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MESSAGE FOR NOVEMBER 4, 2012

“Being Salt and Light in a Rotting, Dark World”

This Tuesday, we get to exercise the right of every eligible citizen within a participatory democracy—we get to vote.  As usual, a number of political offices are being contested.  This year however, there is one question on the ballot that is not fundamentally political, but moral.  Tuesday, the church will have an opportunity to exercise a redemptive influence in our state by voting on a proposed amendment to the Minnesota Constitution.  The proposed amendment would add a section to Article XIII of the Minnesota Constitution. The section reads:  Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota.”  As many know, there is already a Minnesota statute prohibiting so called “same sex marriage.”  The amendment would double down on that law in the hopes of thwarting any future attempt to legislate a change to the existing law.

How is the church to respond to this—not only to the question on the ballot, but more broadly--how is the church to respond within a culture where so called-same sex marriage is not only increasingly accepted, but enthusiastically endorsed?  This morning I have five necessary measures the church must take if we are to have a redemptive influence in a culture that is sliding into the moral abyss.  The first step is:  The church must understand the urgency of this issue.  Two texts indicate the urgency of this matter of re-defining marriage to include homosexual unions.  Proverbs 14:34 says, “34 Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.  The well-being of the people in a nation is increased or “exalted” when righteousness prevails.  The exaltation being spoken of here is not a material prosperity, but a moral exaltation.  If a nation is righteous, its moral fiber is exalted or strengthened.  But as a nation is increasingly riddled with sin, it is a reproach or a disgrace.  The word translated “reproach” is a very strong one.  It’s otherwise found only in Leviticus 20 where the sin of incest is spoken of as a “disgrace”--same word.   A nation where sin has overtaken virtue is a disgrace and deserves God’s judgment as much as incest does.

In Psalm 11:3 David says much the same thing but he states it negatively.   “…3 if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?  The foundation is what anchors a structure into the ground.  The foundation also determines the footprint or basic shape of the building.  That means if the foundation is destroyed—the building will collapse for lack of support.  David is saying by implication that—if the foundation upon which we as a nation are resting—moral truth—is demolished, the righteous within a society will be able to exert NO redemptive influence.  Marriage and family—the basic social units of any society—are surely part of our country’s foundation.  Therefore, when the definition of marriage becomes fluid and open to interpretation, that is a bleak warning that the foundations are being destroyed.  When the foundations are destroyed, the nation is headed off the cliff and David says--the church will only be able to stand and watch.

There is a point in a nation’s downward slide where--no matter what the church does—there is no return to sanity.  Only God knows when that point is reached in a nation and the church must never give up contesting for the truth, but from these texts we see that—with the increasing acceptance of a godless definition of marriage, we could be witnessing a spiritual tipping point in our nation’s history if we have not already passed it.  This is a vitally important issue--especially for those whose children and grandchildren will be growing up in Minnesota and America.

A second measure the church must take to have a redemptive influence in society on this issue is:  The church must acquire a truth-driven understanding of God’s view of marriage, homosexuality and homosexual sin.  We will be brief here.  There is a much fuller treatment of this in a sermon manuscript by John Piper on this topic and we have some available at the Welcome Center.   As for marriage, we know from Scripture that God made marriage for male and female only.  When Adam meets his wife in Genesis 2:23-24, the meaning is clear.  23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. God roots marriage—leaving your parents and holding to a wife--in the maleness and femaleness of the partners.  Without male and female to make a one-flesh relationship you cannot have a marriage no matter what the state and popular culture may call it.  What people call same-sex unions is irrelevant.  The question is—do they fit a truth-driven understanding of marriage.  Today people call certain individuals “women” who, though they possess the male Y chromosome, have surgically altered themselves to look like women.  As much as you may call them Joanne or Elizabeth, that doesn’t make them women.  Women by definition have two X chromosomes.  You can call two same-sex partners married if you want to, but the composition required for making a marriage is not present. 

We know from Ephesians five that God’s intention for marriage is that marriage would serve as a portrait of the relationship between Christ and the church.  25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” God programmed the DNA of marriage to convey or express Christ’s relationship to his bride, the church.  Two same-sex individuals simply cannot manifest this marital DNA because only male and female can convey Christ and his bride, the church.  By its very nature, design and purpose the terms “homosexual” and “marriage” are mutually exclusive, whatever the state may say.  In addition to marriage, the church must also have a truth-driven understanding of homosexuality.  A distinction must be made between homosexuality and homosexual sin.  A person may have same-sex attractions and in that limited sense is homosexual.  However, nowhere in the Bible is same-sex attraction condemned.  Same-sex attraction is one more sad indicator that we live in a fallen world.  What the Bible condemns is acting on same-sex desires and committing sexual sin. 

First Corinthians 6:9-10 spell this out.  9 Or 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.  The sin is to “practice homosexuality.”  The word in the original speaks specifically of homosexual intercourse.  Evangelicals must be clear on this distinction.  A person may have same-sex attractions and be a devout believer if they don’t act on them.  He/she must take those thoughts captive—which they can do by God’s grace and not act on them, but the attraction itself is not sinful any more than any other temptation is sinful.  Married men and women can be and are at times sexually attracted to people other than their spouses.  If they do not act on that attraction by lusting or developing sinful emotional or sexual attachments to the person, no sin has been committed.  Married people can have these attractions because we live in a fallen world where temptation abounds.  A person who has a same-sex attraction without living that out can trust in Christ and be just as saved and accepted by God as a person who does not.

Romans chapter one is helpful here.  Paul is writing of a society in which the moral standards are degenerating and says, “24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,
25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
 These people are “consumed with passion” and “committing shameless acts. The sin is in the active participation of the acts.  Verse 32 explains why the popular culture considers the church so intolerant on this topic of homosexual marriage.  Paul says, “32 Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”  As moral degeneration within society continues, there is increasing pressure, not only to permit this sin--but actually approve of it.[1] That is precisely where we are in society today.  If you don’t openly approve of homosexual sin, you’re ridiculed for being a bigot or hate-monger.  God said it would be this way in a culture headed for the brink.

A third measure the church must take to have a redemptive influence in our increasingly debased culture is: The church must respond redemptively with a vibrant love to homosexuals.  When I say, “vibrant” love I am speaking of a love that will sacrificially serve, minister to and befriend a homosexual, while at the same time not condoning his/her sin. To say it another way, we must love them with the love of Christ.  Jesus is pointing out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in Matthew 11:19 and says, “19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”  Jesus was known as a friend of sinners—even tax collectors who were considered uniquely evil.  That means--if we don’t love homosexuals we’re not being like Jesus.  We must never see homosexuals as irredeemable.  God can save anyone, irrespective of their sexual attractions.  When he saves a homosexual, sometimes he completely delivers the new believer of his/her same-sex attractions and in certain instances gives them a new attraction for members of the opposite sex.  At other times, he delivers the believer from the controlling power of their sexual sin, but their same-sex temptations may still remain just as heterosexual who is saved and continues to battle temptations. 

Last week, a journalism student at UWS interviewed me for a campus publication of some sort.  He had previously interviewed two liberal clergy who were very much in favor of homosexual marriage.  He came to me and, while I refused to condone what the Bible condemns, at the same time I told him that our church loves homosexuals.  When he asked me why I don’t approve of homosexual activity, he grounded his objection in the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that we are all given the right to “the pursuit of happiness.”  I told him “we are all about happiness in our church—and happy people are those who have trusted in Christ and who live in loving obedience to him.”  I’m not sure he had a place for that position.  In the mind of many people today, there is only room for two positions on this topic, enthusiastic approval of homosexuals and their sin or, condemnation of them.

Neither one of those positions is Biblical.  On the one hand, the Bible is clear that homosexual sin is condemned by God.  When we communicate condemnation of sin—homosexual or otherwise, we’re not passing on our own opinion.  As sinners, we have no right to condemn anyone.  We’re simply representing God’s infallible position here on earth.  Beyond that, the church is also called—out of love for God and the sinner--to point him/her to the cross where God’s condemnation of them can be lifted and replaced by his approval as he justifies them by their faith in Jesus.   What does loving homosexuals look like in our church?  First, it means seeing them as people who need Jesus, not as disgusting abominations.  That is not God’s understanding of them and it should not be ours.  Second, it means by God’s grace-- not being scared or repulsed by homosexuals, but lovingly engaging them with the gospel.  I was heavily involved in the music department in college and had the opportunity to know more than 20 homosexuals with whom I often spoke.  By God’s grace, many considered me a friend.  Sadly, many homosexuals have never had a friendship with a believer and therefore have never had a chance to see what Jesus is like with skin on.  A third way to love homosexuals is through targeted ministry by the church.  It would be wonderful if someone came to the elders and said they felt led by the Holy Spirit to form a ministry team that would focus on ministering redemptively to homosexuals.  We would love to equip a person for that ministry!  If loving a homosexual seems to you like a foreign concept or even wrong, you need to cry out to God and by his grace repent of your unbiblical attitude.

A fourth measure the church must take to minister redemptively to homosexuals is: The church must take some responsibility for the cultural decline that provides a context where homosexuality is accepted and endorsed.  I’m not saying that the church is responsible for homosexual sin.  What I am saying is the church in its lack of spiritual health has not been the moral preservative we are called to be in a rapidly decaying culture.  As a result, a decaying moral context exists where tolerance to homosexual sin is seen as an enlightened position.  In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus says to his followers, “13 You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”  Jesus calls the church to be salt—to flavor the world with the savor of the gospel and to act as a moral preservative within society.  Salt was a preservative in the ancient world that, when rubbed into meat, delayed its decay.  Our society by any Biblical or historical standard is rotting off the bone and the decay is occurring at a more rapid pace with each year.  Think about the rapid descent of our culture in this area.  Until 1973, the American Psychiatric Association referred to "homosexuality" as a mental and/or emotional disorder.  I’m not supporting that assertion, but just 40 years ago our much of our society did.  It wasn’t until 25 years later in 1998 that the association began to formally oppose attempts to reverse sexual orientation as a means of addressing this issue.[2]  Until then, work to reverse the sexual orientation of a homosexual was practiced with their approval.

On the legal front, with the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, a marriage was explicitly defined in federal law as a union between one man and one woman.  However, just eight years later, in May of 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage. That means it took 200 years for much of America to believe that homosexual activity is not sinful or at least, not a disorder of some kind.  From there, it took only 40 more years for states to begin to legalize gay marriage—which occurred only eight years after the federal government disallowed it.  If the church is placed in society to prolong the corruption sin brings to a culture, it seems pretty clear that in the last 50 years, we haven’t been doing much preserving.  Jesus calls the church to be the moral light of the world, exposing the darkness and influencing the surrounding culture toward a moral course.  When polls show that about half of Minnesotans will vote Tuesday against an amendment that says marriage is between one man and one woman, I would say its pretty dark in America.  That means, among other things, that the light of the church has been more of a spark than a blazing torch.  The church has failed to stand up on this issue.  Our relative silence in declaring the Biblical truth on this issue for fear of being branded a religious bigot is deafening. 

Also, the presence of divorce in the church at nearly the same rate as the world’s means--we’ve not provided the lost with a healthy model of what Biblical marriage is supposed to look like.  Don’t you think that one of the reasons marriage is under attack is because the church has failed to exalt it through God-centered, contagious joy in our marriages and families?   It’s much easier to pull down an unhealthy institution than it is a healthy one.  In the area of marriage, we’ve not exactly been a beacon of moral truth and that has doubtless made it more vulnerable to attack.  In First Timothy 3:15 Paul calls the church “the pillar and foundation of truth” and in our nation—as we have said, the foundation is crumbling.  One reason it’s important for the church to take some responsibility here is because--if we see that the cultural decay is partly our responsibility, we’re far less likely to respond by simply sitting back and clucking our tongues at what a dark and rotting world we live in.  Instead, we can mourn our own sin—our lack of saltiness and our absence of light---repent and cry out to God for revival.  The sick culture in which we live is a reminder that the church’s influence has been negligible. 

A final measure the church must take in order to respond redemptively in this crucial hour is: The church must understand that our political involvement is appropriate, but it will never be a moral change agent in society.  There’s only one way any thinking, truth-driven Christian can vote on this issue on Tuesday and that is to vote “yes” to affirm the passing of the proposed amendment.  But we are foolish if we believe that is a definitive answer to this problem.  People thought that about The Defense of Marriage Act.  It’s not even currently being enforced and that reminds us of the impotence of laws to control morality.  An even closer lesson can be learned from the state of Colorado.  In the early 1990’s the state legislature of Colorado began passing laws making homosexuals a special class of people who “were given special privileges under the law and special protections.”[3]   A number of Colorado citizens opposed these gay rights laws and proposed an amendment to the Colorado State Constitution that would prevent laws giving special protection to “homosexual, lesbian or sexual orientation, conduct, practices, or relationship…  The amendment passed with a majority of 53.4% in November of 1992.[4]  However, the law was challenged in court and in May of 1996—less than four years later, was declared unconstitutional on a 6-3 vote by the Supreme Court.

The church must understand that the legal and political structures are no longer a break wall for immorality.  Sexual morality laws were thrown out long ago for the most part.  The world of politics can’t change the culture, it can only reflect it. The laws of a nation are ultimately a reflection of the electorate.  Gay marriage laws are being passed because the culture votes for candidates who endorse them.  It falls to the church to be the redemptive change agent in the culture.  We should vote “yes” on Tuesday, but a far more effective measure would be for the church to unite to pray fervently and regularly for national revival.  That could bring change to the culture and when the culture changes, laws are passed to reflect that change.  If the amendment passes on Tuesday but the culture continues its moral drift, it will at some point certainly be overturned as it was in Colorado. The church honors God and will effectively prevent cultural decay only when we turn to God, declare both our own impotence and responsibility in this and pray for renewal and revival.  Then by God’s grace, the church can be salt and light in a rotting, dark world.  Until then, we should vote “yes” on Tuesday as a speed bump to slow the rapid degeneration of our culture.  May God give us the grace to live redemptively in our fallen world for his glory and our joy.


[1] This truth is taken from another message by John Piper preached on 8/4/04, “The Sexual Exchange Is an Echo of the Idolatrous Exchange.”

[2]http://community.pflag.org/page.aspx?pid=503

[3] Grudem, Wayne, Politics According to the Bible, Zondervan 2010, p. 142.

[4] Grduem, pgs. 142-143.

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