Upholding Clarity in an Age of Confusion: The Nashville Statement, Part 5

Challenging a False Assumption

[I]t is not an act of justice but of foolish injustice to pretend the sexes are the same.
J. Budziszewski

 

Key point: The idea that both sexes are identical and that individuals can choose which sex they will be places both individuals and society in bondage.

 

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

Harry Houdini (1874-1926) had reputation of being able to escape from any cell, box, trap, cage, or chamber—no matter how tight or secure. As an expert locksmith and escape artist, he would challenge anyone and everyone to find a means of confinement from which he could not break free.

A British bank heard of the challenge. Having installed a safe its officers believed to be completely secure, the bank’s leadership got in touch with Houdini and offered to let him try to crack their safe. The world-renowned performer confidently accepted and made his way to England.

On the appointed day and hour, Houdini was bound and placed inside the safe. The door then was closed, and the skillful showman began his normal routine. Houdini firmly believed breaking out would be a cinch. Why shouldn’t he? He’d perfected his craft through the years and had escaped confinement in one spellbinding scenario after another.

This time, though, a different situation emerged. After an hour, Houdini’s confidence began to weaken. He’d tried every approach he normally used, but to no avail. He continued working relentlessly but was unsuccessful at every turn. Sweat poured down Harry Houdini’s face as the master showman kept at it, but his efforts produced no breakthrough. Finally, after two hours of nonstop effort, Houdini was totally exhausted and leaned against the door to the safe. To his amazement, it swung open. It had been unlocked all along!

It’s true that several different versions of this story can be found—go herehere, and here for three additional versions—and some believe the incident never occurred. Others have found it plausible, however.

Assumptions Matter

Either way, the story illustrates a truth all people—Christians and non-Christians alike—would be wise to heed. Houdini was trying to open a door he assumed to be securely locked, only to find out it was merely shut—and not locked at all! Have you ever tried to complete a project and worked at it unsuccessfully, only to discover that your primary assumption about the situation was totally wrong?


To successfully and effectively accomplish a task, the person performing it needs to hold correct assumptions about it.


I believe this is what people who have embraced politically correct teachings on sexuality and gender identity are doing. Many, perhaps most, are doing this without understanding the ominous implications of their beliefs for themselves and society. Assuming the door to satisfaction and fulfillment regarding sexuality and gender to be locked, they’re trying to “pick the lock” with the false assumption that males and females essentially are the same. In this brand new Prager University video, Ashley McGuire, author of Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female, explains. You can download a transcript of this video here.

I first want to echo Ms. McGuire’s plea for respect, compassion, and practical help for everyone experiencing gender dysphoria. Yet, as Ms. McGuire forthrightly declares, “we don’t need to overturn biologically defined sex differences to” preserve people’s dignity or to assist them. Misinformation on this subject abounds, and people need to hear the truth, both individually and corporately.

The cultural rhetoric on gender identity not only creates an atmosphere of frustration and confusion; it also exacerbates it! Moreover, it incites fear in the hearts of those who might otherwise consider challenging the politically correct line. Still, this is a dead end street! In the language of our illustration, it is a lock that cannot be picked!

What then, is the solution?

Affirm the Obvious!

Walt Heyer

The solution is both simple and profound, but it will be difficult for many to accept. In fact, it will be extremely difficult for some, and not instantaneous, but a process. The door already is unlocked! Fulfillment and satisfaction in this area of life can be found in accepting reality as it is. This means accepting one’s biological sex and affirming it as good. It further means enjoying the characteristics one possesses as a boy or girl, man or woman—and celebrating the innate differences between males and females. Walt Heyer agrees. Born a man, Walt transitioned to a woman, then later, back to a man. He now has a website dedicated to promoting the truth about the transgender movement. Its address is www.sexchangeregret.com. (Also go here and here.)


Fulfillment and satisfaction in the area of gender identity is found in accepting reality as it is.


Article 3 of the Nashville Statement states the liberating reality from a biblical perspective.

WE AFFIRM that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in his own image, equal before God as persons, and distinct as male and female.

WE DENY that the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.

We will unpack this statement and consider some of its theological implications next time, but for now we need to be clear that a person does not have to be a Christian to acknowledge what nature teaches about the sexes. Being a Christian helps, certainly; because ultimate purpose and meaning in life are rooted in an understanding of having been created by a personal and loving God, in His image.


Ultimate purpose and meaning in life are rooted in an understanding of having been created by a personal and loving God, in His image.


Even so, it is just as Ashley McGuire says:

The idea that gender-identification is now a personal choice might sound enlightened to some, but it’s actually a very anti-scientific view of one of the essential facts of life: men and women are inherently different. Their brains are different, their hormones are different, their chromosomes are different, and, of course, their bodies are different (emphasis added).


Denying the differences between males and females is anti-scientific!


It doesn’t help, and it even is harmful, to deny the undeniable or to try to change the unchangeable. Here are 50 documented differences, generally speaking, between males and females.

To acknowledge the differences between the sexes readily can, but doesn’t have to rest on any religious principle or sentiment.

Actually, it’s just common sense.

 

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

Related articles:

Toxic Masculinity? Not in Las Vegas
A Boy’s Life with Unisex Scouts

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

Upholding Clarity in an Age of Confusion: The Nashville Statement, Part 2

Combatting the Devil’s Lies with the Truth of Scripture

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”
Genesis 3:1

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Satan—A Brilliant Strategist

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

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

Illustration by Kate Greenaway

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

Satan Twists Scripture and Uses His Distorted Interpretations to Deceive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Countering Deception by Reaffirming the Truth of Scripture

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


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


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

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

The Bible Is Clear About Homosexuality

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Part 3 is available here.

 

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

For further study:

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

Note:

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

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

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

One Scripture, which is marked NLT,  was taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Behold the Irony, Part 1

Leftists Can’t Have It Both Ways, But that Won’t Keep Them from Trying

 We run carelessly to the precipice, after we have put something before us to prevent us seeing it.
Blaise Pascal

Key point: In the name of tolerance and freedom, the progressive left promotes bondage and tyranny—and many of them don’t even realize this is what they’re doing!

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

 

While June has become the designated month for celebrating homosexuality in the United States and even beyond, in some locations other dates are scheduled. In the Netherlands, for example, Amsterdam Pride “is a citywide gay-festival held annually at the center of Amsterdam during the first week of August.” On August 5 of this year, in commemoration of the event, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines released this meme. It says, “It doesn’t matter who you click with. Happy #PrideAmsterdam.”

Click the image to enlarge.

One has to wonder if it even crossed the minds of officials at KLM how foolish this would make the airline look. Here are some of the responses I found online.

John Stonestreet of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview regularly does a one-minute commentary called “The Point.” The August 9 edition was titled “On Love and KLM Seatbelts.” Stonestreet declared,

Now, the message they were trying to convey with the seatbelt pairings was about love and sex, of course, not seatbelts. How they missed, with that headline “it doesn’t matter who you click with,” that only one of those pairs would actually click, and therefore only one pair would actually complete a seatbelt and save your life in case of disaster, is beyond me.

The other two pairs were (hmmm, what word should I use?), impotent to serve as seatbelts. Again, I’m not sure how they missed this key flaw in their image, which is, after all, the key flaw in the whole “love is love” movement.

So, how did KLM miss the obvious? Mr. Stonestreet himself, I believe, provides the answer. Note one more time the last sentence in his commentary. “Again, I’m not sure how they missed this key flaw in their image, which is, after all, the key flaw in the whole “love is love” movement.”


They missed the flaw in the graphic because it represents “the key flaw in the whole ‘love is love’ movement.” They can’t see that flaw, either!


They missed the flaw in the graphic because it represents “the key flaw in the whole ‘love is love’ movement.” They’re especially missing that one—and the truth is, they want to!

Spiritual Warfare

We are reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthian Christians in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4.

[E]ven if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

In his first letter to the Corinthian believers, the apostle also had written this.

14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:14-16).

People have a natural inclination not to understand spiritual truths. Add to this the fact that once a person’s mind is blinded by “the god of this age,” and kept from understanding the gospel, he or she will have difficulty seeing and understanding a great deal more than the gospel—even certain things that ought to be obvious.

I am speaking in general terms here. God can overrule the forces of evil and open people’s eyes to a wide variety of insights. Thus, some may be able to see some of the specific things I’m highlighting in this series of articles without really understanding the gospel completely and fully. One doesn’t have to be a Christian to be an advocate of true religious liberty, but being a believer certainly should help. Generally speaking, though, the greater the animosity to God’s truth, the greater the blindness to other, related insights. We must not forget that the culture war is, at its core, a cosmic, spiritual battle.

As believers, we need to be keenly aware of what is happening in this battle. We need to be familiar with biblical teachings, of course. We need to pray, rely on the Holy Spirit, and be an active part of a local church. All these things are important. Moreover, like the “sons of Issachar” in 1 Chronicles 12:32, we must have a keen “understanding of the times.” Having this understanding, these men knew “what Israel ought to do.”

A Religion that Denies God

I believe we also can learn a great deal from a man who actually isn’t a Christian. Dennis Prager is a practicing Jew, but he understands more about what is happening in cultural and spiritual arenas than most Christians. Prager “nails it” in an article titled “The World’s Most Dynamic Religion Is….”

For the past century, Prager says, the religion that has gained the most traction in the world isn’t Christianity, Mormonism, or Islam. Rather, it is leftism.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of people have no awareness of the extent to which the left has captured people’s minds and hearts. Why? Their religion is so thoroughly secular that no one thinks of it as a religion at all. Yet it is a religion—one that opposes all traditional religions and religious values.


The most dynamic religion in the world over the past one hundred years has been leftism.
—Dennis Prager—


You have to understand how leftists think and operate. They act with great zeal to win new converts, and they have the media and all of society’s institutions to promote their views. They present their beliefs as conclusions reached by science, reason, and rational thinking. Who in his or her right mind would believe otherwise? The implication, and sometimes the overtly stated mantra, is that to disagree with leftist ideas is to be “anti-intellectual, anti-progress, anti-science, anti-minority and anti-reason”—and even stupid and mean.

Like any other religion, however, leftism is a belief system that requires faith—but this doesn’t keep leftists from being certain “that there is no other way to think.”

Despite all this, leftists sometimes, however unintentionally, reveal the weaknesses of what they believe. When they do, we are wise to “behold the irony” and learn all we can!

In our next two or three posts, we’ll examine two specific cases in which Alliance Defending Freedom is directly involved, and we’ll use these legal battles to unmask some significant ironies coming from the “progressive” left.

It will be an insightful journey! Be sure to return.

Part 2 is available here.

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

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

image credits:

Upholding God-Ordained Marriage Is One of the Greatest Ways to Advance the Gospel, Part 7

Why We Must Never “Agree to Disagree” on Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Evangelical Community Responds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sadly, Eugene Peterson Is Not Alone

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

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

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

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

Rooted in Emotions Rather than in Bedrock Truth

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

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

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

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

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

The Call to Uphold Biblical Truth

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

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

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

As Brown states in another article,

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

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


North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

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

We’ll examine those words next time.

Part 8 is available here.

 

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

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

 

Notes:

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

2You can read Keller’s original statement here.

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

 

 

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


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

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


Marriage is, and always has been, about more than individual adults alone. It’s also about children, the larger community, and the future of society. Recognizing this, Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet declare, “Marriage must be both taught and portrayed as an institution that is bigger than our desires, whims, feelings, and affections.”1


Marriage is about the gospel.


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

Recognizing all of this, the church must uphold and defend marriage as God designed it. We can call His design “natural marriage” because nature echoes what the Bible says about this foundational institution.

Never before has the church, society, and culture needed a clearer and more accurate message about marriage. In a BreakPoint commentary dated March 31, 2017 and titled “The Silent Suffering of Gay Men,” John  Stonestreet astutely observed that for a variety of reasons “the debate over gay ‘marriage’ and homosexuality has largely fizzled out…[a]nd that’s a shame, because so-called ‘progress’ isn’t bringing about the rosy picture we were promised.”

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


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


To begin with, God’s people must teach the next generation of Christians why and how God’s Word is right about marriage. This includes explaining how natural marriage represents the gospel. In a previous post, we’ve already discussed two specific ways marriage does this. Explaining these connections, though, is only the beginning. What qualities must characterize the church’s case for natural marriage? Here are twelve.

What the Church Must Do

First, believers must contend for marriage with greater sincerity. All too often Christians and the church have ignored the marriage issue as too controversial. It will turn people away! People will misunderstand! Yet marriage really is about the gospel, and upholding God’s design can indeed help non-Christians see and understand God’s good news about His Son, Jesus Christ.

Second, we must uphold marriage with greater authenticity. We need to work on our own marriages and, with God’s help, bring them to a clearer representation of Christ’s relationship with His church. Churches must step up to the plate to teach and equip men and women to be better husbands and wives—and to teach young people to become men and women of God who will be better husbands and wives when they’re married.

Remember, though, that as important as good marriages are, we have a responsibility not just to have good marriages, but to uphold marriage.


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


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

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

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

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

There’s more. A primary reason we as believers defend marriage is because of its underlying meaning in the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we aren’t ashamed of the gospel, then how can we be ashamed of marriage as God designed it, for in it we see the gospel? This doesn’t mean we pick fights with those who disagree with us, but it does mean we are willing to engage with people on this important issue.

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


Pastors, where are you?


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

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

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

The Situation Is Desperate

Sixth, we must uphold marriage with greater urgency. A new poll conducted by the Pew Research Center “found that two years after Obergefell, the Supreme Court decision that required states to recognized [sic] same-sex marriages nationwide, support for allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally is at its highest point in more than 20 years.” The survey also found that while white Protestants in the evangelical tradition oppose same-sex marriage 59 to 35 percent,

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

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

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

Without question, the pro-LGBT media have had an impact on societal opinion. Even so, another survey found that the number one factor compelling people to open their minds to idea that same-sex rights are needed “is knowing somebody who is gay.” I’m sure this is true in the church as well, especially among younger believers.

Why would knowing a homosexual cause a Christian warm to the idea of allowing same-sex couples to “marry”? Having a gay or lesbian friend or family member understandably personalizes this issue for us—but in the debate over the meaning of marriage, we must use our heads, not simply follow our hearts. This is not unloving, because authentic love never ignores the truth!


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


Bible-believing Christians recognize all sexual activity outside of natural marriage as sinful and wrong, whether it is illegal or not. This includes homosexuality. So we must ask, Does knowing a drug addict compel us to support that person’s “right” to abuse drugs? What about knowing an alcoholic, or a thief? Do we support his or her “right” to keep behaving the way he or she is behaving just because knowing that person puts a face on this issue for us? Of course not!

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

What About the Children?

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


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


Stand with Understanding

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

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

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

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

Stand Wisely

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

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

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

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

Stand with Humility

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

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


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


Stand with the Right Perspective

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

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

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

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

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


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


Speak Now!

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

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


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


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

To recap:

The Church Must Defend Marriage with Greater

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

 

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

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

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

Note:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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


Marriage is about the gospel.


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

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

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

Practice What You Preach, and Speak with Passion

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Pastors, where are you?


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

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

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

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

The Situation Is Desperate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

What About the Children?

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


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


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

Speak Now!

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supernatural Help to Reflect a Supernatural Love

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

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

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


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


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

The Responsibility to Point the Way Back

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

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


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


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

What the Church Must Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

5Ibid., 22.

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Marriage, you see, is all about the gospel.

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

The Nature of the Relationship Itself

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Procreation

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


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


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

God Involves His People

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

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

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


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


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

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


With marriage at stake, the gospel is at stake!


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


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


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

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

Part 4 is available here.

 

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


Notes:

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

 

Modern Heroes: The Clients of Alliance Defending Freedom

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 16

When God looks for someone to accomplish His purposes on earth, what kind of man or woman is He looking for?…To begin with, we see that God uses ordinary people.…Who else does He use? He uses truly spiritual people. I’m not speaking here of some pompous “holier-than-thou” type, but the real thing. The most spiritual people I have met have been very down to earth.…[Moreover, w]hen God looks for people He wants to use, He also looks for faithful people.
Greg Laurie

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

A young couple on their way home from church wanted to make sure their young son understood at least something about what the pastor had said in his sermon. “Eric,” asked the dad, “do you remember what Pastor Jack preached about today?”

Eric beamed. “Uh-huh. He preached on the Bible verse that says, “Many are cold, and a few are frozen.”1

Unfortunately, this description applies to a great many churchgoers today. Even so, you won’t find any frozen—or even cold—folks among the clients being served by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

Senior legal counsel Jim Campbell has emphasized that ADF’s clients aren’t “super Christians.” Rather, God calls ordinary people who love Him, and He enables them to take courageous stands for truth and religious liberty. Moreover, Campbell says, the call to protect religious freedom is a call to everyone.

Here’s an illustration that helps us understand. When artist paints a beautiful picture, no one says, “Wow! What a great brush that artist used!” In a similar way, God gets the credit when He uses His people to contend for His truth before a watching world. Even so, ADF clients still have a lot to teach us through the examples they offer and the faithfulness they demonstrate.


The call to protect religious freedom is a call to everyone.
—Jim Campbell—


How is the faithfulness of Alliance Defending Freedom’s clients manifested? I’ll name five specific ways. These overlap, but each is worthy of mentioning as a distinctive trait. Even though I’ll draw from a variety of sources, all of the characteristics I’ll highlight here are evident in these three ADF videos that tell the stories of clients Blaine Adamson, Jack Phillips, and Barronelle Stutzman. You also can hear each of them in that order in this three-minute audio clip, compiled from four different ADF videos.2

The Kentucky Court of Appeals sided with Adamson on May 12 (also go here), but its ruling may not be the end of the story.

Blaine Adamson of Hands-On Originals in Lexington, Kentucky

Phillips and Stutzman thus far have lost their legal battles. Phillips currently is waiting to hear if the US Supreme Court will hear his case, and Stutzman has said she will ask the Supreme Court to consider hers, as well.

Neither Frozen nor Even Cold

Just what are ADF clients like? First, they have passion about their work and about serving others in it. They love people, and they find great satisfaction in serving them. They also do excellent work in their respective professions. It’s common for ADF clients to be accused of being hateful, but Jack Phillips has said, “You don’t get into the birthday business and the party business if you’re a hater, if you don’t like people. I love people.”

Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado

Second, ADF clients have a right sense of purpose. They live their lives to glorify God, and an important part of honoring Him is serving people. When The Daily Signal asked Barronelle Stutzman what is the best part of her job as a florist, she said, “My customers and being creative.” She didn’t arrange flowers for the same-sex wedding of a longtime friend, she said, “because my faith teaches me that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington

Isaiah 41:10 is her favorite Bible verse, and she has no regrets. You won’t see any evidence of animosity, either. Barronelle says if the homosexual man who is suing her walked through the door of her business today, she would hug him, catch up on what’s happening in his life, and continue to serve him. You can tell she really means it!

Blaine says, “I want God to find joy in what we do and how we work, how we treat our employees, and the messages we print. So if someone walks in and says, ‘Hey, I want you to help promote something,’ I can’t promote something that I know goes against what pleases Him.”

Jack says baking a cake for a same-sex wedding would send a statement that says “we don’t want God to be part of our lives except for on Sunday. No, we want Him to run our lives…every day in any way that He wants.”

Third, ADF clients have the right perspective. Taking the long view, they refuse to walk the path of least resistance today.

ADF clients remind us of the heroes of the faith named in Hebrews 11, who, by the way, also were very ordinary and imperfect people. Consider Moses, who initially offered a wide range of excuses when God called Him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Yet the inspired writer of Hebrews says of Moses, “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27). We can say something very similar about Blaine, Jack, and Barronelle.

Jack has declared, “God does everything according to his plan. And so nothing is a coincidence.… I’ve come to the realization that God does what he wants to do and uses who he wants to use, however he wants.” Is the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop judgmental? Not at all! He really doesn’t have a holier-than-thou attitude. One Bible passage that encourages him is Titus 3:3-7, which “says that at one time we too were foolish and disobedient, deceived, enslaved to all kinds of passions and pleasures. I was in that boat too,” he adds, but God “redeemed me through his son.”

And take note! This is important! ADF clients don’t just have the right perspective about their own situations, but also the right point of view about the world, life, people, relationships, and the rest of reality. They see life through the clear lens of biblical teaching. C. S. Lewis expressed this well when he said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”


I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
—C. S. Lewis—


Fourth, the men, women, and young people ADF serves have the right priorities. What are some biblical priorities that should guide our lives? Dr. Mark Corts recommends these four—and we see all of them in Blaine, Jack, Barronelle, and others.

  • The unseen over the seen. When Abram and Lot, Abram’s nephew, had to separate, Lot chose what he saw—the well-watered plain of Jordan. Enticed by what he saw, Lot missed the importance of what he didn’t see—the moral depravity of nearby Sodom and Gomorrah (see 13:1-13). Later he would pay a heavy price for his choice.
  • The eternal over the temporal. As he led God’s people out of Egypt, Moses invested his life in doing God’s will and shunned sin’s fleeting, temporary pleasures (see 11:24-25).
  • Quality over quantity. In Judges 7:1-7, God cut Gideon’s army down from 32,000 men to 300 and then used that small number to win an important battle over the Midianties.
  • The difficult over the easy. In recommending that God’s people take Canaan, Joshua and Caleb gave a minority report and countered the fearful advice of the ten other spies. It isn’t easy to go against the crowd, but because they did, of those 20 or more years of age, Joshua and Caleb were allowed to enter the promised land, even as everyone else died (see 13; 14:1-10,26-30).

Fifth and finally (even though this isn’t by any means an exhaustive list), in one ADF client after another, we see men and women who affirm and live by the right principles. For much of this year, through a series of articles, we’ve been “Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes.” This post stands as a part of that series.

You see, ADF clients are showing us and the rest of the world how to embrace absolute truth without being absolutists, people who want to shove their views down everyone else’s throats. These champions of liberty are taking the stands they are taking because they see the world clearly from a biblical perspective and have resolved to follow the God of the Bible. They recognize that right and wrong are part of the real world, and they simply want to be able to do what they believe is right. Put another way, they, like everyone else, just want the freedom to live their lives according to their beliefs. They therefore are taking appropriate steps to resist having the views of secularism and relativism shoved down their own throats!


ADF clients are showing us and the rest of the world how to embrace absolute truth without being absolutists, people who want to shove their views down everyone else’s throats. They simply don’t want to have the views of secularism rammed down their own throats!


An important question arises at this point. When a Christian business owner refuses, even politely, to perform a service at a same-sex wedding or to do a job that would affirm homosexuality or something else directly in conflict with biblical teaching—how does such a refusal reflect Christ’s love? Here’s the answer. It never is

loving to participate in a lie, which is exactly what Stutzman…and many others are now being told they must do. Pray for an increasing number of pastors to have courage to publicly stand with these believers and to explain to their people the importance of biblical marriage.

Actually, performing any service that directly or officially affirms a falsehood demonstrates a lack of love—and dishonors Christ. Of course, it never is fun to take an unpopular stand on behalf of the truth. It’s tough to be misunderstood. Yet, contrary to conventional wisdom, such stands can have a long-range positive effect on people and the culture. In a previous discussion of Barronelle’s case, we cited an important lesson from history.

The first 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.

Examples to Follow

With this post, I commend to you the examples of ADF clients Blane Adamson, Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman, and others. Let’s cultivate in our own lives the traits we’ve seen in them. They encourage us to

  • have passion about our work and about serving others through it,
  • maintain a right sense of purpose in our everyday lives and seek to glorify God in all we do,
  • maintain the right perspective by becoming and remaining worldview Christians,
  • cultivate and live according to biblical priorities, and
  • uphold the principles of absolute truth and contend for the recognition of absolutes in the public square.

We don’t have to become ADF clients to do these things—but if we do them, I guarantee we will avoid becoming frozen churchgoers.

We’ll even avoid growing cold.


A Helpful Resource for Creative Professionals
Alliance Defending Freedom offers a helpful resource to all creative professionals. Get your free copy of Create Freely from this page.


Part 15 is available here.

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

Notes:

1In Matthew 22:14 Jesus declared, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

2The videos used in the audio clip can be seen here, here, here, and here.

 

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.