America, Where Are You? Part 5

The State of the Church


Here is the great evangelical disaster—the failure of the evangelical world to stand for truth as truth. There is only one word for this—namely accommodation. The evangelical church has accommodated to the world spirit of the age.…This accommodation has been costly, first in destroying the power of the Scriptures to confront the spirit of our age; second, in allowing the further slide of our culture. Thus we must say with tears that it is the evangelical accommodation to the world spirit around us, to the wisdom of this age, which removes the evangelical church from standing against the breakdown of our culture.
Francis Schaeffer

Tell me what the world is saying today, and I’ll tell you what the church will be saying in seven years.
Francis Schaeffer


Key point: In its efforts to avoid offending people, will the church wind up offending the One it never would dream of offending—God Himself? Unless it makes a conscious decision to honor God in the environment of moral quicksand in which it finds itself, the church will indeed offend God. The good news is that through the church, God still can turn America back to Himself. God’s people however, must cooperate with Him for this to happen.


Summaries of all the articles in this series are available here.

Last time, we stated the following.

  1. Engel v. Vitale was an initial step in the process that effectively cut off a generation, and future generations, from voluntarily acknowledging God in a public environment.
  2. Having been cut off from God, America had no point of reference for recognizing the intrinsic value of human life. Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton therefore legitimized the practice within the human family of turning against one’s own and killing the most vulnerable and defenseless members.
  3. Obergefell went even further, denying what it actually means to be a human being. Natural man-woman marriage affirms what being being a human being is all about, but same-sex “marriage” effectively removes that affirmation from the institution of marriage, at least as far as public recognition is concerned.

This is not to malign anyone, especially homosexuals and those struggling with gender identity issues. The truth is, however, that telling them to “be who you are” actually will hinder them from being who they really are and finding fulfillment by reaching their God-given potential. Their struggles are real. We must be understanding and offer compassionate and loving help. Yet this does not mean telling anyone it’s OK to follow their base inclinations and desires. Proverbs 14:12 and Proverbs 16:25 are identical. They declare,

There is a way that seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.

It doesn’t help that our country has lost a clear understanding of what is required to have and maintain genuine liberty. Liberty is not license—the freedom to do whatever our base desires urge us to do. Rather, it is freedom within the reasonable restraints set by morality, law, and respect for the rights and freedoms of others.


Authentic liberty is not license—the freedom to do whatever our base desires urge us to do. Rather, it is freedom within the reasonable restraints set by morality, law, and respect for the rights and freedoms of others.


Liberty, as Depicted at the National Monument to the Forefathers in Plymouth, Massachusetts (see below)

Where is the church with regard to this cultural quicksand? To answer that question, let’s first recall that in Matthew 10:16, Jesus said to His disciples, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”

Lightstock

I believe the church is following Jesus’ command to be as harmless as doves but unfortunately is failing to be as wise or as shrewd as serpents. Moreover, the church needs a shot of boldness.

The Pressure to Conform

In a very real sense, God’s people find their situation similar to that of a teen who is outnumbered by the crowd. Here is an excellent example. Researchers recruited several groups of ten young people to help them with a study of how well teens could see. The participants were told that they would be shown numerous sets of three lines, each of different lengths, and would be asked to indicate which was the longest line in each case: A, B, or C.

The researchers, however, weren’t really studying eyes or vision. They actually were investigating the effect of peer pressure on teenagers. Nine of the ten participants in each group were told privately to choose the second longest line rather than the longest one, while the tenth individual was allowed to keep on believing the study was all about teens’ ability to see.

In incident after incident, when the facilitator would introduce a set of lines and ask the group for a show of hands when the longest line was named, nine of the ten would, in unison, raise their hands for the second longest line, bewildering the tenth young person. Could I have misunderstood the instructions? They seemed so simple, the confused teen must have thought. Didn’t they say we are to indicate which line is the longest? The directions were repeated, and no, the student had not misunderstood them. All were to indicate which of the three lines was longest. The pressure to join the group was enormous—so much so that 75 percent of the teens studied raised their hands with the rest of the group, even though everything they were seeing was contrary to all the instructions they had been given and what they knew to be true!

Only 25 percent of the teens refused to go along with the crowd; just 1 in 4 was willing to take a stand for what he or she knew to be right, despite all his or her questions and the undeniable awkwardness of the situation. I can’t understand why no one else is choosing the right line, but I am certain which line is longest, and I’m going to raise my hand for it!1 Their courage and their actions are to be admired—and emulated!

Several lessons arise from this true story.

  • First, appearances can deceive. In terms of reality, the participants who were informed about the study actually were ignorant about the lengths of the lines. Moreover, even though the ones whose responses were being studied were not “in the know” about the real purpose of the study, these individuals actually were right about which lines were the longest. This is especially true when the student went against the consensus of the group. Let’s put it another way: The enlightened really were misinformed, and the misinformed were enlightened.

The enlightened really were misinformed, and the misinformed were, in fact, enlightened.

  • Second, the instructions were straightforward and simple, and in one sense, following them was simple. Still, following them was anything but easy! Even obvious realities can be hard to acknowledge in the face of a group consensus to the contrary.
  • Third, decisions to “go along with the crowd” were made based on emotions, including the understandable desire to be liked and the awkwardness of taking a singular stand.
  • Fourth, in real-life situations, the choice to follow the crowd brings only short-term benefits. By contrast, aligning oneself with reality, even though one is made to fell quite uncomfortable in the here and now, affords an individual or group a host of advantages in the long-term. Why? Reality is a friend to those who accept it and cooperate with it, but an enemy to everyone who denies and resists it.

The church is like each young person in the study who faced nine others with different opinions. What would he or she do—state the obvious, despite being overwhelmingly outnumbered, or go along with the crowd to avoid controversy?

Equipped with God’s Truth, the Church Is in Touch with Reality

Abortion advocates claiming to contend for women’s rights have loud voices and great influence, and in their eyes, to be pro-life is to be anti-woman. Nothing could be further from the truth (go here and here). On January 31, 2018, the following statement appeared on BreakPoint’s Facebook page:

Too many pastors soft-pedal their teaching on #abortion. Maybe they don’t want to be seen as getting “political.” Or perhaps they believe this subject is not their calling. They might even fear offending people. #Pray that God would grant the #pastors in your community #courage to teach the entire counsel of #Scripture, including commands to protect the innocent. Pray that they would have the #wisdom to speak accurately. Pray that they would also have the #compassion to speak kindly.

With regard to marriage, the situation is desperate, as evangelicals increasingly warm to the idea of same-sex marriage. If the church doesn’t understand what marriage is, then the real definition of marriage, including marriage as a picture of Christ and the church, and consequently marriage as a picture of the gospel, will forever be lost to society. We must realize people do not have to understand the theology to benefit from the model! Even atheists benefit from it! Natural man-woman marriage reflects and conveys divine realities even “under the radar,” even without people realizing they are recipients of divine truth. The natural world does the very same thing (see Psalm 19:1-4).

Remember the study on peer pressure. Do not forget that the enlightened actually were misinformed, while the misinformed were enlightened. Do not forget that God is truth and the source of truth, and He has revealed truth in His Word. Human life is His masterpiece, and to destroy it is to offend Him. Natural, man-woman marriage has God’s fingerprints all over it! For Christians to withhold the truth about marriage when society is so terribly misinformed on this issue is to fail to faithfully represent the God who established it, and the gospel.

One is reminded of Joshua and Caleb, who also were outnumbered when they gave their report on the land of Canaan. In their case, they were outvoted 10 to 2. Could the Israelites conquer the land? Joshua and Caleb said yes, but the other 10 spies said no! Because these two men remained faithful to God despite appearances and even against overwhelming odds, the Lord permitted Joshua and Caleb to enter the promised land, even as he He barred everyone else in their generation from doing so.

James Tissot, The Grapes of Canaan

Please know it is not my wish or intention to disparage or discourage the church or its leaders. Ministry, including evangelism, is very hard work, especially in this culture! Moreover, many pastors’ plates are so full they are overwhelmed! I sympathize, and I understand.

Even so, Jesus said,

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

A Place to Start

The church can begin speaking out for the truth by doing so within its own walls, educating its own people. It must talk about and defend those ideals and institutions that are under vicious attack. Start with marriage. Hebrews 13:4 declares, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral” (NIV). This article names twelve traits that must characterize the church’s case for natural marriage. Pastors and other leaders should explore and explain to God’s people the deep theological truths reflected in natural marriage, including ways that marriage is a picture of the gospel. Here and here some articles that will help you convey these ideas.

All is not lost, but much has slipped away. Much is slipping away even now. The situation is urgent!

All is not lost, but much has slipped away. Moreover, much is slipping away even now. I believe, and my friend Steve believes as well, that God wants to use His church to call America back to Himself. To do that, the church must repent of seeking to entertain people and once again endeavor first to please God. When it does, it will demonstrate not only that it loves God supremely, but also that it truly loves others.

What is life? What is marriage? What is the nature of God? What is the gospel? What is salvation? All these questions are tightly interwoven.

Which line is the longest?

Are we who have the truth willing to declare it?

Are you willing to do your part?

 

Copyright © 2018 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Note:

1Dr. James Dobson, Preparing for Adolescence: How to Survive the Coming Years of Change, (Grand Rapids: Revell, 2006), 37-39.

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

About “Liberty” (see above; photo credit here)

At the National Monument to the Forefathers in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Faith stands atop the Monument, with Liberty and Morality seated at the base in front of her, and Law and Education seated at the base behind her. Genuine liberty isn’t possible without the other virtues portrayed—faith, law, education, and morality. The National Monument to the Forefathers was dedicated on August 1, 1889.

 

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.