SSM round-up

by Jesse Johnson

“Yesterday I wrote about three obvious questions from the recent scrap about gay marriage. Today’s post is for those that have been sleeping for the past week and missed the controversy all together.  If you suffer from gay-marriage-controversy overload, you may have missed the newest twists and turns, which is a shame because you missed some really good writing.  Today I want to give a round-up of what others have written, and direct you to some of the better posts on this issue.

But first a little history: in the past few months gay “marriage” has been legalized in 17 states. Most of these saw marriage legalized by judges, and a few saw the turn at the ballot box. Since then there has been a tidal wave of additional lawsuits in the remaining 33 states that ban it. Every indicator is that those bans will fall as well.

In the meantime, some same-sex couples have sued bakers, photographers, and florists who have declined to provide their services to gay weddings. Denny Burk has a powerful articledetailing one of those examples.  The gist is that the florist served a couple she knew to be homosexual for almost ten years, and she considered them to be her friends. They then asked her business to provide flowers for their wedding, she refused, and was reported to the state, who filed suit against her (I wrote about these cases here).

This took gay marriage to whole new level. No longer is it something that can simply be recognized by the state, but it has morphed rapidly into something that every citizen could be force to actively approve of.  When a Christian DJ, pastor, baker, florist, or photographer refuses to service a same-sex ceremony, they fall on the wrong side of the law.

Tweet from Kevin DeYoung @RevKevDeYoung: “Marie Antoinette to French peasants: “Let them eat cake.” U.S. courts to Christian bakers: “Let them eat cake….or else.””

Some states (including Arizona and Kansas) proposed legislation that would specifically allow Christian business owners to decline service to same-sex marriage ceremonies without running afoul of the law. A good summary of what these proposals would/would not do is found at Christian Post. But these proposed laws were attacked, and eventually were discarded after a tsunami of public opposition. Ironically, some of that opposition was led by Christian columnists, such as Kirstin Powers (USA Today, who compared them to Jim Crow laws) and Jonathan Merritt (Daily Beast, who called these business leaders hypocrites for providing service to people on their second marriages). Together, their main point was essentially a WWJD kind of argument, and they suggested that Jesus the carpenter would have built the stage for a same-sex wedding, had he only been offered the job.

As for a response, I strongly suggest you read Al Mohler who systematically dismantled Powers’ and Merritt’s columns. Douglas Wilson offered his response as well (“Put an egg in their shoe” which is well worth reading for the way he interacts with Romans 1, and also for this sentence: “ I don’t know much about Merritt, but what I have seen seems to indicate someone who is being wafted along by the breezes emanating from the Zeitgeist Wind Farm, which is a bad metaphor because that’s not how wind farms work.”).

Meanwhile, Russell Moore responded to the accusation that it is hypocritical for Christians not to endorse same-sex ceremonies if they would sell their wares to a person on their second marriage.

Telling in most of the articles that compared Christians to racists is that the authors generally missed the distinction between denying service to a person because they are gay, and declining to use their business to promote a same-sex ceremony. I have not heard of any Christian arguing that others should not serve homosexuals (despite the hysteria on the issue), but instead have only heard of Christians arguing that they should not be forced by the government to make cakes for gay marriages. It is a distinction lost on Powers and Merritt, but strangely enough, one that was grasped by what is certainly the best secular post on this issue (here, at The Atlantic; I really recommend you read this, although you do have to get through the author saying, “You might not believe this, but I actually know a few Christians who are not bigots!” Yeah? Well I actually know an Atlantic columnist that isn’t condescending, but I digress).

Finally, if you are going to only read one of these posts, I suggest this one: The Institute on Religion and Democracy has a staff editorial (“Jonathan Merritt, Christian Artistic Expression and the Preferential Option for Caesar”). They summarize this issue quite well, and show the folly of asking the government to compel people’s consciences at the expense of religious freedom. It really is a must read.

Where does this leave us?

Eric Teetsel at the Manhattan Declaration gives a ten-minute crash course in why Christians should care about these issues. But ultimately we are seeing Romans 1 validated and vindicated  right before us.  In a culture ruled by homosexuality and idolatry, it is not enough to simply do evil, but it has to be celebrated and affirmed as moral good. And not being satisfied with the freedom to practice evil, those who are on this road insist that their own evil must be applauded by others. If you refuse… well, as Eric Erickson wrote almost one year ago, “you will be made to care.” Or, as the prophet of our day has said:

Tweet from Church Curmudgeon @ChrchCurmudgeon: “Coexist. Or else.””

-Jesse Johnson, 02-27-14, http://thecripplegate.com/ssm-round-up/

 

Calvin’s Thoughts on Liberty, Pleasure and Beauty

John Calvin rejected Christian asceticism — the teaching that extreme denial of earthly things was beneficial for godliness. He condemned these severe restrictions since they restricted “consciences more tightly than does the Word of God”

Calvin also cautioned against antinomianism — the teaching that Christians are free from the Law. “Certainly I admit that consciences neither ought to nor can be bound … to definite and precise legal formulas; but inasmuch as Scripture gives general rules for lawful use, we ought surely to limit our use in accordance with them.”

Calvin then gives support for a Christian appreciation for art, pleasure and beauty.

“The use of God’s gifts is not wrongly directed when it is referred to that end to which the author himself created and destined them for us, because he created them for our good, not for our ruin. Accordingly, no one will hold to a straighter path than he who diligently looks to this end. Now, if we ponder to what end God created food, we will find that he meant not only to provide for necessity but also for delight and good cheer. Thus the purpose of clothing, apart from necessity, was [respectableness] and decency ….

Has the Lord clothed the flowers with great beauty that greets our eyes, the sweetness of smell that is wafted upon our nostrils, and yet will it be unlawful for our eyes to be affected by that beauty, our sense of smell by the sweetness of that odor? What? Did he not so distinguish colors as to make some more lovely than others? What? Did he not endow gold and silver, ivory and marble, with a loveliness that renders then more precious than other metals or stones? Did he not, in short, render many things attractive to use, apart from their necessary use?

-John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.10.1-2.

What Heaven Is Missing

“Ask your average man-on-the-street what he thinks about “heaven,” and he’ll probably describe a place where just about everything people enjoy in this life is completely missing.

In the minds of most, things like vibrant colorgood foodloud musicclose friendships, and physical activity are all absent from heaven. They envision a place where everything is white, sterilized, and generally quiet—like a cosmic hospital or giant library in the sky. Heaven’s inhabitants float around like disembodied spirits with little halos, wearing white choir robes, sitting on clouds of cotton balls, and playing tiny harps for all of eternity. It’s like something out of a Precious Moments catalogue — the very opposite of anything exciting, enthralling, or eternally enjoyable. (No offense to those who collect small, winged, ceramic figurines.)

The sad reality is that too often, we as Christians can allow our own understanding of heaven to be tainted by the culture around us. But Hallmark must not define heaven for us. Hollywood must not define heaven for us. Centuries of monastic tradition must not define heaven for us.

Instead, only God’s Word can rightly inform our understanding of heaven. And when we go to the Scriptures, we find that our future home is anything but bland, boring, or quiet.

In particular, the eternal heaven (which Revelation 21–22 describes as a new earth) will be a place of vibrant color (Rev. 21:19–21; cf. 4:3), good food (22:2; cf. 19:7–9), loud music(cf. Rev. 5:8–13), intimate fellowship [with God Himself] (22:3–4), and joyous physical activity (21:24–26; cf. 1 Cor. 15:35–49).

The best this life has to offer cannot compare to heaven in any respect. The best thrills, the best joys, the best memories in this life are but shadows; our most wondrous, most profound, most heartfelt, most emotional, most fulfilling moments in this world, cannot hold a candle to the brilliant sun of heavenly experience.

Ironically, many of the wonderful things people enjoy in this life and assume will be missing from heaven, will in fact be part of life on the new earth—only in an infinitely better, eternally-perfected form.

So why write a post entitled “What Heaven Is Missing?”

Because there actually are some significant aspects of our current experience that will be absent from heaven. If we are to rightly understand just how wonderful heaven is going to be, we not only need to know what will be there … we also need to know what will be missing.

That’s why, in Revelation 21–22, the Apostle John spends as much time describing the new earth by telling us what will be absent from heaven, as he does telling us what will bepresent.

So what is heaven missing? Here’s a list of 17 items that John states will be absent from the new earth. Each of these represents some aspect of fallenness, rebellion, or divine judgment connected to this present world. And there will be no sign of corruption or judgment in the world to come.

1. No sea (Rev. 21:1) — In Scripture, the sea is often representative of evil, disorder, and chaos. Moreover, the ocean as we know it today is a result of God’s judgment in the Flood (Gen. 6-8). But all signs of evil and judgment will be gone in the new earth.

2. No longer any separation between God and man (vv. 2–3)

3. No tears, mourning, or crying (v. 4)

4. No pain (v. 4)

5. No death (v. 4)

6. Nothing that will not be made new (v. 5)

7. No spiritual thirst (v. 6)

8. No unredeemed sinner — whom John lists as the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murders, immoral persons, sorcerers, idolaters, and liars (v. 8); no one who practices abomination and lying (v. 27)

9. No temple (v. 22) — because God is the temple

10. No need for the sun or moon (v. 23; 22:5) — because God is the light

11. No need for a lamp (v. 23; 22:5)

12. No night (v. 25; 22:5) — and presumably no need of sleep for resurrected saints

13. No closing of the gates of the New Jerusalem (v. 25)

14. Nothing unclean (v. 27)

15. No one whose name is not written in the Lamb’s book of life (v. 27)

16. No curse (22:3)

17. No end to the eternal reign of Christ and His redeemed (22:5)

A short blog article does not permit us to go into detail on each of these items. But the point should be clear enough:

In order to underscore the wonder of the new earth, John contrasts the new earth with this one by emphasizing aspects of our fallen world which will be missing from heaven.Because sin and its corrupting consequences are such a normal part of this life, the apostle has to go to great length to emphasize the fact that absolutely none of that will be present in the life to come.

A Quick Illustration

There are times in our own experience, of course, when the best way to describe something is to contrast it with something that is familiar.

When I was in college, for example, I bought a used car.  It was a small four-door compact, and it suited my needs perfectly as a college student. The car was already seven years old when I bought it and it had 80,000 miles on it. But it ran great, and I kept it for another ten years.

By the time I finally got rid of it, it was in (very) bad shape. The engine still ran, but everything else about the car was clearly worn out. The struts were totally shot, so that I could feel every bump in the road. The air conditioning was broken; the paint was peeling; the seats were ripped and scarred. The doors were scratched; one of the side mirrors was broken off and being held on with duct tape.

The car would constantly fail its smog check, and was categorized by the state of California as a “gross polluter.” On multiple occasions, I had to go to the DMV and get a special permit to drive it around. It was too old to have a CD player, and the cassette player was broken too. One of the hubcaps was missing. Both the front and back bumpers were damaged; and at times the power steering wouldn’t work. Needless to say, the car was a mess.

I knew I couldn’t sell it. So I finally took it to a wrecking yard and said goodbye.   Then I went and bought a new car.

Now, if you had asked me to describe my new car, in the days after I bought it, I would probably have done so by describing as much about what it was missing as what it had:

“There is no longer any trouble starting the engine.”

“There are no more strange noises when I drive around.”

“I am no longer embarrassed when I see someone I know.”

Its paint was not peeling; its upholstery was not damaged; its hubcaps had not fallen off. No longer did I have to deal with a faulty suspension, a broken mirror, a damaged power-steering system, or the repeated frustrations of trying to pass a smog check.

Those were all things that characterized my old car. But they did not characterize the newone, because even though both are cars, the new car is exponentially better than the last.

Now that illustration is obviously limited. But it gives a sense of how the Apostle John uses contrast to describe the glories of heaven in Revelation 21–22. In the final two chapters of the Bible, he explains the greatness of the new earth by noting how different it will be than this sin-stained, broken-down, cursed and corrupt world system.

So what is heaven missing? A lot. But not in the way our popular culture thinks.

When we accurately understand the kinds of things that will be absent from our eternal home, it should only get us more excited to go there.”

-Nathan Busentiz, 03-22-12, http://thecripplegate.com/what-heaven-is-missing/

Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
’Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.

Bold shall I stand in Thy great day;
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved through these I am
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.

The holy, meek, unspotted Lamb,
Who from the Father’s bosom came,
Who died for me, e’en me to atone,
Now for my Lord and God I own.

Lord, I believe Thy precious blood,
Which, at the mercy seat of God,
Forever doth for sinners plead,
For me, e’en for my soul, was shed.

Lord, I believe were sinners more
Than sands upon the ocean shore,
Thou hast for all a ransom paid,
For (us) a full atonement made.

When from the dust of death I rise
To claim my mansion in the skies,
Ev’n then this shall be all my plea,
Jesus hath lived, hath died, for me.

This spotless robe the same appears,
When ruined nature sinks in years;
No age can change its glorious hue,
The robe of Christ is ever new.

Jesus, the endless praise to Thee,
Whose boundless mercy hath for me—
For me a full atonement made,
An everlasting ransom paid.

O let the dead now hear Thy voice;
Now bid Thy banished ones rejoice;
Their beauty this, their glorious dress,
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness.

-Nikolaus L. von Zinzendorf, 1739. Translated by John Wesley, 1740

Come, Ye Thankful People Come

Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.

All the world is God’s own field, fruit unto His praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown.
First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take His harvest home;
From His field shall in that day all offenses purge away,
Giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store in His garner evermore.

Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring Thy final harvest home;
Gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified, in Thy garner to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels come, raise the glorious harvest home.

-Henry Alford, Psalms and Hymns, 1844