This post is the conclusion to a two-part series. It will probably not make much sense unless you go read the first post: Will I be dumping Starbucks?
I concluded the last post by asking if there was a better way to approach cultural issues than this ban on Starbucks.
This is how I answered:
In order to win the right war, sometimes we have to stop focusing on the wrong one. Sometimes, it is best to lose a battle in order to win a war. And I fear that our insistence on fighting so hard in the cultural war is causing us to lose the eternal war.
What good comes from gaining the top of the cultural mountain; if in gaining it, you have lost the ear of the very people you are trying to reach? Our task is not cultural superiority. It is gospel proclamation.
Our job as the church is not to “beat” gay rights activists, or liberals in general for that matter, in some imaginary game. Our job is to proclaim the gospel to them and continue to proclaim it to ourselves.
And that is where I want to pick up. If by reading my first post on this, you got the impression I felt we needed to be silent, then let me clarify. I do not think we should do less about cultural issues like same-sex marriage. I think we should do more.
In response to same-sex marriage (along with other issues such as poverty, human-trafficking, etc.), churches have done too little.
“Activism” is not the answer.
In light of the culture wars that plague the United States, I have noticed a growing trend. Americans are very vocal about problems but not very forthcoming with solutions. I would say this is true of both sides of the aisle on most issues. Facebook is filled with memes that attack particular viewpoints. However, little progress can come from such an approach. All that does is make people mad, and usually it hardens them in their opinion, because they now see the other side as jerks. Ironically, the fight stops being about the issue and becomes a contest of wits and wills.
Furthermore, we have replaced real action for a cause with “activism.” We have somehow equated being loud about our opinion with doing something for a cause. Social media has given everyone a megaphone, and removed the need to actually support anything with your time, money, and effort. Now, we can ease our conscience with the click of a “like” button or by sharing some obnoxious meme. Changing your profile picture does not mean you have done anything to change society.
There is an interesting phenomenon where groups who have little understanding of what they actually believe begin to define themselves by what they are not. Instead of providing people with a clear, positive affirmation of what they do believe, these groups sink back and begin to simply tell people what they are not. “We don’t do this,” or “We’re not in favor of that,” or “We don’t believe in that,” become the mantras of a group who cannot identify themselves by what they do believe.
If we think protests and profile pictures are enough, then we have sadly missed the boat.
A call to real action.
If our concern really is saving marriage (and not winning some imaginary culture game), perhaps we should stop spending so much time talking about what marriage is not and start telling people what it is. Even if our efforts to tell an unbelieving world to disagree with same-sex marriage somehow worked, without providing something to fill its place, we have simply created a vacuum.
God’s commands are not simply to avoid same-sex marriage; God expects more than that. He expects biblical marriage, and biblical marriage means more than merely heterosexual marriage.
Real action takes place when we stop yelling at lost people for acting like lost people and begin to provide a clear, positive explanation of God’s standard for marriage through both our words and our deeds.
There it was. That was the thesis statement. Go ahead, go back and read that one again. That is what we are called to when it comes to marriage and culture. This action must take place both inside the church and outside the church.
I fail to see how people think we can ever convince the secular culture outside to listen to our arguments about marriage when we have done such an awful job of it in the church.
Across America, churches have blown it when it comes to marriage.
Please realize divorce and same-sex marriage are two sides of the same sin. Both same-sex marriage and divorce are perversions of the biblical picture of marriage. Furthermore, marriage is one of the Bible’s clearest pictures of the gospel. (I have written on that before here.) Therefore, we are destroying a central symbol of the gospel when we mess these things up.
That is what makes same-sex marriage so bad. It is not that it is nastier or somehow more wicked than other sins. It undermines the gospel. But so does divorce.
If we are to approach these issues well in the public square, then we must clean up our own house. Honestly, if I was not a believer and I heard people in the church telling me I was doing marriage wrong, I would not be convinced their way was any better. And in many instances, it is not. Just look at all the broken pieces of failed covenant relationships that lay scattered around our pews on any given Sunday.
Can God redeem those people and those situations? Absolutely. Does God now hate people who have been divorced? Not even close. Is grace freely available? Without a doubt. Just as it is for those who come out of a same-sex marriage or homosexual lifestyle.
However, too many churches shirk away from the tough issues of marriage to focus on the ones that do not plague us internally (at least on the surface, as homosexuality is rampant in evangelical churches now). We must paint a clear picture of gospel-centered marriage, and begin to live that out in our church communities. We must treat divorce with as much intensity as we do homosexuality, adultery, and pornography.
Additionally, we must teach each other what the Bible says about marriage. We must have a solid, thorough understanding that does not define marriage by what it is not, but by all the fullness the Bible gives it. Marriage is richly defined by God.
It is a covenant relationship that involves sacrifice, love, and service. It is selfless. It is committed. It is beautiful. There is a lot more to it than making sure it is between a man and a woman.
Our job is not done in our churches until every believer knows what God means by the term marriage. And as we work toward that goal, an interesting thing will happen. Marriages in our churches will get better. Divorces will diminish. And people will actually understand why same-sex marriage is wrong.
It is shocking to see the number of active, evangelical church members who have changed their profile picture in support of same-sex marriage. Why is this the case? If we do not teach people the fullness of biblical marriage and how the gospel message is undermined when we stray from that, then it is easy to buy into the lies of the society around us.
When we have an anemic definition of marriage in the church, we will have an anemic stand for it outside of the church.
Fact is unbelievers do not need a manual on how to live a moral life. If you understand the gospel, then you realize telling a lost person to live by biblical standards is foolishness without the gospel. Brothers and sisters, you and I cannot live by biblical standards without the continual presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives shaping our actions and our worldview. Why in the world would we expect lost people to act like anything other than lost people?
The Bible is clear that unbelievers are dead and blind in their sin. Trying to pick at the individual sins of the world will never solve the problem. Yet, that is exactly what we do when we tell people who are not indwelled by the Holy Spirit to act like they are.
Try telling a dead person to stop lying around, and see what he does.
It is the power of the gospel that changes people, not some list of do’s and don’ts. If you want people to change their behavior, introduce them to Jesus. He is the only one that can do that.
And that brings me full circle to my first statement, “What good comes from gaining the top of the cultural mountain; if in gaining it, you have lost the ear of the very people you are trying to reach? Our task is not cultural superiority. It is gospel proclamation.”
When a person is running head long into hell, you do not chide them for the kind of running shoes they are wearing. You do your best to snag them, trip them, or stand in their way. And to do that, you must know them. You must be within arms reach.
Certainly, it is the Holy Spirit himself that calls people unto salvation. You cannot save someone, but the Spirit speaks through the witness of his saints. And since everyone has a megaphone now, that message is probably best delivered in person.
And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:15-17, ESV).
My last thought is a personal one. For well over a year now, I have been going to Starbucks at least once a week. I chose Starbucks precisely because I knew a lot of unbelievers work or spend time there. Over the course of this last year, I have made many friends (real friends too, not simply prospects): some Jewish, some agnostic, some atheist, and some people who grew up in church but fell away. And there has been no shortage of gospel conversations. I have seen lives changed over the course of that year. One young lady is currently doing a weekly Bible study with a friend of mine. I watched as people embraced God in a new way. I watched as people began to wrestle with the gospel in a way they had never considered before.
My love for them is genuine, and it has grown. It is personal, and they are my friends. For those who do not know Christ still, my heart breaks that the Spirit will grab them out of hell.
But I am certain in this, I would not be helping the matter if I was standing outside their coffee shop with a picket sign saying I wanted them to lose their job.
When was the last time you ate with a tax collector or sinner?