by J. Christian Andrews
November 6, 2014
In response to Houston subpoenas
Three or four years ago I had a conversation with a fellow teacher about the incursion of the homosexual agenda into the fabric of American society. I predicted then that the lobby was not just about getting their lifestyle condoned but that they would not stop until we also were made to fully accept and integrate their behavior into our moral conscience. Since that conversation a photography studio, a bakery, and two wedding venues are either being forced out of business or forced to change the whole focus of their business because they hold that it is not right for men to marry men and women to marry women. Large fines have also been levied against these businesses and employees are being forced to take "sensitivity training." The most recent shot across the bow of Christianity came in early October, 2014, when five Houston, Texas, pastors received subpoenas for sermons, speeches, and writings which spoke out against a new Houston ordinance or the mayor around the issue of homosexuality and transgender use of public restrooms. While there does seem to be a backing down by those who issued the subpoenas, the backdown is likely only temporary while the lobby regroups and looks for additional avenues of attack. There is much at stake for Christianity and the very fabric of society in this battle. The Church must be firmly grounded, know its enemy, and act strategically if it is to survive and be effective in its ministry to the world.
One of the questions the Church has always struggled with is that of relevancy within the culture. At the core of this question is the very life and survival of the Church. If the Church cannot be relevant, if the Church cannot speak to the concerns and lives of its people, then the the Church loses its purpose and ceases to have a reason to exist. Some within the Church, and it would seem this is particularly true within the mainline denominations, have concluded that the best avenue to relevancy is assimilation. They have chosen to not only allow but make the Church look like society. They have assimilated the ethical norms of society into the Church and have essentially become indistinguishable from society. The price they have paid, however, is a loss of their Biblically mandated identity. They no longer have an objective code that guides their actions. On the opposite extreme a possible conclusion might be that the Church must withdraw from society, and it is possible that there are some enclaves of separation; but these are rarely heard of. Between the two extremes should be found a Church which is grounded in truth and is willing to speak truth to society.
The question of truth is almost as old as creation itself. According to the Biblical account, the enemy (also known as Lucifer, the devil, or Satan) questioned truth and deceived Adam and Even when he asked if God had indeed said they would die if they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Our first human ancestors chose to listen to the lie that they would not indeed die rather than trust that what God had given them was enough. Like most lies, there was just a small kernel of truth in the lie; and they were caught. They did not fall over dead as though the fruit was some kind of poisoned apple; but the trust relationship they had with God was destroyed, and death came into our world. In order to redeem His creation and restore the broken relationship, God promised a Savior and revealed to humanity His plan for the salvation of the world and all humanity through words He inspired to be written that we might know the will and mind of God. He caused these words to be collected in a book composed of sixty-six smaller books, a book known as the Bible. It is this book, the Word of God, that becomes one of three foundational pillars upon which the Church must find its relevancy.
The other two pillars flow from the first since it is in the first that they are revealed. The second pillar is grace. Because we would rather listen to the lie than live by the word of truth, we, like Adam and Eve, deserve to die the death which is eternal separation from Creator God. But God does not wish this separation. It is, in fact, His will as He has revealed in His Word, that we all live in a restored relationship with Him. To this end He has been gracious to provide the only means by which the relationship can be restored. In His great love He has sent us His Son Jesus Christ to be the final and perfect sacrifice to take away the sin of our rebellion and forgive us for not trusting in Him. Because we do not deserve the gift of forgiveness, we receive forgiveness only because God is gracious; and thus the Church stands on its second pillar: grace. The final pillar is faith. We know faith when we define it as believing or trust. The capacity to trust, God tells us, is itself a gift we get from God. It is not something we can generate from within ourselves. We have faith, then, when we believe or trust that God's Word, God's promise, is true. While it is God's desire that everyone experience grace, it is also true that only those who trust that God will do as He promises will actually receive that grace and the forgiveness and restoration of relationship that comes with it. The relevance of the Church is thus built on the pillars of God's Word, God's Grace, and God's gift of Faith.
As it was in the first Garden, so it is now that the enemy would entice us away from God by lying to us. Each of the lies tries to destroy one or another of the pillars upon which truth is built. One of the lies against which we do battle is that specific faith is not needed. This lie suggests that because God is a gracious God, He will restore His relationship with all creation, with all humanity, regardless of how we attempt or not to reach Him. Because God loves us, the lie says, He cannot condemn anyone to eternal separation from Him. Believing this lie feels good at least at a certain level. We may not be so sure that it is right that mass murderers and child abusers should not suffer in hell, but we certainly want our own deeds and conditions overlooked. Sometimes this lie is reshaped to make us think that God sees our life as a balance and that if our good side balance is more than our bad side balance we will be fine in the end. This lie takes away the God proclaimed truth that our sin separates us from God. This lie takes away the God proclaimed need for us to trust that our relationship with Him is restored only when we also trust that Jesus alone paid the penalty for our sin. This lie takes away the God proclaimed truth that a restored relationship transforms us so we desire to live for God. When we believe this lie, the pillar of faith falls.
A second lie has to do with the existence of God Himself. This lie has pervaded our society by suggesting that we are the product of an evolutionary process and as such only animals that must follow our instincts. This lie says there is no God who created order from chaos, matter from nothing, law from lawlessness, and humanity from dust in His very image. If there is no God, then how we live in society is completely subjective. Any order that governs our communities is purely by chance the choice of the community for its own evolutionary preservation against other like or dislike communities. This lie leaves a vast number of unanswered question, but questions need not be answered as long as we are allowed to live as we please. The root of the lie is that we indeed become our own gods, choosing what we want and discarding what is inconvenient to us. On one side of the pendulum swing it is passive and self protective. When the choices are against what has been traditionally accepted in society, solace is found in being bullied victims. On the other side of the pendulum is militancy. The lobby is to force all others into compliance even it if means violating the protections long established by society. When there is no God, there is no truth other than which each persons chooses to be true. Society functions purely on subjective standards. Since there is no such thing as sin, there is no need for a God who has mercy. Thus this lie causes the pillar of grace to crumble.
While there may be a great many other lies, it is certain that this third lie finds a home somewhere between the other two. The lie suggests there may be a god or higher power, but that being, whether identifiable or not, is not intimately involved in human history. If there is a god, that god cannot be known; and that god has certainly not revealed anything to us by way of written standards. God has not revealed truth, so truth becomes subjective much like it did under the second lie. The lie expands itself, then, as it begins to shape the structure of society. For example the lie proclaims that if a person is pre-born or if a person is no longer contributing to society he or she is expendable. The lie also proclaims that we are born with certain inclinations and as such must follow those inclinations. So far this claim has been applied to same gender and multiple sexual relationships, but it will soon also be applied to just about any other sexual relationship a human may desire: sibling, parent, age, animal. The lie currently dictates that "if I was born to love someone of my same gender, then I must be allowed to do so; and anyone who objects to this dictate must be forced to agree." When the pillar of God's Word crumbles, all actions become subjective. The logical conclusion of subjective behavior is chaos followed by rule by power. Human society cannot function outside of an imposed order. Lawlessness begets chaos. Chaos demands order, so the order imposed will be that of might and dictatorship rathen than order created by God through His Word.
Knowing the enemy and the lies told by the enemy should help the Church be equipped to do battle. The Church must be firmly reset onto its foundations beginning with the foundation of the Word of God. The Church must clearly and tenaciously hold to the Biblical fundamentals: God's Word is true; Jesus was born of a virgin; Jesus is both fully God and fully human; the purpose of Jesus' death and resurrection is to substitutionally provide forgiveness for individual human sin; Jesus, having ascended to heaven, will return to earth to judge and separate the believer from the unbeliever and will take all believers back to heaven with Him. In addition to maintaining a firm grip on fundamental tenets, the Church must also clearly and tenaciously hold to the moral and ethical values God has set in place as standards for life. These are primarily embodied in the Ten Commandments but also expanded in the Law and the Prophets, in the Gospels, and in the apostolic writings. The Word of God pillar objectively states that there are behaviors that separate us from God. It calls these behaviors sin. The Church must be clear to voice the truth against the lie of identity, that we can claim a particular identity and thereby be exempt from the Law. The Church must be clear in its proclamation that what God judges is behavior and consent to behavior. Temptations themselves are not sin. Desires themselves are not sin. It is only when we condone our desires or only when we act on the desires that are contrary to God's will that we sin. For example, the Church must not fall into the trap of the "gay" label. No one is a homosexual by birth any more than one is an adulterer by birth or a thief by birth. Homosexuality and heterosexuality are not identities. They are behaviors. The Church must be careful to speak the Word clearly so as to proclaim its truth, that God condemns behavior and God condemns when we assert that wrong behaviors are indeed right. The Church must boldly and without fear proclaim that our rebellious behaviors separate us from God now and destine us for separation from God for all of eternity.
The Church must pronounce Law, but it must also proclaim Gospel. Without the Law there is no purpose for the Gospel. The Word of God declares first that God's wrath is poured out against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of humanity because we have failed to recognized that God is God and we have failed to give Him thanks. The result of God's wrath is eternal separation from God. The Word of God also declares that God has revealed Himself through Jesus and has poured out His grace on humanity so that we do not have to suffer under God`s wrath. Sin condemns; God, because of grace and through Jesus, removes the condemnation and gives life. Against the condemnation that comes by our disobedient behavior or against our consent to disobedient behavior, the Church must proclaim a grace that is loving and pure, a grace that is devoid of work or human reason. The proclamation must be clear that there is nothing we can do that causes us to deserve what God has done for us. There is no good good enough to meet God's standards of perfection. We may do a multitude of good deeds, but none of them is ever good enough. There is no balance that weighs our good deeds against our bad. Even if there were a scale, it would show that from our very core we are nothing but evil. There is also nothing in our reason that can justify us, declare us not guilty of rebellion and self service. We cannot rationalize or think our way into right attitude or relationship with God. Only by what God has done for us because of His grace can we find peace with God. Only by what God has done for us because of His grace can our broken relationship be restored. Only by what God has done for us because of His grace can we know forgiveness and have fullness of life now and life with God forever. The Church must be clear in its proclamation of Gospel.
Finally, the Church must find balance in the Law and Gospel proclamation by speaking truth against the lie of universalism. While it is true that our sin condemns us and while it is true that we are brought into right relationship with God by His grace alone, it is also true that the benefits of grace are applicable only to the believer. With the pillars of Word and Grace, the Church must speak clearly the pillar of Faith. First the Church must define faith rightly. It is clear from the Word that faith itself is a gift given by God's grace and not some aptitude that we mere mortals can create from within ourselves. The brokenness of our humanity is devoid of any capacity to believe, to trust, that what God has done is enough for our salvation. The brokenness of our humanity is devoid of the ability to trust God's promises, to rely on His promises, to believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus is enough for the forgiveness of our sin. Faith is the God gifted capacity or ability to believe, to trust, that what God says in His Word is true. Secondly, the Church must firmly proclaim that faith is necessary for salvation. As God declares in His word, salvation is by grace through faith. God demands that we rely on His gift of faith to receive His gift of grace that we might be spared the consequences of our rebellion, of our disobedience, of our self righteousness, of our desire to be our own gods. It is only when the gift of faith is appropriated in our lives that God's grace as spoken forth in God's Word becomes effective in our lives to give our lives meaning and a right relationship with God for all eternity. Third, the Church must remember and practice the truth that the gift of faith is given through the proclamation of the Word. So it is that the message comes full circle. From the Word we know God in both Law and Gospel. The Word shows us that we cannot come to God or believe in Him by our own deeds or thoughts. The Word shows us the grace of God, and through the Word God gives us faith to accept that the promise of grace is true. When, then, the Church is firmly planted on these three pillars, we who are the Church find life and meaning in life and relevancy in the world.
It may be that the current state of affairs in the Church is a result of our own complacency and our own failure to be salt and light in the world; but it is also true that Jesus himself promised that we would be hated by the world and that we would always be in a battle against the powers and principalities of this dark age. The Church should therefore not be surprised that the truth is challenged or that there is a battle to fight. Ultimately, the battle belongs to the Lord, the Creator of heaven and earth; but we, the Church, the body of Christ, are called to engage in the battle. To do so it is imperative that we know the truth, that we know our enemy, and that we have a battle plan. The relevancy and life of the Church and order in society depend on it.