How Did This Happen?
God gave them over (Romans 1:28).
The recent Supreme Court decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges, which redefines 3500 hundred years of legal and biblical precedent, and which mandates that all fifty states must uphold same sex unions, is a shock to the sensibilities of most Christians. Forty-eight percent of Americans now approve of same sex unions while only forty-two percent oppose them. How did this happen so quickly?
Actually, this has been percolating for at least two hundred and sixty years. In 1754, after being voted out of his church in Northampton, while serving the Housatonic Indians in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Jonathan Edwards, the erstwhile preacher and theologian, saw a disturbing trend in the Colonial American church – pastors were beginning to question the absolute authority of Scripture. This led naturally to a denial of the absolute sovereignty of God in all the affairs of creation and redemption. Edwards knew this would lead to a refusal of people to submit to God and his revealed word in the Holy Scriptures. Consequently Edwards wrote his treatise addressing this issue, calling it A careful and Strict Inquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of that Freedom of the Will which Is Supposed to Be Essential to Moral Agency, Virtue and Vice, Reward and Punishment, Praise and Blame (more commonly known as The Freedom of the Will).1 Most largely ignored it.
Harvard feminist Ann Douglas, no friend of Christianity, has observed that the rise of feminism (something she, of course, delights in) began to take hold in the mid-19th century through sappy novels written by Christian women; and this was possible because the church had abandoned Calvinism which stressed the sovereignty of God and man’s total submission to him.2 Mankind’s freedom from God’s word was gaining strength in the American ethos.
It was also during the first half of the 19th century that the man-centred New Haven theology of Yale and Amherst took hold, made popular by Charles Finney. The New Haven theology denied the imputation of Adam’s sin which meant that the unregenerate man was free to choose or reject the offer of salvation. So, in an effort to reach the lost, believing that the unsaved holds the last say on his salvation, Finney and those who followed him believed they were justified in using whatever measures necessary to ‘get decisions’ for Christ. It seems clear now that many of these ‘conversions’ were spurious ones, for many later rejected their original commitment to Christ; and having believed they ‘had been there, done that,’ no longer were interested in hearing a strong gospel message declaring the utter depravity and inability of man to save himself.
So by the end of the 19th century America had moved further away from biblical faith and much closer to Transcendentalism championed by free thinkers like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Americans also increasingly questioned the authority of Scripture in light of the newest craze – Darwinism – which clearly undermined the notion of a Creator God as revealed in the first three chapters of Genesis.
By the time of the Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925 where Clarence Darrow tied William Jennings Bryan into knots, the apostasy from biblical Christianity as the prevailing world view in America was almost complete. Two other issues, however, helped to seal our fate, as it were, in this regard. First was the notion, held by many Southern Presbyterians, of the spirituality of the church, sometimes called today two kingdom theology. Nineteenth century Southern Presbyterians, in defending the ‘peculiar institution’ of slavery, said that slavery was not a moral issue but a political one, and that the church had no right to speak to political issues, that she is only to preach the gospel. This two kingdom view (the kingdom of the world where natural law must guide us, and the kingdom of Christ – the church – where the Bible guides us) has worked largely to silence preachers and churches on the hot button topics of the day, like homosexuality, same sex unions, and abortion.
And the second issue which has driven the last nail into the coffin is the rejection of God’s law as our final authority in the church and in the world. Back in the mid 1970’s Rousas J. Rushdoony wrote The Institutes of Biblical Law which makes the point that our only God-given authority for how we are to live in the world is the law of God, that our duty is to obey all of it. Rushdoony, however, overplayed his hand,3 saying that if this is true, then homosexuals, adulterers, blasphemers, and incorrigible, hard-hearted children ought to be executed by the state. Consequently Christians rejected Rushdooney’s teaching out of hand and threw away the baby with the bath water. Christians have gone to the other extreme and live as though God’s law does not apply to them or the people of their nation, or those who govern us, or those who sit on our Supreme Court. So the rebellion against God and his word is complete. ‘And since they did not see fit to acknowledge Him any longer, God gave them over to a reprobate mind to do those things which are not proper.’
So, the question now is – how shall we navigate our way through this brave new world? Though the Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in our nation, we must never forget there is still the highest court to which we all, including the majority judges on Obergefell vs. Hodges must answer. So, we have no choice but to obey God rather than man. But how does this play out in your everyday life, assuming you are not a pastor or probate judge who must decide whether or not they will defy the law and officiate same sex unions? For you who face this issue at the water cooler each day at work, what should you say? Consider this analogy from my wife. When in high school or college, if a young man had asked her to have sex with him, she would have replied, ‘Oh, I could never do that. You see, my father, who loves me very much, and whom I also deeply love and respect, has told me not to engage in sexual intercourse until I am married. I could never violate my father’s love for me. You are asking me to do something I cannot do.’ Likewise, when someone asks your ‘take’ on same sex unions you can say, ‘I love God and I willingly and joyfully want to obey his law. He makes clear that marriage is between one man and one woman. I can never violate that nor could I ever agree with that in any circumstance for anyone. I love God and other people too much ever to support something contrary to his law and which is harmful to all people.’ Respond with kindness, not anger or bitterness. Do not give an inch, however. Do not allow others to intimidate you or verbally to bludgeon you into submission. Respond as a child of God who loves his Father and who delights to honour and obey him.
- Edwards’ treatise can be found in Volume 1 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), pp. 1-93.
- Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture, pp. 6-8.
- John Frame explains this very well in his The Doctrine of the Christian Life, pp. 217-224.
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at email@example.com.
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