3 When the foundations are being destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”
Dear Friends in Christ,
When I began my ministry 34 years ago, I never would have dreamed that I would be preaching a sermon like the one I’m about to preach right now. Do I want to preach it? No. Have I looked forward to preaching it? No. Do I need to preach it? I think so. As do many other pastors, for if the churches of America remain silent at this time, if they don’t wake up and speak up and take up a stand on the authority of God’s Word, we stand to lose this beloved country whose independence we celebrated yesterday. And if you think that’s an overstatement, consider the following fact of history.
At one time it was the most powerful, productive, and proficient empire the world had ever seen or known. It lasted just over 500 years. It encompassed an incredible 2.2 million square miles. Because of its many conquests, its population swelled from a mere 4 million people to 65 million at its zenith. It was known as the Roman Empire. But in the year 476 AD it fell. So what happened? What led to the monumental collapse of this once magnificent and far-reaching empire? Well, according to Edward Gibbon, author of the book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the following events and occurrences led to its demise:
- The rapid increase of divorce; the undermining of the dignity and sanctity of the home and family, which are the basis of human society.
- Higher and higher taxes and the spending of public monies for free bread and circuses for the populace, i.e., the creation of a welfare state.
- The mad craze for pleasure; sports becoming more exciting every year and more brutal.
- The building of gigantic armaments when the real enemy was within, the decadence and immorality of the people.
- The decay of religion – faith fading into mere form, losing touch with life and becoming impotent to warn and guide the people.
Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it? Sounds like the track we’ve been on in America for the past several decades, a track that reached a zenith of sorts a week ago this past Friday when by one single vote, the highest court of our land changed the definition for marriage that has been in existence ever since the beginning of time. Think about that. I know at least one of the justices was thinking about it because in the hearings that were held leading up to this decision he asked the proponents of gay marriage: “So you are wanting 9 people to redefine an institution that has been in existence since the beginning of time,” implying, and I believe rightfully so: “Isn’t that a bit arrogant and audacious to even think of doing such a thing?” But apparently 5 of the justices did not think so. For they ruled in favor of it. I had anxiously been waiting for this decision ever since the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments both pro and con on this issue. I knew the decision was to come sometime near the end of June. I found it rather ironic, though, that I first heard the news at the Answers in Genesis Conference Marilyn and I were attending at that time where over and over again we heard about the attack on the authority of God’s Word that is taking place in our culture today. And the actual decision itself was announced about an hour or so before the pastor of the church where we met was scheduled to give his talk which was entitled “Should We Reconsider Gender Boundaries?” It was actually a sermon he gave a few months ago on the issues of gay marriage and the whole transgender movement that has especially been in the limelight most recently with Bruce Jenner becoming Kaitlyn Jenner. And so it spoke very powerfully, very relevantly, and very biblically to the Supreme Court’s decision as well as the direction that our culture is trending toward these days.
And what direction is that? You know as well as I do that it’s a direction that is taking us farther and farther away from the God whom our founding fathers looked to and leaned on and depended upon when they were embarking upon this new experiment that would consist of a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently put it in his Gettysburg Address. It’s a direction that God’s chosen people, the Jews, took in the Old Testament. In fact, the morning of the day that this decision was announced by the Supreme Court, I just happened to read the 1st 2 chapters of the book of Isaiah as part of my morning devotions. Listen to what God said to his people 700 years before the birth of Christ:
Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.”
Sadly, we have done the same, my friends. And I pray that it grieves you as much as it grieves me because the direction we are headed and especially this decision that in one fell swoop made gay marriage the law of the land even though a majority, 60% of Americans voted against it when given the opportunity…this decision and this direction could have very serious repercussions for the conservative, Bible-based, Christ-believing, Christ-honoring churches of America that I truly believe a lot of people who have supported gay marriage have not thought through. Let me give you just a few of them:
- Pandora’s Box – now that we’ve thrown out the time-tested, traditional, and biblical definition of marriage, Pandora’s Box is open for this opens the door for an anything-goes type of mentality that will denigrate and degrade this sacred institution that God himself instituted. Don’t be surprised when polygamy becomes legal or other weird and aberrant types of relationships. Recently I heard of one woman who married herself to celebrate her 40th birthday; another who married her 2 cats; and a man who married his adopted son. Now there were some extenuating circumstances in that situation, but interestingly, they all had to do with the whole gay marriage issue. Yet the court allowed it. In an article that I read about this, the author wrote the following:
If gay marriage is all about allowing people who love each other to marry, what about polygamists? If a man loves more than one woman why should the law prevent him from marrying multiple times? PETA assures us that animals are people and deserve human rights. A court even agreed with them and said that a monkey has human rights. If that crazy old lady down the street really loves her cat, whose business is it to tell her she can’t marry Mr. Mittens? Closer to this case, parents love their children, some way too much. Should the state stand in the way if a mother and son who love each other want to tie the knot?… If you think I’m overreacting, the precedent has been set in Pennsylvania. The state vacated an adoption so a man could marry his adopted son. It is now totally cool for parents to marry their adopted children in the Keystone State, a thought that is beyond insane. So what crazy form of marriage will become acceptable in the weeks and months to come?
- Repercussions for conservative Christian churches. In May all the pastors of our church body received a letter from the President of our Synod, Dr. Matthew Harrison. Anticipating that the Supreme Court would rule the way it did, he wanted to give us a heads up as to what this might mean for us pastors and our churches. After dealing with the theological consequences of this ruling, he shared some practical implications. He said:
The Synod’s legal team is carefully examining the potential ramifications of this case. It will likely be a messy ruling that will require time to unpack. We may discover that there is ultimately no constitutional protection for the Synod, its institutions, you or your congregation…Will LCMS pastors eventually be forced, as agents of the state, to perform same-sex marriages? If that happens, will we be prepared to let the state perform the legal marriage ceremony, while we as pastors provide a religious ceremony for those marriages that are in keeping with our confession of faith as Lutheran Christians? (mention the pastor I met at AIG who no longer performs state-sanctioned weddings)…Know that I, as Synod President, stand with you. What protections will the Synod or even the Constitution offer you? I don’t know…Will we be fined for not performing same-sex marriages? Potentially. Will we be thrown in jail? Maybe. A recently deceased Catholic bishop (Cardinal George) described what I believe we shall now begin to face: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”
The day the decision came out, President Harrison wrote the following: “The ramifications of this decision are seismic. Proponents will seek to drive Christians and Christian institutions out of education at all levels; they will press laws to force faithful Christian institutions and individuals to violate consciences in work practices and myriad other ways.” Folks, this is serious stuff we’re talking about here.
Jim Daly, the current President of Focus on the Family, wrote the following on his blog the day the decision was announced: “We are also concerned that this decision will fan the flames of government hostility against individuals, businesses and religious organizations whose convictions prevent them from officiating at, participating in, or celebrating such unions. We’ve already watched this hostility operate against wedding vendors, military chaplains, and others, and anticipate that today’s decision will open the door to an unwelcome escalation of this problem.”
- Loss of tax exempt status. I realize we’re talking about something material here, but the state has always been kind to churches in this regard because it knew the good that the churches of America do across our land and beyond. Should that tax exempt status be removed and churches, parochial schools, Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries be forced to pay property taxes and other taxes, there would no doubt be many that would be unable to do so, meaning they would be forced to close their doors, thus slowly stifling the Christian influence in our culture today. Think about that. What would America look like without the Christian influence that has permeated its borders ever since its beginning 239 years ago? When a disaster occurs – a hurricane, a tornado, a flood, an earthquake; when people are starving in other parts of the world; when children have been caught in the sex trafficking trade that is becoming so prevalent around our world and they need to be rescued; when people in our own community need financial assistance or food on their table, who are the ones who come to their aid and provide assistance? It’s the Christians, isn’t it? All the way from major ministries like Lutheran World Relief, Samaritan’s Purse, Compassion International, and World Vision down to the local Food Pantry and Community Fund sponsored by the Salem Ministerial Alliance. When’s the last time you heard of atheists or any other non-Christian group going on a mission trip like the one some of us will be going on in a few weeks and that hundreds and thousands of other congregations go on each year? Imagine what would happen if much of that Christian influence were removed from our society and our world.
- One more repercussion: Persecution. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the following in his dissent to the Supreme Court’s decision: “Today’s decision…will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.” A little bit later he speaks of“those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.” My young associate, Pastor Donald, got just a small taste of that we he put the following post on his Facebook page a week ago yesterday: “Tomorrow my Sunday School class will have a special Bible Study. We will be looking at the decision made by the Supreme Court yesterday. As we look at that, we will use the one source of truth, the Bible.” Here’s one response he got from a former classmate of his at River Forest who is now an ELCA pastor: “And who taught you that? School, parents, friends, the Book of Concord…We use the same books over here in the ELCA and we’ve been celebrating.” A girl he went to high school with wrote: “…being gay, in my opinion, has and will never be a sin. I will be celebrating with my LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ at my church. I’m sorry to hear yours will not be a celebration.” And then one more response came from a male high school classmate who wrote: “There was a time when you were not so ignorant. Really sorry to hear this from someone I respected for their intellect.” Isn’t it interesting that those who wear the badge of tolerance are so incredibly intolerant of those who don’t agree with them?
I don’t mean to sound melodramatic here, but I foresee a day when conservative Christian churches will be targeted by those who would like nothing better than to see their supposed prudish, puritanistic views and beliefs completely eradicated from our American culture. And while I do not look forward to the persecution that could ultimately come out of this decision, I know that God is still in control and that he has used persecution in the past to grow his church. For it is during times of persecution that we realize how precious and important our faith really is.
So what are we to do? How are we to respond to a culture that is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity, to the Bible, to God, and to his church? Or to borrow the words of our text for today: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? Let me quickly share with you 3 bullet points to answer that question.
- Respond with conviction. Stand firm on the Word of God. Understand that the biblical view of marriage is God’s view of marriage…and he’s the originator of it. How dare we tamper with that which a perfect God came up with in a perfect world! In Genesis 2:24 he said: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” By the way, Jesus reaffirmed this definition of marriage in Mark 10:6-9 when he said: “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” So my friends, if you have a problem with those who don’t believe in gay marriage, you need to take it up with God. We’re just doing what Martin Luther did when he was standing trial at the Diet of Worms and being told to recant or take back everything that he’d been saying and writing. Remember what he said? “Here I stand (namely, on the Word of God); I cannot do otherwise. God help me.” My friends, this is a Martin Luther moment for us and we need to be declaring: “Here we stand, on the Word of God; we cannot do otherwise. God help us.”
- Respond with clarity. What do I mean by that? What I mean is that we need to stop being what I would call “waffle Christians” – Christians who constantly waffle in their faith; Christians who are one thing on Sunday morning and something else throughout the rest of the week. Nothing turns off those outside the church more than when they see a phony Christian. It’s time for us to start taking our Christianity more seriously. It’s time for us to start living our Christianity more seriously. It’s time for us to start sharing our Christianity more seriously. Like Jesus said: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
- Respond with compassion. Do we Christians hate gays? Absolutely not! On the contrary, we love them. You know why we love them? Because Jesus loves them. In fact, Jesus loved them so much that on the cross he willingly assumed upon himself their sins as well as your sins and my sins and the sins of all humanity and he suffered and died to pay the full price and penalty for those sins so that anyone who repents of their sins, anyone who is willing to turn away from their sins and receive Christ’s sacrifice and payment for sin as their sacrifice and payment for sin will be saved. So as we find ourselves having to deal with this issue more and more, let us follow the wise advice that Peter gives in his 1stepistle when he says in chapter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with…name-calling? Hateful posts on Facebook? Mockery and ridicule? No! Do this with gentleness and respect.”
Let me close then with a great reminder that in the end marriage wins. For when Christ comes again, there will be the ultimate marriage, the marriage to end all marriages, the marriage between the Lamb, Jesus Christ, and his bride, the church, which includes all faithful Christians. So no matter how tough things get for us in our increasingly secularized culture, this is the hope we have to hold onto. Listen to these great words from Rev. 19:6-9: “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”
Let’s pray: Lord, we thank you that you are always there for us, that when the world and the culture around us seem to be spiraling out of control, you are still on the throne. And you have the incredible ability to bring good out of even the worst of situations. We pray that you would somehow do that here in such a way that many will be moved to say, “Only God could do something like that.” Meanwhile help us to stand on the unshakable foundation of your Word and when called upon to do so, help us to respond to the issue of gay marriage and all the other moral issues of our day with conviction, with clarity, and with compassion, always pointing people to Jesus. In his name we pray.