July 24, 2014 Broadcast

Questions & Answers #1

A Message by Various

Recently at the Ligonier Ministries National Conference, a panel of Bible Scholars and Theologians sat down for an unscripted Question and Answer session. This Thursday on Renewing Your Mind, we’ll hear them address complex issues for Christian living in today’s world.

From the series: Overcoming the World: 2014 National Conference

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    Defining Marriage

  2. devotional

    Salt and Light

  3. article

    The Challenge of Same-Sex Unions

Defining Marriage

Joe Carter

Abraham Lincoln was fond of asking, "If you call a dog's tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?" "Five," his audience would invariably answer. "No," he'd politely respond, "the correct answer is four. Calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg."

Like Lincoln's associates, many of our fellow citizens—including many Christians—appear to fall for the notion that changing a definition causes a change in essence. A prime example is the attempt to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex unions. Simply calling such relationships "gay marriages," many believe, will actually make them marriages. Such reasoning, however, is as flawed as thinking that changing tail to leg changes the function of the appendage.

Consider the change that must occur in our tail/leg example. A dog's tail cannot perform the same functions as its leg. He can't use his tail to run or swim or scratch an itch. In order to use the term for both parts, we must discard all qualities that make a tail different from a leg. The new meaning of leg will require that we exclude any difference of form (for example, we can no longer say that a paw can be found at the end of a leg) or function (for example, legs are not necessarily used for standing). In other words, by redefining the term tail we have not made it equivalent in form or function to a leg; we've merely stripped the term leg of its previous meaning and made it as generic a term as appendage.

The same is true with the attempts to redefine marriage. Because marriage requires the specific form of a union of man and woman (Gen. 2:24), applying the term to same-sex unions alters the very concept of what a marriage is for and what functions it takes.

For example, a significant percentage of people in same-sex sexual partnerships do not view monogamy or sexual exclusivity as part of the meaning of marriage. They may still use the term monogamy, but they have redefined that term too, in a way that means "monogamish," that is, relationships in which they are emotionally intimate with only one partner yet remain free to engage in sexual infidelities or group sexual activity. Changing the definition of marriage to include same-sex unions does not make it more inclusive, but rather more exclusive, since it requires excluding all the functions that were previously believed to be essential to the institution of marriage (for example, sexual fidelity).

Some Christians, recognizing the change that occurs because of the redefinition of marriage, argue that we need a two-track system: marriage as defined by the state and marriage as defined by the church. The problem with this view is that it also misunderstands the nature of marriage. Neither the state nor the church has the authority to change the essential nature of marriage, since the institution was neither created by nor belongs to either the church or the state. As Dr. R.C. Sproul wrote in a previous issue of Tabletalk (June 2013):

Marriage is ordained and instituted by God—that is to say, marriage did not just spring up arbitrarily out of social conventions or human taboos. Marriage was not invented by men but by God.

Because the three institutions of church, state, and marriage have interdependent yet independent existence, they can decide whether to recognize each other's legitimacy, but they cannot delineate each other's boundaries. In this way, the relationship is similar to nation-states. The U.S. government, for example, can decide to "recognize" the state of Israel, but it cannot redefine the country in a way that contracts its border to exclude the Gaza Strip. The U.S. either recognizes Israel as it defines itself or it rejects its legitimacy altogether.

Some Christians may even concede that while the state doesn't truly have the authority to redefine marriage, we should go along with the legal fiction for the sake of the gospel witness. Although such Christians may have the best of intentions, they are actually subverting the very gospel they want to protect.

In acceding to laws that redefine marriage, they are doing the very opposite of what Jesus calls us to do: they are hating their neighbors, including their gay and lesbian neighbors. You do not love your neighbor by encouraging them to engage in actions that invoke God's wrath (Ps. 5:4–5; Rom. 1:18). As Christians, we may be required to tolerate ungodly behavior, but the moment we begin to endorse it, we too become suppressors of the truth. You cannot love your neighbor and want to see them excluded from the kingdom of Christ (Eph. 5:5).

What is needed is for the church to have the courage to speak the truth of the gospel: we cannot love our neighbor and tolerate unrepentant rebellion against God. We cannot continue with the "go along to get along" mentality that is leading those we love to destruction. We must speak the Word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31) and accept the fact that those who have fallen away may not ever return. We must choose this day whom we will serve. Will we stand with the only wise God or with the foolish idol-makers of same-sex marriage?

Salt and Light

Jesus identifies Himself with Yahweh in the Sermon on the Mount when He compares His disciples to the persecuted prophets of old (Matt. 5:11–12; Jer. 37–38). The disciples who speak for Jesus are like the prophets who spoke for the Lord of the covenant; therefore, Christ implies His divine sovereignty.

The prophets carried out their ministries in full view of the people of Israel, and so we are not surprised to see that their successors, the disciples of Jesus, do not build the kingdom of God in secret. This is the point of today’s passage. Our Savior calls His disciples the “salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13) and the “light of the world” (v. 14), two substances that permeate and transform the food, or the darkness, in which they are found. Like salt and light, the church is to have a transformative effect on the surrounding society. 

Salt is often produced as tiny grains and is not expensive given its prevalence. Yet its value far outweighs its apparent insignificance. Christians are to be like salt and have a positive impact on the culture far beyond what is expected from the powerless. The meaning of Jesus’ metaphor is probably not limited to any single benefit we get from salt, but we will highlight its preservative quality. The church must have a preserving effect on society and by its influence prevent the world from rushing headlong toward ungodliness. Christianity has fulfilled this role historically, leading the way in the advance of human rights. But take note that we are salt only if we maintain our difference from the world around us. In the Near East, salt can be found mixed with gypsum or sand, diluting its “saltiness” and worth. The same fate can befall us if we bend over backward to show the world how much we are like them (v. 13; 1 Peter 1:14–16). 

Rural communities like the one Jesus addresses in Matthew 5 well know how blinding darkness can be. Yet the glow of a city in the distance can give those living in the pitch black of night a sense of direction and bearing. Just as walking around the camp at night is dangerous without a lighted torch, Jesus calls us to be the light of the world, to live as those transformed by the Spirit so that the world will take notice and be led to glorify the Father (vv. 14–16). 

The Challenge of Same-Sex Unions

Albert Mohler

In the world but not of the world? From the very beginning, the church has faced the challenge of responding to external events, trends, ideologies, and controversies. By definition, the church does not get to choose these challenges, but they have been thrust upon Christians by the world. The question always comes down to this: What now?

That question seems especially urgent in light of the emergence of same-sex unions and marriage in the United States and the world over. How must the church answer this challenge?

To answer that question, we need to think about the speed of the moral revolution that has pushed this question to the forefront of our culture. In less than a generation, homosexuality has gone from being almost universally condemned to being almost fully normalized in the larger society.

We are facing a true moral inversion — a system of moral understandings turned upside down. Where homosexuality was even recently condemned by the society, now it is considered a sin to believe that homosexuality is wrong in any way. A new sexual morality has replaced the old, and those who hold to the old morality are considered morally deficient. The new moral authorities have one central demand for the church: get with the new program.

This puts the true church, committed to the authority of God's Word, in a very difficult cultural position. Put simply, we cannot join the larger culture in normalizing homosexuality and restructuring society to match this new morality. Recognizing same-sex unions and legalizing same-sex marriage is central to this project.

Liberal churches and denominations are joining the project, some more quickly and eagerly than others. The cultural pressure is formidable, and only churches that are truly committed to Scripture will withstand the pressure to accommodate themselves and their message to the new morality.

What, then, is the true church to do? First, we must stand without compromise on the authority of the Bible and the principles of sexual conduct and morality that God has revealed so clearly in His Word. The Bible's sexual morality is grounded in the creation of humanity in God's image; we are created as male and female and given the gift of sex within the marriage covenant — and only within the marriage covenant between one man and one woman for as long they both shall live.

The easiest way to summarize the Bible's teaching on sexuality is to begin with God's blessing of sex only within the marriage covenant between a man and a woman. Then, just remember that sex outside of that covenant relationship, whatever its form or expression, is explicitly forbidden. Christians know that these prohibitions are for our good and that rejecting them is tantamount to a moral rebellion against God Himself. We also know that the Bible forbids all same-sex sexual acts and behaviors. Thus, we know that homosexuality is a sin, that blessing it in any way is also sin, and that normalizing sin cannot lead to human happiness.

Second, we must realize what is at stake. Marriage is first and foremost a public institution. It has always been so. Throughout history, societies have granted special recognition and privileges to marriage because it is the central organizing institution of human culture. Marriage regulates relationships, sexuality, human reproduction, lineage, kinship, and family structure. But marriage has also performed another crucial function — it has regulated morality.

This is why the challenge of samesex unions is so urgent and important. Redefining marriage is never simply about marriage. It leads to the redefinition of reproduction and parenthood, produces a legal revolution with vast consequences, replaces an old social order with something completely new, and forces the adoption of a new morality. This last point is especially important. Marriage teaches morality by its very centrality to the culture. With a new concept of marriage comes a new morality, enforced by incredible social pressure and, eventually, legal threats.

Third, we must act quickly to teach Christians the truth about marriage and God's plan for sexuality in all its fullness and beauty. We must develop pastoral approaches that are faithful to Scripture and arm this generation of believers to withstand the cultural pressure and respond in ways that are truly Christian.

Last, and most important, this challenge must drive us to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christians must be the first to understand this challenge in light of the gospel. After all, we know spiritual rebellion when we see it, for we ourselves were rebels before God's grace conquered us. We know what moral confusion means because without the light of God's Word, we are just as confused.

There is no rescue from the self-deception of sin except for the salvation that is ours in Jesus Christ. While doing everything else required of us in this challenge, the faithful church must center its energies on the one thing that we know we must do above all else — preach, teach, and live the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Since the beginning,

our aim has been to help Christians know what they believe, why they believe it, how to share it, and how to live it…

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