When the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.
An expanded version of this article is available here.
Luke 14:25 says of Jesus, “Now great multitudes went with Him.” Apparently, at this point in His ministry, Jesus had quite a following. Probably not all of these individuals were committed to Him, but they at least were curious—and their numbers were plentiful. Why, then, would Jesus do what He did next? Beginning in verse 25, the passage goes on to indicate Jesus vividly described how tough following Him really is. In fact, being a committed follower of Christ can be very costly. We see that Christ offered a similar challenge to the man we often call the rich young ruler.
Twenty-first century American Christianity tends to resist saying or doing anything that would bring down its numbers, but Jesus simply was being honest. If you think following Jesus will be easy, think again. Elsewhere, Jesus told His disciples,
18 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”
One individual who understands the meaning of these words experientially is Barronelle Stutzman, the Richland, Washington florist who is being sued for everything she owns because she politely turned down the opportunity to use her talent at the same-sex wedding of a longtime friend. This past Thursday, February 16, the Supreme Court of Washington issued a unanimous, nine to nothing ruling against Barronelle. Never mind that the left has exercised its right to refuse to perform services because of the political and moral convictions it espouses (you can read about examples here, here, and here). The left simply cannot allow anyone to disagree with its own beliefs about sexuality and marriage—or about anything else it deems important, for that matter—and get away with it. We should note, of course, that not everyone in the LGBT community holds this perspective (also go here), but militant activists and the prevailing culture do.
The Appalling Silence of the Church
On the same day the ruling was issued, Dr. Michael Brown declared that the only thing worse than the ruling itself is the silence of Christian leaders in the face of these kinds of assaults on religious liberty. Why would church leaders and other Christians avoid talking about this issue? Perhaps the answer is tied to the reason we would wonder why Jesus would tell His inquirers just how difficult it would be to become and remain a one of His committed followers. It’s true we can do absolutely nothing to earn salvation. Yet, having been saved, we are compelled to stand up for God and with the things He says are sacred.
Numerous reasons for the silence among churches and Christians exist, but here I want to explore just one: the desire not to be misunderstood. “I don’t hate anyone,” someone will say. “After all, I’m a Christian. If people think I hate them, then I’ll never have a chance to tell them about Christ.” I appreciate this desire, of course. No one wants to be misunderstood. Yet people surely will misunderstand Christians who say nothing when marriage and religious liberty are viciously attacked. Here’s the real question. Does a person who claims to be a Christian but who refuses to defend marriage really love God and the things of God? Perhaps he or she does, but that person’s inaction provides evidence to the contrary.
Marriage as the lifelong union of one man and one woman is a picture of the relationship of Christ and His church. Are we really willing to stand aside for fear of being misunderstood and allow that picture to be distorted and muddied? “But I’m not distorting it,” you say. Maybe you aren’t directly, but you are indirectly through your silence. As Dr. Brown has said, “Today is a day to stand.”
Jesus warned His disciples in Mark 8:38 not to be ashamed of Him and His words, and His words include an explicit description of God’s design for marriage. Granted, if we do uphold God’s design as the ideal, we’ll run the risk of being misunderstood on some levels—but at least we will be misunderstood for the right reason instead of because we were ashamed of Jesus’ words about the first institution God established at the dawn of time!
A history lesson will help us at this point. The first Christians were accused of many things, including cannibalism, atheism, and a lack of patriotism—and that’s just three of the items on a ten-item list. If any people ever were misunderstood, the early Christians were! Yet, according to Pastor Greg Laurie, “they came to be known as those who turned their world upside down.” He must have been thinking of Acts 17:6.
Marriage and the Gospel
There’s more. Christians simply cannot afford to be misunderstood regarding the gospel, and that’s what this battle is about. Because marriage is at stake, the divine picture of the relationship of Christ and His church is at stake, and therefore the gospel is at stake.
Here’s what I mean. When we as Christians living in the early 21st century in the United States of America share the gospel (something, by the way, that Christ has commanded us to do), we share it not only (1) with sinners in need of a Savior, but also (2) in a particular cultural and political context. If the political and cultural climate does not recognize our right to follow our deeply held convictions about marriage today (convictions that align with thousands of years of practice in countries worldwide), can it really be long before sharing the gospel itself is outlawed? This is not a farfetched idea.
Relentless efforts to silence voices like Barronelle’s move us ever closer to this point. Let’s understand that leftists and secularists already have gotten what they said they wanted; marriage has been redefined in the United States. Take note: Barronelle’s polite refusal to supply and arrange flowers for a same-sex wedding didn’t keep the wedding from occurring. Let’s put it another way. If this were about only the definition of marriage, then why are leftists threatening to take away everything Barronelle Stutzman owns? The Supreme Court already has ruled that nationwide, two men can “marry” each other, and two women also can enter into a relationship the state will recognize as a “marriage.”
Yet homosexual activists aren’t letting up. Barronelle and others in similar situations must acquiesce. They must comply and align with the left on this issue. To the activists, the supreme prize wasn’t really redefining marriage. Frankly, it’s what’s behind natural marriage that raises ire and incites panic on their part.
The Real Rub
Just what is behind natural marriage and the case to restore it and to preserve it? Items include these:
- absolute truth as revealed in nature,
- the God of nature and all the rest of the created order, and ultimately
- the gospel.
Rebellious sinners, including you and me in the natural inclinations of our hearts, absolutely cannot abide anything that points directly to human accountability to and guilt before a holy God. Marriage as an exclusive union between one man and one woman does just that, because it points, however subtly, to Christ and the salvation He made possible for His bride, the church. Consider these words from a well-known Bible passage, John 3:16-21.
16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”
At its core, Barronelle Stutzman’s case really is about the gospel!
Again, because God-ordained marriage portrays Christ and the church, it also portrays the gospel. Thus, Christians must stand with Barronelle Stutzman for the same reason the left is set on destroying her!
How You Can Help
Here are some ways you can support Barronelle in her fight for religious liberty.
- Pray for her and for others who are refusing to follow the state rather than their consciences and their God.
- Give financially. Through Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), you can contribute to help finance Baronelle’s own case, which now is headed to the Supreme Court. The ACLU recently received $24 million from its supporters to litigate against people like Barronelle. ADF is attempting to counter this force with resources from freedom-loving and liberty-loving Americans who understand the importance of religious liberty. Learn more about this from David and Jason Benham in this video. Donate here.
Help Barronelle Stutzman by contributing financially to Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization offering her legal assistance. You can donate to help offset the legal expenses here.
- Encourage President Trump to sign an executive order that would provide at least a measure of protection for religious freedom. This wouldn’t resolve the entire problem, but it would be a positive step.
- Spread the word about the threat to religious liberty in this country and the importance of protecting it and preserving it. Don’t be intimidated! Speak up!
I close with an acknowledgement that I know what I’m encouraging you to do isn’t easy. It’s hard—especially in a culture that misunderstands the gospel and hates Christians. Against this backdrop, we do well to remember that in upholding marriage, we must never neglect our other responsibilities as believers, including loving, caring, helping, and serving—being Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. As we exercise love and uphold truth, we can be assured that God will use us to attract non-Christians to the Savior.
Just as He used the first Christians during the days of the early church.
Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.
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.