Posted on | September 8, 2013 | 63 Comments
It’s weird how tunnel-vision can limit our knowledge of the online world. There are vast swaths of the Internet I’ve never seen. Today I noticed an inbound link from “Reflections by Alessandra,” who praised as “beautiful . . . must read” something I’d written.
Alessandra’s blog seems to have an almost monomaniacal focus on fighting the gay agenda and, noticeably, she hasn’t ceded an inch of her conservative position in more than nine years. This may explain why she hasn’t gotten much notice from the conservative blogosphere, which has been in strategic retreat for the past decade. Besieged by clamorous activists, even many Christian conservatives — concerned with being “relevant” and maintaining their political influence — have quietly backed away from sound teaching.
Near the end of the post linking to my post, Alessandra linked to a short item she wrote in 2004, praising the complementarity of the sexes as something “sacred and beautiful,” which is in fact the orthodox and traditional biblical teaching on the subject:
The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?
And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
Notice that the Pharisees were, as always, trying to trap Jesus, hoping to catch him saying something heterodox or blasphemous and, as always, Jesus thwarted their purpose by his divine understanding. And here they thought they had him trapped:
They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
This teaching was rather shocking and has, I think, been somewhat misinterpreted. Even Jesus’s disciples were dumbfounded:
His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.
But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.
Eunuchs? Why is Jesus talking about eunuchs here? You see that he understood that the vast majority of people would be mystified by his answer. He often spoke in parables, the significance of which were only apparent after his death and resurrection, and turning his teachings into an actual church — establishing a clear theology and governing principles — was a struggle for his disciples.
The Egyptian theologian Origen rather infamously took Jesus’s words about eunuchs quite literally, but more orthodox teachers have viewed Matthew 19:12 as relating to clerical celibacy and an ascetic rejection of pleasure, forsaking the ordinary companionship of marriage in order to concentrate on “the kingdom of heaven.”
That this teaching could be misunderstood, and did in fact soon give rise to heretical schisms, can be seen in many of the writings of Paul, who had to condemn various teachers who seemed to believe that Christianity should be tolerant of fornication or, conversely, should reject even married sex as sinful:
Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. . . . For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.
Notice that Paul writes this in reply to questions from church members at Corinth where, we see in Chapter 1, divisions had arisen in the early congregation, with “contentions” among the followers of various local teachers. Some of these were evidently demanding celibacy of their followers, and Paul — evidently a widower who had not remarried — was in favor of celibacy for those such as himself, as being relieved of the necessity to provide for a household enabled him to travel and preach without secular concerns.
Yet Paul certainly did not require celibacy and, in fact, saw that it was best for Christians to marry “to avoid fornication.” This rather negative appraisal lacks the beauty of Jesus’s “one flesh” teaching, but Paul was dealing with a different problem, and one that persisted, as we see in his warning to Timothy:
Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.
What Paul condemns as “doctrines of devils . . . forbidding to marry” may have referred to the earliest stirrings of the counterfeit known as gnosticism, but the early centuries of church history are so crowded with heresies it is difficult to know exactly what Paul had in mind. We can perhaps best understand the context by noticing that Paul also warns Timothy also to avoid “profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called.”
By “science falsely so called,” Paul refers to Greco-Roman philosophical teachings about the nature of man and the universe which, as we now know, was far more imperfect than anyone then realized. We know from Acts 17 that Paul had encountered pagan secular teachers — Epicureans and Stoics named specifically among them — and condemned their beliefs as “too superstitious.”
Examining the history of early Christian heresies, we see that in many cases the heretics were trying to define the nature of God according to the categories supplied by the Greco-Roman philosophers, and this “science falsely so called” was simply inadequate to the task.
The nature of God, and God’s will for mankind, are subjects that any Christian must approach with humility, knowing that “we see through a glass, darkly.” The infinite and eternal nature of God is beyond mortal understanding, and we should be hesitant to proclaim that we know anything about God’s will that cannot be supported by an orthodox reading of Scripture. At the same time, however, where scriptural teaching is both clear and abundant, we should not hesitate to condemn heresy, lest these “doctrines of devils” take root and begin overgrowing Gospel truth like poisonous weeds.
All of the preceding exegesis has been preamble, therefore, to reiterating the Bible’s clear condemnation of homosexual behavior:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
Now I pause here, to point out the underlying theological doctrine. Paul is here condemning pagan idolatry, which “served the creature more than the Creator.” It is this sin — the rejection of God — which led men to thinking themselves so “wise” in secular knowledge that they could reject the created order in favor of their own personal beliefs. Remember, Paul was writing this to the early Christian church at Rome, which included not only Jewish converts, but also Gentiles, including certain servants in the imperial court and even wealthy Romans from aristocratic families.
Paul was saying that even to the pagan Gentiles, who had no knowledge of the monotheistic teachings of the Hebrews, the truth of the created order was apparent in nature, so that even those who knew nothing of the Ten Commandments were “without excuse” for rejecting the reality of God’s existence, and of the basic moral law, that they could perceive in everyday life. Instead, full of self-regard, the supposedly civilized Romans embraced idolatry and in punishment for that rejection of God were surrendered to their own “vile affections.”
Cause and effect are important to understand here: The homosexual behavior Paul describes is not the cause of condemnation, but rather the effect of condemnation — a very difficult thing for us to understand in the 21st century, as we are once again confused on account of “science falsely so called,” as decades of allegedly scientific teaching about the nature of sexuality have confused many. But I’ll leave off that thought to continue with Paul’s memorable condemnation of first-century Rome:
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Sometimes I like to point out to my children how “disobedient to parents” is tucked into this grocery list of evil that Paul provides to condemn the Romans as “worthy of death.” Kids today . . .
What we see here is that, among all the sinfulness that characterized imperial Rome, Paul made a point of highlighting homosexuality, but not to the exclusion of other widespread evils. Rather, Paul cited the “uncleanness” of their “vile affections” — terms that are analogous to what the Old Testament condemns as “abominations” — as characteristic symptoms of their amoral decadence.
This is not something which requires biblical study to appreciate. Rather, as Paul declared to the Romans, “that which may be known of God is manifest . . . the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” There is a natural order in creation, and from this order anyone can perceive, even without benefit of religious teaching, the existence of the Creator, and may seek to live in accordance with the Creator’s will.
How, then, has America gone so far astray that a nation once so eminently Christian in its culture has been overtaken by decadence?
My theory is this: In the past century, the intellectual quality of Christian clergy has markedly declined, and the assaults of modernism have not been met by the most persuasive rhetoric either from the pulpit, or in the writings of Christian leaders.
As a result, Christianity has suffered a loss of prestige, and this has resulted in a demoralization of believers who, knowing what the Bible declares as truth, are embarrassed that biblical truth does not have more intelligent, articulate and charismatic spokesmen.
Christians have no one to blame for this but themselves. If a young man nowadays shows exceptional intelligence, his parents do not say, “Oh, you should go to seminary and become a preacher.” No, he must go to Harvard or Yale and become a lawyer, or pursue some other elite education and secular career so he can make lots of money.
Promising young people who, in an earlier era, may have pursued a calling in Christian ministry are instead diverted to worldly occupations, and the caliber of clergy has declined toward mediocrity. This, by the way, is what explains the so-called “mega-church” phenomenon among Protestant evangelicals. Whereas a few decades ago, good preachers were common enough that a single medium-sized town might have a dozen or more ministers, each with his own congregation of a few hundred members, nowadays good preaching has become so rare that, if any really talented minister turns up in a community, his congregation will swell to many thousands.
Unless and until this trend is reversed, until the intellectual quality of Christian clergy improves, until some latter-day Billy Graham emerges to lead a revival that restores the morale of the church, I don’t know what can be done to halt the secular tendency toward decadence that is now becoming more evident every day.
That many Christian conservatives are apparently willing to accommodate this tendency, to retreat from Gospel truth rather than to hold the orthodox position in spite of the prevailing winds of decadence, is discouraging in the extreme.
We can draw inspiration from the example of Alessandra who, as General Bee said of Jackson at Manassas, stands there like a stone wall: “Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer!”