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

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

 

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

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

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

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

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


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


The Truth About Marriage

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

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

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

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

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


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


Marriage Showcases the Gospel

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

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


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


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


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


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

Part 2 is available here.

 

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

top image: Courtship by Edmund Leighton

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

 

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 12

Why Jesus Is the Only Way to God, and Why Truth Claims to the Contrary Are False

We are living in a post truth era, where people are searching for solid ground, they’re looking for something to say this is true, I can rely on this. Christianity claims to be true. It says it’s not wishful thinking or make-believe or legends or mythology, but it’s based on actual historical evidence. And I think these days young people especially are looking for something solid like that to put their trust in.
Lee Strobel, in an interview about the film The Case for Christ, which tells the story of Strobel’s journey from atheism to Christianity—

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

This week I want briefly to drive a home a key point in last week’s post by providing answers to two common objections to God’s plan of salvation.

Is Jesus Really the Only Way to God?

First, many people seem to be offended when Christians say Jesus is the only way to God—yet they are only relating what Jesus Himself declared. “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” He said. “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

Why should this challenge our sensibilities? God, after all, is God. He has a right to establish how people should approach Him and what will be required of them to enter His home. One former pastor offers this insightful account.

While I once was witnessing to a young couple, the husband said he believed there were many ways to be saved. I asked, “If I came to your house at night, put a ladder up to a second-floor window and climbed in, what you would do?” After the man told me he would shoot me, I asked, “You mean you require someone to enter your house only in the way you prescribe, but you believe you can decide how you are going to get into God’s kingdom?”

He responded, “I guess that doesn’t make sense, does it?” I left hoping my challenge eventually would come to represent a true turning point in this man’s perspective on Jesus.1

Rather than asking how God could exclude those who wish to approach Him in ways other than through His Son, we need to appreciate the cost He paid to provide the one way He provided. God’s perfect character requires Him to judge sin—even those actions we might deem the smallest and least significant violations of His law.

Is God Being Fair?

In a letter to his employees explaining why he believed in the God of the Bible Robert Laidlaw (1885-1971) declared,

A young man once asked me, “Do you think it is fair of God to set the standard of holiness so high that we cannot reach it, and then judge us for falling short?”

This is the second objection we need to consider. Laidlaw continued,

I replied, “God has not set an arbitrary standard of holiness as an official sets an arbitrary standard of height for his bodyguards. In such a case, a man may have all the other qualifications, but if he is an inch too short he is disqualified.

God has not really set a standard at all: He is the standard. He is absolute holiness, and to preserve His own character He must remain absolutely holy in all of His dealings with man, maintaining that standard irrespective of the tremendous implications which it may hold for both Him and us” [emphases added].


God has not really set a standard at all: He is the standard. He is absolute holiness, and to preserve His own character He must remain absolutely holy in all His dealings with man, maintaining that standard irrespective of the tremendous implications which it may hold for both Him and us.
—Robert Laidlaw—


So the question isn’t really one of fairness, but divine holiness. God cannot violate His own character.

God Demonstrates His Love Through His Son

The good news for us is that God also is loving, and His love compelled Him to make it possible for Him to offer us forgiveness. The only way He could do that was to send His Son, Jesus Christ, down to earth to fulfill the law by living a perfect life, and then to die a substitutionary death for sinful humanity. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead affirms God’s acceptance and approval of His Son’s sacrifice.

Respecting the choices of all, however, God will not credit Jesus’ death to the account of anyone who doesn’t express a desire to have it applied to him or her personally. The lost son in Jesus’ parable in Luke 15:11-32 learned the hard way that absolute personal autonomy is a myth, but he still had to choose to return home with an attitude of sorrow and repentance. We must seek God in the same way. We can be certain that just as the father in Jesus’ illustration rejoiced, God also rejoices whenever anyone approaches Him with humility and repentance. You can learn more about God’s plan of salvation here.

The Bottom Line

Jesus was cruelly flogged and then crucified. He died the most horrible of deaths. It is inconceivable that God would allow His only Son to endure such torment to secure salvation and then shun Him by allowing people to come to Him through other means! This never will happen.


Having allowed His Son to secure salvation by dying the most horrible of deaths, God never would shun Him by permitting people to come to Him through other means. 


This is why Jesus is the only way to God. This is why we cannot approach Him any other way. And unfair? How can we accuse God of unfairly upholding His absolute standard of perfection when He met it Himself through His Son, who sacrificed His life for our eternal benefit?

And oh, there’s one more thing. Having hit an absolutely insurmountable wall and then then observed that God has opened a door for us, even as He has consistently upheld His standard of absolute perfection, we are compelled to reject all truth claims—including relativism—that compete with the Christian faith.  It simply can’t be otherwise.

Reality and integrity demand it.

Part 13 is available here.

 

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

top imageThe Parable of the Prodigal Son by Guercino (1591-1666)

Note:

1Jerry Price, “Jesus the One and Only,” in Life Words Personal Study Guide, Fall, 2010, (Nashville: LifeWay Christian Resources, 2010), 66.

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.

Christians Must Stand with Barronelle Stutzman—for the Very Same Reason the Left Is Obsessed with Crushing Her

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.  Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.
attributed to Reformation leader Martin Luther

 

A condensed version of this article is available here.

Luke 14:25 says of Jesus, “Now great multitudes went with Him.” Apparently, at this point in His ministry, Jesus had quite a following. Probably not all of these individuals were committed to Him, but they at least were curious—and their numbers were plentiful. Why, then, would Jesus do what He did next? Beginning in verse 25, the passage goes on to say,

And He turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— 29 lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? 31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. 33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. 34 “Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? 35 It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Again, why would Jesus challenge the people in this way? Weren’t things going well enough? Surely His presentation would cause some, and probably many, to turn away. Why would He want to ruin a good thing? You’d think He’d at least wait until later to deliver this kind of message! We see that He offered a similar challenge to the man we often call the rich young ruler.

Hardship Foretold

Twenty-first century American Christianity tends to resist saying or doing anything that would bring down its numbers, but we need to understand that Jesus simply was being honest. If you think following Jesus will be easy, think again. Elsewhere, Jesus told His disciples,

18 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”

One individual who understands the meaning of these words experientially is Barronelle Stutzman, the Richland, Washington florist who is being sued for everything she owns because she politely turned down the opportunity to use her talent at the same-sex wedding of a longtime friend. We have highlighted her case in several Word Foundations posts (for examples, go here and here). This past Thursday, February 16, the Supreme Court of Washington issued a unanimous, nine to nothing ruling against Barronelle. Never mind that the left has exercised its right to refuse to perform services because of the political and moral convictions it espouses (you can read about examples here, here, and here). The left simply cannot allow anyone to disagree with its own beliefs about sexuality and marriage—or about anything else it deems important, for that matter—and get away with it. We should note, of course, that not everyone in the LGBT community holds this perspective (also go here), but militant activists and the prevailing culture do.

The Appalling Silence of the Church

On the very same day the ruling was issued, Barronelle appeared with her attorney, Kristen Waggoner, on Line of Fire, the radio program of Dr. Michael Brown. You can download the entire program here. Also, you can listen to the portion of the show where Brown interviewed Stutzman and Waggoner here. Dr. Brown wrote an article about the ruling on February 16 as well. He declared,

There is only one thing more appalling than the Washington Supreme Court’s 9-0 ruling against religious liberty today. It is the silence of Christian leaders across America, leaders who choose convenience over confrontation, leaders who would rather be popular than prophetic, leaders who prefer the favor of people over the favor of the God. Shame on these silent leaders. Today is a day to stand.…

Friends, what [we are] witnessing today is a breathtaking abuse of power, an extreme overreach by the government, a shocking example of LGBT activism out of control, yet over the next 7 days, church services will come and go without a word being spoken, and over the next 48 hours, the Christian blogosphere will remain relatively quiet. How can this be?

Dr. Brown asks a very important question. Why would church leaders and other Christians avoid talking about this issue? Perhaps the answer is tied to the reason we would wonder why in the world Jesus would tell His inquirers just how difficult it would be to become and remain one of His committed followers.

The reasons for the silence among churches and Christians include fear of intimidation, the desire to avoid controversy, a fear of losing people because of having offended them, and a desire to “stick to preaching the gospel.” In this post I want to address some of these issues and thereby challenge Christian leaders and laymen to stand publicly with Barronelle Stutzman.

Let’s examine four realities.

Costly Discipleship

First, Jesus wanted everyone following Him to know that for true disciples, a cost was involved. As a simple example, consider repentance, which Jesus indicated is essential for salvation. Also look back and read the passage of Scripture we cited when we started. Are we unwilling to challenge people with the full truth of the gospel? Perhaps more to the point, are we unwilling to bear any cost ourselves?


Are we unwilling to bear any of the costs associated with being a disciple of Christ?


We certainly can do nothing to earn salvation, but I’m not talking about doing anything to be saved. I’m talking about what we do because we have been saved. If we claim to be Christians, then according to our own professions, we are willing to identify with Jesus Christ. Barronelle Stutzman determined she had to draw the line at the point of marriage, because of what marriage is. It is not at all farfetched to say that Barronelle’s unwillingness to arrange flowers for a same-sex “wedding” represents a resolve to stand with Christ and identify with Him and with the God of the Bible. Marriage, the lifetime union of one man and one woman, was designed by the Creator to promote order, companionship, nurture of the next generation, and individual and societal cohesiveness and stability. In addition, if all of that weren’t enough, it’s also a picture of Christ and the church. Again, Barronelle is taking a stand at the point of marriage. Are we now going to cop out at this same point? For the professing Christian, this makes absolutely no sense.


Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.
—Ephesians 5:25-27—


Consider the following declarations, presented in the probable order in which Jesus gave them.1 You can go here to see all of them printed on one page.

Matthew 7:21,24-27; Luke 6:46-49
Matthew 10:37-39
Matthew 16:24-27; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23-26
Matthew 8:18-22; Luke 9:57-62

Note especially Mark 8:38: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” About marriage, Jesus spoke very explicitly (see Matthew 19:1-6 and Mark 10:1-9). Thus, of these words about marriage we are warned by Jesus Himself not to be ashamed.

Misplaced Priorities

Second, a church leader or a Christian layperson might remain silent because his or her priorities are out of whack—and here I’m being very serious. In a previous post subtitled “Eight Menacing Trends in the American Evangelical Church,” we elaborated on the following misplaced priorities. We mentioned this post in a recent article but didn’t quote from it. There’s much more to the article than the list, but here we will quote the points on the list without elaboration. Please read the original article for more information.

  1. The church has focused on attracting people and keeping people, and it has failed to challenge them.
  2. The church has equated loving people with not offending them.
  3. The church has emphasized God’s love to the point of effectively neglecting His holiness and wrath.
  4. The church has endeavored to win converts and failed to make disciples.
  5. The church has upheld the benefits of salvation and avoided talking about its demands.
  6. The church has presented Christianity in terms of its implications for individuals alone and overlooked its benefits for the culture.
  7. While recognizing that Jesus was compassionate, loving, and kind, the church has largely ignored the fact that He was controversial.
  8. The church has failed to understand and acknowledge that the followers of Christ are at war with the forces of evil.

Let me be clear. I absolutely am sympathetic with church leaders who are concerned that if the church is not careful, it can come across as hateful and mean to unchurched people, including gays, lesbians, and other members of the LGBT community. Christians always are without excuse for being insensitive, unkind, or hateful to anyone, period. My point here, however, is that even when the church is careful, it still will be perceived by some as being insensitive, unkind, and hateful. Why? Because the gospel itself is offensive: “It is inherently offensive because it exposes sinners as guilty before a holy God.” There’s no way around this, and looking for ways around it constitutes an attempt, however unintentional, to water down the truth of the gospel. Failing to present the truth about God’s holiness and wrath helps no one, and in fact, it is quite harmful.

Marriage and the Gospel

Third, Barronelle Stutzman’s case underscores the truth that in the battle over natural marriage, the gospel is at stake. Here I am not saying that the gospel can be changed or manipulated by those who oppose it or by anyone else. No, the gospel is what it is because it has been divinely written and orchestrated, and because it is divinely offered to humanity. Nothing can or ever will change this.

Here’s what I am saying. When we as Christians living in the early 21st century in the United States of America share the gospel (something, by the way, that Christ has commanded us to do), we share it not only (1) with sinners in need of a Savior, but also (2) in a particular cultural and political context. If the political and cultural climate does not recognize our right to follow our deeply held convictions about marriage today (convictions that align with thousands of years of practice in countries worldwide), can it really be long before sharing the gospel itself is outlawed? This is not a farfetched idea.

Relentless efforts to silence voices like Barronelle’s move us ever closer to this point. Let’s understand that leftists and secularists already have gotten what they said they wanted; marriage has been redefined in the United States. Take note: Barronelle’s polite refusal to supply and arrange flowers for a same-sex wedding didn’t keep the wedding from occurring. Let’s put it another way. If this were about only the definition of marriage, then why are leftists threatening to take away everything Barronelle Stutzman owns? The Supreme Court already has ruled that nationwide, two men can “marry” each other, and two women also can enter into a relationship the state will recognize as a “marriage.”

Yet, even though homosexual activists now have what they’ve said was their ultimate goal, they’re not stopping. Barronelle and others in similar situations must acquiesce. They must comply and align with the left on this issue. To the activists, the supreme prize wasn’t really redefining marriage. It’s what’s behind natural marriage that raises ire and incites panic on their part.

The Real Rub

Just what is behind natural marriage and the case to restore it and to preserve it? Many things, but here I’ll name three:

Rebellious sinners, including you and me in the natural inclinations of our hearts, absolutely cannot abide anything that points directly to human accountability to and guilt before a holy God. Marriage as an exclusive union between one man and one woman, however subtly, does just that! Why? Because it also points to the salvation that Jesus made possible for His bride, the church.

In a previous post we said something similar about the Ark Encounter, a theme park in Northern Kentucky that includes a life-sized Noah’s ark. Answers in Genesis (AiG) is the parent ministry of the Ark Encounter. Opposition to the building of the ark and the opening of the park was vicious and even involved a crucial legal battle.

As a religious entity, Answers in Genesis had to fight for the right to hire only those whose beliefs aligned with its theological and moral convictions. It also had to fight for the right to participate in a state sponsored incentives program designed to make it easier for venues to attract visitors to Kentucky. Why would people who didn’t believe the Genesis account be so vehemently opposed to the Ark Encounter? Why would a gay or lesbian even want to work for AiG in the first place? Here’s what we said.

Reading between the lines, one gets the distinct impression that the problem these people are having isn’t primarily what they see as taxpayer-funded discrimination, but the fact that AiG and other Christian entities, including many churches, believe what the Bible teaches about sexuality, marriage, God, creation, and sin in the first place.

It runs even deeper than that. The ark of Noah, like the cross of Christ, offers strong reminders of humanity’s guilt before a righteous God. It is just as AiG states in its Ark Project Vision Statement: The ark is “a sign to the world that God’s Word is true and its message of salvation must be heeded (Romans 3:4, 5:12). Just as the Ark in Noah’s day was a sign of salvation, as well as judgment, an Ark rebuilt today can be a sign to point to Jesus Christ, the Ark of our salvation, and to coming judgment (2 Peter 3:5-13; John 10:9).”

In the cultural and political context in which we currently live, natural, man-woman marriage is like the ark of Noah. Consider these words from a well-known Bible passage, John 3:16-21.

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

We can express this even more explicitly by repeating something we’ve already said. Marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. In other words, it’s a picture of the gospel. This is why I say in the title of this post that “Christians Must Stand with Barronelle Stutzman—for the Very Same Reason the Left Is Obsessed with Crushing Her.” This case really is about the gospel!

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).

In recent years, a resurgence of reformed theology has taken place in the American evangelical church. Participants in this movement have encouraged the church to rediscover and reemphasize Reformation theology, and, accordingly, have offered a renewed emphasis on the gospel of Jesus Christ. In a variety of ways, this has been beneficial for the church and for society at large. Yet respectfully, I am compelled to make this sobering observation. Barronelle Stutzman and others who are laying everything on the line to uphold God-ordained marriage are doing a lot more than affirming marriage. They are championing the gospel! If members of the New Reformed movement respond by looking the other way and refusing to publicly support people like Barronelle, then are they not offering empty words when they say they are affirming the gospel?

Hold it! Church leaders and Christians who don’t consider themselves a part of the New Reformed movement aren’t off the hook, either. Not by a long shot! It’s your job to uphold the gospel by defending marriage as well. Anyone professing the name of Christ is obligated by virtue of his or her allegiance to Christ to defend natural marriage. The inspired writer of Hebrews made this crystal clear when he wrote, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Heb. 13:4, NIV).

The Risk of Being Misunderstood

“But wait!” someone might say. “I don’t want to be misunderstood.” This is our fourth consideration. I appreciate this desire, of course. No one wants to be misunderstood. Yet if we fail to uphold marriage, there’s no doubt we’ll be misunderstood. Granted, if we do uphold it, we run the risk of being misunderstood on some levels—but at least we will be misunderstood for the right reason instead of because we were ashamed of Jesus’ words about the first institution God established at the dawn of time!

A history lesson will help us at this point. The early Christians were accused of many things, including cannibalism, atheism, and a lack of patriotism—and that’s just three of the items on a ten-item list. If any people ever were misunderstood, the early Christians were! Yet, according to Pastor Greg Laurie, “they came to be known as those who turned their world upside down.” He must have been thinking of Acts 17:6.

Clarity Desperately Needed

In April, 2015, a little more than two months before the Obergefell marriage decision was released by the United States Supreme Court, I wrote about how divinely crafted symbols were being distorted in society, and how they weren’t even being clearly presented in the church. I said this:

We can be assured that God is keenly aware of divine signs and images that are being misrepresented today. Thousands of years ago, God placed the first rainbow in the sky as a reminder of His faithfulness after the flood of Noah (see Gen. 9:8-17), but in 2015 many people see rainbow colors and celebrate evil in the name of the politically correct principles of “diversity” and “inclusiveness.” Then there’s marriage—a sacred institution ordained and instituted by God (see Gen. 2:18-25) as well as a picture of Christ’s relationship with His church (see Eph. 5:22-32). Needless to say, that picture is being muddied and distorted everywhere people look. If marriage is redefined in America, how can it possibly continue to represent in society anything close to the relationship God ordained it to represent? If we lose marriage, we lose an image that helps people understand why Christ died. While we cannot expect non-Christians to act as Christians, neither can we ignore the fact that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and for many years upheld those ideals. Yet in recent decades in this country, we have, as a nation, kicked God out of public life. Given all the opportunities we as Americans have had to hear and respond to God’s truth, we must understand that God will hold us accountable.

How You Can Help

Here are some ways you can support Barronelle Stutzman in her fight for religious liberty.

  • Pray for her and for others who are refusing to follow the state rather than their consciences and their God.
  • Give financially. Through Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), you can contribute to help finance Baronelle’s own case, which now is headed to the Supreme Court. The ACLU recently received $24 million from its supporters to litigate against people like Barronelle. ADF is attempting to counter this force with resources from freedom-loving and liberty-loving Americans who understand the importance of religious liberty. Learn more about this from David and Jason Benham in this video. Donate here. Be aware also that Samaritan’s Purse, which is headed by Franklin Graham, will accept funds given to help persecuted Christians in the United States. You can give by calling this organization at 1-800-528-1980.

Help Barronelle Stutzman by contributing financially to Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization offering her legal assistance. You can donate to help offset the legal expenses here.


  • Encourage President Trump to sign an executive order that would provide at least a measure of protection for religious freedom. This wouldn’t resolve the entire problem, but it would be a positive step.

  • Spread the word about the threat to religious liberty in this country and the importance of protecting it and preserving it. Don’t be intimidated! Speak up!

I close with an acknowledgement that I know what I’m encouraging you to do isn’t easy. It’s hard—especially in a culture that misunderstands the gospel and hates Christians. Against this backdrop, we do well to remember that in upholding marriage, we must never neglect our other responsibilities as believers, including loving, caring, helping, and serving—being Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. As we exercise love and uphold truth, we can be assured that God will use us to attract non-Christians to the Savior.

Just as He used the first Christians during the days of the early church.

 

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

Note:

1According to Steven L. Cox and Kendell H. Easley, eds., Harmony of the Gospels, (Nashville: Holman, 2007). This harmony is based on the text of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, even though I have cited the New King James Version in this article. Moreover, Cox and Easley drew from the work of John A. Broadus and A. T. Robertson, who worked together to publish A Harmony of the Gospels (1893). Robertson continued this work and in 1922 published a revision titled A Harmony of the Gospels for Students of the Life of Christed Based on the Broadus Harmony in the Revised Version.

 

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 Bible quotation in this article is designated NIV. It is from the New International Version. THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Insights for the Long Haul: Understanding and Loving My Homosexual Neighbor

Five Things You Need to Know

At the very heart of the homosexual condition is conflict about gender. In the boy, we usually see a gender wound that traces back to childhood. He comes to see himself as different from other boys. Gender woundedness usually exists as a silent, secret fear—one that the boy’s parents and loved ones only vaguely suspect. The boy has felt this way for as long as he is able to remember. That differentness creates a feeling of inferiority and isolates him from other males.
—Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D.1

A man boarded a plane and sat down with his three young sons. As passengers continued to find their seats and as other preparations were being made for takeoff, the boys became disruptive, argumentative, and loud. Even after the plane was airborne, their unruly behavior continued. The passengers seated near the family wondered why the dad didn’t take steps to reign in his kids; but in fact, the man seemed oblivious to their misconduct. He had a blank expression on his face and seemed even to be in a daze. Finally a lady spoke up. “Sir, I don’t mean to be rude, but could you please get your kids to behave?” The man didn’t respond, so the woman tapped him on the shoulder and repeated her request.

As if pulled in instantly from another world, the man reconnected with his surroundings and offered a sincere apology. “Oh, I’m terribly sorry. Please forgive them and me. You see, their mom, my wife, just passed away. We’re a long way from home. She’s been in a hospital here because it offered treatments we couldn’t get for her anywhere else. She passed away just yesterday, and the boys have been taking it really hard.”

As you might imagine, the attitudes and responses of the surrounding passengers instantly changed. They offered their sympathy to the man and his boys. They began to relate to them in a different way, simply because they now understood their circumstances and the challenges they were facing.2

This illustration is instructive for us. We who defend natural marriage and religious liberty need to understand the “players” in the ongoing debate that is so critical to our nation’s future. One of those players, obviously, is the homosexual. He is our neighbor; she lives on our street. What do we need to know about those who are struggling with same-sex attraction or who may even consider themselves gay? The insights I’m going to offer here never should lead us to compromise the truth or to soften our resolve to contend for marriage and religious liberty. Yet hopefully, they will help us respond with greater patience and kindness to those who disagree with us. Remember that even in the midst of a strong discussion about God’s judgment in the first two chapters of Romans, Paul wrote, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4). We who have never struggled with homosexuality certainly have needed God’s grace just as desperately as those who have. Let’s pray God would use our kindness toward them to bring them to repentance, the same doorway we walked through to experience God’s grace.

Here are five things we need to know about homosexuality and the experience of the homosexual. Although we will speak primarily in terms of the homosexual male, the differences between male and female homosexuality don’t prevent us from making broader, corresponding applications where appropriate.

First, a “gay gene” has never been discovered, but you’d never know that listening to the mainstream media. Homosexuality is complicated and likely results from a variety of factors, some of which we will explore in a few moments. As an article that addresses the issue of the causes of homosexuality states,

At best, the evidence for a genetic and/or biological basis to homosexual orientation is inconclusive. In fact, since the early 1990s, numerous studies attempting to establish a genetic cause for homosexuality have not proven to be valid or repeatable—two important requirements for study results to become accepted as fact in the scientific community. Because of this, the current thinking in the scientific community is that homosexuality is likely caused by a complex interaction of psychosocial, environmental and possible biological factors.3

The acknowledgement that biological factors may be involved does not mean researchers have discovered a “gay gene” that determines a homosexual orientation. As we have said, no such gene ever has been found.4,5,6,7 At the same time, we need to acknowledge that all people, heterosexuals and homosexuals alike, are born with an inclination to sin, and they sin by choice as well (see Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:23). God holds each person responsible for his actions (see Rom. 2:1-16). While a person may not choose whether or not he or she has same- or opposite-sex attractions, the individual clearly chooses what he or she will do with those leanings.

Second, people struggling with same-sex attraction and gender confusion obviously do make choices related to their leanings, but they do so in a cultural atmosphere that exacerbates gender confusion. Society has lost all objectivity. Bruce Jenner’s sex change is celebrated,8,9 despite evidence that such transformations are harmful.10,11 Yet, even apart from this, our society treats masculinity with destain.12,13,14 Moreover, the individual’s personal situation usually doesn’t provide any help or clarity, and the pressure to embrace a gay identity is enormous.

Alan Medinger was involved in homosexuality himself and came out of that lifestyle as a result of his conversion to Jesus Christ. One of the early leaders of the ex-gay movement, Alan wrote Growth into Manhood to help men struggling with homosexuality. Medinger writes, “The road to manhood is a long one. It is a road of learning, trying, failing, trying again, a journey of victories and defeats.” Most males, he says, make the journey without giving it a great deal of conscious thought, but they still arrive at the destination of manhood and are able to fulfill their responsibilities as men. Alan continues,

Some boys, however, did not reach this destination. At some point the striving became too much, the defeats and failures too painful, so they opted out. They got off the main road, and they took a detour. They arrived at a chronological age that classified them as men, they appeared to have all the parts that made them men, but deep inside, in the place of that nonverbal sense of manhood, there was a void. They did not feel as if they were women—most of them, that is—but somehow, in the world of men, they did not belong.15

Third, although homosexuality results from many factors, one of its root causes is a home environment that involves an overinvolved mother, a distant father, and an emotionally sensitive boy. Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, an expert on homosexuality and on therapy for overcoming it, writes,

Repeatedly, researchers have found the classic triadic (three-way) relationship in the family backgrounds of homosexual men. In this situation, the mother often has a poor or limited relationship with her husband, so she shifts her emotional needs to her son. The father is usually nonexpressive and detached and often is critical as well. So in the triadic family pattern we have the detached father, the overinvolved mother, and the temperamentally sensitive, emotionally attuned boy….16

Alan Medinger authenticates this scenario:

My journey into homosexuality fits the same pattern that I have seen over and over again in many other men I have worked with. I was an unplanned child, born to parents who would have preferred a girl. My older brother was more athletic and generally fit the “all boy” model far better than I, and somehow, he became Dad’s and I became Mom’s.17

What often happens in this situation? Christian singers Steve and Annie Chapman have written and performed many Christian songs about the family and about family relationships. In 1990, Steve composed a song titled “Father’s Embrace” that explains the plight, the typical background, and the hope of the homosexual. The song also paints a true picture of a homosexual man’s emotional and identity needs.18 Here is the powerful message conveyed by “Father’s Embrace.”

Many people have a hard time understanding why a man would become sexually intimate with another man. Even though he would say he was born that way, the homosexual actually is looking for affirmation he never received from his father when he was a child. His dad was consumed with other things, and the boy waited in vain for his father to give him attention and affection. Now grown, he looks to other men to fill the void, even in relationships that are sexualized. He won’t find what he needs in those relationships, but God hears his heart’s cry. Human fathers are woefully imperfect, but God is the Perfect Father. God loves the homosexual. He hears him crying out for his father’s love, and, as the Perfect Father, longs to meet that man’s needs. No one has to violate God’s plan to get what he really needs. Yet sadly, no one has ever shared with this man that God can fill the longings of his heart, if he would just come to Him in humble repentance, seeking wholeness on God’s terms rather than his own.19

Let’s assume a scenario exactly like the one Steve Chapman has depicted (one that is, in reality, all too common). It’s important for us to note that the elements in the boy’s life are not his fault. He did not choose his parents, nor their temperaments. Nor did he choose his own temperament. Furthermore, he cannot be blamed for the fact that no one has yet told him about God’s wanting to fill his “father need.” The church and individual Christians must bear responsibility for this. Now, none of this takes responsibility away from this individual for bad decisions, especially decisions he makes as an adult. At the same time, an awareness of these realities should help us understand the man’s situation and should give us a greater sense of compassion and love toward him.

At this point we must add a word of encouragement to parents. Noting the commonality of the “triadic family pattern” does not mean that parents should live under a pile of guilt for their child’s homosexuality or same-sex attraction. In his book 101 Frequently Asked Questions About Homosexuality, Mike Haley, a former homosexual, answers this question early on: “We just found out our child is gay. Is it our fault? Did we do something wrong?”20 Here is a portion of Mr. Haley’s response.

This is often the first question that comes to the mind of any parent who has just learned of their child’s homosexuality. Your heart may be broken, and your mind will probably race back to review every milestone in the life of your child to see what could have possibly gone wrong. But take heart. The answer to this painful question will rid you of any false guilt and free you to respond in a helpful way.…

You must remember that no person has the power to make another child of God anything. Homosexuality is not the result of one single factor. Many influences can contribute to the condition: the child’s perception, parent’s behavior, the environment (which is often beyond any parent’s control), interactions with others, predisposing personality characteristics, and so on. While some familial contribution may have weakened the psyche of your child, making him or her more susceptible to same-sex attraction, each person is accountable for his or her responses to circumstances. No parent would ever willingly cause sexual struggles in any of their offspring. We live in an imperfect, fallen world, and we all make poor decisions that we alone are accountable for.

Think of your own life—of your vulnerability to a certain weakness. What “makes” you indulge? Surely not your parents, regardless of how imperfect they may have been. As you continue to read and learn, I pray you will be comforted by these truths: You are in no way directly responsible for your child’s sin, and the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ provides a way out of that sin.21

Fourth, the nature of homosexuality compels the homosexual to be consumed with his sexual orientation. Here is a simple illustration. Consider a chocolate chip cookie. That cookie represents you, and each chip in it represents an aspect of your life. You might say that one of the chips stands for your career, another for one of your hobbies, another for your family life, and so on. You might assign your heterosexual orientation to another of the chips, but this idea probably wouldn’t even occur to you. On the other hand, a homosexual’s sexual orientation isn’t a single chip in the cookie, but the whole cookie. He cannot divorce his sexual orientation from anything else in his life.22 This is one of the reasons it’s very difficult for gays and lesbians to understand what a Christian means when he says, “I love the sinner, but I hate the sin.”

Fifth, one hundred years ago, people viewed homosexuality as a behavior. (By the way, this is exactly the way Scripture sees it and treats it.23) Fifty years ago, society viewed it as a condition. Our culture today sees it as an identity.24 This is yet another reason gays and lesbians have difficulty understanding Christians’ claim to “love the sinner but hate the sin.” A gay man believes, “If you hate homosexuality, you must hate me, because that’s who I am.”

For these reasons and many others, it is often difficult to reach a homosexual with the truth about his actions and lifestyle—and about God’s love. This is why I am excited about a new movie that not only helps Christians reach out to homosexuals, but that also helps gays and lesbians understand better why Christians are compelled to warn them. The movie is produced by Living Waters, a ministry headed by evangelist Ray Comfort. Titled Audacity, it is currently available for download from the Internet for $19.99. It will be posted on YouTube for everyone to see on August 19. Without being judgmental, Audacity tells a story that explains the urgent need for all people—not just homosexuals—to get right with God. It treats the issues of homosexuality and same-sex marriage sensitively, yet forthrightly and without compromising the Bible’s message. To learn more, visit www.audacitymovie.com.

audacity_OpenLetter_062915

As you continue to contend for marriage and religious liberty in America, pray for all who have bought into the lie about homosexuality. Homosexuals may not know it, but they are hurting and have deep needs. Be available to be used of God to open others’ eyes to the truth. For homosexuals it is no different than it is for all other sinners; God longs to meet their deepest needs but so respects them as persons that He will not violate their will. As Steve Chapman so eloquently put it, God hears the cries of the one who missed his father’s embrace. He is listening to him and is “reaching down in love.”25 In Him is true hope.

Copyright © 2015 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.

Audacity may now be viewed here.

Notes:

1Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D., and Linda Ames Nicolosi, A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 19.

2Summary of an illustration given by Bill McCartner at a Promise Keepers conference.

3http://www.focusonthefamily.com/lifechallenges/understanding-homosexuality/understanding-same-sex-attractions/are-people-really-born-gay

4http://www.onenewsnow.com/perspectives/bryan-fischer/2014/06/17/the-latest-in-scientific-research-there-is-no-gay-gene#.VF_6Uoe5ZfQ

5http://www.wnd.com/2009/05/97940/

6http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/blog/2013/06/identical-twin-studies-prove-homosexuality-is-not-genetic/

7http://dailycaller.com/2014/03/19/nobody-is-born-that-way-gay-historians-say/

8http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/01/caitlyn-jenner-celebrity-reactions_n_7485900.html

9http://variety.com/2015/tv/news/celebrities-family-members-voice-support-for-bruce-jenner-1201479720/

10http://www.breakpoint.org/bpcommentaries/entry/13/27319

11http://www.sexchangeregret.com

12http://www.foxnews.com/story/2003/05/13/cut-men-do-not-bleed.html


13http://www.shaunti.com/2014/04/malebashing/


14https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5F3_sG9fq8

15Alan Medinger, Growth into Manhood, (Colorado Springs, CO: A Shaw Book published by WaterBrook Press, 2000), 1.

16Nicholosi and Nicholosi, 71-72.

17http://www.peoplecanchange.com/stories/alan.php

18In Growth to Manhood, (p. 3), Alan Medinger writes that “homosexuality is much more than simply the direction of one’s sexual attractions. It has two other strong components: emotional neediness and identity.”

19paraphrase/summary of “Father’s Embrace” by Steve Chapman, 1990 Times And Seasons Music (Admin. by Crossroad Distributors Pty. Ltd.)

20Mike Haley, 101 Frequently Asked Questions About Homosexuality, (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2004), 31.

21Haley, 31-32.

22This insight was shared at a Love Won Out Conference (informing and assisting the church and families in addressing the issue of homosexuality). These conferences were held in various places several years ago by Focus on the Family.

23Joe Dallas and Nancy Heche, eds., The Complete Christian Guide to Understanding Homosexuality: A Biblical and Compassionate Response to Same-Sex Attraction, (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2010), 99.

24http://www.citizenlink.com/2010/10/27/understanding-male-homosexuality-–-god’s-power-to-change-lives-part-3/ (original link); http://www.prophecydude.org/news/understanding-male-homosexuality-gods-power-to-change-lives-part-3/

25Steve Chapman, “Father’s Embrace.”

Discernment Needed, Part 2

Eight Menacing Trends in the American Evangelical Church

Part 1 is available here.

When I pastored a country church, a farmer didn’t like the sermons I preached on hell. He said, “Preach about the meek and lowly Jesus.” I said, “That’s where I got my information about hell.”
—Vance Havner1

One day a North Carolina farmer and a Texas rancher were talking. The Texas rancher told his friend, “I want you to know that when I’m home I can rise early, even before dawn, climb into my truck, and begin to travel across my land. I can travel for hours, and when the sun finally begins to slip behind the horizon at the end of the day, I still won’t have reached the end of my property!”

“Boy! I sure do pity you!” said the North Carolina farmer. “I used to have a truck like that, too!”

Having a proper perspective is vitally important. Without a perspective aligned with reality, the North Carolina farmer missed the point his friend from Texas was trying to make.

This article will challenge the perspective and the conventional wisdom prevalent in the modern evangelical church. It very well may shake some of the assumptions you’ve held for many years. Read with an open mind as we seek to explore why, generally speaking, the church lacks discernment and no longer speaks with a prophetic voice. After highlighting two philosophical shifts that have occurred in history (one in the culture at large and the other in the church), we will seek examine several choices the church has made (perhaps even unconsciously) that have severely weakened its effectiveness.

Shift Number One: Society Rejects the Concept of Absolute Truth

In a sermon he preached on February 28, 1999, the late Dr. D. James Kennedy, long time pastor of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, placed a spotlight on the one virtue that modern society upholds and seeks to demand of everyone—tolerance.2 Dr. Kennedy explains that the tolerance society now champions isn’t the same kind of tolerance Americans have practiced throughout the country’s history. Historically, tolerating someone has meant bearing with and putting up with him or her, even though a person didn’t agree with that individual. This kind of tolerance assumes mutual respect among parties that disagree and implies amiable relationships, despite differences. The new tolerance, by contrast, says that differing views are equal in value and are equally true. Thus, to tolerate someone in this sense is to esteem his or her opinion as just as valid as one’s own. Someone might disagree with someone else, but he can’t say that person is wrong. If every opinion is equally valid, then no one has a corner on truth. This is key, because if no one has a corner on truth, absolute truth does not exist, and a universal right and wrong cannot exist, either. The new tolerance says that all views must be endorsed and affirmed by everyone, because no view is inferior or superior in any way to any other view. In addition, to fail to endorse the perspective of someone with whom we disagree is to be intolerant.3

The new tolerance is a byproduct of the postmodern era. Every once in a while, says Dr. Kennedy, we should stick our heads out and look around to see what’s going on in the culture and in the world. The modern era lasted from the fall of the Bastille in France in 1789 to the collapse of the Berlin Wall in Germany in 1989—a period of 200 years. Sometimes called rationalism or the age of reason, modernism “reached its pinnacle in the atheistic, scientific, evolutionary, socialistic USSR—the Soviet Union.”4 Then, with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the postmodern era dawned and brought with it a whole new set of assumptions. Principle among these assumptions was and is the idea that there are no absolutes and that everything is relative. While some will cite Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to make the case that everything is relative, Einstein himself said, “Relativity applies to physics, not ethics.”5,6

Yet the consensus in American culture is that even in the ethical realm, no absolute truth exists. What are the implications of this as a cultural belief? Dr. Kennedy explains,

Postmodernism says that rationalism has failed. The modernist said, “Faith has failed. We must be rational.” The postmodernist has said “Reason has failed. We must resort to feeling.”

How often do you hear people say, “Well I feel that so-and-so. I feel that Washington, D.C. is the capital of this country”? I don’t feel that. I think it. But it’s always not “I think” but “I feel.” The only important thing is how they feel. And we have even invented a new civil right. And that is the civil right for my feelings not to be hurt.…

We cannot have anybody’s feelings hurt. And part of postmodernism is this universal individual. We don’t have countries, we don’t have anything except the individual. There’s no human race, there’s just the individual and his feelings, and they must not be offended.…

And so we have gone from a democracy, a government by the people—of the people, by the people, and for the people—to a government by the sovereign individual. Or should I say, more accurately, the sovereign individual’s feelings? And that brings us to the fact that there are not even any universal truths of any kind for people, and whatever truths we have are simply societal constructs that each community or society or nation has created and these do not apply beyond the borders of that culture.

This is why I have repeatedly said that tolerance is the last virtue of a depraved society. When you have an immoral society that has blatantly, proudly violated all of the commandments of God, there’s one last virtue they insist upon—tolerance for their immorality. And they will not have you condemning what they have done as being wrong. And they’ve created a whole world construct in which it’s not, and in which they are no longer the criminal or the villain or the evil person, but you are. And so they call evil good and good evil (see Isaiah 5:20)7 [minor edits made for clarity].

Even if you’ve been unfamiliar with the terms modernism and postmodernism, surely you’ve seen evidence of the grip of the new tolerance on American culture. Note carefully how accurate Dr. Kennedy is when he says that a new civil right has been established—the right not to have one’s feelings hurt, or we might call it the right not to be offended.

Shift Number Two: The Church Began to Deemphasize God’s Law in Its Gospel Presentations

In his signature sermon, “Hell’s Best Kept Secret,”8 evangelist Ray Comfort describes the second shift we need to consider, one that took place in the evangelical church. Comfort begins by highlighting the purpose of the law as explained in Psalm 19:7: “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul.” He explains that without a proper understanding of God’s law, a sinner cannot fully understand his own guilt before God and his desperate need for divine forgiveness. Yet with such an understanding, sinners comprehend at last that God’s holiness and their own sin cannot coexist. With this insight, they are ready to hear and understand that Christ’s substitutionary death is the only solution to their biggest problem (see Rom. 3:19-20; 7:7; Gal. 3:24). While God’s law cannot save and therefore leaves us helpless before the Lord, it also causes us to see our utter helplessness, and it gives us a sense of urgency regarding our sinful condition. In other words, a proper understanding of God’s law causes sinners to thirst for and to respond positively to the good news of God’s saving grace in Christ.9

Comfort explains that unfortunately, most evangelism presentations today do not present a clear, biblical understanding of God’s law and its ominous implications for sinners. Instead, they emphasize primarily that Christ gives meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in life.10 Christ does indeed give meaning to life (see John 10:10), but this point must not overshadow an emphasis on God’s law and what it reveals about sinners.

I began to study the book of Romans intently, and specifically the gospel proclamations of men like Spurgeon, Wesley, Moody, Finney, Whitefield, Luther—others that God used down through the ages, and I found they used a principle which is almost neglected entirely by modern methods.…

If I approach an impenitent sinner and say, “Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins,” it will be foolishness to him and offensive to him. Foolishness because it won’t make sense. The Bible says that: “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness” [see 1 Cor. 1:18]. And offensive because I’m insinuating he’s a sinner, but he doesn’t think he is. As far as he’s concerned, there are a lot of people far worse than him.

But if I take the time to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, it may make more sense. If I take the time to open up the divine law, the Ten Commandments, and show the sinner precisely what he’s done wrong, that he has offended God by violating His law, then when he becomes, as James says, convinced of the law as a transgressor [see James 2:9], the good news of the fine being paid [of Christ’s dying for his sins on the cross] will not be foolishness. It will not be offensive. It will be the power of God unto salvation [see Rom. 1:16].…

The tragedy of modern evangelism, is…[that] around the turn of the century…it forsook the law and its capacity to convert the soul—to drive sinners to Christ. Modern evangelism had to therefore find another reason for sinners to respond to the gospel. And the issue that modern evangelism chose to attract sinners was the issue of life enhancement. The gospel degenerated into “Jesus Christ will give you peace, joy, love, fulfillment, and lasting happiness”11 [minor edits made for clarity].

Often today an individual will receive Christ on the premise that becoming a Christian will bring meaning and purpose to life. Then the new convert naturally encounters opposition, ridicule, frustration, and other difficulties, because the forces of evil always work diligently to throw the inquirer, and especially the new believer, off track. He or she may easily become disillusioned and conclude that Christianity isn’t what it was cracked up to be. This accounts for large numbers of conversions but significantly few disciples. Yet when the new Christian understands that Christ died to secure eternal life—to exempt him or her from eternal punishment—he or she will be more likely to maintain an eternal perspective when encountering challenges to living the Christian life. In other words, the new convert will be far less likely to become disillusioned and to give up.12

Please make the investment of time to listen to “Hell’s Best Kept Secret” in its entirety. It truly is a life-changing message. For now, take Ray Comfort’s insight to heart and keep it in mind: Around 1900, the church abandoned an emphasis on God’s law in its gospel presentations and instead began to uphold “life enhancement” as the primary benefit of becoming a Christian.

Influenced by the World

Now, equipped with background information about these two monumental shifts—one in the culture and the other in the church—can you answer an important question? What do these shifts have in common? They both set the stage, on the one hand, for downplaying anything offensive and, on the other, for emphasizing anything and everything that will make people feel good.

The modern evangelical church has been heavily influenced by the world in ways that are both subtle and obvious. Taking a cue from the culture at large, modern Christians have tried desperately not to make people feel uncomfortable. We even have sought to “enhance” the gospel message by making it less offensive and more attractive. Yet the gospel is inherently offensive, because it exposes sinners as guilty before a holy God. As Ray Comfort reminds us, if a sinner doesn’t understand that, than he or she cannot respond properly to the good news of Christ’s death on the cross.

In the aftermath of these two monumental shifts, the church abandoned godly discernment and lost its prophetic voice. This weakening of the church’s effectiveness has been manifested in numerous ways, including a diminished emphasis on sin. Al Mohler writes,

The larger culture has turned increasingly hostile to exclusivist truth claims such as the belief that faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. One megachurch pastor in Florida recently told me that the megachurches in his area were abandoning concern for biblical gender roles on a wholesale basis. As one pastor told him, you cannot grow a church and teach biblical complementarianism. Even greater pressure is now exerted by the sexual revolution in general, and, more particularly, the question of homosexuality.13

In fact, some very popular, otherwise conservative pastors have been known to speak with ambiguity concerning homosexuality or to overtly dodge the issue—even though in one instance other aspects of the sermon called for clarification and even though, in another, the Scripture forthrightly addressed the topic.14,15,16,17 Also, several years ago, a widely known megachurch pastor was called to task by a journalist for not exercising discernment with regard to Satan’s tactics. A committed Christian, the journalist demonstrated he had keener insight than the pastor.18

These are just a few examples that point to larger trends. Certainly not every evangelical pastor has watered down the biblical message, and not every church has failed to stand for the truth. However, menacing trends in evangelical churches do exist. Let’s briefly consider eight. These items overlap to some degree, but each also is distinctive.

  1. The church has focused on attracting people and keeping people, and it has failed to challenge them. Chuck Swindoll said, “Some time ago a group of church leaders decided that they didn’t want to be hated. They focused just on attracting more and more people.”19 He also said, Today, “many churches masquerade as entertainment centers, where the leadership primarily concerns itself with making people fell good.”20 Ironically, Islam is attracting people, particularly men, because it is unapologetically challenging them.21 Christ didn’t water down His message for anyone, and as Christ’s ambassadors, we in the church must not do so either.
  2. The church has equated loving people with not offending them. True compassion, however, compels us to convey the truth, even at the risk of offending people.22
  3. The church has emphasized God’s love to the point of effectively neglecting His holiness and wrath. Ironically, we esteem classic messages on God’s holiness and judgment, sermons such as Jonathan Edwards’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”23 Even so, most of today’s evangelical preachers rarely address these themes. We must balance our presentations, giving people opportunities to hear about God’s holiness as well as His grace and love. Only against the backdrop of God’s holiness and wrath will the good news of His grace be most clearly understood.
  4. The church has endeavored to win converts and failed to make disciples. Only as we, with God’s help, make disciples will we be able to follow the command Paul gave Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” No wonder we are losing the next generation.24
  5. The church has upheld the benefits of salvation and avoided talking about its demands. Certainly salvation is free; we receive it by grace alone. However, it isn’t cheap. Consider these few verses, where Scripture makes clear that salvation commands of every believer unyielding allegiance to Jesus Christ: Matthew 7:21,24-27; 10:37-39; Luke 6:46; 9:23-26,57-62; 14:25-33.
  6. The church has presented Christianity in terms of its implications for individuals alone and overlooked its benefits for the culture. The church also has shunned its own responsibility to impact the culture. If it has sought to address social issues, it has in many instances spoken to those issues that the culture at large believes should be addressed. In other words, the church has avoided controversy in much of its cultural engagement. In his new book, A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture, David Platt, a former pastor and a bestselling author, challenges this approach: “In this day when social issues are creating clear dividing lines in society, moral and political neutrality is not an option for those who believe the gospel. It’s simply not enough to focus on only those issues that are most comfortable—and least costly—to us. But what if the main issue is not poverty or homosexuality or abortion? What if the main issue is God? What if the same God who moves us to war against sex trafficking also moves us to war against sexual immorality? What if the same gospel that compels us to combat poverty also compels us to defend marriage? What if all these cultural hot-button issues are connected to our understanding of who God is and how he relates to everything around us?”25,26,27 The modern evangelical church needs to hear and heed Dr. Platt on this important subject.
  7. While recognizing that Jesus was compassionate, loving, and kind, the church has largely ignored the fact that He was controversial. Being like Jesus will mean, at times, being controversial. We never should seek to stir up opposition or conflict, but we also shouldn’t avoid it when taking a stand for Christ requires it. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me” (John 15:18-21; see also Matt. 5:10-16).
  8. The church has failed to understand and acknowledge that the followers of Christ are at war with the forces of evil. Warfare, you see, isn’t a popular topic. Moreover, the church’s understanding of the true nature of spiritual warfare has been lacking. Effectively waging war requires offensive as well as defensive strategies and tactics. Largely, the church has played defense, and when it has trained believers, it has trained them to play defense also. When Jesus said the gates of hell would not be able to prevail against the church (see Matt. 16:18), He indicated that the church would, at least some of the time, be taking an offensive posture against evil forces. The modern evangelical church needs to regain a biblical perspective on spiritual warfare.

In 1 Peter 2:9-12, the apostle Peter wrote this to his persecuted brothers and sisters in the faith: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.” As Peter’s readers knew all too well, this process sometimes was difficult to endure. Yet hopefully, many who were currently treating them with hostility would be won over when they saw their unwavering faithfulness to Christ. Even in instances when their persecutors didn’t come to Christ, Peter’s readers still had a responsibility to stand strong. We as believers in the 21st century have that same responsibility.

In whatever ways He chooses, God will use our faithfulness to influence others’ lives. As D. Martyn Lloyd Jones astutely 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.”28

 

Copyright © 2015 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:

1http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/newbb/viewtopic.php?topic_id=3676&forum=34

2 “The New Tolerance” Part 1: http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=318151424410

“The New Tolerance” Part 2: http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=319151233599

3http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=318151424410

4http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=318151424410

5http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=318151424410

6http://thinkexist.com/quotes/with/keyword/relativity/

7http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=318151424410

8http://www.livingwaters.com/audio/way-of-the-master/hells-best-kept-secret

9http://www.livingwaters.com/audio/way-of-the-master/hells-best-kept-secret

10http://www.livingwaters.com/audio/way-of-the-master/hells-best-kept-secret

11http://www.livingwaters.com/audio/way-of-the-master/hells-best-kept-secret

12http://www.livingwaters.com/audio/way-of-the-master/hells-best-kept-secret

13http://www.albertmohler.com/2012/05/01/is-the-megachurch-the-new-liberalism/ or http://www.christianheadlines.com/columnists/al-mohler/is-the-megachurch-the-new-liberalism.html

14 http://www.albertmohler.com/2012/05/01/is-the-megachurch-the-new-liberalism/ or http://www.christianheadlines.com/columnists/al-mohler/is-the-megachurch-the-new-liberalism.html

15http://www.bpnews.net/37742

16Chelsen Vicari, Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting The Gospel and Damaging the Faith, (Lake Mary, FL: FrontLine, 2014), 58-59.

17http://nationalblackroberegiment.com/major-change-famous-u-s-megachurch/

18http://www.wnd.com/2007/11/44801/

19http://worship.com/2012/02/chuck-swindoll-entertainment-has-replaced-scripture-as-the-center-of-our-worship/

20Charles R. Swindoll, Hope for Our Troubled Times, (Plano, TX: Insight for Living, 2009), 8.

21http://churchformen.com/uncategorized/why-men-flock-to-islam/

22http://www.wordfoundations.com/2015/04/23/compassions-mandate/

23http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/sermons.sinners.html

24Ken Ham and Britt Beemer, Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do to Stop It, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2009).

25David Platt, A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture, (Carol Stream, IL: 2015), flyleaf of dust jacket.

26http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/family-talk/listen/living-counter-culturally-456188.html

27http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/family-talk/listen/living-counter-culturally-ii-456189.html

28https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/894185-when-the-church-is-absolutely-different-from-the-world-she