We, the Church, have always been called to be a peculiar community, different from our surrounding world; to be counter-cultural. For many years in the “Christian West”, this distinction was sometimes hard to see, though it has always been there. The church appeared to yield significant political power and cultural clout. It was, at one time, socially advantageous to self-identify as a Christian.
This reality has been changing for many years and last week’s Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage has brought the distinction between the ethical vision of the historic church and the ethical vision of the surrounding culture into stark relief.
The decision has many Christians wondering, “What next?” Our “political” task now has very little to do with the civil government (though political engagement still matters). Instead, we must now focus on the polis of the church, the distinct people of God; the people who swear allegiance to a kingdom that is not of this world and to a Ruler who is truly supreme. The Supreme Court decision is a reminder that we are called to be such a distinct community, a holy nation under the reign of God. Specifically, the decision reminds us that we are distinct in the following ways:
We have a distinct sexual ethic. Sex is not merely physical but holy and spiritual and is to be enjoyed within the bonds of marriage. It is self-giving and life-creating. Since God is the creator of sex, he has the right to make the rules and when we follow them it leads to human flourishing.
We have a distinct vision of marriage and family. Marriage is ordained by God as a holy one-flesh union between one man and one woman in life-long commitment. In the raising of children both father and mother are indispensable.
We have a distinct view of love. Love contains, but is not merely, kindness and pleasant feelings. Love is working for the good of the other in accordance with the will of God. Love is not abstract, but perfectly revealed in the atoning self-sacrifice of Jesus our Savior.
As a distinct community of faith, what are we called to be?
We are called to be a humble community. “Distinct” does not mean “superior.” We freely confess and mourn over the fact that we are broken in our sin. We are called by no merit of our own but only by the mercy of God. Having been shown mercy we must always speak from a position of mercy.
We are called to be a holy community. If we value sexuality in the way God defines it then we need to deal with sexual sin in our own midst, specifically pornography and divorce. If we value marriage we must work to strengthen our own marriages. If we value love we need to make sure that we show it to all people. We will never be perfect, but if we want the world to accept God’s way, we first need to make sure we are actually living it.
We are called to be a prophetic community. The prophets always first spoke to the people of God, calling them to covenant renewal. But they also had a word to the nations. They proclaimed God’s word, unpopular as it was, of sin, judgment, repentance, and salvation. This means we should be uncompromising in our convictions and not simply parrot back to our culture whatever its itching ears want to hear. The prophets remained true to the revealed word of God over and against the idolatry they were confronted with. We have the same task. As we speak, though, we must be careful to do so in love.
We are called to be a healing community. In our prophetic voice we call out sin as a doctor diagnosis a disease. Sin, in all its varied forms, is the disease plaguing the human race. But this disease has a cure. That cure is Jesus. In Jesus is healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation. In Jesus was can be freed from the condemnation of the law, the enslaving power of sin, and the fear of death. The church is the hospital and needs to continue to be for all people.
We are called to be a gospel-centered community. We are called first and foremost to proclaim the gospel; the saving message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We need to stay on point and not get overly caught up in the quarrels and controversies of the day. These matter, of course. Right now, as a pastor of a congregation, I must engage these controversies. But controversies of the age come and go. However, our central task of pointing the world to Christ is our aim in every cultural context.
We are called to be a hopeful community. We, more than any other people, have reason for hope. We do not hope in ourselves, or in the “march of progress,” or in political powers, but in God, the maker of heaven and earth. He will bring about perfect love and perfect justice and we the Church look forward to that day. This is a hope unique to the church and it is one we both rejoice in ourselves and rejoice to share with the world, to whom we have been called.
The Supreme Court decision may present some new challenges for the church but our task is what it has always been – trust God, pursue him fully, love our neighbors, and proclaim the hopeful and life-giving gospel of Jesus our Savior.