A Theology of Resistance for Florists

One of the things made apparent by the case of Baronelle Stutzman in Washington State is that we are to be allowed our convictions about same-sex mirage, but only if we can find a place to store them. You see all the storage bins have been nationalized and are now public property, and so all the contents have to conform the current policy of these United States, which holds, among other things, that the anus is now a sex organ. It follows from this that if you know it isn’t, having had biology in high school, then these aberrant and blasphemous thoughts of yours must never be expressed or even hinted at within a fifty foot radius of anyone who might be offended. What if you said something about this, and there were a drag queen nearby? Nothing worse than having a drag queen clutch at her pearls.

After you get to Heaven, you can take out these deep religious convictions and show them to God. So sorry. At that time, the public policy of these United States won’t care about any of this anymore because all these homo-regs of ours will at that time be found in a huge column of smoke ascending from Babylon the Great. But we don’t like to think about that too much, so for the time being you Christians had just better shut up.

So the Attorney General of Washington is going after Baronelle Stutzman in order to make an example of her. In the uproar that followed, everything broke down the way you might expect. The people who think that the gummint is just a gaggle of bullies with guns who hate freedom have one more reason for thinking so. And those people who think that the government, correct spelling please, is powered entirely by pure thoughts will continue to think that. Look at them fight for mutual acceptance!

But what about those Christians who ought to know better? The striking thing is that now that we have come to the pressure point, where taking a stand for Christ might actually cost you something, we are seeing a lot of theological ingenuity (of all kinds) being expended by Christians who don’t want to do the obvious thing that must be done. From the kid glove treatment that Tim Keller gives it, to the retreat and surrender option served up by Russell Moore, to the confused muddles of leftist anabaptism (never judge the world outside the church for things like same sex mirage; always judge the world for being chintzy with the EBT cards), to the retreat to commitment orchestrated by First Things, all done to flourishing bugles to make it seem like a cavalry charge, we see the same thing over and over again, which is refusal to engage.

The sophisticati among us almost never engage, which is why some pert Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader is closer to the kingdom than is some gender-sensitive lit prof at Wheaton College. Who is more likely to sign a petition to prevent pervs from being allowed to use the girls’ restroom? Ah.

Don’t ever do anything that might get you sympathetic treatment on Fox News. That would reveal you to be a rube and cornpone, and everybody knows that rubes and cornpones cannot be nuanced theologians. And, by the way, continuing with the point made in the previous paragraph, Fox News, with all its glaring faults and big busty blondes, is still closer to the kingdom than certain theologies that have the word kingdom in their tagline.

Ambrose Bierce, in his Devil’s Dictionary, described a certain kind of valor — the kind we have on tap among smart evangelicals — in this way.

“Why have you halted?” roared the commander of a division at Chickamauga, who had ordered a charge; “move forward, sir, at once.”

“General,” said the commander of the delinquent brigade, “I am persuaded that any further display of valor by my troops will bring them into collision with the enemy.”

This is why we see so many of the evangelical intelligentsia (sic) doing what intelligentsioids do best — which is to flake. In the meantime, even though it feels like the Alamo redux, the task of upholding the moral order of Scripture and Christendom falls to bakers, photographers, and arrangers of flowers. This is a true occasion for having mixed emotions — being deeply proud of our ordinary foot soldiers and profoundly ashamed of our leadership.

I wish I could do more, but here are just a few practical theological observations for the ordinary Christian, still at his beleaguered post, wondering why headquarters won’t respond to repeated pleas for air support. Ordinary Christians would be justified in feeling the same way that ordinary Ukrainians do when they pleaded for aid against the Russian invasion, and Obama sent them extra socks to help get them through the winter. Winter wasn’t the problem.

1. One of charges made against you is that you are just one more bigot, trying to resist the march of progress. A generation ago, white restaurants would not seat blacks, and here you are, supposedly playing the same role. But such bigotries back then were a sin, just like sodomy is today. When a Christian merchant today refuses to help celebrate iniquity, he is not a restaurant manager refusing to seat blacks; rather, he is a restaurant manager refusing to seat the Grand Kleegle Wizard of the KKK, just back from a cross burning and feeling a mite peckish. There is no generic sin called “refusal to seat.” Who? Why? These issues cannot be sorted out apart from a fixed standard of right and wrong, and we cannot have that apart from God’s revealed Word in Scripture.

2. The issue is not the sale of goods to sinners, but rather the celebration of sin with sinners. If you were a graphics design guy, and a homosexual came in and asked for an ad for his new restaurant, you should have no problem designing his ad for him. If he wanted you to design the ad for his new bathhouse, you would have a problem. You would have the same issues designing an ad for a heterosexual whorehouse. You do not want your expertise in making things look attractive and winsome to be used in making iniquity look attractive and winsome. The reason these particular professions have become the battleground is that homosexual activists are demanding, not our co-participation in the same economy, but rather our approval. They will not stop until they have that approval, and we should rather die than give it.

3. All societies have unquestioned axioms, certain beliefs held in common. As de Tocqueville put it, without such a common belief a society cannot exist, “for without ideas held in common there is no common action, and without common action there may still be men, but there is no social body” (p. 8). Our ruling elites are in the midst of trying to change a foundational American axiom of liberty to the alternative foundational secularist axiom of universal tolerance. It will do you no good to appeal to the former while they are busy trying to supplant it with the latter. They don’t feel bad denying such appeals; their goal is to deny such appeals. We need to resist them, which is not the same thing as appealing to them. Our appeal is to God.

In addition, the one thing that universal tolerance cannot abide is any denial of universal tolerance, which is why dissenters are put down with such ferocity. But this means the longer you stay on the field, the worse it is for them. So stay on the field, and pray for Baronelle Stutzman.

Men of the Cloth

Tim Bayly is fond of saying that sexuality is the battleground issue of our era, and he is of course quite right. But the way this is unfolding should show us this is just another way of saying that everything is the battleground of our era — this is a time of worlds in collision. We have two rival cosmologies — the faith described in Scripture, and the other side of the antithesis — and all the premises and assumptions present in both worldviews show up in stark relief when it comes to human sexuality. One sees the image of God present and presented in mankind, male and female, and the other sees our flesh as malleable clay through which we may create, according to our own whims, pleasures, and lusts, anything we please. Faithful Christians are essentialists, and those outside the Word are, on this issue, existentialists.

Since worship is the most important thing that human beings do, I want to take a moment to talk about the relationship of sexuality and worship. It is not possible for this issue of sexuality to be as prominent as it is in our day without the noise of battle spilling over into our assumptions about what ought to be going on in a worship service. That is why many churches are roiled with nonsensical battles about women’s ordination, same-sex mirage, the pressing issue of cis-bishops, the hand-wringing of the sob cisters who sometimes write me letters, and so on. Now it really ought to be going the other direction. The church ought to be submitted to Scripture, teaching men and women to live their lives together as the apostles of the Lord instructed us, and this consecrated reconstruction of human nature, under the tutelage of faithful churches, ought to become the model of true sexuality for a lost and pagan world.

So this issue is the real dividing line in the real worship wars. The issue is not directly related to what we wear in the course of the worship service, but it is not entirely distinct from it either. The problem of ministerial effeminacy – the central problem, the glaring problem, the perennial problem of the third sex – can be decked out various ways. Some soft-spoken seminary professor types dress like I do, jacket and tie, but their sermons are full of tsking and on the other handing, preaching with all the authority of an uninspired and day-old chocolate eclair. Some low church beta-male worship leaders in torn jeans and a T-shirt, all gritty and authentic, lead the song with eyes closed while slapping their chest. They look like they’re just one chord change away from climax. And still others decide to wear a white dress up front, trying to look like a virginal bride, and in some lamentable cases, succeeding. They pick up a loaf of bread and for a second there you thought it was the bouquet. Now I trust that I’ve given offense to all in an equitable and evenhanded way here.

Having done so, here are some qualifications. I have seen heard some contemporary worship bands that play nothing but God-honoring scriptural music. And some of the most masculine men I know wear white robes in the course of the worship service. That doesn’t mean that I think – given the nature of the world, the state of our cultural battles, and so on – that such things are good idea. I don’t, but I can nevertheless tell the difference between my general concern about fops in the pulpit and the specific and manly counterexamples that I could name. Some magnificent writers could put 17 exclamation marks into a couple paragraphs too and not seem like they were shouting. I can admit that this can be done without wanting to teach it as a cool technique to junior high students in their English classes.

In the course of the English reformation, there was a vestments controversy between John Hooper and Nicholas Ridley, with Hooper spending a little time in the slammer. They wanted to make him a bishop with vestments, and he didn’t want to become a bishop in vestments. Hooper wanted to be finished with vestments that he believed smelled too much like Rome, and Ridley did not want the pace of reform in the church to be seized by the most zealous among the reformers. It was a long drawn out controversy, which Ridley eventually won, but both men involved in it were men, and both of them were burned at the stake by Bloody Mary.

And so here is the conclusion. The issue should not be evaluated at the level of the cloth. Ministers are known as men of the cloth, but the cloth is not the main thing. Ministers who are men of the cloth must be men of the cloth.

The Church is the bride of Christ, and therefore the Church must be feminine. This means that the Church should model submissiveness. Since God requires that all authoritative leadership in the Church be male, it is feminine and submissive for us to be collectively obedient. The Church is most feminine when its leadership is truly masculine. Since this is lovely in the sight of God, we should strive to make that one of the most obvious characteristics of our services. If that is what you are trying to accomplish with your vestments, torn jeans or white robes, then we are on the same team, even if you are calling a play I wouldn’t call.

But if you are trying to look like the bride, or you actually are going for that Rod Stewart empathetic pastor look, then you are a central part of the problem.

Gather and Go

NB: I am not posting my sermon outline here because Dr. Peter Jones will be bringing the Word to us at Christ Church tomorrow. He is in town for our annual missions conference, which concluded this morning. Below is the outline for the talk that I presented at that conference, with which you will have to make do.

Introduction:

One of our unfortunate tendencies is to think of missions in terms of distance. Mission is something that happens over there, across the sea, on the other side of the mountains. This is unfortunate because mission can only happen when the distance is closed, when there is personal contact. And that contact is occurring wherever the church is present and alive. The difference between foreign mission and domestic mission is therefore a matter of logistics—shots, passports, languages, but not a matter of principle. What then is the principle? The principle is this—new life in Christ is contagious.

The Text:

“And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus. And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:8–10).

A Disproportionate Impact:

Notice in this text that Paul reasoned for three months in the synagogue, and did so until he had generated significant opposition. Sometimes opposition means that you should just move on. But other times it means that you must not. “For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.” (1 Cor. 16:9). Notice how Paul reasons here—an effectual door, and many adversaries. This is in the same city, incidentally, the city of Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:8).

So when that happened, he fell back to the hall of Tyrannus, who must have been one tough school teacher, and Paul taught there daily for two years. As a result of this particular onslaught, the entire Roman province of Asia heard the Word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. In this approach, the apostle Paul was not just “lucky.” He was pursuing a particular strategy.

Gather and Go:

Personal contact is assumed. The disciples were all in one hall. But there is also a rhythm to this. The Spirit was moving in the teaching of Paul, and disciples were attracted to it. They came, they gathered, they heard and internalized it. And, after having been established in his doctrine, they hit the road.

True and Entire

In theological discussions of the sacrament, the distinction between sign and thing signified goes back to the great Augustine. This is a distinction that is essential for us to maintain if we are to keep ourselves out of superstition and idolatry. At the same time, we must make this distinction without dividing or separating the sign and thing signified. If we break the sign and thing signified in two, the only thing we will find ourselves holding is the mangled sign, with the reality long gone. They cannot be there together, except as God has appointed.

The appointed instrument that God has given that enables us to hold sign and thing signified together is faith—the kind of faith given by Him, which means that it necessarily is vibrant, alive, receptive, eager or, to use the word that sums it all up, evangelical.

Simple faith can see at a glance things which unconverted philosophers and theologians with bulging foreheads cannot figure out. Faith does not create mysteries on a table, trying to figure out what is going on inside the bread or inside the wine. Faith receives the mystery into the body of Christ—you are that body—and there sees what God intends when He speaks of greater things under the form of the lesser.

What is offered here, in words and actions, is the body of Jesus, the blood of Jesus. But what is actually being offered is totus Christus, all of Christ, the entire Jesus. This is all about union with Christ, and remember that union with Christ is only effectual when received by faith, and it is not possible for a true faith to receive a partial Christ.

In a similar way, these emblems, these elements, are received by you with your hands and your mouth. But your hands and your mouth also represent something. They are also a lesser thing that represents, necessarily, much more. They represent all of you—body, soul, and spirit—and they represent you resting in Christ forever and ever, world without end.

So true faith receives the true and entire Christ into the true and new humanity, being grown up into the perfect man. So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

Testify or Die

The people of God are the congregation of testimony. We worship and serve the God who intervenes in human history, and we are among those who testify to what He has done. We are to do this with our lives, with our families, and with our collective and corporate worship. We testify, and we are to testify in all that we do. This includes whatever sanctuary we might build. Is the testimony true? If there is no true testimony, there is no true sanctuary.

The ark of the covenant was called the ark of the testimony numerous times (e.g. Ex. 26:34). The two tables of the Ten Commandments were called the “tables of testimony” (Ex. 31:18). The tabernacle was called the “tabernacle of testimony” (Num. 1:53). Our task is always to testify to God’s testimony, responding to it faithfully. God says “I have acted here,” and we say “Yes, He did.” And remember that when we seek to build a testimony, there will be those who don’t want us to—like Sanballat and Nehemiah’s wall.

The philosophers Hume and Kant, in a frenzy of high conceit, helped to banish “testimony” from the modern world as a reliable source of knowledge. We want an idolatrous way of knowing that we think is indubitable. But we are finite, and so it has to be testimony or nothing. Jesus is Lord, so it is testify and live or languish and die.

Denethor in the Oval Office

One of the amazing things about our president is that he will move heaven and earth to avoid saying something like “Islamic extremism.” When it comes to being PC, he is the utter frozen limit. He is out there by himself on the tundra. He has gathered up every liberal bromide, every pious political platitude, every cheesy sentiment ever uttered by a bouncy camp counselor at a United Methodist youth ranch, and made a huge pyre out of all them, where it is beginning to look like he is going to immolate himself, just like Denethor.

Since when is the president supposed to pronounce on what is and what is not the “true” heart of any religion? Since when did he become the theologian-in-chief? He doesn’t want to use the word Islamic because he doesn’t want the ISIS psychopaths to have the satisfaction of seeing us recognize the religious element in what they are doing. But if you want to read some bracing good sense on the subject, as distinguished by that crawling green mist coming from the State Department, I recommend this.

Secularism wants to run the world, and yet secularism does not know what religion even is. Secularism does not know what men are, and this is why they do not know what evil men are. Putting it all together, this is why they do not know what evil religions are, and why they are so attractive to sinful men.

This ISIS caliphate has come into being because men need for their lives to mean something. The best that secularism can offer is an abstract system that sees us as undulating protoplasm, moist and confused carriers of our selfish genes, which all know exactly what they want. And then you die.

The Allah of ISIS is a blasphemous parody of the triune God, but from a distance it has provided enough transcendental dazzle to begin to attract a number of lost boys from the West. Turns out that cocaine and Playboy are not a marching creed, and men eventually need to march.

We have come to a crossroads that divides into three paths. One sign says that Evolution is god, and time is its blind prophet. The second says that Allah is God, and Muhammad is his prophet. The third says that God is the Father, and Jesus is His Son.

And it also appears that God is insisting that we make our choice, and take the consequences. As for me and my house, the path we are on is the one that follows Jesus.

New Title?

After you enjoy the cartoon, I have to tell you a quick story.

Calvin's Institutes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A number of decades ago, before I was Reformed, I wanted to get a copy of Calvin’s Institutes, which I did not yet have. I was on the road and stopped in a Christian bookshop somewhere and asked if they had it. When I asked the question, this very thing happened to me. Years later, I was flipping through CT — back when I still did that — and came across this cartoon. “Nancy!” I said, “this exact thing happened to me.” Beyond coincidence, but I had no explanation. I was befuddled. But eventually I thought to look at who drew the cartoon. Ron Huggins drew it, a friend of mine, and all of a sudden the mystery didn’t seem so grand.

Financing the Kingdom and Church Debt

A great difference lies between alternative living and eccentric living. As citizens in the kingdom of God we want to live in a way that demonstrates a genuine “third way” without veering off into eccentric overreactions. Living under the financial blessing of God, without adequate fleshly explanations for the provision, is such an alternative.

“Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5-6).

In asking whether debt for a church is sin, let us begin with a couple of disclaimers. When this question is asked in this context, it reveals many assumptions about the nature of sin and financial responsibility. If someone were to splay his fingers on a concrete sidewalk so that he could whack each one with a hammer, we might try to stop him. But what if he asked, pointedly, “Would it be a sin to do it?” the answer would have to be, “Not necessarily.” To answer the question this way shows that debt is not neutral. In Scripture, debt is always something to be avoided if prudent.

That said, in the first place borrowing entrammels.