The chicken, the blogger, & the pastor

If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.      –Elizabeth Rundle Charles, The Chronicles of the Schoenberg Cotta Family

In my mind the American church (AC) battles the spirit of the age most visibly on both a cultural and a theological front. The cultural front comes in the challenge over so-called gay marriage while the theological front is found in the debate surrounding theistic evolution which will inevitably be brought to bear on the doctrines of biblical inspiration & inerrancy.  Concerning the former, recent events should dispel the AC of the notion that we can remain neutral.

Most recently, Chick-fil-A owner Dan Cathy granted an interview with the Biblical Recorder in which he stated, “We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.” Proving that “innocuous” has no place in today’s dictionary for the tolerant, advocates for so-called gay marriage became apoplectic. For merely voicing support for biblical marriage Cathy was accused of hate speech & intolerance.

Following calls to boycott Chic-fil-A, Christian blogger Jonathan Merritt (no relation to yours truly) penned a piece for The Atlantic in which he opined that our culture is diminished when we join our commerce to our politics. His espoused philosophy: judge a business by its products/practices not by its politics. As payback for failing to condemn Cathy & Chic-fil-A Merritt was outed by a gay blogger who claimed he could provide evidence of Merritt’s homosexuality. In an interview with Ed Stetzer, Merritt provided an overview of his personal story which included his commitment to “the Bible’s unambiguous standards for sexuality.”

Now compare the respective positions & confessions of a fast food president and a blogger with the silence of an influential pastor. In a sermon entitled “When Gracie Met Truthy” Andy Stanley recounts his refusal to allow two men in a homosexual relationship from serving as a host team in a North Point affiliated church not because they were in a homosexual relationship but because one man’s divorce (from his wife) hadn’t yet been finalized. Stanley clearly articulated the sin of adultery but was noticeably silent on the sin of homosexuality. When asked to clarify his conviction concerning homosexuality Stanley declined and referred people to the sermon series instead because “I figure that’s better than a sound bite or an interview.”

No, in this case a pastor must speak to the issues confronting the church today. Dan Cathy & Jonathan Merritt have proved their mettle in the latest skirmish. I hope Pastor Stanley hasn’t decided to flinch.

Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to get married(?)

1 Corinthians 7:7, 27, 38 {ESV} I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another… 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife… 38 So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.

Marriage is frequently projected as “the norm” in today’s church (at least in Protestant circles). The assumption is that all good Christian men and women have been ordained to find their complementary other half, the resulting implication being that to remain without a spouse signals some lack or deficiency in the single person. Marriage books, studies, and seminars are prodigiously produced but finding some decent material on singleness or celibacy is like finding a few Arminians at a Piper conference–you’re pretty sure they’re out there but it ain’t gonna be easy to find them.

Where is the church that would take seriously Paul’s preference for celibacy in 1Corinthians 7?  I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a pastor or teacher challenge young, single Christians to examine themselves to see if they might be gifted for celibacy or to consider the advantages of living single. Certainly we should be careful not to let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction. Paul may have preferred singleness for the sake of the gospel but he stopped short of discouraging marriage. Even so, I think there are a few things we might consider to better reflect the biblical perspective on singleness and marriage.

Churches might:

  1. Determine not to exclude single men when searching for a new pastor — if Jesus & Paul could be single why can’t our pastor(s)?
  2. Intentionally disciple single members in such a way that we communicate their equality as members and their unique opportunity for ministry. 
  3. Preach/teach that the ability to remain celibate is a gracious gift for some men and women. [The gift is the ability and/or desire for celibacy, not celibacy itself. The single whose desire for marriage remains unfulfilled probably shouldn’t be told that their singleness is a gift.]

Christian parents might:

  1. Pray that God would raise up their child(ren) to be happy in holiness more than happy in marriage.
  2. Consider that their child(ren) may be destined to produce spiritual children (rather than grandchildren) for God’s greater glory and their greater joy (1Cor 4:15; 3Jn1:4).
  3. Nurture their child(ren) to seek His kingdom before they consider searching for their counterpart. 
  4. Remind themselves that marriage is temporary but glorified singleness is for eternity (Mat 22:29-30). 

The church needs more marriage counseling like this

A woman once told me that she planned to leave her husband because she “just didn’t love him anymore.” I asked her to change the way she worded what she planned to do so that her decision could be understood accurately. I asked her to say it this way: “I am choosing to no longer value my husband and to break my commitment to remain faithful to him.”

–Steve Cornell, “When I Don’t Feel Love for My Spouse”

Headship is crucifixion

     Christian writers (notably Milton) have sometimes spoken of the husband’s headship with a complacency to make the blood run cold. We must go back to our Bibles. The husband is the head of the wife just in so far as he is to her what Christ is to the Church. He is to love her as Christ loved the Church—read  on—and give his life for her (Eph 5:25). This headship, then  is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion; whose wife receives most and gives least, is most unworthy of him, is—in her own mere nature—least lovable. For the Church has no beauty but what the Bride-groom gives her; he does not find, but makes her, lovely.

     The chrism of this terrible coronation is not to be seen in the joys of any man’s marriage but in it’s sorrows, in the sickness and sufferings of a good wife or the faults of a bad one, in his unwearying (never paraded) care or his inexhaustible forgiveness: forgiveness, not acquiescence. As Christ sees in the flawed, proud, fanatical or lukewarm Church on earth that Bride who will one day be without spot or wrinkle, and labors to produce the latter, so the husband whose headship is Christ-like (and he is allowed no other sort) never despairs. He is a King Cophetua who after twenty years still hopes that the beggar-girl will one day learn to speak the truth and wash behind her ears.

– C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves, “Eros”

Picking & choosing from Jesus’ commands

The following is a portion of an e-mail exchange I had with a long time friend. Let’s call him B Lamb…actually Benjy L…better yet we’ll just call him BL to protect his identity. Anyway, BL’s questions surround a church’s seemingly arbitrary application of Jesus’ teaching in Mat 5:27-45 (take a quick read for yourself if you’re not familiar w/ the passage). BL’s questions/comments lead off (italicized) w/ the first half of my response (w/ minor editing) following. The 2nd half of my response will follow in a subsequent post.

Why do we take the words about divorce so literally when we do not take anything else taught in that passage literally? No one cuts out their eye or cuts off their hands. We make promises all the time instead of just letting our yes be yes. We fight back against those that hurt us. And we kill our enemies instead of praying for them and doing good to them. But we have strict guidelines about who we allow to get married in our church based on this verse!?! So the only logical conclusion that I come to based on how we practice these verses is that everything Jesus taught in this passage was metaphorical except His teaching about divorce – that is literal.

1) Sadly, it’s easier to hold a literal interpretation on a teaching that doesn’t affect you personally. Many (most?) of us don’t think they have to worry about divorce so it’s easier to take a hard line there than on persecution, swearing, etc. where we’re more likely to be confronted w/ Jesus’ teaching in real life.

2) Christian obedience will always be a progressive work. To a certain extent I shouldn’t find it shocking to find inconsistency in our application of Scripture. Our objective is to commend Spirit-led obedience where it’s found and to challenge ourselves in those areas where we lack. The church’s fidelity to Christ’s teaching on marriage/divorce can be used as a platform to promote greater fidelity to swearing & persecution teaching. (see, for example, Jesus simultaneously commending & convicting churches in Rev 2-3). As we commend & challenge we serve the church well to pray for a greater work of the Spirit to get our eyes wide open.

3) Cultural setting can affect how we interpret & implement certain commands. “Pray for those who persecute you” has a radically different meaning for a constitutionally protected American Christian when compared to an Afghan Christian. It can be difficult to chart a path for living out Christ’s commands when society affords me additional privileges and protections—especially when those protections are God ordained. In certain instances even Paul took advantage of civil law rather than take a beating or suffer a miscarriage of justice (Acts 16:37; 22:25; 25:11).