Further to my previous post with links to the same-sex marriage debate I’d like to recommend one other. My friend Jonathan McLatchie has an excellent post here. Although general in scope, it addresses the Scottish situation.
Posts Tagged ‘Ethics
Same-sex marriage is high on the cultural agenda these days. As Christians, it is important that our thinking on this issue is biblically informed and guided and not simply visceral. It is also important that we are able to present our understanding as clearly as possible both to other Christians and to non-Christians. Below are some links that will help to educate us on the issues. I do not necessarily agree with all that they say but they present a good launching pad for reflection. It is also worth reading the comments on some as they often present the opposing case inviting us to clearer engagement.
Let me say, it is absolutely clear to me same-sex marriage has no biblical support and for a Christian it is completely forbidden. It is clear to me too that churches which promote or condone same-sex marriage among their members are apostate in nature and should be avoided. Bible teachers who so teach should be disciplined by the church as false teachers. The harder question to answer for me is how far Christians should oppose same-sex marriage being made legal by society.
The bigger question here of course is the role that God expects of his people in society. Or, to frame this question in contemporary jargon – what is the mission of the church? Some questions in the mix include: is the church called to be a moral policeman in society; is the church mission to ‘redeem culture'; if we have an obligation to oppose society’s evils then where do we start and where do we stop; where do we find this moral imperative upon the church to attempt to change culture in Scripture?
On the other side many will ask, when faced with injustice and the ability to do something about it, should Christians pass by on the other side?
Recently a friend suggested I write a post on whether Christians should go on strike. I have not done so but a post that does can be found here. The basic perspective and spirit of this post I thoroughly agree with and I think the writer (Louis Kinsey, an evangelical Church of Scotland minister) makes important and perceptive points. I would add just a few observations, some underlining and others developing what he says.
1. In the final analysis striking is a matter of personal conscience. What is important is that Christians make a decision whether to strike or not based on conscience and not pragmatism nor the pressure of others.
2. In the UK striking is for many workers a legal option. Industrial action is part of the legal provision of the country to help sustain equity in the balance of power between employer and employee. Equity in power is a good thing in a fallen world and if withdrawing labour is part of the Government’s lawful mechanism for maintaining it then Christians may well feel freedom of conscience in exerting their rights (sometimes Paul used his rights and sometimes he did not).
3. We must be absolutely clear about our motives in striking (or not). If we strike, we must be sure we are not simply motivated by dissatisfaction, greed and envy; is participating in the strike for my good or for the good of society? If we don’t strike, we should be sure that we are not simply avoiding a loss of pay while allowing others to make sacrifices from which we benefit. One possible option here is to contribute our wage to charity should we choose not to strike.
4. We should consider carefully the wider context and implications. The value to society of striking in the midst of a world recession should be weighed.
5. We should consider carefully and in the light of Scripture the wider questions regarding justice. Evangelicals today regularly tell us that God cares about justice. This is true. However, he also cares about how justice is achieved. There are a number of correlated questions here. How does God intend to bring about righteousness? How far is personal justice a legitimate goal for a believer? How far should we go in pursuing justice for others? Does God intend his people to pursue justice by coercion? What does the way of the cross say to us about the God’s way of achieving ‘shalom’ in a fallen world? When do Christians exercise their rights and when do they choose to forego them for higher Kingdom interests?
You may wish to further read here.
I have regularly argued that the way to holiness is not through teaching that the Mosaic law is binding on the Christian conscience and that it must be obeyed. A mentality of ‘law-keeping’ is not the way to grow in grace. This does not mean that we cannot learn from the OT law. We can. Christians living in the Spirit mine the Scriptures, for they know that among other things they are profitable ‘for training in righteousness’ ‘(2 Tim 3:16). Yet they frame all they discover about righteous living within gospel realities.
Let me illustrate what I mean. How should a preacher persuade believers to turn away from adultery? Below is an example of how such an exhortation may be made. Note it uses the OT but does so recognising its redemptive-historical setting. And note too that the gospel provides the main framework and rationale for rejecting adultery.
‘My brothers and sisters, we ought to loathe adultery. David’s adultery, although forgiven, brought ramifications that devastated his family. God is opposed to adultery and adulterers. Don’t you know that in the OT the very heart of the law of Moses condemned adultery in its Ten Words. So great was God’s hatred of adultery among his OT people that the law demanded the sentence of death for adulterers. Does this not tell us how seriously God views it? Indeed the law was only codifying and formally forbidding what men universally know in their hearts. All cultures oppose adultery. All codes of behaviour condemn it.
But brothers and sisters, unconverted folks may need to be reminded adultery is a sin and will bring judgement for they harden their hearts against God, but we should not. We have the life of God in our souls. This life finds adultery unthinkable. Every instinct of your renewed nature is repelled by adultery. God’s Spirit within lusts for purity not impurity.
It is to this end of purity that we have been justified in Christ. Why did we seek justification? We did so because we wanted to be cleared of sin. We wanted to be done with it. We saw how sinful and offensive it was and how deserving of judgement. We wished to be finished with it. That is what we were saying when we came to God in repentance seeking his forgiveness. How then can we allow ourselves to be attracted again to that same sin that we died to in the death of Jesus that we may be freed from it? We wished to cease being slaves of sin and become instead slaves of righteousness (Rom 6). That is what we have been freed from accusation and sin to become. Our calling is to yield our bodies as instruments of righteousness and not impurity.
How can you abuse your body in this way? Your body is not yours to do with what you will. It is bought with a price and belongs to the Lord. Glorify God with your body do not use it to bring disgrace on his name. Christ’s death was precisely because of the horror and ugliness of adultery. He died that we may be cleansed from sins like this and lives that he may enable us flee them. The grace of God renews us and recreates us in the image of Christ. Don’t you want to be like Christ? Of course you do, this is the desire of every renewed heart. It is the longing of every son of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God and Christ is a kingdom of righteousness, loyalty, truth and faithfulness. Adultery is the very opposite of this. Don’t you know that no adulterer will inherit the Kingdom of God. The Eternal City of God in which the righteous dwell has no adulterers. Nothing impure enters there. We read in Revelation that ‘outside are adulterers’
Brothers and sisters, we are people who have been delivered from sin, we have a nature that is altogether new, we are a new creation in Christ living for a new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells let’s put off these impurities of the old life because of which the wrath of God is coming and let us live as the people of God with pure hearts that hate every suggestion of sin and unrighteousness…’
Much more of course could be said but I think this sample-sermonette illustrates how the gospel creates a godly people and how turning away from adultery can be considered an imperative of the gospel.
‘The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality but purity.’
Have you noticed how hot and bothered (righteously indignant) we conservative evangelicals get about the acceptance of homosexuality by society and yet how apparently indifferent we are to divorce and remarriage in the church? We are appalled at the acceptance of homosexuality by the world and indeed by the wider church and yet divorce and remarriage in conservative evangelical circles today scarcely raises a concerned eyebrow.
There is a basic inconsistency here. There is deep hypocrisy.
The God who condemns homosexual relationships equally is opposed to divorce and remarriage. He is the God who says:
Mal 2:16 (RSV)
“For I hate divorce, says the LORD the God of Israel… So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless.”
Now, I know that there is room for some debate and difference of opinion on who (if any) God permits to divorce and remarry. Personally, I think he allows (as a last resort) divorce on very narrow grounds and it is a moot point whether he allows remarriage at all. Be that as it may, my object in this post is not to debate which position is biblically cogent but to focus – somewhat aghast – on our increasingly default attitude. We evangelicals seem more-and-more to have an outlook on divorce and remarriage that differs little from the world; divorce is regrettable but ‘that’s life’ and remarriage is taken for-granted. In any case, it is a private matter and nothing to do with anyone else.
We fail to take seriously Christ’s plain teaching that divorce is far from God’s ideal and in fact remarriage in most cases is a form of adultery.
Matt 19:3-9 (ESV)
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
By whatever criteria we apply, divorce and remarriage is a cause for serious concern and reflection. Apart from anything else we may be making ourselves adulterers.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am sure few if any believers divorce without a great deal of heartache and soul-searching. Over the last thirty years, I have known a good number of Christian couples who have divorced and none did so lightly. Divorce for all was traumatic. It rocked all involved to the roots of their being. Those divorces I have witnessed close-up have been truly tragic and destructive events. No-one emerged unscathed. I feel deeply for those who experience divorce and pray that God will preserve Christian marriages and his people from the devastation that is divorce. I hope my concerns are not without compassion to those caught up in a divorce, especially those who find themselves there through no fault of their own.
Again, I am not so much thinking of the divorcing couples themselves as the culture in our churches that sanctions it (and remarriage). For one thing, the assumption is that divorced people are naturally free to remarry. In fact, any suggestion that divorced folks should remain single thereafter is likely to shock. At one time, the very idea of remarriage would have occasioned outrage, now outrage is likely to flow from any querying of the legitimacy of remarriage. The person ‘out in the cold’ is not the one who remarries but the one who remonstrates. The climate is utterly different.
Not so long ago, remarriage (by Christians) on what were considered biblically acceptable grounds were quiet affairs. Those remarrying realized, at best, remarriage implied previous failure and remarriage was on sufferance (divine forbearance) rather than a cause for celebration. Now remarriage is celebrated as enthusiastically as an initial marriage. There seems little sensibility to its irregularity and incongruity.
Few seem to see the anomaly. Fresh ’til death do us part’ vows – generally before God – are taken, the very undertaking of which only serves to demonstrate the failure to honour such vows of commitment in a previous marriage. Can Christians celebrate this contradiction? Can they witness with equanimity new vows that make a mockery of old ones, join in the banter and celebrations that follow, and blithely forget the trail of destruction and disobedience that has led to this point? Of course, each must decide for himself whether to attend a remarriage that has little biblical sanction. Various factors come into play in deciding. However, when I hear Christians speaking with unreserved delight about dubious remarriages, I begin to wonder where the Lordship of Christ features in our thinking. Would we be so unalloyed in our pleasure at a same-sex wedding? Would we celebrate an adulterous affair entered (remembering Jesus stigmatizes many remarriages as legalized adultery)?
I am told that I am too hard. Of course the divorced person must remarry. Am I going to sentence him/her to a life of singleness? Surely this does not reflect the love and acceptance of Christ. I am always slightly bemused by this reasoning. I think of countless men and women who have not found a Christian partner in life and rather than marry a non-Christian have remained unmarried. Somehow for them this is just par for the course but the poor divorcee must have our full support in remarrying. The logic doesn’t stack up. There are worse things than going through life single. I guess the marriage that led to divorce became such a thing. In any case the believer does not live with happiness in this life his chief goal and need. He lives for the life to come – for the coming Kingdom of God (in which there will be no marriage). Thus we read:
Matt 19:10-12 (ESV)
The disciples said to him [Jesus], “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth [perhaps homosexuals] , and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
For some, commitment to the Kingdom of God means they will remain unmarried and this certainly includes, homosexually inclined people who feel unable to enter a heterosexual marriage, those who do not find a Christian partner, and those who separate from their partner on unbiblical grounds and for whom remarriage (and probably divorce) is expressly forbidden by Christ, their King.
We are far removed from this kind of thinking in many of our churches today. So accepted is divorce and remarriage that it is possible to do/be both and to hold a position of leadership in a local church – another ‘norm’ expressly forbidden in Scripture.
1Tim 3:1-7 (ESV)
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
Notice that what is an ‘ought’ for all Christians is a ‘must’ for spiritual leaders. Leaders (elders) must be ‘above reproach’. Notice too what the first example of being ‘above reproach’ is; he must be ‘the husband of one wife’. Paul’s point is that while people may be converted and become part of the church with ‘anomalous’ relationships (perhaps polygamous marriage or perhaps an unlawful remarriage) such believers should not hold office in the church. The anomalous relationship (that could not be undone) debarred them from public leadership in the church because it was a poor witness to the world and poor example other believers.
Church leaders cannot simply bow to the wishes of the divorcee who wants to remarry. They have an obligation to uphold by both example and command the dominical and apostolic teaching on divorce and remarriage. A little leaven, leavens the whole. It is simply nonsense to say that those whose marriages are stable should not judge. They must judge. If we are only to judge in situations we have personally experienced, then few will judge. If only homosexual people can criticise homosexual practice then we are on a hiding to nothing. Imagine a court where the judge must have committed the acts he is called to judge before being qualified to judge. The suggestion is farcical. The biblical premise for being competent to judge is spirituality not similar failure (1 Cor 2, 6).
Churches need to regain biblical standards (and backbone) on divorce and remarriage. If how we deal with divorce and remarriage today in many conservative evangelical churches had been how it was dealt with in the first 1500 years of church history the low level of divorce and remarriage in Christendom for centuries would never have happened.
Why are we so keen to institutionalize divorce and remarriage? Why do we accept such a trojan horse? Not only is it generally condemned in Scripture but society itself recognises its problems. The percentage of breakdown in second marriages is considerably higher than in firsts (almost double): the baggage the new marriage brings puts a considerable strain on it from the word go; children may accept a divorce but rarely accept and settle well to a remarriage; and if you have broken vows a first time its easier to do so the second time. If the increasing incidence of divorce and remarriage in society is reeking havoc there what will a similar pattern mean for the church?
And it is a mistake to confuse this with the embrace and acceptance of the gospel. The gospel invites sinners but it does not promote sin. The church is the community of the forgiven but not of the flagrantly and wilfully disobedient. The forgiven are called to forsake sin and follow holiness without which no man will see the Lord.
Am I being hard? Perhaps. But sometimes the Bible is hard. Love can be hard. The way of the cross is hard – it makes no provision for ‘the flesh’. The better question is – am I being biblical? And, am I being truthful and faithful? Conservative evangelicals simply cannot hold with integrity a firm line on what the Bible teaches on homosexuality while driving a truck through its teaching on divorce and remarriage. It’s easy to be principled about issues we rarely face: it is much harder to be principled about issues that sit on our lap. Yet it is precisely here that our faithfulness to Christ is tested and found out.