Sunday, November 02, 2014

Why we're losing...

...and will continue to lose until something radically changes.
Recently, Ellen and I were at a support group we attend, and were glad to see a member we hadn't seen for a couple of years. However, we were surprised to see him with a woman we didn't know, who he introduced as his bride. The last time he'd attended the group, it had been with his wife – who was another woman. We'd both had some hints that something had changed in their relationship, but were not expecting to see him show up claiming a different woman as his wife.
To make things worse, this support group is based out of a Christian church.
Even worse, the group's purpose is to support and strengthen Christian marriage.
Even worse, the man in question was a pastor.
Think about this for a minute.
Even knowing nothing about the circumstances behind the couple's separation (which we don't), having no idea whose “fault” things were (even if that made any difference), we have a man who claims to not only know the Word of God but to teach it to others acting as if Jesus never spoke these words:
“Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one'? So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery.” (Matt 19:4-9)
Even if we charitably assume that the pastor's marriage had enough difficulties to make it intolerable, that still does not explain the “remarriage”. The couple could have separated for the sake of peace, but still respected Jesus' words by not “remarrying”. I don't know what's going on with the wife, but the husband should have known better, especially if he was taking Jesus' words seriously.
Sadly, this situation is all to common in our culture, and puts us all in a place of perplexitas, to use Aquinas' term: a situation with no easy, charitable solution. How should one handle a couple in a “second marriage”, especially under these circumstances? Ask them not to attend out of respect for the integrity of God's word, thus cutting them off from a possible channel of grace? (Not to mention risk being accused of what is to our culture a mortal sin, i.e. being “judgmental”?) Or tolerate their presence at the risk of eroding the authority of God's word? And what will be the long-term effect of this life decision on that man's own integrity and authority? How clearly and firmly is he going to preach on the matter of the Biblical view of marriage with his “second wife” sitting right there in the pew?
When the ancient Israelites started straying into idolatry, they didn't jettison Yahweh – they just let other practices and beliefs creep in to sit alongside their practice of Torah. In fact, I've heard that the warning portion of the First Commandment (“You shall have no other gods before me”) carries the inflection of “in my presence” - or, to use the modern idiom, “in my face”. The meaning is that to honor other gods in Yahweh's presence is to flaunt them before Him. One gets the impression that this double-worship, this state of divided heart, is more detestable to the Lord than outright rejection. This is certainly the sense of Elijah's rebuke: “And Elijah came near to all the people, and said, 'How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.'” (1 Kings 18:21) Yet this is precisely what we have come to accommodate in the Church today, even from leaders: lip service to the Word of God and its authority, yet appealing to the gods of the world when God's Word is too stringent or demanding.
That very week, a group of pastors in the area protested strongly against amending our state's anti-discrimination statute to include “discrimination” against LGBT parties.) Sympathetic as I am to the ideal, it's a rearguard action. We've long since ceded the critical grounds of the battle, with mealy-mouthed accommodation of divorce and remarriage, fornication, abortion, and contraception. Now we have our backs to the gate, fighting to hold the final corner from being taken. Ultimately it's a losing battle, unless and until we obey Jesus' commands in a way that costs us. As long as we pay lip service to obeying Jesus but take short-cuts by way of the paths of other gods when obedience becomes too costly, we will be driven back.
We shouldn't have our backs to the wall. We should be routing the enemy from the field, not just to vindicate our Lord but for the sake of all those poor victims out there who are being deceived into thinking that they can find happiness outside of God's plan for all humanity. They're the ones who are suffering most for our disobedience. Only when we obey all of Jesus' words will we be victorious, and be able to witness with our own lives that even costly obedience is worth every ounce of sacrifice, because it is the only path to freedom and true happiness.

Until then, we will lose.