For the Kingdom of God

Paul GarnerWritten by Paul Garner (His blog can be found here)

As Christians we try to influence our society for the Kingdom of God much like yeast or leaven influences a batch of dough hopefully becoming bread. In doing so we are often in a struggle about whether we Christians are influencing society or if society is actually influencing us.

Recently I heard a Christian woman justify her affair with the phrase, “You don’t know the whole story”. Even more recently we have heard that a pastor of a large evangelical, charismatic church has come out to support the gay lifestyle including involving gay people at every level of his very large church. The context seems to imply that gays in his church are eligible for all levels of leadership including pastor. The pastor has a tremendous heart for people especially young people. “When a married man in a congregation has an adulterous affair with another woman—and he’s confronted about it—we don’t have suicides as a result. But, we do have teenagers committing suicides at higher rates when they are part of congregations that have these exclusionary teachings about homosexuality. Is this really the teaching of Jesus when our exclusion of people is contributing to a rise in suicide?”

The problem with this pastor’s view and the view of the woman above and many others claiming to follow Jesus is that they are defining God and God’s Word through their emotions and experience. Instead they should be defining their experience of life by the Word of God.

When we come to Christ we hear of His Love for us and how he gave His life for us that we may have eternal life. How do we know this? We found it in the Word of God. We trust our eternal destiny on what we believe is actually the living and active Word and words that have come to us from the Living God.

Still though we put our faith in the Christ of the Bible as savior some people stop there and live as though the rest of the Word and words of the Living God are irrelevant because they don’t line up with how they feel.

Consider what Jesus might have said to the woman who was brought to him having been caught committing adultery (John 8). Jesus asks “Where are those who condemn you?” “There is no one.” she answers. “Neither do I condemn you. Go on. Continue as you were. I know that life is hard for you and that you have good reasons for why you do this.” Is that what He said? Jesus, who loves all people and gave His life for everyone without bias or favor, did he say that to her? The Word of God says that Jesus told her “Go and sin no more”. Jesus demonstrates that Love speaks strong words about what is right and wrong. Jesus loves completely but He also calls people to a life without sin. I believe that Jesus would be found in Gay bars and at Gay parties. He loves people. But He would not be there to affirm their sin but to call them out of it. He is the great physician. It is not the healthy that need a doctor (Matt 9:12) but those who are sick. He was accused by those who thought themselves righteous of hanging out with all sorts of sinners. I love that about Him. But while He does not condemn He still does not condone.

The problem with many in the Body of Christ who are trying to bring the Kingdom in the world is that too often they bring love without truth. They allow human experience to determine what God meant rather than applying the Word of God that they claim to believe in to life and experience. The same Word of God where we find our invitation to eternal life through Christ. It’s either all the Word of God and worthy of our obedience and faith or it is nothing but literature and our eternal destiny is a sham.

Most of us are familiar with 1 Corinthians 13 where Paul writes that even though we possess all knowledge and practice all of the spiritual gifts but don’t have love we are useless. And so some people may take this out of the context of the whole Word of God and say Love is all there is and that’s the end of it. There is no call for righteousness. In 1 Corinthians 6, the same letter and same author, Paul writes this, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” And so we have the same author in the same letter to the same church writing about lifestyles that will not inherit the Kingdom of God as well as loving people with a passionate love as Jesus did. Some will over emphasize one or the other and some may exclude one or the other. However, if we trust that the Bible is the Word of God then we must accept that both chapters are true and both are God’s Word.

The odd part to me is that somehow Christians can feel comfortable carving out homosexuality from this list in 1 Cor 6 for special treatment because of pressure from our society or maybe because they have a friend or family member living that lifestyle and leave the others as conventional lists of sins. Even though most of these other lifestyles are portrayed daily in the common entertainment media, no Christian leaders I know are coming out claiming that adultery and other immorality is acceptable as a lifestyle for church leaders. That’s just crazy business.

How can someone rationally say that the Bible that tells us that Jesus died for us to give us access to eternal life by faith in Him is the true Word of God and then not accept the rest of the Bible as God’s Word and apply it? This makes no sense.

We know that Jesus invites all of us to confess our sin, turn away from it and trust Him for our eternal life. No one is outside of this invitation. But we cannot deny our sin and still accept His invitation. 1 John 1:8-10 “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” Homosexuality is not different than other sins. All sin leads to death. Homosexuals are not different than other sinners like us. They can accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross and join him in eternity in the same way as all other sinners.

The Bible also tells us in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”

Make sure that those leaders you are paying attention to are teaching properly from the Word of God, all of it. We must reach out to our culture with the Good News of God’s love for all but we cannot exclude parts of the story that make people uncomfortable. Jesus had to die for us because we are all sinners. We must all repent and confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of the Father.

Wisdom beyond the homosexuality debate

Rosaria Butterfield has written an insightful article about understanding homosexuality through the lens of a Christian worldview, but the beauty of her article is that it goes far beyond dealing with questions about homosexuality alone and focuses on the way that the ideas of others can shape our views about theology and set the direction for our life choices. Her article was prompted by a recent student protest at Wheaton College after she was invited to come and share her testimony. In response to this protest, Rosaria set aside time afterwards to meet with those who had protested against her to hear their concerns and discuss their issues. In her article she states that “This may seem a quirky observation, but I know too well the world these students inhabit. I recall its contours and crevices, risks and perils, reading lists and hermeneutical allegiances. You see, I’m culpable. The blood is on my hands. The world of LGBTQ activism on college campuses is the world that I helped create. I was unfaltering in fidelity: the umbrella of equality stretching to embrace my lesbian identity, and the world that emerged from it held salvific potential. I bet my life on it, and I lost.” Rosaria exemplifies how we can truly reach out in love and grace when we are met with opposition without compromising that which we know to be true. While the issue that prompted her article is homosexuality, it is only one of a myriad of issues facing the church today where a similar loving but firm response is needed from the church.


You Are What—and How—You Read by Rosaria Butterfield

Seeing a woman: a call to godliness

male-female-equalityNate Pyle’s article “Seeing a Woman: A conversation between a father and son”  offers a lot of good advice, and there is much to glean from what he has said, but I think that Nate’s response falls short of being truly biblical. Yes, as Nate reminds us, men are absolutely responsible for their own sins and cannot blame their sinful choices on the women around them no matter what women do or do not do, wear or do not wear, etc… Men blaming women for their sinful choices began in the garden of Eden (Ge. 3:12) and sadly continues to this very day. Nate, very appropriately, address this poor excuse for a man’s choice to sin. Yes, godly men need to see women as a whole person created and loved by God rather than objectifying them and Nate’s advice on maintaining eye contact is one good way for men to remember this. However, one of the lies being told to our culture today is that that the way a woman dresses should not be a temptation to sin and unfortunately the church today has too frequently bought into this lie. When women dress immodestly, it really can be a source of temptation for the men around her (something we all intuitively know) and sometimes the right answer for a man is not to stay in the presence of that temptation and maintain eye contact, the right answer is to flee (1 Co. 6:18, Pr. 5, etc…). We should not expect women, who have not made a commitment to follow Christ, to dress or act in ways that honor God. Godly men should be prepared to face temptation and know when to stand strong in its presence and when to flee. However, we really should expect women, who are followers of Christ, to dress and act in ways that brings honor to him (1 Ti.2:9-10) and the church has failed our women when we refuse to discuss this topic.

Additionally, Nate tells us that we should “Encourage [a woman’s] confidence.  But don’t do all this because she is weaker.  That’s the biggest bunch of crap out there.  Women are not weaker than men. They are not the weaker sex. They are the other sex” (emphasis his). While it is true that the idea that “women are the weaker sex” has far too often been overplayed, there is truth to this statement (1 Pe. 3:7) that we should not ignore. It is not “the biggest bunch of crap out there.” It is biblical! Being the weaker sex does not mean that women have any greater propensity to sin than do men nor does it mean they are inferior, these are lies that has been perpetuated far too often throughout history. It does mean that women are typically physically and emotionally weaker (a politically incorrect idea, I know) and men do have a responsibility to be protective of the women around them (both physically and emotionally) because that is the role God has given men. Unfortunately, our culture (even in the Church) has bought into the lie that equality and sameness are identical ideas, they are not. In striving for sameness, women have lost the place of dignity and honor they deserve and once had in generations past. While the feminist movement brought about many corrections that were desperately needed, it has also taken away many things away that women of our generation deserve and desperately need today. In the church, we need to remember to call our men to be godly men and our women to be godly women even when the call to godliness is counter to the culture around us; our standard is God’s word. Neither sex is responsible for the sins of the opposite sex but both sexes have a responsibility to love, honor, and build up the whole body of Christ.

Should We Expect Unbelievers to Act Like Christians?

This was a question that was debated in my own church before and after the 2008 elections. On the ballot that year were two significant initiatives i.e. Prop 4 which required parental consent for minors seeking an abortion and Prop 8 which was an amendment to the California constitution that defined marriage as union between one man and one woman. To the dismay of many, our church said very little about either of these propositions and did not take an official stand on either issue. The heart of the debate about how the church should respond to these initiatives was focused on questions about whether we should we expect unbelievers to act like Christians in regards to the moral issues addressed by these ballot initiatives. Russell D. Moore raises many of the same questions in his recent article that were raised in the discussions that ensued after the 2008 elections in my church. In seeking to answer these questions, he begins where I believe every Christian should begin i.e. by looking to the examples we have been given in Scripture.


Should We Expect Politicians to Act Like Christians?

Recently I was asked whether John the Baptist lost his head for expecting a lost politician to act like a Christian. John, you’ll remember, was executed for telling Herod that it was not lawful for the king to have his brother’s wife.

This is an important question, not simply for understanding the background of this particular text. Christians often shrug off questions of public ethics because we say, “Why should we expect lost people to act like Christians?” I once heard a prominent preacher say that it didn’t matter to him if his neighbors went to hell as prostitutes or as policemen; it only mattered that they were going to hell.

In one sense, this is a good impulse. After all, Jesus never acted shocked or appalled by the behavior of the lost people. Jesus spoke with gentleness to the lost sinners around him, but with severity at religious leaders, hiding their sin behind religiosity and using their positions to serve selfish interests.

And the apostle Paul wrote that he didn’t judge “outsiders” but instead that it is those “inside the church whom you are to judge” (1 Cor. 5:12). The gospel didn’t come to achieve a society of morally straight people unreconciled to Christ.

But, if all that’s true, why does John persist in calling out this obviously unregenerate political leader for his sexual behavior? John isn’t incidental to the biblical story. Jesus calls him the greatest of the prophets.

Obligation of a King

This wasn’t really a question of merely personal behavior by an outsider. Herod was clearly a pagan internally, but he held an office instituted by God, an office with obligations for obedience to God. The rulership over Israel, after all, wasn’t the equivalent of the queen of England or the president of the United States. Israel was a covenant nation of priests. The king was to be of the house of David, and he was to model the line of Christ.

In the same chapter of Deuteronomy that the apostle Paul quotes to speak of internal church discipline, the law lays out the qualifications for king. He shouldn’t use the office to serve his appetites for things or for sexual gratification (Deut. 17:17), but ought to meditate on the Word of God and act according to it “that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left” (Deut. 17:20).

Not Merely Private Morality

This was a question of public justice, not merely of private morality. Herod’s sin was multifaceted. Yes, it was a private act of sexual immorality, taking as his own a woman he shouldn’t have. But Herod was acting not just as a man but as a ruler.

Herod, of course, was a puppet king, acting as a client of the Roman Empire. He couldn’t have provided what he offered in his sexually ignited boast of giving Herodias’s daughter “up to half my kingdom” (Mk. 6:23). Herod didn’t have the same power as David, but it was the same principle at work. David’s taking of Bathsheba was more than just an immoral use of his private parts, but an immoral use of his public office.

We can all see what this means, even apart from divine revelation. One of the good things the feminist movement has brought to us is the way we deal publicly now with sexual harassment. An employer who pressures an employee for sexual favors isn’t just an immoral person; he is misusing power. When the CEO sleeps with an intern, his offense isn’t just against God and his wife, but is also an unjust abuse of power.

In line with all the prophets before him, John spoke out against the powerful misusing their privilege to exploit the vulnerable. Think of Daniel telling Belshazzar that the “writing is on the wall” for his prideful kingdom’s fall or Isaiah speaking truth to power to those who “rob the poor” and “make the fatherless their prey” (Isa. 10:2). Think of, after John, Jesus’ brother James denouncing the landowners who exploit workers with unjust wages (Jas. 5:4-6).

Judging Outsiders

John risked his neck to speak on this question not just to Herod as king but also to Herod as a man. Paul doesn’t “judge” the pagan outsiders, that’s true. He means that there is no means of holding those outside the church to the accountability of church discipline. But the church can still discern between good and evil. Even as Paul calls out the sin of the church member in Corinth, he compares it to the moral climate of the “pagans” on the outside (1 Cor. 5:1).

Jesus deals gently with tax collectors and sinners. He doesn’t, as he does with the religious leaders, call them whitewashed tombs or turn over their market tables. But he doesn’t refuse to speak to their sin. When he meets the woman at the well, he isn’t shocked by her serial monogamy, but he doesn’t leave it unquestioned either. He asks her, “Where is your husband?”

Those outside the church aren’t our battlefield but our mission-field, that’s true. We shouldn’t rail against them as though they are somehow different than we are, apart from God’s mercy in Christ. But the gospel is to be pressed on all creatures, on every human conscience. And the gospel is a call not only to faith but also to repentance. God now “commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed,” (Acts 17:31), Paul preached at Mars Hill.

We then speak to lost people not only of the historical truth of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and not only of his grace and mercy in receiving sinners. We also call them to turn from sin, and to agree with God that such sin is worthy of condemnation. Without this, there is no salvation. We speak then, as the apostle did to a pagan ruler, about “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25).

Still Accountable

Our lost neighbors might be “pagan” in the sense that they are not part of the community of God, but they are still accountable before God. Their consciences are embedded with a law. John wasn’t the first to say to Herod that he couldn’t have his brother’s wife; this was hardly new information. Herod’s conscience already told him that much, and pointed him to his accountability on the day of judgment. John’s rebuke was an essential part of gospel preaching.

Christians often ping back and forth between extremes. The church of the last generation was often more concerned with a moral majority than with a gospel priority. In our attempt not to fall into that error, we could fall into an opposite, and just as dangerous, ditch. We could assume that all moral norms speak merely internally to the church, and we could fail to speak to unbelievers about such things. Such would be a refusal to love our neighbors, to warn them of what we will face at the judgment seat. But it would also be a refusal to preach the gospel. Without defining sin and justice, we cannot offer mercy. Guilty consciences don’t initially like those words. None of us did, at first. But that’s the mission we’ve been given. Some of us may wind up with our heads on silver platters. Jesus knows how to put heads back on.

Article by Russell D. Moore. He is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Originally posted on The Gospel Coalition Blog


What is Marriage?

“Marriage based on needs and affection will struggle to endure when the needs change and the affection fades.” Collin Hansen

wedding ringsThis morning I watched a video shared by a friend that captures well what it means “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance”

And then I read the article “The new purpose for marriage” by Collin Hansen that describes why this is exactly what we are losing as our culture rushes to embrace new definitions for marriage. In his article Collin says that “marriage requires far more of ourselves than the new definitions betray. Love demands 100 percent of each partner. Marriage based on needs and affection will struggle to endure when the needs change and the affection fades.” Unfortunately, I believe that too few really understand what is at stake as we rush forward to embrace new definitions for marriage.