know divinely designed portraits are not fluid or subject to change. This doesn’t mean people always succeed in presenting the truth about God through the institution of marriage; Jesus Himself acknowledged human failure at this point. It does mean that people and society always benefit when they strive to uphold the ideal.

Marriage also is a portrait of Christ and His bride, the church. God’s Son came from heaven to earth to pursue His bride by living a holy life and then sacrificing Himself on the cross for her. He remains faithful to the end. To suggest that in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 that Jesus’ words affirming marriage somehow leave the door open to redefining it is to totally misunderstand and misrepresent biblical teaching. As important as marriage is, a great deal more is at stake here than marriage, and that’s saying a lot! People’s understanding of the very nature of God is at stake!


To suggest that in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 Jesus’ words affirming marriage somehow leave the door open to redefining it is to totally misunderstand and misrepresent biblical teaching.


The gospel, the primary message of the Bible, is at stake as well. Because marriage is a picture of Christ and His church, it also is a picture of the gospel. If the gospel is worth upholding, marriage is worth upholding. How can we tell ourselves we ought not to risk offending people by talking about marriage when it is so intricately woven into the fabric of the gospel? Don’t we know that the gospel itself is offensive? If we don’t defend marriage in some form or fashion, our inactions betray us. We really don’t care about the gospel.


If we don’t defend marriage in some form or fashion, our inactions betray us. We really don’t care about the gospel.


Where can we begin? Let’s start by talking about the biblical definition of marriage in our churches and passing along to the next generation of Christians a clear understanding of how marriage mirrors—and is to mirror—what God is like, what Christ’s relationship with His church is like, and the gospel itself.

Champion the Truth!

Ninth, Jesus’ “punchline” in His response to the Pharisees is extremely instructive for us. The Master Teacher said, “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” By way of application for our day, this means that what God has joined together by defining and establishing marriage, man cannot separate by redefining it. While this has happened in the judicial realm in America, and while society now recognizes same-sex marriages as legitimate, the church ought to be a place where God’s authority and Word are understood to be absolutely authoritative and supreme. God’s people need to be informed and confident about the biblical view of marriage so that they aren’t swayed by the politically correct arguments against it. When they are so informed, they will be better able to defend marriage in the culture at large.

International Organization for the Family President Brian Brown warns,

Same-sex “marriage” is a lie, one advanced by radical leftists and their allies in Hollywood and the media. Intrinsically, marriage is the union of one man and one woman. It is an institution created at the beginning of time, one that has been recognized by every civilization in human history. But leftists want to redefine reality and tragically succeeded in convincing a narrow majority of the US Supreme Court to go along with their scheme. As we’ve seen in the United States, once the lie of same-sex marriage is imposed on a nation, all the levers of power are exercised to spread the lie throughout society, and it gives rise to other lies, such as the notion that gender can be redefined, that children don’t need a mother and a father, that it is healthy for a child to have many “parents” even if they are all of the same sex, and that reproduction is a human right of people who do not engage in sexual relationships naturally capable of producing children.


Leftists want to redefine reality. Once the lie of same-sex marriage is imposed on a nation, all the levers of power are exercised to spread the lie throughout society, and it gives rise to [a host of] other lies.
—Brian Brown—


The main lie and its subsequent falsehoods are taking hold! It’s time for church leaders who say they believe in the gospel to step up to the plate and lead.

Will you fulfill your responsibility in this worthy effort?

 

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.

Note:

1Ray Ortlund, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 99.

top image: Frederic Edwin Church’s painting, Aurora Borealis, 1865 

Upholding God-Ordained Marriage Is One of the Greatest Ways to Advance the Gospel, Part 9

What God Said About Humanity and Marriage at Creation Is True for All Time

If you believe in what it says in Genesis 1 about God making heaven and earth—and the binaries in Genesis are so important—heaven and earth, and sea and dry land, and so on, and you end up with male and female. It’s all about God making complementary pairs, which are meant to work together. The last scene in the Bible is the new heaven and the new earth and…the marriage of Christ and his church. It’s not just one or two verses here and there which say this or that. It’s an entire narrative which works with this complementarity, so that a male-plus-female marriage is a signpost or a signal about the goodness of the original creation and God’s intention for the eventual new heavens and new earth.
—N. T. Wright1

Part 8 is available here.
View summaries of all the articles in this series here.
An article carrying the content of parts 8, 9, and 10 of this series is available here.

Key point: When God created the earth at the dawn of time, He soon thereafter created humanity male and female—and in so doing He established marriage as the first institution.

Last time, we began examining several elements in the exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees in Matthew 19:1-8. “Is it lawful,” the Pharisees asked, “for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” Jesus’ reply is very instructive for the church with regard to the true meaning of marriage, one of the hot button issues of our day. You can read the passage in its context, along with the parallel passage in Mark’s Gospel, here. Matthew 19:4-6 records Jesus’ response to the Pharisees.

And He answered and said to them, “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’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Haven’t You Read?

What elements in this passage are especially noteworthy and helpful for us? First, initially, Jesus answered with a question. He essentially asked the Jewish leaders, “Haven’t you read the Genesis account of the creation of humanity and the establishment of marriage as the first institution?” We rightly can call this an account (rather than accounts) because in creating humanity as male and female, God simultaneously established the institution of marriage (more on this in a moment). Here is our discussion of the phrase “Have you not read…?”

Back to Genesis

Second, it is noteworthy that Jesus quotes Genesis in His answer. He combines Genesis 1:27 and 5:2 with Genesis 2:24. You can read all three of these verses in context, along with Jesus’ words as recorded in Matthew and Mark here. We will focus on Matthew’s account of Jesus’ quotation.

  • Genesis 1:27 in its entirety reads, 27 So God created man in His ownimage; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
  • Genesis 5:2 says, “He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created.”
  • Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Again, Jesus responded to the Pharisees by saying this. (We have underlined the quoted portions.)

“Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ [Gen. 1:27 and 5:2] 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’ [Gen. 2:24]? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:4-6).

Note that Jesus quoted from the earliest words recorded in the first book of the Bible. Jesus was referring to the Hebrew Scriptures, but Genesis also is the first book in Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Bibles as well. Not every book in the Bible is chronically arranged, but the placement of Genesis first is indeed chronologically correct. Certainly the earliest chapters of the book reflect the earliest events of recorded history.

The Pharisees believed the Old Testament to be inspired by God. They emphasized the importance of obeying the it as well as oral traditions. They went “by the Book.” Thus, if the Pharisees were familiar with any portion of the Old Testament, they certainly should have been familiar with the statements Jesus quoted.

I want to be clear. I am not accusing evangelical leaders of being Pharisaical in the sense of having prideful attitudes. Still, I must point out that we also ought to be familiar with the Old Testament words Jesus quoted. Moreover, we ought to understand their meaning and significance.

From the Beginning

Third, Jesus explicitly said “He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female” (emphasis added). The fact that to be human means, inherently, to be either male or female is a truth as old as time itself. In creating humanity as male and female, God effectively established marriage as an institution. Indeed, as we read further in Genesis, and as we continue to read Jesus’ statements in Matthew 19, this is exactly what we will find.

It is entirely appropriate, therefore, that the authors of the Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage would emphasize the foundational nature of humanity as male and female in the pledge’s opening paragraphs.

We stand together in defense of marriage and the family and society founded upon them. While we come from a variety of communities and hold differing faith perspectives, we are united in our common affirmation of marriage.

On the matter of marriage, we stand in solidarity. We affirm that 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.

Marriage as existing solely between one man and one woman precedes civil government. Though affirmed, fulfilled, and elevated by faith, the truth that marriage can exist only between one man and one woman is not based on religion or revelation alone, but on the Natural Law, written on the human heart and discernible through the exercise of reason. It is part of the natural created order. The Natural Law is what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., referred to as a higher law or a just law in his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Marriage is the preeminent and the most fundamental of all human social institutions. Civil institutions do not create marriage nor can they manufacture a right to marry for those who are incapable of marriage. Society begins with marriage and the family.

We pledge to stand together to defend marriage for what it is, a bond between one man and one woman, intended for life, and open to the gift of children.

We see, then, that the meaning of marriage as a commitment of one man and one woman arises naturally from the fact that human beings have been created and exist as male and female individuals. This is the created order, and it was, as Jesus said, at—and thus it has been since—the beginning.

“For this Reason”

Fourth, Jesus’ use of the phrase “for this reason” is extremely important. Read again the background passages along with Jesus’ response to the Pharisees here. For your convenience, we present once more Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees as recorded in Matthew 19:4-6, with the portions Jesus quoted from the Old Testament underlined.

Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning “made them male and female,” [Gen. 1:27 and 5:2] 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” [Gen. 2:24]? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.

It is entirely fitting for Jesus to place Genesis 1:27 and 5:2 alongside Genesis 2:24, even though the prepositional phrase “For this reason” [which comes from Gen. 2:24] clearly refers to what came before it originally, the statements immediately prior to it in Genesis 2. Here are those statements, along with verses 24 and 25.

18 And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” 19 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.

Adam in the garden of Eden, as depicted at the Creation Museum

21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. 22 Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.

23 And Adam said:

“This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

25 And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed (Gen. 2:18-25).

Made for Each Other

Essentially, Jesus summarized Genesis 2:18-23 with these words, the bolded portion of which comes from Genesis 1:27 and 5:2: “He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female’” (Matt. 19:4). This is exactly what Genesis 2:18-23 tells us!

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! Bible scholar William Hendriksen puts it this way: In Genesis 2:24,

God ordains that for this very reason—that is, because the union between the two was intended to be so intimate and they were designed for each other (see both Gen. 1:27 and 2:23)—a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall do this with a view to a more intimate and more lasting attachment, namely, “and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh”; yes, “no longer two but one flesh,” says Jesus2 [emphasis added].


Why shall a man leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two become one flesh? Because God created human beings as male and female!


A man and a woman are alike in that each is human; yet each is different from the other in both obvious and subtle ways. Significantly, God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Gen. 2:18). Because a man and a woman are different, they are compatible. I don’t mean that any man is compatible with any woman in the same way we think of relational compatibility for a specific couple. I mean generally speaking, the differences between men and women make a man and woman suitable for each other in a marriage relationship.

Male-female differences enhance curiosity, augment relational chemistry, and intensify attraction between two members of the opposite sex. We can sense at least some of these elements in Edmund Leighton’s painting CourtshipGo here to see additional works by Leighton that showcase the healthy tension and even mystery unique to opposite-sex relationships.

Male-female differences also set the stage for a husband and wife to be an effective team, not only in ways that benefit each other, but also in ways that meet the needs of any children born as a result of their union. Yes, these differences can be a source of great frustration as well, but as a couple works through the obstacles together, their bond becomes stronger, deeper, and more intimate. We do not have any of this with same-sex couples.

We now have considered four elements of Jesus’ exchange with the Pharisees in Matthew 19. We have several more to explore. Hang tight! We hope next time to get to all the rest.

Part 10 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:

1N. T. Wright, as quoted in Ray Ortlund, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 27-28. N. T. Wright’s statements are available online here.

2William Hendriksen, The Gospel of Matthew, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1973), 715.

image credits: all images with the exceptions of the NASA image and the Defend Marriage logo: www.lightstock.com

Upholding God-Ordained Marriage Is One of the Greatest Ways to Advance the Gospel, Part 8

Man-Woman Marriage Arose Naturally out of the Creation of Humanity as Male and Female

From God creating us male and female and ordering marriage toward procreation, to Jesus’ reaffirmation of natural marriage in Matthew 19, to Paul’s clear language in his epistles, to the marriage supper of the Lamb, not to mention the way the Old Testament dealt with sexuality and sexual sin, the Bible consistently and unambiguously teaches one view of human sexuality. Marriage is so thoroughly woven into the story of redemption, any attempt to alter it distorts the Gospel.
John Stonestreet

Part 7 is available here.
View summaries of all the articles in this series here.
An article carrying the content of parts 8, 9, and 10 of this series is available here.

Key point: When the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce, Jesus replied by reminding them about the history, nature, meaning, and significance of marriage. Christians need to rediscover and heed these same teachings today.

Before Father Knows Best was a television program, it was a radio show. Jim Anderson, the father of three growing children—Betty, Bud, and Kathy—and husband to Margaret, may not always have known best in the absolute sense, but he undeniably was a loving father, even though at times with a rough exterior and with obvious imperfections.


You can learn more about Father Knows Best here.



Peggy Ann Garner and Ted Donaldson in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, released in 1945, four years before the radio premiere of Father Knows Best

On the radio episode airing January 12, 1950, Bud Anderson, played by Ted Donaldson, is excited to tell his dad about the new watch his friend Joe Phillips got for Christmas.

Bud: You outta see the watch Joe Phillips got for Christmas, Dad. Boy, is that a watch! Shatterproof, shockproof, waterproof, heatproof, and it’s guaranteed to last him a lifetime. But it won’t.

Dad: Why not?

Bud: He lost it.

Dad: Bud, instead of making bad jokes, why don’t you go upstairs and do your homework?

Bud: That wasn’t a joke, Dad.

Dad: You can say that again!

Bud: You mean he whole thing?

Dad: Bud!

As humorous as this exchange is, I believe it illustrates a point we dare not miss. Whenever we lose something, we also lose its benefits.


Whenever we lose something, we also lose its benefits.


For the last several weeks, we’ve been discussing the importance of the church’s response to society’s loss of an understanding of the true meaning of marriage.

  • The church must rediscover and seek to convey to its members—especially young believers—how marriage is woven into the fabric of the gospel.
  • It must uphold man-woman marriage and articulate the benefits it brings to both individuals and society.
  • Finally, it must issue warnings both within and beyond its walls about how redefining marriage not only removes benefits but also produces harmful consequences. For example, even though same-sex partners can be good parents in many ways, redefining marriage to include them necessarily means their adopted children will be deprived of either a mom or a dad. A man cannot be a mother; nor can a woman be a dad. Children need two parents, one of each sex. Moreover, while it’s true that single-parent households exist and that in many of them one parent is totally out of the picture, even in these households the concept and ideal of two opposite-sex parents survives.

Of course, the church must never abandon or diminish its primary mission of sharing the gospel and making disciples. Still, marriage and the gospel are so intertwined that to refuse to uphold natural marriage is to diminish and hinder the gospel itself.


Marriage and the gospel are so intertwined that to refuse to uphold natural marriage is to diminish and hinder the gospel itself.


Joe Phillips’s lost watch provides for us a picture of what is happening in our country with regard to natural marriage and its inherent benefits. Furthermore, what Bud Anderson said about the loss of the watch also is true about marriage. It isn’t a joke!

Jesus Upheld Natural Marriage

In Matthew 19:3, the Pharisees approached Jesus and asked Him a question to trap Him. “Is it lawful,” they asked, “for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” Jesus’ answer to them is very instructive for the church with regard to the true meaning of marriage, so as we examine Jesus’ words, we’ll focus on that. You can read the passage in its context, along with the parallel passage in Mark’s Gospel, here. Matthew 19:4-6 records Jesus’ response to the Pharisees.

4 And He answered and said to them, “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’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Let’s examine several elements in this passage. We’ll consider just one now, then look at two or three more next time.

Haven’t You Read?

First, it is significant that Jesus asked, “Have you not read…?” With this powerful rhetorical question, the Master Teacher emphasized to the Jewish leaders they already should have known the answer to their question. This wasn’t the only time Jesus asked this question of His hearers. He also asked it on several other occasions, in situations related to these themes or events.

In all five of these instances—the four in the bulleted list above plus the one relating to marriage and divorce—Jesus asked, “Have you not read?” or something similar for a very important reason. His hearers should have known more than their questions or actions demonstrated they knew.

I am not saying the leaders of the modern American evangelical church are Pharisees or pharisaical. Still, I am compelled to suggest that were our Lord here in the flesh in 2017, He very well might survey the cultural landscape in relation to the meaning of marriage, look evangelical leaders piercingly in the eye, and say to them the very same thing He said to the Pharisees in Matthew 19:4-6:

“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’?  So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Why would He do this? Sadly, the inaction of the evangelical church in relation to the definition of marriage makes one wonder (1) if evangelicals have read the passages Jesus quotes and (2) if they really believe them!


Sadly, the inaction of the evangelical church in relation to the definition of marriage makes one wonder (1) if evangelicals have read the passages Jesus quotes and (2) if they really believe them!


Please know that in no way am I trying to disparage anyone. I’m simply trying to challenge my brothers and sisters in Christ on this issue, especially in light of recent surveys on what people now think about same-sex marriage (see the information in this article under the heading “The Situation is Desperate”). As we said at the beginning, when we lose something, we also lose it’s benefits. Finding it means regaining those benefits. For the church, being reminded of Jesus’ strong affirmation of marriage is a first step in helping society rediscover the true meaning of marriage and all the advantages flowing from it.


For the church, being reminded of Jesus’ strong affirmation of marriage is a first step in helping society rediscover the true meaning of marriage and all the advantages flowing from it.


Next time, we’ll add other important observations to our list. I’ll look for you then.

Part 9 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.

top image: The Garden of Eden by Thomas Cole, 1828

image credit: chalk rendering of Mark 10:7-8, www.lightstock.com

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

[The issue of whether or not homosexuality is a sin] is a gospel issue. When so-called evangelical leaders argue for affirmation of gay relationships in the church, I’m not saying they’re not my kind of evangelical, I’m saying they are no kind of evangelical. This is not an easy position to hold, for I have friends who hold to different views on this subject. But it is the right position to hold.…[W]e must never allow ourselves to think of this as just another issue Christians are free to differ over.
Sam Allberry, a Christian leader who himself struggles with same-sex attraction—

Unless the LORD builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it.
Psalm 127:1

Part 6 is available here.
View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Key point: Marriage is so woven into the fabric of the gospel that to compromise on marriage is to compromise on the gospel itself.

Eugene H. Peterson is a former pastor. He was influential in the founding of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Bel Air, Maryland in 1962 before serving there 29 years and retiring in 1991. He then became Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College, located in Vancouver, British Columbia. He held that position until 2006. Currently, Peterson resides in Montana. He is best known for the best-selling Bible paraphrase titled The Message (also go here), which he translated over a period of years. The entire Bible was published in 2002. Peterson also has written around thirty other books.

Eugene Peterson is now 84 years old. Jonathan Merritt, senior columnist for Religion News Service (RNS), interviewed him on a variety of subjects, including his final book, his departure from public life, whether or not he fears death, Donald Trump, and Christianity in America today. RNS released two articles carrying portions of Merritt’s interview on Monday and Tuesday, July 10 and 11. Then, on Wednesday, July 12, RNS dropped a bombshell—Merritt’s report of the portion of the interview relating to homosexuality and same-sex “marriage.” Peterson said,

I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.

On the heels of this statement from Peterson, Merritt asked, “A follow-up: If you were pastoring today and a gay couple in your church who were Christians of good faith asked you to perform their same-sex wedding ceremony, is that something you would do?” Peterson responded with a simple Yes.

The Evangelical Community Responds

Reaction in the evangelical world, not surprisingly, was “swift and immediate.” Here is a Christian leader who, especially through his Bible translation project, has touched millions of lives. On the heels of the backlash, Peterson quickly issued a retraction. Christianitytoday.com (CT) carried it. According to Peterson,

Recently a reporter asked me whether my personal opinions about homosexuality and same-sex marriage have changed over the years. I presume I was asked this question because of my former career as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), which recently affirmed homosexuality and began allowing its clergy to perform same-sex weddings. Having retired from the pastorate more than 25 years ago, I acknowledged to the reporter that I “haven’t had a lot of experience with it.”

To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.

Taken together, Peterson’s statements in the interview, then his retraction, effectively muddy the water and raise more questions than the retraction itself answers. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, wrote,

Was he against it, before he was for it? Is he really against it now?…

What is really going on here? What does Eugene Peterson really believe about LGBT relationships and behaviors or about same-sex marriage? We really don’t know. We will probably never really know.

His retraction allows his books to be sold, but the ordeal has done massive damage to his reputation. One of the best-selling authors in the evangelical world is now, in effect, a giant Rorschach test. You can read him as fully open to LGBT relationships, but forced by political and economic pressure to act as if he isn’t. Or you can read him as basically a traditionalist on the question, who felt under pressure to affirm same-sex marriage and succumbed to the pressure, only to regret and retract quickly. Those do not exhaust the possibilities.

CT published a statement by Jonathan Merritt in the article containing Peterson’s retraction, but it, too, left many unanswered questions. Merritt said, “It is possible that Peterson felt he had been placed on the spot and offered an answer that doesn’t reflect his true conviction. But it is also important to note that in the week prior to the publication of his answers, there was no attempt to clarify or change his answer to these questions.”

Merritt later released a report of his own on the same day Christianity Today published Peterson’s retraction. In it, he cited a 2014 video in which Peterson said he was raised in a culture in which homosexuality was “really bad,” and “accepted the status quo” on the matter. Yet recently, Peterson added, reflecting on the hardships of two homosexual men in his church had caused him to begin to change his mind.

Apparently Peterson has been giving the matter thought for some time. It is difficult to fault an observer for fearing Peterson really believes what he told Jonathan Merritt in the interview and hoping he does not.

Sadly, Eugene Peterson Is Not Alone

Unfortunately, Eugene Peterson is among a growing number (also go here, here, and here) of well-known evangelical leaders

  • who clearly have come out in support of same-sex marriage,
  • who have softened their opposition to homosexual behavior, or
  • who have made statements that leave people to wonder what they really believe about this issue.

Perhaps because so much of this discussion is celebrity-driven, the impression prevails that the church at large is changing its views on sexuality and marriage. This, however, according to evangelical leader, cultural observer, and BreakPoint This Week cohost Ed Stetzer, isn’t the case at all.1

The trend still is extremely disturbing, as is the nature of the arguments often given in support of marriage redefined. John Stonestreet declares, “Peterson’s original statement appealed, not to biblical teaching or theological argument, but to people and experiences. He echoed others like David Gushee, Senator Rob Portman, and Reverend Stan Mitchell, all of whom say relationships with gay friends or family changed their views.”

Rooted in Emotions Rather than in Bedrock Truth

Previously we have noted how knowing someone who is gay heavily influences people, even those in the evangelical community, to soften their positions on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. We also pointed out the flaws in this perspective. John Stonestreet summarized some very pertinent statements made my Tim Keller about this phenomenon. Here is the summary. All of us need to take these words to heart.2 “[I]f you change your mind about homosexuality because you meet a friendly and intelligent gay person, your views probably weren’t based on a biblical theology of marriage to begin with. Feelings are no substitute for an informed Christian worldview.”

In First Things, Samuel D. James offers additional keen insights.

[T]here is no safe corner of the Christian story that is completely intuitive or unfailingly neighborly. Every element of the Gospel can and will grate against our modern sense of “real life.” If the doctrine of marriage is untenable in “real life,” what doctrines are tenable?…

You cannot boil down Christianity to the parts that you are unashamed to speak about in the presence of your intelligent gay neighbor or your prayerful lesbian church member. There will always be someone you love who tells you with their soul in their eyes that that leather-bound book you carry just cannot apply to them. A collision between real life and revelation is guaranteed. What we must figure out is how much of real life we will look at through the lens of truth, and how much we will not.

In 1984, Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer lamented the trend, evident in evangelical circles even then, to compromise and cave rather than stand on biblical truth. His final book, published in 1984, was titled The Great Evangelical Disaster. What is this disaster? It is “the failure of the evangelical world to stand for truth as truth.” Schaeffer added, “There is only one word for this—namely accommodation: The evangelical church has accommodated to the world spirit of the age.”3

The Call to Uphold Biblical Truth

Again, not everyone is compromising, and that is very good news. Still, too many are, and their actions are of great concern. Just three days after Eugene Peterson’s initial comments about homosexuality and same-sex marriage were made public, Dr. Michael Brown of The Line of Fire released a letter in which he pled with his fellow Christian leaders to uphold Scripture with both their words and actions. He didn’t mention Eugene Peterson in it, although elsewhere he addressed the question of whether Bible-believing Christians should continue to use The Message.

In this piece, Brown urged leaders to speak the truth about homosexuality forthrightly and directly, yet with compassion and love. Today, he wrote, is a “critical time in history.” The issues we face serious and urgent. Life and death—and not just physical life and death—hang in the balance. We cannot afford to sugarcoat our presentations to avoid offending people; nor can we afford to avoid controversial subjects altogether. Where God’s Word is clear, we also must be clear. Yet, as ambassadors for Christ, we absolutely must demonstrate Christlike love as well. Love comes with truth. It’s a package deal. If it weren’t, it would be counterfeit love.

Love comes with truth. It’s a package deal. If it weren’t, it would be counterfeit love.

As Brown states in another article,

[W]e are called to exercise compassion towards brothers and sisters who struggle with same-sex attraction and gender identity confusion, walking together with them as they seek wholeness and pursue holiness. But those who claim that you can follow Jesus and engage in homosexual practice must be lovingly corrected and, if they refuse to repent, put out of the fellowship, in particular if they are living this out themselves. That’s what love requires.

The church is at a crossroads. As we indicated in a previous post, “if it doesn’t speak now, it may be forced to forever hold its piece.” Believers must unfailingly uphold the truth of God’s Word, just as a lighthouse beams its light consistently in the dark of the night. In our culture, the night is very dark, indeed.


North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Significantly, there are specific words from Jesus recorded in the New Testament that will challenge us and help us follow through on representing Him and His good news to a world that desperately needs both.

We’ll examine those words next time.

Part 8 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:

1Also go here and read the portion after the heading “Where We Are Now.”

2You can read Keller’s original statement here.

3Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster, in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer (2nd Edition), Vol. 4: A Christian View of The Church, (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1985), 320.

 

 

Twelve Qualities that Should Characterize the Church’s Case for Natural Marriage


These qualities originally were named in parts 4, 5, and 6 of the series titled “Upholding God-Ordained Marriage Is One of the Greatest Ways to Advance the Gospel.” We highlight all twelve in this single post to make it easier for users to read and share.

Key point: Because marriage is about the gospel, the church must contend for marriage in the same ways it contends for the gospel.


Marriage is, and always has been, about more than individual adults alone. It’s also about children, the larger community, and the future of society. Recognizing this, 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.”1


Marriage is about the gospel.


As Christians, we know as well that God-ordained marriage reflects Christ’s relationship with the church, and consequently, the gospel. Non-Christians cannot understand this aspect of marriage in a way they can explain. Even so, from, in, by, and through marriage, even unbelievers can grasp gospel-related truths, although they may do so unconsciously.

Recognizing all of 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 this foundational institution.

Never before has the church, society, and culture needed a clearer and more accurate message about marriage. 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. In a previous post, we’ve already discussed two specific ways marriage does this. Explaining these connections, though, is only the beginning. What qualities must characterize the church’s case for natural marriage? Here are twelve.

What the Church Must Do

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 God’s good news about His Son, Jesus Christ.

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. 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, though, that as important as good marriages are, we have a responsibility not just to have good marriages, but to uphold 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. A primary reason we as believers defend marriage is because of its underlying meaning in the gospel of Jesus Christ. 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 attended a Bible study, or 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?


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. The Bible is unambiguous about the fact that homosexuality is a sin (also go here). We cannot afford to be confused about this basic point; nor can we afford to present an unclear message about it.

In addition, a number of 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.” 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, another 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.” I’m sure this is true in the church as well, especially among younger believers.

Why would knowing a homosexual cause a Christian warm to the idea of allowing same-sex couples to “marry”? Having a gay or lesbian friend or family member understandably personalizes this issue for us—but in the debate over the meaning of marriage, we must use our heads, not simply follow our hearts. This is not unloving, because 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!


Bible-believing Christians recognize all sexual activity outside of natural marriage as sinful and wrong, whether it is illegal or not. This includes homosexuality. So we must ask, 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 this issue for us? Of course not!

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 telling and 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 reality 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


Stand with Understanding

Seventh, Christians, both individually and corporately, must uphold God-ordained marriage with greater understanding and depth. Among other things, this means never using trite clichés like these.2

  • God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve! Never say this! It trivializes not only God’s creation of human beings as male and female, but also the challenges many young people face as they grapple with sexual feelings, cultural messages about gender identity, and what it means in practical terms to be male or female.
  • I love the sinner, but I hate the sin! Typically, a gay individual cannot separate his identity from his behavior. The same can be said of a lesbian.
  • Homosexuality is a choice. Certainly choices are involved in being homosexual, but homosexuality is complicated. Typically, people do not choose to experience same-sex attraction (see page 9 of this publication from the Family Research Council).

The church has a need to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the nature of homosexuality from a theological perspective as well. It is misleading to say things like, Homosexuality is no worse than any other sin if we don’t sufficiently clarify what this means. While even a sin that seems minor in our eyes is an affront to God and makes a person deserving of hell, on other levels, all sins are not equal. Furthermore, among sexual sins, homosexuality is unique in that it defies what nature teaches about human sexuality. Note the phrases “natural use” and “against nature” in Romans 1:26-27.

Furthermore, Paul wrote that God gave up those who refuse to acknowledge Him “to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves.” Then he added, “God gave them up to vile passions” (vv. 24, 26). James Montgomery Boice notes that God’s giving people up in this way isn’t like His releasing a porcelain pitcher in outer space where it would float harmlessly away. Instead, His action is like releasing the pitcher on earth, where gravity takes over and pulls it fast to the ground!

Stand Wisely

These realities, along with Christians’ love for their homosexual friends and neighbors, compel believers to speak out. As it does, the church must exercise  greater wisdom. This is the eighth item on our list.

As we make the effort to learn what we need to know to become effective defenders of marriage, we also need to pray God will give us the right insights and the right words.

We know that our message is difficult to deliver and difficult to hear. Jesus didn’t sugarcoat the task, either. He told His disciples in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” This eighth item emphasizes the first portion of Jesus’ admonition—that we be “wise as serpents.”

Let us not forget that ultimately, we have good news for our country and for the individuals in it. Words the prophet Isaiah wrote centuries ago still have application today (see Isa. 55:6-7; 1:18). God forgives if we come to Him on His conditions!

Stand with Humility

Thankfully, God really does stand ready and willing to forgive. We need Him to, because we are in need of His grace just as desperately as is everyone else. As we are “wise as serpents,” therefore, we also must be as “harmless as doves.” This includes having the ninth item on our list—greater humility!

We are not better than anyone else, but because of God’s grace, we are better off! God gets the credit for that—not us, even though we had to receive his offer of grace by exercising repentance and faith (active trust in Jesus Christ).


As Christians, we’re not better than anyone else. Rather, we’re better off because of God’s grace, something He freely makes available to all who are willing to come to Him in repentance and faith.


Stand with the Right Perspective

Tenth, we must make our case with greater reverence and awe. The inspired writer of Hebrews declared, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (NIV). What a privilege we have to be guardians of marriage as God designed it, and consequently the gospel!

Eleventh, we must make our case for marriage with greater resolve. Closely connected with this is making it with greater authority. We always must be gracious, but we need not be on the defensive on this issue! We know we are right, not because our wisdom is superior to anyone else’s, but because of what we have learned as observers of nature and students of Scripture.

Against this backdrop, we never should be thrown off by statements like “Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality” or “Scripture condemns homosexual acts only in certain contexts.” The Bible is consistent in all that it teaches about human sexuality, marriage, and human relationships.

Jesus attended a wedding at Cana and thus celebrated marriage (see John 2:1-11).
painting by Maerten de Vos, c. 1596

Having greater resolve and speaking lovingly, yet with authority, we acknowledge a twelfth and final quality that must characterize the church’s case for natural marriage. We must speak with confidence. Let’s learn from the advocates of same-sex marriage. They now have what they sought for so long—government recognition of same-sex unions as marriage—because for decades they contended for this recognition without shame and with great confidence. They didn’t care what people thought of them. Why are we ashamed? Why are we hesitant? History and the truth are on our side!


Homosexual activists didn’t care what people thought of them when they relentlessly and repeatedly contended for same-sex marriage. Why should we be ashamed? History and the truth are on our side!


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 also is in peril! Even before the Obergefell ruling, Princeton Professor Dr. Robert George predicted 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.


Are you willing to speak up? I know of no more worthy causes than marriage and the gospel!

To recap:

The Church Must Defend Marriage with Greater

1. sincerity
2. authenticity
3. awareness
4. frequency
5. clarity
6. urgency
7. understanding and depth
8. wisdom
9. humility
10. reverence and awe
11. resolve and authority
12. confidence

 

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.

The passage marked NIV 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.

Note:

1Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet, Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014), 95.

2Alan Shlemon of Stand to Reason (STR) cited these three clichés and discouraged their use at STR’s ReTHINK conference in Birmingham, Alabama on April 21-22, 2017.

Upholding God-Ordained Marriage Is One of the Greatest Ways to Advance the Gospel, Part 6

We have an absolute duty to start training our children in biblical worldview when they are just beyond the toddler years. They’ve got to start understanding that there are some basic truths in life, and that if we abandon them, the whole scheme of living unravels. And marriage is a great example, because very, very few evangelicals, at least that I talk to, have ever heard of marriage talked about this way. They see it as a covenant with one another and with God—the most devout see it that way—but very few people see it as part of the structure of life built into the fact that God has created us and given to us, in His Word, an understanding of man and woman as one, and why that is so, and the purpose of it.
—Charles Colson1

 

  • Part 5 is available here.
  • View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Key point: It’s not just important that the church and Christians uphold natural marriage, but how they do so.

Part 5 is available here.
View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

In March of 2013, former US Senator Jim DeMint, then President-elect of the Heritage Foundation, made a video in which he encouraged people everywhere to defend and uphold the millennia-old understanding of marriage—one man and one woman committed to each other for life. This definition rightly is called natural marriage because it harmonizes with what nature teaches about human relationships. Here is a portion of what Senator DeMint said.

The institution of marriage existed long before government to provide children with mothers and fathers. Marriage strengthens civil society and limits government. As our marriage culture weakens, big government grows. Just look at how the welfare state got bigger and bigger as the unwed childbearing rate skyrocketed from single digits in the 1960’s to over 40% off all births today.

Ryan Anderson, also of the Heritage Foundation, elaborated.

Redefining marriage does not simply expand the existing understanding of marriage; it rejects these truths. Marriage is society’s least rest rictive means of ensuring the well-being of children. By encouraging the norms of marriage—monogamy, sexual exclusivity, and permanence—the state strengthens civil society and reduces its own role. The future of this country depends on the future of marriage. The future of marriage depends on citizens understanding what it is and why it matters and demanding that government policies support, not undermine, true marriage.


The future of this country depends on the future of marriage. The future of marriage depends on citizens understanding what it is and why it matters and demanding that government policies support, not undermine, true marriage.
—Ryan Anderson—


Anderson, a Catholic millennial, gets it! I’m pleased that he does, and as a protestant evangelical baby boomer, I am more than glad to partner with him to defend marriage. I point to his statements as informative and instructive, not just for Christians of all denominations, but also for all citizens concerned about morality and social stability in America.

The church, however, is the most natural place for Christians to come to understand what really is at stake in the debate over the meaning of marriage. With marriage at risk, freedom and societal stability also are at risk, just as Ryan Anderson has said. Moreover, the gospel also is at risk. The stakes couldn’t be higher!

Toward the end that the number of effective advocates for natural marriage might increase, we have been describing items that should characterize the church’s defense of man-woman marriage. Thought not exhaustive, our list contains 12 items. This article carried our discussions of the first two, and last week’s article our insights on items three through six. Ready or not, we now move to items seven through twelve. 

Stand with Understanding

Seventh, Christians, both individually and corporately, must uphold God-ordained marriage with greater understanding and depth. Among other things, this means never using trite clichés like these.2

  • God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve! Never say this! It trivializes not only God’s creation of human beings as male and female, but also the challenges many young people face as they grapple with sexual feelings, cultural messages about gender identity, and what it means in practical terms to be male or female. Beyond this, it comes off as extremely arrogant in a situation where humility is essential. More on this in a moment.
  • I love the sinner, but I hate the sin! While from a biblical perspective homosexuality is a sinful behavior, a gay or lesbian individual sees it as his or her identity. To that person, to “hate the sin” is to hate the individual!
  • Homosexuality is a choice. Certainly choices are involved in being homosexual, but this does not mean the gay or lesbian individual chose to have same-sex attraction. In fact, it’s almost certain he or she did not! What does a young person do with these deep feelings he or she doesn’t understand? The individual becomes vulnerable to cultural messages that make homosexuality seem extremely attractive and normal.

The church has a need to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the nature of homosexuality from a theological perspective as well. It is misleading to say things like, Homosexuality is no worse than any other sin if we don’t sufficiently clarify what this means. This statement certainly is true in the sense that every sin is an affront to God’s character and authority. Even one sin, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem, makes us deserving of hell. On other levels, though, all sins are not equal. Furthermore, among sexual sins, homosexuality is unique in that it defies what nature teaches about human sexuality. Note the phrases “natural use” and “against nature” in Romans 1:26-27.

There’s more. Referring to those who refuse to acknowledge God, Paul wrote in verse 24, “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves.” In verse 26 the apostle added, “God gave them up to vile passions” (emphasis added). James Montgomery Boice notes

that people tend to think of God’s giving people up to their desires (see vv. 24, 26) as being akin to releasing a porcelain pitcher in outer space and letting it float harmlessly away. Not so. It really is like letting go of the pitcher on earth, where gravity causes it to drop to the ground and possibly shatter completely.

Stand Wisely

These realities, along with Christians’ love for their homosexual friends and neighbors, compel believers to speak out. Warnings certainly can be issued in an unloving manner, but failing to issue a warning in a perilous or a potentially perilous situation is undeniably unloving. This brings us to the eighth point: the church must exercise greater wisdom. In Proverbs 25:11-12, Solomon, guided by God, offered these keen insights:

11 A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold
In settings of silver.
12 Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold
Is a wise rebuker to an obedient ear.

As we make the effort to learn what we need to know to become effective defenders of marriage, we also need to pray God will give us the right insights and the right words. We know that our message is difficult to deliver and difficult to hear. Jesus didn’t sugarcoat the task, either. He told His disciples in Matthew 10:16, ““Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” This eighth item emphasizes the first portion of Jesus’ admonition—the need to be “wise as serpents.”

Let us not forget that ultimately, we have good news for our country and for the individuals in it. The words Isaiah the prophet wrote centuries ago still have application today.

Seek the Lord while He may be found,
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Let him return to the Lord,
And He will have mercy on him;
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon (Isa. 55:6-7).

18 “Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the Lord,
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool” (1:18).

Stand with Humility

Thankfully, God is ready and willing to forgive. We need Him to be, because we are in need of His grace just as desperately as is everyone else. As we are “wise as serpents,” therefore, we also must be as “harmless as doves.” This includes having the ninth item on our list—greater humility!


Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom (James 3:13, NIV).


We must never convey an attitude that we are better than anyone else because we aren’t guilty of this sin or that sin—whatever the sin might be. Whatever we have been spared, it is God who has spared us, and only by His grace! We’re not better than anyone else, but because of God’s grace, we are better off! God gets the credit for that—not us, even though we had to receive his offer of grace by exercising repentance and faith (active trust in Jesus Christ).


As Christians, we’re not better than anyone else. Rather, we’re better off because of God’s grace, something He freely makes available to all who are willing to come to Him in repentance and faith.


Stand with the Right Perspective

Tenth, we must make our case with greater reverence and awe. The inspired writer of Hebrews declared, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (NIV). What a privilege we have to be guardians of marriage as God designed it, and consequently the gospel!

Eleventh, we must make our case for marriage with greater resolve. Closely connected with this is making it with greater authority. We always must be gracious, but we need not be on the defensive on this issue! We know we are right, not because our wisdom is superior to anyone else’s, but because of what we have learned as observers of nature and students of Scripture. God did not make a mistake when He designed marriage to be between one man and one woman for life. In fact, this divine action was one of the Lord’s richest blessings to humanity. Accordingly, marriage reflects His richest blessing to humanity, the good news—the gospel—of Jesus Christ.

Against this backdrop, we should never be thrown off by statements like “Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality” or “Scripture condemns homosexual acts only in certain contexts.” The Bible is consistent in all that it teaches about human sexuality, marriage, and human relationships.

Jesus attended a wedding at Cana and thus celebrated marriage (see John 2:1-11).
painting by Maerten de Vos, c. 1596

Having greater resolve and speaking lovingly, yet with authority, we acknowledge a twelfth and final quality that must characterize the church’s case for natural marriage. We must speak with confidence. Again, we need not be put on the defensive with regard to this issue. Let’s learn from the advocates of same-sex marriage. They now have what they sought for so long—government recognition of same-sex unions as marriage—because for decades they contended for this recognition without shame and with great confidence. They didn’t care what people thought of them. Why are we ashamed? Why are we hesitant? History and the truth are on our side!


Homosexual activists didn’t care what people thought of them when they relentlessly and repeatedly contended for same-sex marriage. Why should we be ashamed? History and the truth are on our side!


In his book titled Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, pastor and theologian Ray Ortlund writes, “Everyone who revers the gospel has compelling reasons to champion biblical ethics.…The fact that we too are sinners does not exempt us from taking this stand. Our own sinfulness simply means that we take our stand with humility and honesty. But we must not be silent. What is at stake in our sexuality is nothing less than the gospel itself.”3

Are you willing to speak up? I know of no more worthy causes than marriage and the gospel!

Next time, we will review our discussion of the 12-item list to make sure we get the big picture.

  • Part 7 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.

Notes:

1Charles Colson with Anne Morse, My Final Word, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 144.

2Alan Shlemon of Stand to Reason (STR) cited these three clichés and discouraged their use at STR’s ReTHINK conference in Birmingham, Alabama on April 21-22, 2017.

3Ray Ortlund, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 115.

 

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.

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

image credit: bride’s and groom’s hands on Bible, www.lightstock.com

 

 

 

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.