Thursday, June 16, 2011

Marriage - redefined?

The groom and groomsmen wore zoot suits; the bride was stunning in her gown as she walked the aisle. Family and friends celebrated with the couple as they committed their lives to one another, and I had the privilege of performing the ceremony. They gave me one simple statement to include in the content of what I said: “We would like to place strong emphasis that marriage is FOREVER, and that is the only way we see it. Our trials and hard times will only bring us closer to one another, and closer to God.” This couple got it right.

That’s the good news.

Now for some bad news.
Earlier in the week, seventy clergy of a particular denomination signed a statement at their state conference that said they would “offer the grace of the Church’s blessing to any prepared couple desiring Christian marriage,” including same-sex couples. They added, “We realize that our church’s discriminatory policies tarnish the witness of the church to the world, and we are complicit.” Granted, seventy signatures represent less than 10% of the voting membership of the convention, but that such a statement originated within a church conference is noteworthy.

A few days later, I read this concerning a different, but historically more conservative, denomination: “The church has abandoned its denominational commitment to traditional marriage. Gone is the standard for ordination that requires pastors, ‘to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman …, or chastity in singleness.’”   The change removes a celibacy requirement that kept many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from becoming ministers.

When the church starts declaring “this is okay” in relationships, she does so with the presumption that she is representing God. So, how does she know God’s purposes? Does she read it through human experience, human opinions, church leaders, cultural forces, (all of which are subject to change) or someplace else?

I vote “someplace else”.

 To know God’s purposes with certainty, God must reveal Himself. And I believe He did so through the Bible. And in this book, He defined marriage very clearly:

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24, see also Matt. 19:5, Eph. 5:31)

 According to these words, marriage unites one man to one woman (his wife, singular) for life (“joined”). God formed the union, designed for permanence (“let no man separate, Matt. 19:6).

Our culture redefines marriage, or says it isn’t even important. The message of the Bible swims upstream against the flow of culture. We shouldn’t be surprised when the world acts like the world, when it says something different that the Bible. We should do what we can to influence the world positively to align with biblical principles, but nonetheless, we shouldn’t be surprised.

But we should be surprised when any church or denomination says “the world’s way is okay” contrary to God’s Word. Standing for God’s Word isn’t wrongly “discriminatory,” it’s standing for what is right.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A crucial message from the past...

Deet and her fiancĂ© lived in Holland before World War two started. They watched Hitler rise to power; they saw Jewish neighbors lose their property only because they had been born Jewish. They became involved with the resistance, and helped rescue many Jews. She lived in fear, but continued to do what she was convinced was right. “Do unto other as you would have them do unto you” and love of Jesus motivated her. Shortly before the war ended, her fiancĂ© was killed by the Nazis. She lived in the world at its darkest; she chose to “love her neighbor” despite the risk to her own life.

Deet turned 91 years old today. She spoke at the conference I attended this week (Acton University). She spoke of how she “played dumb” with the Gestapo to protect her friends. She spoke of how hard it was to forgive the Nazis after the war. She spoke of the life she lived in order to avoid capture.  In the Q & A time that followed, I asked her, based on her experience, “what message should I pass on to my grand children”?
Her answer was the epitome of simplicity: Know God’s Word; Love Jesus; Live God’s Word.
It worked in the darkest of times. What better advice for any time, any place?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Disagreeing agreeably?

Ever been called a false teacher? I have.

Ever been told your views are “flawed” by someone who disagrees with your views? I have.
In both cases, the person and I differed on our understanding of some biblical principle (I won’t bore you with the details). But in neither case was the issue one of a cardinal doctrine of Scripture. Both cases raise the question, how should we respond when we disagree with one another? (By the way – if any person who said these things to me is reading this, I’m not throwing rocks at you. I promise!)
The fact that Christians disagree about what the Bible says is a given. The problem isn’t the book; it’s our understanding of the book. For a host of reasons (that I won’t go into), two people can look at the same passage and understand it differently. Or, we might understand it similarly but apply it differently. I think we can learn some skills to help us read the Bible more effectively and perhaps reduce the number of differences, but differences will always exist. How should we respond when we disagree?
Jesus came “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Paul admonishes us to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Somehow, we too often miss the grace and love part. We attack (because we have “the truth”); we won’t listen; we defend ourselves. I’ve been guilty of this, but I’m trying to be more sensitive about how I respond.
One of the most common approaches that ignores grace and love attacks the person in some way instead of the person’s position (an ad hominem attack). What does this look like?
The “Christian” standing on one street corner calling the atheist standing on the opposite corner a “faggot”.
The young-earth apologist declaring that those who don’t hold a young-earth view deny the inerrancy of Scripture.
The writer who declares those who don’t hold to his dispensational views are “false teachers”.
The theologian who labels another theological viewpoint using “loaded” terms to discredit the view (since I won’t give the details here, several such instances might pop up in your thinking!).
All true stories by the way. And I won’t belabor the point with more examples (there are many!). What does this approach accomplish?

Nothing constructive.
What should we do instead?  A recent opinion column, reposted on Yahoo! News, nailed it:
 “Five words could prevent the public brawls between Christians who differ in their opinions on social and theological issues.
‘…but I might be wrong.’
It would be disingenuous if we attached these words to the end of every sentence. We all have spiritual and moral convictions we believe are non-negotiable, but can’t the humility associated with those five words define the tone of our dialog?”

What does this humility look like – even when we know (??) we’re right?

First, always begin with a desire to understand what the Bible says. We may still disagree on what the text means, but at least we’re focused on objective truth. Look at the text. Wrestle with the text.
Second, listen to the other view. We might learn something – even if we do not end up agreeing completely with the other person. And we might even discover we were wrong on some points!
Third, avoid critical or “loaded” words.  Instead, ask questions like, “have you considered this?” or “How does xxxx fit?” (xxxx is a passage in the Scriptures), or “could you show me how you came to your conclusion?”

Fourth, be slow to play the “false teaching” card. False teaching is not, “we disagree, therefore, you are a false teacher”.  Biblically, false teaching encompasses teaching contrary to core, essential doctrines. The “guarantee” of the rapture on May 21st was false teaching because of Camping’s guarantee that God would do certain things that day, not because of any particular view of the rapture. Denial of the deity of Christ is false teaching. Teaching salvation by anything other than faith in Jesus Christ is false teaching. I’ve yet to encounter a false teacher who responds to the accusation of being a false teacher by admitting they are a false teacher, so calling them such will not help the situation. At the end of the day, we may well need to label some teaching as “false”, but we shouldn’t start our conversation there!
Humility in action looks like my friends Zach and Abbie. Instead of ignoring the atheist and the name-caller on the opposite corner, they talked to them. They didn’t start by pointing out the errors of either man. They asked questions and listened. Now they better understand why each person believes what they believe. They better understand why they act like they act. Time will tell where the conversation will end, but by choosing to avoid critical words, they’ve kept the door open.  
Disagreeing agreeably. Applying love and grace with truth. It’s a crucial art form for every believer to learn.