On Same-Sex Marriage: An Overlooked Consideration, Especially for Younger Christians.

By “younger Christian,” I don’t necessarily mean those who only recently came to faith; rather, I intend this for those under 40. I do hope, however, that others can benefit from this little note.

I also must state that I am writing to those who are trying to take the Bible seriously, as God’s infallible Word, Special Revelation. Those who are not Christians, or those who claim to be but understand the Bible as deeply flawed will not care to read further.

There are many motives and reasons given for accepting same-sex marriage as normal, good, and holy. Some do so because they see loving relationships formed between men, or between women, and see as much love between them as between heterosexual couples, so who should deny them the right to marry? Some younger people have a deep-seated fear of being labelled a bigot, and with good reason. There are very few today advocating a curb on same-sex marriage, and to do so definitely places oneself on the outside of most modern culture. Older Christians (again, chronological age), nearing the end of life, make foolish stances seemingly out of fear of being found on the wrong side of history.

It is fair to say that there is a vast difference between same-sex couples in committed relationships and the X-rated variety of in-your-face sexfests that are on display at events such as the Toronto Gay Pride parade. I am pretty sure that quite a few same-sex couples are appalled at the depravity on display there.

What pulls at the heartstrings, however, is that for some Christians, the same-sex marriage is an attractive alternative to those tormented by same-sex attraction. Taking the Bible seriously, there has been great effort expended to show that the prohibitions against homosexuality (in the Law and in Paul), and the judgments against it (Sodom and Gomorrah), are against not the kind of behaviour advocated today, but against perversions of it. At this point, those who don’t care what the Bible says will simply choose to ignore it, rather than to seek alternate explanations.

But if you are a reader who does happen to think the Bible is important, and are still convinced that same-sex marriage has God’s stamp of approval, please read on.

Christians who argue for the acceptance, by the church and society, of same-sex marriage, must affirm that God smiles on these relationships, that His judgment is not against such relationships, that it is not a sin to marry a person of the same sex.

With the language of Scripture so set against same-sex marriage (and I’ll deal with specific passages in a later post), the argument cannot be for a “gray” area, somewhere between right and wrong. To argue for same-sex marriage is to affirm its basic goodness, in the same affirmative manner as all marriages.

And this is the problem. If same-sex marriage is normal and good, and if it should be expected that God blesses these unions as He does marriage, why is there not one example of such a union in Scripture? If we are to equate same-sex marriage with marriage as defined up to now, why are there no parallel examples or laws regulating it? Why did Jesus (who, it is falsely claimed, never mentioned homosexuality), not teach on the sanctity of same-sex marriage? Paul mentions and teaches on heterosexual marriage, but never on same-sex marriage.

I think this problem is insurmountable for those who think same-sex marriage must be blessed by God, and therefore by His church.

I do know one argument that will surface right about now, which is,

“Same-sex marriage was rejected by the ancient Israelites and the early church because they had not yet advanced to the place we are now. The Bible is a record of how they understood the world, and how God worked in the world, and they could not have accepted same-sex marriage because of their limited worldview.”

These words may or not reflect your exact thoughts, but I imagine they’re pretty close. The problem with this line of reasoning is that the unique value of Scripture is lost once it is accepted that the worldview, laws, regulations, principles, examples and teachings are merely human inventions. Remember, I am writing this to you who do believe that the Bible is the Word of God, not the musings of men.

Every Christian, if they are serious about Scripture at all, has to make choices; this has been true in all generations, and ours is no exception. We find in Scripture examples of every kind of human relationship, good and evil, and we learn God’s principles about how we must understand each of them. The absence of a relationship (same-sex marriage) can only be explained (to the satisfaction of a Bible believing Christian), by its exclusion from the plan of God for men and women. Marriage can never be same-sex, because it was heterosexual from the beginning.

If the current interpreters (who argue in favour of same-sex marriage) are wrong about it being a sin, then their error is serious. Sin separates us from God, and to accept, bless, and normalise sin is the worst stance a Christian can take. Obeying God’s Word will never make you a happy camper in the world you live in; it will, however, keep you from further offending His holiness.

©Scott Jacobsen, 2012

This is a Repost from The Gospel Coalition. Much better than I could say myself.


Why Bible Study Doesn’t Transform Us

“When all your favorite preachers are gone, and all their books forgotten, you will have your Bible. Master it. Master it.” — John Piper

I meet with women all the time who are curious about how they should study the Bible. They hunger for transformation, but it eludes them. Though many have spent years in church, even participating in organized studies, their grasp on the fundamentals of how to approach God’s Word is weak to non-existent. And it’s probably not their fault. Unless we are taught good study habits, few of us develop them naturally.

Why, with so many study options available, do many professing Christians remain unschooled and unchanged? Scripture teaches clearly that the living and active Word matures ustransforms usaccomplishes what it intends, increases our wisdom, and bears the fruit of right actions. There is no deficit in the ministry of the Word. If our exposure to it fails to result in transformation, particularly over the course of years, there are surely only two possible reasons why: either our Bible studies lack true converts, or our converts lack true Bible study.

I believe the second reason is more accurate than the first. Much of what passes for Bible study in Christian bookstores and church resource libraries just isn’t: while it may educate us on a doctrine or a topic, it does little to further our Bible literacy. And left to our own devices, we pursue a host of unsavory (and un-transformative) self-constructed approaches to “spending time in the Word.” Here are several that I encounter on a regular basis.

The Xanax Approach: Feel anxious? Philippians 4:6 says be anxious for nothing. Feel ugly? Psalm 139 says you are fearfully and wonderfully made. Feel tired? Matthew 11:28says Jesus will give rest to the weary. The Xanax Approach treats the Bible as if it exists to make us feel better. Whether aided by a devotional book or just the topical index in our Bibles, we pronounce our time in the Word successful if we can say, “Wow. That was touching.” The Problem: The Xanax Approach makes the Bible a book about us. We ask how the Bible can serve us, rather than how we can serve the God it proclaims. Actually, the Bible doesn’t always make us feel better. Quite often it does just the opposite (feeling awesome? Jeremiah 17:9 says you’re a wicked rascal). Yes, there is comfort to be found in the pages of Scripture, but context is what makes that comfort lasting and real. The Xanax Approach guarantees that huge sections of your Bible will remain unread, because they fail to deliver an immediate dose of emotional satisfaction.

The Pinball Approach: Lacking a preference or any guidance about what to read, you read whatever Scripture you happen to turn to. Releasing the plunger of your good intentions, you send the pinball of ignorance hurtling toward whatever passage it may hit, ricocheting around to various passages “as the Spirit leads.” The Problem: The Bible was not written to be read this way. The Pinball Approach gives no thought to cultural, historical or textual context, authorship, or original intent of the passage in question. When we read this way, we treat the Bible with less respect than we would give to a simple textbook. Imagine trying to master algebra by randomly reading for ten minutes each day from whatever paragraph in the textbook your eyes happened to fall on. Like that metal pinball, you’d lose momentum fast. And be very bad at algebra.

The Magic 8 Ball Approach: You remember the Magic 8 Ball—it answered your most difficult questions as a child. But you’re an adult now and wondering if you should marry Bob, get a new job, or change your hair color. You give your Bible a vigorous shake and open it to a random page. Placing your finger blindly on a verse, you then read it to see if “signs point to yes.” The Problem: The Bible is not magical, and it does not serve our whim. The Magic 8 Ball Approach misconstrues the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the Word, demanding that the Bible tell us what to do rather than who to be. And it’s dangerously close to soothsaying, which people used to get stoned for. So, please. No Magic 8 Ball.

The Personal Shopper Approach: You want to know about being a godly woman or how to deal with self-esteem issues, but you don’t know where to find verses about that, so you let [insert famous Bible teacher here] do the legwork for you. The Problem: The Personal Shopper Approach doesn’t help you build “ownership” of Scripture. Much like the Pinball Approach, you ricochet from passage to passage, gaining fragmentary knowledge of many books of the Bible but mastery of none. Topical studies serve a purpose: they help us integrate broad concepts into our understanding of Scripture. But if they’re all we ever do, we’re missing out on the richness of learning a book of the Bible from start to finish.

The Jack Sprat Approach: This is where we engage in “picky eating” with the Word of God. We read the New Testament, but other than Psalms and Proverbs we avoid the Old Testament, or we read books with characters, plots, or topics we can easily identify with. The Problem: All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable. All of it. Women, it’s time to move beyond Esther, Ruth, and Proverbs 31 to the rest of the meal. Everyone, you can’t fully appreciate the sweetness of the New Testament without the savory of the Old Testament. We need a balanced diet to grow to maturity.

Discipleship Defined

Why do these six habits of highly ineffective Bible study persist in the church today? Why does biblical ignorance continue to dog the church, despite the good intentions of leadership to obey the Great Command to make disciples? I believe the answer lies in our definition of a disciple.

A disciple is, literally, a learner—one who follows another’s teaching. But the modern church has tended to define a disciple as a “doer” instead of as a “learner.” We have been asked to do service projects, join home groups, find an accountability partner, get counseling, fix our marriages, sing on the worship team, get out of debt, help in the nursery, hand out bulletins, go on mission trips, give to the building fund, share the gospel at Starbucks—but we have so rarely been challenged to pursue the most fundamental element of discipleship—earnest study of the Word. Yes, a disciple does, but we’re motivated to act by love for the God revealed in the Word.

Stop waiting for your community of believers to call you to be what Christ already has. Be a student. Be a good student. Read repetitively and in context, line by line. Keep the God of the gospel at the center of your study. Strive for comprehension before interpretation. Give application ample time to emerge from a passage. Watch ignorance flee and transformation flourish. Study the Word. Master it, master it.

Why I'm Still a Christian (and not a "Christ Follower")

It has been somewhat of a fad, or trend of late, to mess with words. Now I happen to like words, and think the change of meaning that comes over time affects some words but not all, and  certainly not at the same rate of change anyway. So in the current time words and their meanings are overturned with an increasing rapidity, and this bothers me, especially when it comes to how we speak of God, Jesus Christ, Salvation, His church, etc.

One example is the popular play on words, “Christianity is a relationship (with God, or Jesus) not a religion!”

Oh really? Does the Bible speak this way? The English Standard Version (ESV) and the King James Version (KJV) do not use the term “relationship” even once. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) uses it once to describe husband and wife. The New International Version uses it 5 times, but only two of those in reference to God. On the other hand, Eugene Peterson’s The Message uses the term “relationship” 25 times, and uses it especially in Galatians in opposition to another misunderstood word, “religion.”

The phrase that sets “relationship” against “religion” is not really helpful. If one takes a look at how the word “religion” gets used in the Bible, it will be seen that the word is sometimes in a positive light (James 1:27), sometimes negatively (Colossians 2:23), and sometimes almost in a neutral sense (Acts 25:19). Interestingly, at least for those of us who count such things, The Message uses the word “religion” 171 times, only one of which is in a positive light! To compare, the ESV uses it 5 times.

All this is to illustrate: we must be careful that our Bible translating, and our reading, do not create issues that the Bible doesn’t, and thus create straw-men to knock down. I believe the popular “religion vs relationship” thing is like this. It is a false dichotomy, and it sets up a great line of attack from atheists, who already believe we Christians are subjective, squishy thinkers. This keeps us from getting at the nonsense that is atheism, but that’s another post.

Now don’t go burning your copies of The Message. It is an informed translation of the Hebrew and Greek by a working Pastor. But we need to keep in mind that it is an introductory Bible, not a study Bible. It is a starting point for anyone who has really found the Bible inaccessible; but Christians need to move on.

My greatest problem with The Message is that it is a sort of “boutique Bible,” which, I fear, is a product of our time. We like our religion (excuse me, relationship with God) as we like it. It becomes a sort of “have it your way” faith.

And that’s the problem. In attacking “religion” at almost every opportunity, Peterson fails to distinguish between true and false religion, or hypocritical religion. I know full well that that was not his intention, but I cringe every time I hear that phrase without the understanding that needs to go behind it. It is glib and easy to say, and is dangerous because so much of anti-religion is simply a mask for anti-authority. We bring our rebellion to church, baptise it, and take an “only God can judge me” stance (or tattoo).

Christians or Christ Followers?

So what does this have to do with being a Christian rather than a “Christ follower?” Well, for one, is that the name of those who belong to Jesus? Even The Message only uses it one time (Ephesians 4:12, generic for “saints”). The Good News version uses it one time in 1 Peter 4:14, “Happy are you if you are insulted because you are Christ’s followers; this means that the glorious Spirit, the Spirit of God, is resting on you.”

So look at all the times  Christian is is found in the New Testament (not being found in the Old Testament at all):

Acts 11:26: and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

Acts 26:28: And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”

1 Peter 4:16: Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

Just three times! So you might wonder, why I care so much to be called a Christian, but not a “Christ Follower.” Here are two reasons:

First, the argument against being called a Christian runs something like this: “So much evil, so much stupidity, has been done in the name of Christianity, that we need a new word to describe ourselves; we follow Christ, and since we want to be like Him, we want to be known only as His followers.” Noble intentions. Summarized, though, it seems that we are embarrassed to be called Christians. We are ashamed of the religion of Christianity, although not ashamed of Christ. But remember that being called a Christian in Nero’s court could bring a lot more upon oneself than ridicule. The world will never really like Christians, and especially that name.

A second reason I call myself a Christian is the better of the two: Look again at Acts 11:26:

“and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”

It’s that word, “called” that needs to be unpacked. It isn’t a common word, like “named,” or such. The world “call” in English occurs 304 times in the New Testament. But “call” can translate several different Greek words. In Acts 11:26, that Greek word is χρηματίζω (chrematizo). The usual Greek word is καλέω (kaleo), φωνέω (phoneo), προσκαλέω (proskaleo), and others. I think kaleo is the most used, however, and no, I didn’t look it up.

But in Acts 11:26 we find a word that occurs just 9 times out of the 304 listed above. That word is χρηματίζω (chrematizo). See how it is translated:

[Disclaimer: If you don’t read Greek, it will look like the words I boldfaced are not consistently the same. This is because the spelling of Greek words change as they are used differently in a sentence. The “root” of each of the words is the same one word, χρηματίζω (chrematizo). Ya gotta trust me on tis one.]

Matthew 2:12

καὶ χρηματισθέντες κατʼ ὄναρ μὴ ἀνακάμψαι πρὸς Ἡρῴδην, διʼ ἄλλης ὁδοῦ ἀνεχώρησαν εἰς τὴν χώραν αὐτῶν.

And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Matthew 2:22

Ἀκούσας δὲ ὅτι Ἀρχέλαος βασιλεύει τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἀντὶ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ Ἡρῴδου ἐφοβήθη ἐκεῖ ἀπελθεῖν· χρηματισθεὶς δὲ κατʼ ὄναρ ἀνεχώρησεν εἰς τὰ μέρη τῆς Γαλιλαίας,

But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee.

Luke 2:26

καὶ ἦν αὐτῷ κεχρηματισμένον ὑπὸ τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ ἁγίου μὴ ἰδεῖν θάνατον πρὶν [ἢ] ἂν ἴδῃ τὸν χριστὸν κυρίου.

And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

Acts 10:22

οἱ δὲ εἶπαν· Κορνήλιος ἑκατοντάρχης, ἀνὴρ δίκαιος καὶ φοβούμενος τὸν θεόν, μαρτυρούμενός τε ὑπὸ ὅλου τοῦ ἔθνους τῶν Ἰουδαίων, ἐχρηματίσθη ὑπὸ ἀγγέλου ἁγίου μεταπέμψασθαί σε εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκοῦσαι ῥήματα παρὰ σοῦ.

And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.”

Acts 11:26

καὶ εὑρὼν ἤγαγεν εἰς Ἀντιόχειαν. ἐγένετο δὲ αὐτοῖς καὶ ἐνιαυτὸν ὅλον συναχθῆναι ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ καὶ διδάξαι ὄχλον ἱκανόν, χρηματίσαι τε πρώτως ἐν Ἀντιοχείᾳ τοὺς μαθητὰς Χριστιανούς.

and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

Romans 7:3

ἄρα οὖν ζῶντος τοῦ ἀνδρὸς μοιχαλὶς χρηματίσει ἐὰν γένηται ἀνδρὶ ἑτέρῳ· ἐὰν δὲ ἀποθάνῃ ὁ ἀνήρ, ἐλευθέρα ἐστὶν ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου, τοῦ μὴ εἶναι αὐτὴν μοιχαλίδα γενομένην ἀνδρὶ ἑτέρῳ.

Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

Hebrews 8:5

οἵτινες ὑποδείγματι καὶ σκιᾷ λατρεύουσιν τῶν ἐπουρανίων, καθὼς κεχρημάτισται Μωϋσῆς μέλλων ἐπιτελεῖν τὴν σκηνήν· ὅρα γάρ φησιν, ποιήσεις πάντα κατὰ τὸν τύπον τὸν δειχθέντα σοι ἐν τῷ ὄρει·

They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”

Hebrews 11:7

Πίστει χρηματισθεὶς Νῶε περὶ τῶν μηδέπω βλεπομένων, εὐλαβηθεὶς κατεσκεύασεν κιβωτὸν εἰς σωτηρίαν τοῦ οἴκου αὐτοῦ διʼ ἧς κατέκρινεν τὸν κόσμον, καὶ τῆς κατὰ πίστιν δικαιοσύνης ἐγένετο κληρονόμος.

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

Hebrews 12:25

Βλέπετε μὴ παραιτήσησθε τὸν λαλοῦντα· εἰ γὰρ ἐκεῖνοι οὐκ ἐξέφυγον ἐπὶ γῆς παραιτησάμενοι τὸν χρηματίζοντα, πολὺ μᾶλλον ἡμεῖς οἱ τὸν ἀπʼ οὐρανῶν ἀποστρεφόμενοι,

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 

Look at each of these passages! Matthew 2:12 and 22, “warned in a dream;” Luke 2:26 “revealed;” Acts 10:22 “directed by a holy angel;” Romans 7:3 “called” (by the law of God);  Hebrews 8:5, “instructed;” Hebrews 11:7, “warned by God;” and Hebrews 12:25, “him who warns.” Who is it that warns, reveals, directs, calls (as in naming), and instructs? Each of these are Divine actions. Save that thought for a moment.

On of the myths about Acts 11:26 is that the name “Christian” was attached to the Jesus movement by its enemies; it was a term of hatred, scorn, and derision. But how does that square with the way the word is translated throughout the rest of the New Testament? Well, it doesn’t, actually. While the name Christian has been, and will be, a term of ridicule and rejection, it is also the name God chose to describe the disciples. It would not be inaccurate to paraphrase Acts 11:26 something like this: “And in Antioch the disciples were first divinely called Christians.”

All Christians are Christ-followers; it’s what we do! But we are named by God, and names matter!