The Supreme Court vs. God’s Court

BuildingAll day Tuesday, I was seeing tweets via my Twitter account that expressed optimism that the Supreme Court would uphold the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA] because it wouldn’t want to repeat the mistake of Roe v. Wade. I was not nearly as optimistic. Technically, the optimists were correct; the Court stopped short of declaring that same-sex marriage should be legal throughout the nation. But the effect of its decision in Windsor—and its punt on the Prop 8 case—is not much different. Homosexual activists clearly saw the decisions as a win for their unholy goals.

There are a couple of layers here to analyze. Legally, the decision was narrow in one sense; it didn’t strike down DOMA altogether. While the Court ruled that these fictional same-sex marriages qualified the couples for federal benefits in the same way as real marriages, it left untouched, at least nominally, the part of the bill that protects states who have defined marriage as between a man and a woman from recognizing same-sex marriages that have occurred in another state. However, that protection is now paper-thin. By giving same-sex mock marriages the same status as genuine marriages, the push will now be on to overturn the rest of the law. After all, on what grounds can a state now deny these fake marriages if the federal government has sanctioned them? At least, that will be the argument.

An equally disturbing feature of the DOMA decision was enunciated by Justice Antonin Scalia in his dissent, which was strong indeed. He objected to the majority’s decision on a couple of fronts. One was the “tone” of the majority and the aspersions it cast on the motives of those who support traditional marriage. A second concern, intertwined with the first, was the high-handedness of the Court in saying it is the ultimate authority on these issues. Both assertions bothered Scalia and led him to write the following:

Antonin ScaliaWe have no power to decide this case. And even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation. . . . The court’s errors on both points spring forth from the same diseased root: an exalted conception of the role of this institution in America.

But to defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions. To hurl such accusations so casually demeans this institution. In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement. To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to “disparage,” “injure,” “degrade,” “demean,” and “humiliate” our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homosexual. All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been
unquestioned in our society for most of its existence—indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race. . . .

It takes real cheek for today’s majority to assure us, as it is going out the door, that a constitutional requirement to give formal recognition to same-sex marriage is not at issue here—when what has preceded that assurance is a lecture on how superior the majority’s moral judgment in favor of same-sex marriage is to the Congress’s hateful moral judgment against it. I promise you this: The only thing that will “confine” the Court’s holding is its sense of what it can get away with.

A deeper and more basic concern is one that the political world doesn’t want to touch: the rebellion against God and His law that has led us to this point. Few in politics ever come out and clearly state that homosexual behavior is sinful [to use such a word would be to tie oneself to an outmoded way of thinking] and destructive of society. Few will take the chance of being branded as bigoted and hateful for holding such a view. Well, I’m one of the few who will say it: homosexuality is a sin; it is an abomination before God [as is all sin]; it is leading this nation into a spiritual and moral black hole; we ultimately will be judged for following this path.

If anyone thinks yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions will bring us peace, think again. Now that the highest court in the land has given approval to this behavior, the proponents will stop at nothing to overturn all morality based on Biblical teachings. Further, there will be an ever-increasing crusade to marginalize those who continue to hold to Biblical morality. They won’t be satisfied until all who believe as I do are ostracized from “respectable” society.

Christians need to respond appropriately. First, no matter how we may feel about what is transpiring, we must keep holding out God’s message of salvation to those who have trapped themselves in the chains of sin. That message must begin with a clear statement of what sin is, the necessity of repentance—turning away from rebellion against God and His loving laws—and the offer of forgiveness and sanctification through the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Even as we spread the Good News that people can be free from sin and living for God, we must redouble our efforts on the political front to reverse what has occurred. It can be done. Even now, there is a movement away from the abortion-on-demand mentality that has infected our society for too long. We have been making the case for life, and we are seeing victories, both in court and in public opinion. The same can happen with respect to marriage.

PersecutionBut what if, despite all our efforts, the society continues to plunge headlong into the abyss? What if we are persecuted for our beliefs? The message remains the same: be faithful. Besides, being persecuted merely connects us with those who have suffered for the faith throughout history. We should be glad to share the fate of those who have gone before us. Our reward awaits us once we leave what many have called “this vale of tears.”

Reading in the book of John yesterday, I was reminded of these words of Jesus:

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. . . . If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.

We’re not in a popularity contest. We’re called to be disciples of the One who is above all human courts. Let’s be faithful to that calling.

Monticello & Yorktown: The Tour Continues

Monticello FrontOur tour of historic southeastern Virginia continues. Tuesday was a full day at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home. I’ve been to Monticello numerous times, but every time I learn more. Particularly interesting was the interpreter’s talk about slavery at the plantation. He interspersed the overall picture with vignettes from the lives of various slaves who labored there. There were three levels of slavery at the plantation: farm workers; artisans/craftsmen; house servants. One family—the Hemings—was almost slave royalty, resented by those who didn’t get the same privileges. If the name Hemings sounds familiar, it’s because Jefferson might have been the father of a number of those children via Sally Hemings.

Jefferson was a complex man in some ways, engaged in the world of politics but liking nothing better than to experiment with various plants and garden seeds. He also was fascinated with architecture, and never really completed his vision for what Monticello should be.

Dome Room 2In all my previous trips to the house, I just took the basic tour, but this time we had a more extensive tour that took us into the upper levels, even to the famous dome on the top. It was nice to be part of a smaller group for this special peek into areas where tourists normally don’t go. Yet for all Jefferson’s ingenuity, there is an incompleteness to the house that you can feel. He was never satisfied.

Historians like to talk about how brilliant he was, but he certainly didn’t come to a brilliant conclusion in his religious beliefs. I was able to peruse his version of the gospels at the bookstore, and it was exactly as I have often taught: the supernatural is omitted, and it ends with Jesus being laid in the grave. There is no resurrection account.

Jefferson wanted people to follow the morals of the Bible, but not the One who established those morals from eternity.

Nelson HouseYesterday was Yorktown day, scene of the final major battle of the American Revolution. We didn’t have time to drive around the battlefield itself, although I would like to do so sometime since I’m now more focused on those details than before—I now teach an upper-level course on the era. That will have to wait for another time. One of our stops, though, was the Thomas Nelson house in historic Yorktown. Nelson was governor of Virginia at the time of the Battle of Yorktown in September-October 1781. The town was occupied by the British under Gen. Cornwallis. There’s some evidence that Nelson’s house may have served as the headquarters for the general.

Nelson was at the battle, but outside the town as part of the besieging army. He is said to have told Washington not to spare even his own home if it would mean the surrender of the British troops. I’m not sure that bit of information is adequately documented, but it does apparently showcase Nelson’s attitude and his commitment to the cause.

While we were there, I thought I’d get a good picture of some of my traveling companions in Nelson’s garden. Nothing historic in this photo, but I just thought it was a neat picture:

Nelson Garden

On the edge of the historic district is the monument commemorating the victory.

Yorktown Monument

Although the standard name for this war always has been the American Revolution—and I have to use that name so people will know what I’m talking about—I tell students that a more accurate name would be The American War for Continued Self-government. You see, in this “revolution” the “haves” were the leading figures, not the “have-nots.” They weren’t trying to uproot a system; they hoped to salvage the good in it. They had governed themselves for many decades, and the British government changed the status quo. If you really want to see the revolutionaries of the period, look three thousand miles across the Atlantic. The united colonies, which became the United States, achieved their original aim: self-government was established once again.

Finney: False Hopes

HolinessSome people rely on very flimsy rationales for assuming they are right with God. Charles Finney relates this story in his autobiography, a story that has been repeated endlessly in different forms in all times and places.

During that revival my attention was called to a sick woman in the community, who had been a member of a Baptist church, and was well-known in the place; but people had no confidence in her piety. She was fast failing with the consumption; and they begged me to call and see her. I went and had a long conversation with her.

She told me a dream which she had when she was a girl, which made her think that her sins were forgiven. Upon that she had settled down, and no argument could move her. I tried to persuade her, that there was no evidence of her conversion, in that dream. I told her plainly that her acquaintances affirmed that she had never lived a Christian life, and had never evinced a Christian temper; and I had come to try to persuade her to give up her false hope, and see if she would not now accept Jesus Christ that she might be saved.

I dealt with her as kindly as I could, but did not fail to make her understand what I meant. But she took great offence; and after I went away complained that I tried to get away her hope and distress her mind; that I was cruel to try to distress a woman as sick as she was, in that way—to try to disturb the repose of her mind.

She died not long afterward. . . . When this woman came to be actually dying, her eyes were opened; and before she left the world she seemed to have such a glimpse of the character of God, and of what heaven was, and of the holiness required to dwell there, that she shrieked with agony, and exclaimed that she was going to hell. In this state, as I was informed, she died.

A sad story, to be sure. I’m reminded of the Scripture in Hebrews: “He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. . . . Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.”

Lewis: Not Ashamed of the Gospel

C. S. Lewis 3In his customary pithy way, C. S. Lewis reminds us that we do stand for something, and that we had better make that stand:

As Christians we are tempted to make unnecessary concessions to those outside the Faith. We give in too much. Now, I don’t mean that we should run the risk of making a nuisance of ourselves by witnessing at improper times, but there comes a time when we must show that we disagree. We must show our Christian colours, if we are to remain true to Jesus Christ. We cannot remain silent or concede everything away.

May we demonstrate Christian boldness wherever God has planted us.

Natural Disasters & the Will of God

Moore TornadoOn this day after the horrendous tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma, we feel for the families who lost children or other loved ones. By all accounts, this had to be one of the worst tornadoes in American history. Normally, they don’t stay on the ground as long as this one did, and the winds may have approached 200 miles per hour. No sin caused this; it was what is usually termed a “natural” disaster.

Some people promote a theology that seems to attribute any natural disaster such as this to the hand of God. While it is true that God is the ultimate sovereign and could, if He chose, direct all things that happen in this world, I personally don’t subscribe to that theology. Yes, God can and has used the elements to bring judgment on some, but when we try to fit all natural disasters into that theme, we go astray.

Jesus spoke to this when he related to his disciples that the tower of Siloam that toppled, killing eighteen people, was not a result of those people’s sins. Don’t suppose, he taught them, that those who died in that event were necessarily worse than those who survived. That tragedy was not some kind of judgment from God. He did use the occasion, though, to warn them with these words: “But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” None of us knows when we may be the victim of a similar catastrophe; if we’ve never repented and received the forgiveness the Lord so freely offers, we will die in our sins, leading to the ultimate judgment.

Jesus also taught, in the Sermon on the Mount, that the sun shines and the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. There are laws of nature that He has established that continue on, not making a distinction between His people and those who have rejected Him.

Man’s sin did, however, change the course of that nature. Rebellion against the rule and sovereignty of a loving God led to a degradation of the natural creation. The apostle Paul explains in the book of Romans:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.

Yes, for now, we live in a troubled world with natural disasters all around. That will not change until this very world is set free from the bondage caused by sin. That day is coming. All will be made new. Our task until then is to show those who are alienated from the love of God the path of redemption. A loving God continually reaches out to each of us, but it’s always our choice whether to reach back or reject His love. Natural disasters have one redeeming feature in this present age—they jolt us and make us think about the day of our death.

What will follow that day?

Probably my favorite conversion account is that of Charles Finney’s. A lawyer with little knowledge of the Christian faith, Finney decided he needed to read the Bible since so much of the law was based on it. The more he read, the more convicted he was over his sinfulness. One day he determined to get right with God, so he went into the woods to pray. Yet every time he started to pray, he thought he heard someone in the woods, and he would stop, afraid that he might be seen praying. Finally, he realized the great pride in his heart, that it should bother him if someone saw him praying. It broke him down before the Lord. But that is only the beginning of his conversion story. He went back to his house, where God met him anew:

There was no fire, and no light, in the room; nevertheless it appeared to me as if it were perfectly light. As I went in and shut the door after me, it seemed as if I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. It did not occur to me then, nor did it for some time afterward, that it was wholly a mental state. On the contrary it seemed to me that I saw him as I would see any other man.

He said nothing, but looked at me in such a manner as to break me right down at his feet. . . . I fell down at his feet and poured out my soul to him. I wept aloud like a child, and made such confessions as I could with my choked utterance. It seemed to me that I bathed his feet with my tears; and yet I had no distinct impression that I touched him, that I recollect. . . .

As I turned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost. Without any expectation of it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such thing for me, without any recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the world, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love; for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings.

No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart. These waves came over me, and over me, and over me, one after the other, until I recollect I cried out, “I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me.” I said, “Lord, I cannot bear any more;” yet I had no fear of death.

How long I continued in this state, with this baptism continuing to roll over me and go through me, I do not know. But I know it was late in the evening when a member of my choir . . . came into the office to see me. . . . He found me in this state of loud weeping, and said to me, “Mr. Finney, what ails you?” I could make him no answer for some time. He then said, “Are you in pain?” I gathered myself up as best I could, and replied, “No, but so happy that I cannot live.”

And so began one of the most effective ministries of the nineteenth century.

Wood, Hay, & Straw

Jim Wallis, one of the leaders of what might be termed the Christian Left, has now come out in favor of same-sex marriage. Ever since his days as a member of the 1960s radical group Students for a Democratic Society, which was grounded in socialist/communist philosophy, Wallis has tried to walk a fine line in an attempt to marry [pun intended] Biblical principles with a humanistic, atheistic worldview. It has been as spectacularly unsuccessful as the same-sex unions he now supports.

Wallis is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. He’s only the most obvious spokesperson for a phenomenon that threatens to split evangelicalism while it simultaneously destroys our Biblical basis for morality, law, and government. Can such views really coexist with what C. S. Lewis has called “mere Christianity”?

Genuine Christians can disagree on doctrine. They can disagree on how the Christian faith is demonstrated in society. There certainly is room for liberty of conscience. Yet when does liberty become licentiousness?

I disagree with Christians who espouse pacifism, but I don’t count them out of the kingdom; I merely consider them incorrect in their understanding of Scripture. I profoundly dissent from those who believe the government should follow policies of redistribution of wealth to achieve “fairness.” Many who promote this do so out of concern for the poor, yet they don’t realize how this vision of “helping” violates a number of Biblical principles and ultimately fails in its goal. They haven’t learned the lessons of history. Their hearts may be right in their desire to help, but all they accomplish is to spread the misery around.

It gets dicier when those who claim the name of Christ begin to advocate for positions that are directly contradictory to basic Biblical morality. Can someone really be a genuine Christian and promote abortion, or at least not be concerned about it? Is it simply a mistake when a professed Christian finds reasons to excuse homosexual behavior or is it rather a manifestation of a deeper rebellion against God’s call for holiness? I have my opinions on that, but, thankfully, God will be the final judge.

Thinking about this led me to a particular passage of Scripture, found in 1 Corinthians 3: 11-15. Here the apostle Paul speaks of how the Lord will judge the actions of His disciples:

For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

The clear teaching is that in order to be a Christian, our foundation must be nothing else than absolute faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. As long as we have repented of sin, received His forgiveness, and are now motivated by His love, we are part of His kingdom. However, not all our works for Him have the same value. Some are described as especially fruitful—gold, silver, precious stones—while others are virtually useless for building the kingdom—wood, hay, and straw.

I submit that when those who seek to build God’s kingdom with ideas that undermine the very kingdom they seek to build, their works will be shown to have been nothing more than wood, hay, and straw. They will have done more damage than good. We should all examine our motives and our actions continually. I know I don’t want to feel shame when that “day” comes.