When Self-Exaltation is Love

October 17, 2014

When Self-Exaltation is Love

by Mike Riccardi

Edwards PortraitJonathan Edwards’ life, thought, and theology was dominated by the glory of God. Edwards argued extensively that God is chiefly concerned with His glory—manifesting the beauty of His perfections—and therefore all His creatures should be concerned with His glory as well. This commitment would shape Edwards’ entire theology, even as it related to theodicy and theology proper, the Calvinist-Arminian debate, the Christian’s pursuit of holiness, and the centrality of the affections in the Christian life. Indeed, it is no overstatement to say, along with one church historian, “No theologian in the history of Christianity held a higher or stronger view of God’s majesty, sovereignty, glory and power than Jonathan Edwards.”[1]

During his years ministering to the Indians in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Edwards wrote his Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World, where he masterfully develops the truth that God’s chief end in creating the world was to bring glory to Himself. He wrote:

All that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God’s works is included in that one phrase, the glory of God. … The refulgence shines upon and into the creature, and is reflected back to the luminary. The beams of glory come from God, and are something of God and are refunded back again to their original. So that the whole is of God, and in God, and to God, and God is the beginning, middle and end in this affair.[2]

Edwards argued that if God did not aim at His own glory in creation, He would be unrighteous. He must regard Himself above all things because only a Being as perfect and lovely as He is worthy of such regard. In other words, for God to be holy, He must value what is supremely valuable; and He is supremely valuable.[3] To do anything else would be for God to commit idolatry.

After tracing the Hebrew and Greek words for glory throughout the Scriptures, as well as employing typical Edwardsian air-tight reasoning, Edwards extends that God’s ultimate aim in creating the world is not—indeed cannot be—different from His ultimate aim in all of His acts in the world. J. I. Packer precisely summarizes Edwards’ conclusion:

“God’s internal and intrinsic glory consists of his knowledge (omniscience with wisdom) plus holiness (spontaneous virtuous love, linked with hatred of sin) plus his joy (supreme endless happiness); and that his glory (wise, holy, happy love) flows out from him, like water from a fountain, in loving spontaneity (grace), first in creation and then in redemption, both of which are so set forth to us so as to prompt praise; and that in our responsive, Spirit-led glorifying of God, God glorifies and satisfies himself, achieving that which was his purpose from the start.”[4]

The question that is raised, then, is if God’s chief regard is always to Himself, how can it be said that He is loving, or benevolent, towards human beings? Does not this doctrine of God’s own God-centeredness make Him a self-centered narcissist? The answer, of course, is an emphatic, “No!” because God has created us such that our fullest satisfaction comes from perceiving His glory.

Because [God] infinitely values his own glory, consisting in the knowledge of himself, love to himself, and complacence and joy in himself; he therefore valued the image, communication or participation of these, in the creature. And it is because he values himself, that he delights in the knowledge, and love, and joy of the creature; as being himself the object of this knowledge, love and complacence. Thus it is easy to conceive, how God should seek the good of the creature, consisting in the creature’s knowledge and holiness, and even his happiness, from a supreme regard to himself; as his happiness arises from that which is an image and participation of God’s own beauty. … [Thus] God’s respect to the creature’s good, and his respect to himself, is not a divided respect; but both are united in one, as the happiness of the creature aimed at, is happiness in union with himself.[5]

Packer summarizes that thought as follows:

“God made us that in praising, thanking, loving, and serving Him, we find our own supreme happiness and enjoyment of God in a way that otherwise we would not and could not do. We reach our highest enjoyment of God in and by glorifying Him, and we glorify Him supremely in and by enjoying Him. In fact, we enjoy Him most when we glorify Him most, and vice versa. And God’s single-yet-complex end, now in redemption as it was in creation, is His own happiness and joy in and through ours.”[6]

Edwards himself succinctly put it, “The enjoyment of Him is our highest happiness, and is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied.”[7] In other words, God’s glory and our happiness (or our good) are not different things. Our greatest happiness is to see God’s glory manifested and expressed for us to enjoy, because the beauty of that vision is that in which we were created to find our greatest satisfaction.

And so God’s self-exaltation is not narcissism, but love. As Piper has said, “God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the most loving act,” because, “unlike our self-exaltation, God’s self-exaltation draws attention to what gives greatest and longest joy, namely, himself.”

May we behold the beauty of this God who has revealed Himself for our everlasting joy.

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[1] Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, 506.

[2] “A Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005), 1:119-120.

[3] Ibid., 1:98.

[4] Packer, “The Glory of God and the Reviving of Religion,” in A God Entranced Vision of All Things, eds. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 92.

[5] Edwards, “The End for Which God Created the World,” in Works, 1:120.

[6] Packer, “The Glory of God,” 92.

[7] As quoted in Donald Whitney, “Pursuing a Passion for God Through Spiritual Disciplines,” in A God Entranced Vision of All Things, eds. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 126.

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Online Source: The Cripplegate

Alistair Begg on The Beatles

Below is an article from Christianity Today from 2003 that I found really interesting. It’s actually part of a longer interview with radio host Dick Staub. You can listen to the entire interview at Sermon Audio. Here’s the CT article:

Alistair Begg on The Beatles

from Christianity today

The author and pastor talks about the Fab Four’s cry for Help and why no one answered it.

April 1, 2003

Alistair Begg on The Beatles

The author and pastor talks about the Fab Four’s cry for Help and why no one answered it.

April 1, 2003

In the last several years, writers and academics have begun to seriously analyze what pop culture icons say through their worldviews. Books have explored the philosophy of The Matrix, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Seinfeld and the gospel according to Tony Soprano and The Simpsons.

Alistair Begg, pastor of Ohio’s Parkside Church and the author of Made For His Pleasure (Moody), has been a longtime fan of The Beatles. He doesn’t suggest the band had a solid theology or an admirable worldview. Instead, he feels the band is important to look at now because it asked a lot of pertinent question in its music—and too many of those questions went unanswered.

Why is it important to understand what The Beatles were saying during their era?

They were on the forefront of a generation’s thinking. At the same time, they were able to articulate things and were given a voice. Without fully understanding it themselves, originally, they found themselves the mouthpiece of a generation. They were actually interpreting some of the angst, the hopes, and the fears of teenagers with mothers and fathers who didn’t understand.

Did The Beatles simply reflect culture or did they shape it?

For good or for ill, they were shaping culture. That’s true if you take the development of the music alone. Everything that they did pushed the frontiers out. This wasn’t only true in terms of the way in which they were recording material or the way in which they were writing melody lines, but it was actually in the lyrical content as well. Think about what Elvis Presley was singing about, or about what Chuck Berry was doing. It was all about love and different things like that. The Beatles got into a whole new business the further they went.

The Beatles first said money was everything (in the song “Money“), then they said that love could give you anything you want on “From Me to You“, and then they record “Can’t Buy Me Love“. What do you see in this progression?

An American journalist asked Paul in 1966 if “Can’t Buy Me Love” was actually about prostitution. There is this morbid fascination with the idea that these guys were coming from the bottom level of everything. It is a shame. It carried over into fundamentalist/evangelical response to their music at that time.

I’m not suggesting that The Beatles had a wonderful theology, or that their worldview was perfect. It clearly wasn’t. It left them high and dry on just about every front, eventually. But they weren’t simply writing cute little tunes. They were beginning to take seriously the platform that they’d been given. That’s why so many people found them offensive; it was because of the things that they were prepared to tackle.

What do you see when looking closely at what The Beatles were saying or looking for in their songs?

If you take Lennon’s “In My Life,” you have the tender side of John Lennon coming out, a side that many people missed completely.

When they went in and got Lennon’s belongings after his untimely death, one of the closest family friends found a huge notebook, which contained virtually all of Lennon’s handwritten lyrics for everything he’d done, including this song. It was clear that what had happened to Lennon is that as the fame thing had come, a sense of nostalgia crept into his life. He started to remember the places in the past.

It was always sad to me that people couldn’t see that he was crying out for something. I just always felt that in Lennon you had this guy who every so often would open the door to himself ever so slightly. Every time he opened up, it never seemed to be a Christian response to say, “Hey, we’ve got an angle on that. We’d love to talk to you about that.” It was always, “Hey, get out of here, you long-haired nuisance. You’re destroying the youth of Great Britain and corrupting the life of America.” We did this in the ’60s and, frankly, we’re doing it again now.

Speaking of the religious community’s reaction to Lennon, there was a huge fervor after his comment that The Beatles were bigger than Jesus. But in an interview after that event, he said, “I wasn’t saying The Beatles are better than Jesus or God or Christianity, I was using the name Beatles … as an example. But I could have said TV or cinema or anything else that’s popular. Or motor cars are bigger than Jesus.”

It’s a shame that it served the agenda of certain people to misunderstand the quote. What Lennon was saying is what people might justifiably say today about all kinds of idols and icons in relationship to young people in particular. He was in some ways bemoaning the fact. He was honest enough to say what has happened here is a phenomenon that is way beyond anything that we could ever have conceived. The response, of course, was not particularly attractive—such as when the band hit Dallas and all those youth pastors came out to welcome them with bonfires.

While there were things that needed to be addressed in pop culture—and there always will be—I think we missed an opportunity. Later on, we see them involved with a maharishi yogi. You see Harrison’s interest in mysticism. While we can’t lay the charge at the feet of the Christians, nevertheless it is a sad thing that there was nobody there who had gained a platform to them at a time when they were willing to listen. The interviewer asked about the song “Help.” He said, “I wrote “Help” in ’65, and people hailed it as another advance in rock & roll. It was the cry of my heart and nobody came to answer.”

This is just a picture of what we’re dealing with every day in all of our lives. Lennon, the drummer in Smashing Pumpkins, and Kurt Cobain are only big, dramatic examples of the interaction that all of us have with kids. I want to encourage Christians to get serious about being real about Jesus Christ. Listen to music so that you can talk to people about it rather than sloganeering and banging the drum for the same old stuff.

Again, the entire interview can be listened to at Sermon Audio.

Sermons Are “Fair Game” in Houston — The Real Warning in the Subpoena Scandal

Friday • October 17, 2014 , Al Mohler

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The scandal over the subpoenas issued to several Houston-area Christian pastors continues, even after the city refiled legal documents, removing the word “sermons” from the demand. They have clearly not removed the scandal from their city, and from the administration of Mayor Annise Parker. As the mayor’s own comments make abundantly clear, she stands at the center of the scandal.

When news broke earlier this week that the attorneys working for the City of Houston had issued subpoenas to pastors for sermons, I was fairly certain that some mistake had been made. When the actual text of the subpoena came to me, I could hardly believe my eyes. Here was a legal demand, sent to Christian pastors in the name of one of America’s largest cities, to surrender “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO (an anti-discrimination ordinance), the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”

That subpoena is nothing less than ruthless thuggery, exercised by an elected public servant and her city attorney. And that thuggery has been done in the name of the people of Houston, Texas.

The controversy started when Mayor Parker, often described as the first openly gay mayor of a major American city, led the effort to adopt an anti-discrimination law that, among other things, allows transgender persons to file a complaint and bring charges if they are denied access to a bathroom. Several Houston-area pastors were involved in an effort to rescind the ordinance. They participated in a petition drive that would have put the question before voters, mobilizing their congregations on the issue. They were able to get more than the required number of signatures on the petition, but the city attorney ruled many of the signatures invalid due to technicalities. The city attorney intervened after the appropriate city official had already certified the petitions as adequate. This set the stage for the lawsuit, and the lawsuit set the stage for the subpoenas.

The subpoenas set the stage for the current controversy. The very fact that the subpoenas were issued at all is scandal enough — none of the pastors is even party to the lawsuit. But the actual wording of the subpoenas is draconian — almost unbelievable. The attorneys working for the city demanded all sermons “prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession” on matters that included, not only the mayor and the ordinance, but homosexuality and gender identity.

This is a breathtaking violation of religious liberty — and it is political thuggery at its worst. Make no mistake: A major American city has subpoenaed the sermons of Christian pastors. And those sermons were to include anything that touched on homosexuality or gender identity.

The scandal that erupted brought, as expected, efforts on the part of the mayor and the city attorney to dismiss and to distance themselves from the subpoenas. First, the mayor declared that the subpoenas had actually been prepared, not by the city attorney’s office, but by outside lawyers working pro bono for the city. That is a meaningless distinction, since the fact remains that the subpoenas were issued on behalf of the city. Next, the mayor acknowledged that the language of the subpoena was “overly broad.”

“There’s no question the wording was overly broad,” Mayor Parker said, “But I also think there was some deliberate misinterpretation on the other side.”

This led New York magazine reporter Katie Zavadaski to describe criticisms of the mayor as “hysterical allegations.” But it is the mayor and the city attorney who are confusing the facts here, and it is the same two leaders who cannot get their stories straight.

At 12:21 a.m. on October 15, Mayor Parker posted the following on Twitter: “Always amazed at how little fact checking is done by folks who like to hit the retweet button.”

But, less than an hour later, Mayor Parker posted this: “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game.” Fair game? Do the residents of Houston, Texas have any idea what their mayor is doing in their name? Do chills not run down the spines of Houstonians when they are told that sermons deemed by their own mayor to be political are “fair game” and when the subpoenaed sermons included anything that touched on homosexuality and gender identity?

This is one of those situations that looks worse the more you look into it.

The city attorney, David Feldman, also sent very ominous signals. He seemed to agree that the language of the subpoenas had constituted an over-reach, but he had also defended the subpoenas as legitimate. On Tuesday he told reporters: “If someone is speaking from the pulpit and it’s political speech, then it’s not going to be protected.”

Thus speaketh the city attorney of Houston Texas. You have been warned.

Houston’s mayor and city attorney stalwartly defend their right to demand that pastors surrender their pulpit messages.

On Friday, city officials announced that papers had been refiled to avoid use of the word “sermon.” But the change in no way removes the offense, nor does it even exempt sermons from the subpoena. As Mike Morris of the Houston Chronicle reported earlier today: “Though the subpoena’s new wording removes any mention of ‘sermons’ — a reference that created a firestorm among Christian conservative groups and politicians, including Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who accused Parker of trying ‘to silence the church’ — the mayor acknowledged the new subpoenas do not explicitly preclude sermons from being produced.”

Once again, you have been warned.

The debacle in Houston can indeed be a catalyst for “hysterical allegations.” No ministers are yet in jail. No pulpit has been silenced. No church doors have been bolted shut.

But the reality is hysterical enough. This is the kind of intimidation that would be expected somewhere in secular Europe or perhaps in the former Soviet Bloc. But we are talking here about Houston, Texas.

This is the kind of scandal that would lead most elected officials to backtrack like crazy, but Mayor Annise Parker is standing her ground, even as she tries to escape the heat by a mere change in the coercive language. What she is doing amounts to raw political intimidation.

At this point, it is five Houston pastors who are feeling the heat. But these subpoenas stand as a direct warning to every pastor, rabbi, minister, priest, and imam in America. You or I could be next.

This is how religious liberty dies. Liberties die by a thousand cuts.  An intimidating letter here, a subpoena there, a warning in yet another place. The message is simple and easily understood. Be quiet or risk trouble.

But the subpoenas in Houston now alert us all to the fact that trouble is now inescapable.

Will the people of Houston stand idly by as this thuggery is done in their own name? When the mayor of their city refers to sermons as “fair game?”

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I am always glad to hear from readers. Just write me at mail@albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/albertmohler

For more information on Southern Seminary, visit SBTS.edu and for more information on Boyce College, visit BoyceCollege.com.

Katherine Driessen, “City Officials Try to Distance Themselves from Sermon Subpoenas,” Houston Chronicle, Wednesday, October 15, 2014. http://www.chron.com/news/politics/houston/article/City-officials-try-to-distance-themselves-from-5825439.php

Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Houston Subpoenas Pastors’ Sermons in Gay Rights Ordinance Case,” Religion News Service, Tuesday, October 14, 2014. http://www.religionnews.com/2014/10/14/houston-subpoenas-pastors-sermons-equal-rights-ordinance-case-prompting-outcry/

Mike Morris, “Mayor Parker Revises, Narrows, Sermon Subpoena Request,” Houston Chronicle, Friday, October 17, 2014. http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Mayor-Parker-to-revise-narrow-subpoena-request-5829455.php

Homosexuality from God’s Perspective

“What the Bible Really Still Says About Homosexuality” by Kevin DeYoung

On Tuesday afternoon, CNN ran an article on its Belief Blog by Catholic priest (sort of) Daniel Helminiak entitled “My Take: What the Bible really says about homosexuality.”  The article is amazing for including so many bad arguments in so little space. A quick trip through the piece will show you what I mean. Helminiak’s writing will be in bold and then my response will follow.

President Barack Obama’s support of same-sex marriage, like blood in the water, has conservative sharks circling for a kill. In a nation that touts separation of religion and government, religious-based arguments command this battle. Lurking beneath anti-gay forays, you inevitably find religion and, above all, the Bible.

We now face religious jingoism, the imposition of personal beliefs on the whole pluralistic society. Worse still, these beliefs are irrational, just a fiction of blind conviction. Nowhere does the Bible actually oppose homosexuality.

These two paragraphs perfectly depict how many see any Christian opposition to homosexuality or gay marriage. We are undercover (or not!) theocrats trying to impose our personal preferences on the rest of the country. But the charge of legislating our morality is not as simple as it sounds. For starters, the government legislates plenty of morality already—morality about killing, stealing, polluting and a thousand other things we’ve decided are bad for society or just plain wrong. Moreover, the arguments being made in favor of gay marriage are fundamentally about morality. That’s why you hear words like justice, love, and equality. Most gay marriage advocates are making their case based on moral categories, if not religious and biblical.

What’s more, the pro-gay marriage side would like to see the state reject a conjugal view of marriage in favor of a new, heretofore unknown, definition of marriage. And in insisting upon the state’s involvement, they want this new definition to be imposed on all. We may not all have to like gay marriage, but the government will tell us what marriage means whether we like it or not.

In the past 60 years, we have learned more about sex, by far, than in preceding millennia. Is it likely that an ancient people, who thought the male was the basic biological model and the world flat, understood homosexuality as we do today? Could they have even addressed the questions about homosexuality that we grapple with today? Of course not.

Here we have an example of progressive prejudice, the kind that assumes we have little to learn from the benighted masses who lived long ago. Whether they thought the world was flat has nothing to do with whether ancient people can teach us anything about sexuality. Such a tidbit is thrown in, it seems to me, as a rhetorical cue that these people were as dumb as doorknobs and can’t be trusted. More importantly, Helminiak distances himself from an orthodox understanding of biblical inspiration. Instead of approaching the Scriptures as the word of God, his first step is to position the Bible as a book by ancient people who don’t know all the things we know.

Hard evidence supports this commonsensical expectation. Taken on its own terms, read in the original languages, placed back into its historical context, the Bible is ho-hum on homosexuality, unless – as with heterosexuality – injustice and abuse are involved.

That, in fact, was the case among the Sodomites (Genesis 19), whose experience is frequently cited by modern anti-gay critics. The Sodomites wanted to rape the visitors whom Lot, the one just man in the city, welcomed in hospitality for the night.

The Bible itself is lucid on the sin of Sodom: pride, lack of concern for the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:48-49); hatred of strangers and cruelty to guests (Wisdom 19:13); arrogance (Sirach/Ecclesiaticus 16:8); evildoing, injustice, oppression of the widow and orphan (Isaiah 1:17); adultery (in those days, the use of another man’s property), and lying (Jeremiah 23:12).

But nowhere are same-sex acts named as the sin of Sodom. That intended gang rape only expressed the greater sin, condemned in the Bible from cover to cover: hatred, injustice, cruelty, lack of concern for others. Hence, Jesus says “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31); and “By this will they know you are my disciples” (John 13:35).

How inverted these values have become! In the name of Jesus, evangelicals and Catholic bishops make sex the Christian litmus test and are willing to sacrifice the social safety net in return.

There is really only one argument in the foregoing paragraphs: the sin of Sodom was about social injustice not about sexual immorality. No doubt, there were many other sins involved, as Helminiak rightly observes. But there is no reason to think homosexuality per se wasn’t also to blame for Sodom’s judgment. For example, Jude 7 states that Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire.” Even the NRSV, translation of choice for the mainline (and the version Helminiak seems to be using), says “pursued unnatural lust.” Clearly, the sins of Sodom lived in infamy not simply because of violent aggression or the lack of hospitality, but because men pursued sex with other men.

The longest biblical passage on male-male sex is Romans 1:26-27: “Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.”

The Greek term para physin has been translated unnatural; it should read atypical or unusual. In the technical sense, yes, the Stoic philosophers did use para physin to mean unnatural, but this term also had a widespread popular meaning. It is this latter meaning that informs Paul’s writing. It carries no ethical condemnation.

Compare the passage on male-male sex to Romans 11:24. There, Paul applies the term para physin to God. God grafted the Gentiles into the Jewish people, a wild branch into a cultivated vine. Not your standard practice! An unusual thing to do — atypical, nothing more. The anti-gay “unnatural” hullabaloo rests on a mistranslation.

Besides, Paul used two other words to describe male-male sex: dishonorable (1:24, 26) and unseemly (1:27). But for Paul, neither carried ethical weight. In 2 Corinthians 6:8 and 11:21, Paul says that even he was held in dishonor — for preaching Christ. Clearly, these words merely indicate social disrepute, not truly unethical behavior.

This line of reasoning is also common among revisionists. There is little to say in its favor, however, and Helminiak’s argument—that para physin “carries no ethical condemnation”–is particularly weak.

1) He makes the rudimentary error of forgetting that words have a semantic range of meaning. Just because Paul used “against nature” or “dishonorable” in non-ethical settings (sort of), doesn’t mean those words and phrases cannot carry ethical weight in another context. It’s like suggesting that if FDR once said “this soup is terrible” and later said “what the Nazis are doing is terrible” that he couldn’t possibly mean anything more than “what the Nazis did was kind of strange and not my personal preference.”

2) The context in Romans 1 tells us how to understand para physin. Paul has already explained how the unrighteous suppress the truth about God seen in nature and how they exchange the glory of the immortal God for images of created things. In both cases Paul contends that people believe a lie which prevents them from seeing things as they really are (1:25). Then in the very next verse he singles out homosexuality as “contrary to nature.” He is not thinking merely of things that are unusual, but of acts that violate the divine design and the ways things ought to be. For Paul, the biological complementarity of the male-female union is the obvious order of things. A male-male or female-female sexual pairing violates the anatomical and procreative design inherent in the one flesh union of a man and a woman. That Jewish writers of the period used comparable expressions to describe same-sex intercourse only confirms that this is what Paul meant by the construction.

3) Even more obviously, we know Paul considered same-sex intercourse an ethical violation, and not simply something uncommon, because of what he says in the very next sentence. Helminiak conveniently cuts off Paul’s thought halfway through verse 27. Notice what Paul goes on to say: “Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (NRSV). When you read the whole verse, Helminiak’s “non-ethical” argument becomes implausible. Paul thought homosexuality not just unusual, but wrong, a sinful error deserving of a “due penalty.”

In this passage Paul is referring to the ancient Jewish Law: Leviticus 18:22, the “abomination” of a man’s lying with another man. Paul sees male-male sex as an impurity, a taboo, uncleanness — in other words, “abomination.” Introducing this discussion in 1:24, he says so outright: “God gave them up … to impurity.”

But Jesus taught lucidly that Jewish requirements for purity — varied cultural traditions — do not matter before God. What matters is purity of heart.

“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles,” reads Matthew 15. “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

Or again, Jesus taught, “Everyone who looks at a women with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus rejected the purity requirements of the Jewish Law.

In calling it unclean, Paul was not condemning male-male sex. He had terms to express condemnation. Before and after his section on sex, he used truly condemnatory terms: godless, evil, wicked or unjust, not to be done. But he never used ethical terms around that issue of sex.

Helminiak’s argument seems to be: Paul said homosexuality was an impurity; Jesus set people free from the purity requirements of the Jewish law; therefore, homosexuality is not wrong. This reasoning is so specious that it’s hard to know where to begin. Jesus did recalibrate the purity laws, but Mark 7:19 makes clear that the episode in question was about declaring all foods clean. Jesus was not saying for a second that anything previously called “unclean” or “impure” was now no big deal. Helminiak again connects words in a facile manner, suggesting that because Jesus fulfilled certain aspects of the ceremonial code, now anything described with the language of impurity cannot be condemned. Nine times in his epistles Paul references “impurity” and it is always in the context of vice and immorality (Rom. 1:24; 6:19; 2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 4:19; 5:3; Col. 3:5; 1 Thess. 2:3; 4:7). Besides all this, Jesus explicitly lists “sexual immorality” (in the passage Helminiak quotes) as one of the things that defiles a person. The Greek word is porneia which refers to “unlawful sexual intercourse” (BDAG), especially, for the Jew, anything condemned by the Law of Moses.

It is simply not true that Paul, or Jesus for that matter, never considered homosexuality an ethical matter. To cite just one more example: in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 Paul uses a rare Greek word, arsenokoites, which is a compound from two words found in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Paul thought the prohibition against homosexuality in the Old Testament was still relevant and the sin was still serious.

As for marriage, again, the Bible is more liberal than we hear today. The Jewish patriarchs had many wives and concubines. David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Daniel and the palace master were probably lovers.

The Bible’s Song of Songs is a paean to romantic love with no mention of children or a married couple. Jesus never mentioned same-sex behaviors, although he did heal the “servant” — pais, a Greek term for male lover — of the Roman Centurion.

These are wild assertions without any corroborating evidence. Whatever one thinks of Leviticus 18 and 20 for today, it’s obvious that the Torah considered homosexual activity an abomination. It’s absurd to think that any ancient Israelite would have any celebrated David or Jonathan or Ruth or Naomi or Daniel if they were homosexual. It is the worst kind of special pleading and reader response to conclude against all exegetical, theological, and historical evidence that any of these Old Testament heroes were gay.

Likewise, there is no evidence to suggest that the centurion’s servant was his lover. The leading New Testament lexicon (BDAG) gives three definitions of pais: a young person, one’s own offspring, one who is in total obedience to another. If the word somehow means “male lover” in the Gospels, we need evidence greater than Helminiak’s bald assertion.

Paul discouraged marriage because he believed the world would soon end. Still, he encouraged people with sexual needs to marry, and he never linked sex and procreation.

Were God-given reason to prevail, rather than knee-jerk religion, we would not be having a heated debate over gay marriage. “Liberty and justice for all,” marvel at the diversity of creation, welcome for one another: these, alas, are true biblical values.

The link between sex and procreation did not have to be articulated by Paul because it was already assumed. God’s design from the beginning had been one man and one woman coming together as one flesh. This design is reaffirmed throughout Scripture, not least of all by Jesus (Matt. 19:4-6) and by Paul (Eph. 5:31). An important aspect of this union is the potential blessing of children. The prophet Malachi made clear that procreation is one of the aims of marriage when he said about a husband and wife, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring” (Mal. 2:15).

None of this proves the case against gay marriage as a government injunction (though that case can be made as well). What careful attention to the Bible does show is that the revisionists do not have a Scriptural leg to stand on. From the first chapter of the Bible to the Law of Moses to the New Testament, there is no hint that homosexuality is acceptable behavior for God’s people and every indication that it is a serious sin.

This is why I appreciate the candor of honest pro-gay advocates like Luke Timothy Johnson:

The task demands intellectual honesty. I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says…I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality-namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order.

Of course, I disagree with Johnson’s approach to the authority of Scripture and his liberal deference to experience. But I commend him for acknowledging what should be plain: the Bible really really calls homosexuality a sin. A sin that can be forgiven in Christ like a million other sins, and a sin that can be fought against by the power of the Holy Spirit, but still a sin. That’s what the Bible says. And as the CNN article demonstrates, it takes a lot of contorted creativity to make it say something else.

About the Author: Kevin DeYoung is the Senior Pastor at University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, right across the street from Michigan State University.  DeYoung has been the pastor there since 2004.  He was born in Chicagoland, but grew up mostly in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area.  He roots for da Bears, da Bulls, da Blackhawks, the White Sox, and the Spartans. He is married to Trisha, lives in Lansing and has five young children, and, for some reason, a bunny. He is the author of numerous excellent books including: Freedom and Boundaries: A Pastoral Primer on the Role of Women in the Church; What is the Mission of the Church? (co-authored with Greg Gilbert); Why We Love the Church and Why We Are Not Emergent (both co-authored with Ted Kluck); and The Good News We Almost Forgot and the forthcoming The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness.

The article above is adapted from Kevin DeYoung’s blog on The Gospel Coalition’s website:  “DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed” – May 16, 2012 blog entry at http://thegospelcoaliton.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/

Only One Life

by Nathan Busenitz, The Cripplegate

The year was 1860.

A lot happened in that year. In 1860, the Pony Express sent its first riders from Missouri to California. That same year, Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the United States. And on December 20, 1860, South Carolina declared its secession from the union, setting events in motion that would culminate in the American Civil War.

It was in that same year, on December 2, 1860, that Charles Thomas Studd was born into a wealthy family in England.

Charles was a teenager when his father committed his life to Christ after attending an evangelistic meeting led by D. L. Moody. A short time later, at the age of 16, Charles himself came to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Charles would go on to Cambridge where he would become one of the most well-known cricket players of his day, famous not only in Britain but around the world. When his time at Cambridge ended, Charles realized that he did not want to pursue a career in athletics. As he said it,

What is all the fame and flattery worth . . . when a man comes to face eternity?

I know that cricket would not last, and honour would not last, and nothing in this world would last, but it [is] worthwhile living for the world to come.

How could I spend the best years of my life in living for the honours of this world, when thousands of souls are perishing every day?

Armed with an eternal perspective and motivated by a desire to serve Christ no matter the cost, Charles Thomas Studd (often referred to by his initials, C. T.) left England to serve as a missionary in China, under the oversight of Hudson Taylor.

C. T. Studd spent a decade in China, much of that time working in a rehabilitation center for opium addicts, sharing the gospel and seeing lives transformed by Christ. While in China, he also married his wife Priscilla, and together they had four daughters.

After spending a few years back in England, the family moved to India, where Charles served as a local church pastor for seven years. Though he struggled with severe asthma, often staying awake most of the night just trying to breath, he faithfully preached the gospel. And as a result, many souls in Southern India were won to the Lord.

Shortly thereafter, C. T. Studd became convinced that God wanted him to take the gospel to the innermost jungles of Africa. He eventually reached the Belgian Congo in 1913, though it was not easy. At one point, he contracted a severe case of malaria; on another occasion, he woke up in the morning to discover that a poisonous snake had been sleeping by his side all night long.

Along with his fellow missionaries, Studd established a number of missionary stations in the heart of Africa — bringing the gospel to tribes that had previously never heard the name of Jesus Christ. He wrote over 200 hymns, translated the New Testament into the native language, and witnessed thousands of African people turn to Christ.

C. T. Studd died in Africa, at the age of 70, having spent almost his entire adult life in missionary service: 10 years in China, 7 years in India, and roughly 20 years in Africa. Through his unwavering perseverance, a vast number of souls were reached with the good news of the gospel.

As one might imagine, that kind of pioneering missionary work was extremely taxing. But C. T. Studd’s response was simple and sincere. He said,

If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.

That undying commitment to serve Christ no matter the cost is perhaps best captured in the words of a poem he wrote. Perhaps you’ve heard these words before:

Two little lines I heard one day, Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart, And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one, Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet, And stand before His Judgment seat;
Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.