The Kingdom of God Excites Me Every Day

kingdom of god parable

“The Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat,” oil painting by Scott Freeman

When I was a college student, I heard a teaching series at my church on the kingdom of God that changed my life. Somehow, even though I had grown up in a Bible-believing church and considered myself a lifelong student of the Bible, the topic had mostly escaped my notice. Even though Jesus spoke on this topic more than any other. Decades have passed since then and I would say that the topic of the kingdom of God continues to consume my attention and define my life, informing everything I do.

But it’s not quite accurate to say the “topic” consumes me, because the kingdom of God is much more than a mere topic of discussion. I would say it’s a reality in which we as Spirit-born believers live. In a nutshell, one could say the kingdom of God refers to the “reign of God” on earth. In practice, God has designed His kingdom so that citizens live in voluntary, relational unity with Him, living life led by His Spirit.

The Hebrew prophets spoke of this coming eternal kingdom with anticipation, but when the Messiah arrived, his implementation of the kingdom perplexed everyone. It was not until after His resurrection from death and a great deal of patient explanation that His followers understood how the kingdom had entered the world. The new covenant scriptures repeatedly refer to the mysteries of the kingdom as things that were formerly “hidden” but have now been made known to us.

We who are alive today have the remarkable opportunity to live out God’s plan for us in a way that old covenant prophets and kings longed for but could only dream about. Aspects of living life in the kingdom of God, right now, include: a new covenant with our Creator; new birth with a new access to God through Jesus; a new indwelling of the Spirit of God for everyone in the kingdom; a new relationship as sons and daughters as co-heirs with Jesus; a new relationship with Jesus as friends rather than slaves; a new life in the Spirit that fulfills and transcends a written code; and a new hope of resurrection and the ultimate fulfillment and completion of all that God has imagined for His creation.

Aspects of of life in the kingdom of God in the future include the ultimate uniting of all things, in heaven and earth, under the authority of Jesus (Eph 1:9,10.)

Several years ago I painted the above painting for my church’s foyer as an expression of the kingdom. I like the image of the sower because it is an image that Jesus chose to describe Himself in this particular kingdom parable. It says a great deal about how the kingdom has come, and how it continues to expand over the earth. Below is my description from the plaque that accompanies the painting. I hope it excites you as it does me! :

mysteries of the kingdom of GodThe kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the householder came and said to him, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?” He said to them, “An enemy has done this.” The servants said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he said, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned; but gather the wheat into my barn.’    Matthew 13:24-30

During the time of Jesus, Israel’s expectation was that the long-awaited kingdom of God would come as an unmistakable, apocalyptic event. God’s promised messiah would appear, judging and doing away with every source of evil and suffering, and ushering in an eternal kingdom of peace.

Upon His arrival, however, the Messiah inaugurated a different kind of kingdom – a kingdom unlike the kingdoms of this world, but also different from what the Jewish people were expecting.

In the parable of the weeds among the wheat, Jesus identified the sower as Himself. At the establishment of His kingdom the Messiah came not as a warrior, but like one planting seed. His is first and foremost a revolution of love, light, Spirit, and grace rather than one of military might.

In explaining the parable, Jesus identified the good seed as “the sons of the kingdom.” The good seed is sown in the midst this present, corrupt age, growing up right alongside “the sons of the evil one” – bearing fruit over time for the King. Contrary to the expectations of His time, the King Himself withholds judgment until the end of this age, rather than bringing all things to completion at His first appearing (v 36-40.)

But the harvest time is coming. At that time “all causes of sin and all evildoers” will be destroyed, but “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (v 41-43.)

We, the Church, are the good seed – God’s manifestation of His kingdom in this present, evil age – in the world, but not of it. Though in many corners of the world His followers suffer greatly, still the good news of His kingdom goes out. The revolution continues…”And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14.)

 

My children’s storybook, The True Story of Christmas, presents a basic telling of the biblical narrative that kids can understand.

Advertisements

Jesus vs Santa Claus

the reason for the season

I’ve hesitated to write about the Jesus vs Santa topic because it can be a surprisingly divisive topic in church and family cultures. However, the holiday season is upon us and I think it’s interesting and even helpful to hear differing perspectives on how parents handle the issue. I would love to hear your perspective as well.

Here’s mine.

The church cultures in which Mollie and I raised our kids have been theologically conservative, highly biblically literate, and conducive to sincere devotion in following Jesus. I got the impression over the years that our family held the minority position in those churches in that we openly practiced the Santa tradition.

For some no-Santa Christians, the idea of Christians practicing the Santa tradition can seem incomprehensible. I don’t care to sway anyone to my position, but for what it’s worth I thought I would share my reasons why my wife and I chose to follow this secular holiday tradition. Our reasons may surprise you, because they ultimately have to do with Jesus.

Following are my responses to the most common reasons I’ve heard for not observing the Santa tradition:

1) We want Jesus to be the focus of Christmas in our family
Indeed. Of course we wanted this for our family as well. However, it’s not an either/or issue. I know this because I was raised in a Christian home that kept the Santa tradition, yet I and all of my sibs love Jesus today, and none of us believes in Santa Claus anymore. I can remember as a kid that, even though my imagination excited me about Saint Nick, my parents also taught us that the real reason for Christmas was the birth of Jesus. I believed them, and it made perfect sense to me.

I definitely got the idea that Jesus and Santa Claus were somehow on the same team.

Later, as a parent, I had what I saw as a strategic reason for keeping the Santa tradition. From the time my children were small, of course they learned about the story of Jesus and His birth. However, I knew they could only understand so much, and I certainly couldn’t expect them to sit around and stare at their navels pondering Jesus all Christmas season. So we enlisted Santa Claus to help make the season of Jesus’s birth more exciting for them. We knew they would eventually drop the Santa belief as they left childhood, but we believed there would remain with them very positive feelings and fun memories that they would carry with them into adulthood. The reason behind it all would always be Jesus.

I believe this has proved to be true.

2) I’m not comfortable lying to my kids
I completely agree with this one. Our kids assumed Santa was real mostly because of songs and stories and the input of extended family members. Christmas mornings pretty much convinced them. However, as they got older and directly questioned us, we made it a point to never to lie to them.

However, I used it as a way to encourage critical thinking. I told them that I wanted them to figure it out on their own. I told them that all of their lives people would tell them things that were not true and that they needed to learn how to discover what is true. This wasn’t a very satisfying answer to them, but then it became sort of a game. They would begin to give me arguments and I would try to argue the other side. If their argument was a good one, I would say “that’s a good argument!”

More importantly, for each child I also used this moment to underscore the truth, saying something like: “I will tell you this – the story of Jesus and everything in the Bible is definitely true, and Mom and I believe it.” I wanted them to be rock solid about that.

I think there is something very healthy about a child learning to critically engage in figuring out the truth, even when it is against his or her interest to do so.

3) Christmas is a pagan holiday. Christmas trees and Santa Claus have pagan origins.
I have always thought this was a lame argument for several reasons. Primarily, regardless of what December 25 meant many hundreds of years ago, today, in America, it is not a pagan holiday. For followers of Jesus it is a remembrance and celebration of the birth of Jesus.

True, no one knows the date of Jesus’s birth. This is also irrelevant. So the church randomly picked a day to celebrate the birth of God’s Messiah. Or maybe the date is not so random, and the church picked a popular pagan holiday and redeemed it to become a holiday celebrating the true Creator. I just don’t see how that’s a bad thing. Even today many Christians attempt to do the same thing with Halloween.

Christmas is arguably not a biblically condoned holiday, but that does not make it a harmful practice. Behind this objection there seems to be a concern that all of Christendom is somehow accidentally participating is false worship because of the holiday’s origins. But worship is intentional and conscious. I have yet to see biblical support for the idea of someone accidentally worshiping Satan. I’m willing to be proven wrong on this.

4) I don’t want to encourage materialism and selfishness in my kids.
Another great reason. We didn’t want to encourage those things either. I probably don’t need to say much here though. I think we all recognize that Christmas has become very commercialized and money driven. Many people go deeper into credit card debt during the Christmas season. Not good.

I’ve heard a lot of great strategies that families use to get around this. Some don’t do gift giving at all. Some do, but make a point to give to a needy family each year as well. Some work at a shelter as a family as part of their Christmas season, serving those less fortunate than they are. Some do gift giving but limit the dollar amount that can be spent. Please feel free to share your ideas or traditions in the comment section!

But as for the topic at hand, it certainly hasn’t been my experience that observing the Santa tradition will necessarily encourage materialism and selfishness. My opinion is that the example of the parents over the long haul is foremost in encouraging or discouraging a materialistic lifestyle. In fact, ironically, Santa only exists because of the generosity of parents toward their children. When children figure out that it was mom and dad all along, this arguably encourages gratitude and models selfless giving to them.

On the positive side, there are a couple of other reasons that proved to be quite important to Mollie and me when we were determining what our family culture would be around Christmastime:

Extended family
I was raised by devoted Christian parents. Had Mollie and I refused to practice the Santa tradition on “spiritual grounds” I think it would have created an unnecessary offense against my parents and siblings. There were other things more important to us that my parents didn’t understand, like breastfeeding, homeschooling, and eating a whole food/organic diet. Creating a rift over something as fun and harmless as Santa Claus would have been just been super-annoying to my family.

To see it from my mom’s perspective: she and her 6 siblings grew up in St. Louis with an alcoholic father. As a result she grew up impoverished, and quit school after the 8th grade to start working. She told us that when they were young, she and her siblings would sometimes each receive an orange for Christmas.

So when she married my dad, I think she tried to make holidays with her own children everything she missed as a child. I have wonderful holiday memories from childhood, and I still love the Christmas season. I think my mom would’ve been hurt had I implied that I saw her efforts as harmful.

Jesus versus Santa

Christmas morning with my siblings, 1962

Joyful, Joyful
In our family, Mollie and I wanted to tip the scales in favor of making the Christian holidays transcendent and irresistible; something that our kids would look forward to all year long. Santa Claus is unnecessary. If you’re a parent and you don’t include Santa in your repertoire of holiday traditions, I fully respect your decision. However, I would encourage you to figure out ways to make the holiday season an exciting and transcendent time for your kids, so that they will grow up loving the season of Jesus’s birth. Ultimately, we all hope to see our kids continue to love the person of Jesus Himself.

For me the bottom line on Santa is: he’s a harmless, if shallow, part of American culture.
If we can figure out ways to use harmless cultural traditions to our advantage,  I think that’s a good thing.

My illustrated kids’ storybook, The True Story of Christmas, tells the story of Jesus in fidelity to the Bible, beginning with creation and the fall. Orders should be received by Dec 5 to ensure delivery by Christmas.
(Or, please email me directly me with late orders at scottnmollie@yahoo.com.)

 

 

 

Thoughts on “Religion,” and How Not to Fix the World

Maxfield Parrish Humpty Dumpty, fall of man

Before the Great Fall

Does anyone like getting asked the question, “Are you religious?”

When asked this, does anyone ever enthusiastically answer, “YES!”

I only like getting asked that question because it gives me a chance to explain my faith.

One of my earliest insights as a young follower of Jesus was that Christianity is not about a religion; it’s about a relationship. In college I pretty much abandoned the use of the word “Christianity” altogether because it is so broad as to be practically meaningless and confusing.

This is not an uncommon way of thinking in evangelicalism. It is widely understood that our faith has primarily to do with the person of Jesus, not about some system of belief or ritualistic practice. At a minimum most would agree that a religion is not “the answer” to the world’s problems. Most would recognize that one can be scrupulously religiously observant and yet completely miss God. There is good and bad religious practice. I think most people would agree that there are bad religions in the world.

So it’s kinda weird to speak of “religion” in general as either good or bad.

You’ve probably heard evangelicals say,

“Religion is mans’ attempt to reach God, Christianity is God reaching down to man.”

Or “I’m spiritual, not religious.”

I’ve tended to argue that religion can serve as a positive cultural force, but I’ve tended to personally reject the observance of religious rituals, traditions, and practices as baggage. Yes, I pray regularly, but as a part of relationship with God – not as religious ritual. In the same way, I don’t consider talking with my wife to be a marriage ritual.

All in all, the word “religion” has been a pretty distasteful word to me for all of my life, even though, ironically, people who don’t know me well may tend to think of me as religious.

But…Hmmm…Maybe I don’t despise the word “religion” after all

I recently read some thoughts on the origin of the word “religion” that ring true to me.

…Etymologically, [religion] means something like tying back together – re-ligion:
re-ligamenting, re-ligaturing, finding the unifying reality behind disparate appearances, seeking oneness, integration, wholeness…

(Michael Ward, Professor of Apologetics, Houston Baptist University)

This sounds right to me because, for better or for worse, all the religions of the world seem to be concerned with restoring unity to our broken world in some way. There seems to be a universal recognition that things are not as they should be in the human situation, and that the problem is separateness – division between God and man, between man and man, and between man and nature.

However, conflict arises between religions and ideologies because there are vastly differing opinions as to how to accomplish the restoration of unity in the world. Unfortunately, history shows us that human beings are vulnerable to the temptation to externally impose unity onto each other. Of course this doesn’t work, but apparently many ideologues feel there is no other option. Current examples include ISIS and the American left-wing Antifa.

The brilliance of spiritual rebirth

Among authority figures, Jesus is unique in His approach to unity and restoration in that He offers voluntary, internal change for the individual. He offers this to all people in the form of spiritual rebirth:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. (Jn 3:3)

Here’s an apostle of Jesus pithily describing God’s plan for unity and restoration:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
(Eph 1:7-10)

This describes the God of the Judeo-Christian scriptures taking merciful initiative on our behalf, and providing a means for us to be reconnected to Him first, and ultimately to each other and to all of heaven and nature. In the very next chapter Paul refers to this salvation as a gift from God – not something that can be earned. (Eph 2:8,9)

Isn’t this what we all want? We really should tell people about this.

(Original image by Maxfield Parrish, circa 1921. Modified by the author.)

 

You Should See This Movie…

Mike Vogel as Lee Strobel

I was pleasantly surprised recently when I went to see The Case for Christ. Grab your spouse or a friend and see it while it’s still in theaters.

As an artist who is also a follower of Jesus, I guess I’m supposed to be a movie snob, especially when it comes to “Christian movies.” I think I’m not supposed to publicly admit that I loved this movie. But I did.

The movie tells the story of atheist Lee Strobel coming to faith in Jesus. (Whoopsie. I guess I just gave away the ending. That’s part of why I didn’t have high hopes for the movie. I expected another predictable Christian film.)

But you know what? I knew how my dinnertime was going to end last night but I’m still really glad I sat down at the table.

The movie highlighted the Strobel family’s journey to faith, and the relational tension that ensued during the process. That story was believable, well-written, and well-acted. It felt like a love story to me, full of characters that I was moved to care about.

Some Things I Liked
Maybe it was just me, but the movie touched on a lot of things I’ve been thinking about lately.

I’ve been dialoguing with some atheists for several months, and the portrayal of the atheists in the film felt familiar to me. I liked that the atheist Strobel wasn’t made out to be an evil character. He deeply loved his wife and was a great dad. He had a strong moral compass and sense of justice.

I’ve been doing some reading about brain science and social psychology. I’m fascinated with how and why people change their opinions when confronted with information that challenges their worldview. (Or how they don’t, as is usually the case.) It was fascinating to watch one person’s process, knowing that it was a true story.

A big surprise was a direct reference to the “father wound” issue. I’ve been a bit obsessed with this issue for several months, and I’ve come to think that it’s widespread and profoundly important. In the near future I’ll post more on this topic specifically.

Also, an important truism for me is that biblical faith is evidential. This idea directly contradicts what “New Atheism” preaches – that faith is “belief despite the evidence.” The “New Atheists” are demonstrably wrong about what the Bible says about faith. It was nice to see a correct perspective on the screen.

Finally, on an incidental note, The Case for Christ is not a white Christian film. The story takes place in Chicago and several black characters figure prominently in the journey. We see blacks and whites working, attending church, and doing life together. This isn’t talked about; it’s just assumed, as it should be.

I don’t recall anything inappropriate for kids, but very small children might be bored with it just because it’s an adult conversation. At any rate, I say “two thumbs up”!

Speaking of kids, it you haven’t already done so, please sign up on my email list at my kids’ storybook website, RIGHT HERE!

New Video Release: The Reason for Christmas

From a human perspective, the coming of Jesus changed the course of human history. From a divine perspective, the sending of Jesus was the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s long-awaited promises, and His final answer to human pain, suffering, and all disunity, including the most profound division of all, which is death.

While on earth, Jesus preached the arrival of His kingdom and the promise of spiritual rebirth and resurrection. We see this now in partial fulfillment, and those who believe look forward to the future “uniting of all things, in heaven and on earth, in the Messiah.” The Judeo-Christian scriptures refer to this as the explicit will and plan of God (Eph 1:7-10.) This plan is in keeping with the Bible’s description of God as Life, Light, and Love.

The specificity and verifiability of biblical prophecy is unique in the world. For example the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm that the book of Isaiah was indeed written and virtually unchanged for hundreds of years before the coming of Jesus. As knowledge advances in the fields of textual criticism, archaeology, and science, the case for the reliability for the Judeo-Christian scriptures becomes better, not worse. For the honest seeker, the 21st century is a great time to be alive.

A couple of years ago I created a short video with the help of a couple of friends. The video was designed to be an intro for one of my live painting performances, themed around Christmas. Last weekend I performed this piece again and realized that the video could also be viewed as a stand-alone piece, so I am putting it out on Youtube.

If you would be so kind as to view it, this would help my Youtube rankings! I think it might also encourage you. Plus my friend Linda Joy has a really cool accent.

Feel free to share this. If you would like to show it before a large group, such as a church congregation, I would appreciate it if you would let me know. I would like for you to credit me by using my kids’ book website, if you wouldn’t mind: http://www.BigPicturePublishing.com

Speaking of my storybook website. I’m still fulfilling orders for my newest book, The True Story of Christmas. (It is favorably reviewed in the current issue of World magazine!) While this book does not parallel the video, it does tell the Christmas story in the context of the big picture. But it doesn’t include creepy, unusual Christmas imagery like the video does. Like this:

nebuchadnezzars-dream

Image of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream as interpreted by the Hebrew prophet Daniel.    From the video, The Reason for Christmas – artwork by Scott Freeman

Okay. Now you know you have to watch the video. You could also subscribe to my Youtube channel while you’re at it.

Video Credits:
Writing, graphic design, and artwork by Scott Freeman
Video editing by Bree Hottinger
Voice acting by Linda Joy

Thanks for your support!
You can view my original children’s storybooks HERE.

Religious Freedom and the Gay Birthday Cake

Bakery-blog

Wrong is wrong, no matter which side does it.

Recently I saw a news story about a baker who refused to make a birthday cake for a gay person. Some months ago I also read about an auto mechanic in Michigan who refuses to serve openly gay people.

As an ardent supporter of religious freedom, I would like to stand up and say this is not religious freedom. This is simple discrimination against people one disagrees with. This is indefensible and mean-spirited, especially if these people are calling themselves Christians. The business owners in these two cases do not understand the issue.

I hope it’s obvious that we don’t want America heading down a road where freedom of religion can be claimed as an excuse for business owners to refuse service to anyone with a differing opinion.

A clear distinction needs to be made and maintained by religious conservatives. Throughout the “marriage equality” debate I have contended that religious freedom is not about the right to discriminate against LGBT people simply because they are LGB or T. This is not what followers of Jesus are after. What is in contention is the definition of marriage and the right of religious people, including business owners, to not participate in an ideological campaign to redefine marriage.

The proof that the religious freedom debate is not about anti-gay discrimination is clear: The photographers, bakers, and other business owners who first brought this conflict to light had all knowingly served gay customers for years. That is proof. However, these business owners drew the line at providing wedding services because, for them, marriage is a religiously defined institution. According to our Constitution, the government has no right to redefine it for them and then force them to comply. There is also a free speech component involved in many cases.

I fail to see how it is a burden on one’s free exercise of religion to serve a sandwich to, repair a car for, or give a haircut to a gay person. Eating, car repair, and hair-cutting do not ordinarily constitute an ideological statement. By contrast, how a society defines marriage affects a host of fundamental cultural and anthropological concerns. It affects the state of the nuclear family. It affects how a culture views motherlessness and fatherlessness. Forcing a follower of Jesus to participate in an ideologically anti-Christian wedding celebration arguably may burden that person’s free exercise of religion.

So this is not about dislike of gays or any other particular group of people. It’s about government overreach and coercion along ideological lines.

Missing the point
In civil discussions with my friends on the Left, typically they argue that, to be consistent, Christians would also have to refuse to provide wedding services to divorced people, couples who’ve had sex before marriage, interracial, and interfaith couples, because these things are also forbidden in the Bible. This is incorrect for several reasons. To our point here, none of these types of arrangements constitute a fundamental redefining of marriage. Again, religious freedom is not about the right to refuse service to people simply because one disagrees with them.

Some “marriage equality” advocates have contended that “anti-gay” Christian business owners should post signs at their places of business and on their websites openly stating that they refuse service to LGBT people. This would spare LGBT people the indignity of being refused service at a place of business. But again, the issue is not about LGBT people, but about the redefining of marriage. It is not “anti-gay” to agree with Jesus’s definition of marriage. Jesus loves LGBT people, so His followers should too. Therefore, Christians should absolutely refuse to wear the “anti-gay” label because such labeling is a political PR stunt.

I’m a small business owner and I would never post a sign saying I refuse service to gays. However, I don’t want to do graphic design for a gay wedding announcement. But then, neither would I do a wedding announcement for a “throuple.” Or a wedding announcement for a consensual, adult, incestuous marriage. Or a wedding announcement for an open marriage.

Or a celebration for a “female circumcision.” (But here I digress. Slightly.)

Is it ever right to discriminate against gays?
This is not even a desirable question. LGBT people are not subhuman, second-class citizens. It is wrong for anyone, Christian or not, to refuse service to someone simply because he or she is same-sex-attracted, and religious freedom laws do not allow for such behavior. Religious freedom laws simply limit the power of government in unnecessarily forcing an ideology onto religious people. Homosexuality is not an ideology. However, the “marriage equality” movement is part of a left wing, ideological movement called Postgenderism. The government cannot force such an ideology onto the citizenry, try as it might.

We are where we are today because the American government has attempted to solve inequality issues around LGBT people in a doltish and arrogant way. If the real issue was inequalities suffered by LGBT people, those inequalities could have been corrected legislatively through congress. This would have been the constitutionally correct course of action. Instead, five Supreme Court justices pulled a new, arbitrary, ideologically biased definition of marriage out of their butts, and they expect all of America to go along with it.

I’m not anything remotely resembling a lawyer, so I’ll quote Legalzoom:

If there’s an anti-discrimination law, does that mean that a business can never refuse service to a member of a group that is protected from discrimination?

The answer is that you can refuse to serve someone even if they’re in a protected group, but the refusal can’t be arbitrary and you can’t apply it to just one group of people…

… Second, you must apply your policy to everyone. For example, you can’t turn away a black person who’s not wearing a tie and then let in a tieless white man. You also can’t have a policy that sounds like it applies to everyone but really just excludes one particular group of people. So, for example, a policy against wearing headscarves in a restaurant would probably be discriminatory against Muslims…

…“We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” sounds vague and arbitrary. As we’ve seen, a business can’t just randomly refuse to serve someone.

I think that if a business owner wants to support, serve, and strengthen marriages in line with his/her religious or ideological beliefs, he or she could have a policy of not providing services for unconventional marriages. There would be defensible, societal reasons for doing so. Unconventional marriages would include same sex, open/monogamish, incestuous, and polygamous marriages. People who so desired would be free to be unconventionally married, but the religious business owner would be free to not be involved.

What’s wrong with that? I’d like to hear your opinion.

 

What Jesus Said About Marriage Equality

Jesus-in him all things hold together

The words of Jesus have a way of keeping His followers off the fence. For example, in the ongoing religious freedom and marriage equality “debate,” it is sometimes pointed out that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. Therefore, some have argued, perhaps followers of Jesus shouldn’t be saying anything about it either.

However, while it’s true that we have no record of Jesus specifically mentioning homosexuality, we do have an extremely pithy statement from Him about what God intended marriage to be. This is fitting, because today’s marriage equality debate is not ultimately about homosexuality anyway, as the Left and its sympathetic media would have us believe. The debate is and will continue to be about the redefining of marriage.

The statement on marriage made by Jesus is remarkable in its relevance, precision, and transcendence. In three sentences there are at least eight defining aspects articulating what Christians believe the Creator of marriage intended marriage to be. I’ve created a diagram (below) so that this can easily be seen.

But first, I want to examine a meme that has been circulating in discussions on social media. It supposedly shows why the Bible doesn’t support “traditional marriage.” (The white caption is mine because I couldn’t resist commenting.)

How can “biblical marriage” be a thing?
The argument is that marriage has changed over millennia many times, and that the current redefining of marriage to include same sex couples is simply another iteration of an evolving institution. After all, the Bible itself contains many examples of marriages that today’s evangelicals consider to be objectionable, so how can evangelicals argue for “biblical” or “traditional” marriage?” Here’s the meme:

There are at least three reasons why this meme fails:

  • Example #1 misrepresents Gen 2:24, which it claims to be describing. None of the 4 points listed in example #1 are true for this verse. In truth, Gen 2:24 describes God’s ideal conception of marriage as it existed before “the fall” – before sin and death entered the world. We’ll return to Gen 2:24 in a moment.
  • The rest of the meme’s examples are post-fall, including references from the Torah of the Mosaic Covenant, a body of law given to instruct and govern a Jewish theocracy in ancient Israel. Jesus states that the Torah contained concessions due to “the hardness of men’s hearts, but from the beginning it was not so” (Mt 19:8.) In other words, the Torah does not express God’s ideal will or desire for human interaction, obviously. Rather it was a “custodian,” to govern an unregenerate, rebellious body of people, until something better would come in the Messiah (Gal 3:23-26.) The Bible presents a linear, progressive revelation of God. It is a fundamental misunderstanding to assume that old covenant Levitical law represents God’s ultimate ideal, or that New Covenant followers of Jesus are bound by it.
  • The meme ignores the fact that in the New Testament, Jesus and His apostles unequivocally teach a return to the ideal of marriage in Gen 2:24, doing away with polygamy, slavery, religious war, a non-egalitarian standing of women in the church of Jesus, and observance of the written Torah in general (Ro 7:6; 1 Cor 7:1-3; Gal 3:28; Eph 6:12.)

What Jesus said
Jesus begins His statement on marriage by referring, not to Levitical law, but to the unspoiled created order: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female?” This refers to a passage in the first chapter of the Bible where we find the phrase,

“So God created man [meaning both men and women in Hebrew] in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them”
(Gen 1:27)

Thus Jesus’s defining statement on marriage is rooted in a transcendent basis for the worth and equality of the two sexes: both were made in the image of God, reflecting His likeness.

Proceeding from there, He goes on to either explicitly state or imply the defining characteristics of marriage as God conceived it. Since everyone likes rainbows now, I’ve shown this in the rainbow-colored chart:

Jesus gay marriage equality

As you can see, types of unions that fall outside of Jesus’ ideal of marriage would include homosexual, polygamous, incestuous, promiscuous, “monogamish,” and temporary sexual relationships, to name a few.

Definitions draw distinctions. If marriage has any definition, then it must exclude some people. It is important to note that by focusing on gay marriage, the U. S. Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell decision also excludes many consenting adults who at this moment want the legal right to marry but instead suffer discrimination. (Read their testimonies.)

In addition to Jesus’ statements, the New Testament states that marriage is a “profound mystery that refers to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32.) Throughout both testaments of the Bible God repeatedly uses heterosexual marriage as a metaphor to describe His relationship with His people. In the New Testament, the church of Jesus is often described as His bride. Furthermore, marriage is widely understood to be a reflection of the unity-in-diversity that exists within the loving, generative, triune Godhead itself.

Thus, for the majority of those who follow Jesus and the Bible, lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual marriage is a profound ideal with both practical and symbolic applications.

Admittedly, Jesus articulated a very high bar for marriage. Of course, this is not to say that people in alternative types of unions should be hated, or executed, or harassed, or fired from their jobs, or generally refused service, or be otherwise excluded from the human family. But their relationships are simply not marriages according to Jesus. Jesus commanded His followers to love everyone, but He also called them to observe His teaching, which He claimed to be truth. It’s really that simple for Christians (John 8:12, 14, 31-32, 47, 51.)

So for followers of Jesus, this is not about hatred or bigotry. Despite what the news media continually says, it’s not even “anti-gay.” (Many same-sex-attracted people agree with and follow Jesus.) The Left is simply using hate-shaming to manipulate the public, move its agenda forward, and attempt to get Christians to shut up and leave the field.

Entitled to your opinion
You may not agree with what Jesus said. You may not agree that Jesus actually said these things at all. You may believe that Jesus was gay. Or you may not believe that Jesus ever even existed. You may think the Bible is a book of fairy tales. You are free to believe whatever you want about God and Jesus, and, according to our Constitution, congress may not make a law that forces you to participate in “an establishment of religion.”

However, neither does our Constitution allow congress to make a law “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion. For a great many American citizens, marriage is a religiously defined institution. Government may not force these people to participate in an ideological campaign to redefine marriage, sex, and gender.

Yay. This is freedom. It’s a two-way street. The Left is free to march on with its now decades-long, disease-ridden, death-producing sexual revolution. Followers of Jesus are free to not join in the parade for a cause that they believe to be a bad idea that ultimately harms society in general and children in particular. People on both sides can have compassionate reasons for believing as they do.

The bottom line is that followers of Jesus simply don’t believe they have the authority to redefine a fundamental concept that God has so clearly defined. We happen to believe that human government does not have that authority either.

Fine. So why not hold to your beliefs privately and just obey the law?
Because secularism is not a neutral, default position. It’s not as though religious viewpoints are biased while secular viewpoints are somehow unbiased.

For example, abortion-on-demand is not unbiased public policy. Recognizing only gay marriage from among other types of alternative love relationships is biased and discriminatory. The opinion that gender is determined by one’s feelings while sex is determined by one’s body is simply one, unsubstantiated theory. In fact these three examples can be seen as part of an ideological, sociopolitical movement called postgenderism or transhumanism.

In a diverse, pluralistic, and free society, religious viewpoints needn’t be any more private than do secular viewpoints. Followers of Jesus are free to aspire to a higher “supernatural” view of marriage, sex, and life, though they may not impose this on others. In the same way, secularists are free to aspire to a lower, “natural,” animalistic view of marriage, sex, and life, though they may not impose this on others. In all of this, American government should remain as limited as possible, while ensuring basic human rights and freedoms for everyone within the constraints of the Constitution.

Should the state be forcing either of these two groups to participate in the other’s well-intentioned vision? Nope, not in a free society. But…wait…what if lots of celebrity actors and musicians and big corporations say that only “progressive” opinions on marriage and gender should be legally protected? Still nope. The correct answer in America is always freedom and pluralism (meaning the peaceful coexistence of competing ideas in a free marketplace of ideas) within the constraints of our Constitution.

What are the implications of this?
American Christianity is firmly opposed to theocracy. Christians are not seeking to force non-Christians to live as Christians. Or to criminalize sex outside of marriage. Or to criminalize divorce. Or to criminalize gay unions.

This is not what Christians are advocating. Neither is it right for the federal government to redefine marriage along arbitrary, ideological lines, and then impose that definition onto everyone else. Americans for whom marriage is a religiously defined, fundamental, societal institution have a first amendment right not to participate in and associate with an ideological movement they believe to be malignant and morally objectionable.

The point of this post has not been to prove Jesus right. The point has been to simply point out what the gospel writers say He said about marriage. This is the crux of the current religious freedom “debate.” Religious conservatives are not misreading or cherry picking their own text when they disagree with “marriage equality.” Agree or not, there is a large population of the world that will not be going along with the ideological campaign to redefine marriage, and they have compassionate, humanitarian reasons for refusing.

In America, the government cannot force its citizens and their businesses to behave as political liberals, any more that it can force them to behave as political conservatives. We already have a solution to the religious freedom debate: limited, constitutional government.

 

Check out my kids’ storybooks designed to inspire love and reinforce a biblical worldview in the kids you love! SHOW ME!