Dear Church Family,
Last week, I wrote to you about the Christian Service Brigade ministry of our church that is beginning again in September – the continuing Battalion unit for young men (ages 12-18), and the new Stockade unit for boys (ages 8-11). There are many reasons for which I personally believe that a ministry like this is helpful and important, especially today. For one thing, since the industrial age, parents (especially fathers) have become more and more segregated from their families because of the change in the nature of work. Discipleship used to come naturally in the organic environment of the home and farm. That’s generally not so much the case today. Also, we live in a time where there is much confusion about gender and sexual identity.
Gender & Sexual Identity Confusion
The ongoing shift in our society’s view of sexuality and gender is continuing to move at a staggering rate. Earlier this year, Carl Trueman pointed out how in the “moralizing amorality of this present age,” there are at least fifteen letters in the ever-expanding list of initials (LBGTQ…) used to refer to sexual identity. In response to the June 26th Supreme Court decision which found that state bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, Rosaria Butterfield wrote an excellent piece describing how the concept of ‘sexual orientation’ was a relatively recent invention of Sigmund Freud:
Sexual orientation went from a categorical invention to heralded immortal truth in one hundred years, taking away the concept of our being created in God’s image and bearing an eternal soul in its wake. It is now a term embraced uncritically by believers and unbelievers alike. This category mistake is so ‘real’ in the minds of the five Supreme Court justices that it warranted changing the constitution to make room for its progeny. As believers, we must be clear: personal identity based on sexual orientation defines self-hood as the sum total of our fallen human desires. Through it, we get no glimpse of how the covenant of grace defends our real identity in Christ, or why, say, biblical marriage is a God-designed creation ordinance and a living reflection of Christ and the Church, not merely a man-made convenience for pair-bonding or affection.
The Scriptures teach that there is a created ‘given-ness’ of gender for human beings created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). And, there is a resultant complementary created ‘given-ness’ of marriage as being between one man and one woman, as well (Genesis 2:22-25). What we ought to believe about gender and sexual identity is not open for debate or interpretation, but given to us through special revelation in the Bible and confirmed for us through general revelation in the created order.
Yet, certain retailers (like Target) have recently begun to base their definitions of gender and sexual identity (or lack thereof) on market research and customer satisfaction. And, churches that at one time may have actually believed the Bible to be the only infallible rule of faith and practice, now have pastors who are able to say things like this with a straight face: “What we believe about marriage and family is culturally driven, not biblically driven.”
So, what are Christians and the Christian church to do? Bible-believing Christians hold to the teachings of Scripture (the exclusive claims of salvation through faith in Christ alone and a morality that is divinely dictated), but these views are a minority position – a position that is less and less tolerable in our society. Ostracization and loss of privilege (and perhaps even persecution) seem inevitable. So, what should our response be? Well, I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I have two suggestions, and each of these suggestions comes from the example of the early church to suffering and persecution at the end of the fifth chapter of the book of Acts (Acts 5:41-42).
A Christian Response
In Acts 5, Peter and the Apostles were brought before the Jewish Council to be questioned about what they were preaching. They boldly proclaimed the good news of salvation and the forgiveness of sins through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. They were commanded to cease from teaching in Jesus’ name, but they refused. They were subsequently flogged and sent away with the same order to cease to teach about Jesus. And, then we come to the last two verses of this chapter.
(1) Find joy in suffering shame for Jesus’ name. (Acts 5:41 – “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.”) This is not to say that we need to embrace a kind of masochism – finding pleasure in being abused. But, it might be good for us to reflect on what was the attitude of the first Apostles in the face of opposition and persecution. Finding joy in suffering for the name of Jesus, or for the sake of the gospel, is something that every Christian ought to learn what it means to embrace and to put into practice. It is certainly easier said than done. Patiently enduring suffering for doing what is right will not bring you favor in this world, but it finds favor with God (1 Peter 2:2).
In the sermon this past Sunday from John 12:12-26, we emphasized the need for the followers of Christ to learn what it means to be cross-bearers and to hate this worldly life (John 12:25). We must resist the temptation to believe that we deserve to be honored and respected by the world. We must learn to not love the world nor the things of this world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the boastful pride of life (1 John 2:15-16). The world hated Christ, and therefore the world will hate His followers (John 15:17-19).
(2) Teach and preach Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:42 – “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”) There are many calls today for Christians to address our present society and culture by political, legal, or other means. There is certainly a place for that. Some Christians are called and gifted to work in the political or legal realm to work for justice and equity; however, all Christians are called to be a part of the Church of Jesus Christ and to carry on the great commission to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).
The early church (immediately following the day of Pentecost) prioritized the ordinary means of grace and fellowship with one another. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer – continually meeting together in the temple and from house to house (Acts 2:42-47; 5:42). We would do well to prioritize the teaching and preaching of the Word, and a commitment to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well.
Even as we wrestle with these issues of becoming less politically and culturally relevant in our society, and perhaps losing some of the privileges that we have enjoyed, we need to remember that we still enjoy much peace and security in our nation that many throughout history and throughout the world today do not enjoy. We must pray for them – for their faith, their witness, their safety, the removal of oppression (through conversion to Christ or the sword of the state), and that Christ would build His church as He has promised (Matthew 16:18).
And, let us also pray for ourselves as a Church that we would learn the difficult task of finding joy in suffering shame for Jesus’ name and that we would learn to prioritize the preaching of Christ and our relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch