Today, as has already become well publicized, the Obama administration, through the Department of Justice and the Department of Education, issued a joint guidance statement (read “decree”) directing all school boards in the United States to comply with the administration’s interpretation of Title IX as including sexual orientation and transgender identification. One immediate implication of this directive is that school boards must now allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their chosen sexual/gender identity, rather than their actual biological sex/gender. Failure to comply with the directive could result in lawsuits and/or loss of federal funding.
Of course, there has already been considerable reaction to this rather heavy-handed decree. In this article, I am going to focus on only one particular facet of this issue, and I am going to attempt to do so from a biblical-theological perspective. My question is this: How is it that the Obama administration was even able to issue such a decree? My answer: Because of apostasy in the church of Jesus Christ.
Biblical theology has to do with the great drama of redemption contained in Holy Scripture. It is concerned with broad sweeping topics: God’s progressive self-revelation, the history of salvation, the narrative of the great deeds of redemption, the covenants between God and humans, the conflict between good and evil, the cosmic conflict between God and Satan, the war between the children of light and the children of darkness, the city of God versus the city of man, the kingdom of God versus the kingdom of darkness.
One chapter in the Bible which plays especially well in this biblical-theological drama is Romans 1. The first half of the chapter describes what God has done to procure redemption for those who put their faith in Jesus. It tells of how Jesus, who was, humanly speaking, descended from David, was nevertheless, through the Holy Spirit, marked out as the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead. The preaching of this Messiah’s death and resurrection is the gospel, the good news for lost human beings. In that gospel the righteousness of God is revealed. It is a gospel of which Paul can say that he is not ashamed, though, in the Hellenistic world in which Paul moved, there would have been plenty of reason to be ashamed—placing one’s faith in not only an apparently dead Messiah, but one who had died disgracefully, via crucifixion, as an enemy of the Roman empire, as well as also having been rejected by his own people, the Jews.
In the second half of the chapter, we are told about the antithesis to this history of salvation. It too describes the revelation of God’s righteousness, but not a righteousness characterized as redemption or salvation, but a revelation of God’s righteous wrath. It tells of the peoples of the world who have refused to acknowledge God as God, who have turned to all kinds of idols to be the recipients of their worship. It tells of how, in their worship, they exchanged the glory of God for the glory of merely mortal humans, and birds, animals, and reptiles. It tells of how, in a punishment characterized by poetic justice, God gave them over to sexual degradation, as they “exchanged” natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. Beyond this, these sexual degradations led to the further and complete disintegration of society, including: every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, depravity, murder, strife, deceit, malice, slander, arrogance, disobedience, and, indeed, hatred toward God. Furthermore, they not only do these things, they revel in them, they celebrate them, they cheer on those who do them—they hold “pride” parades.
The two halves of this chapter set up an absolute dichotomy, an antithesis, a direct and diametrical opposition between light and darkness, good and evil, the City of God and the City of Man, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. There is no in-between ground. There is no neutral territory. There is no demilitarized zone between the two kingdoms.
Over the past few years, a new movement has arisen in the church to legitimize homosexual acts and same-sex sexual relationships. Prominent church leaders have argued that Christians who identify as gay and are practicing homosexuals should not only be welcomed but affirmed in their chosen lifestyles. Same-sex unions should be blessed. Same-sex marriages should be performed by the church. Practicing homosexuals should be ordained as leaders and ministers in the church.
Entire congregations, and even entire denominations, have taken new positions. Some of them have declared themselves to be completely welcoming, inclusive, and affirming. Others have allowed dioceses or presbyteries within the denomination to determine their own practices, and then mandated that the presbyteries and dioceses that were not so inclined should still respect the decisions of their brothers and sisters. They have accused those who could not adopt or abide by these new positions of being disruptive, dis-unifying, schismatic, and of failing to show Christian love. And they have ridiculed other Christians who, because of their convictions, have refused to concede to this new deviant understanding of the issue, though they have been threatened with loss of business, employment, and position for their failure to get on board with the new understanding.
Deplorably, these new stances on homosexuality and all the sexually-oriented identifications represented in the alphabet soup, of which LGBTQ is only the beginning, have been argued with the thinnest of biblical arguments and the most implausible of possible interpretations of key passages. And all this has taken place despite the univocal teaching of Scripture and a nearly two-thousand-year-old interpretation of Scripture that has been just as univocal (see, most recently, S. Donald Fortson III and Rollin G. Grams, Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition).
So, while there are many factors involved in the handing down today of the Obama administration’s decree on transgender policies on schools, one factor in particular which I call attention to is the divided nature of the church of Jesus Christ. The state is not the church, and the church is not the state. But I think it is fair to say that, even though we are in living in a time which has been characterized as that of post-Christendom, the church still has a measure of influence on public policy. If the church of today was of one mind on these issues, as has been the case for the last two thousand years, I believe the climate would not have been an acceptable one for Obama’s heavy-handed move. But the church is not of one mind. The church has seriously degenerated in its ability to understand Scripture, to read Scripture biblically-theologically, to read Scripture as a narrative of the history of redemption, to read Scripture as a dramatic account of the forces of light versus the forces of darkness. Rather, prominent Christian leaders, entire congregations, and entire denominations have, as I said, on the thinnest of biblical arguments, and the most implausible interpretations of Scripture, decided to play the traitor. They have tried to either inhabit that non-existent neutral ground between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, or they have decided to go over to the dark side altogether. They have betrayed their Christian brothers and sisters, and they have taken a position which is anti-gospel and anti-Christ.
Romans 1 highlights the difference between the gospel of Jesus Christ and the revelation of the righteous wrath of God against those who have exchanged the glory of God for that which is not God. And one of the things that God does to idolatrous societies who have made this exchange is, appropriately, to give them up to an “unnatural exchange” in sexual matters. Earlier today, one blog article I read said that America risks incurring the wrath of God if the administration’s decree is implemented. And while this may be true, the more important thing we need to notice is that the decree is, in itself, already a revelation of God’s righteous wrath. Rampant deviant sexuality, and the glorification of that deviant sexuality, is already indicative of a society under the judgment of God, a society that God has “given over” to these things.
The church is called to take a prophetic stance. And when God is already pouring out his wrath, when the “axe is already laid to the root of the trees,” and when church leaders and denominations fail to recognize this activity of God, “what God is doing in the world,” when they refuse to even refer to homosexual acts as sinful, and when they fail to warn people that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God—well, it is impossible for enemies of the church to be prophets of the church. And by their actions, they betray the work of Christians who are, indeed, trying to be prophetic. The church has traitors in its midst, and they have created the climate in which directives like the one handed down today are even possible.
The church has a long history of attempting to dine with the devil. One recent example of this, of course, was what happened in Nazi Germany, when the “German Christians” aligned their activity with that of the Nazi party, and where the church agreed that in order to be a good Christian, one also had to be a good Nazi, all this in order to “make Germany great again.” It was their capitulation to the spirit of the age that called for the rise of, as well as the persecution of, the “Confessing church.”
Today, the church in America, in continuing to dine with the devil, has proven itself to be an equal opportunity dining partner. On the one hand, it dines with the devils on the right of the spectrum, equating Christianity with a particular kind of patriotism which, in seeking to “make America great again,” seems willing to sell its soul for a “mess of pottage,” and for economic reasons and the thirst for political power, is willing to overlook any number of moral deficiencies of character. On the other hand, it dines with the devils on the left, apparently willing in the name of social justice, or the most recently, newly-minted, popular civil rights flavor of the month, to tolerate a different, but equally reprehensible set of moral deficiencies. On both ends of this spectrum, the church forfeits the right to claim the name “prophet”; in both instances, the church severs the connection with its Lord. And the solution to this problem is not to try to find a place somewhere in the middle. There are devils along the entire length of the spectrum, in the middle as well as at both ends. The church must get off the spectrum altogether. It doesn’t matter in which restaurant you meet up with the devil. In dining with the devil, whichever devil it may be, or in whatever location, the church forfeits the right to dine at the Lord’s table.
So, that is one person’s biblical-theological analysis of the situation in which the church finds itself. It is not a complete analysis; it only deals with one particular aspect. It is, nevertheless, a very important aspect. And, in order to regain its prophetic status again, the church must again hear what God said to Jeremiah, who had himself begun to stray from his prophetic commission:
“If you repent, I will restore you
that you may serve me;
if you utter worthy, not worthless, words,
you will be my spokesman.
Let this people turn to you,
but you must not turn to them.” (Jer 15:19)
And the good news is that, if we do indeed repent, and make sure that our words conform to God’s words, and not to those of the society around us, then God makes this promise to us as well:
“I will make you a wall to this people,
a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you
but will not overcome you,
for I am with you
to rescue and save you,”
declares the LORD. (Jer 15:20)
May 13, 2016