This is the sermon I preached on June 28, 2015 at Crossway Christian Church (Bay City, MI). You can also download the audio here.
Now What? Christ’s People after the SCOTUS Decision
June 26 holds a place of tension in my mind and my heart. First and foremost, it’s a precious day because on that day in 1999, I stood hand-in-hand with a young woman as we both made promises of fidelity and love, becoming husband and wife.
But just as I celebrate June 26 for the wonderful and profound changes it made to my life through marriage, culturally, the same day represents the mangling of the same precious institution. On June 26, 2003, the Supreme Court struck down all laws against sodomy in the Lawrence v Texas case, which opened the door for its decision two years later. On June 26, 2013, we saw the Court ruling in the Windsor decision, striking down the federal government’s Defense of Marriage Act.
This week, once again on June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States when even further, essential redefining marriage itself. In a 5-4 decision, the majority believed that “Marriage is a fundamental right” found in the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment (although that amendment doesn’t address marriage at all). Part of this right, then, requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a same-sex marriage entered into lawfully in another state. Thus, the Supreme Court struck down the state constitutional amendments of Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, as well as our own here in Michigan that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. In the end, the decision seeks to redefine marriage for the entire country to include same-sex couples.
To be sure, this decision was expected. I don’t know of anyone writing or speaking on the issue publicly who didn’t assume that this would be the ruling. But, as the president of Southern Seminary, Albert Mohler, remarked, the decision was worse than we thought.[i] Why? In part because the way the decision was made has effectively undone our process of law-making. In his dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Roberts said that this decision by the other five judges was “act of will, not legal judgment.”[ii] Roberts seems to indicate that he is for gay marriage but cannot see a legal right to it in the constitution.[iii]
More concerning is the small bone that was seemingly thrown toward religious liberty. On the surface, it looks helpful, but it’s actually worded in such a way so as to limit religious liberty.
Writing for majority, Justice Kennedy said:
Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.[iv]
Notice that whereas the Constitution’s First Amendment’s guarantees the right to the “free exercise” of religion, the wording used by Kennedy limits religious liberty to the mere teaching of principles. Not surprisingly, Justice Alito commented in his descent that this decision “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to ascent to the new orthodoxy.”[v] In other words, he believes that Christians (or those in other religions) will be pressured or even prosecuted for holding to different belief about marriage, especially if they try to live out that belief in the public square.
So, as the title of this sermon (which, at this point, doesn’t sound much like a sermon!) asks, so we need to ask, “Now What?” How should the people of Christ in this country respond to the Court’s decision? In order to answer that, I want to go a familiar passage. And I want us to see how these truths help us to know how to think about our modern times.
In Matthew 28, Christ emerges victorious from his atoning death on the cross and his burial in the grave with resurrected life. Then, as he ascends to his heavenly Father to take his rightful place as the King over all things he issues this command to his disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:16-20).
This weekend, many Christians were wondering what to do. Some are asking helpful questions, while others are simply making snide comments. Thinking about these verses, I think Russell Moore (the president of our denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) has probably given the best summary of how we ought to respond to the recent SCOTUS decision. Christians need to “Keep Calm and Walk the Line.”[vi] But, how do we do that? It begin by remembering that—
1. We Have a Superior Authority
As the basis for sending his disciples to the ends of the earth to make disciples of all peoples, the risen Christ asserts: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” If true, this puts no limits on any realm of existence over which Christ is King. He has authority over all things. This morning, this also means that he has—
1.1. Authority over Marriage
This gets to the real issue. Why is this such a big deal? Not long after the announcement on Friday morning, there were people asking why the Church doesn’t just stop doing marriages. Let it be a civil issue, and believers can have a religious ceremony later. On the surface that may seem like a good idea. And it may come to that at some point. But the question seems to too quickly abandon the larger truths of what marriage is and who created it.
You might remember that there was a debate over marriage in Jesus’ day, and when his enemies tried to trap him with an answer. And how does he answer? He appeals to the One who made marriage and gave instructions in his word regarding. In Matthew 19, we see that the Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 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’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt 19:3-6).
Notice what Jesus doesn’t say. He doesn’t use the kind of arguments that we see today. He doesn’t say, ‘What does it matter? Marriage can be anything you want it to be. What’s important is your love and happiness.’ No, what does he say? He says, ‘You know the answer to this because you know the God who gave marriage.’ The Creator of all things designed and instituted marriage for the good of humanity. By his design, marriage is meant to be between two people—a man and a woman. Through the physical and emotional intimacy experienced in that marriage, they will become one flesh. Anything else is simply wrong. Worse, it will be harmful—to those involved and to society as a whole. Christ still reigns supreme as one with all authority—and that includes authority over marriage. His word and will has not changed and neither should we.
And let’s not miss the context here. The debate there wasn’t about same-sex marriage but divorce and marriage. We have to be honest and say that the lobbyists for the LGBT community and SCOTUS are not the only ones who have done damage to the institution of marriage. The Church has been guilty of a less than clear vision of marriage every time we’ve brushed aside the sinfulness of wrongful divorce, cohabitation, or sex before marriage. Anytime the biblical vision—God’s design and intention of marriage is not made clear and celebrated, in teaching and life—we’ve failed to be faithful to our own beliefs. We’ve already accommodated to the culture, rather than live distinct from it.
Therefore, under the authority of Christ, let us repent. Then, let be us clear and consistent in our theology of marriage and sexuality.
Christ has authority over marriage, but he also has—
1.2. Authority over Government
Later in Matthew, some of the religious are again trying to trap Jesus into saying something that would give them grounds for some action against him. They want to either discredit him in the eyes of the people or get him to say something that will serve as a criminal charge that they can bring against him. In chapter 22, it’s question about taxes and the authority of human (even pagan) government over God’s people. He asks for a coin and shows them Caesar’s image on it. Then, he says to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt 22:21). Of course, following what God says in Genesis 2, Jesus knows that people are stamped with God’s image. Thus, his point is that all we have, including our own souls, belongs to God.
But thinking about the issue of marriage, we need to be clear that Caesar doesn’t own marriage any more than it owns people. Marriage is as old as humanity, but humanity didn’t make it. It’s not a product of human culture. Just the opposite, it was given by God to help create human culture. In that regard, nothing has changed because of the Supreme Court ruling. Government doesn’t own marriage. It can only recognize it. We don’t need to follow the advice of some voices in the culture and simply “get in line with the 21st century.” We don’t need to worry about being on the right side of history, because we know the author of history. We acknowledge, then, the authority of Christ, even if it means disobeying civil authority. This is what Christ’s disciples believed in Acts 5. Remember when the Jewish leaders told them to stop preaching the gospel? What did they say? “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
And you might say, ‘Wait a minute. We’re talking about marriage, not the gospel.’ But, it’s not that simple. The definition of marriage is a gospel issue for Christians. Paul gives instructions to husbands and wives about how they ought to relate to one another in marriage. And he cites the same passage in Genesis 2 that Jesus did—the two shall become one flesh (Eph 5:31; Gen 2:24). Then he makes this astonishing statement: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32). Let’s be clear on this: Paul is not using the church as an illustration of marriage. It’s the other way around. God designed marriage to serve as an illustration of Christ and the Church. The love and intimacy of a husband and wife points to the deeper, more profound intimacy between God and his people.
This is why every disordering of marriage and family is more than a social issue. It’s a distortion of God’s love in the gospel and a defaming of God’s glory. This is why we have to acknowledge Christ’s authority over government, especially on this issue of marriage. The issue is so important that Russell Moore is right to say: “If the state ever attempts to force us to call marriage that which is not marriage in our churches and ceremonies, let’s obey God, even it that means we sing our wedding hymns in the prison block.”[vii]
We have a superior authority, and—
2. We Have a Clear Assignment
In Matthew 28, Jesus gives instruction to his people on how they ought to live until his return. Sometimes called the Great Commission, these words define how every believer and every church ought to serve God. Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
The task of disciple-making is nothing new to the Church at large, and to Crossway in particular. But how do we fulfill the task? How do we make disciples? On one level, that may seem like a silly question. Isn’t it obvious? Well, no, apparently it isn’t based on what has been flying around social media and websites over the weekend. Several response have fallen far short of how I think Christ would have us make disciples against the backdrop of current marriage issues. So, how do we do this in the midst of what is happening around us in the culture? I think we need to hold tightly together two of Christ’s most obvious commands. First, we must continue to—
2.1. Love our neighbors
Not long after his teaching on Caesar, Jesus also summarized the Law of God with these two commands: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37-39). Both of those commands are important, but it’s the second that poses the greatest challenge.
Because of the repugnance that many find in the sin of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, not to mention the clear hostility aimed at the Church by their lobbyist, many Christians are filled with anger and bitterness towards that community. This is not limited to the folks at Westboro Baptist either. There is a kind of ugly self-righteousness that come through as people say and post things on social media about the rightness of God’s design and the wrongness of others.
And let me clear: not for a minute am I suggesting we back down from the Bible’s teaching. But we have to remember that those celebrating this victory are just as we were at one time. They are seeking a way that seems wise to them, but is foolish to God. So as we seek to make disciples, we must look at people as more than their sins. They are people made in the image of God. Therefore, we love them. We show them kindness and respect, even if they don’t look and act like us, or share our sexual ethics. As a Christian, godliness is not a requirement for you to be friends with someone. Love your neighbor, even the LGBT ones. Be their friend, have the over for dinner, try to meet their practical needs when you can. Speak clearly as a witness to Christ, but do not engage in harmful rhetoric or throw out comments meant to demean.
Love them because a day will come when they will see that this phase of the sexual revolution cannot keep its promises. Understand that for them, this victory isn’t about law or marriage or anything that most of us are thinking about. For them, it’s about validating their lifestyle as equal and normal. In an opinion piece for the New York Times, Frank Bruni responded to the Court’s ruling on because of the gay community. In the end, he writes, “the Supreme Court’s decision wasn’t simply about weddings. It was about worth. From the highest of this nation’s perches, in the most authoritative of this nation’s voices, a majority of justices told a minority of Americans that they’re normal and that they belong — fully, joyously and with cake.”[viii]
But we knew better. We should read that be saddened because we know that simply saying something is normal will not actually make it normal. Moreover, we know that this sense of normality will not ultimately satisfy the heart. And when a person comes to realize that, the question will be whether or not there is a follower of Christ ready to love them and show them where real satisfaction lies. That’s never going to happen if we wait. We must begin loving now.
Rosaria Butterfield has an amazing testimony of God calling her out of her sin, including a lesbian lifestyle. And, he did as she read through the Bible seven times in two years in conjunction with a friendship with a local pastor. Recently, she told the Southern Baptist Convention, “Don’t underestimate the power of genuinely loving people with a sense of fervency and consistency and honesty.”[ix] Elsewhere she says: “How can you possibly have strong words without strong relationships? And how can you possibly have strong relationships without taking the risk of being rejected? If you want to put the hand of the lost into the hand of the Savior, you have to get close enough to get hurt. That may be a new idea for many Christians, but it’s the ground rules of the new game.”[x]
The reality is that the gay community is a community, and they often love better than we do. They have no problem opening their home, letting people crash there on a whim, giving deep and generous emotional support. But how much better ought we be able to love and care for people because the love of God himself that been poured into our hearts?
As Christ commanded, love your neighbor. But don’t stop with loving friendship. Do the most loving thing and—
2.2. Preach the Gospel
Jesus says that we are sent out into the world to make disciples. But without gospel proclamation, there is no disciple-making. We can love and befriend better than anyone, but we have to speak about the glorious truth of a Man who bled and died and rose again—all for sinners—if we want to see people saved.
Do you remember what Paul said to the Corinthians? Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:9-11). This is what we offer the world: new life in Christ. Just as we were once sinners—even sexual sinners—we do not need to stand in judgment over anyone. Instead, we offer them the same gospel we received.
So, let us make sure that we don’t aim at the wrong thing in our disciple-making. Christians are sometimes quick to aim at sin, rather than the heart. That is, we try to get people to change their life before they come to Christ. But listen again to Dr. Butterfield’s helpful clarity on the issue. She says, “Don’t presume that the worst sin in your gay and lesbian neighbor’s life is sexuality. It’s not. The worst sin is unbelief. . . . The fruit of homosexuality is the ethical outworking of a heart and mind and identity that rejects the idea that God is Author and, by implication, that his Word has the right to interrogate my life, not the other way around.”[xi]
This, then, is how we make disciples: not by preaching moral reform, but the gospel of Christ. Don’t try to turn people straight or convince them that their friends and family are wrong. They are wrong; morally and socially. But that’s not our entry point to their lives. Our entry point is the gospel of Christ. Even if we don’t struggle with the same sexual sins, we have common ground with every person we will ever meet because we still sinful. That is our fundamental problem. And the answer to our problem is Christ. Russell Moore says, “You can’t be a gospel people if you give up the truth. You can’t be a gospel people if you give up grace. Let’s use this moment to be the people Jesus called us to be.”[xii]
And we can do that without fear because—
3. We Have a Lasting Assurance
Jesus says, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” When Jesus ascended to the Father, he didn’t abandon his people. He is always with his people. In fact, if you remember in Acts 9 when Saul was persecuting the Church, Christ appeared to him and said, ‘Why are you persecuting me?’ This is part of our encouragement in disciple-making. Whatever we go through, he is with us.
And it’s important that we believe this now. Despite what some people are saying—even people in the church are saying—the sky is not falling in. When Monday comes, the radio hucksters are going to have a field day with this, seeing it as the perfect time to panic, predicting that this is the end of the democracy and more. As we said, there is cause for concern, especially in the long-term. But, if we’re Christ’s people, then it’s never the time to panic. Jesus is still on the throne at the right hand of God, ruling over all things, and abiding with his people by his Spirit and his word. No Court decision will change that. Still yet, others will try to stoke the embers of anger and outrage. Just remember that this isn’t merely an issue in a culture war or political platform. It’s a gospel issue.
And even if we could pinpoint specific people that we could identify as our enemies, what does Jesus say? “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). But Paul makes it clear that even those who persecute our not our real enemy. This is a spiritual battle. And the same One who assures us that he is with us also makes clear that he is greater than any spiritual force in this world, making sure the darkness will never overcome the light, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church (1 John 4:4; John 1:5; Matt 16:18).
In fact, Christ is a king who bends history itself to his sovereign will. So, even as the Supreme Court rules in way that seems to redefine marriage, the truth is, no government can actually create or recreate marriage; it can only recognize it. God created marriage to be resilient all the way to end.[xiii] Think about it. We saw earlier how the Bible started with a marriage—the first couple joined under God’s watchful eye in a garden without sin. It was idyllic, but it didn’t last. Yet, the Bible doesn’t just begin with a marriage, it also ends with one. In Revelation 19, John is given a vision of the consummation of salvation. There, the fulfillment of the institution of marriage comes in the marriage supper of Christ, the Lamb and the eternal fellowship between Christ and the Church. Long after any human government is gone the joyful bless of that final marriage will stretch into eternity.
I end with these helpful words from Al Mohler. He says:
In one sense, everything has changed. And yet, nothing has changed. The cultural and legal landscape has changed, as we believe this will lead to very real harms to our neighbors. But our Christian responsibility has not changed. We are charged to uphold marriage as the union of a man and a woman and to speak the truth in love. 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. We are called to be the people of the truth, even when the truth is not popular and even when the truth is denied by the culture around us.
Christians have found themselves in this position before, and we will again. God’s truth has not changed. The Holy Scriptures have not changed. The gospel of Jesus Christ has not changed. The church’s mission has not changed. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.[xiv]
[i] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “The Briefing Special Edition: Supreme Court Ruling on Same Sex Marriage,” The Briefing podcast (June 26, 2015), accessed online at http://www.albertmohler.com/2015/06/26/the-briefing-special-edition-supreme-court-ruling-on-same-sex-marriage.
[viii] Frank Bruni, “Our Weddings, Our Worth,” New York Times (June 26, 2015), accessed online at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-same-sex-marriage-supreme-court-our-weddings-our-worth.html.
[ix] Cited in “SBC panel: Value love, Gospel with LGBT community,” Christian Telegraph (Issue 26825), accessed online at http://www.christiantelegraph.com/issue26825.html.
[x] Matt Smethurt, “‘We Are All Messy’: Rosaria Butterfield on Loving Our Gay and Lesbian Friends,” The Gospel Coalition blog (February 17, 2015), accessed online at http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/we-are-all-messy-rosaria-butterfield-on-loving-our-gay-and-lesbian-friends.
[xii] Questions and Ethics Podcast with Russell Moore (June 26, 2015), accessed online at http://erlc.com/questions/breaking-how-should-we-think-about-the-supreme-court-decision.
[xiv] “Mohler responds to Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision,” Southern News blog (June 26, 2015), accessed online at http://news.sbts.edu/2015/06/26/mohler-responds-supreme-courts-same-sex-marriage-decision.