Reading Some Old Letters

Bible_Savio Sebastian

About a week ago, controversial pastor Rob Bell told Oprah Winfrey that the Church is “moments” away from accepting gay marriage:

“… I think culture is already there, and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense…”

Bell’s comment proves we are never static in our view of God’s Word. We are either increasingly devoted to it with the passage of time, or else we move in the opposite direction: first neglecting it, then questioning it, and then rejecting it.

But once people reject the Word of God they never stop there… they go further, and end up despising it, even disparaging it to others.

As Psalm 1 shows us, once we heed the counsel of the ungodly, we end up sitting in the seat of the scornful. Bell ridicules the Word as something we have outgrown in our current state of societal sophistication. But his statement is not sophisticated – it’s sophomoric, and blasphemous.

Was the Apostle Paul unaware of the “modern” issues we grapple with? Were there no homosexuals in the Roman Empire? What conceit and self-deception! The Emperor Nero himself had a homosexual ceremony of sorts. But Bell says we’ll be increasingly irrelevant if we rely upon the Bible. Granted, there are certainly a number of “civilizational” reasons to oppose gay marriage, but Scripture can never be irrelevant to morals.

Ironically, it’s our failure to uphold and submit to the authority of the Word of God that makes the Church in North America so anemic and timid. The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword and therefore, having cast it aside, the Church makes few converts… but it hatches scorners in abundance.

Photo by Savio Sebastian on Flickr under Creative Commons License.

Advertisements

It’s All About Your Lampstand

In the weeks since the Super Bowl, many Christians have found themselves arguing or being asked to weigh in about Katy Perry’s halftime performance, and her claims that God spoke to her beforehand. Over the past several years, a number of people have written blogs or produced videos critical of Katy Perry and how she has released music with overt lesbian and occult lyrics and themes. Others have defended her: some saying that we should not “judge” her; others on the theory that what Katy produces is harmless. Still others are concerned that, whatever we may think about Katy, Christians are wrong to be critical in public fora where unsaved people can see us disagree and perhaps speak harshly.

In addition to arguing about Katy Perry, there has been renewed discussion about social issues in general and the steady drift of churches, even ostensibly Evangelical churches, in the direction of accepting homosexual marriage. These mini-controversies have surfaced a lot of discussion about how we should act and speak in social media.

Having watched this happening, I will put forward a few observations:

1. It may no longer be the conservative Christians who are the “attack Christians.” Despite the stereotype of the conservative Christian who bashes those who disagree with him, things seem to have flipped. To merely express an opinion contrary to the spirit of the age is to make yourself a prey for slander – not only from those who do not profess Christ, but from those who do. This is troubling. While these friends attack conservative Christians as judgmental, they don’t seem to realize that they have become equally judgmental, maybe more so.

Here’s a thought. It may be that someone who posts a video attacking Katy Perry’s music does not hate Katy Perry, and isn’t trying to make a buck, but is trying to warn parents about the dangers of letting their young daughters listen to her music. For parents, such discussions are not academic.

2. There is almost no desire for holiness in North America. It is abundantly clear that we can no longer be shocked by anything. Society has accepted as the new normal behaviors that only a single generation ago would have made a person liable to arrest. Does anyone take this to heart? No. King David’s vow to set no wicked thing before his eyes finds very few imitators today.

And yet, this is not a matter of rule-keeping, but a matter of the desires of the heart. What are we looking for? How many among us still have that spirit of Jonathan Edwards, who said, “The heaven that I desired was a heaven of holiness?”

3. Much of the complaining about “division” in the Church is a red herring. Christians who believe in the integrity of God’s Word cannot afford to be cowed here, although Christ-likeness is always required. For not every division necessarily grieves the Spirit of God. It may surprise us to recall that some division in opinion and even in fellowship is expected by Scripture. The New Testament is clear that offenses, and even heresies, will come. They will happen because of human weakness and pride. Paul is clear about this: For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. (1 Cor. 11:19) God uses division, using it to make obvious those of whom He approves.

In Romans 16, Paul tells us to take note of those who cause divisions – but his concern is actually quite specific and not directed against all division:

Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple… I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.

So then we are not necessarily to be grieved by the mere fact of disagreements, but we are to make note of those who cause divisions by contravening the Word of God. Contrary to the modern spirit, Paul was shocked that the Corinthians tolerated flagrant sin: …you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. (1 Cor. 5:2) Paul and his fellow apostles could not have imagined a situation in which Christians would argue that the Holy Spirit was speaking a personal word to an alleged prodigal to encourage her to sing about the glories of lesbianism in front of a billion people.

4. Because of false “tolerance” (which is actually false love), the lampstand of the American Church may now be going out. I won’t argue here with professing Christians concerning “social issues” such as gay marriage. (And let’s face it, the battle over that issue definitely seems to be lost.) So, if you claim to be a Christian and you believe in gay marriage, I’m not addressing you here. Go ahead and tune me out for a minute.

Now, for the rest of us, are we sure that our lampstand is not even now being removed? When was the last time we read the letters to the seven churches (Revelation 2-3) and trembled in fear at the thought of being inspected by the One whose eyes are a flame of fire? The fact that we operate in a false tolerance which masquerades as Christian love keeps us from being effective in proclaiming Christ to our nation. So our lampstand is going out, because there are very few churches left that are brave enough to assert even the most basic truths of the Gospel.

What will happen when Christ removes the lampstand of the Church in America and Canada? Are we so arrogant to think this cannot happen and that national judgment will not descend? Many don’t think such a thing could ever happen to the Land of the Free, but by the same token, I haven’t run into too many Byzantines lately, and neither have you.

5. Christian leaders are obligated by God to warn the Church about sin and to call the wider society to repentance. Yes, we must do this in love, but the average American Christian’s 21st-century definition of love doesn’t square with God’s definition.

Paul said, “Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” But some do not want their teachers to do so. He also said, “Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” But this would get an American pastor sued. And Paul told Titus,  “…denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age…Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.”

If you are unwilling or afraid to speak out and so lose friends or face persecution, then please, at least recognize that there are some who are called to this. You ought not hinder them. You may not feel that you can bring a word of correction to your brother concerning his doctrine or behavior – but your elders have been called by God to do so:

“Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” (Colossians 1:28)

Let’s all think very carefully about where we go from here as we speak out for Christ and for His honor. As Christians have now lost the culture wars, all that we have left is the Gospel. Let’s not throw that away, too. Actually, it’s all we’ve really ever had.

May your lampstand not be put out, but may you burn brightly for Him.