One of the problems that decisions like Obergefell will cause in our churches is the dislocation that will occur between individuals who respond to such things differently. Often it is not “the thing itself,” but reactions to the thing itself that divide us. We all disapprove, but we disapprove in different ways. Some of those differences are fine, and some are the opposite of just fine.
And then, on top of that, when we have leaders who are divided on how to react, we can have a real problem. Obviously, a man who believes that homosexual marriages are possible, and are furthermore a good thing, is not qualified to lead God’s people. But the pagans have imposed this monstrosity upon us. One elder candidate thinks we should firebomb the county courthouse for registering such abominations, another thinks that it is an abomination all right, but that we have other foundational work to get done first before we attempt to rectify the abomination, and yet another elder candidate is yearning for the day when he can get out of his stuffy closet.
How can you tell the difference between the latter two?
Jeremiah told the Jews to surrender to the Babylonians, and he did this without being secretly in love with the Babylonian way. But someone else, who really was in love with the Babylonian way, might say exactly the same thing that Jeremiah said. “Yeah! What he said!”
When Paul arrived in Rome, the gladiatorial games were going in full force. This was a problem, but it was not his problem, if you know what I mean. He didn’t start a petition drive to have the games stopped, but not because they shouldn’t be stopped. He didn’t do that because he had bigger fish to fry. Everything with this kind of issue depends on where you and your disciples are headed, and how plausible it is that you are headed there.
The Issue and the Real Issue:
Suppose a candidate for elder in your church says that he believes the civil magistrate should not outlaw homosexual activity. He says that this is a “two kingdoms” issue, and that he certainly doesn’t approve of homosexual sinning, but that the magistrate does not have the obligation to impose the entire law of God—just the parts that maintain public decency and order.
Now it could be argued that brimstone falling from the sky on a city has an impact on public order, but let us leave that aside for a moment.
Moreover, he says that Christians should not resist or fight it if the magistrate goes farther and positively affirms homosexual unions with the sanction of marriage. Let the Gentiles do what Gentiles do.
But here is test case to help us determine if such a proposal is serious or not. Suppose someone says this:
“The magistrate is under no obligation to impose the entire law of God on an unbelieving populace, and should be concerned merely with the general peace and security of the society. Christians should live according to the Word of God in their own communities, and not concern themselves with whether or not unbelievers have codified their unrighteousness as manifested by the widespread acceptance of Sin X, along with their legal protections for Sin X.”
Now someone who affirms this is actually affirming the principle, and can do so without knowing what Sin X might be. But if it matters to a person what that sin is, this is probably because he is trying to get his rubber raft of personal piety through the whitewater of cultural inconsistency, and is having a rough go. He has now taken to waving his paddle in the air.
The options for Sin X are:
- Acceptance of widespread homosexual activity
- Acceptance of widespread pederasty
- Acceptance of gladiatorial blood sports
- Acceptance of racially-motivated bigotry
- Acceptance of abortion on demand
- Acceptance of chattel slavery
Now if you are a standard-issue mushified pastor, you are going to want to apply the paragraph above to those sins that the rainbow coalition is currently trumpeting, while refusing indignantly to apply to those sins that rainbow coalition rejects with detestation. In other words, the principle is not your principle at all—it is your excuse.
So when Paul arrived in Rome, that city contained more than gladiatorial games. It also contained everything else on the list—and he still gave himself to planting churches and discipling the saints. But he was playing the long game, as he told us flatly on a number of occasions.
And Some Revelatory Questions
So I said above that there is a sharp distinction to be made between someone who is surrendering to the spirit of the age, or otherwise trying to accommodate it, and someone who is simply a strategic thinker, playing the long game. Since both of them might argue that we should not firebomb the country courthouse because they are registering same sex mirages there, how can we tell the difference between the temporizer and valiant strategist?
Remember, we are talking not about church membership, but about the leadership of your congregation. You tell the difference by means of questions like the following:
- Suppose you have the results of a same sex marriage ceremony living next door to you. They are faithful members of a church that approves of such things and, as next door neighbors go, they are pleasant and neighborly enough. Are you willing to say from the pulpit that those who live in this way will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10)?
- Are you willing to say (again, in a way that people can hear) that the laws of the ideal biblical republic (which we are in the process of building) will in due time exclude and prohibit any form of marriage or civil union between members of the same sex? Such unions may be legal now, but when we are done with our work of discipling the nations, they will no longer be legal.
- And in the meantime, if you have a Christian baker, florist, or photographer in your congregation whose conscience prohibits him rendering any form of support or applause to such unions, that individual is doing the Lord’s work. Are you willing to support him with your life, fortune, and sacred honor?
A man who says that those who live in unrepented sexual sin will not inherit the kingdom, who acknowledges that the effect of the growth of the Lord’s kingdom on earth will be to inexorably outlaw all such monstrosities, and that the consciences of honest Christians who refuse to participate in celebrations of this particular vice should be consciences that are honored by the church leadership, respected by the church leadership, and defended by the church leadership, is a man who is sound on the essentials. If that man is opposed to filing a lawsuit against your local government— which just painted rainbow guns on all the cop cars—he is obviously opposed for tactical reasons, not theological reasons. This means he is within the boundaries of our confessions—even if he is wrong about the tactics, and a lawsuit is just what is called for.