Pastoral Thoughts on Responding to the Court Ruling on Same Sex Marriage

Many in our church family are wondering what it means to be a Bible believing Christian in relation to the recent Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision to legalize same sex marriage across the country. I think God’s timing is perfect and that is reflected in the fact that our summer sermon series is on the Lord’s Prayer. The parts of the prayer we have reflected on in recent Sundays are: the holiness of God’s name, the desire for the kingdom to come, and the desire for God’s will to be done. Those themes, and the prayer as a whole, really connect with how followers of Christ should respond to this court decision and the majority culture that this decision reflects.

Let me say that if you are confused, on the fence, or think the decision was good, we do not want to discredit your personhood. We love you and we want you to remain at the Bible Church and wrestle with us on what it means to be Biblically defined followers of Jesus. The leadership of this church and I affirm the traditional view of gender, sex, and marriage, but we want to dialogue with you, and we want you to know that the centerpiece of our theological and relational mission is Jesus and His gospel, not a certain view of gender, sex, and marriage. We do think this is a big issue with very big implications, but we want to speak with you and we want to hold our view with grace and winsome love. I hope our common desire is to know what God’s will is, known in Scripture, and that we will then submit to that and obey it, regardless of the personal and cultural cost. Would you join us in dialogue and study of the Scripture?

As an aside, I have had people tell me: Jay, you seem so nice and gracious. The Bible Church is so loving and so committed to grace. I can’t believe you hold this view! Now, I guess I am thankful that people see me as nice and that our church is committed to grace. But, I am sad that many self-described Christians don’t see grace and the traditional view of marriage as compatible. In that disassociation are layers and layers of assumptions, experience, and emotion. If you are struggling to see the compatibility of the two realities, please hold on, wrestle with the Biblical text, pray, and seek Scriptural logic. I promise you that grace and the traditional view are not only compatible but essentially tied to one another.

So, let me give you some things to consider as you reflect upon the SCOTUS decision and how it impacts you and Christianity in America. These will hopefully aid you in processing it yourself and also in how you might converse with people about it, Christian and non-Christian alike.

1. What the Bible means by marriage and what the law means by marriage is not the same.
Now that the highest court of the land has defined marriage by the act of legalizing it for any gender configuration, it has become clear that what the law means by marriage and what orthodox Christianity means by marriage is no longer the same. This is actually helpful, I think. This reality gives us the responsibility and the privilege of teaching clear Biblical truth on what marriage actually is, which is something I think the evangelical church has not done well in the last few decades – and one of the reasons we were caught flat footed on this issue. This, in turn, will lead the church to value marriage more, commit to it more, protect it more, and worship through it more. True marriage, the covenant between one man and one woman, will be strengthened in the church of Christ. In other words, I believe the Spirit of God is going to use this season to rebuild our view of marriage. Will we start using a different word for marriage, if the law means something different? I don’t know. Maybe. That won’t help much. Already there are efforts to force religious groups to not only live in this new era but to change our beliefs to agree with it. But, at the very least, we must be clear that what the Bible means by marriage is not the same as what the law, and the majority of Americans, mean by the term. We should make that clear as we talk with people, and that will help people understand why gay couples can get a legal standing which the church can recognize as a legal standing and yet not recognize as a spiritual, theological, and relational standing. We can then explain why our wedding ceremonies exist, and that is for the purpose of extolling the spiritual, theological, and relational realities of marriage.

2. We are being called to live a lot more like New Testament Christians.
Since the founding of this country, the church, and all religious groups, have been blessed by a relatively supportive host culture. I don’t agree that our country was essentially Christian in its core mission, but it is true that a Judeo-Christian worldview was fairly dominant for a long time. The church experienced a lot of protection and freedoms. No one questioned our status as a non-profit institution and certain benefits were given to us because people recognized the church and its clergy as positive influencers for the common good. This is changing. We just shifted gears with the court ruling.
But, if you look at the New Testament, the church was not privileged and protected. It was a small, ragtag, marginalized, often persecuted group of Jesus followers, who clung to the Scriptures, and who knew that following Jesus meant giving up status, power, and sometimes family and physical safety. There was no cake-and-eat-it-too Christianity. Because of that, God’s people experienced the true power of the Holy Spirit in ways I think we have been missing because there was too much human power to trust in for us as an American church. Well, welcome to the days of having those idols ripped from us. Now is the time for us to embrace our marginalized, minority, ridiculed, and maybe even persecuted next chapter. We should embrace this season of harvest, because the vetting, dividing, and clear defining we are seeing as the church will wake us up to the implications of this moment and will make us a much more healthy and Biblical church.
Let me get super specific in terms of the implication. We are going to look a lot dorkier and even poisonous to the world. Friend, that is what it means to follow Christ. I am tearing up as I type this because I know the cost will be high for you, but I also feel so moved at how beautiful and glorious it is to suffer for our sweet Savior, Jesus. He loves us so much. He would never call us to a failed mission. He knows that through suffering with him we will become co-heirs with him of the vast treasure of the universe (go and read Romans 8 right now!).

3. The Bible Church will still continue to keep the main thing the main thing.
You need not worry that this is going to become the pet issue for our church, or evangelicalism. It won’t. I am writing this, and myriad other pieces are floating out there, because this is a current hot issue and this is an important discipleship and teaching moment for the church. But, the dust will settle and we will get used to this as our new normal. Our church is going to preach the Bible each week and celebrate all that God is for us through Jesus. As usual, we will take Biblical texts and unfold them in their context. Our sermons will preach the truths of those passages. Our community will be built around Jesus and his mission. In that sense, not much will change. As part of our overall discipleship, I think one of the lessons learned is that we should make teaching on marriage and sexual purity be an important part of our discipleship ministry and training center, but it won’t overshadow the other important things to be taught.

4. We should pray for continued protections and yet be prepared for loss.
Even though the church is going to grow and become healthier in this season, we should pray and seek ways of protecting some of the legal standing and freedoms we have, so we can continue to direct most of our energy and resources toward gospel mission. For instance, there are already secular voices that are insisting that religious groups who do not affirm the legal and moral validity of same sex marriage should have their non profit standing taken away and thus should be taxed. If that were to occur, churches would pay property tax, would be taxed on our income from giving, giving would no longer be tax deductible, and we would have to pay sales tax on our purchases. Furthermore (and this may occur regardless), our ministry staff would probably lose their clergy housing allowance, which saves thousands a year in taxes, which enables churches to afford a plurality of gifted and focused staff who don’t need to worry about holding another job. Many churches will no longer afford to have property, especially in high rent areas like cities. Many venues will not rent to evangelical churches any longer. Many staff will have to be cut or become part time or be tent makers, unless churches see the need and respond with urgent generosity – and maybe that will be good for people, to see that their giving now must happen in order for churches to be committed to basic gospel mission. Again, this has potential to get the American church back to a healthy square one, but for the time being I hope we can keep these freedoms and benefits, all the while becoming more focused to use them for Jesus’ glory.

5. Continue to love well and be conversant in the Bible.
When the issue comes up among family, friends, at work, over the fence, in your running club, wherever, do your best to express love on your face, in your posture, and in your voice. Don’t let it hit a wall of yes or no questions. Pursue the other person and their story. Why do they believe what they believe? Ask that you begin a conversation and talk about assumptions, history, how you arrived at your conclusions, and, most importantly, that you start with the Bible and work your way backwards from it, and why it is that you have that much confidence in the Bible to define reality. That means you’ve got to study this. The good news is that you will grow closer to the Lord in doing so, and you will learn about a ton of other stuff that is attached to gender, sexuality, and marriage in the process. You will learn about the foundations of life, not least who God is, Father, Son, and Spirit. Now, people may not agree with you but I bet you will plant seeds, win respect, build love into people, and show people what a controversial conversation with someone who feels secure in Christ looks like. Take these opportunities to draw fellow believers back to the Bible as the starting point. And, with non-believers, take this as an opportunity to show them Jesus.
Let’s end there. This is all about Jesus. Getting gender, sex, and marriage right is all about Jesus. This is a topic to be correct on. This is a relationship. This is truth. This is relationship. This is experience. This is reason. This is mission. This is community. This is human flourishing. It’s all of those things. We’ve got to be pressed to the Bible, because this is all about the glory of Jesus and the common good, and the Bible is the only place we where we see what it means to bring glory to Jesus and the recipe for the common good.

For more information, here are some resources for you to work through and consider.

Resources:
50 Resources on Equipping the Church on Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage
What You Should Know about the Supreme Court Ruling on Same-Sex Marriage
Great Videos & Resources to Help Understand
Same-Sex Marriage and the Future
Statement of Position by Leading Evangelical Leaders (including our very own Jay Thomas)

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2 More Solid Responses to Newsweek Article

Here are two more helpful articles by well respected evangelical Bible scholars:

By Darrell Bock of Dallas Seminary

By Ben Witherington of Asbury Seminary

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Response to Newsweeks Cover Story on the Bible

On December 23rd of last year, writer Kurt Eichenwald had an online article go live which became this week’s cover piece for the newly re-published Newsweek  magazine entitled, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin.” In it, while trying to be objective, he takes shot after shot at a tradition, or evangelical, understanding of the Bible. And, by traditional and evangelical I am not being overly precise. I mean a basic understanding of Scripture that it is true and authoritative.

There are several good responses now on the web and there are several very helpful books on the topic of why the Bible is a reliable document, historically, theologically, and spiritually, and I will link you to a blog by NT scholar Daniel Wallace where he argues at greater length and with greater precision than me, but let me just outline some of the things to keep in mind if you have read the Newsweek piece or plan on it for the future.

1. The article has several factual flaws, such as how the Bible came to be, dating, the history of Christianity, the basics of Christian belief, etc.

2. The arguments used in the article are not new. They have been widely discussed and have been propagated by liberal theologians for centuries and now are re-articulated by faculty in university religion departments, not least by Dr. Bart Erhman of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. These arguments have been addressed and responded to clearly, rigorously, and with the highest levels of scholarship, by evangelical Biblical scholars and theologians. These evangelical rebuttals cannot make an unbeliever believe. That is the work of the Spirit. But, they show that Christian belief in the Bible is reasonable and comports with evidence.

3. The article dismisses out of hand evangelical presuppositions and convictions that drive our view of the Biblical text – in its creation, its transmission, and its present form – and thus does not view current evangelical responses to his arguments as valid. The author then goes on to assume other biases that are the basis of his arguments without defending those philosophically or in any other way. Orthodox Christians – fundamentalists, evangelicals, and even moderates – are all simply cast aside as ignorant and unable to reasonably hold to our view of the Bible. By the way, he lumps everyone together and does not distinguish how certain traditions and strains of Christianity have significantly different approaches to Scripture. He rightly points out some very dodgy views on the Bible, but assumes all Christians see it that way.

4. The article has a very flat view of the Bible and does not account for how literature, not least ancient literature, works. He sees contradictions, inconsistencies, errors, and the lot, not because they are clearly seen in the text, but because he does not evaluate literary genre, how things are intended to be read in context, the overall story of the Bible, the nuances of authorial perspective, etc. It is actually a far more nuanced view of the Bible that allows for evangelical convictions to thrive.

5. Every argument for a position, whatever it is, is evidence of a personal narrative. That is true for orthodox Christians and why we believe the Bible to be the very voice of God. But, it is also true for Kurt Eichenwald. While I think his piece is just not good, or helpful, or written with journalistic integrity, I imagine the effort he put into it by means of research and thought are driven by a personal story of disappointment with orthodox Christianity and its view of the Bible. Some of the hurt might be pretty justified. Perhaps he, or someone he loves, has been very affected by how some Christians used the Bible to attack, condemn, or emotionally jab. So, just as we must own our biases (and let’s admit that our conviction about the Bible is biased…it’s just that we think our biases are correct) we must acknowledge that articles like this one come out of a personal story and are not just an interesting journalistic contribution to public thought and for the common good. I think that means we should pray for Mr. Eichenwald and not just excoriate him. That is possible, you know. We can both repudiate his article and be compassionate toward him – and yes, toward Bart Ehrman and the many other public voices, and not so pubic voices, of those who struggle with Christianity, the Bible, the gospel, and Jesus himself. As the Lord directs you, would you pray for the salvation of folks like this? You and I were no better off before God saved us, miraculously, through the converting power of the Holy Spirit, giving us faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Here is a helpful post by Dr. Daniel Wallace. Daniel Wallace response

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How Does A Pastor Decide What to Say on Sundays?

Watch Alistair Begg explain the answer.

Preach the Word

 

 

 

 

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How Do We Respond To the Last Several Months of Race-relations in America?

There are plenty of blogs out there on this issue. Very good ones. In the past I have assumed my people were reading those blogs and therefore I did not see how my voice would be an important aspect of shepherding, not just in conveying truth but in also leading as a pastor. I don’t think I can be silent anymore. If you stumble on this as a person outside my church, great. But, for those of you at the Bible Church, I want you to hear your pastor publicly care about recent events in Ferguson, New York, and in many other situations, recently.

I want to begin with the question: How do we respond?

1. We are responding, one way or the other. If you think you are staying out of it by silence, that is a response. That says something. The issues we are facing demand we acknowledge our response and then to be intentional with it. Is it Biblical? Is it defined by the Gospel?

2. I think we need to admit there is something very wrong in our system. When very conservative evangelical leaders, not known for their progressive bent toward social issues, are decrying the handling of police force against minorities lately, then the canary has died in the mineshaft. I think we need to face the facts. Something is very wrong. We certainly need to admit that minorities in this country are experiencing profound hurt. Regardless of all the contingencies and mishandling of that hurt, we should feel compassion and we need to address system. Personal sin is a very crucial doctrine, but so is corporate and systemic sin. We must keep both doctrines at the center of this, and work toward repentance in both domains.

3. We need to acknowledge, if we are a majority ethnicity and/or if we have never experienced racism, that we cannot tell people who have what to feel. I do not know what it is liked to be followed in a store as I window shop. I have never been pulled over out of suspicion due to my race (plenty of time for speeding, unfortunately). My bi-racial status was always accepted in the milieu of the San Fransisco Bay Area. If anything, the fact that I am half Indian, part European, and part Native American, from a privileged family, with a good education, given how I present myself in clothing, and speaking, and the lot, has only opened doors for me. We need to know that living life as an African American is not neutral, even in very liberal cities. I am coming to grips with my own naiveté in these days.

4. We need to pray. There is not much more to be said, but we need to start making this a regular feature of our intercession. That will reveal a lot about what we believe, how we feel, and most importantly it will be used of God to bring transformation by the power of the Gospel.

5. We need to respect our law enforcers still. Remember, this is about a handful of policemen and other leaders in question. The vast majority of our law enforcers are good people, who do their job with justice, who try and protect life, and are comprised of white, black, latino, asian, and more.

6. We need to do something. That is now an agenda for the leadership of our church. I do not have a timetable. I do not have a chart. But, the leadership is praying, talking, and seeking ways of being a church that stands for the glory of God in doing something in our city to show that God is glorified in the unity, love, equality, friendship, partnership, and esteem of all races. Will you join us in seeking God in what He would have of us? Would you be willing to be willing to join with us in addressing these issues as a church for the name and fame of Christ?

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Does the South Really Need More Churches?

Our church is beginning a very exciting new chapter. We are beginning to embrace the reality that a healthy church is a multiplying church. A healthy church is a church-planting church. What is true for individual disciples, that they be disciple-makers of disciple-makers, is also true for local churches.

Now, almost every pundit on matters ecclesial agrees there are pockets in North America that are under-churched. Marin County, CA and Portland, OR are two examples. But, what about the South? Does the Bible-belt really need more churches? Aren’t there enough churches in the South that Southern churches can take their limited resources and pour them into the places of real need, like the unreached people groups of the other nations?

Clearly, healthy churches need to be devoted to bringing the gospel to the nations. This is not an either/or. It is a both/and. But, should churches in the South spend a lot of time, energy, and money on planting new churches in what seems to be one of the most established Christian areas in America, which seems to be the most Christian nation in the world?

Yes. Absolutely. I think we would actually be neglecting our call if we did not. It would be unhealthy if we did not.

But, some of you might need to know why. And, some of you may still not agree with my reasons, but at least you will see there are good reasons. Each needs much more unpacking, but let me at least list them out.

1. Biblical theology argument: The New Testament shows that the model of kingdom expansion was church planting. As soon as the Apostles began their ministry outside the initial revivals in Jerusalem, churches were planted in Asia Minor, often directed by Paul and his cohort. The kingdom had its pivot foot in local churches, and still does. This New Testament paradigm is not just descriptive but prescriptive, and there is a library’s worth of nuanced Biblical and theological treatments that establish this. Take a look at http://www.redeemer.com for some resources.

2. Healthy church argument: Simply tallying up how many churches are in a given area and how many people attend them is not the way to do the math on this issue. The issue is: how many heathy churches with converted Christians who are on mission comprise the ecclesial make up of an area? Many people define a healthy church as: orthodox, stable attendance,  and stable income. That is not the right definition. A healthy church is rigorously Biblical with a value for expositional ministry, has godly leadership, it equips believers for ministry, it has a strong community, it has a clear and robust gospel-centered vision, it invests mercy locally, it emphasized and trains people for personal evangelism, and it is committed to multiplying healthy churches locally and globally. So, are there enough of those churches in any area, even the South? No. Nope. Nada. Uhuh. From Chapel Hill to Nashville, Birmingham to Jackson, Richmond to Memphis, more truly healthy churches are needed. By the way, when more heathy churches are planted in an area, two things happen in that community. The churches that have potential (Biblically faithful but not healthy yet) are stoked to life, and unhealthy churches (dysfunctional, theologically liberal, legalistic) are brought to a quicker end. Adding more churches only helps the true churches of that area. Everyone benefits.

3. Demographic argument: Even though the South tends to have more healthy churches than other parts of the country, most people in the South are not Christians and do not have a strong connection to a healthy church. In the Triangle, there are over a million people who do not know Christ. We could triple the amount of local churches and still not adequately reach these people. Different churches, while sharing the characteristics that make for health, can still be quite different in ethos. Different ethos attracts different people. The more churches that are contextual to a certain sub-group or demographic, the better.

4. This only helps a commitment to the nations argument: Churches that plant churches, as long as they are truly healthy, will be more committed to international church planting and ministry, not less. Multiplying churches are also better internally. There tends to be more growth as a local body. There are more resources to take care of internal needs. A multiplying church is robust and full of gospel energy. A lot of that energy (and finances) can be directed at the nations.

5. History proves the above arguments argument: The biggest thing going against those skeptical of this is history. In the last 25 years, as this vision of the church has taken off as a fact of Biblical obedience (not trendiness), the above four arguments have proven to be the case. Now, can church planting churches not be healthy? Of course, and history has shown that, but that is why I defined health not solely upon church-planting but also other indicators like godly leadership and Biblical fidelity.

Therefore, the South needs more healthy churches. But, so does the Northeast, West coast, Midwest, and the Rockies. So does Africa, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Antarctica. Let us be committed to all of these. Let us not forget who lives across the street, not just across the oceans. Let us not forget that the church is the hope of the world.

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There is Something About the Lord’s Day

I have been here in North Carolina for three falls now. I have detected a pattern. The low humidity, warm weather, and off-season travel prices cause something to happen. That something is a large percentage of our people becoming erratic in their worship attendance. Now, I am all for taking time off. Weekends in an area where there is easy access to a beautiful coastline or to beautiful mountains should be used for renewal and recreation. But, what does it say when fairly large chunks of a church don’t attend a Lord’s Day worship service in weeks? Is this all about taking advantage of good weather or is there something more?

I would encourage us to consider that these attendance figures, that I think every church in our area experiences, is endemic of a greater challenge, and that is a laxity toward gathered worship. I wonder if there is prevailing notion that while one should attend church more often than not, that it is just not that vital to be at church every Sunday. So, on top of illness or travel, I would guess there is a fair amount of people who wake up on Sunday mornings and just don’t feel like going to church, that they would rather take a hike in a state park or have a leisurely morning reading the paper and hitting up an artisan bakery. This is just my theory, but I think my sense of things might be somewhat accurate.

In that vein I would encourage you to read this blog by Tim Challies on why going to church for gathered worship is pretty important.

Why You May Be Tempted To Neglect Your Church

I will follow up on some more thoughts that I hope will inspire at least a few people to re-evaluate their understanding of gathered worship. I hope that many of us will simply desire to be at church when not sick or traveling because we know what God does through that worship.

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