People of God, after a lengthy series on I Corinthians 15, we are going to shift our attention to a topic of great importance, the topic of marriage. I will be absent from the pulpit these next two coming weeks, and so in order not to start something at this stage, I wanted to give particular attention to a matter that is at the core of the moral decline this nation.
As many of you know, the Session of Providence Church sent a letter to the mayor of Pensacola exhorting him to disavow his proclamation, which stated—among many other things the following:
WHEREAS, the annual Pensacola PRIDE festival is an opportunity to celebrate and promote the history, courage, and diversity of the Pensacola area Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender persons and to advocate the message of toleration, equality, dignity, and respect for all citizens.
This incurred a reaction from some of the conservative leaders of the city. As a result, I was invited to be one of nine speakers at the Standing for Righteousness Rally this past Monday. We had over 250 supporters, and about 100 protestors. Though there were some disagreements in our messages as to how to proceed with this matter, we all agreed that marriage is under assault. Something needs to be done about this both locally and nationally.
The Apostle Paul wrote specifically in Romans 1 against not only the homosexual practices of the day, but he was also writing to liberate those who were being sexually abused by their masters. And this needs to be the source of our response, that the Gospel is liberating. It does not just liberate man spiritually, but also from his or her destructive lifestyles. It frees the captive and enslaved. It saves the whole man. At the moment we are beginning to proclaim a gospel that only saves the soul, we are proclaiming a mediocre gospel; a gospel that does not change the very heart of human idolatry.
This modern threat upon the sacred definition of marriage is not only coming from without the Church—as to be expected—but it is coming from within the Church. Mainline denominations, though decreasing in staggering numbers over the years, continue to pursue a re-definition of marriage. “The Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee at the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has agreed…to sending the proposal, which could change the church’s definition of marriage “between a woman and a man” to being “between two people,” to the General Assembly for consideration.” This change would certainly be consistent with the pattern of the PCUSA in the last 40 years.
Eric Metaxas wrote a challenging piece this week entitled A Moment to be Clear: Courage, Not Silence. It is not uncommon for many to be silent in this day and age. Pastors, known for their strong gospel proclamation, are taking themselves out of these political matters for fear of being drawn into them. There is no doubt that the American Church has been overly politicized. An example of this over-politization is when a Church fears the Nicene Creed, but has no ambivalence about pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States on Sunday morning worship. When that happens we know that there is something fundamentally wrong.
I understand and even sympathize with people who have reacted to churches that have substituted the Word and Sacrament for a political rally each Lord’s Day. At the same time, I am aware that the gospel is the greatest political declaration ever made. The gospel is good news for us, because it means that Caesar has been deposed, and Jesus is the New King of the World. Jesus could have remained in his preaching tour from synagogue to synagogue preaching the good news each Sabbath day telling people that their sins are forgiven, and that the kingdom of God is at hand. If this had been the essence of Jesus’ public ministry, then it is possible that our Lord would have died a typical Jewish death in his 60’s or 70’s. But our Lord did more than talk about the gospel, He lived the gospel, and that entailed confronting the civil magistrates of the day, the religious leaders of the day, going even to the point of confronting the entire social structure of civilization by proposing the idea that His kingdom is not composed of one ethnic group, but of Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, male and female. The work of our Lord is very public. It is possible that as our culture becomes more transparently un-Christian, Christians are becoming transparently cowards in their witness.
Listen to Metaxas’ words as he described a familiar event in history:
Before the Second World War, the rise of Adolf Hitler forced German Christians to make a choice. Some attempted to make peace with the Nazis, engaging in dialogue and endless discussions. Most in this group ended up allowing their churches to become accomplices.
The other main group advocated staying on the sidelines and simply obeying the government, saying that gospel witness was just too important to be muddied up with controversial political stances.
In both cases, Hitler had little to fear from these pastors-and he knew it. “They will submit,” the Fuhrer said derisively. “…they are insignificant little people, submissive as dogs, and they sweat with embarrassment when you talk to them.”
This is not to make a comparison between marriage and the barbaric actions of Hitler, but it is to point out that when Christians take the silence route, they lose everything they have cherished.
I am going to assume that you have not bought into the gnostic propaganda or the ana-baptists who secluded themselves in the 16th century, and turned their Christianity into an isolated faith under the banner of pacifism. These ideas are not only ancient ideas, they are still live today, and I believe that when pastors or parishioners hide their faith, or live as if the gospel is only a matter of the heart, they are drinking of the ana-baptist fountain. They are isolating themselves from their calling to speak truth to all of life.
A pastor can tell his congregation that marriage is between a man and a woman. He can articulate the biblical rationale better than anyone, but if in the end he says that marriage is only a truth for us, and not for the world, he has not done his job well.
Allow me to be bi-partisan for a moment, and by that I mean to critique the left and the right on this issue.
The left, and by that I mean, those who are inclined to make a mockery of marriage, have continually pursued the end of it. They have sought to re-define it. Of course, there are those on the left who are skeptical about their fellow leftist’s policies, but unfortunately, the left or the progressives of this country are not seeking the common good of marriage. Some defend marriage, but then are open about legislating any other form of relationship and calling it marriage. They have no problem believing that groups of men and women can configure their relationships as they see fit. The first homosexual-elected priest in the Episcopal Church praised the same-sex agenda in the Church a few days ago. He wrote that the way we win this battle in the Church is by confusing people. He called this “holy chaos.” The more confused people are about marriage the more open they will be to homosexual marriage. You would think these would be the words of Screwtape, rather than an ordained Epicospal priest, but the reality is he is winning this war. Evangelicals and Orthodox Christians are losing this battle because they remain silent and are confused about the real issues. There is a real attack on marriage from the progressive left, and their strategies need to be dealt with accordingly. We need to assert what God states unequivocally. We need to assert that any other type of marriage not defined or approved in the Bible is not a marriage at all. John Piper applies this principle to so-called same-sex marriage:
The point here is not only that so-called same-sex marriage shouldn’t exist, but that it doesn’t and it can’t. Those who believe that God has spoken to us truthfully in the Bible should not concede that the committed, life-long partnership and sexual relations of two men or two women is marriage. It isn’t. God has created and defined marriage. And what he has joined together in that creation and that definition, cannot be separated, and still called marriage in God’s eyes.
In other words, God defines reality. No politician or Supreme Court decision defines reality. Jesus is Lord whether the world recognizes him to be or not. While we fight to defend marriage, and while we offer a robust defense and response to those who oppose God’s only-ordained definition of marriage, we must remember that marriage is marriage as God sees it, and not as society determines.
At the same time, those of us who are in the more conservative strand of American politics, we have our own faults. Rich Lusk wrote:
While we might expect liberals to attack marriage, what is surprising and disappointing is the inability of conservatives—including conservative Christians—to defend marriage as an institution.
In the last few years some of the “Family Values” politicians and leaders fell into deep sexual sin. Those who stood firm against President Clinton’s sexual sins are now the ones caught in the same sins. In many ways, the failure of many who were strong advocates of marriage have “destroyed conservatives’ credibility on the marriage question.”
God has instituted marriage in creation. Jesus echoed creation to defend marriage in the Gospels. Christ and the Church serve as the ultimate marriage. Indeed as I have stated in previous sermons, the Bible is a great story of marriage. But it appears that while we vociferously defend it, we are failing to embody it. We do hope, work, and pray towards the day when the definition of marriage will not be disputed in Washington, or anywhere else. We do hope that legislation will reflect what God has already determined to be very good.
However, the issues ultimately will not be won on “the political battlefield, but in the bedrooms, kitchens, dining rooms, and family rooms of our homes. The best defense of marriage we can offer is our own.” If the Church is not known as a place where married life is practiced with holy joy and where spouses warmly cherish one another in lifelong fidelity, then nothing we say in defense of marriage will ever get any traction. Our public defense of marriage has to be wedded to the practice of prizing marriage in our own homes.”
How Now Shall We Then Live?
So, talking about marriage is different than living out your marriage. When we defend marriage the world will hear a lot more attentively when we are clearly living it out.
What is marriage for? The Christian marriage is a Spirit-filled song and dance; as with all dances, the man leads and the woman follows. Together their lives blend into one, as they make the music of the Spirit.” Singing the music of the Spirit transforms your character.
It gives us new opportunities to learn the fine art of forgiveness. When your spouse sins against you, God is giving you an opportunity to show mercy and learn to forgive as you have been forgiven. Marriage is transformation. Every time your spouse sins, you have a golden opportunity to grow spiritually.
But marriage also teaches us humility by exposing our own sin. Marriage does not simply change who we are; it reveals who we are. It leaves you with no place to hide who you really are. It exposes our selfishness, pride, impatience, and other assorted vices in a deeper way than any other human relationship. But, of course, each time sin is exposed, we have a new opportunity to repent, and therefore, to grow and mature as believers.
So much more could be said, but one last item to observe is that marriage also teaches us wisdom. Men and women are different. Though men and women are viewed as equals in creation and redemption, they are no identical. Husbands and wives must learn to appreciate their differences in perspective. Proverbs ends with the wise king reigning with his wise queen by his side, as his trusted friend, confidant, and counselor. This is exactly what the Christian marriage should look like. As two Christian spouses get to know one another deeply, they each learn to see the world the way the other sees it. The best way to grow in wisdom is listen to and learn from your spouse. Becoming wiser means becoming a disciple of your spouse.
But, alas, this takes great effort and patience. If a man constantly interrupts his wife or simply refuses to listen to her, he’s going to be an even bigger fool in the future than he is today. He must humble himself and come to appreciate her way of seeing things. A lot of men scoff at their wives’ perspectives and fears. But he must treat her as his Lady Wisdom, his own personal tutor in prudence. As Pastor Rich Lusk puts it: “ Men, God did not give you a “feminine side,” as you hear so often today; instead He has given you a wife. You need to get in touch with her if you want to be wise.”
Marriage is public, because the gospel, which is the source of godly marriage is public. There is plenty to criticize in our day. But for us, let us live marriage as God desires, so that marriage may once again gain a shining spot in our civil discourse.
In The Name of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.