Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Category: Church and Society

THE GAY WEDDING CAKE CASE

robert_walter_weir_-_embarkation_of_the_pilgrims_-_google_art_project

The Embarkation of the Pilgrims

 

This past Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of a Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple.  The baker, Jack Phillips, was accused of violating Colorado’s public accommodations law and was sanctioned by the state’s Civil Rights Commission.

Phillips’ lawyer, Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom, argued that the State of Colorado had violated her client’s First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of religion.  Much of the discussion in court, then, centered on whether baking a cake is a form of speech, and whether other forms of artistic expression, such as photography and floral arranging would also qualify as speech.  The state contends that Phillips was engaged in discrimination, pure and simple.

We think that several important distinctions must be made.  First of all, discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation is not the same thing as discriminating on the basis of race.  Race is an inherited and immutable biological trait; homosexuality is a behavior pattern which involves conscious decisions and moral choice.  There is no solid evidence that it is hereditary or biologically determined.  By adding sexual orientation to its list of protected classes, the State of Colorado is treating a behavior pattern as though it were the same as  a biological characteristic, and is then penalizing anyone who objects to that behavior on moral grounds.

Secondly, Mr. Phillips can claim that he is not discriminating against homosexuals simply because they are homosexuals.  If they want to come into his shop to buy coffee and donuts he would be more than happy to serve them.  What he is refusing to do is to provide material support for a specific activity that he deems morally objectionable.

Moreover it is one thing to grant homosexuals the freedom to marry each other; it is another thing to force someone else to act against his own conscience to support the wedding.  The first is consistent with the principle of individual freedom; the second is not.

The state, of course, can and should regulate the behavior of individuals with each other. But it should be very careful about infringing on the deeply held religious beliefs of its citizens.  Religion deals with transcendent truths and provides the foundation for public morality.  To force its citizens to choose between God and the state is to invite civil disobedience on the one hand and to erode public morality on the other.

In the case at hand the legalization of same sex marriage represents a radical departure from 3,000 years of Judeo-Christian teaching on the subject of human sexuality.  And freedom of religion is one of the bedrock principles of American democracy.  Many of the immigrants to these shores came precisely to escape from religious persecution at home.  The colonies of Rhode Island and Pennsylvania were early experiments in religious freedom.  And freedom of religion was enshrined in the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to our Constitution.

The Virginia Bill of Rights (1776) declared that “religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience . . .”  To which James Madison added, “The religion of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate” (“A Memorial and Remonstrance,” 1785).

The implications of a ruling against the baker in this case are staggering.  By allowing the state to dictate morality to the church it would open the door to religious persecution.  But the implications are even more far reaching than even that.  The state, by placing itself above God, comes amoral and tyrannical, not bound by any higher moral authority.  The Twentieth Century witnessed the horrors of the godless state at work.  And ultimately society itself becomes lawless and unruly as it loses all moral restraint.

George Washington summed it up well in the Farewell Address of 1796:

“Of all the dispositions and habits that lead to political prosperity,

religion and morality are indispensable supports.  In vain would

that man claim the tribute of patriotism who would labor to subvert

these great pillars of human happiness – these firmest props of

the duty of man and citizens.  The mere politician, equally with

the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.  A volume

could not  trace all their connections with private and public felicity.”

A ruling in the Phillips case (Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltc. V. Colorado Civil Rights Commission) is not expected until June, 2018.  It remains to be seen what the court will do in this.  Justice Anthony Kennedy, who could very well cast the deciding vote, seemed skeptical of the state’s position, stating at one point that “Tolerance is essential in a free society.  And tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual.  It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs.”  It remains to be seen how the court will rule on this.  But if the state can force a Christian to support the LGBT agenda it can force anyone to support any philosophy or ideology, and then we will have ceased to be a free nation.

 

 

Advertisements

THE CHRISTIAN IN THE WORLD

 

4.2.7

Van Gogh: Man Reading the Bible

 

In our blog post of June 11 we saw that the Christian’s aim should not be the preservation of America’s civil religion.  But what should its aim be?  How is the Christian to relate to the surrounding world?

In Titus 2:11-14 the apostle Paul gives us a brief summary of what the Christian life is supposed to look like.  It is a different kind of life-style based on a distinctively Christian worldview.

It begins with a historical fact: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men . . .” (v. 11; NKJV).  Here Paul is undoubtedly referring back to the first advent of Christ and His death on the cross that opened up to all mankind the offer of salvation.  This was the great turning point in history.

But what effect does this have on us?  Paul goes on to say that salvation is “teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age . . .” (v. 12).  Here it will be seen that there is both a negative and a positive side to the Christian life.  On the negative side we are to “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts.”  The word “ungodliness” might better be translated “impiety” – it is the lack of devotion to or reverence for God.  A good modern term would be “secularism,” the absence of God in our thinking.  “Worldly lusts” are self-centered desires that drive most of human behavior – the lust for pleasure, wealth, fame or power.  We sometimes dress it up as “enlightened self-interest” or “the profit motive.”  These are the things which typically mark human behavior outside of Christ, and the Christian must turn his back on all of this, leaving it all behind.  He has been called to a higher life.

On the positive side we are to “live soberly, righteously, and godly.”  To live soberly means to exercise sound judgment in all of the decisions we make.  It means that we do not go through life pursuing pleasure with reckless abandon, but we carefully weigh the consequences of the actions we take.  We look to promote the glory of God and the well-being of our fellow man.

But we are also called to live “righteously,” which means to live in accordance with God’s law.  God is our Creator, our Lawgiver and Judge.  We can find happiness and fulfillment in life only when we live in accordance with His will and purposes.

And then we are to live “godly” or “piously,” as the word might be better translated.  We are to give God His proper place in our lives, to have a genuine and heartfelt devotion towards Him, and to acknowledge Him in all of our ways.

All of this we are to do “in the present age,” the time in which we are now living.  The Bible often contrasts “the present age” with “the age which is to come”: and the “the present age” is marked by sin and evil.  Nevertheless the Christian is expected to live a godly life now, in the present age.  This will inevitably mean a life of non-conformity to the world.

But why would we want to do this?  Why would we run the risk of social ostracism and financial failure by refusing to conform?  The answer is because we are “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (v. 13).  The Christian looks forward to the future, and what he sees is “the glorious appearing” of Christ, His visible return at the end of the age when He comes to establish a new order of things here on earth.  The Christian is conscious that what we experience now will not last forever.  Christ will return and things will be entirely different.  The Christian lives for tomorrow and not for today.

It should be kept in mind that God’s whole purpose in our salvation is to free us, not just from the guilt of sin, but also from its power.  Christ “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (v. 14).  The word “redeem” means to pay a ransom and thereby secure the release of a slave or prisoner.  We were once under the power and guilt of sin.  Christ paid the penalty for that sin by dying on the cross and thereby secured our salvation.  And He did this at enormous cost to Himself: He “gave Himself for us.”

But why did He do this?  What was His aim and objective?  It was not just to forgive us but also to sanctify us: “ . . .that He might redeem from every lawless deed and purify for Himself his own special people, zealous for good works.”  It was sin that got us into trouble; Christ freed us from that condition.  Now we are “His own special people, a people of His own possession; we now belong to Him.  And we are to be “zealous for good works” – we are not to conform half-heartedly to an external set of rules; we are to desire sincerely to do good to others.

The Christian, then, is called to a life of non-conformity to the surrounding world.  He does not have the luxury of living the life of a nice, comfortable, middle-class existence.  He is conscious of answering to a Higher Authority; and that will eventually bring him into conflict with the values of the surrounding world.  This will require personal sacrifice on his part – the possible loss of job, family reputation.  It may even invite on occasion legal prosecution.  But faithful to God he must remain.  The sacrifice is temporary; the gain is eternal.   May God grant us all the grace to live for Him!

GOD’S LAW V. MAN’S LAW

 

83213-004-58562477

 

The United States Supreme Court has legalized abortion.  It has legalized same-sex marriage.  Both decisions have placed religious organizations in an awkward position.  What should the churches do?  Conform to the changing mores of society?  Or risk marginalization by clinging to the older standards of morality?

The question is not a new one, and Jesus made it clear that the conflict existed in the First Century.  The underlying question is this: what exactly determines morality?  The consensus of contemporary society?  Or some eternal, transcendent standard or moral law?  Are there such things as moral absolutes?  Jesus answered in the latter.

The Gospel of Luke records an incident in which Jesus confronted the religious leaders of His day.  At one point Jesus made the statement, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and Mammon” (Luke 16:13; NKJV).  “Mammon” is an Aramaic word that means wealth or profit.  Here it is personified into a kind of pagan god.  The Pharisees, Luke tells us, “were lovers of money” (v. 14), not unlike certain religious leaders today, and when the Pharisees heard Jesus’ statement “they derided Him.”

Jesus’ response was sharp and to the point.  He pointed out that “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts” (v. 15).  They has a high opinion of themselves based on their standing in society.  People looked up to them; they were honored and esteemed.  By all outward appearances they were successful.   But God knew better.  He looks on the heart, and knew what they were really like inside.  And the inward reality did not match the outward appearance.

Jesus then went on to make a telling statement: “For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (v. 15).  What He is saying here, in effect, is that there is a difference between a morality based on the standards of human society and one that is based on the will of God.

Every civilized human society has standards of human behavior that it expects the members of that society to meet.  But these standards are usually based on a pragmatic consideration: this is what we need to do to be able to work together to achieve a common goal.  It is a morality based on enlightened self-interest rather than any regard for the will of the Creator.  Aristotle could actually go so far as to say that ethics or morality is a branch of political science.  “Whosoever therefore would achieve anything in social or political life must be of good moral character; which indicates that the discussion of character not only belongs to social science, but is its very foundation or starting-point” (Magna Moralia, I.i).  It was only later that men began to ask the question, what ultimately makes a given human action right or wrong?  Is there any universal or transcendent standard of morality?  And even then philosophers could not admit that there was only one, infinite, eternal Creator-God to whom we as human beings are accountable; they had recourse instead to the concept of natural law.

But the Bible begins with the obvious question, how did we get here in the first place?  And the answer is that we were created by an intelligent Supreme Being who made us in His image and gave us rational and moral faculties.  Everything, then, is supposed to conform to His creative purpose; and that, in turn, determines the nature of morality.

So great, however, is the disparity between God’s standards and man’s that Jesus could say that “what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”  Human society admires success.  We look up to people who have education, wealth, good looks, athletic prowess, political standing.  We encourage ambition and gratify pride. But Jesus uses an exceptionally strong word to describe all of this: it is an “abomination” in the sight of God – literally something that is disgusting or detestable.  What God requires of us is that we love the Lord our God with all of our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves; not push and shove our way to the top and then pat ourselves on the back for our good success.

That, of course, places the individual human being in an awkward position.  When God’s law and man’s law conflict, what should he do?  Jesus went on to tell His listeners that “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail” (v. 17).  A “tittle” was the tiny little overhang or projection that would distinguish one letter of the Hebrew alphabet from another.  Legislatures, courts and monarchs may all have their ideas about what they might like to see happen in the world; they might seek to impose their will at the point of the bayonet; but in the end it will all come to naught.  In the end every human government passes from the stage of history.  But God’s throne is eternal; His rule over the universe is never-ending, and in the end He will be the final Judge.  His word is the only one that counts.  As human beings we dare not disobey Him, no matter what men may say.

In modern Western society Judaeo-Christian morality may seem old-fashioned.  We are accused of living in the past.  But we are really living in eternity, while the surrounding world is self-destructing.  The path of wisdom is obvious.

CHRISTIANITY AND CIVILIZATION

 

The Tower of Babel

 

 

In our last blog post we considered the nature of civilization, and concluded that it was an organized effort on the part of human beings to live and work together; and that this, in turn, required certain standards of behavior.  But what is a Christian to make of all of this?  Is civilization good or bad?  Should he support it, attack it, or ignore it?

The answer is that from a Christian standpoint civilization is both good and bad.  It is both good and bad because it reflects the fundamental contradictions of human nature.  We are created in the image of God and have consciences.  We are social creatures.  Yet at the same time we are also fallen sinners and routinely do what is bad.  And thus it is with human civilization as a whole.

On the one hand there is much that is undeniably good in civilization.  In a civilization people are willing to work together for the common good.  When a government is created to establish justice, this is a positive thing.  The apostle Paul could go so far as to call the civil magistrate “God’s minister to you for good” (Rom. 13:1-7), and urges prayers to be made “for kings and all who are in authority” (I Tim. 2:1,2).  Civilizations have made tremendous advances in science and technology and have created great works of art, music and literature.  All of this is undeniably good.

But sinners are still sinners, and this is reflected in civilization as well.  Even when human beings outwardly do what is right they often do it for the wrong reasons.   Instead of being motivated by a genuine love for God and for righteousness, individuals are often driven by the prospects of rewards and punishments that are held out by the particular society in which they live.  They seek the praise of their fellow men, or dread the prospect of a prison term.  They go along in order to get along.  At best they are motivated by “enlightened self-interest,” but that is still a form of selfishness nonetheless.

Moreover civilization itself is in many ways an attempt to better the human condition, but to do it without God. It is an expression of man’s hubris, a reflection of his underlying rebellion against God.  Civilizations impose standards of behavior, but these are usually conceived of as standards we create ourselves to advance our own interests as a society.  And these values and ideals often fall far short of God’s standards of morality – everything from Roman gladiatorial games to American rugged individualism.

But what is even worse, the members of society often try to undermine the very ideals they profess to believe.  No sooner is a constitution adopted and laws passed then men begin looking for ways to circumvent them.  Right and wrong soon become a matter of what we can get away with.  We in the U.S. declared that “all men are created equal” and are endowed by their Creator with “unalienable rights” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  But just eighty years later the U.S. Supreme Court, in the infamous Dred Scott decision, declared that black people were not included in the “all men” of the Declaration, and that “they had no rights which a white man was bound to respect.”  And so we rationalize our bad behavior.

What our Creator really expects from us, however, is that we love Him with all of our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves.

The Bible gives us a brief but vivid account of the beginning of human civilization.  In Gen. 11:1-9 we are told how that ancient peoples found a place to dwell in the land of Shinar (Sumeria).  They then proceeded to build a city.  “And they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (v. 4; NKJV).  What is significant here is not just that they undertook a construction project, but the mentality that lay behind it.  They wanted to reach the heavens and “make a name for ourselves.”  In other words it was a purely human endeavor driven by pride and ambition.  And God’s response was to scatter them by confusing their language.  The city became known as Babel, or Babylon, and it remained a symbol of worldly power and human arrogance.

To understand the biblical attitude toward civilization it is necessary first to understand the biblical view of history.  The Bible draws a contrast between “this age” and “that which is to come” (Eph. 1:21).  The age to come is a time when the Messiah will reign over all the earth.  But this age is the time when “the prince of the power of the air” is “the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” who are “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:1-3).

By the same token the apostle John tells us that “all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father, but is of the world.  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it . . .” (I John 2:16, 17a).  In other words human society as a whole, including its various civilizations, is fallen and corrupt, and under the wrath of God.

The Christian, however, is no longer a part a part of this corrupt world system.  “He [i.e., God] has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:13).  And this kingdom operates on a whole different principle from the surrounding world.  “. . .for the kingdom of God is not eating or drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).  Thus a human civilization can never truly be called “Christian”; it is always sub-Christian at best.

But what about the culture of civilization – its arts and science, its learning and philosophy?  “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (I Cor. 3:19: cf. 1:18-25).  Because fallen sinners refuse to acknowledge God as the Creator and Lord, their philosophy is based on a false premise and they develop a warped and distorted view of reality.  They live in a world created by God, but they refuse to admit the fact.  The result is an educational system that does not truly educate.

That, then, is the picture that the Bible paints of human civilization.  But how is the Christian to relate to the surrounding world?  How does he fit in?  Or doesn’t he?

On the positive side we are to honor and respect those who are in positions of authority in human society.  Jesus said “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21).  The apostle Peter could write, “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake . . .” including kings and governors.  We are to “Honor all people.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the king” (I Pet. 2:13-17).  It is even permissible on occasion for the Christian to avail himself of the legal remedies at his disposal.  The apostle Paul could claim Roman citizenship and make a formal appeal to Caesar when threatened (Acts 22:25-28; 256:10-12).

Yet the Christian must always be conscious that he answers to a higher authority, and when human law clashes with divine law, divine law always takes precedence.  Jesus state the matter quite starkly: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

The fact of the matter is that the life of a Christian should stand in sharp contrast with that of the world.  Paul could write to the Ephesian believers and tell them “For you were once darkness, but you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), . . .”  He then goes on to say, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them . . .” (Eph. 5:8-11).

But what about Western Civilization?  Was it not a “Christian” civilization?  Should not Christians have whole-heartedly supported it?

The answer is that Western civilization was only superficially Christian.  It supported state churches and professed Christian values, but it was largely an external morality, whereas genuine Christianity is the life of Christ within the heart, transforming life from the inside out.  Western civilization was the greatest civilization in the history of mankind, and it attained that status precisely because of the influence on it of Christianity.  But it still fell short of what our Creator expects from us as human beings.  Genuine Christians must conform to a higher standard.

The Christian, then, lives in the world but is not really a part of it.  He seeks to do good to his neighbors wherever he can, but must be careful not to participate in their sins.  While he may support the government in its efforts to establish justice and meet human need, the Christian realizes that man’s real need is for salvation and eternal life.  The Christian’s aim, then, is to be a light shining in the darkness.

FOR WHAT DID THEY DIE?

 

g08_0000881u

Gettysburg

Today, of course, is the day when we honor the many servicemen and women who gave their lives for their country.  But for what exactly did they die?  We are often told that they were defending our freedom.  But most of the recent wars the U.S. has fought involved conflicts in foreign countries.  In many cases these countries did not have a tradition of democracy.  So what exactly was it that we were defending?  “American values?”  But what are they?

Not too long ago Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens asked the question, “Do we still want the west?”  He told of how in the late 1980’s Stanford University did away with its required Western Civilization course.  An attempt was made last year to bring the course back, but the students voted it down by a 6 to 1 margin (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 21, 2017).

Stephens went on in his op-ed piece to say “There was a time when the West knew what it was about.  It did so because it thought about itself – often in freshman Western Civ classes.”  But today do we even know what a “civilization” is, let alone Western civilization?  What does it mean to be “civilized”?

The word “civilized” comes from the Latin adjective “civilis,” which in turn is related to the noun “civis,” which means a citizen.  A “civis” was a member of a “civitas,” a union of people in an organized community.  The Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero described a “civitas” or state this way: there are “societies and groups of men, united by law and right, which are called states (civitates)” (On the Commonwealth, VI.13).

The earliest form of civilization was a city state.  Thousands of years ago various groups of people chose to give up their nomadic existence as hunter-gatherers and chose instead to live in settled communities.  Early city states arose in lower Mesopotamia (Sumeria) and then others spread across the ancient Near East.  Eventually some city states became more powerful than others and developed into large empires.

But life in a settled community requires some form of social organization.  A sociologist could argue that even primitive tribal societies have at least some form of social organization, and of course they are right.  But life in a settled community requires something more formal and elaborate.  First of all there must be an organized government with written laws and records.  This is why Cicero defined a “civitas” as a group of people “united by law and right.”  Written laws and records, in turn, require a written language.  Moreover in a civilized society there is likely to be economic specialization, with different people pursuing different trades.  This, in turn, requires some form of trade and commerce.

But in order for any of this to happen there must also be something else.  There must be a willingness on the part of the citizens to cooperate and work together.  In order for this to happen there must be shared values and a shared vision.  There must be the social skills necessary for people to work together at the practical level.  And all of this requires some sort of educational system to transfer these values and skills from one generation to another.

In short, a civilized requires social norms – rules to govern human behavior.  These include formal, written laws against criminal activity, as well as customary rules that govern everyday behavior.  This includes common everyday rules of etiquette – people are expected to treat each other with courtesy and respect.  They must be polite with each other.

The Greeks called these social norms ethoi, from which we get our English word “ethics,” and the Romans called them “mores,” from which we get our English word “morals.”  In either case the words refer to accustomed habits or regular practices.  It is the way people are expected to behave in a civilized society, and it is what enables human beings to live and work together harmoniously.

Nor must the role of religion in all of this be overlooked.  Most civilized societies have a form of civil religion, the role of which is to reinforce the mores of society by encouraging people to look beyond their own individual self-interest and to see a larger reality.  The individual comes to see himself as a part of a larger whole, and this helps motivate him to cooperate with the other members of society.

All of which brings us back to Mr. Stephens’ article.  Do we still believe in Western civilization?  Mr. Stephens says that it was once understood that Western civilization’s “moral foundations had been laid in Jerusalem; its philosophical ones in Athens; its legal ones in Rome.  It treated with reverence reason and revelation, freedom and responsibility . . . It believed in the excellence of its music and literature, and the superiority of its political ideals . . .And it believed all of this was worth defending – in classrooms and newspapers and statehouses and battlefields.”

And what happened to Western civilization?  It collapsed during the 20th Century.  Radical philosophers attacked belief in universal truths and moral absolutes.   The counter culture of the late 1960’s rejected social norms of every kind.  Established institutions were seen as artificial and corrupt, and “back to nature” was the cry.  Free speech and free love were the order of the day.  Then came radical feminism’s rejection of gender roles, along with no-fault divorce, legalized abortion, and finally same-sex marriage.  In our consumer oriented society we have rejected social norms of every kind, and believe we are entitled to engage in almost any kind of behavior that suits us, be it rude and crude, vulgar and bizarre.  In short, we have rejected the very premise of civilized life – that there are social norms which ought to be observed in order for organized human society to function smoothly.  In a word, we have become uncivilized.

What does the future hold?  None but God can see.  But it is hard to see how American democracy can survive in a sea of social chaos.  Has Western civilization has become an anachronism in a post-modern world?