The Politics of Gay Marriage (Exiles)

pogoA major theme of 1 Peter is that Christians are “exiles.”

(1 Pet. 1:1-2 ESV)  Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,  2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. 

(1 Pet. 1:17-19 ESV)  17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,  18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold,  19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

(1 Pet. 2:11-12 ESV)  11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.  12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 

“Exiles”? From where? Continue reading

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The Politics of Gay Marriage (Citizens of heaven)

pogoNext, we need to consider some teachings of the Bible that we tend to ignore. You won’t find many sermon outlines based on these passages in Church of Christ sermon books — or in evangelical literature generally.

We begin with —

(Phil. 3:20-21 ESV)  20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,  21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. 

To grasp Paul’s meaning, we need to know a little history. Rome planted Roman colonies across the Empire. This was usually part of the pension given to a retired Roman soldier. A soldier might not be from Rome at all, but if he survived to retire, he’d be granted Roman citizenship and a plot of land in a Roman colony. Philippi was just such a colony.

If the colony was well placed, with good farmland and on a trade route or two, the town would prosper and people from all over the Empire might move there. But the oldest families would be retired Roman soldiers who receive their pensions and their land from Rome. And if there ever was an insurrection, the soldiers still had their swords and could be called into active duty, much like our Army Reserve. And the Romans knew how to train soldiers to kill. This was an Empire based on the ruthless assertion of governmental violence against all dissent.

Therefore, for Paul to declare Christians “citizens of heaven” is to declare their loyalty, their king, and their duties. N. T. Wright explains,

‘We are citizens of heaven,’ Paul declares in verse 20. At once many modern Christians misunderstand what he means. We naturally suppose he means ‘and so we’re waiting until we can go and live in heaven where we belong’. But that’s not what he says, and it’s certainly not what he means. If someone in Philippi said, ‘We are citizens of Rome,’ they certainly wouldn’t mean ‘so we’re looking forward to going to live there’. Being a colony works the other way round. The last thing the emperors wanted was a whole lot of colonists coming back to Rome. The capital was already overcrowded and underemployed. No: the task of the Roman citizen in a place like Philippi was to bring Roman culture and rule to northern Greece, to expand Roman influence there.

But supposing things got difficult for the Roman colonists in Philippi. Supposing there was a local rebellion, or an attack by the ‘barbarian’ tribes to the north. How would they cope? Their best hope would be that the emperor himself, who after all was called ‘saviour’, ‘rescuer’, would come from Rome to Philippi to change their present somewhat defenceless situation, defeat their enemies, and establish them as firmly and gloriously as Rome itself. The emperor, of course, was the ruler of the whole world, so he had the power to make all this happen under his authority.

That is the picture Paul has in mind in verses 20 and 21. The church is at present a colony of heaven, with the responsibility (as we say in the Lord’s Prayer) for bringing the life and rule of heaven to bear on earth. We are not, of course, very good at doing this; we often find ourselves weak and helpless, and our physical bodies themselves are growing old and tired, decaying and ready to die. But our hope is that the true saviour, the true Lord, King Jesus himself will come from heaven and change all that. He is going to transform the entire world so that it is full of his glory, full of the life and power of heaven. And, as part of that, he is going to transform our bodies so that they are like his glorious body, the body which was itself transformed after his cruel death so that it became wonderfully alive again with a life that death and decay could never touch again.

Knowing this will enable Christians to ‘stand firm in the Lord’ (4:1); and now we can see more clearly what that means. It doesn’t just mean remaining constant in faith. It means giving allegiance to Jesus, rather than to Caesar, as the true Lord. Paul has described the church, and its Lord, in such a way that the Philippians could hardly miss the allusion to Rome and Caesar. This is the greatest challenge of the letter: that the Christians in Philippi, whether or not they were themselves Roman citizens (some probably were, many probably weren’t), would think out what it means to give their primary allegiance not to Rome but to heaven, not to Caesar but to Jesus—and to trust that Jesus would in due time bring the life and rule of heaven to bear on the whole world, themselves included.

Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 126–127.

American Christians are under the delusion that our savior is the government. Why would I say such a thing? Because we things go badly, we want to fix it via the government. We want to elect the right representatives and president. We want the right court decisions issued. And if we could just get a filibuster-proof Senate and our preferred presidential candidate, our problems would be solved. And this is pagan, godless thinking.

Citizens of heaven recognize the Messiah as King, and they look to their King for salvation. And when things go wrong, it’s not a government problem but a failure of God’s citizens to be loyal soldiers.

But the benefit of thinking like pagans is that we get to blame others for the decadence of our society. If we admit that we were charged by God himself to help God heal the brokenness of the world by bringing the lost the Jesus and by serving those in need, well, we’d have some very guilty feelings to deal with. Far better to blame the Democrats. Or Republicans. Or people who didn’t vote. Or the Supreme Court. Anybody but us.

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Book Recommendations?

bookshelfI get emails —

Dear Jay,

I was hoping that you might have a few moments to help a young preacher find some good books. I am trying to build my library with some of the greatest books available; the books you consider to be MUST reads for the growing Christian. Would you be so kind to list 10 of your favorite classic spiritual books and 10 of your favorite contemporary spiritual books? I am interested in a variety of topics (missiology, leadership, preaching/public speaking, spiritual formation, the cross/atonement, and grace). My goal is simply to increase my knowledge and love for the Lord. I would greatly appreciate your help. I understand if you don’t have the time to reply. Thank you, brother.

I’m posting this because there are so many excellent books. I’ve not read them all, and I’ve forgotten some pretty good ones, I’m sure. So I figured the readers would have some excellent recommendations to share. Continue reading

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The Politics of Gay Marriage (Framing Observations)

pogoI wrote a series of extended comments regarding the politics of gay marriage in response to multiple questions from the readers. I’ve re-written them a bit.

We need to begin with some framing statements regarding God and humanity.

  • I believe that all sexual acts outside of marriage are sinful.
  • I believe that marriage is exclusively between a man and woman.
  • I don’t believe the government has authority to change either of the first two points. That is, marriage is a gift from God to humanity, and so he gets to define it. No government has authority to create homosexual marriage. This is outside the purposes of government, as marriage predates government. Government is a creation of humanity. Marriage is a creation of God.
  • This is true whether gay “marriage” is being created by the courts or by the legislatures or by a constitutional amendment adopted by the people. As to marriage, the sovereign power is exclusively held by God.

If I were writing a book on the subject, I would walk the reader through the Gen 1 – 2 passages and how Jesus and Paul interpret and apply them. But readers of this blog should be familiar with this material already — and the fact that Jesus and Paul reach their conclusions from Gen 1 – 2, not the contract theory of government, the divine rights of kings, or the like. We should think as Jesus and Paul thought. Continue reading

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Songs Without Notes: A Meandering History of Hymnals and Vocal Music, with Rant — Part 6

CrownHimWithManyCrowns

From the comments:

Bob wrote,

Put another way, edification is sacramental as well.

Exactly. In fact, I’d add “… and especially.”

The common definition of a sacrament accepted by the Reformed and Roman Churches is that of an outward and visible sign, ordained by Christ, setting forth and pledging an inward and spiritual blessing.

R. J. Coates, New Bible Dictionary, 1996, 1034.

In the Churches of Christ, “sacrament” is frowned on as a word because it’s not found in scripture. But neither is “Trinity,” “preacher,” “church treasury,” “verse,” or “hymnal.” Alexander Campbell urged us to refer to Bible things by Bible names (amen), but sometimes it’s helpful to expand our vocabulary.

Protestants traditionally limit “sacrament” to baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but this comes largely by paring down the Catholic Church’s list of seven sacraments. In fact, there are far more things in Christianity that meet this definition.

For example, the assembly is sacramental as it’s a visible sign of the church. The assembly is not the church (not all gather in the same place at the same time), but the assembly reveals the church’s presence. Is there a corresponding inward, spiritual blessing? Of course.

(Matt. 18:20 ESV) 20 “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Do we want Jesus to be among us? That would indeed be sacramental. But that requires that we gather together. But being “gathered” doesn’t mean standing next to a stranger listening to a song leader or preacher.

We also find the word translated “gathered” in —

(Matt. 25:35 ESV) For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

To be “gathered” is not merely to be in the same room or even in the same room worshiping God. We aren’t gathered unless we’re gathered as a community that welcomes one another. Perhaps a modified translation would help —

(Matt. 18:20 ESV) 20 “For where two or three are [welcomed] in my name, there am I among them.”

But we treat the assembly as primarily focused on the vertical element — our worship to God. After all, not one of our Five Acts of Worship is pictured as primarily horizontal — welcoming — in intent.

That is, we unconsciously treat the assembly as the NT replacement for Jewish temple worship — by unspoken assumption. Indeed, we call what we do “acts of worship,” although this is not how the NT describes the assembly.

The assembly is not the NT analog to the Temple. Rather, the NT uses Temple language with regard to daily living.

(Rom. 12:1 ESV)  I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 

(1 Pet. 2:4-5 ESV)  4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,  5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 

Wayne Grudem comments as to 1 Pet 2:4-5 —

As priests, believers offer not the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant, but spiritual sacrifices, which the New Testament elsewhere identifies as the offering of our bodies to God for his service (Rom. 12:1), the giving of gifts to enable the spread of the gospel (Phil. 4:18), the singing of praise (Heb. 13:15), and the doing of good and sharing our possessions (Heb. 13:16). These varied examples encourage us to think that anything we do in service to God can be thought of as a ‘spiritual sacrifice’ acceptable to God, a continual sweet aroma that ascends to his throne and brings him delight. With this New Testament perspective on ‘sacrifice’, all the Old Testament passages about sacrifices can be read in a new light.

Wayne A. Grudem, 1 Peter: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale NTC 6; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 106-107.

The NT language regarding the assembly is far more analogous to Israel journeying through the wilderness together, following the Presence of God. It’s the wandering-in-the-wilderness passages that refer to Israel as God’s ekklesia. We’re not “called out” of our homes to gather to worship. We are called out of slavery to journey to the Promised Land together, led by God himself — and as we journey, we journey together — a nation without borders or even a fixed location. We are in exile from our enslavers and not yet in the Land of Milk and Honey,

And as we travel together, as a community of God, we gather together to encourage and edify each other — which includes being strengthened by God’s great might and his word as well as worshiping together.

Or to put it more practically, God does not have self-esteem issues. He doesn’t need us to worship him to satisfy some divine need for adulation (in contrast to pagan religions). Rather, he calls us to assemble for our sakes. The NT passages place far more emphasize the horizontal aspects of the assembly over the vertical elements. 1 Cor 14 very heavily focuses on mutual edification. The only reference to “worship” in that chapter is worship by a visiting unbeliever!

Just so, we have —

(Heb. 10:24-25 ESV) 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

This passage will surely be included in the “Church of Christ Preacher Greatest Hits” collection — and yet it speaks solely toward the horizontal elements of the assembly.

God calls us together so that we’ll be together — which is the best way for us to edify and encourage each other. We worship because we love God and, being together, find the desire to praise our Lord irresistible. It’s not that we don’t worship in the Sunday morning assembly, but that worship is a natural product of our being assembled for mutual edification. When I see my brothers and sisters praising my God with joy, I’m drawn in to join them. But the edification/encouragement of the assembly is much bigger than that.

And so one of the problems with many approaches to the assembly is their over-emphasis on verticality. If I can’t hear my brothers and sisters sing, the leaders respond that God can hear us sing, and that’s really the point. No, it’s not. I can sing to God in my car all alone. And the guys on the Christian radio station are better than the worship leaders at my church. I can listen to Andy Stanley or Rick Atchley in my car. But I can’t encourage and be encouraged in my car all alone.

 

And yet we have members who take offense if we talk to each other while awaiting the beginning of church services. They consider it “irreverent” — as though God would take offense at talking in his sanctuary (oops: auditorium). Of course, the loudest, most boisterous place in Judea was the Temple. Imagine the sounds of hundreds or thousands of sheep being slaughtered and then roasted over the altar, of thousands of pilgrims praying aloud to God, a choir of Levites singing psalms, worshipers ascending the steps chanting psalms, a full orchestra of Levitical instrumentalists, rabbis teaching their disciples, and men and women crying shouting “Hallelujah” as they find themselves in the presence of God Almighty!

But what about —

(Hab. 2:18-20 ESV) 18 “What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! 19 Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. 20 But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.

The command to “keep silence before him” isn’t speaking of the Temple service. Rather, the entire world is commanded to be silent. Why? Because unlike the pagan idols, our God speaks, and we need to be listening.

The Lord is in his holy temple: this refers primarily to the Lord’s “temple” in heaven rather than to the Temple built by Solomon in Jerusalem (compare Psa 11:4; Micah 1:2). So his holy temple in this context means “the temple in heaven which belongs to the Lord.”

The appropriate response from man to the holy God is silence: let all the earth keep silence before him. TEV makes it explicit that all the earth means “everyone on earth,” and that before him means “in his presence.”

David J. Clark and Howard A. Hatton, A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Habakkuk, UBS Handbook Series, (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989), 112.

“Keep silence” is the Hebrew for “hush”! Habakkuk is saying, “Shut up and listen.”

And so, the assembly is sacramental in that our gathering brings Jesus present among us. But Jesus doesn’t join us to be worshiped — although we will and should worship him. He is present to be with his family — because we are his beloved brothers and sisters: people he died to save, meaning people for whom he died just so he could be present with us for all eternity.

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From the Comments: Further on whether the scriptures are sufficient

HolySpirit7Following up yesterday’s post, reader David commented,

If there has been no personal indwelling of the Spirit directing and guiding Christians since the death of the apostles then, the New Testament is highly suspect. Early churchmen collected, sifted, and sorted through hundreds of writings for three hundred years or so to finally settle on the canon of Scriptures we have today. Some of the writing of the NT were never doubted, but some were. There is no good reason to accept the complete NT we have today as the word of God except by faith in the Holy Spirit’s guidance of men of the church. Deny the personal indwelling of the Spirit in Christians, you undercut faith in the Bible as God’s word.

I thought this was an excellent point. I added, Continue reading

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Divorce & Remarriage: Reading in light of covenant theology (Part 2)

divorce5

Reader Gary mentioned an article by Hugo McCord on Matt 5:32, which neither of us has found. I responded —

Gary,

I can’t find the McCord article, and what I have found from McCord is rife with legalistic assumptions.

Nonetheless, all commentators note that Matt 5:32 says, in the English and the Greek, that the first husbands “makes” the wife he puts away an adulteress (passive voice). Even without the passive voice, the “makes” plainly places the moral fault on the first husband. Only a rank legalist would then impose penalties on the wife for actions that Jesus says are not her fault.

We think she sins because she’s still married to the first husband, which Jesus not only doesn’t say, he says she’s married to the second husband — which we deny to fit our legalistic theories, preferring theory to scripture (not you, the traditional school of thought). Continue reading

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Bear’s Den: “Elysium”

Brother do you believe in an afterlife
Where our souls will both collide
In some great Elysium
Way up in the sky
Free from our shackles, our chains
Our mouths, our brains
We’ll open all the gates
And we will walk careless
Straight into the light Continue reading

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Divorce & Remarriage: Reading in light of covenant theology (Part 1)

divorce5In response to the readers’ questions, I wrote a series of comments dealing with how we should read the Bible’s passages regarding divorce and remarriage in light of the covenant theology we covered in last year’s series on “How to Study the Bible.”

That is, we must not assume that Jesus repealed the Torah and enacted a new law. Rather, in the Gospels, Jesus is interpreting Torah — not under the new covenant but as it should have been interpreted then and there.

In 1 Cor 7, Paul takes the teachings of Jesus and applies them in the Christian context — but Paul is also not making new law. Rather, he taking the principles found in Jesus’ words and applying them in a world where some people aren’t children of God and some are, where one spouse is and one spouse isn’t, etc.

The rules don’t change. Rather, different covenants present different circumstances for applying the same principles. Continue reading

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From the Comments: Aren’t the Scriptures All-Sufficient?

HolySpirit7Jeff R asked,

It’s the one’s that believe that this indwelling is personal and DIRECT, meaning that the Spirit directly influences them apart from God’s word that I have a problem with. They in effect are denying that the word of God is all sufficient. The Bible teaches us that it is. Why do people like this idea of a direct operation of the Spirit for mankind today?

Jeff argued from,

(2 Tim. 3:16-4:1 ESV)  16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.  

Continue reading

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