Recently I was reading a great book by Eric Metaxas called; “Seven Men: And The Secret Of Their Greatness”. One of the men profiled in the book is Karol Wojtyla, also known as Pope John Paul II. There was one passage that caught my attention and helped focus my thinking on a current trend. When elected Pope he was considered very broad-minded for someone in that position. But as Metaxas notes; “A generous broad-mindedness and a serious theological orthodoxy were not two characteristics that one often saw together.” Now I find this same thing happening today. I may not share many theological positions with the Roman Catholic Church, but this idea of a “…generous broad-mindedness and a serious theological orthodoxy…” seems strangely out of vogue right now.
Let me explain something I’ve seen, which of course does not mean I’m right, but seems to be a trend in some Churches in America towards a very active social justice model. Not a thing wrong with that! I see large and very hip Churches turning out young people into the world around them seeking to transform society by addressing it’s ills with service. Again, not a thing wrong with that. And really, a bunch of fired up young people with a vision to change their world is not a bad thing! But at the same time I am seeing movements within the greater Church in America that are focused on social ills to the exception of good Biblical doctrine. Can’t Christians be “…generously broad-minded and serious in their theological orthodoxy…”? I would suggest yes, but even more, they must be. (And I know plenty who are…)
The Gospel of Jesus is the most broad-minded invitation to humans made by any religion in the world. The inclusiveness of Jesus’ message is impossible to miss; “Come to me all…” (Matthew 11:28) “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16) The expanse of God’s love and the generosity of His offer needs to be heard by everyone so that they can each make a decision, face to face as it were, with the God Who made them and loves them. Not a decision to join a Church or movement or to come under some kind of ecclesiastical control, but a living relationship with the One Who made them. Now, to my point, can we solve social ills by ignoring the very cause of what brought people into bondage to begin with?
A good example might be the current hot button issue of homosexual marriage. At a web site called Red Letter Christians Morf Morford writes; “The case against same-sex marriage seems, to me at least, muddled, odd and paltry.” While it is easy to agree that those who are vociferous in their arguments against same sex marriage are not doing a very good job articulating their objections is certainly true. But, and this is my point here, while many Christians have sided with same sex marriage rights, I would ask, aren’t we having the wrong discussion? Again, an orthodox theology will inform us either explicitly or implicitly as to the wisdom of God on a given topic.
Yes, the Bible never says “Homosexual marriage should be illegal.” But the Bible also doesn’t explicitly condemn child pornography, eating donuts or network television. But can’t we draw wisdom from what is implied as well as what is explicit? This is the point where you might say; “Be careful here, that just might be your own interpretation only.” Granted. But I might also suggest; how many ways are there to interpret a “Stop” sign? There are abundant passages that call homosexual behavior a sin. And yes, context and history is vitally important to understanding what God says. A text taken out of context can become a pretext. While we try to avoid that, it seems clear to me that many would rather be seen as socially fair (By agreeing with societal trends) than Biblically correct. (Agreeing with the plain reading of God’s Word)
(There are those who argue against what the Bible has to say on this topic, I think any individual reading God’s Word without pre-conceived ideas on the topic would walk away understanding clearly that homosexuality is not God’s design for men or women. And yes, I am arguing from a mind that is already made up.)
So, if we are arguing for or against same sex marriage, aren’t we having the wrong argument? Or to look at it this way, should the state confer a “right” on the basis of someone’s sin? Can we not then argue that adulterers should be advanced certain rights simply because they are adulterers? Or can I expect government assistance because I am a liar? These are also sins, like homosexuality. Now I am not so close-minded to disagree with anyone’s right to be happy, or find love, relationship or commitment. You do have the “right” to do anything you wish to do; (Within the context of the Laws of the land) you only must be willing to accept the consequences of your actions before man (Laws of the state) and God. You also have the right to work to change the laws of the land. And if you succeed in doing so then I am stuck if I disagree. That’s America. But let’s get back to my original point.
When I as a Christian engage in any effort to meet the needs of humans all around me, I, because of what I believe, do so in the Name of Jesus. Certainly Jesus was more broad-minded than anyone before or since, so let’s take His example. In John 8:1-12 a woman caught in the very act of having sex with someone not her spouse is brought to Jesus for Him to judge. The Law for national Israel was the death penalty. (Although as a nation occupied by foreign invaders, Rome, they did not have right to exact this penalty. See the trail and crucifixion of Jesus) When brought face to face with Jesus, the woman, with no defense at all, watched Jesus deal with her accusers. In Vs.10 Jesus asked her who her accusers were after He shamed them all into leaving. She responded; “No one Lord.” (Vs.11) Jesus’ response at this point is very instructive, He said; “Neither do I condemn you…” Here was a woman caught in the act of a sin that by law required her death. (Interestingly missing was the man she was with!) Jesus did not condemn her for having sex with someone who was not her husband!
Was Jesus being socially conscious? Had His theology changed with the changing times? Did Jesus decide it was time to get God’s laws out of people’s bedrooms? Note the next thing Jesus said; “…go and sin no more…” (Vs.11) While Jesus did not condemn her; neither did He ignore her guilt. The sin she committed, adultery, was what got her into the predicament she was in. Yet Jesus refused to condemn her for it, rather forgiving her, even though she didn’t ask for forgiveness, and send her off with the charge to not do it again. I’m only speculating here, but I bet she never did! Like this woman, no one who calls themselves a Christian can ever condemn anyone. But neither can a Christian ignore sin, either in our own lives or the lives of those Jesus loves. Jesus didn’t ignore it.
So, once again, back to my original point. Can a Christian seeking to impact the world for Jesus, seeking social justice and the “equal rights” of everyone campaign for those things to the exclusion of what God’s Word says? Can I minister help to the poor while ignoring the conditions that put them there? Can I ignore, marginalize or re-interpret the teaching of God’s Word in the name of social action? It seems to me that folks like Morf Morford (And I don’t know him so I can’t know) are more concerned with being perceived by the world as being fair than Biblically right. God determines what is right and wrong and it’s not difficult to know. God created the world and He alone has the right to dictate the rules of the game. We, the creation, do not have the right to re-define God’s definitions just to suit the way we want to play.
If you take the position that I am only arguing from my own narrow and fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible, you are for the most part, correct. But my question would be; how much time and effort have you put into studying the topic yourself? Don’t you think it is possible to be “…generously broad-minded and serious in theological orthodoxy…”? And if not, why not? I consider myself a very broad minded guy. There is little or nothing that you can say or do that would shock me. I’m afraid I’ve seen much! Unfortunately these days, the idea of “tolerance” has lost its intended definition. The first two definitions from Webster’s Dictionary are; “1 – capacity to endure pain or hardship and 2 – sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own.” These days “tolerance” seems to mean; “You agree with me”. And if I differ from you then I am the bigot. That does not lead to a civil discussion on important topics.
That being said, I am not about to launch an apologetic for others who have argued for the Biblical view of marriage with a somewhat less than tactful approach. In the end, we must agree to disagree and do so agreeably. So as we launch out into the world to work for social justice, equal treatment under the law and the necessary love for all, we also cannot go without being informed by our theology, derived from God’s Word, and be prepared to live it and defend it in the public square. Do I agree with you? Maybe not, but it won’t stop me from loving you, helping you however I can, and leading you to the Savior Who alone can deliver you from the things that have caused your pain. Like Jesus, I won’t condemn you, no matter what you have done, but I will repeat His Words; “Go and sin no more…”