Letters from Legion (No. 2)

letterMy dear Frederick: [1]

I read your last email with joy in my heart! You say your Christian is going through a difficult time; that his wife has left him and run off with her “personal trainer” from the gym. This is excellent news, my boy! You must strike when his defenses are at their weakest – never lose an opportunity to help him doubt the Enemy’s goodness, kindness, mercy and grace.

Make the enemy a tyrant

Don’t tempt him to doubt the Enemy’s providence; his governance over everything that happens. No, Frederick – we want him to keep believing that God (in the words of one of the Enemy Forces’ wretched creeds), “leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement.”

You see, we don’t want him to doubt that God governs His creation. He certainly does! What we want, Frederick, is for this young man to doubt God’s goodness. You must do everything you can to make the Enemy seem cold, distant, uncaring and unmerciful. Make the man despise God for allowing this to happen. Poison his mind with bitterness! Instead of recognizing that God governs and controls everything, but people are still morally responsible for their own actions – lead him to believe that God is a cruel despot, a wicked kitten playing with a spider.

He’s the poor spider, Frederick – and God is the kitten who tears off a leg here, smashes his body there and finally (when he grows tired of this play), eats him whole and leaves a few stray bits and pieces on the floor to rot.

Keep the scriptures abstract

You wrote that the young man is trying to find comfort in the Scriptures. You specifically mentioned the book of 1 Peter, where the cursed apostle warned believers that “this is favor with God – if, when you’re doing right and suffering, you endure it. This is why you slaves were called to salvation!” And, when he wrote, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.”

Don’t wait for a moment, Frederick! This is a critical moment for the young man; a turning point. The Enemy teaches that He calls men from slavery to us, sets them free, and calls them to live a life in devoted service to Him. He calls them to worship His Son as their King and Lord. He tells them to trust in His good providence, and to always realize that everything He does is for a good, holy and just reason. No, no, no!

We can’t allow this mindset to last, my boy. The good news is that this mindset is extraordinarily counter-cultural. It goes against every instinct in his body, and your object is to keep this at an intellectual level. Make this a sterile, cold and abstract kind of doctrine. The very word doctrine conjures up images of ivory-towers, thick books, and dreary lecture-halls.

Keep it there. Keep it far away from so-called “real life.” Keep the scriptures academic; don’t let them become practical. Encourage your young man to think he’s special, unique – that the pain he’s feeling is one of a kind, and the scriptures don’t speak to his situation.

Encourage him to keep the old habits

At heart, Frederick, people are narcissists. They’re in love with themselves, and it takes tremendous effort to make them love God more. This process only begins with the so-called “new birth,” when the Enemy gives his new subjects a new heart, soul and mind. He awakens them spiritually (that’s when we lose them, Frederick), and gives them the ability to love him and his son. But the good news is these habits have to be learned. Many of the Enemy Forces don’t bother to cultivate this behavior, so they’re easy prey for us when disaster strikes.

But, always remember – “disaster” for the Enemy is sweet music to our ears!

Farewell, for now …

I must dash. I’ll send you another email in a few weeks. Remember this, and you’ll do well:

  1. Keep him away from the scriptures
  2. Push the doctrine of God’s providence, but crush any thoughts that He’s good and kind. Make God a tyrant, not a loving King.
  3. If he does read the scriptures for help during his suffering, keep everything he reads abstract, cold and distant. Emphasize the dryness of doctrine, and the pain of his personal experience.
  4. Cultivate his bitterness, feed his pain, bury his thoughts of God’s goodness, crush his theological notions of God’s kind providence, and maximize every thought about divine injustice.
  5. Make the young man hate God for doing this to him.

I can’t wait to write again, Frederick. I’m anxious to see what you do with what I’ve taught you! Our Father Below greets you. May the Cursed One be blasphemed forever.

Your loving uncle,

Legion

Notes

[1] Some readers will recognize this letter is inspired by C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece The Screwtape Letters, which is a fictional set of letters between a high-ranking demon (Screwtape) and his young nephew, Wormwood. In these letters, Screwtape offers young Wormwood some practical advice about how to ruin the life of an ordinary young man who has recently become a Christian.

Lewis was a Christian, and this work functions as sort of a mirror into one’s own soul. It’s one of the most brilliant pieces of literature written, I believe. I can’t hope to match Lewis’ style and content, but I can at least give it a shot.

Against a “Social Justice” Interpretation of the Gospels

stopIt’s common in conservative Christian congregations to hear a lot of talk about how we ought to help the poor, the downtrodden, the homeless and the disadvantaged. These are all worthy goals, as long as we always keep one thing in mind:

Christian social activism is a means to Jesus’ Good News, not the Good News itself.

This is not a subtle distinction; it’s vital. Consider this:

  • If a Christian congregation (or para-church organization) provides money and food to the poor, or shelter, food and aid to the homeless (etc., etc.) without also preaching, teaching, explaining and applying the Gospel in a persuasive, winsome and loving way … then all you’re doing is ensuring these people go to hell with a bit more money, food and shelter than they’d otherwise have.

Social programs are vehicles for the Gospel. They aren’t the Gospel. They’re the practical outworking of a desire to bring the Good News of perfect forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation and adoption into God’s family and coming kingdom to this present evil age.

I’m not sure all Christians really understand this distinction. Many times, they appeal to the Scriptures to support their social programs. Unfortunately, I believe they interpret some of these passages incorrectly. I believe most of this is due to a wrong-headed understanding of Christ’s Kingdom, and (in some quarters) a startling ignorance of the context of the various prophetic passages which speak of the peace, justice, righteousness and “social justice” which will characterize Christ’s reign here on earth.

But, all that is a story for another time – to the passage!

Wrongly dividing the word

Many Christians appeal to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount to support this social ethic. I want to gently push back on this. However, because I don’t have the time or energy to tackle the Sermon on the Mount, I’m going to use John the Baptist’s sermon beside the Jordan River as my text.[1]

John fulfills prophesy

John the Baptist came on the scene to prepare the Israelite people to receive their Messiah. The Gospel of Luke tells us “he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet …” (Lk 3:3-4).

Luke went on to quote a passage from Isaiah 40:3-5, which explains that a special messenger will prepare the way for Yahweh to return. Once He does return, Yahweh will lead His people from captivity back to the Promised Land (Isa 40:6-11). That messenger was John the Baptist, who the prophet Malachi told us Yahweh would send before the terrible day of judgment (Mal 4).

So far, so good. John is the fulfillment. He’s the guy Isaiah and Malachi promised would come. And, this is exactly how the Gospel of Mark starts out, too.

John was preaching to old covenant members, not strangers

Here is what you have to keep in mind, and it’s something many Christians seem to forget all about – John came to preach to Old Covenant Israelites.

Why should you care about this? Well, the Old Covenant wasn’t only composed of believers – it was a mixed covenant:

covenant

If an Israelite boy was born to proud parents in Capernaum, then he’d be circumcised as an external sign that he’s a member of, and heir to, the Old Covenant promises. Then, he’ll (hopefully) be brought up to know, trust, love and believe in Yahweh for salvation. His parents will teach him about Yahweh’s grace, love, mercy and kindness (cf. Deut 6:20-25). Hopefully, this boy will grow into a young man who loves Yahweh with all his heart, soul and might (Deut 6:5).

Here’s the problem – not every little boy and girl grew up to know, love, trust and believe in Yahweh for salvation. Some did; some didn’t. Those who didn’t either left the Israelite community entirely, or perhaps “played along” by following the rituals, ceremonies and observing the prescribed festivals in a rote, mindless and empty fashion.

The Old Covenant was a mixed multitude. The New Covenant is not.

You have to understand that John the Baptist was preaching to Old Covenant members, and he was calling them to be faithful to the Old Covenant law, to prepare their hearts, minds and souls to receive the Messiah – whose ministry was just about to begin.

Why should you care?

Because John wasn’t preaching to homeless strangers on freeway off-ramps, or to inner-city families who didn’t have enough money to make ends meet. He was preaching to fellow covenant members. This means, if you want to import this text (and John’s commands for right behavior) into today’s New Covenant context, then the only direct parallel is to believers. This doesn’t mean Christians shouldn’t care about the poor or the homeless; it just means they shouldn’t use these texts to justify social programs. The context won’t allow it.

John preaches to the people

Here is his opening salvo:

He said therefore to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him,

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits that befit repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire,” (Lk 3:7-9).

This is fairly simple, but profound. The Gospel of Mark tells us that “there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem,” (Mk 1:5). This was some crowd!

John began by insulting them, striking right at the heart of the legalistic approach to the law so many of them had. He called them a group of snakes. He told them they had to prove their repentance; an outward, pious “show” wouldn’t do it. They couldn’t count on their Israelite blood, because that had never guaranteed anything. Remember the chart, above – at best being born an Israelite (i.e. Tier #1) meant you’d hear about Yahweh and His mercy and grace, so hopefully you’d become a believer (i.e. Tier #2).

So, the natural question is – what should these folks do, then? What kind of fruit is John looking for?

And the multitudes asked him, “What then shall we do?” (Lk 3:10).

Good question. Let’s see …

And he answered them, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise,” (Lk 3:11).

The most basic expression of real love for God (Deut 6:5) is to love your fellow covenant member just as much as you love yourself (compare Mk 12:28-34). What does this look like, then, at a practical level? Well, it could look like a lot of things, but one good example is to provide clothing and food to folks who don’t have any.

On to the next group:

Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than is appointed you,” (Lk 3:12-13).

Israelite tax collectors shouldn’t defraud other Israelites. Sounds simple, right?

Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages,” (Lk 3:14).

Jewish soldiers shouldn’t abuse their power and positional authority, and shouldn’t steal.

The answer is pretty simple – he’s looking for them to actually obey and follow the Old Covenant law out of a pure heart. He’s telling them to put the law into practice in their own contexts, in everyday life, starting right now. 

Basically, that means loving your neighbor as yourself (see Mk 12:31; Lev 19:18, 34). And, remember, the context of this Old Covenant command was for Israelites and foreign Gentiles who had, in some form or fashion, joined the Old Covenant community. These commands have always been for Covenant people, and also for those on the way to likely becoming part of this community.

John’s preaching is right in line with the Old Testament prophets who pleaded with Israel to return to the Lord and live faithfully:

Her officials within her
are roaring lions;
her judges are evening wolves
that leave nothing till the morning (Zeph 3:3)

The prophet Zephaniah wrote an entire book, where he recorded his own sermons against this kind of externalism. He paints a picture of moral corruption at the highest levels of society in the Southern Kingdom.

Her prophets are wanton,
faithless men;
her priests profane what is sacred,
they do violence to the law (Zeph 3:4)

Yahweh, however, is a stark contrast to their treachery:

The LORD within her is righteous,
he does no wrong;
every morning he shows forth his justice,
each dawn he does not fail;
but the unjust knows no shame (Zeph 3:5)

This message, and John the Baptist’s preaching, is an indictment against this kind of fake “faith.” John’s sermon (and Jesus’ own commands from the Sermon on the Mount) aren’t a manifesto for Christians to sally forth and provide food and shelter or the homeless. It’s a call for God’s true people to return to covenant faithfulness, which means doing what His word says, because we love Him.

“I have cut off nations;
their battlements are in ruins;
I have laid waste their streets
so that none walks in them;
their cities have been made desolate,
without a man, without an inhabitant.
I said, ‘Surely she will fear me,
she will accept correction;
she will not lose sight
of all that I have enjoined upon her.’
But all the more they were eager
to make all their deeds corrupt,” (Zech 3:6-7).

This is the true context of John’s message; a call for God’s people to “prepare the way of the Lord” and “make his paths straight” (Lk 3:4; cf. Isa 40:3) so they’ll be ready for Yahweh to lead them back from exile.

Rightly dividing the word

So, what should Christians do with John the Baptist’s message, today? How do we translate this to a modern context? Well, you have to remember the original context, and accurately translate it to a New Covenant context:

  • John was preaching to Old Covenant Israelites, and calling them to repent and actually live according to the law out of a pure heart.
  • John’s commands for ethical behavior must be understood in that context; he’s telling Jews how to live according to the law out of a pure heart, and he agrees with Jesus that the most basic fruit of love for God is to love your fellow covenant members.
  • So, John is teaching them to show love for one another, according to their own particular context, while they wait for the Messiah to show Himself.

So far, so good – but what about right now?

  • In a New Covenant context for today, we’d direct this message to Christians in a local church. We’d call them to repent and actually live according to God’s Word out of a pure heart.
  • The most basic fruit of love for God is to love your fellow covenant members. The New Covenant only has one tier (see the chart, above), and this means you show your love for God by loving the brethren in your congregation most of all (see 1 Pet 1:22 – 2:3)
  • So, we should use John the Baptist’s message to teach Christians to show love for one another according to our own particular contexts, while we wait for the Messiah to return.

Does this mean we shouldn’t feed the homeless, or help the poor? Heavens, no! It just means these passages don’t teach that. These social programs are good and fine, but they’re nothing more than vehicles for the Gospel. The Good News is all that matters, and we can deliver it in many, many ways. Social programs are one way, but they aren’t the only way.

Notes

[1] Make no mistake, the Sermon on the Mount issue is “complicated,” and it would take a great deal of time to address the topic well. I don’t have that time. My only goal here is to sound a note of caution about a default “social justice” interpretation of the ethical commands in John the Baptist’s preaching, and (by extension) Jesus’ own preaching.

Letters from Legion (No. 1)

letterDear Frederick:[1]

Well, it’s Christmas – that time of the year when the Enemy’s Forces celebrate the Cursed One’s birth. Because you’re new at this game, I felt it was high time I send you some tips to help you along. I know, from the texts we exchanged this past week, that you think this is a terrible time of year for us; a time for us to retreat to a corner, lick our wounds, and wait for the storm to pass.

You couldn’t be more wrong!

Take heart; Our Father Below knows this is actually one of the best times of year for our work. You see, Frederick, we know much more about Christmas than the Enemy’s Forces do. We were there, you know, in the beginning. They weren’t, and this is their greatest weakness. All this business about incarnation is abstract to them; weird and impersonal. They can’t conceive of it. And, even if some can, it’s still theoretical and conceptual to so many more. Don’t underestimate this advantage.

You’re young, Frederick – but that’s why I’m here. Christmas isn’t a time of despair for our cause; it’s a time of great opportunity. Our Father Below knows this! So, here’s what you should do with your subject:

Forget about the Cursed One

Keep him focused on the presents and the food. Above all, don’t allow him to dwell on the Cursed One for any length of time.

Don’t worry so much about the Enemy’s Pastors; so many of them are in the bag that we don’t really have to worry about them. They’ll drone on about fluffy nonsense this morning, and barely mention the Good News (which, really, is Bad News for us).

Encourage this.

If the thought of reverent worship to the Cursed One even flits across his mind, crush it, smother it and suppress it. This isn’t hard; think of the books, games, movies and trinkets he’s received today. Let him think church can wait. Let the kids whine about wanting to play. Let the wife fuss about prepping dinner.

Do anything you can to keep his mind off the Cursed One, and on the material things. Our Father Below has worked very hard to subvert this “holiday” with stuff. Use it, Frederick – it’s one of your best weapons. If he falters this year, and pushes the Cursed One to the sidelines, you can be sure he’ll do it again next year. And then, my young apprentice, we’ll have his heart forever.

The cold “religion” his parents taught him will be pushed aside; it’ll be something remote, aloof and distant. That’s what we want.

Let him doubt the Cursed One

Every year, Our Father Below makes sure to plant salacious, ridiculous and idiotic stories in the press to distract the Enemy’s Forces. We must do everything we can to undermine any confidence your subject has in the truth of the Scriptures. Doubt and skepticism are the order of the day.

It could be a story about how Jesus was really married. Or, the one about the “secret gospel,” that the church has “kept hidden” for years. Even better, you could use one that says the Cursed One’s birth is actually a myth, copied from ancient pagan sources.

Of course, it’s all nonsense – the Cursed One is just as alive and eternal as the Enemy Himself. In fact, He is the Enemy Himself! We know that, even if so many of the Enemy’s Forces don’t.

The point, dear Frederick, is doubt. Let that worm of doubt creep into his mind. Let it hibernate, like a ticking time bomb. When the time is right, you can use it to your advantage. It’s a Trojan horse. The best kind of Trojan horse!

But, whatever you do, don’t let him come into contact with Enemy Forces who can actually answer these objections. Keep him away from those people; especially from the leaders in his church.

No, let him surf FaceBook, YouTube or Twitter for answers. He won’t find any, of course, but that’s the point. Let this doubt, like a poisonous seed, germinate. Idiots on FaceBook will plant it, Twitter will water it, and Our Father Below will give the increase.

Let them believe in another “Christ”

This one, Frederick, might be the easiest thing of all to do. The Enemy is very specific on who His Son is. And, Our Father Below is just as generic as the Enemy is specific. Some Enemy Leaders are keen on doctrine, on right belief, and on knowing who the Cursed One actually is.

Keep your charge away from these men. They’re infinitely dangerous.

Let him believe lies about the Messiah. Let them believe he came into existence when He was born in Bethlehem. Let them believe He’s really an angel. Let them think He didn’t really die at all. Let them think He and the Father are actually exactly the same, that there isn’t any distinction between Divine Persons. Do everything you can to confuse matters.

If we can make him believe in a false “Christ,” then our work is basically done.

Let him think doctrine is cold, boring and a waste of time. Direct his energies to those FaceBook groups, YouTube comment boxes or Twitter threads. Do anything to keep him away from what the Enemy’s Forces call “right doctrine.”

Farewell, for now

I have so much more to tell you, Frederick. You have so much to learn! But don’t worry – I’ve given you more than enough to get you started. Employ these methods, and see if they don’t have an immediate impact. The goal is to drive the Cursed One away from his mind; to keep Him abstract, aloof and remote from real life. Keep Him “in church,” and not out in the real world.

Times like these are our greatest opportunities, Frederick. You’ve taken your first steps into a larger world. Our Father Below greets you, and wishes you well. May the Enemy be defeated, and the Cursed One be blasphemed.

Your dearest uncle,

Legion

Notes

[1] Some readers will recognize this letter is inspired by C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece The Screwtape Letters, which is a fictional set of letters between a high-ranking demon (Screwtape) and his young nephew, Wormwood. In these letters, Screwtape offers young Wormwood some practical advice about how to ruin the life of an ordinary young man who has recently become a Christian.

Lewis was a Christian, and this work functions as sort of a mirror into one’s own soul. It’s one of the most brilliant pieces of literature written, I believe. I can’t hope to match Lewis’ style and content, but I can at least give it a shot.

Obergefell v. Hodges – An Analysis of the “Gay Marriage” Supreme Court Decision

courtOn Friday, June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a landmark ruling about same-sex marriage. Here is what it determined:

The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.[1]

What does the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution state? Here is Section 1, which is the portion relevant to this discussion:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.[2]

What exactly did this Supreme Court decision determine? What were the legal arguments both for and against the point at issue? This article will introduce these issues and present the legal arguments, from both sides, strictly from the court decision itself.

What was this case about?

This case was an amalgamation of several individual cases from Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee – all States which define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The petitioners were 14 same-sex couples and two men whose same-sex partners are deceased. The respondents were officials from the States in question. The petitioners claim the respondents (i.e. the respective States) violated the 14th Amendment by denying them the right to marry or by not recognizing their same-sex marriages which had been lawfully performed in another State.[3]

The petitioners argued they were being denied the right to “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” and that they were being denied the “equal protection of the laws,” specifically with regard to the legal benefits traditional married couples enjoyed.

What questions did the court rule on?

Each District Court in each State denied the petitioner’s claims, and dismissed the cases. Each petitioner then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which promptly reversed the District Courts and consolidated all the cases together. The individual States appealed this decision, and the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments related to two critical questions. These questions are what the Supreme Court decided, and they are:[4]

  1. Does the 14th Amendment require a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?
  2. Does the 14th Amendment require a State to recognize a same-sex marriage licensed and performed in a State which does grant that right?

The Supreme Court answered “Yes!” to both questions – a moral evolution so profound that President Obama remarked that it was “justice that arrive[d] like a thunderbolt!”[5] Each State in this country is now (1) required to license same-sex marriages, and (2) required to recognize same-sex marriages from other States.

The court on traditional marriage

There is a worldview issue here which cannot be ignored. Is there an objective definition of marriage to turn to, or are we left with social mores? The Christian turns to God’s revealed word. The secularist turns to the shifting winds of culture. In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy revealed he has no concrete definition of marriage.[6] He acknowledges that supporters of traditional marriage will be horrified at the Court’s decision, but assures us that the respondents do not seek to demean the institution at all – indeed, they seek to honor it:

To the contrary, it is the enduring importance of marriage that underlies the petitioners’ contentions. This, they say, is their whole point. Far from seeking to devalue marriage, the petitioners seek it for themselves because of their respect—and need—for its privileges and responsibilities. And their immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is their only real path to this profound commitment.[7]

Kennedy went on to state that “new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations.”[8] It is obvious Kennedy views the widespread secular acceptance of same-sex marriage with satisfaction, a righteous reversal from a bygone era when homosexuals were not allowed to have “dignity in their own distinct identity” and “a truthful declaration by same-sex couples of what was in their hearts had to remain unspoken.”[9]

In his dissent, Chief Justice Roberts cut right to the heart of the matter; “The real question in these cases is what constitutes ‘marriage,’ or—more precisely—who decides what constitutes ‘marriage’”?[10] Roberts believed that it is certainly “no historical coincidence”[11] that human society, across millennia and across cultures, has always recognized marriage as being a union between one man and one woman. He appears genuinely befuddled by this moral revolution, observing “the premises supporting [the traditional] concept of marriage are so fundamental that they rarely require articulation.”[12] He tied marriage to procreation, and observed that it is a basic fact that:

  1. humans must procreate to survive,
  2. this procreation occurs when a male and female have sexual intercourse,
  3. children’s prospects are immeasurably strengthened when the parents form a lasting bond, and
  4. society has recognized that bond as “marriage.”[13]

Individual states, Roberts reminded us, always defined marriage in the traditional, biological way until about a dozen years ago.[14] He fired back at Kennedy’s statement that marriage is an institution of both “continuity and change” by observing that not one Court decision related to marriage in this country’s history has ever redefined the “core meaning” of the institution itself – until now.[15]

The court on its role in society

Is it the Supreme Court’s role to interpret the law as it currently is, or to determine what it ought to be? This was the basic question Chief Justice Roberts asked,[16] and it is really the crux of the matter between the two parties on the Court. What is the role of the Court? The democratic process has been thwarted, he warns: “Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law.”[17] He believes the Court is confused about its role, and sees no legal grounds for the majority decision. The Court is not a legislative body which enacts policy.[18]

Roberts believes the Court dangerously overreached on this decision, and most of his ire is directed at this point. Indeed, his entire dissent is not about the validity of same-sex marriage per se; it is about what he believes is a very dangerous overreach of authority by the Court:

Understand well what this dissent is about: It is not about whether, in my judgment, the institution of marriage should be changed to include same-sex couples. It is instead about whether, in our democratic republic, that decision should rest with the people acting through their elected representatives, or with five lawyers who happen to hold commissions authorizing them to resolve legal disputes according to law. The Constitution leaves no doubt about the answer.[19]

The Court’s rationale for this “overreach” is chilling. Justice Kennedy acknowledged that “democracy is the appropriate process for change.”[20] However, “when the rights of persons are violated, ‘the Constitution requires redress by the courts,’ notwithstanding the more general value of democratic decision-making.”[21] It is the Court’s job, Kennedy believes, to take the fundamental issue of human dignity and rights out of the capricious hands of legislatures, elected officials and majorities, away from the “vicissitudes of political controversy” and establish them as legal precedent.[22] In effect, Kennedy believes in an activist Court. Apparently, so does the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court.

This decision makes it clear the Court is deeply divided not only over issues of morality, but over its basic role in American society.

Roberts’ arguments are both laudable and depressing. They’re laudable in the sense that he points out the absurdity of this wholesale re-definition of a sacred institution:

[T]he Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?[23]

Yet, Roberts’ dissent is also depressing because it betrays the bankruptcy of secular morality, even “traditional” morality. His entire argument is from history, from the “way things have always been.” He has no positive argument to make beyond the issue of procreation. Like Kennedy, Roberts has no objective standard to turn to. Socially-constructed mores function by inertia; they may endure for a long time, but when the brakes are removed nothing can stop it from moving. It may teeter and wobble a bit in its original position for a time, but it will topple sooner or later.

In this country, the God-given definition of marriage has toppled, and conservatives like Roberts who have no objective foundation for morality are left befuddled, frustrated and speechless. Ultimately, Roberts has no answers. All he has is a secular, allegedly “outdated” cultural construct of morality that America in 2015 has left behind.

The court’s legal justification for this ruling

The Court justified its ruling requiring States to both license and recognize same-sex unions on four pillars. They are:[24]

  1. individual autonomy
  2. a two-person union is important to individuals
  3. it safeguards children and families
  4. it safeguards social order

These arguments, and the dissenting opinion, are analyzed below.

Pillar #1 – individual autonomy and liberty

Justice Kennedy’s argument on this point is remarkable because it is not a legal argument at all; he simply made blanket statements as though they were brute facts. “The right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy.”[25] His entire argument here, which quite literally consists of three short paragraphs, is that people must be allowed to do what makes them happy. He makes it a point to use the word “freedom,” possibly to establish a subtle link to the concept of “liberty” from the text of the 14th Amendment:

The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation.[26]

The question is – who gets to determine whether a given construct of “happiness” is socially acceptable? Kennedy anticipates this objection and has no answer. He merely states, “There is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices.”[27] The Court has decreed that homosexual relationships are dignified, therefore they are. Kennedy does not explain why this is a dignified pursuit and provides no legal rationale for supposing it is one. As Chief Justice Roberts observed, the Court’s decision is a more of a policy statement than a legal document.

Roberts tore into this “freewheeling notion of individual autonomy.”[28] The Court’s position on this is smoke and mirrors, a rhetorical gloss with no legal substance. The Court’s decision is nothing more than a statement of moral philosophy, a naked quest for policy preferences. He marveled that “nobody could rightly accuse the majority of taking a careful approach.”[29]

The truth is that today’s decision rests on nothing more than the majority’s own conviction that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry because they want to.[30]

Roberts’ issue is that no legal argument was actually presented for the redefinition of marriage. No “right to marry” case ever heard before the Court, whether it concerned inter-racial couples, individuals with child-support debts, or incarcerated prisoners,[31] has ever re-defined the institution itself. Every “right to marry” case presupposed the traditional definition of marriage. To Roberts, this is the death blow to the Court’s majority opinion. “None of the laws at issue in those cases purported to change the core definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”[32]

Thus, there is simply no legal precedent for the sweeping claim to personal autonomy championed by the Court. The personal accounts of the homosexual petitioners were “compelling,” Roberts admitted. “As a matter of constitutional law, however, the sincerity of petitioners’ wishes is not relevant.”[33] There is simply no legal basis for a constitutional right to redefine the entire institution of marriage in the name of individual autonomy. “None exists, and that is enough to foreclose their claim.”[34]

 Pillar #2 – a two-person union is “important” to people

Kennedy continues his quest for individual autonomy; “this Court’s jurisprudence is that the right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals.”[35] In essence, Kennedy’s argument here is as follows:

  1. Homosexual marriage is important to the petitioners,
  2. to deny what is important to the petitioners infringes upon liberty and autonomy,
  3. to infringe upon personal liberty and autonomy violates the “due-process” clause of the 14th Amendment,
  4. therefore homosexual marriage must be sanctioned

Couples wish to define themselves by their commitment to each other, and homosexual couples are entitled to the “right to marry” because this is how they define reality.

Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there. It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.[36]

It is not enough to merely de-criminalize homosexual acts, as the Court did in the case of Lawrence v. Texas; Kennedy believes homosexual couples are entitled to the “full promise of liberty.”[37] That full promise means legally sanctioned marriage, because it’s what makes them happy.

Pillar #3 – it safeguards children and families

This is the pillar which will probably surprise Christians. What basis does the Court have to rule that legalizing same-sex marriages actually safeguards children and families? Kennedy offers a handful of reasons:

  1. By granting official recognition and legal standing to homosexual parents, their children can now “understand the integrity and closeness” of their family.[38]
  2. This recognition offers “permanency and stability important to children’s best interests.”[39]
  3. If their homosexual “parents” are not allowed to marry, “their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser.”[40]
  4. Likewise, such children will suffer “significant material costs” because of a “difficult and uncertain family life.”[41]

Kennedy hangs his hat on a quote from Zablocki v. Redhail , which stated, “[T]he right to ‘marry, establish a home and bring up children’ is a central part of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause.”[42] Kennedy chose a particularly flimsy hook to hang his judicial hat on. Here is the argument:[43]

  1. Homosexual couples exist
  2. They already establish homes
  3. They already adopt and raise children
  4. Because the right to marry, establish a home, and bring up children have each been considered as a “unified whole,”[44] the Court therefore has precedent to extend the “right to marry” to homosexual couples.

This weak and vacuous argument goes far beyond special pleading. Kennedy betrays a pitiful willingness to grasp at any straw, any legal precedent – not matter how tenuous the link is. The Court actually advanced the argument that (1) because homosexual couples already establish homes, and (2) already adopt and raise children, that (3) they should be granted the “right to marry” because these three privileges have been interpreted as being part of a “unified whole” in previous “right to marry” court decisions! The Court missed Roberts’ entire point – no “right to marry” case has ever sought to re-define the institution itself!

Again, the reader is left with the impression that this is not a legal document; it is a poor man’s attempt at moral philosophy. In that light, Roberts’ warnings about judicial overreach are particularly relevant:

Stripped of its shiny rhetorical gloss, the majority’s argument is that the Due Process Clause gives same-sex couples a fundamental right to marry because it will be good for them and for society. If I were a legislator, I would certainly consider that view as a matter of social policy. But as a judge, I find the majority’s position indefensible as a matter of constitutional law.[45]

Pillar #4 – marriage maintains social order

If a society does not pledge to both protect and support married couples, then a critical “building block of our national community”[46] is threatened. If American society withholds formal legal status from same-sex couples, they are “denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage.”[47] Basically, society harms homosexual couples by withholding that right from them. By harming them, society thereby damages itself.

Same-sex couples are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would deem intolerable in their own lives. As the State itself makes marriage all the more precious by the significance it attaches to it, exclusion from that status has the effect of teaching that gays and lesbians are unequal in important respects. It demeans gays and lesbians for the State to lock them out of a central institution of the Nation’s society. Same-sex couples, too, may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage and seek fulfillment in its highest meaning.[48]

The Court is well aware of Roberts’ objection – no previous “right to marry” case ever sought to re-define the meaning of the institution itself. That, Kennedy argued, is missing the point. The question is not, “Do they have the right to marry?” The question is, “Why don’t they have the right to marry?”[49] This brings us full circle to the historical argument for traditional marriage, which Kennedy brushes aside with breath-taking arrogance. Definitions change, society changes, and “rights come not from ancient sources alone. They rise, too, from a better informed understanding of how constitutional imperatives define a liberty that remains urgent in our own era.”[50]

In the end, Kennedy is a good secularist who believes that morality is a shifting target. He personally feels homosexual couples are being denied a fundamental right and “it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.”[51] On that note, Chief Justice Roberts warns us, “allowing unelected federal judges to select which un enumerated rights rank as ‘fundamental’—and to strike down state laws on the basis of that determination—raises obvious concerns about the judicial role.”[52]

These four pillars are the sum of the Court’s legal opinion. Kennedy summarized as follows:

It is now clear that the challenged laws burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and it must be further acknowledged that they abridge central precepts of equality . . . The imposition of this disability on gays and lesbians serves to disrespect and subordinate them. And the Equal Protection Clause, like the Due Process Clause, prohibits this unjustified infringement of the fundamental right to marry.[53]

Conclusion – moral revolution?

The Court’s decision on 26JUN15 has only raised more questions.

An activist court

There is no doubt that the Court has bought into a purely secular view of morality, which fueled its activist stance in this case. The Court acted out of what it perceived to be a moral duty, one that could not afford to wait for the democratic process. Chief Justice Roberts was horrified at the Court’s activist stance in this case, especially the cavalier way it simply brushed aside the definition of marriage a millennia in the making. While Kennedy points to referenda, legislative debates, grassroots campaigns, studies, papers, books, and “more than 100 amici[54] as proof that this issue has been debated long enough, Roberts couldn’t disagree more about the Court’s “extravagant conception of judicial supremacy.”[55]

The fact is that five lawyers on the Court personally believed that homosexual marriage is a fundamental right, and ruled accordingly. It was their duty to rule the way they did – justice demanded it. “Of course, the Constitution contemplates that democracy is the appropriate process for change, so long as that process does not abridge fundamental rights.”[56]

What other activist decision can the American people expect, on the basis of some perceived “moral imperative” from a few lawyers in Washington D.C.? As Roberts observed, “there is indeed a process due the people on issues of this sort—the democratic process.”[57]

The legal “slippery slope”

Many observers have warned about the “slippery-slope” the Court’s decision has opened up. What about plural marriages? What about polyamory? The Court has slipped badly here, jettisoning all vestiges of tradition and history, “preferring to live only in the heady days of the here and now.”[58] Chief Justice Roberts recognized this, and warned:

If the majority is willing to take the big leap, it is hard to see how it can say no to the shorter one . . . It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage.[59]

The petitioner’s counsel betrayed his own moral bankruptcy when he was asked, during oral arguments, whether his position opened the door to plural marriages. Counsel dismissed the idea out of hand by stating that no State had such an institution. Roberts then observed that this was precisely his point – no State at issue in this case had an institution of same sex marriage either, and yet the Petitioner was arguing to force them to adopt one![60]

Tax-exempt status for churches and para-church organizations

Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.”[61] This is quite true, and it is rather horrifying to see how little thought or care the Solicitor General had given to this potential landmine at the time of oral arguments. I will let the following exchange from the oral arguments speak for itself:[62]

JUSTICE ALITO: “Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled tax-exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating.  So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same­sex marriage?”

GENERAL VERRILLI: “You know, I ­­ I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I ­­… I don’t deny that.  I don’t deny that, Justice Alito.  It is … ­ it is going to be an issue.”

Going forward, the Court’s ruling has created an atmosphere of immense uncertainty among Bible-believing Christians in the United States. It will take the next several years, and likely decades, to appreciate the full impact of this decision. It also brings to mind the old arguments over what the local church’s role is in political life. Is it legitimate to attempt to “impose” Christian values on a secular state? Should Christians continue to try to have a voice in the political arena, or should local churches simply preach the Bible, keep their heads down and “mind their own business”?

None of these questions are new, but the Court’s decision has given them a new impetus. All these questions will be debated now, and for years to come because of this decision.

Notes

[1] “Syllabus,” in Obergefell et al v. Hodges. Supreme Court of the United States. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/urIhon. 26JUN15. Pg. 1.

[2] “Constitution of the United States – Amendments 11-27,” from archives.gov. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/BST2fT. 27JUN15.

[3] “Opinion of the Court,” in Obergefell et al v. Hodges, 2.

[4] “Opinion of the Court,” 2-3.

[5] The White House, “Remarks by the President on the Supreme Court Decision on Marriage Equality.” Retrieved from https://goo.gl/K6CDO0. 27JUN15.

[6] “The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. That institution—even as confined to opposite-sex relations—has evolved over time,” (“Opinion of the Court,” 6).

[7] “Opinion of the Court,” 4.

[8] “Opinion of the Court,” 7.

[9] “Opinion of the Court,” 7.

[10] “Dissenting Opinion,” in Obergefell et al v. Hodges, 4.

[11] “Dissenting Opinion,” 4.

[12] “Dissenting Opinion,” 5.

[13] “Dissenting Opinion,” 5.

[14] “Dissenting Opinion,” 6.

[15] “Dissenting Opinion,” 8.

[16] “But this Court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be,” (“Dissenting Opinion,” 2).

[17] “Dissenting Opinion,” 2.

[18] “Although the policy arguments for extending marriage to same-sex couples may be compelling, the legal arguments for requiring such an extension are not,” (“Dissenting Opinion,” 2).

[19] “Dissenting Opinion,” 3.

[20] “Opinion of the Court,” 24.

[21] “Opinion of the Court,” 24.

[22]  “The Nation’s courts are open to injured individuals who come to them to vindicate their own direct, personal stake in our basic charter. An individual can invoke a right to constitutional protection when he or she is harmed, even if the broader public disagrees and even if the legislature refuses to act,” (“Opinion of the Court,” 24).

[23] “Dissenting Opinion,” 3.

[24] “Opinion of the Court,” 12-17.

[25] “Opinion of the Court,” 12.

[26] “Opinion of the Court,” 13.

[27] “Opinion of the Court,” 13.

[28] “Dissenting Opinion,” 19.

[29] “Dissenting Opinion,” 19.

[30] “Dissenting Opinion,” 19.

[31] These cases are, respectively, Loving v. Virginia, Zablocki v. Redhail and Turner v. Safley.

[32] “Dissenting Opinion,” 16.

[33] “Dissenting Opinion,” 15.

[34] “Dissenting Opinion,” 17.

[35] “Opinion of the Court,” 13.

[36] “Opinion of the Court,” 14.

[37] “Opinion of the Court,” 14.

[38] “Opinion of the Court,” 15.

[39] “Opinion of the Court,” 15.

[40] “Opinion of the Court,” 15.

[41] “Opinion of the Court,” 15.

[42] “Opinion of the Court,” 14.

[43] It’s worth noting that Kennedy’s legal argument is so vague and badly written that he never actually defends it. He simply states it in an off-hand way in one single sentence before waxing eloquent about the harm being done to children of same-sex couples. His entire legal argument for this pillar is here: “A third basis for protecting the right to marry is that it safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education. See Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U. S. 510 (1925); Meyer, 262 U. S., at 399. The Court has recognized these connections by describing the varied rights as a unified whole: “[T]he right to ‘marry, establish a home and bring up children’ is a central part of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause,” (“Opinion of the Court, 14).

[44] “Opinion of the Court,” 14.

[45] “Dissenting Opinion,” 10.

[46] “Opinion of the Court,” 16. “For that reason, just as a couple vows to support each other, so does society pledge to support the couple, offering symbolic recognition and material benefits to protect and nourish the union.”

[47] “Opinion of the Court,” 17.

[48] “Opinion of the Court,” 17.

[49] “Rather, each case inquired about the right to marry in its comprehensive sense, asking if there was a sufficient justification for excluding the relevant class from the right,” (“Opinion of the Court,” 18).

[50] “Opinion of the Court,” 18-19.

[51] “Opinion of the Court,” 19.

[52] “Dissenting Opinion,” 11.

[53] “Opinion of the Court,” 27.

[54] “Opinion of the Court,” 23.

[55] “Dissenting Opinion,” 25.

[56] “Opinion of the Court,” 24.

[57] “Dissenting Opinion, 22.

[58] “Dissenting Opinion,” 22.

[59] “Dissenting Opinion,” 20.

[60] “Dissenting Opinion,” 21.

[61] “Dissenting Opinion,” 28.

[62] Oral Transcript of 14-556, Question #1, pg. 38. Supreme Court of the United States. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/PPtV1U. 27JUN15.

Sinking Sand – Living in a World Without Objective Morality

flowerThe Western world is in a curious position. In centuries past, countries in the West generally relied on a set of shared Judeo-Christian moral values to underpin criminal laws, and enforce public decency and freedom of conscience. You see, everybody has a moral foundation, whether we admit it or not.

Why is it bad to kill somebody, beat up old ladies, or listen to Brittany Spears? Why does virtually every society, in any corner of the world, agree on these three issues (and more)? Does it have something to do with evolution? Are these just generally agreed-upon values, with no objective moral weight? Is there no concrete standard to appeal to?

The law written on our hearts

Christians have always believed men and women are made in the image of God. Among other things, this means God designed, created and fashioned us to be in relationship with Him. This means we’re hard-wired with an innate sense of right and wrong. To be sure, as a result of Adam and Eve’s willful rebellion, we’ve all been ruined by sin, and this isn’t the perfect world God created way back when, in the beginning. But, we all have some residual glimmerings which betray our true Creator, Maker and Sustainer.

This law, which the Bible tells us has been written on our hearts (Romans 2:15), tells each one of us what is right and wrong. This is why everybody knows it’s wrong to cheat on your wife, molest little children, or “like” Michael Bolton on your Pandora app.

The problem

So, who cares? Well, in our new “enlightened” age, it’s not “appropriate” to acknowledge our debt to this God-given law. We must pretend it doesn’t exist because, as you know, God and His law have no rightful place in the global public square anymore.

How do courts make laws, when they don’t have an objective moral standard to appeal to, any longer? How do legislatures legislate, when they can’t appeal to any concrete foundation as the basis for the moral principles which undergird laws? Without an objective standard, all you’re left with are the shifting winds of cultural subjectivism. And we how that turns out …

In short, Western society is like a cut flower. We’ve cut ourselves off from the only real moral standard and benchmark there is, and we have no meaningful ability to legislate or interpret laws in a sane matter any longer. We saw this in the recent U.S. Supreme Court case involving homosexual marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges. And, as I’ll discuss later this week, we’ll likely see in another case before the Supreme Court; Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

Os Guinness, in his book The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity, made some profound remarks along this line:

The willful neglect of this foundational freedom is a serious problem, and unless it is addressed, it will prove consequential to the future of free and open societies. But it has been compounded by an even deeper problem. The Western world, which has been the pioneer and champion of the human rights revolution, is experiencing a grand moral and philosophical confusion over how human rights are to be grounded and justified at all.

At first glance it would seem that human rights need no grounding. Cited on all sides and on a thousand occasions, they are today’s self-evident truths to many people—as obvious and logical as two plus two makes four, as powerful as belief in God in the great ages of faith, and the instinctive resort of all who face injustice or feel hard done by. Indeed, the human rights revolution has become for many a religion in itself. But that blind belief is naive.

Human rights can no more be taken for granted today than belief in God in a senior common room in a modern university. Take the three core notions that many modern people still consider self-evident and unassailable: human dignity, liberty and equality. Along with a whole range of beliefs in the modern world, there is confusion as to how they are to be understood and a yawning chasm as to how they are to be grounded.

Originally pioneered in the West and grounded in Jewish and Christian beliefs, human dignity, liberty and equality are now often left hanging without agreement over their definition and their foundation. There is a cold logic to the present quandary. If the original Jewish and Christian foundations of human dignity, liberty and equality are to be rejected, the ideas themselves need to be transposed to a new key or eventually they will wither. The Western world now stands as a cut-flower civilization, and such once-vital convictions have a seriously shortened life (pg. 65).

Indeed. 

The Two Ways to Live

forkA few days ago, I shared some … unique allegorical insights from an early 2nd century Christian work, entitled The Epistle of Barnabas. Today, I wanted to share something positive and uplifting from that old letter. In the decades immediately following the death of the apostles, it was apparently common to frame the issue of salvation and allegiance to Christ as “the two ways to live.”

One very early Christian text, which may have been in circulation before the Apostle John even wrote the Book of Revelation, discusses these “two ways,” and remarks, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways,” (Didache 1.1). In The Epistle of Barnabas, the author went into great detail and contrasted the way of salvation and the way of continued rebellion and allegiance to Satan. It’s excellent stuff, and it’ll still preach today …

The way of light

Here is what the letter reads (Barnabas 19). The author describes what a faithful, believing life in submission and allegiance to Christ as Lord actually looks like:

Therefore, the way of light is this: if anyone desires to travel along the way to the appointed place, let him be diligent in his works. Therefore the knowledge which was given to us to walk in it is as follows.

You shall love the one who made you, fear the one who created you, and glorify the one who redeemed you from death. You shall be sincere in heart and rich in spirit. You shall not be joined with those who walk in the way of death. You shall hate everyone who is not pleasing to God. You shall hate all hypocrisy. You shall never forsake the commandments of the Lord.

You shall not exalt yourself, but shall be humble in all things. You shall not take glory upon yourself. You shall not plot an evil plan against your neighbor. You shall not permit arrogance in your soul.

You shall not commit sexual immorality, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not corrupt children. The word of God shall not go out from you with anyone impure. You shall not show favoritism. when correcting someone concerning sin. You shall be gentle. You shall be quiet. You shall tremble at the words which you have heard. You shall not bear a grudge against your brother.

Do not be double minded, whether it will happen or not. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain. You shall love your neighbor more than your own life. You shall not murder a child by abortion, and again, you shall not kill the just-born one. Do not withhold your hand from your son or from your daughter, but you shall teach them from youth the fear of God.

You shall not yearn after the things of your neighbor. You shall not be greedy, you shall not be joined by your soul with the haughty, but be associated with the humble and righteous. The activity that happens to you accept it as good, knowing that nothing takes place without God.

You will be neither double-minded nor glib of tongue. You will be subject to your master as a copy of God, in modesty and fear. Do not command your male slave or female slave in bitterness, who are hoping in the same God, lest they cease to fear the God over you both, because he does not come to call with partiality, but to whom the Spirit prepares.

You shall share in all things with your neighbor and you shall not say it is your own. For if you are sharers in the incorruptible, how much more in the corruptible? You shall not be quick to speak, for the mouth is a snare of death. To the degree that you are able, you shall be pure for the sake of your soul.

Do not reach out your hand first to receive, only to pull back from giving. You shall love as the apple of your eye everyone who speaks the word of the Lord to you. You shall remember the day of judgment night and day, and you shall seek out every day the presence of the saints, either by laboring in word and going out to encourage and striving to save a soul by the word, or with your hands doing work as a ransom for your sins.

You shall not hesitate to give nor grumble while giving, but you will come to know who is the good paymaster of the reward. You shall guard what you have received, neither adding to nor taking away from. You shall utterly detest the evil one. You shall judge justly.

You shall not cause division, but make peace by bringing together those who fight. You shall make confession for your sins. You shall not come to prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of light.

The way of darkness

But, what about the other path? The letter continues (Barnabas 20):

But the way of the Black One is crooked and filled with cursing, for it is the way of eternal death with punishment, in which are the things which destroy their soul: idolatry, arrogance, arrogance in an influential position, hypocrisy, acts of duplicity, adultery, murder, robbery, pride, transgression, deceit, malice, stubbornness, use of potions, magic, greediness, lack of fear of God; persecutors of the good, hating the truth, loving the lie, not knowing the reward of righteousness, not joining the good, not judging righteously, not being concerned about the widow and orphan, not caring in the fear of God but for what is evil, from whom gentleness and endurance are inseparably removed, loving what is worthless, pursuing reward, not having mercy on the poor, not toiling for the downtrodden, prone to slander, not knowing the one who made them, murderers of children, corrupters of the creatures of God, rejectors of the needy ones, oppressors of the afflicted, defenders of the rich, lawless judges of the poor, people steeped in sin.

This is good stuff. It’s still convicting today. Some things never change.

Notes

Both excerpts were quoted from The Apostolic Fathers in English, translated Rick Brannan (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012).

 

God Loves Frauds, Too …

starHere, in Micah 5:2-4, the prophet gave us probably the best-known passage in his book, and one of the most precious promises of the coming Christ. It’s a beautiful prophesy, and full of hope. Many Christians quote it this time of year, but fewer consider the real context of this prophesy.

If you picture God sitting before a crackling fire, passing around hot apple cider and chocolate truffles, telling the Israelites the wonderful story of the Coming King with a twinkle in his eye, tears of tender love flowing down His cheeks and a warm, fuzzy feeling in his heart … then you’re wrong!

In reality, God is promising all this to them even though (by and large) they’re complete religious hypocrites who hate God and hate His law. Let me say this plainly, because it’s the same message God sent Micah to preach to these Israelites, and it’s the same context in which he preached this prophesy of the Messiah:

If you don’t repent and believe, then this prophesy of the King from Bethlehem isn’t Good News for you – it’s bad news. Listen below for more. The sermon notes are here.