NB: I really appreciate the discussion that has occurred over the last week. Instead of addressing each reply individually, I am trying to collectively address some of larger issues I saw as I read through all the comments.
I was discussing with some friends that the Supreme Court taking up constitutionality of same-sex marriage this last week has been challenging because it has been a distraction from Holy Week and Easter. However, my opinion is that there may be no better time than now to proclaim what Christ died for on the cross, all of our sins.
Intent of Marriage
One of the more challenging issues, in my opinion, is addressing what God’s intent of marriage is versus what actually happens in the world (i.e. “the social construct”). As the LCMS resolution affirms and which I affirm as well, “marriage as the lifelong union of one man and one woman (Gen. 2:2–24; Matt. 19:5–6)”. I think it is important to note that in this affirmation there is no mention of being Christian to be married. Just a man and a woman, together, forever.
If we look around though, that is unfortunately not what happens most of the time. For example, the world is filled with divorce, and indeed even people who identify themselves as Christians divorce at disturbingly high rates. Society may be okay with that, but I am not. I don’t condone it, I’m not in favor of it.
Divorce, destructive of what God has joined together, is always contrary to God’s intention for marriage … A person who divorces his/her spouse for any other cause than sexual unfaithfulness and marries another commits adultery. Anyone who marries a person so discarding his or her spouse commits adultery. ((Divorce and Remarriage: An Exegetical Study, A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, November 1987))
The Bible is also rife with examples of people engaging in unholy things, including polygamy, but that does not make that okay:
Polygamy certainly was not part of God’s original design. After the Fall it was an innovation by Lamech (Gen. 4:19), a descendant of Cain, the first fratricide (Gen. 4:8). Lamech, the first bigamist, bragged to his wives about his prowess at murder (Gen. 4:23–24). The Old Testament recognized the existence of polygyny among some of God’s chosen people. It could be the result of a lack of faith that God would fulfill His promises (Abraham and Hagar in Genesis 16). In the case of Jacob (Genesis 29–30), it was the result of trickery and a human solution for infertility. Although it caused family conflicts, God used it to multiply His people, including the family line of the promised Messiah. However, no Old Testament passage requires it or commends it as God-pleasing. Many passages advocate monogamy as the normal and ideal form of marriage.
I’m not sure if same-sex marriage is a greater or lessor sin than adultery; at the very least they are both sinful and I’m not okay with either. I don’t condone them, I’m not in favor of them.
Reading and understanding Old Testament books is a tricky thing because they have to be read with context. It’s inappropriate to cherry pick a passage and use it to justify anything without understanding it. For example, Leviticus 19:28 says, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.”
Prima facie, it appears that Christians should not get a tattoo.
Leviticus is wrongly used to argue many things. …[T]he prohibition of tattoos as well as other prohibitions and admonitions in Leviticus were due to cultic practices. The whole point of the Levitical law was to make a way for the people of Israel to be set apart from the nations and made holy so that Yahweh might make his dwelling among them. In order to set them apart, certain laws were given to keep them from falling prey to the pagan religions of their neighbors. Also in Leviticus we see the sacrificial system established via the Tabernacle. All of this was provided for the purpose of cleansing Israel of their iniquity and making them holy before God that He could dwell with them. But today, Jesus has come! And in his coming into our flesh, and taking on our sin, and dying on the Cross, he has fulfilled the law in full. Therefore, it is no longer adherence to Levitical law that sets God’s people apart. It is no longer the blood of tabernacle/temple sacrifices that makes them Holy. We are set apart and made holy before God by the blood of Jesus poured out for us on the cross. We are set apart in Him.
It’s at this point where I get in a bit in over my head since I don’t know the specific contexts for the Old Testament, so I’m relegated to using examples from sources that I trust. Regardless, I think we can get hung up too much on the law.
Indeed, it is precisely our inability to keep the law for which Christ died. He kept the law perfectly for us and he died for us thus taking the penalty for breaking the law upon himself. However, it is true that the law still does exist. Jesus Christ said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Christ’s death did not take the law away; it satisfied it for us. Now for us in Christ, the law serves a number of purposes; chief among them being to show us our sinfulness that we would turn to God in repentance and receive forgiveness in Christ. The law also serves to curb us from sin and to guide us in living the Christian life. We should indeed strive to keep the law, for in so doing we generally live better lives and are better able to love and serve others. However, the law cannot save us; it only condemns us. Our salvation is found only in the Gospel which delivers Christ crucified for our sins.
The teaching of Luther and the reformers can be summarized in three phrases: Grace alone, Faith alone, Scripture alone.
Grace Alone (Sola Gratia):
God loves the people of the world, even though they are sinful, rebel against Him and do not deserve His love. He sent Jesus, His Son, to love the unlovable and save the ungodly.
Faith Alone (Sola Fide):
By His suffering and death as the substitute for all people of all time, Jesus purchased and won forgiveness and eternal life for them. Those who hear this Good News and believe it have the eternal life that it offers. God creates faith in Christ and gives people forgiveness through Him.
Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura):
The Bible is God’s inerrant and infallible Word, in which He reveals His Law and His Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. It is the sole rule and norm for Christian doctrine.”
The Lutheran Church expanded on this in “The Inspiration of Scripture, A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, March 1975″:
Even though there are differences and variety in the Sacred Writings which sometimes perplex us because we can find no harmonization for them that satisfies human reason, faith confesses the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God. Since the inerrancy of the Scriptures is a matter of faith, it is by definition a doctrine which is believed solely on the basis of the witness of the Scriptures concerning themselves and not on the basis of empirical verification.
- This is nor to say that in no case is the inerrancy of the Scriptures demonstrable by extra-Biblical evidence. The Scriptures, for instance, report historical events through which God worked out His saving purposes. Since these events occurred on the plane of human history, they are to that extent susceptible of investigation and even of verification by historical research. The Christian faith does not relegate the acts of God for man’s redemption to the arena of super-history so as to detach them from the realm of reality open to examination by the historian. While the Biblical witness to what God was doing in history is not verifiable or unverifiable by the techniques of historical research, Christians gladly submit the Scriptures to investigation with the full confidence that whenever the extra-Biblical evidence is correctly read and understood it will vindicate the complete reliability of the Biblical records relative to that dimension of the events which is subject to human examination.
- This is to say that faith in the inerrancy of the Scriptures does not rely on corroboration of Biblical truth by empirical evidence — faith holds to the inerrancy of the Scriptures even when there is no extra-Biblical substantiation and even when other sources appear to be in conflict with the Scriptures. Luther explained that he used writers of history in such a way that while he did not disregard them, he did not permit them to induce him to contradict the Scriptures. In the Scriptures God speaks. Historians make mistakes. ((St. Louis Edition, XIV, 491.))
Faith affirms that God could speak His Word of Truth even through men whose knowledge of nature and history apart from direct revelation was partial and limited. Faith affirms that even in the presence of difficulties which human reason may regard as deficiencies, we have, nevertheless, in the Scriptures God’s totally reliable Word which cannot mislead and deceive us.
“None of the natural limitations which belong to the human mind even when under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost can impair the authority of the Bible or the inerrancy of the Word of God; for Holy Scripture is the book of divine truth which
transcends everything called truth by the wise men of this world (1 Cor. 1:17 ff., 27; Col. 2:8) and is therefore able to make us ‘wise unto salvation’ (2 Tim. 3:15).” ((Theses of agreement, “Theses on Scripture and Inspiration,” adopted by the conventions of the merging churches of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia in 1956 and 1959. The “Theses on Scripture and Inspiration” were reprinted and distributed by the Commission on Theology and Church Relations in “Statements From The Lutheran Church of Australia,” 1973, pp. 6-7.))
Inspiration was not mechanical dictation but rather an operation of the Holy Spirit that allowed a function to each author’s individuality in writing the Scriptures. Therefore the predication of inerrancy to the Bible does not imply that when the New Testament reproduces and applies Old Testament statements this must always occur by means of verbatim quotations, or that there must be verbal correspondence between parallel accounts of the same event wherever they are found either in the Old or the New Testament.
Each writer inerrantly imparted God’s truth as the Holy Spirit moved him to do so in his own way, from his own perspective, and for his own purposes. Far from impugning the veracity of the Scriptures this multidimensional application of whatsoever was spoken aforetime and this multidimensional view of events reported serves to impart more fully the truth which God reveals for the edification of His people. The Biblical conception of inspiration does not see these differences as errors, but as inspired variety which we should recognize with thanksgiving and study prayerfully imploring the Spirit’s help so that we may receive all the instruction He wishes to imparts.
Love is a Verb
In my opinion, love is not just what we say, but what we do as well. I can say “I love you” to Rachel as much as I want — and it is important to do so. Yet if my actions do not reflect what I say…have I really loved her?
1 Corinthians 13:4-7:”4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
I would argue that as a Christian, I am not loving if I don’t say anything about homosexuality (or adultery, murder, etc). Since I believe that those who do not follow Christ are condemned, I should speak out when I see wrong doings, not because I am judging, but because I care and I do not want anyone to be condemned to Hell.
And honestly, when it comes down to it, we are all sinners.
I rebel against Him, you rebel against him, Pastor rebels against him. None of us deserve His love. But He sent Jesus, His Son, to love the unlovable and save the ungodly. That’s you, me, and everyone else on this planet.
Secular Legal Implications
Where the United States is now, legally speaking, with regard to marriage is what I would call an “undefined state” in engineering, and a state that should not have been allowed to occur but for some reason has.
Legally speaking, I would suspect all marriage laws enacted by the state that provide benefits run afoul of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” (emphasis added)
However, this argument against state laws providing equal protection immediately breaks down at the Federal level (i.e. Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)) since it only applies to the states, and not the Federal government. The question of the validity of DOMA will be likely one of federalism. I am not a huge fan of federalism to begin with, but I’m honestly not sure on what legal grounds DOMA could be overturned.
My opinion is the best thing to do would be to remove the concept of marriage from the law completely. No tax benefits, no legal entitlements, nothing. I think one could make a good case that such benefits (when the combined collective benefits outweigh the individual component of such benefits) for any two people, regardless of sexual orientation, would also be a violation of the equal protection clause for those that are single. I won’t hide the fact this also plays into my libertarian ideals, but I think that this is also a legally cohesive stance.
Render unto Caesar
Let’s get one thing clear, in the United States Constitution: there is no separation of church and state.
There is the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
From a legal perspective, I do not read this to mean my theological views cannot or should not inform my political decisions (i.e. how I voting).
However, there is no denying that a “culture war” does exist, as address in Render unto Caesar…and unto God: A Lutheran View of Church and State, A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, September 1995:
The evidence of serious problems in the relationship between Americans and their government is all around us. In fact, sociologist James Davison Hunter has argued that these problems reflect an underlying “culture war”:
America is in the midst of a culture war that has had and will continue to have reverberations not only within public policy but within the lives of ordinary Americans everywhere.
I define cultural conflict very simply as political and social hostility rooted in different systems of moral understanding. The end to which these hostilities tend is the domination of one cultural and moral ethos over all others. Let it be clear, the principles and ideals that mark these competing systems of moral understanding are by no means trifling but always have a character of ultimacy to them. They are not merely attitudes that can change on a whim but basic commitments and beliefs that provide a source of identity, purpose, and togetherness for the people who live by them. It is for precisely this reason that political action rooted in these principles and ideals tends to be so passionate. ((James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (New York: Basic Books, 1991), 34; 42.))
What is new about this, argues Hunter, is that in the past American politics took place within a generally biblical framework while today that framework is selfconsciously secular. As a result, according to Hunter, “the older agreements have unraveled. The divisions of political consequence today are … the result of differing worldviews.” What is at stake, he concludes, are “our most fundamental and cherished assumptions about how to order our lives–our own lives and our lives together in this society. Our most fundamental ideas about who we are as Americans are now at odds.” (James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (New York: Basic Books, 1991), 34; 42.)) ((Richard John Neuhaus agrees: “Our present moment and the decades ahead, it is reasonable to think, may best be described as a Kulturkampf over the defining of the American experiment.” “From Providence to Privacy: Religion and the Redefinition of America,” in Unsecular America, ed. Richard John Neuhaus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 60.))
What The Bible Says
The problems of church and state are relatively recent. Through most of recorded history they were problems of church and empire or kingdom. In contrast to modern states, where power is quite abstract and bureaucratic, the governments of ancient empires were personal and often authoritarian. The emperor (such as the Roman Caesar) or king was in direct personal control of the government and, as the absolute authority in many societies, the royal word was law. Indeed, the kings and queens frequently exercised such tremendous powers of life and death that they often were considered gods. ((See, e.g., Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars, trans. K. and R. Gregor Smith (London: SCM Press LTD, 1955); Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (New York: The Modern Library, n.d.), 1:61.))
It is important to begin our study, therefore, by observing that the Bible makes a fundamental distinction between divine and human authority. While from the beginning humans have wanted to be like God and to play god, the Bible persistently proclaims only one God who is sovereign over everything and everyone:
Remember this and consider, recall it to mind, you transgressors … for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” (Is. 46:8–10)
For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth–as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”–yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Cor. 8:5–6)
Above the empires and states of history stands one everlasting divine authority to whom all are accountable–even kings and queens, presidents and dictators. And so, while kings and empires pass from the scene, the church continues to proclaim God’s divine authority. As Arthur Cleveland Coxe once penned it:
O where are kings and empires now Of old that went and came?
But, Lord, thy Church is praying yet, A thousand years the same. ((In Excelsis: Hymns with Tunes for Christian Worship (New York: The Century Co., 1897), hymn 637:1.))
Is There Really a Lutheran Perspective?
The Lutheran perspective is grounded finally in that radical distinction between Law and Gospel that both establishes and affirms the distinction between church and state. While there is unity in the Lutheran view — since God rules in both kingdoms, both church and state — it is also true that this unity is and always will be visible only to the eyes of faith. Christians cannot, and must not attempt to, force this world to become what it can never be, since force will only create the appearance of Christ’s kingdom and never the substance.
The Lutheran model is, admittedly, complex. Thus, even Lutherans have often succumbed to the simplicity of other models–models that resolve the tension either by pursuing a more this-worldly kingdom of Christ or by ignoring this world’s problems. Yet, the difficulty with which Lutherans hold to their perspective does not invalidate it. Indeed, the Scripture provides ample support for the contention that authentic Christianity is a hard teaching, difficult to bear (John 6:60). The issue is not whether Lutheran teaching is easy to understand; the issue is whether it properly reflects what the Bible says.
The Lutheran perspective is also, admittedly, difficult to apply. Even when agreeing, for instance, that the church does not have a Gospel-based responsibility to promote the transformation of the civil realm, Lutheran theologians and church bodies have disagreed about whether the corporate church (and not just the individual Christian) has a Law-based duty to teach the state ethical principles. Theologians and church bodies have also disagreed about the most prudent and effective means by which the church might actually teach those ethical principles in a pluralistic and democratic society. The paradoxical tensions of the Lutheran perspective, ï¿¼therefore, make its practical application in diverse cultural and political systems a challenging task.
I will admit I have not had the chance to read all 96 pages of the report, however I am in the middle of it. The take away I have as of now and subject to change is that how my faith informs my political actions will never be a simple matter that can be distilled down to a list of policies that should or should not have Biblical influences.
Whether I’ve actually been able to satisfactorily address the prominent and important issues will remain to be seen (in the comments). Part of the problem of social media, including blogging, is the lack of ability to gauge in real-time if I’m addressing the issue appropriately or not.
Regardless of my abilities to communicate, the important fact still remains:
The Gospel declares that Jesus Christ is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world ((1 John 2:2)), and that Christ, who knew no sin, was made to be our sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God ((2 Cor. 5:21)). It is the church’s proper evangelical work to proclaim the reconciliation of the sinner to God in the death of Jesus Christ ((2 Cor. 5:18–19)) in a spirit of compassion and humility, recognizing that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus ((Rom. 3:23–24)).
And that is what Easter is about.