Conscience

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obedient to God

April 15, 2019

Obedience – a Watchword for the Future

As Christians move into the future near the end of the first quarter of the twenty-first century, it is critical to look at what is the greatest threat to survival in the environment that American Christians live in, and it is clearly assimilation. Perhaps this is always a threat unless a society is unanimously Christian, but at this point there are penalties for declining complicity with sin in many state and local jurisdictions, and certainly there will be pervasive penalties nationally if the American left prevails at the national level in a few years.

Our duty to God, however, does not change, whatever the legal or social situation in which we find ourselves. We must never be complicit in sin (Matt. 18:7), whether or not the law of the state requires it. We know that right and wrong are determined from the Bible, and that we are never to deny Christ or sin in any way, even if some authority requires us to do this. The testimony of the Bible is quite sufficient to establish this, and it is reinforced by Christian history in which so many martyrs died rather than disobey God. All of this hardly needs argument for many believers over 40, but it may not be evident to young people and young adults.

They have only known a world in which the word heard in public – from the government, the tone setting entertainment industry, advertising, schools (especially colleges and universities), the mainstream news media, and not the least from their peers, who reflect all of the above – tells them that traditional Christian doctrine and morality (especially sexual morality) is obviously cruel and thus immoral. These powerful voices may offend, but do not move, older believers, who know by grace that it is the voice of Christ in Scripture, not the voice of the world, that should be heeded. God can give anyone the grace to believe, but for anyone who lived in the still substantially Christian society of more than a generation ago, inner conviction is reinforced by many voices from the past. From pulpits, evangelists, abundant Christian literature, radio preachers, hymns and gospel music, and crucially from fathers and mothers, that everyone’s first duty is to God, and Christians’ first identity is as disciples of Christ.

Young Christians can still hear the voice of Biblical Christianity in public, but it is a voice strongly spoken against at length. It seems that people do have a natural tendency to listen to the voice of their parents above other voices, and that certainly helps continue Biblical Christianity in our day. But we must realize that the struggle to believe and obey can be hard at any time, and it is surely harder for many people at the present time. In this situation, it is crucial that Christians not compromise in obeying divine commands when we are required to disobey them.

Part of this task is simply knowing what is of an absolute and eternal nature. While the individual finally must reckon with the words of Scripture in knowing God’s will, this is made easier by being part of a Christian community with a clear interpretation of the Bible. In such a community there are found other people trying to interpret and obey Biblical revelation and one continually hears their voice. The basic doctrines of a supreme personal being, his identity with the God of Israel, incarnation in Jesus Christ, suffering and death to atone for sin and give us eternal life, personal faith in Christ for salvation, and repentance from every known sin are clear for orthodox believers. But on the last point (concerning every known sin) things get less than clear. Those Christian communities that would regard the “old” sins of the flesh to be always and everywhere sinful (dancing, card games, movies, alcohol and tobacco) are now few and far between. Still somewhat remembered (but badly attenuated in observance) are commands against vulgarity, the use of the Lord’s name in vain (despite Scriptural emphasis that God does not take this lightly), and divorce and remarriage. On the last point, dispute between sincere believers about the possibility of Biblically based exceptions seems to mean that the wider society’s standard of unilateral divorce with right to remarry is gaining acceptance. But on all these points, common practice to the contrary creates the impression that sin is not so bad, and being nice is more important. Sexual union outside of the marriage of man and woman seems to be the one sin about which there are many Christian communities that will agree.

Yet the gospel has no point if we accept sin. Striving for a “better world,” the true gospel of the political and religious left, is an idea one could embrace with no religious commitment. Indeed, what a “better world” is depends on one’s viewpoint. The dominant doctrine is material comfort and freedom to pursue whatever it is that one values. The crusading left thinks struggle for “social justice” – the liberation of oppressed groups – is the way to personal and social self-realization. Christians believe that discipleship, i.e., obedience to the will of God, is the meaning of our lives. We know his will from Scripture, and it is the love of God and neighbor in the way Scripture makes explicit through specific commands, and the making of disciples who observe those commands. This may contradict prevailing ideas about a “better world,” and certainly does contradict the secular gospel that a better world means liberating the sins of the flesh. It is what we decide to do about accepting this secular gospel which determines whether or not assimilation occurs. We must resist assimilation if we are to be faithful to Christ.

Those who want to liberate the sins of the flesh hope to force Christians to assimilate to a sexualized society by conflating sexual behavior with personal identity, and making it an anti-discrimination category, as discussed by this writer’s most recent article. As the article vigorously argued, personal behavior and inclination cannot possibly be treated on the basis of equality. Some behavior must be singled out for immunity from discrimination, which is what homosexual “rights” do. But since homosexuality relies on sexual nature being subjective, transgenderism is the result. Sexual nature consequently is becoming arbitrary as far as the law is concerned.

This is a welcome exposé of how meaning dissolves if we are disobedient to God’s revelation in Scripture and insist on giving life our own subjective meaning. But it will not stop hostile activists and government authorities from finding discrimination against sin to be unjust. The free exercise of religion guaranteed by the Constitution backed by the moral intuition that people should not be required to take action they understand to be evil should protect believers against the requirement to be complicit in sin. But of course it won’t with a society determined to use the law in an irrational and inconsistent way to require sin.

Whether or not a Christian individual or organization is obedient to God’s command to be separate from sin (II Cor. 6:17-18) will determine the vitality of Christian life. Those who bend to legal and social pressure will become indistinguishable, perhaps in many cases almost immediately, from the wider society. Those who don’t compromise will be penalized, and some (or many) religious organizations will cease to exist. But those who are obedient to God’s will expressed in Scripture will be the vital and authentic Christianity in the nation. It could be a smaller and smaller sector of the American public. It could be that more and more people are seduced by the allurements of sin in the popular culture, the indoctrination of the state education system, family and friends going with the flow, and the legal consequences of doing otherwise. Alternatively the clear meaning the authentic gospel offers, as evident from the sacrifices involved, could lead to growth. The very pain of the narrow gate of Christian faith and morals, both to those who follow God’s Word and those who hear with a hostile ear, is now given as a reason it must be suppressed. But it is the word of life.


6 Responses to Obedience – a Watchword for the Future

  1. William says:

    American orthodox Christians must be on constant guard and be prepared to defend their constitutional rights to the death if necessary. James Madison did not include freedom of religion and the free exercise thereof in the First Amendment by accident.

    • Diane says:

      What do you understand to be religious freedom? Can you not still practice your faith or do you believe your religious freedom is curtailed because you feel “attacked”?

      As a descendant of Salem townspeople during the witch trials of 1692, I look at John Tarbell and several others who challenged the actions of his fellow born-again Christians (Puritans). They were surely and devoutly practicing their faith when they tried citizens for the biblical sin of witchcraft (which was biblically punishable by death). John Tarbell’s wife was the daughter of accused and convicted Rebecca Nurse. She was executed for the sin of witchcraft. As a result of his dissent, Tarbell and his family (as well as several others who joined Tarbell) were ex-communicated from the Salem church because they weren’t true Christians. Today, evangelical Christians would refer to Tarbell’s challenge as an attack on their faith and a threat to their freedom to practice their faith as they understood it.

      Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is making that point – while evangelicals, including VP Pence, charge Buttigieg for “attacking” their faith, Buttigieg claims he is challenging government faith-based policies (backed by evangelicals) that cause harm to people, especially lgbtq folks. Face it, evangelicals believe they should have the right – under the guise of “religious freedom” to discriminate against gay people. If we were living back in 1692, there’s no question that born again Christians of today would believe they have the right to execute gay people, as the 1692 laws were a literal reflection of biblical law.

      Interestingly, the largest non-gay group that has been a constant ally of gay people for several decades are the John Tarbells of today – that is, the family members of gay Americans. We are organized as members of PFLAG, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. We now have evangelical parents organizing and crying out against faith-based discrimination against their gay children and even Mormons have pro-lgbtq parent groups for moms and dad’s of gay Mormons.

      The parallels are clear. Evangelical, orthodox Christians are not being attacked. Their support for discriminatory policies that allow them to continue to devalue and hurt lgbt citizens – who most Americans no longer believe are intrinsically demonic or devil-possessed just as the 1692 witches were thought to be – is being challenged, as well it should be.

      Your religious freedom stops when it causes harm to those outside your faith community. Religious freedom has its limits – thank God for John Tarbell! Without his “attack” on Salem religious fanatics, we might still be looking for witches to persecute. Oh wait, lgbtq folks are the new witches for the evangelicals frothing at the bit to save us all from the devil.

      • William says:

        The notorious Salem witch trials were the work of Satan and/or the result of insanity. Were those who repented and asked for forgiveness afterwards forgiven by God? Or, what happened to those who did not repent? When so called Christians harm others, that’s the work of Satan. But, trying to link the Salem witch trials to the LGBT+ movement in the church today is abject absurd. Jesus Christ died for our sins, including the sins of sexual immorality. There is absolutely no harm found there for those who repent, are saved, are converted, and find a new transformed life in Jesus. Trying to FORCE those who believe this Biblical truth to, instead, condone and accept sin instead is the true discrimination danger going on in the first quarter of the 21st century in America and elsewhere, thus highlighting the need for protections under the First Amendment.

      • Diane,

        Everyone must discriminate against personal behavior. If not, there were would absolute chaos, as all criminal behavior would be legal. Discrimination against behavior is not discrimination against people.

        The condemnation of homosexual behavior as wicked, refusal to be complicit in homosexual behavior, calling people by their true sex, and refusing to treat them as belonging to the opposite sex, are what you are calling “harm.” Evidently Christians may not condemn witchcraft either, and must be complicit in practices of magic and witchcraft. But we must obey God before the state and not cause anyone to sin (Matt. 18:7).

        No, condemning what someone else finds most precious in their life is not “harm.” It is free speech. Refusal to be complicit in what one believes is evil because someone else treasures it is not “harm.” It is liberty of conscience. Freedom means nothing if it can be set aside when someone else is pained. Being required to speak a lie or take an action believed evil, as is now being required of Christians, is a grievous harm.

        Rick

  2. David says:

    “The law of love, peace and liberty in the states extending to Jews, Turks and Egyptians, as they are considered sonnes of Adam… soe love, peace and liberty, extending to all…condemns hatred, war and bondage.”—Remonstrance of the Inhabitants of the Towne of Vlishing, 27 Dec. 1657

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