The following is a post from Dr. Jerry E. Shepherd, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Taylor Seminary in Edmonton, Alberta. It is used by permission and originally posted on his blog, The Recapitulator.
Seven Ways Christians Have Won the Last Few Weeks
On July 1, just a few days after the 5-4 Supreme Court decision which made same-sex marriage legal in all fifty states, blogger John Pavlovitz posted an article entitled, “6 Ways Christians Lost This Week.” The basic thrust of the article was that, in reaction to the Supreme Court decision, Christians had been less than nice in their attitudes toward the LGBT community. Even though the article’s title promises to list “6 ways,” in essence, after stating his first point, “We Lost the Chance to Be Loving,” four of the next five ways simply provide slight variations on that same theme.
I am sure there were a number of Christians who acted less than charitably in their interactions with their opponents in response to the Supreme Court decision. There are some problems, however, with the way in which Pavlovitz makes his case.
It should be noted, for example, that Pavlovitz is a signer of the misnamed document, “Evangelicals Respond to Scotus Ruling for Equality,” a document which affirms and celebrates the Supreme Court decision (not to be confused with the more accurately named document, Here We Stand: An Evangelical Statement on Marriage). In my opinion, this colors Pavlovitz’s article, in that I am afraid his brush strokes may be too large and sweeping. I believe he would tend to consider any opposition at all to the LGBT community, same-sex marriage, and the Supreme Court decision to be, practically by definition, unloving. Evidence for this is provided in the article. For example, he indicates that many Christians, after the decision, continued “desperately fighting a battle long after it had already been decided.” Is he actually suggesting that Christians should simply give up the fight because of a terrible 5-4 Supreme Court decision? Would Pavlovitz have argued that Christian abolitionists, after the “dreadful” Dred Scott decision, should have simply resigned themselves to that Supreme Court decision and stopped “desperately fighting a battle long after it had been decided”? Or, what if this recent 5-4 Supreme Court decision had been 5-4 the other direction, against same-sex marriage? Would Pavlovitz have advised the LGBT community to stop fighting? Further, he has a problem with those who “lamented America’s demise.” But if a Christian really does believe that this decision starts or continues America on the path toward demise, is it not a loving act to point that out? It would seem that Pavlovitz would prefer to remove from Christians, or perhaps just some Christians, the right and responsibility of prophetic, counter-cultural witness and expression.
So in this article, what I would like to do is to argue that Christians have indeed won far more than they have lost these last few weeks. In my opinion, Christians have made tremendous gains and won significant victories. So, John, I see your six, and I raise you one more. Here are seven ways in which Christian have won over the past few weeks.
(1) Christians have won in being more and more transformed and conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, and in not being conformed to the world and to this present evil age.
The reason God has called us, the reason he did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, the reason he went to such extravagant lengths to procure our salvation, is that we might be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom 8:28-32). Christ came to restore the image of God in fallen human beings (Irenaeus would say, “recapitulate”!). He did this by the redemptive deed of his life, death, and resurrection, but he also did this by his teaching. At one point in his teaching, he directly addressed one particular aspect of this restoration and recovery project by talking about God’s original intention regarding the marital relationship for the man and woman who were made in God’s image:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Matt 19:4–6)
This was how God ordained the marriage relationship from the very beginning. Man and woman, living together in complementarity, love, and harmony, is one very important component in what it means for men and women to be made in the image of God. The homosexual act, same-sex marriage, and the promotion of the same constitute a distortion of, and an attack against, that image.
The Christian response to society’s adoption of same-sex marriage is given in Romans 12:1-2:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Rom 12:1–2)
Over the last few weeks there has been article after article, Facebook post after Facebook post, decrying this horrible Supreme Court decision. Christians have declared their intention not to be conformed to the pattern of this world. Christians have won.
(2) Christians have won in that they have demonstrated love, compassion, and empathy with those who denominate themselves as gay.
I realize Pavlovitz may have seen a more diverse array of reactions than I have seen. And I am sure there are those who have expressed themselves in ways that are less than loving. But in the articles, blog posts, and other communications that I have come across, I have seen the exact opposite. I have read numerous careful, nuanced, and thoughtful reactions to the Supreme Court ruling. They have condemned the ruling, homosexual activity, and same-sex marriage, but they have expressed nothing but love for gay people themselves. They have related how they have engaged in the work of pastoral care and counseling with gays, and have done so with love, compassion, and sensitivity.
But beyond this, there is something else to consider. If, indeed, homosexual practice is a sin, one which, according to Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6, disqualifies a person for entrance into the kingdom of God, then it is not an act of love to tell a gay person that it is not a sin and that it is perfectly all right. That is not an act of love. Rather, it is an act of sheer irresponsibility. It constitutes a failure to carry out the mandate that God has given, not only to all his ministers (2 Tim 4:2), but to all Christians (Gal 6:1-2).
Over the last few weeks, Christians have spoken out against the Supreme Court ruling and against homosexual relationships and same-sex marriage. And they have done so lovingly. Christians have won.
(3) Christians have won in the divisions that have taken place in the Christian community.
At one point, in his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul says this:
I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. (1 Cor 11:18–19).
Interestingly, Paul says that divisions in the church actually serve a purpose: they can indicate which members of the church have God’s approval. Now, Paul, in this particular passage, has in mind divisions which have arisen with regard to how the Corinthians carried out their love feast and Lord’s Supper celebrations. But, in fact, the entirety of 1 Corinthians has to do with divisions in the church. So I believe the principle which Paul enunciates in chapter 11 would be applicable to other parts of the letter as well. With that in mind, consider this passage in 1 Cor 5:1-5.
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 3 For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. 4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
I am sure, or I would at least like to think, that the Corinthian church was not of one mind on this issue. On the one hand, there were at least a few, I hope, who were appalled at the idea that the leadership of the church would have permitted this situation to exist in the church. They were truly grieved over this. On the other hand, there were those who not only permitted this behavior, but they gloried in it. They were proud of their “progressive” stance, their “new kind of Christianity,” their gracious and generous tolerance. Division, in this case would have shown who had, and who did not have, God’s approval.
I am so proud of, and thankful for, my brothers and sisters in the Anglican Church in the Global South. Over the last decades they have consistently and courageously reacted against a series of decisions on same-sex issues made by The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States (also referred to as the ECUSA). Recently, at their 78th convention, The Episcopal Church took one more step in a series of false and faithless steps and eliminated all language with reference to husband and wife or man and woman in their definition and description of marriage, replacing them with gender-neutral terms. The Primates of the Global South, which represents two thirds of the world-wide Anglican communion, have reacted to this latest step with strong language.
We are deeply grieved again by the Episcopal Church USA (TEC) Resolution to change the definition of marriage in their church canons in their current ongoing General Convention.
By this action, TEC has chosen by its own will and actions in clear knowledge to depart from the Anglican Communion’s standard teaching on human sexuality according to Lambeth Resolution 1:10. This TEC Resolution is another example of such unilateral decisions that are taken without giving the least consideration to the possible consequences on other provinces and the Anglican Communion as a whole, the ecumenical partnerships, the mission of the church worldwide, and the interfaith relations. This Resolution clearly contradicts the Holy Scriptures and God’s plan for creation as He created humankind as man and woman to complement each other physically and emotionally.
Indeed the church must provide pastoral care for all, whether heterosexuals or homosexuals. However the church should not alter the teachings of the Holy Scriptures, that was interpreted by the majority churches globally, to provide such pastoral care. The aim of pastoral care is to restore people to the bosom of God where they encounter His love and design to live a life according to His plan. We are against any criminalization of homosexuals, they are like all of us, need God’s mercy, grace and salvation. The church is intended by its Lord to be the holy leaven to shape society by its spiritual and moral values in line with God’s design. But sadly, by this action of TEC, the church gives way to the society to alter and shape its values. In other words the church is losing its distinctiveness as salt and light in this world.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2)
You can access various reports on the Primates’ reactions here, here, and here. I have reported on other Global South reaction to previous TEC decisions here, and I encourage you to follow the link and scroll down and read them. This division has shown who has God’s approval.
Division is not in and of itself a good thing; but sometimes it can be a way of showing who has God’s approval. And Scripture is also clear as to who the ones are who do not have God’s approval. It is those who are responsible for the division in the first place. And who are the ones who cause divisions? Again, Scripture provides the answer.
17Dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. 18 They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” 19 These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. 20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. 22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. (Jude 17-23)
It is those who bring strange doctrine into the church who are the true schismatics. They are the ones who cause divisions in the church.
Over the last few weeks, divisions have taken place in the body of Christ over the issue of same-sex marriage. No doubt, these divisions had to take place to show who has God’s approval. And those Christians have won.
(4) Christians have won because they have gotten on board with what God is doing in the world.
I have always found it quite strange when I have heard people say that what we need to do is to find out what God is doing in the world and then get on board. I suppose the idea is that God does special things in the world that are somehow mysteriously hidden from us, and it is our responsibility to uncover these hidden movements and then join them. Well, if this is, indeed, the case, then I have wonderful news. God has already told us what he is doing in the world! I could list a whole bunch of these things. But I will restrict myself to just one. Jesus himself is the one who has related this particular thing that God is doing in the world. He did this in the upper room on the night of his betrayal. Here is what he said (John 16:7-11):
7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
When Christians point out how same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage are against God’s design for human beings, that they are sinful, and that they provide evidence of, and give reasons for, the exercise of God’s just judgment, they are simply getting on board with what God is doing in the world by his Holy Spirit: proving the world to be wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.
Now, Jesus particularly says that the sin which the Holy Spirit will convict the world of is not believing in Jesus. But please note that belief in Jesus is more than an “easy believism” kind of faith. Believing in Jesus means believing on the person of Jesus and also in what Jesus said when he was here on this earth, as well as what he said through his Holy Spirit-inspired apostles and prophets. And this includes his teachings regarding sexuality and marriage.
Over the last few weeks, Christians have gotten on board with the Holy Spirit in his work of proving the world wrong about sin and righteous and judgment. Christians have won.
(5) Christians have won because they have been against what God is against, and they are the overcomers.
One of the mantras that have circulated in Christian circles over the last few years is that we shouldn’t get to the place where we are known more for what we’re against than for what we are for. I can appreciate this sentiment, and, in fact, I have even expressed it myself. We do need to make sure that we are not known only for our negatives, but also for our positives. Of course, we cannot always be in control of this. It would seem sometimes that the news media’s main raison d’etre is to uncover and broadcast the negative. A Christian can say ten positive things and one negative thing, and it will be the one negative thing that gets replayed.
On the other hand, being known for what one is against has a noble pedigree. Thomas More was against “the marriage!” as was John the Baptist. Martin Luther was against indulgences. William Wilberforce was against slavery. Martin Luther King was against segregation. Nelson Mandela was against apartheid.
In this light there are a couple of chapters in the Bible that are quite interesting. In Revelation 2-3, Jesus writes a series of letters to the seven churches. One of the motifs that stands out in these chapters is that of what Jesus “knows” about these churches; that is, what Jesus commends them for, and what he reprimands them for. The lists are intriguing. Without specifying the church or the reference, here are the lists:
They have worked hard
They have persevered
They cannot tolerate wicked people
They have discerned who the false teachers and false apostles are
They have endured hardships
They have not grown weary
They hate the practices of the Nicolaitans
They are rich in the midst of afflictions and poverty
They have suffered slander
They have been true to the name of Christ
They have not renounced their faith
They are against the synagogue of Satan
They are persevering where Satan has his throne
They have not renounced their faith
They have faith
They have served
They have progressed in their work
They have rejected Satan’s dark secrets
They have not soiled their clothes
They have kept Christ’s word
They have not denied Christ’s name
They have forsaken the love they had at first
They have stopped doing the things they did at first
They should not have tolerated the teaching of Balaam
They should have been against those who taught them to eat food sacrificed to idols
They should have been against sexual immorality
They should have been against that wicked woman Jezebel
They should have been against the teachings of the Nicolaitans
They are reputed as being alive, but they are dead
Their deeds are unfinished in the sight of God
They have been lukewarm
They are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and shamefully naked
What is striking about these two lists is how many times the churches are praised for what they are against, and how often they are rebuked for what they have not been against. Jesus knows them as commendable for what they are against; and he knows them as blameworthy for what they have failed to be against. And, for the purposes of this article, it is important to note that for those who are against what God is against, for those who hate what God hates—well, they are the overcomers, they are the conquerors, they are the ones who win.
Over the last few weeks, Christians have made it known that they are against the things that God himself is against. Christians have won.
[I might just add here, that the letters in Revelation 2-3 are real letters from Jesus, as opposed to another letter which circulated on the internet a few months ago, “A Letter to Christians in Indiana,” misrepresented as, and mistakenly thought to be, a letter from Jesus.]
(6) Christians have won because they have been persecuted.
Persecution takes all kinds of forms. Compared to what Christians have had to suffer for their faith in so many places around the world, such as Nigeria, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt, India, North Korea, and China, the persecution that takes place in North America seems very light. We have not yet had to resist to the point of shedding blood (Heb 12:4). But there are other forms of persecution, which the New Testament recognizes as such, and which Christians in North America have had to suffer, such as slander, loss of income, loss of employment, confiscation of property, ridicule, taunting, accusations of hate speech, legal suits, etc. There are numerous examples of these in the news, and I will not take the time to try to list them all here or even discuss any one incident in particular in an already overly long post. And without necessarily correcting Pavlovitz in his article, I must say that his experience has not been my experience. In these last three weeks since the Supreme Court decision, I have not seen any “sour grapes, damnation, or middle fingers,” from Christians toward the LGBT community. Indeed, the vitriol and venom I have come across has been in the opposite direction. For simply expressing an opinion against homosexual acts and same-sex marriage, Christians are slandered, cursed at, called homophobes, intolerant bigots, and haters. In any case, what I want to point out here is that there is a special reward in store for those who have been persecuted in the way which I have mentioned in this paragraph. Jesus says,
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:10-12)
Over the past few weeks, Christians have been persecuted for being against what God is against. Great is their reward. Christians have won.
(7) Christians have won because they have been witnesses to the revelation of the righteous wrath of God.
As I have mentioned in other blog posts, Romans 1, seen biblically-theologically, presents us with two pictures, two demonstrations, two narratives of the revelation of the righteousness of God. Verses 1-17 present us a history of salvation focused on Christ Jesus, and the gospel which God
promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.
It is a gospel in which
the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
But then, antithetical to that story, but still revelatory of God’s righteousness, the last half of the chapter, in verses 18-32, focuses on God’s righteous wrath:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness . . .
Paul goes on to point out that in this suppression of truth, they also suppressed the knowledge of God. Beyond this, they also exchanged the truth of God for a lie. They exchanged the glory of God for that which was not God, and instead of worshiping the Creator, they began to worship that which was created.
In a further display of his righteous wrath, God “gave them over” to the degrading of their bodies in same-sex sexual relationships. Important to note here is that while these same-sex acts are certainly in themselves sinful, Paul’s main point in mentioning them is that this is a way in which God is displaying his wrath. And this wrath is delivered in an ironically appropriate way. The punishment fits the crime. Since they “exchanged” the glory of God for that which is not God, so God gave them up to “exchange” that which is natural for that which is unnatural. But then, beyond this, they also “received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
Furthermore, God also gives them up to a host of other sins: wickedness, greed, depravity, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, hatred of God, insolence, arrogance, boastfulness, disobedience and lack of respect for parents, faithlessness, hatred, and lack of mercy. Furthermore, not only do they themselves do these things, but they also applaud those who do them. While it is possible to understand this last group of sins as occurring in parallel with the homosexual activity, it would seem that the narrative flow of the chapter would suggest that the last set of sins actually ensue from both the earlier mentioned idolatry and homosexuality. This is why it is not helpful to ask questions like “Which is worse: same-sex marriage or murder?” and then to follow up that by remarking that we are paying too much attention to homosexual behavior, and not enough to much more important and more serious issues. It is an irrelevant question and a pointless comparison. A society that does not like to retain God in their knowledge, that has exchanged the glory of God for that which is not God, and that has exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, is a society that will also be given over to all the sins listed in vv. 28-32. And not only will they do these things, they will approve, celebrate, applaud, glory in, and take “pride” in those who do them. Perhaps the most graphic display of this “pride”ful debauchery is that which takes place in the gay pride (or simply “pride”) parades which occur annually in major North American cities.
What Paul saw happening in first-century Greco-Roman society is what we are now seeing today in North American society. We, too, are witnessing the righteous “wrath of God revealed from heaven.” On the one hand, we are rightly pained and distressed by this. On the other hand, we must remember that the wrath of God is something for which he is to worshiped:
Surely your wrath against mankind brings you praise. (Ps 76:10)
Fast forward to the book of Revelation where God’s and the Lamb’s wrathful acts engender praise from myriads of angels, the twenty-four elders, the martyrs, and people redeemed from every tribe and nation. All of the quotations below come from passages in the book of Revelation where these groups cry out in praise to God for his acts of judgment and the revelation of his wrath, starting with the opening of the seals on the scroll, which when unrolled will unleash judgment on the earth.
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.” (Rev 5:9-10)
“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
the One who is and who was,
because you have taken your great power
and have begun to reign.
The nations were angry,
and your wrath has come.
The time has come for judging the dead,
and for rewarding your servants the prophets
and your people who revere your name,
both great and small—
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.” (Rev 11:17-18)
“Great and marvelous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Rev 15:3-4)
“You are just in these judgments, O Holy One,
you who are and who were;
for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets,
and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.” (Rev 16:5-6)
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for true and just are his judgments.
He has condemned the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth by her adulteries.
He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” (Rev 19:1-2)
Over the last few weeks, Christians have seen a demonstration of the righteous wrath of God, an anticipation of the righteous judgment yet to come. In this, Christians may take great hope. “Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Rom 13:11). “Stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). Christians have won.
July 15, 2015