Myths that Led to Recognition of Same-Sex Marriage in the United States, Part 1

Marriage is what one man and one woman establish when, forsaking all others and pledging lifelong commitment, they found a sharing of life at every level of being—the biological, the emotional, the dispositional, the rational, the spiritual—on a commitment that is sealed, completed and actualized by loving sexual intercourse in which the spouses become one flesh, not in some merely metaphorical sense, but by fulfilling together the behavioral conditions of procreation.

No one has a civil right to have a non-marital relationship treated as a marriage. Marriage is an objective reality—a covenantal union of husband and wife—that it is the duty of the law to recognize and support for the sake of justice and the common good. If it fails to do so, genuine social harms follow.

The Manhattan Declaration, released in 2009—

Key point: The Supreme Court ruling that changed the definition of marriage in the United States to include same-sex couples is based on numerous myths, including myths that have misinformed and misled people in the United States about the role of government, the nature of rights in relation to government, and government’s responsibility to respect the sacredness of marriage.

Now known as the “father of infection control,” Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-1865) wasn’t always well-respected. A native of Hungary, he earned his medical degree in 1844, and in 1847, through an appointment, became an assistant professor at a highly regarded teaching hospital in Vienna. His area of expertise was obstetrics, and he soon became alarmed about the mortality rate at his hospital among the women whose babies were delivered by doctors and medical students. It was between 13 and 18 percent! By contrast, the mortality rate was just 2 percent among the women whose babies were delivered with assistance from midwives or those learning to become midwives.

Ignaz Semmelweis

Noticing that it wasn’t unusual for medical personnel to perform autopsies before delivering babies, Dr. Semmelweis began requiring all doctors and students to wash their hands before assisting the hospital’s patients. The mortality rate plummeted to 2 percent—as low as the rate for the women assisted by the midwives. As wonderful as this was, Dr. Semmelweis wasn’t through. Now, medical instruments would be washed as well. After this requirement took effect, the death rate dropped down to just 1 percent.

Louis Pasteur

The good doctor, though his policies, had saved a significant number of lives. With our modern understanding of infectious diseases, we readily can see this; but at the time, sadly, Semmelweis’s supervisor did not. A new ventilation system had been installed in the hospital, and he believed it was responsible for the improved statistics. Apparently, Semmelweis could not convince him otherwise.

Joseph Lister

Unfortunately, Semmelweis’s appointment to teach and work at the hospital was a 2-year appointment that wasn’t renewed. To his credit, the doctor continued to make his case for handwashing among medical personnel. In 1861, he even wrote a book about it. Dr. Semmelweis was right, but his book was not well written and was met with skepticism. Only a few years later as a patient in a public insane asylum, Dr. Semmelweis died. He was only 47 years old.

Florence Nightingale

We all can be glad the story doesn’t end there. Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) entered the picture not many years later. While Semmelweis’s policies had produced positive results, the good doctor couldn’t articulate the reasons why. Pasteur was able to do this by explaining the germ theory of infectious diseases. Relying on Pasteur’s investigations, Joseph Lister, a British physician who lived from 1827-1912, was able to convince his medical colleagues to adopt effective sanitation procedures. Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), the medical pioneer credited with founding modern nursing, also promoted sanitation guidelines in the medical profession.1

Myths and the Dangers They Pose

It took some time, but Ignaz Semmelweis was vindicated. Many lessons arise from his story—not the least of which is that failure to believe and act upon the truth can be quite costly. While we’ve cited from his story just one false belief in a single situation, false ideas sometimes grip entire cultures. When they do, they can be extremely dangerous and hazardous. Moreover, the more ingrained an erroneous belief is in people’s minds, and the more widespread it is, the greater its potential to harm and destroy. We often call an erroneous belief that has widespread acceptance a myth.


The more ingrained an erroneous belief is in people’s minds, and the more widespread it is, the greater its potential to harm and destroy. Such beliefs often are called myths.


In this and subsequent posts, I’d like to examine at least 16 myths that paved the way for the Supreme Court to redefine marriage two and a half years ago in Obergefell v. Hodges. In the United States we did not arrive overnight, but over time, at a place where judicial decree could redefine marriage. Even so, this process has taken place at amazing speed. Only a scant few decades ago, the idea of same-sex marriage was totally unthinkable. Since then, the culture’s prevailing underlying assumptions about marriage were challenged, attacked and ridiculed, and then pushed aside—both forcibly in the courts and subtly in the culture.


Over time, the culture’s prevailing underlying assumptions about marriage were challenged, attacked and ridiculed, and then pushed aside—both forcibly in the courts and subtly in the culture.


In this article, we will examine 4 myths about government, law, and the US Constitution. In subsequent posts we’ll examine the remaining myths on our list, these having to do with the nature of marriage itself. We will see how these myths, both individually and especially through Obergefell, actually are a threat to the well-being of individuals, society, and individual liberties. Proponents of same-sex marriage are not exempt from these threats. Those who worked hard to promote the redefinition of marriage are not as free as they think they are. Falsehoods enslave, but the truth liberates!

Here goes.

Myth #1: Marriage is a government construct over which government and government alone has oversight.

Fact: Marriage—the lifelong union of one man and one woman—is not at all a government construct, but an institution that preceded government, and an institution that preceded the United States government by thousands of years. Moreover, marriage and the family is society’s most important and most basic institution. Despite any and all appearances and sentiments to the contrary, without healthy marriages and healthy families, societal stability cannot be maintained.

This is not to say that government ought to have nothing to say about marriage. It is to say that government should respect marriage for what it is rather than seeking to manipulate it to meet the demands of a select few.

Charles Colson, one of the drafters of the Manhattan Declaration

In the Manhattan Declaration (2009), the section on marriage first cites two Bible passages—Genesis 2:23-24 and Ephesians 5:32-33.  Then, the initial paragraph on marriage begins with these three sentences.

[1] In Scripture, the creation of man and woman, and their one-flesh union as husband and wife, is the crowning achievement of God’s creation. [2] In the transmission of life and the nurturing of children, men and women joined as spouses are given the great honor of being partners with God Himself. [3] Marriage then, is the first institution of human society—indeed it is the institution on which all other human institutions have their foundation.


Marriage…is the first institution of human society—indeed it is the institution on which all other human institutions have their foundation.
—The Manhattan Declaration—


Clearly from the context, the word first in the term “first institution” means both first in time and first in importance.

Similarly, the Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage states,

On the matter of marriage, we stand in solidarity. We affirm that marriage and family have been inscribed by the Divine Architect into the order of Creation.

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

Marriage as existing solely between one man and one woman precedes civil government.

In the spring of 2015, Dr. James Dobson wrote the following in a letter to supporters of his ministry, Family Talk.

The institution of the family is one of the Creator’s most marvelous and enduring gifts to humankind. It was revealed to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and then described succinctly in Genesis 2:24, where we read, “For this cause, a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” With those 20 [-plus] words, God announced the ordination of male-female marriage, long before He established the two other great human institutions, the church and 
the government.

At least 5,000 years have come and gone since that point of origin, yet every civilization in the history of the world has been built upon it. Despite today’s skeptics who claim that marriage is an outmoded and narrow-minded Christian concoction, the desire of men and women to “leave” and “cleave” has survived and thrived through times of prosperity, famine, wars, peace, epidemics, tyranny, and every other circumstance and human condition. It has been the bedrock of culture in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South America, Australia and even Antarctica. [Note that this has been true even in countries that aren’t predominantly Christian.]…

Admittedly, there have been various societies in history where homosexuality has flourished, including the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, in ancient Greece and in the Roman Empire. None of these civilizations survived. Furthermore, even where sexual perversion was tolerated or flourished, the institution of marriage continued to be honored in law and custom. Only in the last few years has what is called “gay marriage” been given equal status with biblical male-female unions.…God help us if we throw the divine plan for humankind on the ash heap of history.

In the months prior to the Supreme Court ruling of June 26, 2015, that redefined marriage nationwide, the dominoes were falling in states where the people had amended their state constitutions to say unambiguously that marriage was between one man and one woman. Judges—especially members of the federal judiciary—were overruling the people almost en masse. Observing this judicial tyranny, Dennis Prager lamented,

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

None of this matters to these judges or to all those who seek to redefine marriage and can’t convince a majority of their fellow citizens to agree.


Many societies have allowed polygamy, many have allowed child marriages, some have allowed marriage within families; but none in thousands of years has defined marriage as the union of people of the same sex.
—Dennis Prager—


Given what marriage is, and what it has been for millennia, and the good that results when it is respected and honored, it is fitting that the Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage would say forthrightly to the Supreme Court of the United States,

Our highest respect for the rule of law requires that we not respect an unjust law that directly conflicts with higher law. A decision purporting to redefine marriage flies in the face of the Constitution and is contrary to the natural created order. As people of faith we pledge obedience to our Creator when the State directly conflicts with higher law. We respectfully warn the Supreme Court not to cross this line.

Myth #2: The federal government, especially through its court system, has absolute authority over marriage.

Chief Justice John Roberts

Fact: This myth is completely unconstitutional. Courts do not have authority to make laws. Moreover, the Tenth Amendment of the US Constitution states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” The Constitution is silent about the matter of marriage, and that alone places marriage out of the reach of the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court.

In his dissenting opinion in Obergefell, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote,

[T]his Court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be. The people who ratified the Constitution authorized courts to exercise “neither force nor will but merely judgment.” The Federalist No. 78, p. 465.

Justice Scalia, dissenting, wrote,

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia

Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact— and the furthest extension one can even imagine—of the Court’s claimed power to create “liberties” that the Constitution and its Amendments neglect to mention. This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves.

Associate Justice Samuel Alito

Justice Alito, dissenting, wrote,

Today’s decision shows that decades of attempts to restrain this Court’s abuse of its authority have failed. A lesson that some will take from today’s decision is that preaching about the proper method of interpreting the Constitution or the virtues of judicial self-restraint and humility cannot compete with the temptation to achieve what is viewed as a noble end by any practicable means.

Myth #3: The government bestows rights; therefore, the government can take them away.

Fact: The Declaration of Independence is correct when affirms the self-evident truths

that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….

The government never will admit to taking away rights—only to granting them. Yet, in the very act of creating rights outside its authority, it tramples on the inherent, God-given rights of others.

This isn’t all. In state after state, unable to convince the people to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, advocates of same-sex marriage went to the courts to get the judiciary to reshape and change marriage. They demanded that the courts make of marriage something it is not, and in doing so, they relied on government to create rights it has no authority to create.

In his dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas was especially articulate in highlighting this myth and warning of its dangers. Thomas, dissenting in Obergefell, wrote,

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas

The Court’s decision today is at odds not only with the Constitution, but with the principles upon which our Nation was built. Since well before 1787, liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits. The Framers created our Constitution to preserve that understanding of liberty. Yet the majority invokes our Constitution in the name of a “liberty” that the Framers would not have recognized, to the detriment of the liberty they sought to protect. Along the way, it rejects the idea—captured in our Declaration of Independence—that human dignity is innate and suggests instead that it comes from the Government. This distortion of our Constitution not only ignores the text, it inverts the relationship between the individual and the state in our Republic. I cannot agree with it.

Thomas went on to demonstrate just how far out of bounds the Court went when it changed the definition of marriage to grant “rights” to same-sex couples. He also emphasized the threats to religious liberty and rights of conscience the court’s overreach created. Please read more from Justice Thomas’s brilliant and articulate dissent here.

Go here to read about the differences between the Founders’ view on rights and the contemporary American view. Unfortunately, we have exchanged the Founders perspective on rights—a view of rights that fosters genuine liberty—for one that eventually will give way to tyranny. All the while, this has been done under the mantra of freedom and rights!


Unfortunately, we have exchanged the Founders perspective on rights—a view of rights that fosters genuine liberty—for one that eventually will give way to tyranny.


Myth #4: The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of disputes in the United States.

Fact: The Founders of our country never intended that the Supreme Court of the United States would acquire the power it now has. Often, we hear that the Framers established “equal” or “co-equal” branches of government—executive, legislative, and judicial. Even if it were true the Founding Fathers intended for them to be equal, our government has departed from this principle. The courts have stepped way beyond their constitutional authority.

In the Federalist Papers—initially anonymous articles published by a New York newspaper that encouraged New York to ratify the proposed US Constitution—Alexander Hamilton wrote,

Alexander Hamilton

It proves incontestably, that the judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of power; that it can never attack with success either of the other two; and that all possible care is requisite to enable it to defend itself against their attacks. It equally proves, that though individual oppression may now and then proceed from the courts of justice, the general liberty of the people can never be endangered from that quarter; I mean so long as the judiciary remains truly distinct from both the Legislature and the Executive. [Federalist Paper #78].

James Madison said this: “In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates” [Federalist Paper #51].

Thomas Jefferson

Another Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, became alarmed about the growth of judicial power he himself was witnessing, and he openly expressed his concerns. Each of the following is a quote from the third US President.

  • We already see the [judiciary] power, installed for life, responsible to no authority…advancing with a noiseless and steady pace to the great object of consolidation. The foundations are already deeply laid by their decisions for the annihilation of constitutional State rights and the removal of every check, every counterpoise to the engulfing power of which themselves are to make a sovereign part.
  • [T]he opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch.
  • To consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions; a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy.…[T]heir power [is] the more dangerous as they are in office for life and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control. The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided…its members would become despots. It has more wisely made all the departments co-equal and co-sovereign within themselves.…When the legislative or executive functionaries act unconstitutionally, they are responsible to the people in their elective capacity. The exemption of the judges from that is quite dangerous enough.
  • It has long been my opinion, and I have never shrunk from its expression…that the germ of dissolution of our Federal Government is in the constitution of the Federal Judiciary – an irresponsible body…working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief over the field of jurisdiction until all shall be usurped from the States and the government be consolidated into one. To this I am opposed.

In an extremely insightful Prager University video titled “Why We’re Losing Liberty,” Dr. Robert George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, explains that the Founders never foresaw that the Supreme Court would become the entity it is today, exercising unrestrained power. He says that “now, most Americans think of the Supreme Court as the ultimate arbiter of almost every social and political dispute. The Founders never envisioned the court in this role.” Go here to watch this excellent presentation.


Now, most Americans think of the Supreme Court as the ultimate arbiter of almost every social and political dispute. The Founders never envisioned the court in this role.
—Professor Robert George—


These four myths not only led to the Obergefell ruling; they also are being reinforced by that ruling. It is time for the American people to understand the limitations the Constitution has placed, and places, on the federal government, particularly the judiciary. Furthermore, it is time for the people to demand that these restraints be honored and respected.

It is difficult to think of a matter that could be more out of bounds for the federal government to manipulate than marriage.

Next time, we’ll expose several myths that relate to the nature of marriage itself. Be sure to return for our critically important discussion.

 

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

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), 56. Go here for more information.

 

 

 

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 2

Tolerance once referred to mutual respect among parties who disagreed; but today it’s a one-way street that permits movement in a direction Christians cannot travel without violating their deeply held beliefs.

If the government can shut down a family farmer just because of the religious views he expresses on Facebook—by denying him a license to do business and serve fresh produce to all people—then no American is free.
—ADF Legal Counsel Kate Anderson (pictured above), referring to her client, Steve Tennes—

Part 1 is available here.
Read summaries of all the articles in this series here.

 

Key point: Do you believe marriage is between one man and one woman? Do you seek to run your business according to biblical principles? If so, you shouldn’t be surprised when leftists threaten your business and livelihood. They will try to use government force against you—to coerce you or to exclude you from doing business altogether.

Last time we pointed out that the “progressive” left holds positions that, when fairly and objectively examined, don’t pass muster. Consider: leftist’s versions of tolerance and equality essentially are one-way streets; they actually are intolerant and unequal. In a society like ours that cherishes individual freedom, moral restraints are essential to true liberty. Leftists will have none of this. In fact, they want to coerce everyone, not just to allow moral license, but also to celebrate it. We see this clearly in many places, including two legal battles in which Alliance Defending Freedom is directly involved.

Jack Phillips Is a Cake Artist

We’ll first consider Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Jack Phillips is the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. Jack celebrated a landmark anniversary in 2014—40 years in business.

Two years earlier—on July 19, 2012—Charlie Craig and David Mullins, a same-sex couple who claimed they already had been married in Massachusetts, wanted to celebrate the occasion with a reception in Colorado. They visited Jack’s bakery and asked him to bake them a wedding cake. Jack politely turned them down. “Sorry, guys,” he said, “I don’t make cakes for same-sex weddings.” He also sought to assure them, “I’ll make you a birthday cake, shower cake, I’ll sell you cookies and brownies. I just don’t do cakes for same-sex weddings.” Keep in mind that at the time, same-sex marriage was not recognized in the state of Colorado.

Writing for Breitbart News, legal expert Ken Klukowski observed, “Phillips is an Evangelical Christian who holds to the belief that marriage is between a man and woman. When Phillips bakes a wedding cake, he interprets it as participating in the wedding celebration.…”

In other words, Jack is a “cake artist.” He lends his artistic talent to enhance and affirm the wedding. Since he believes marriage is between a man and a woman, it makes sense, therefore, that his conscience would not allow him to participate in an event celebrating a same-sex union.

Mullins complained on social media about having been turned down by Jack, and soon he and his partner were filing charges against Phillips with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Colorado law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, but Phillips argues that this is a religious liberty case involving his right to free speech, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution, the “supreme law of the land.”

Jack has received death threats and hateful comments. Even his family members have been targets of hate. Yet he also has received an outpouring of support, even from some who identify as gay.

Of the threats, Jack has said,

They cannot do anything to me that [God] doesn’t allow. So I just get up in the morning. I’ve been doing this for 40 years and there’s not one day that I’ve gotten up and thought, ‘Oh, man, I don’t want to go to work today.’ I love going to work. Always have. That doesn’t change it.


I’ve been doing this for 40 years and there’s not one day that I’ve gotten up and thought, ‘Oh, man, I don’t want to go to work today.’ I love going to work. Always have.
—Jack Phillips—


In December of 2013, May of 2014, and August of 2015, a judge, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, and the Colorado Court of Appeals, respectively, all ruled against Phillips. Eight months later, in April of 2016, The Colorado Supreme Court turned down Phillips’s request for an appeal. In July, Phillips’s attorneys asked the US Supreme Court hear the case, and on Monday, June 26, 2017, the Court agreed. Here is a timeline of events in Jack’s case.

Significantly, a summary of the relevant facts in the case by Alliance Defending Freedom notes,

In contrast to the ruling against Phillips, the commission found in 2015 that three other Denver cake artists were not guilty of creed discrimination when they declined a Christian customer’s request for a cake that reflected his religious opposition to same-sex marriage.

Steve Tennes Is an Apple Grower and Owner of Country Mill Farms

One of the attractions in the small town of Charlotte, Michigan, is Country Mill Farms. The house where its owner, Steve Tennes, grew up now is 150 years old—and in that same house today, Steve and his wife, Bridget, are bringing up five children of their own.

Steve and his family used to book weddings on their property. They would host about 45 annually, but in 2016 they stepped away completely from booking weddings. A same-sex couple asked Tennes to host their wedding, but because of his and his family’s deeply held beliefs about marriage, he declined. One of the women, Caitlin Ortis, took to Facebook to complain about having been turned down. She first shared her frustrations on social media in October of 2014 and subsequently published two additional posts carrying the same message. Her August, 2016 statements were heavily shared and gained a great deal of traction, prompting Steve and his family to change their policy. Steve did not hesitate to explain on Facebook his reason for the policy change.

Another income-producing venture in which the Tennes family has been involved is the East Lansing Farmers Market. Country Mill Farms made its first appearance there in 2010. After posting his convictions about marriage on Facebook, however, Tennes found himself and his business under pressure to back out of the farmers market. Writing for The Daily Signal, Fred Lucas reports that last year, Steve’s Facebook post on marriage drew a warning from an official more than 20 miles away in East Lansing, Michigan. If Tennes tried to sell his fruit at the city’s farmers market, he was told, it could incite protests.

No one showed up to protest that August day last summer, though, and Tennes continued selling organic apples, peaches, cherries, and pumpkins at the seasonal market until October, as he had done the six previous years.

That wasn’t the end of it, however. “Ultimately,” Steve explains, “The city developed a new policy to target and block our farm from further participation in their city-run farmers market.”

In March, Steve received a letter from East Lansing officials that stated,

It was brought to our attention that the Country Mill’s general business practices do not comply with East Lansing’s civil rights ordinances and public policy against discrimination as set forth in Chapter 22 of the City Code and outlined in the 2017 market vendor guidelines.

The letter went on to say, “As such, Country Mill’s presence as a vendor is prohibited.”

Again, Charlotte is approximately 22 miles away from East Lansing; it is “well outside the city’s boundaries and beyond its jurisdiction.” Steve rightly asserts, “Our faith and beliefs on marriage and hosting weddings at our home and in our backyard of our farm have nothing to do with the city of East Lansing.”


Our faith and beliefs on marriage and hosting weddings at our home and in our backyard of our farm have nothing to do with the city of East Lansing.
—Steve Tennes, owner of Country Mill Farms in Charlotte, Michigan—


Facebook

Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Tennes in court, challenging East Lansing’s policy that excluded him from doing business at the farmers market, simply because of his beliefs about marriage. Hear him in his own words, from an interview Alliance Defending Freedom conducted with Steve and his wife on the July 20 edition of ADF’s weekly podcast, “Freedom Matters.” The following is a 3-minute, 40-second clip, but you can hear the entire program on this page. The first voice you’ll hear in the clip is that of podcast host Bob Trent.

What can we learn from these legal and cultural battles? Next time, we’ll draw some important conclusions from these cases and the events surrounding them.

You haven’t read anything yet!

Part 3 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Scriptural Context Offers an Additional Insight

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

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

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

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

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

Luke’s Account Opens the Door to Yet Another Insight

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

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

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

James Tissot’s depiction of Luke

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pride Unmasked

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

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

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

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

Pride, therefore, is nothing to be proud of!

Jesus Did Not Misrepresent Himself

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

Champion the Truth!

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

International Organization for the Family President Brian Brown warns,

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


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


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

Will you fulfill your responsibility in this worthy effort?

 

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

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

Note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Haven’t You Read?

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

Back to Genesis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Beginning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For this Reason”

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

Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning “made them male and female,” [Gen. 1:27 and 5:2] and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” [Gen. 2:24]? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.

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

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

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

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

23 And Adam said:

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

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

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

Made for Each Other

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

Part 10 is available here.

 

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


You can learn more about Father Knows Best here.



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

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

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

Dad: Why not?

Bud: He lost it.

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

Bud: That wasn’t a joke, Dad.

Dad: You can say that again!

Bud: You mean he whole thing?

Dad: Bud!

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


Whenever we lose something, we also lose its benefits.


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

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

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


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


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

Jesus Upheld Natural Marriage

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

4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

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

Haven’t You Read?

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

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

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

“Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?  So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

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


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


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


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


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

Part 9 is available here.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Evangelical Community Responds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sadly, Eugene Peterson Is Not Alone

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

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

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

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

Rooted in Emotions Rather than in Bedrock Truth

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

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

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

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

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

The Call to Uphold Biblical Truth

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

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

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

As Brown states in another article,

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

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


North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

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

We’ll examine those words next time.

Part 8 is available here.

 

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

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

 

Notes:

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

2You can read Keller’s original statement here.

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

 

 

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


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

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


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


Marriage is about the gospel.


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

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

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

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


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


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

What the Church Must Do

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Pastors, where are you?


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

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

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

The Situation Is Desperate

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

What About the Children?

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


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


Stand with Understanding

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

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

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

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

Stand Wisely

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

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

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

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

Stand with Humility

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

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


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


Stand with the Right Perspective

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

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

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

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

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


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


Speak Now!

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

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


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


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

To recap:

The Church Must Defend Marriage with Greater

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

 

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

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

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

Note:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan Anderson, also of the Heritage Foundation, elaborated.

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


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


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

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

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

Stand with Understanding

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

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

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

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

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

Stand Wisely

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stand with Humility

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


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


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


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


Stand with the Right Perspective

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

  • Part 7 is available here.
  • An article showcasing all 12 qualities that must characterize the church’s case for marriage is available here.

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Notes:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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