This last Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States of America, issued its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees the right of two members of the same sex to be married, and thereby ordered the roughly 30 states which have defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman to immediately begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses. This morning we take this opportunity to consider what our response as Christians should be to this ruling.
First of all, there is much that could be said about the issue itself: the issue of homosexuality, what the Bible teaches about being made in God’s image as men and women, and what marriage is and means. There is much that can and will need to be said about those topics as we live in this culture in these days. We are content for now to reply to the Supreme Court justices that they can no more redefine marriage than they can redefine gravity. From the beginning God created human beings in His own image and likeness, male and female, and He invented marriage for one man and one woman to become one flesh (Gen. 1:27, Mk. 10:6-9). This decision is like mandating that from now on locks may unlock other locks, and keys are free to lock other keys. There is no such thing as same-sex marriage just as there is no such thing as a round square or a four-sided circle.
But the question I want to ask today is whether we in the evangelical, Bible-believing Christian Church have anything to repent of. Jesus said that we are the light of the world and the salt of the earth, and if our light grows dim, the world goes dark (Mt. 5:14). If the salt loses its savor, it becomes good for nothing (Mt. 5:13). In other words, when we see something go horribly wrong in the world, Christians must first ask what they have done to contribute to the evil. Jesus taught us to first take the log out of our own eye so that we will be able to see clearly to remove the speck from our brother’s eye (Mt. 7:3-5). He taught us to beware that the standard we use to measure others will be applied to us, and so we start by measuring ourselves. But in order to do this, we need to consider for a moment exactly what has been announced and proclaimed by the Supreme Court. So consider some excerpts from Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion:
“The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. Changes… have worked deep transformations in the structure of marriage, affecting aspects of marriage once viewed as essential. These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution. Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations… The fundamental liberties protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause extend to certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices defining personal identity and beliefs… Courts must exercise reasoned judgment in identifying interests of the person so fundamental that the State must accord them its respect. History and tradition guide and discipline the inquiry but do not set its outer boundaries. When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution’s central protections and a received legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed… The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest… The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning.”
Make no mistake: the highest court in our land has handed down a decision that reverses thousands of years of received wisdom on the basis of “personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy” and “intimate choices defining identity and beliefs.” In other words, the standard that Kennedy and his four cohorts are appealing to is the autonomy of a person, his or her deepest desires and choices. The standard is not the rule of law. The standard is not fixed. In fact, the justices openly state that they are making their ruling outside the boundaries of the constitution. The laws of our land could not anticipate this scenario, and so the justices have taken it into their own hands to figure it out for us. They explain to us that “new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations.” What was once considered “freedom” may morph into slavery, and what was once considered slavery and tyranny may eventually come to be recognized as freedom. So for example, the 30 states which have standing laws defining marriage as one man and one woman – those states and their citizens who have made their choices and desires known are being told in no uncertain terms that their choices and desires are invalid and false. The court overrides the legislated choices and desires of the 30 states and their citizens, and in their place, orders that the choices and desires of homosexuals be submitted to, and these five justices assert this on the basis of their “reasoned judgment.”
What thoughtful Christians need to read and hear in the reasoning of this decision is the fact that nothing can now be prohibited by the laws of our land. Nothing. Anything can eventually come to be understood as liberty. Within hours of this ruling, articles were circulating pointing out that the same reasoning could defend polygamy, incest, and pedaphilia. If the standard is the “deepest desires” of an individual, how can you tell an individual that he may not marry his mom or his own daughter? There are already brothels in Europe where farm animals are offered at a going rate. We need not panic and assume the worst will happen tomorrow, but ideas have consequences and “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7).
But it’s actually worse than just sexual perversion. These justices have issued a judicial order with no constitutional basis, no moral grounding, and they have done so on the authority of their “reasoned judgment.” The problem is that this is not reasoned; nor is it justice. Justice requires a law, a standard, principles that can measure and examine the value and effects of our choices and activities. And the central, essential piece of this standard is that it be fixed, unchanging. The Bible calls this principle “equal weights and measures,” which means that the same standards must apply universally. You cannot say that a gallon is four quarts for men and five quarts for women. You cannot say that a dollar is fifty cents for people of Chinese descent and a hundred cents for people from Africa. This would be unjust. But the Supreme Court has determined that if you really believe in something then that must be protected and considered liberty for you unless they don’t think so. People deserve to have their claim to liberty be addressed and respected, except for all the people who don’t. Do you see how this reasoning is arbitrary and capricious? How have the judges determined that the choices and desires of one party are more fundamental than the choices and desires of another party? What happens when different people hold deeply held beliefs that contradict and clash? We are left to the mercy of their “reasoned judgment.” In other words, when it finally gets down to it, the “deepest desires and choices” that are most fundamental, are the desires and choices of the majority opinion of the Supreme Court. It is their “reasoned judgement” that has issued this decree. This strikes at the root of freedom for all people, especially Bible-believing Christians. The ruling does offer a patronizing assurance that religious people can be free to think their thoughts in a corner. But apparently our “intimate choices defining our identity and beliefs” are not as fundamental to liberty are not as worthy of respect as the right for one man to sodomize another. As Al Mohler the president of Southern Baptist Seminary wrote in his response to the decision: “The threat to religious liberty represented by this decision is clear, present, and inevitable. Assurances to the contrary, the majority in this decision has placed every religious institution in legal jeopardy if that institution intends to uphold its theological convictions limiting marriage to the union of a man and a woman. This threat is extended to every religious citizen or congregation that would uphold the convictions held by believers for millennia.”
Finally, do not miss the fact that this kind of incoherence and arbitrariness is always necessarily the beginning of coercion and tyranny. If a judge loads a pistol with two bullets every Friday and orders five random prisoners to play Russian roulette until two guys are dead, this is high handed injustice. It is also oppression. It is also tyranny. It is cruelty. The guys who get to go back to their cells unharmed have no business telling everybody to relax and not worry about. Everyone has a moral duty to worry about it, to protest. Because if you aren’t next, your neighbor may be. When justice is decided by vague sentiments like “intimate choices” and “reasoned judgment” hung on an invisible hook in the sky, then there is absolutely no reason to believe that the poor will be protected, that orphans and widows will be defended, that the elderly and disabled will be looked out for. What this decision guarantees is that there will be no guarantees. And follow this carefully: This means that justice will be decided by whoever is shouting the loudest, has the biggest caliber rifle, or the deepest pockets. When nations are not ruled by law, they are necessarily ruled by mobs and thugs. And anyone without a voice, anyone without recourse to some form of material power will be left undefended, unprotected, and crushed in the mad rush to get whatever their “intimate choices” demand now. And since liberty is an evolving concept, you never know what fundamental right liberty might dream up next.
But the point is simply this: without a fixed standard, arbitrary justice will crush the defenseless, the poor, the orphans, the widows, the disabled. And we know this because we are already a nation that executes the unborn by the millions in the name of “intimate choices.” It has been pointed out that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was the sin of oppressing the poor and the orphan and the widow, and to this, we nod our heads vigorously – of course it was. When men demand to serve whatever their lusts order up, the poor and the orphan and the widow get crushed in the wake. Some identities and beliefs are more equal than others. In fact, hear this carefully: while we certainly do deplore the damage and destruction of all sin, including all forms of homosexuality and other sexual perversions, we stand against this ruling for the sake of our neighbors, for the sake of our enemies, for the sake of all human beings made in the image of God regardless of sexual perversion. Make no mistake: there will be homosexuals who are crushed by this verdict. They will be flaunting their perversions in the streets today and tomorrow, but one of them will have this injustice administer a lethal dose of morphine when they’re old and alone in a nursing home. One of them will find that this kind of reasoning can’t guarantee they will be treated with dignity or respect if they are cheated or vandalized or taken advantage of. Don’t you see? When we abandon God’s reality, His truth, and most fundamentally, just that there is truth at all, we are inviting chaos to come and rape our culture. You cannot invite chaos into the room and instruct her to play nice with the children and not to put her shoes on the couch. You cannot say that anything goes and then complain when it does.
So much then for what this ruling says and means. We began by asking how we have contributed to this sorry state of affairs. We must take the log out of our own eye first in order to see clearly to help our neighbors, our cities, our states, our nation out of this deep cultural pit. As Christians, we want to own whatever responsibility we have in this travesty of a ruling. How have we failed to be salt and light? There are any number of possibilities, but I want to point to just one today. And that is: we have failed to be intellectually rigorous and bold. We have led our nation in the sin of intellectual sloth. Moses summarized the law of God by saying that we must love God with all that we are, and when Jesus rephrased the same summary, He explicitly added that are called to love God with all of our minds (Mt. 22:37). Of course, human beings are much more than mere brains. We have bodies and emotions and senses, but God has also given us intelligence, the capacity to consider, meditate, reason, invent, and create. We do not elevate this over our other capacities, but neither do we denigrate it. The enlightenment tried to denigrate sensory experience and emotions and enthroned secular reasoning as the highest human faculty, but in response to this, the romantics have enthroned mysticism and emotionalism and sensory experience to the throne and cast human reason into the ditch. While there certainly are enclaves of Christian rationalists – men who pretend to fit God and the universe into their tiny brains and then spew reams and reams of jargon and fat books – this honestly is not what plagues the Christian Church. What plagues the Christian Church is romanticism, mysticism, and only the most vague, sentimental thoughtfulness. The low evangelical churches are easy targets for their experiential worship designed to give their people emotional rushes of spiritual ecstasy. For millions of Christians, Christian faith is five words on a screen repeated like a mantra while they get high on the next chord progression.
But the traditionalists and liturgical traditions have their own temptations to this. We like words like “mystery” and “symbolism” and “mystical.” And we frequently reason no better than Justice Kennedy only we sprinkle Bible verses over our concoctions and talk about how spiritual we feel, how close to God we feel. And this is why our culture actually mirrors the church quite well. They sing songs about fornication and how it makes them feel close to God. Good work Nashville, you’ve been learning the lesson well. Christians lie, cheat, slander, and steal, and frequently they do it because it felt right, it felt like the Lord was really in it. Of course they don’t call it lying or cheating or slander or stealing. They call it helping the poor, protecting innocent parties, giving prayer requests, being really into the early church fathers. I was reading lots of Athanasius and Eusebius while I was a breaking my vows. I was having great personal devotions while I was ignoring the needs of my wife. I was finding Jesus in the prisoners and the poor people while I was being harsh and angry with my children. No you weren’t. You were running from Jesus. You were ignoring Jesus. You were satisfying your own lusts, and you had the audacity to call it spiritual. You had the audacity to call it Christian.
Or we use words like “wisdom” to justify cherry picking verses to vindicate what we already knew we wanted to do. We didn’t want to discipline our children biblically, so we found verses to pat us on the back. We wanted to continue being angry, so we called it righteous indignation. We wanted to continue being lusted over, so we called it Christian liberty. We wanted to continue using foul language, so we pointed out there was no list of bad words in the Bible. And we go around saying “wisdom” – it’s just a “wisdom” call, and rather than wisdom driving us to do the hard work of studying the whole Bible and listening long and hard to what God’s word actually says and honestly asking God to change you and rough you up, you use the word “wisdom” to justify your own desires and dress them up in pious platitudes so that you can do what you want.
Or maybe we constantly complain about conflict, controversy, and debates. We complain about negativity. We complain about people getting upset over theology. We complain when anyone seems to get worked up about anything. The number of my friends who made dismissive comments about the Christian uproar over the ruling on Friday was appalling. It’s easier to roll your eyes and cop a pseudo-intellectual pose than to actually use your mind and wade into the food fight and argue. It’s easier to don a beret and take a selfie of smug indifference than to read a few thoughtful articles and tell the truth in love to your friends and neighbors. The word for this in Hebrew is coward and in Aramaic sloth. It would actually take energy, brain cells, hard work, and courage, and then when you actually took the time and energy to thoughtfully study the Bible, read some intelligent opinions and then actually swing your sword in the fray, you might get knocked down. You might get mocked. You might get laughed at. And, what’s even worse, is you might even end up being wrong. And that’s why it takes courage, boldness, sweat, tears. But we are cowardly people. We pretend to be bold and courageous, but we are not. We pretend to care about theology, but we do not. We pretend to care about truth, but we do not. We are fairly content to go along as long as the air conditioner doesn’t break, so long as traffic is not too busy, so long as my order doesn’t take too long, so long as my internet connection speed keeps humming.
I said last week that Simeon’s prophecy about Jesus being a sword that divides, a stone of stumbling that causes many to fall and rise again – I said that this is a reminder that we are called to follow Jesus into the fray, into conflict, into misunderstanding. If we stand with Jesus, we will be mocked. We will be rejected. We will be persecuted. We will be misunderstood. Far too many Christians, particularly younger ones, are still trying to figure out some way to make Jesus respectable. They want to repackage Jesus and His gospel in some way to blunt the edge, to make it more winsome, more palatable, but Jesus already told us we could not. He called us to take up a cross and follow Him. He called us to love our enemies, and this means you must have enemies to love. But far too many Christians are disobedient to Jesus because they are afraid of making any enemies.
We need to end where we must always end and where we must also always begin, and that is with the gospel of Jesus Christ. What we have outlined here is our nation’s folly and our complicity in it. We are a nation of hard hearts and soft heads. We are hard hearted because we refuse to submit to God’s Word, His authority in every area of life. And when human beings resist God’s Word, His justice, we necessarily become fools and oppressors. We cannot actually reason in a straight line because true reason would convict us; true reason would condemn us. And so we invent pretenses and refuse to actually love God with our minds, with all that we are. We latch on to slogans rather than actually thinking for ourselves. We latch on to mantras like “think for yourself” and thereby guarantee that we won’t. The Bereans were noble, Luke tells us in Acts 17, because they searched the scriptures daily to see whether the things Paul taught were true (Acts 17:11). This is what soft hearts do: they are hungry, like new born babes for the Word of God. Soft hearts are humble hearts because they depend on God’s Word for everything. And soft hearts give men and women hard heads (in all the right ways). Soft hearts that cling to God’s word make men and women intellectually bold and courageous.
When Peter and John were hauled before the same authorities that had only recently put Jesus to death, Peter didn’t miss a beat. He didn’t stutter. He didn’t mumble. He didn’t apologize for making a disturbance and stirring up the crowds. Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaimed the Risen Lord Jesus Christ: Be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him is this man standing before you whole. He was the stone which you rejected. And now there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.
This is the central, crucial issue: Is Jesus who He said He was? Is there a God who made all things and sent us His Son? Did that Man Jesus go to the cross condemned as a criminal and did He come back from the dead? Those disciples just weeks earlier ran for their lives into the darkness when Jesus was betrayed and arrested. They lied about even knowing Him and huddled secretly in upper rooms hoping not to get arrested. And now those same men are standing full of boldness before the same rulers who might easily send them to the same fate as their Master. And they refuse to flinch. They refuse to back down. And this is because their Savior was alive from the dead. And Luke says: When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled: and they knew them, that they had been with Jesus. The very thing that the disciples had been afraid of when Jesus was arrested was now the most obvious thing about them. They had been with Jesus. And this was clear and obvious because of their boldness.
They are ordered to cease and desist preaching in the name of Jesus, and Peter and John make it clear that they will not agree to this gag order. And when they are released anyway, they return to the other disciples and raise their voices in praise and worship. And they sing Psalm 2: Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up and the rulers gathered against the Lord and against His Christ… And they did whatever they could do. But now Lord, behold their threatening and give us more boldness that we may disobey them and keep speaking Your Word!
Do you hear what these disciples prayed for? They prayed for boldness. They prayed for courage. They prayed for the strength to disobey their rulers. And the time has long since come for us to pray for the same courage and boldness. Christians are men and women under orders; we are under the orders of the Lord Jesus Christ who is seated at God’s right hand and rules over the kingdoms of men. Our American rulers have ordered us to disobey the Lord Jesus, and we may not and we must not for a moment flinch or back down. The states and their citizens who have defined marriage as a man and a woman must refuse to acknowledge the Supreme Court’s right to make this decision. And we must be ready to face whatever consequences come.
Trinity Reformed Church is an evangelical Church. This means that we are a Church that is confessionally and constitutionally bound to the evangel, the gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified for sin, buried for three days, and raised by the Holy Spirit to give new life to all who believe. This gospel includes the renewal of the whole world. This gospel includes the salvation of nations. This gospel includes the glorious establishment and growth of the Kingdom of God with the Church at it’s center. Jesus sent us into the whole world to baptize and disciple the nations, and Jesus will reign until every enemy is put beneath His feet. The earth will be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. But this gospel is also simultaneously all of these things in the person of Jesus Christ who is now seated at the right hand of God the Father. And this means that anyone: man, woman, or child, from any nation, any language, any ethnicity, any race who calls on the name of this Jesus who trusts in Him for forgiveness of their sins is immediately and inexorably saved. This salvation is not merely an emotional high or a momentary religious experience. This salvation is the death of that individual with Christ, and his immediate resurrection with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what Paul calls the new creation; in Christ the old man is crucified and a new man rises from the dead. In Christ, you are a new creation. The old has passed away; the new has come.
This evangelical gospel is one of the central elements of Christian freedom. It is the belief that God saves individuals by taking away their sin, their shame, their guilt because Jesus took it for them. Our sin was condemned in His body on the cross. Our guilt was satisfied by His suffering in our place. And by the cross, He frees us from the power of sin and Satan and death so that we are afraid of nothing and no one. He renews and transforms us, and He by the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us, to rule us in righteousness and holiness and deep and abiding peace – it is that fundamental belief that checks all other authorities. A husband has a true authority in a marriage, but it is not absolute authority. Parents are true authorities, but they are not absolute authorities. Christian pastors and elders and councils are true authorities, but they are not absolute authorities. Civil magistrates, judges, presidents, and kings are true authorities, but they are not absolute authorities. All of these can and do err, and every Christian has the moral duty and authorization to ignore and resist any and all orders to disobey our Lord Jesus Christ.
When the rulers and elders and scribes and priests gathered together in Jerusalem and ordered Peter and John to stop preaching Jesus and His resurrection, Peter and John answered them and said: whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). All Christians are under the orders of the God of the universe: we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. When a ruling is handed down that contradicts the word of God, we are not under that ruling, we have orders from higher up to stand firm.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!