marriage today in the church and society

“Haven’t you read,” [Jesus] replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Matthew 19

Eugene Peterson, one of the very best Christian writers in my lifetime, himself a pastor had an interesting exchange in the past few days in which he seemed to affirm same sex marriage, and then immediately retracted that, and clarified his position. See this interesting post from Christianity Today.

My own position is to side with what scripture up front seems to make clear both in regard to marriage, and same sex relationships, or homosexuality. Of course scripture itself is nuanced, and challenging on some levels, and always must be read in light of its fulfillment in Christ. That said, it seems pretty clear why the traditional view not only holds strong with most Christian denominations and traditions, but surely will remain so in generations to come. Perhaps what might change is how people who have same sex attraction are received into the church, although that probably varies from church to church now.

Denominations and churches which accept and practice same sex weddings, and ordain those who are thus “married” I have seen, either argue that scripture itself leaves room for “covenant” gay sexual relationship, that when scripture does address this subject the few times it does, it is referring to something else altogether. I have read the arguments myself, and find them less than convincing in comparison to traditional teaching and interpretation of scripture. Or there are those “Christian” leaders who simply question Biblical teaching, even at times suggesting that the resurrection of Christ can be taken either literally or metaphorically, in others words that one can be a Christian without believing Christ’s physical, bodily resurrection. While I disagree, I can respect the former, but not the latter.

I think it’s a tragedy when whole groups are ostracized by the church, and now I’m thinking of the LGBT group. But any church, or Christian who doesn’t hold an affirming view of such relationships, will be seen as attacking the person. I doubt that enough work is being done to reach out to these people. At the very least they should know that they’re loved, and welcomed. I’m not sure myself just how to address this, though I think I know what my tentative suggestion might be. But I would want to be part of a group of men and women prayerfully deliberating on that.

As to my own view for society, I say that the church should not try to dictate what the state wants to do. The state, or government is not the church, and can’t be held to the church’s standards. Nor should the church be forced by the state to adopt the state’s standards. So I would hold to a separation of church and state, at the same time hoping that the church’s influence through the gospel might rub off on the state. But never at the expense of compromising the church’s own complete allegiance to Christ and the gospel.

It is quite a challenging and hot topic today, a sea change having taken place in society, with some impact on some churches. It’s simply a new time for the church to learn to live in a culture which doesn’t define marriage in strictly a traditional way. The church will continue on, but hopefully with new insight in helping those who feel rejected by the only one who can change any of us, and receives us all.

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near a tipping point

There are times when the stress and strain of life with all its disappointments and despair can make one come near a tipping point in which some sort of change may well take place. The change may be for good or for ill. Actually life probably has many tipping points along the way, small last straws which make us rethink or negotiate a new course altogether, abeit in whatever small way. But there are times when the tipping point may result in radical change. Again, perhaps for good or perhaps not.

Usually change is more incremental. One example for many is the tendency to mellow out with age. One becomes at least much more tender, even if not changing at all in one’s basic view and convictions concerning life. One might come to discover that they simply don’t fit anymore where they once did, but somewhere else. I think of Jaroslav Pelikan, the outstanding Christian writer on Christian creeds. He discovered late in life that he was no longer an orthodox Lutheran, but an Eastern Orthodox Christian. Others have sudden experiences, a seismic shift, probably preceded by a number of factors. One example of that: C. S. Lewis’ reluctant but thorough conversion to Christianity.

Such an awareness may both help us on our own journey, and help us with reference to the journey of others, particularly those we are concerned about. Change is a part of life. We should all have hope to change for the good. To change for the good is actually beyond ourselves, found only in and through Jesus. To begin to understand and live in the truth of the gospel is the only way we will change for good, both for this life and for the life to come. Of course there is change that is good in other ways apart from Christ. But we miss the point of our existence when we are out and about apart from him.

And so life goes on, and hopefully we along with it. But in the one who is the way, the truth and the life. And we together with others in Jesus in this and for the world.

losing one’s moorings

It is perilously easy for one to lose their spiritual moorings. The writer to the Hebrews warns against that. To not lose spiritual moorings in Christ, one needs to hold on to the message as it is proclaimed, of King Jesus and the good news in him. Jesus is indeed the fulfillment of the old covenant. And only in him do we find our way now, he himself being the way, along with the truth and the life.

I think by nature we evangelicals tend to be careless in this sense. I mean we take it for granted, yes- we’ve come to Jesus, we have that part down, and so we can more or less go on living our own lives. But in doing that I believe it is perilously easy to be going on our own way, losing out on the one who is the way.

Life can help us in the trouble it brings, or God through life, to find and hold on to our moorings. Indeed the same book tells us that we have an anchor for the soul which keeps us in Jesus through what Jesus has done. And that keeping is not only for our salvation, but for the fulfillment of what the old covenant was all about in terms of the good news in Jesus, and of King Jesus for the world.

In other words, holding on to one’s spiritual moorings is not simply about getting personal salvation, but it is about following Jesus in reference to the big picture of God’s will being done on earth, as in heaven. It is as big as creation and the world. Worldly in terms of God’s kingdom work in Jesus in this world, which in some ways goes beyond the church, but at heart is what the church is all about in its head, King Jesus.

In fact one can lose their moorings if all that means to them is to remain closely tied to the salvation that is ours in Jesus. If we are not in the world as Jesus was, if we are not fulfilling what Jesus is fulfilling, and in the way he is fulfilling it, then we have missed the boat so to speak.

This is about following Jesus, worked out in terms of that. By the Spirit and in the church. But about following him in God’s kingdom come in him, to the end of seeing God’s will be done on earth as in heaven. Yes, in seeing others come to Jesus, so that they too can find their moorings in him. And in terms of a third way for the world aside from all the final solutions the world poses. A way we won’t have figured out ourselves, since it is in the way himself, who is Jesus. The one we in him follow together for the world.

practice makes perfect

When we consider love, it is not enough that God loved the world. But he loved the world so much, or in this way, in that he sent his Son into the world. What we’ve been celebrating this Advent season.

What we do is important. We need to watch that, in order to test our love, insofar as that’s possible. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” There you have it. We say we love Jesus, and by God’s grace in him, we do. But that needs to be evident in keeping his commandments. If we don’t obey him, we do well to question our love for him. That should be characteristic of our lives, in spite of our failings.

Practice makes perfect. Which means we not only need to do the good, what God would have us to do, something often clear (it’s not what we can’t understand, but what we can, which should trouble us) as in a directive or command in scripture, such as “forgive one another,” or something we discern. We also need to watch that we aren’t doing what is displeasing to God, directly violating his directives for us, as in holding grudges, judging our brother or sister, etc.

Emotions are not to be despised or ignored, they are important. We don’t want to fall into a Kantian embrace of the ought, which surely has impacted our understanding of spirituality in ways foreign to God’s revelation in Jesus found in scripture. Emotions are indeed important in more ways than one.

We end up being judged by our works. Works that need to be done out of love and faith, to be sure. But the good we do or fail to do, along with the wrong we do, or avoid, and of course this will mean a life of ongoing repentance and confession of sin, this is important as well.

Again, practice makes perfect. One of the most important things we’re to do is learn to be still and know that God is God. Stillness in solitude, stillness in the midst of the storm, stillness in everyday life. Another discipline I practice is to say the Jesus Creed (Mark 12:29-31) and the Lord’s/Our Father prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) over and over throughout the course of a day. I find that this can help center me, helping me keep my focus on God through Christ. Actions in a sense can include thoughts as well as words. We do well to guard our hearts with all diligence, since it is out of the heart that we live, and act.

What we do and don’t do impacts us for good or ill. It is said that we can actually change our brains by our practices. By the Spirit we can be transformed more and more into the image of Christ, or we can resist that and go our own way. If that becomes a pattern of our lives, what we practice, we are on the road to spiritual death.

We do well to watch what we actually are doing, or failing to do. We need to take note of that. Remembering that we in Jesus are in this together. And asking God to reveal to us any hurtful way in us, and lead us in the way everlasting.