Tag Archives: culture

Pastoral Letter — June 2015 SCOTUS Decision

On Sunday I read a pastoral letter to my congregation about the recent Supreme Court Decision.  I share it here in hopes that it will edify you as well.

“In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy,

always being prepared to make a defense to anyone

who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;

yet do it with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15

Pastoral Letter on “Obergefell v. Hodges” Supreme Court Decision June 26th, 2015

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Dear brothers and sisters of Grace Covenant,

This past Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriage was a legal right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, the slim majority (5-4) held that “The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize [such] a marriage . . . performed out-of-State.”[1] In making this ruling the Supreme Court overturned the historically held, biblical boundaries of marriage.

While many are celebrating this decision publically and throughout social media, we ought to respond with thoughtful reflection, fervent prayer, clear talking points, and above all gracious interaction. Our denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church issued a statement following the Supreme Court ruling. It reads as follows:

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church grieves today’s ruling of the Supreme Court, which illustrates the continued disregard for the biblical, traditional, Judeo-Christian values upon which the foundation of our nation was established. As a church, we continue to rest our faith in the sovereign God and the authority of His Holy Word. We pray faithfully for our nation and our leaders as so commanded by Scripture.

We bear no malice toward those with a same-sex attraction; in fact, we love them with the love of Christ. However, as a church we must adhere to the biblical definition of marriage, rather than a cultural one.

We recognize that civil governments adopt policies that do not align with biblical values. However, those policies must never require that people of faith abandon the clear teaching of Scripture, forfeit the right to proclaim those truths, or change their beliefs or practices.[2]

As your pastor, I offer the following points to clarify how we may continue to engage graciously and winsomely with people in the culture around us.

  1. Those who identify as LGBT are not hated by us.[3]  Dissent or even disapproval of a view or a life-style is not hatred. In fact, we renounce any person who speaks hatefully to fellow image bearers, or who acts in an unlawful manner toward people who claim LGBT as their identity. The Lord Jesus has taught us to love our enemies. While some LGBT advocates may stand against us as our enemies, we love them and pray for them.
  • Yet expressing Jesus’ love to who identify as LGBT does not mean condoning their practices or lifestyle. We are called to obey Paul’s words to Timothy: “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” (2 Timothy 2:24) Our role is to speak the truth in love toward the LGBT community.
  1. Christian love implies that we hold forth the gospel to all, including those who self-identify as LGBT. Through the gospel all who yield to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith are forgiven of all sin and then empowered to forsake sin in thought, word, and behavior. Throughout our entire lifetime, we must all fight the presence of indwelling sin, but we do so with the resources of God’s word, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and fellowship with other believers to help us live righteous lives.
  • “The gospel . . . is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16) In Jesus Christ, “. . . the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. (Titus 2:11-12)
  • Furthermore, we ourselves should live out the beautiful vision of truth in our own lives first and foremost. As Mohler has written, “We are also commanded to uphold the truth about marriage in our own lives, in our own marriages, in our own families, and in our own churches.”[4]
  • Also, we need to have great care and compassion when talking about the nature of sexual identity, sexual attraction, and sexual practice. Regardless of what ones orientation is, scripture teaches that any form of lust toward a person who is not your biblically defined marriage partner is sin. The gospel helps us to mortify sin in our sinful nature.
  • As the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ we are called to provide a safe place through radical community where anyone, regardless of their sins or temptations, can count on others to speak the truth in love, pray for one another, care for one another, weep together over brokenness and sin, and look upward to a faithful redeeming Savior. It doesn’t matter what that sin is, whether it is sexual sin, or greed, or drunkenness, or any other sin, believers are always welcome to work on our common goal of sanctification by the power of the holy gospel of Jesus Christ in community.
  • “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2) This is our responsibility as the priesthood of all believers.
  1. Followers of Christ are called to speak compellingly about the glorious vision of God-given human sexuality and the institution of marriage—even if unpopular or unwanted. If the previous point claimed that the gospel gives us a priestly calling, this point claims that followers of Christ have a prophetic calling.
  • The prophet’s role is often a lonely one. He or she is called to stand for the revealed truth of the Word of the Lord. Sometimes this means speaking to the civil sphere as Elijah did to King Ahab. Sometimes this means speaking to rulers as Nathan did when David sinned. Sometimes it even means speaking to religious leaders as Isaiah did to the people of Judah in Jerusalem. A prophet’s work is never pleasant, but when God speaks, it is like a fire in the bones and the Word must be delivered regardless of the consequences—censure, reproach, or even imprisonment. The example of the Apostles in the early church is a model as well. After being told by the authorities not to speak in the name of Jesus, they replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20 HSCB)

The following are points are truths we affirm about marriage and sexual identity from scripture.

  1. Men and women are made in God’s image, as male and female (Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 139:13-16) This means that sex is not merely assigned at birth, but is assigned by our creator. A person is born a male or female in their physical body and they are fearfully and wonderfully made. Their body is a good gift from God. Any aberration from this, whether real or perceived, is a result of our fallen condition.
  2. Marriage is a holy institution ordained by God at the beginning of creation (Genesis 2:18-25) and a picture of the relationship between Christ and his holy bride, the Church, both now and in the new creation (Revelation 19:6-9; 21:1-2) Marriage is not an invention of mankind. Marriage is God’s design and he has the authority to define it’s purpose, limits, and context. Furthermore, marriage matters because it is not only designed for human society, but is itself a picture of the relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and His Bride, the church. Those who redefine marriage destroy a precious portrait that our creator has painted for his own glory. We should be grieved over any sin which harms any marriage: adultery, abuse, desertion, divorce, fornication, etc.
  3. Marriage is a life-long covenant between one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-6) Contrary to popular statements, Jesus did explicitly and unequivocally speak against same sex marriage. His words could not be clearer. In answering questions about marriage, Jesus says, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)
  4. The Bible regulates that sexual activity may occur exclusively within the context of marriage, properly defined (Leviticus 18:1-23; 1 Corinthians 6:9-207:1-16).

Our confession states that human courts can and do err (see The Westminster Confession of Faith 31:3). In this case we believe that the Supreme Court has erred. For now it is the law of the land. But this is not the final word. This decision will be judged by history and judged by the Lord of history. In the meantime, we stand to speak the truth in love, in hopes that our faithful witness can honor God in all areas of life.

I believe that God in his sovereignty has ordained that we live in this time and place to bring glory to him in our church and truth in our culture. I encourage you to educate yourself about this ruling and the issues surrounding sexuality and marriage. In fact, you would do well to read the entire Supreme Court decision. It will equip you to answer questions and speak in an informed manner. As your pastor, I pray that this church can be known as a congregation that speaks the truth in love. I am always available to speak with you if you have concerns about yourself or a loved one who may struggle with same sex attraction. We believe that the gospel is real and that the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is one that helps us to live in God’s light.

Your Pastor,

Timothy A. Brown

[1] http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf

[2] https://epcepnews.wordpress.com/2015/06/26/epc-statement-on-supreme-court-marriage-ruling/

[3] In this letter LGBT will be used for the entire range of LGBTQQIAA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Allied, etc.)

[4] http://www.albertmohler.com/2015/06/27/everything-has-changed-and-nothing-has-changed-the-supreme-court-and-same-sex-marriage/

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The Cultural Captivity of the Church

Today in staff chapel we watched an excellent video about living out the whole gospel by reaching out to the poor and influencing the world.   The pastor on the video pointed out that 200 years ago his church in England led the way in developing hospitals, feeding the poor and many other works of following Jesus.

Unfortunately, the church lost it’s way and by the mid 20th C. it was only concerned with Sunday worship, bible lessons, and singing as it fullest (yet relatively pathetic) expression of Christianity—sound familiar?

So what happened?  Why did the church get so myopic?  It dawned on me that there was a whole constellation of factors that led to an anemic church.   Let me name the top four that come to mind.

Platonic Dualism

First, it was pointed out that we have a rather Greek way of looking at the world.  Following Plato, we have adopted a world view that names heaven/unseen as good, and eartly/visible as bad.  This is light years away from the Hebraic (even Biblical way of thinking), but it leads us to value “getting into heaven” and not value “the body, the world, etc.”  The God of scripture gives commandments
about loving God and not making idols and then also talks about mildew (Lev. 14)

The solution to this problem is to choose not to rend the seemless garment of all of God’s creation—earth and heaven.  To pray with Jesus, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Revivalism

While the first great awakening (1730s – 40s) was clearly a sovereign work of God which resulted in great evangelism and moral change, the second great awakening (1800-1840s) was much more centered around using human means to save souls.  As a result the sawdust trails, and worrying benches led men to answer the question of their soul, it did not challenge them to work on their lives in the same way.  While it’s leaders probably meant well, they were subtly shifting the game toward saving the invisible heart and blind to the greater issues of the gospel of the kingdom.

The solution to this is to teach the whole counsel of God  (Acts 20:27).  Yes we preach that men might be saved, but salvation is much more holistic that getting your soul past the pearly gates.

Dispensationalism

On top of this, dispensationalism taught that the Kingdom of God had been postponed.  That we were in a season between God ruling Israel through theocracy (OT) and Jesus ruling the world (the millenium).  This period, the church age (aka, the age of grace) would be marked by the free gospel going to the gentiles, but ending in failure culturally as the gross majority of men (and women) would not receive it.  It is actually believed by some that the world has to get worse and worse before Jesus will return.  The to engage in culture is to polish brass on a sinking ship!

The solution to this error is to adopt an
optimistic eschatology.  Acknowledge that Jesus is king right now!  (Acts 2:36)  That he rules and reigns over all and is sovereignly causing his kingdom to march forward even in the midst the “already/not-yet.”

But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.   Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool,   because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.  Hebrews 10:12-14

Fundamentalist/Liberal Controversy

Lastly, the gospel was sadly bifurcated when the fundamentalist controversy raged.  There’s nothing like division to cause us to walk home with only part of the story.  Sadly while the fundamentalists (the predecessors to the evangelicals stressing the five fundamentals: virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, authority of scripture, etc) kept some key doctrines of the bible, they threw the baby out with the bathwater.  Over the past 100 years we watches as the conservative church has withdrawn, realized it was wrong to do so, over compensated by reengaging, and driving madly through culture like Jehu son of Nimshi.  Not long ago we saw the year of the Evangelical, and now it’s more of a curse word!  Yikes…

The solution here is to stand at the crossroads and consider where we’ve been and where we need to go as a church.

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6:16

It took about a hundred years to get this messed up.  It will take decades and decades to regain the ground that was lost.  But let’s look up and be hopeful.  Let us spur one another on toward love and good deeds…let us encourage one another– and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb 10:24-25).

What kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. (2 Peter 3:11-12)

Let’s get back to work.  We’ve got kingdom business to be about.

Grace and peace,

<><

Tim

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