Love? Wins?

Here is an essay I wrote for our church, in order to encourage them to stand fast and consider that all accusations against Christ and His Church are not equal. While we do sin daily and much, the world oftentimes calls good evil and evil good.

Love? Wins?

What does this mean?
A recent poll about voting blocks notes that voters without college education are three times as likely to vote for Donald Trump than are those who are college educated. (60% for Trump 20% for Clinton). This is an interesting fact that seems, at least when some folk comment on it, to indicate that the intelligent and educated would vote for Clinton. However, there may be other reasons. For instance, it has been noted for at least 30 years, (by my reading since the early 1980s and a quick google search), that most professors in American universities are politically liberal/left-leaning. (Some say 85% liberal and 15% conservative). So maybe it is no surprise that those who never sat at the feet of these teachers are less likely to vote for a liberal candidate. Perhaps this also helps to explain why it seems that the church and the positions she confesses are often treated as ignorant or bigoted. The latter term is being used quite liberally today.

Did you ever feel like you were out of step with the world or worse, because you confess the teachings of the Bible? Ever have a family member treat you like you just don’t know what you are talking about? Or even worse, that you are a bigot? And yet that is the way that Christians are being treated by the world, because of their confession on things like sexual behaviors, drugs, or even things like creation. It is difficult to be told that a christian is a bigot, that is, “a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc…. a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group).” It is difficult to be treated like this by the world, but much more so from a family member, or even worse, a brother or sister in Christ. Often, members of the church, after living under pressure from culture, are tempted to compromise, to seek the approval of men, whether they be professors, politicians, or even family members. How can a Christian answer these kinds of accusations, which, are used to try to get us to conform, go along with the world? The world believes that the more that go along, the stronger/better things will go. They do not like those who stand apart. And yet, that is what the word sanctified means, “set apart for God’s purposes.” Jesus tells His disciples are those who walk the
“narrow is the gate and difficult is the way that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matt 7:13

So how do we make the “good confession” in the midst of these pressures, names, and tactics? Are we really haters? Are we being unloving, like the world says? Perhaps this is a good place to start as we consider how best to deal with these challenges. Love wins. Love trumps hate. The slogans of our age. So if we do not go along, we are hateful losers? Or is there something else going on, kind of like the differences among voters? Maybe we have had a different teacher who does not agree with the simple assumptions of the world.

Love and Hate
The words love and hate, for those in the world, refer to emotions, feelings. For instance, in the matter of same-sex marriage, supreme court Justice Kennedy, who wrote the decision legalizing same-sex marriage, bases his decision on this very assumption. Marriage, for Justice Kennedy, is an emotional commitment. Ryan Anderson, writing about this decision writes,
“The consent-based view of marriage is primarily about an intense emotional union— a romantic, caregiving union of consenting adults. It’s what the philosopher John Corvino describes as the relationship that establishes your “number one person.” What sets marriage apart from other relationships is the priority of the relationship. It’s your most important relationship; the most intense emotional, romantic union; the caregiving relationship that takes priority over all others. Andrew Sullivan says that marriage has become “primarily a way in which two adults affirm their emotional commitment to one another.” And as we will see in chapter 3, this vision of what marriage is does all of the work in Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell.
"In What Is Marriage, my coauthors and I argue that this view collapses marriage into companionship in general. Rather than understanding marriage correctly as different in kind from other relationships, the consent-based view sees in it only a difference of degree: marriage has what all other relationships have, but more of it. This, we argue, gets marriage wrong. It cannot explain or justify any of the distinctive commitments that marriage requires— monogamy, exclusivity, and permanence— nor can it explain what interest the government has in it.
"If marriage is simply about consenting adult romance and caregiving, why should it be permanent? Emotions come and go; love waxes and wanes. Why would such a bond require a pledge of permanency? Might not someone find that the romance and caregiving of marriage are enhanced by a temporary commitment, in which no one is under a life sentence? In fact, if marriage is simply about consenting adult romance and caregiving, why should it be a sexually exclusive union? Sure, some people might prefer to sleep only with their spouse, but others might think that agreeing to have extramarital sexual outlets would actually enhance their marriage. Why impose the expectation of sexual fidelity?
"Lastly, if marriage is simply about consenting adult romance and caregiving, why can’t three, four, or more people form a marriage? There is nothing about intense emotional unions that limits them to two and only two people. Threesomes and foursomes can form an intense emotional, romantic, caregiving relationship as easily as a couple. Nothing in principle requires monogamy." [Anderson, Ryan T. (2015-07-14). Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom (pp. 3-4). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.]
Refusing to allow men or women to make this emotional commitment appears to be absurd and controlling. It appears to be quite hateful. For who would try to control something so personal as a person’s feelings. Maybe the idea of bigot fits? Or maybe there is another reason why the church seems so out of step with the world?

Seeing love and hate from a different perspective
For the Christian, love could mean romantic, emotional attachment. We do understand that aspect of romantic/sexual relationships. We know what it means to fall in love. But is that what the Church is confessing when she speaks about marriage or stands against same-sex marriage, or even cohabitation? Could it be that love does not only mean, even and especially for the Church, what the world, even the supreme court determines the word to mean?

For the Church, love is something quite different. The bible teaches that love is “the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:10) To summarize simply,
it means to do what is best for your neighbor no matter the cost to you. The law, the 10 commandments, make clear the boundaries of what we can call love. We cannot call murder love, (to take a life without the authority to do so, eg abortion). We cannot call sex outside of marriage love. Sex, according to the bible, only is to occur between a man and a woman, and that only within marriage. That is one of the reasons why the 6th commandment forbids adultery. All other sexual behaviors, fornication-sex between unmarried men and women, sinful thoughts/desire, (cf Matt 5:28-lust for a woman=adultery), words (Eph 5) et al, speak about sexual boundaries. These things are not love/loving, no matter what the world says. No matter if these seem to be natural and common in the world. Paul warns us about these things common in our world, considered natural, “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; 19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. (Eph 4:17-20) And then later says, “And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them.” (Eph 5:2-7, cf 1 Cor 6:9ff) Christians do not define what is right/good/god-pleasing on the basis of what is common and seemingly natural to man. The bible defines these words clearly and definitively. What Paul describes here and the other texts is a severe warning which makes clear what a man or woman is doing when they seek to live in a way that is sexually immoral. It is hatred. Not by virtue of the feelings, but because one or both parties is asking or agreeing to give up a relationship with God in order to participate and live this way. Paul, over and over again says, they have "no inheritance in the kingdom of God." The bible call this hatred, plain and simple, no matter how the people involved feel about one another, how they treat each other, or even the promises they make to the other. The bible, in the original language uses specific words to speak about love, and for our purposes, romantic/emotional/sexual love-Eros, is not the word which God uses to describe marriage for men and women. Rather, that word is agape, which is the love summarized above. (Cf Eph 5-“Husbands love your wives")

So what we have is a disagreement in terms. One, established by the supreme court and other human authorities in the world today. The other, established by God, according to the Scriptures. Perhaps, if Christians are confessing this biblical teaching and are being called haters, bigots et al, the issue is not the Christian, but the fact that the world is and has been rebelling against the authority of God, who is LOVE, from the time of the fall. (Genesis 3) We should not be surprised that the church is treated the way she is in this world, as Jesus Himself stated this would happen. Jesus says,
John 14:23  “Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word” and John 15:20 “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” God manifested this love for us, in and through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Who came to keep the Law, that is, to live perfectly in love, so that we might receive the gift of righteousness, so that we can enter into His eternal kingdom. Who came to pay the debt which we owed for breaking the law, sexual and otherwise, so that we can stand in God’s presence, forgiven, forever. In fact, Love, is what we see when we see God, and what God is shaping us into as we live in faith.

But what about the other churches?
But there are other churches who seem to be able to find a way to compromise on these things. There are churches which boast about their support for abortion, even using money from the offering plate to pay for them. There are churches which affirm sexual practices which the bible seems to reject. Their members cohabitate or marry same-sex partners, all under the banner of acceptance and approval. How do they do that? Well, there are a variety of answers, but we will take up one answer, which illustrates how churches can justify things like this.

This illustration comes from a man who has been writing within the ELCA. His name is David Yeago. He points out how some in the Church today, his own, but certainly also in other churches, including the LCMS, move in this direction. It is called Antinomianism. The word literally means “against the law,” that is, the law is set in opposition to the gospel. His thoughts are summarized by LCMS Concordia Seminary prof, Joel Biermann,
“Yeago argues that when the law and gospel are set against one another, the gospel inevitably gains its definition in antithesis to the law itself. The gospel becomes our liberator not from our failure to keep the law and the consequent just wrath of God; rather, it becomes our liberator from the law per se. Hence, any word that comes to a Christian as command, direction, or guidance is ruled out by the liberating gospel.” [The Case for Character, by Joel D. Biermann, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2014. Pg 41.] Do you see what happens? The law is set against, in opposition to the gospel. The law is considered a bad thing, (which notion Paul explicitly condemns in Romans 7:16), while the gospel is a good thing, which frees us from the law. When we are freed by the gospel, we are liberated from having to follow the law. One can see how churches which have taken this errant position on law and gospel, provide a natural sedgway to all sorts of errors. The law can make no demand on me. And those who preach the law, as if it still applied to my life, are doing me damage. They are legalistic, controlling, and damaging to the church, driving people away with the law. They are not accepting, but divisive.

There is much that can be and has been said about this error in the church. It was rejected by the Lutheran church in the 1500s. But from these churches, names like bigot and hater also seem to fly. So how do we respond?

The church is tempted to try to find some common ground, perhaps hoping that others can be drawn in, if we just loosen up a bit and act in ways they consider to be loving. However, what really needs to be done is to double down on the clear word of God, and make confession, even in the midst of these attacks, even when they come from those who are very close to us.

We who confess the faith once delivered to the saints, are not bigots, haters, by virtue of that confession. We desire the best for our neighbors, as it is defined for us by God himself, and not by our feelings, emotions etc. We double down, because in that Word that we confess, God manifests His love for mankind. He tells us what love is, between God and man, and man and man. He who created us, knows how best to care for us and teaches us to care for others. We can see that as we look around in creation and consider all that the Lord has given us, food, clothing, house, home, spouse, children, and every good and perfect gift. He warns us that fallen man lives in the futility of his mind, and when left to his own ways, will punish himself by means of his own sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. We love our neighbor, and want them to live not only in and on the gifts of the first article of the creed, but also and especially because of sin, in, on, and through the second and third articles of the creed, in which God reveals and proclaims to us love, perfect love, of God for man, of a bridegroom for a bride. (Ephesians 5:22ff) Love that does not fail to provide for us a wedding garment of His own perfect righteousness, as Jesus lived a life of perfect love, fulfilling each and every commandment. (Phil 3:9) Love that does not fail to pay the debts that we owe, lest we are cast out of the wedding feast, unworthy and stained by our failure to love.

It is as the church proclaims the clear word of God, that there is a witness of what love truly is. It is there that the church stands on solid ground, not tossed to and fro by every popular wind of teaching. There, on the Rock, she stands, speaking the truth in love, true love, so that the living active Word can have its way in the hearts and minds of men, women, and children, so that they might come to know and rest in love, finding a refuge which will not fail to keep us safe. With Paul the Church pleads with our neighbors
“Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor 5:20-21) Brothers and sisters in Christ, stand firm, do not give way to fear or intimidation. Love your neighbor, even if hatred is returned. It may be that the light of the Word may, as it did in the heart and mind of the centurion at the cross, bring forth a good confession, even in the midst of enemies, persecution, and death. When that happens, Love certainly has WON!

Pr David Speers
Pentecost 11 7/30/2016