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SCOTUS, God’s Rod, and the Church

While I generally make some effort to avoid Facebook, the recent decision in favor of gay marriage has left me quite interested in what people have to say. Major historical events such as this one are very polarizing and I find it fascinating to read what, regrettably, will likely serve as source materials for future historians. #Historythroughhashtag

As I read, I have generally noted that while my more secular friends are quite excited about and pleased with this decision, Christians have generally been angry, sad, afraid, or some combination of the three. None of these emotions is surprising or even out of place. Anger at sin is something that Christians ought to feel (Psalm 97:10; Proverbs 8:13; Romans 12:9, etc.), despite the portrait we are often given of a hippie-Jesus with long, flowing locks who never gets angry. Sadness is also appropriate because, if we love people, we want what is best for them—which is not sexual slavery.

Fear, I think, is also appropriate, but not the kind of fear that I have seen. Many are afraid that this is a big step in the suppression of the religious freedoms we have, thus far, enjoyed. Of course, as a concern, this is legitimate. Our nation is able to call evil good because it has abandoned any kind of sane standard. Since the world hates Christ and His people, it should concern us that it is throwing off the chains that once bound them to behave reasonably. Making same-sex marriage legal does not naturally lead to throwing preachers in jail, but throwing away God’s Law leads easily to both of these things.

While the concern we may have is legitimate and indeed quite necessary, the fear that we have for that future is not. Jesus told us that we should not fear those who have the power to throw us into prison or kill us. Rather, we should fear God who can send us to hell (Matthew 10:28). The flip side of hating evil is not fearing evildoers, but fearing God (Proverbs 8:13).

If we have put our faith in Christ, we know that we do not need to fear hell. Christ has given us His righteousness, meaning that God would be just as unjust to condemn the believer to hell as He would to send Jesus Himself to hell. Our fear of hell drives us to Christ, where we find promises of forgiveness and justification which comfort us greatly.

However, the believer is still supposed to fear God—not so much in the way that a criminal fears a judge, but in the way that a child fears his father. A child is not afraid that his father is going to disown him or kill him, but he is afraid of the rod. While it is every father’s hope that his son will obey out of love, sometimes the fear of the rod must act as a tutor until obedience from love is learned.

This brings us to our current predicament. We, the church, presently find ourselves kneeled over the ottoman in the living room, God raising His rod to strike us in the backside. In this rather humbling position, however, we are not repentant. In fact, we’ve concerned ourselves more with what the manufacturer of the rod could have done better in its construction than with what we’ve done to end up here.

A Parallel with Israel

I’m going to draw a parallel between Israel and the church; I’m doing this because Israel was God’s people under the Old Covenant and the church is God’s people under the New Covenant. Whatever your take on Israel and the church, you have to admit that they have a lot in common, certainly enough to draw the parallel I’m about to draw.

In Isaiah 10, God speaks of sending Assyria as the rod of his anger against Israel, the people of His wrath. Now Assyria was a particularly murderous and awful people. They were the kind of people who would praise sexual immorality and murder babies when they are most helpless. Our current culture bears some resemblance to Assyria in kind, although not quite in degree.

As we read through Isaiah (and indeed many of the prophets), we see that there are two charges God brings to His people over and over again: those of false worship and oppression of the poor. Amos, a contemporary of Isaiah, describes the problem perfectly when he says “they lay themselves down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge, and in the house of their God they drink the wine of those who have been fined.”

This is like someone who goes to church and kneels for prayer, but he does it on a prayer-mat that he acquired in a court settlement. He may have illegally taken everything the poor man owed and he may have only won the case because he bribed the judge… but “look!” says he, “I’m bowing for prayer! God must be pleased with me.”

Worse still, in the latter part of this verse its as though the pastor is serving communion with wine acquired much the same way. This is all evidence of the principle about idols that we find in Psalm 115:8: “Those who make them [idols] become like them; so do all who trust in them.” (ESV)

Israel could not expect to be just and merciful like God because they were worshiping a golden calf. This may be why God compares Israel to cows in Amos 4. The people are like the thing they worship.

In Isaiah and Amos’ day, however, many people expected a day of the Lord coming when God would judge the nations, but judgment was going to begin with God’s people. Assyria had caused quite a few problems for Israel already, but God makes it clear in Amos 5:18ff that those who desired “the day of the LORD” were going to be disappointed. They thought it would be a time of great affluence for them, but it was darkness and not light. They expected God’s favor because they spent so much time worshiping Him, but instead they would feel His anger and discipline because He hated their worship and couldn’t stand their songs (Amos 5:21ff; Isaiah 1:12–20).

As American Christians, we see the culture around us getting worse and worse. We feel afraid that they might hurt us and we forget that God is sovereign over the affairs of nations. The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes (Proverbs 21:1).

God is not helpless over the decisions of kings and presidents. Indeed, He ordained them. Moreover, God works all things for the good of the church, that is her sanctification (Romans 8:28–29). Assyria was brought against Israel as a rod, and I believe that the LGBTQ movement is being brought against the church as a rod as well. God disciplines the one He loves, so if we see hardship for God’s people, we should see the loving hand of God raised to slap some sense into us.

How We Got Here

For Israel, the issue was their perverted worship and perverted justice system. They had abandoned God’s Law in their worship of God and in their civil courts. I believe that the issue for the Christian church is quite similar (although I don’t wish, by any means, to restrict it to these two things).

Regarding Worship

In our arrogance, we believe that we can worship God however we’d like. In its most potent form, this looks like lasers and fog machines making a weekly appearance in Sunday morning’s worship service. The sermon is a five minute pep-talk and the “worship” songs have as much theological richness as a half-faded fortune cookie, and about as many words. This is the extreme example and most Christians would argue that this is wrong.

More commonly, however, Christians pervert worship by not even asking how God expects us to worship. We hold our preferences of what feels good to us or what we’re used to over and against how God has commanded us to worship Him. Most of our worship pastors know more about hair gel or guitar riffs than about what God has said in the Old and New Testaments regarding His worship.

Worship is about God’s serving us and our obedient response of gratitude, praise, and going out into the world to live as living sacrifices. We have played the whore and made it about us serving ourselves. Worship is either a concert to be enjoyed or an outlet for self-righteous worship-preference wars. We debate over hymns with theological depth against praise songs that feel good, all the while neglecting God’s hymnbook, given us in His Word. We idolize our preferences and neglect to learn about God’s preferences by reading His Word.

Alternatively, worship becomes nothing more than an evangelism tool. We make the only important thing on Sunday morning to be whether or not unbelievers will be drawn in by the style and atmosphere. We do not ask what kind of music or environment God wants, only what kind of music would appeal to an newcomer. We want our music to be pleasing to the world and give hardly a thought to whether or not it pleases God. We refuse to do the hard work of studying Scripture to understand what God has required.

After all this, we wonder why churches are closing and lamp stands are being removed.

Regarding Justice

Conservative and liberal Christians both think that they have found the answer for all of America’s problems. The liberals think the solution is to start soup kitchens and get the government to take other people’s money and use it to fund programs. Conservatives think the solution is raw capitalism. Each has only shadows of the real answer, mixed with men’s traditions.

As we try to solve society’s woes, few in the church look to God’s Word to understand how He commanded a nation to be run. We disregard the Old Covenant civil code because it sounds archaic and just plain mean. We reject God’s Law and allow the traditions of men to govern us, then we wonder why it has become legal to murder babies.

We have bought the lie of pragmatism and we believe that we can form a government without building on God’s Law. We have bought the myth of neutrality. We believe that unbelievers have just as good a chance at making just laws as unbelievers, even though Jesus said that building on anything but His Word is like building on sand. On this sand, we are taught that capital punishment for adulterers is unjust, but abortion is fine. As the infant body count rises, we refuse to look to God for wisdom and justice.

Where We’re Going

Two brief things need to be said about our direction from here. The first is that our response must be to turn to God in faith and repentance. Whether we are speaking of the sins above that we commit corporately, or the sins we commit privately, we must turn in faith and repentance to God.

God has promised that although our sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). God dealt with our sins in Christ on the Cross and so we are free to turn from them and trust that God will forgive us. The absolute last thing we need is a legalism that says we can gain God’s favor through anything but the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

That said, God’s discipline should drive us to realize our foolishness and run to God’s Word to guide us in righteousness. Christ’s death has dealt with the penalty for sin and His resurrection has given us precisely what we need to walk in righteousness: a new life.

We should see God’s rod in the air and know that it is raised in love. We should be thankful that God will never disown us and we should be driven by fear and love to God’s Word to learn what obedience is, then again to our Father, asking for the Holy Spirit to help us live out that obedience.

As for the secularists, God’s rod, they will be dealt with. God compares Assyria with an axe that has boasted itself against the one who wields it. Secularism is not persecuting God’s church to do God a favor. The LGBTQ movement is a high rebellion against God, which He will deal with once He is finished using it to discipline His people (Isaiah 10:12–19).

In all of this, God is still sovereign and Christ is still Savior. The hope offered to the church in Christ is also offered to the world. As we turn in faith and repentance to God, we should pray that He will use our example to bring the nations with us.

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This article was posted on 06/29/2015 . It relates to these topics:
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