Seven Biblical Principles for Justice

Earlier this month I wrote on the importance of understanding the different ways the Bible uses the term justice. The main uses for justice in Scripture are universal and particular justice. Universal justice refers to personal righteousness and moral uprightness. Particular justice refers to implementing justice in specific situations. Particular justice is what most people today mean when they speak of justice, but we must remember the Bible uses both definitions of justice.

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It is only by understanding these two different uses of justice that we can understand justice from God’s point view. This is why on the one-hand God calls us to defend the poor (Isa. 1.17) in a display of universal justice, and on the other hand, he commands us to not favor the poor in particular justice (Lev. 19.15). The Bible is not being contradictory; rather it is talking about two different types of justice. 

We must remember this distinction in justice as our society debates how to understand justice, specifically social justice. This discussion has naturally bled over into the church, where much of the reasoning has been sub-biblical precisely because we refuse to read the biblical terms on its own terms. This is chiefly displayed by people misunderstanding texts which speak about universal justice by forcing them in particular justice categories of laws, cases, and court decisions. When Christians do this our vision of justice looks more secular than biblical. 
As stated above, when most people talk about justice today they are referring to particular justice that is justice in individual scenarios.

Particular justice deals with implementing justice when an injustice has occurred (or at when an accusation has been made). The Bible gives us clear instruction on how to practice justice in individual cases and by doing so we can avoid perpetuating injustice. Only by seeing justice rooted in God and his word, will we be able to pursue actual justice as defined by God. 

Here are seven biblical principles for justice we desperately need to hear today:

Innocent Until Proven Otherwise

The American judicial system holds to the principle of “innocent until proven guilty’ which is borrowed from the biblical system of justice. In Deuteronomy 19.15 we are told, “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” This command is not isolated as it is repeated as a core aspect of human justice throughout the Bible (Duet 17.6-7; Num. 35.30; Matt. 18.16; 1 Tim. 5.19; John 8.17; 2 Cor. 13.1).

The requirement for multiple witnesses entails a presumption of innocence. If one person accuses you, then you are still to be considered innocent. The fact there are protections for the accused ensures that proceedings will be just, and it also means you must prove that someone is guilty. You do not need to prove your innocence because that is already presumed. This does not mean the person is, in fact, innocent, but that we all start as innocent until we are proven to be guilty. Far too often when a person is accused of wrong-doing today there is a stampede to pass judgment on the spot with no thought to the case actually being proved. Such behavior does not further justice but undermines it. 

People Sometimes Lie

People lie, and we must remember that when making a judgment. This principle is tied to the need for multiple witnesses. It is far too easy for someone to lie either intentionally or unintentionally. Our world is broken into many warring factions, and sometimes a person will make an accusation against an innocent individual in order to advance his cause or to exact revenge. We need to look no further than the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife to realize that false accusations, when there are no proper protections in legal proceedings, can be used as a weapon against innocent parties (Genesis 39). This is only intensified when the liar feels justified to deceive because of personal injury or for the perceived good of a greater cause. We are reminded in the Ten Commandments that people will feel tempted to lie about their neighbors to get what they want, “Do not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20.16). If we want to pursue justice in a fallen world, then we cannot lose sight of the fallen nature of humanity when it comes to telling the truth. This is one of the hardest things when seeking the truth, trying to determine who is telling the truth and who is lying. 

Justice Requires Blindness to Who the Individual Is

The legal process is to be blind to the status of individuals. In both Exodus 23.3 and Leviticus 19.15 God tells us it is unjust to take into account who someone is when deciding what is true, right, and just. Exodus 23.3 says, “Do not show favoritism to a poor person in his lawsuit” and Leviticus 19.15 says, “You must not act unjustly when deciding a case. Do not be partial to the poor or give preference to the rich; judge your neighbor fairly.” It is a perversion of justice to pronounce judgments based someone being rich or poor; lowly or exalted; weak or powerful. Justice is about truth and righting wrongs, not about identity politics. Why? Because this is central to the very character of God—he shows no partiality (Rom. 2.11). 

We need to hear this clearly today—you cannot favor the rich or the poor, whites or minorities, the political left or the political right when it comes to issues of justice. The problem is social justice asserts exactly the opposite! As it is conceived of today, social justice argues justice can only be achieved by being partial to those who are “oppressed”. Social justice advocates already know how they are going to feel about the next scandal before it happens because they judge not on the specifics of the case but by an agenda driven by the identities who are involved. This is not justice; it is a perversion of justice. It is wicked. It is evil. It is opposed to the very character of God.  Social justice says we must show partiality in order to achieve justice, but God says you must never show partiality when seeking justice. There is a stark contrast between these two competing views of justice. Christians cannot pursue both. It is God’s definition of justice or the modern concept of social justice. 

Before Passing Judgement We Must Hear Both Sides

Proverbs 18.17 reminds us of another crucial principle of justice, “The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him.” Ours is an age which thrives off of hot-takes, hashtag activism, and instant judgment. It is as if individuals can only be righteous if they pronounce judgment immediately online. If you fail to do so, then clearly you endorse evil and wickedness. In the wake of every tragedy our society openly displays its own foolishness by being slow to listen and quick to pass judgment. As Christians, we really need to check our hearts as to why we post what we do online. 

The Bible reminds us that the pursuit of justice means hearing both sides of the story. If we pass judgment after only hearing one side of the story, we are acting like fools who make a mockery of justice. This is not a sign of people who are interested in justice. How many times in the wake of a tragedy do we jump to conclusions and spout supposed “facts” to only find out later those facts were inaccurate or incomplete? We are far too quick to judge, and in the process, we mock the process of justice. 

Too many evangelical leaders have become the equivalent of online ambulance-chasers as every time a tragedy happens they rush to pronounce judgment before gathering all the facts. This is not the behavior of people who want justice. I cannot help but wonder if what they are actually pursuing are more likes and followers. Christians, if we want to be about justice, we need to be more patient before we pass judgment, especially online.

Don’t Join the Mob

Angry mobs often get justice wrong, particularly online. The pressure for our online denouncing of events is often done with an eye toward the online mob. Exodus 23.2 warns us, “You must not follow a crowd in wrongdoing. Do not testify in a lawsuit and go along with a crowd to pervert justice.” When everyone on Facebook has reached a verdict on the latest controversy, shouldn’t the church automatically join in to denounce it and thus maintain its influence and reputation? No. The importance of getting justice right far outweighs appeasing an angry mob which actually needs to be called to repentance.  

Part of the issue here is that we feel this need to distance ourselves from certain thoughts, actions, or groups associated with a certain evil. How better to do that than with 140 characters or less on social media? What we are actually doing is trying to prove our own righteousness by aligning our works to the standards of a worldly mob. 

Online self-righteousness is a pandemic in our age. Christians must display a better ethic by rejecting the mobs, and by pursuing truth and actual justice. Our righteousness will never be established by our online outrage, as it can only come from the blood of Christ. 

Now sometimes we know an evil has happened as soon as we hear about it. For example, when a man goes into a church and just starts shooting, the burden of evidence has been met. We know what he has done is evil, but we should display patience in judging what his motive was and how we should react. Justice demands we avoid the mentality of the mob as much as we can. 

An Eye for an Eye is Actually a Good Thing

“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind,” is an example of how easy it for people to completely miss the point of what the Bible teaches. This command by God is actually a good thing to practice when pursuing justice. This principle is not about personal revenge as it is sometimes thought; rather it is about punishments in the court of law. This principle does not endorse over-the-top punishments; rather, it outlaws them. In the ancient world punishments for crimes often far outweighed the crime itself. It was not uncommon for theft to be punished with death, but God’s law says the punishment must fit the crime. What God is describing is for punishment to be just it had to fit the severity of the crime. Here God forbids cruel and unusual punishment as unjust. Such a command surely would not leave the whole world blind but provides guidance on how to practice justice in the correct manner. 

Human Justice Will Only Ever be Human

Our society’s obsession with social justice points to its belief that justice instituted by governments, courts, and men can somehow right every wrong. A worldview which has no God searches for ultimate justice in the systems of men and thus it always comes back dissatisfied. When their search for ultimate justice inevitably fails, it brings greater frustration to those promoting social justice. Their frustration leads them to lobby for more power to enact what they think will be ultimate justice through the systems of men. Such a search for ultimate justice is not only doomed to fail but it will inevitably lead to an increase in wickedness because it relies on sinful men and not God. 

The reason God laid out checks and balances in human justice is precisely because man apart from God can never practice justice fully or perfectly. As Christians, we understand that no sin, no evil, will go unpunished in the end. While we want the courts and governments to get it right, we know that sometimes they won’t. This reminds us of our need for a perfect judge who executes perfect justice. This is only found in God who is perfectly holy and just. It is before this God that all the world stands condemned. It is only in the atoning sacrifice of Christ Jesus that we can be found just by the one who is the justifier (Rom. 3.26). Christians know that ultimate justice will come at the appointed time through God alone. So as we rightly seek some level of justice in this world, we always keep an eye on the final coming judgment of the whole world. 

Conclusion: Equality in Process, Not Outcome

A summary of the biblical idea of particular justice demonstrates that it revolves around equality in process, not in outcome. Justice demands outcomes will be different depending on the circumstances, but every person should be treated equally with fair processes. Christians must never make justice about age, race, income, or influence. When we do, we pervert justice and rebel against the very character of God. This is yet another reason why Christians must leave behind the common understanding and practice of social justice and return to what God has revealed to us about justice in his word. Justice is impartial and it is primarily concerned with righteousness and truth, not power and politics. 

Such justice can only be found fully in its source—the Lord God. If we want to be people who promote and pursue justice, then we need to open our Bibles more and tweet a little less. 

 

Biblical Justice in a Social Justice World

There is a lot of discussion around justice in our society today, especially the idea of social justice. This discussion is happening both inside and outside of the church. For that reason, I have spent a good deal of time reading arguments made by both Christians and non-Christians on social justice.  The more I read the clearer it becomes Christians need to do a better job when we talk about justice, and by better I mean we need to be more biblical in our understanding and practice of justice, because when we get justice wrong, we undermine the core of God’s work in the gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3.26).

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Social justice is a term that appears to be intentionally vague and hard to define. This allows the term to be used as a weapon which is constantly morphing to fit each situation. Something that is not defined is hard to understand and even harder to critique. To bring clarity to any discussion, sound definitions are needed. For that reason, I offer the following definition of social justice, “Social justice is the equal distribution of advantages, disadvantages, wealth, privileges, and opportunities within a society.”

Agree or disagree with that definition, and whether this is indeed just or unjust, it gives us a place to start to understand it. So should the Christian be for or against social justice? To answer that question we need to understand what the Bible teaches about justice in general, only then can we apply it to our situations.

Ronald Nash summarized this challenge for Christians well in his book Social Justice & the Christian Church. According to Nash, one of our biggest problems is that whenever we see the word justice we bring a singular meaning to it which is more shaped by our modern ideas than by biblical ones. Nash wrote, “It is disconcerting to see someone quote a biblical text containing the word ‘justice,’ ignore all questions about the particular meaning the term has in that context, and simply presume that the verse functions as a proof-text for his position.”

Proof-texting happens far too often in this discussion when we fail to acknowledge the Bible uses the term justice in many different and nuanced ways. If we fail to realize the term justice has a range of meaning, we end-up forcing our understanding of justice on a particular text, and even on all of scripture. I want to offer three truths about biblical justice which can help us to clear the fog around the topic of justice in the Bible.

The Bible Speaks of Both Universal Justice & Particular Justice

When we read the word justice in the Bible, it can fall under two different basic meanings. One of these board uses (universal justice) though nearly forgotten today was very common in the ancient world. If we hope to understand scripture’s teaching on justice then we need to understand the differences in how the term is used. Only then can we hope to apply it to today.

The first basic meaning of justice is the idea of universal justice. This is used to describe a person who is just, or better yet, righteous. It is used to describe virtues which are desirable and good for individuals.  This type of justice is universal because all people can and should practice this in their character. The idea of personal virtue is not a common topic today, but it was in the ancient world. This use of justice describes someone who is a good person, who is morally upright, a person who others should emulate. Under this use of justice, we find upstanding character traits and practices such as generosity, gracefulness, kindness, sincerity, mercy,  etc.

For example, someone who gives charity to the poor can be described as “just” but we should note this use is not talking about righting an injustice or immoral act. It is merely someone who is virtuous or behaving in a morally upright way.

This distinction is important to remember because if we take passages which are promoting virtues as actually talking about injustice and oppression, we end up doing violence to a text and we end up with an unbalanced understanding of God’s teaching on justice.

The second umbrella definition of justice is particular justice. This is more in line with what we normally think about with justice—laws, courts, punishments, fairness, righting wrongs, etc. This type of justice is particular because it requires particular circumstances in order for it to come into effect. Particular justice can be carried out in many areas of life including marketplaces, courtrooms, governments, covenants, etc.

What we must learn from this distinction is the importance of knowing the individual context of a passage when it talks about justice. Is this text referring to universal or particular justice? Only after we know what use of justice we are talking about, can we then do the hard work of interpreting and applying it to today.

A good example of this is Micah 6.8 which is often used by those promoting the idea of social justice. In this passage, God tells the people to do “justice” by loving covenant faithfulness (hesed) and by walking humbly with God. This passage is misinterpreted often as a reference to particular justice. But a simple look at the context reveals God is rebuking Israel for breaking the covenant they had with him (Micah 1.2-7; 6.1-5). So he exhorts them to personal righteousness by practicing covenant faithfulness (hesed) by returning to walk with God in humility. To do justice is to be righteous through keeping the covenant. This passage is about universal justice primarily, and God calling Israel to covenant restoration. This passage has nothing to do with the common understanding of social justice.

The Core of Particular Justice

The core meaning of particular justice is giving someone what is his due. It is to give a person what he earned, deserved, or has a right to. When someone breaks a law they have earned punishment. To issue a fair punishment is to practice particular justice by giving a criminal his due. To refuse to punish the individual is to do an injustice. To over punish the individual is also to commit an injustice.

Particular justice does not guarantee equality of outcome from person to person. Rather, in order for justice to occur, inequality of outcome is sometimes necessary. Justice is about getting one’s due, which means one person may earn a high grade and another a low grade. One person may be due to make more money than another because of his superior skills. This inequality of outcome is not a sign of injustice; rather it is a sign particular justice has occurred.

What about when we do not get our due? This can be one of two things. First, it can be an act of grace or mercy. God shows us grace through the death of Jesus Christ, he gives us what we did not earn and could never earn. This is a good thing, and it is just thing in the sense of universal justice. God though also dealt with the particular justice needed through the atoning death of Christ.

Second, if you get something which is not your due it can also be an injustice. If you are convicted of a crime you did not commit, you are receiving something which is not your due. This is an injustice.

Justice is Inseparable from Morality

The idea of justice, both universal and particular, is impossible without an ultimate moral standard. How can we determine what is good, right, and just if there are no universal moral standards? How can we determine if an action was just, or a ruling just, without appealing to a moral authority? We can’t. So much of the disagreement in our society today about ideas of justice reveals more about someone’s moral code and authority than anything else.

The Bible offers us clear guidance on what justice is and what it is not. It should not surprise us then the moral standards of scripture differ greatly from the moral standards of many who today promote social justice. Because justice is always linked with moral standards and authority, is it any surprise so many Christians are slow to endorse a term which is promoted by an openly hostile worldview which is morally bankrupt and based on an immoral authority?

The term social justice, as it is defined and argued for today, is not a biblical term and it stems from a moral code which at its core is immoral. Some Christians think we should try to redeem the term, but I am of the opinion the term’s current definition and the lack of the term’s use in scripture make this unnecessary and even unwise.

Other well-meaning Christians think Christians today are so misunderstood by the world at large that if we would just get with the social justice movement we could earn a seat at the table. Perhaps though, it is us who fail to understand that the moral standards and moral authority propping up the social justice movement is anti-Christ. This does not mean they get everything wrong, but it does mean we need to strive to come to these issues with a Christ-centered understanding of justice. The social justice table is not a table we should be found sitting at, let alone promoting.

Instead, Christians should turn to think more deeply about biblical ideas of justice and thus practice the Protestant tradition of semper reformanda (always reforming).  By doing so we acknowledge the authority which forms our moral standards, and our practice of justice is the word of God. This is God’s world, he is the only authority for moral standards and the practice of justice. If we want to be people who practice both universal and particular justice then we need do the hard-work of understanding biblical justice. Then we need to live it out. 

How Then Should We Eat?

Over the last several months I've encountered several Christians who have attempted to vegan. As someone who loves a good steak, this caught me by surprise. In talking with these individuals they all had one thing in common, they were all brought to this point by watching the documentary What the Health. This documentary makes a unapologetic pro-vegan argument which tries to scare, disgust, and guilt people into becoming vegan. As a pastor I know when I encounter multiple Christians struggling with the same thing, there are certainly many more. 

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I am convinced the Bible gives us truth and guidance for every area of life, this includes eating. It may surprise people, but the Bible speaks a lot about food. From God commanding mankind not to eat from a certain tree in the Garden, to God’s command to Noah after the flood, to the dietary laws of Israel, all the way to when Peter receives his vision declaring all foods clean we see that Scripture addresses food all the time. The Bible has a lot to say about, but the question is, "Are we listening?"

Most Christians probably don’t have a conscious theology of how they should eat. This is complicated by at least three trends. First, for years we have had access to whatever food we want whenever we want it. This has led to an epidemic of constant over-eating and high levels of obesity. Second, younger generations have swung the pendulum in the other direction by equating certain diets being hip and even morally superior. Third, often when the church enters into this discussion it is done without taking into account the whole testimony of Scripture. Instead, well-meaning Christians try to ride the diet fad of our culture by myopically focusing on texts which fit that narrative. In doing so they do not have a comprehensive understanding of what Scripture teaches about eating.  

I want to give us an introduction to the basic principles of what God’s Word says about eating so that we can build a biblical foundation in this area of life. Wanting to eat right and to be healthy are praiseworthy goals, but we need to start our understanding with Scripture and not biased documentaries.  Here are ten principles Christians need to consider about eating as they try to glorify God in every area of life. 

Documentaries Are Never Neutral

This really should go without saying,  Christians shouldn’t treat documentaries as gospel-truth or even like reading a textbook. Much like our news media is biased in one direction or the other, the same is true of documentaries. Documentaries try to persuade others to join their position. Sometimes they do this by twisting facts and downright lying. What The Health is a prime example of this as it is has been demonstrated by several sources that the documentary is less than honest (click here, here, and here for more information). This should not be a surprise. Proverbs 18.17 reminds us of a crucial truth, “The one who states his case first seems right until the other comes and examines him.” This documentary is only one side of a story, and it appears to not even be an honest account of available information. Christians need to be careful to not be tossed to and fro by every truth-claim presented in a stylistic and appealing format. 

If you want an authority on how you should eat, turn to Scripture first, not documentaries. This doesn’t mean you need chapter and verse for every item you eat, rather it means if you understand what God has said in his Word it will certainly shape how you eat. 

We Should Steward Our Bodies Well

Mankind is created in the image of God and this includes his physical body. As both image-bearers and those who will be physically resurrected, we place a high-value on the body. It is not God-honoring to abuse our bodies in any way, including how we eat.

Our Bodies Are Not to be Worshiped

While our bodies are important they are not a temple in the modern sense of the word. They are not untouchable. The health and preservation of our bodies is not the chief concern of Christians. Rather our bodies in this age will waste away (2 Cor. 4.16), no matter how healthy we eat or how much we exercise. If the Lord tarries all of us will die, whether you forgo steak or not. So pass the steak sauce. 

Do Not Let Your Diet Rule Over You

The Christian is to be mastered by nothing besides Christ (1 Cor. 6.12), yet too many of us are slaves to our diet. This can take the form of being a slave by desiring food too much, or you can be a slave to your diet by placing too many rules on yourself (and others) so that there is no freedom in the way you eat. Both legalism and licentiousness are wrong in all areas of life. If your diet rules your life by either excess freedom or strict rigidity, then you are not eating as a Christian should. 

All Foods Are Lawful for the Christian

In the Old Covenant, there were certain foods which were off-limits for God’s people, but that is no longer the case (Mark. 7.14-23). For the Christian, it is far more important how you live morally than what specific items you eat or don’t eat. There is nothing inherently wrong with eating meat, and there is nothing wrong with not eating meat. The Christian has freedom. But we must guard against treating our diets, whatever they may be, as a source of personal righteousness or moral superiority. 

Food is Meant to be Enjoyed

One of the blessings God has given to mankind is food. The biological purpose of food is for nutrition and sustenance, but another purpose for food is for us to enjoy it. When food tastes good, even when it is covered in sugar, it is a blessing from God not to be ignored. Ecclesiastes 2.24 says, “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God.” Notice our enjoyment of our food isfrom the hand of God.” This is a grace God has given us. So eat food you enjoy, have treats occasionally, but do so responsibly.

It Is a Good and Holy Thing to Feast

God commanded his people to observe many feasts in the Old Testament. These feasts were celebrations of God and his goodness. At these feasts, people would eat more than was necessary to survive. This was God’s design and his good command to this people. In feasting we eat lots of food in celebration of God and the good things he has given us. Whether it is a wedding feast, the feast of tabernacles, a celebration of the return of the prodigal, or the wedding feast of the Lamb, it is a good and holy thing to use good food to celebrate God and his many graces to us. Holy individuals know how to feast in such a way as to honor and glorify God. There is no need to feel guilty about feasting in such a way as to praise God's goodness. 

Do Not Let Your Diet Become a Wall of Division

Another purpose of food is to bring people together, but far too often people’s diets drive divisions between one another. We must remember food is not more important than people. Unless you have a legitimate food allergy, you should be able to forgo your dietary preferences whenever you go to someone else’s house out of love and deference to them.  1 Corinthians is again helpful here, Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For ‘the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.’  If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience” (1 Cor. 10.24-27).   We must consider others as more important than our dietary preferences and by doing so we display the gospel in a tangible way. 

It Isn’t Sinful to Eat Food Which Wasn't Produced Ethically

One argument consistently used today to promote certain diets is that it is morally wrong to eat food which arrived at our plates through what is suggested as unethical ways like the mistreatment of animals. Many people will only eat organic, free-range, fair-trade, or even vegan because they view the processes of the production of that food to be immoral. This argument assumes that if someone buys and eat unethically produced food then they are just as guilty as well. t is here that 1 Corinthians 8-10 needs to be studied carefully. In the church of Corinth, there was division over whether or not Christians should eat meat which was sacrificed to idols.  This is a serious question as this meat arrived on people’s plates through the breaking of the greatest commandment—to love the Lord God above all else. There is nothing more unethical than that. Would Christians be sinning if they eat bought and ate meat which was sacrificed to false gods?  Paul tells the Corinthians that if the meat is sold in the marketplace they do not need to ask or care how it got there (1 Corinthians 10.25). It would not be wrong for them to buy meat which arrived in the marketplace through less than ethical means. In other words, it is not immoral for Christians to buy food and eat it even if arrived in the marketplace through unethical production.  Christian, you do not need to know where your food before you eat it. You are not responsible for the sins of others. 

Seek to Glorify God in How You Eat

The Christian life is about glorifying God through Christ in all we do. This is only possible because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is that gospel which must shape our entire lives including how we eat. There is nothing wrong with eating meat, and there is nothing wrong with not eating meat. There is freedom for the Christian in eating, but this freedom is not more important than other people. Christians must examine their hearts and reasoning before the words of God. Only then we will do what Paul exhorted us to do in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” We glorify God when we think and eat according to the truths God has displayed in his Word. Scripture, not documentaries, must be our primary lens for understanding how to eat. I hope these ten principles help you to eat unto the glory of God and not man. 

 

The Church is a Safe Place & Other Lies that Led Us to This Point

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Last week I wrote about The Nashville Statement and why it is a praiseworthy statement deserving our endorsement. I also acknowledged that progressive Christians have responded with their usual regressive tantrums. For this we also should be thankful, clarity has been brought as we see how individuals respond. You must either condemn the idol of the current sexual revolution, or you must worship it. There is no middle ground. This statement has brought that clarity to the forefront.

J. Gresham Machen in the early 1900s dealt with the rise of theological liberalism. Is his classic work, Christianity & Liberalism, Machen lays out how theological liberalism is not Christian in the slightest; rather it is a completely different religion. Like Machen, we face a movement that claims Christ, which uses many of the same terms as we do, and yet it is an entirely different religion. This is evident in the rebuttals issued against The Nashville Statement. Machen was correct when he wrote, “Light may seem at times to be an impertinent intruder, but it is always beneficial in the end.” The Nashville Statement sheds light on how separated we really are from the so-called progressive Christians.

The question we should now ask is, “How did we get here? What led us to this point?” These types of changes and divisions only appear to happen overnight. In fact, they have been a long time coming.  The division between evangelicals and progressives is far deeper than whether or not homosexuality is sinful. Our differences lay in how we understand God, the work of Christ, the nature of mankind, and what the church is. Sadly, there is confusion even among evangelicals that is crippling our ability to respond to progressives. The difficulties stem from the reality many of us have already taken steps down the progressive path without even realizing it.

Below are three lies many in evangelicalism have accepted.  These lies (and many more) serve as part of the assumed foundation for the reasoning of progressives in accepting homosexuality and transgenderism:

Lie #1: The Church is a Safe Place

One objection raised against The Nashville Statement is that the church is to be a safe place—a place which accepts everyone as they are. The current statement is wrong because it makes church an unsafe place for homosexuals. To be clear, the church is a place of grace where forgiveness is extended through the blood of Christ and granted upon repentance. Yet nowhere in the New Testament will you find the church described as a safe place the way the term is used today. Surely all are welcome to come to church, but what they are to find there is teaching and preaching that calls for a change of life (repentance) and which challenges the values of our age. The gospel challenges us in our sin and calls us to holiness through faith in Christ. The church is inclusive in that all are welcome to come and repent.

Even a cursory reading of the New Testament shows that the church is not a safe place. In Ephesians 6 we are told how the church is to be prepared for spiritual warfare with Satan. In Revelation 2-3 we see how the church is threatened with persecution in this age. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul commands the removal of sexual immoral people from the church. In the next chapter, he writes no one who practices sexual immorality (including homosexuality) will not inherit the kingdom of God.  In Galatians 5 Paul wishes that the false teachers troubling that church would castrate themselves (that’s certainly not safe). Finally, there is the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. These two lied about their property sale and were both killed on site by God in the church. It is clear the church was not a safe place for those who persisted in hypocritical wickedness. So no, the church is not a safe place. It is a place where snowflakes melt either in the light of the glory of Christ or in the fire of God’s holiness.

So what is the church supposed to be? It is to be a holy place where God’s elect grow in faithfulness and conduct spiritual warfare through bringing all things under submission to Christ. It is not a place where it is safe for people to live and think any way they want. In fact, the New Testament warns us again and again that God will not tolerate such sinful behavior in the church. The safety of the church is not rooted in the modern understanding of self-affirmation and tolerance. Rather, the safety of the church is rooted in Christ’s sacrificial death and victorious resurrection.

Lie #2: Religion is to be Therapeutic

As relativism has pushed aside the idea of universal truth it has impacted the how people view religion. Religion once was seen as a pursuit of universal truth revealed to us by God, but now it is about helping individuals feel better about themselves. For progressives, Christianity is about making our lives in the now better. If this the main point, and not seeking truth and God, then why would anyone be excluded from it?

Christianity does not promise you your best life now. In fact, it promises suffering and calls its adherents to die to the self. At its heart, Christianity claims to be universal truth revealed to us by God through propositional truth claims found in Scripture. Christianity is not about offering you therapy. It won’t always make you feel better, sometimes it might make you feel worse.

But the Gospel offers forgiveness, restoration to God, and new life in Jesus.  Following Christ comes at a cost, the cost of leaving everything in repentance and faith. This is not about feelings, it is about the truth claims of the Gospel.

Lie #3: The Gospel is about Self-Fulfillment

In its pursuit of relevance, many churches have turned the gospel into a self-improvement model. Every Sunday across the country you will hear sermons on Five Ways to Raise Better Children, Three Ways to Fix Your Finances, Seven Tips for Better Communication, and Four Ways to Improve Your Marriage. What is at the center of such a message? Self-fulfillment. If this is the heart of Christianity, to be relevant in order to improve ourselves, then why would we require anyone to deny themselves and repent? Don’t repent, just seek the best you!  

The truth is the call of the gospel is self-denial, to pick up your cross and follow Christ. This requires repentance, a radical change of identity and direction. This only happens when the Holy Spirit regenerates an individual.  When the Spirit transforms someone, they leave behind their old life to follow Christ. But if being a Christian is really about seeking yourself, then anything goes.

The heart of the Christian faith is a crucified savior which is seen as both offensive and foolish to the world (1 Cor. 1.23). The cross is not safe, it is not about feeling better about ourselves, and it is certainly not about self-fulfillment. When we move the message of the cross from the center of our message; we will reap what we are getting today. If we lose the heart of God’s good news to mankind, then anything goes.

 

Tearing Down Idols & The Nashville Statement

This week a group of evangelical pastors and theologians released a statement on what the Bible teaches about human sexuality called The Nashville Statement. This statement specifically addresses gender issues and homosexuality in light of Scripture. The statement is worth reading as it lays out the biblical teaching on these subjects by a series of statements Christians should affirm and deny. You can read it here.  

I have read the statement and I agree wholeheartedly with its assertions. This statement reflects what Scripture has taught and what the Christian church has affirmed for two-thousand years. Thus I have added my name to this statement.

The responses from the secular world have been predictable, as have the responses been from those who fancy themselves progressive Christians. These rebuttals center around appealing to other authorities, which shows us this is not faith versus science. It is faith versus faith. They have an ultimate authority which they appeal to, they have their god they follow as well. Yet the question I want to address is why this is a good and necessary action at our present moment.

The Idol of the Sexual Revolution

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Recently I preached on Judges 6 and the call of Gideon. In this chapter, God calls Gideon to be the instrument of deliverance for his rebellious people, but first Gideon must tear down the idol to Baal in his hometown. To do so was to declare war on what his society held most dear. While we do not have many people bowing their physical knee to carved images and offering sacrifices to them, idolatry is still a problem. Anything which stands in opposition to Christ, which is elevated above him, stands as an idol which must come down.

In our cultural moment, there is no bigger idol than the current sexual revolution. This is why the church had to respond. The false gospel which our age promotes is an idea of sexual freedom, which is really sexual perversion. This sexual ethic is the path to fulfillment, meaning, happiness, and salvation. You need to be who you are, and then life will be better.

Moreover, to be righteous in our world you must affirm the goodness of such actions. You are not allowed to be neutral, you too must praise and worship this ethic.  This is the chief idol of our day, it is our Baal, and all faithful Christians must not only refuse to bend the knee to Baal, we must strive to tear that idol down. Why? Because we know who God is. If Christianity is true, then the idol of sexual freedom really only offers slavery and death. Life is found in Christ, not in sexual practices and identities. The choice is between life and death; salvation and damnation.

Much like Gideon in Judges 6, we must stand opposed to anything which stands opposed to God’s Word. As Christians, we believe the Bible to be God’s Word, and if he has spoken, then it carries his full authority. God is the highest authority in the universe. It follows then that anything which stands opposed to his Word also stands opposed to God himself. There is no middle ground; you cannot be in the middle of the true God and false gods. You are one side or the other.

Christian, this is the test of our time, we can either be faithful to God, or we can follow the Baals of our day. We cannot do both. We should expect opposition anytime we attempt to tear down someone’s idol. When Gideon destroyed the idol in his town, the townsfolk demanded his head. We should expect no less. People do not like it when you attack their gods.

This statement draws a line between life and death. You cannot worship the God of Scripture and the false gods of this age. Faithfulness requires us to stand in clear contrast with the false gods of our age. The Nashville Statement recognizes this reality, and for that all faithful Christians should be thankful.