Tuesday, August 29, 2017

News and Good News

The evangelical church is not without challenges to its unity on various issues. One of those challenges regards sexuality and marriage.

Evangelicals have been at the forefront of defending the biblical views that marriage is a covenant relationship only between a man and a woman and sexual intercourse is an expression solely for a husband and wife. Yet, some self-identified evangelical individuals -- such as popular author/speaker Jen Hatmaker -- and churches -- such as GracePointe in the Nashville, Tenn., area -- have decided in recent years Christians should affirm same-sex relationships. Others in evangelicalism have recently declared the issue should not divide evangelicals. They have proposed an "agree-to-disagree" approach that would prevent evangelicals from breaking fellowship over the matter.

A coalition of evangelical leaders has stated unequivocally that is unacceptable biblically. The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood announced today (Aug. 29) release of The Nashville Statement, a document of 14 affirmations and denials regarding the biblical view of sexuality. Among its articles, the statement says:

“WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness. WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.”

In other words, this document's signers -- and they include many well-known heavy hitters in the evangelical world -- are saying the biblical view of homosexual practice and gender identity is not an issue to be minimized or compromised. All who belong to Christ by grace through faith should affirm the truth that an endorsement of homosexual behavior or transgenderism clearly contradicts Scripture.

As a church, we added an article to our Confession of Faith last year that briefly spells out the Bible's teaching on marriage, sexuality and gender identity. Each membership candidate must affirm the confession, including this article, to enter into a covenant with our current members. The Nashville Statement's guidance provides helpful guidance to Christians and churches as we navigate a sexually confused culture.

Here are articles on The Nashville Statement and other recent news items of interest to evangelicals:

1. Evangelicals say view of homosexuality and transgenderism is essential -- Southern Baptist and other evangelical leaders strongly endorsed The Nashville Statement on sexuality. By the way, Jen Hatmaker criticized it today in a series of tweets.

2. Acceptance of polygamy on the ascent -- More Americans consider polygamy "morally acceptable" then ever, according to a Gallup poll released in late July. The survey found 17 percent of Americans say it is acceptable for a person to have more than one spouse, an increase of three percent from the previous year. The percentage may seem harmless, but the fact nearly one in five Americans has no problem with polygamy does not bode well for our future.

3. Iceland has almost totally eliminated Down syndrome babies -- Iceland has used prenatal testing to prevent nearly completely the births of children that test positive for Down syndrome. This CBS report offers a sad look at the mindset of a country practicing the quality-of-life ethic.

4. Turkish ordeal continues for American pastor -- Andrew Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for 23 years and served as a pastor there, not only remains in prison but now is facing additional charges that could result in four life sentences. Brunson was arrested last fall for alleged connections to a group blamed in a failed overthrow of the government. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently said the United States continues to seek Brunson's release.

5. Iranian Christian convert released after 4 years -- Maryam Naghash Zargaran, a convert from Islam to Christianity, was released from a Tehran prison Aug. 1 after serving four years. She was arrested in 2013 at the same time as Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini, who was released last year.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The blessing of marriage separated only by death

August 13 is a special day in our family.

It was 39 years ago yesterday I asked Linda Stark to marry me. Fortunately, she said, "Yes." Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had proposed on the same date her maternal grandparents were married. They remained husband and wife for 57 years until death separated them. In 2005, the wedding of our daughter and our now-son-in-law took place August 13.

At the time we were first engaged, then married about four months later, I could not envision all it would mean. I can say after nearly four decades, however, I not only am thankful for my bride but for the institution of marriage. It is God's exceedingly good gift to human beings. A marriage separated by nothing but death brings blessings a husband and wife likely never could have foreseen. I know that is true of me.

This reality dawned on me six years ago. Our daughter was experiencing difficulties with her heart after giving birth to their second child. As her parents, Linda and I were deeply concerned and called out to God for her welfare. I was driving home from the train station one evening when a thought strongly affected me: "I cannot imagine going through this burden over Catherine without my wife." What if we were no longer married? What if I did not have the mother of my children with whom to share this weight as my wife? What if we related to our daughter as two people no longer united as her parents in marriage? Thankfully, God restored our daughter's health through the means of a heart procedure.

I remain grateful in other ways for the permanence God designed for marriage and the gracious blessing that Linda and I are still united. I am thankful we truly share in all the joys and concerns regarding our children now that they are adults and have families of their own. I am thankful our children, their spouses and their children don't have to divide time between two households when they visit us. Linda and I are able to welcome them into our home. We share the same experiences and memories of them from their visits here, our visits in their homes, family vacations and holidays.

That was not the experience of my parents, who divorced when I was in college. My children, and my brother's children, did not know Granddad and Nannie as a unit. They had to go to separate homes hundreds of miles apart to see them. Our parents never welcomed them into the home they shared and experienced the joy of life together with grandchildren the way God intended. I wonder what unspoken regrets they harbored as a result.

Of course, keeping the covenant of marriage for life is not primarily about the benefits it brings. Marriage is, first and foremost, a display of the gospel -- of Christ coming for a bride He will love and keep forever. Marriage is established by a vow to God and to another person that is to be fulfilled come what may. That picture and that promise provide all the reasons we need to persevere through the trials marriages typically experience.

Yet, it is encouraging to know God has backloaded marriage with benefits a young bride and groom could never anticipate.

(Addendum: Some of you who have read this post might say, "I wanted a life-long marriage, but my spouse ultimately did not. So I have no way of sharing in these benefits." I am sorry for your spouse's sin and the consequences it has had for you. This was true in my parents' marriage. Please know, however, marriage -- as wonderful as it is -- is not a substitute for the greatest treasure in life. If you have trusted in Jesus to save you from your sins, He is your life and joy. In Him is the deepest delight, and He has placed you in a family that will bless you and be yours forever.)

Monday, August 7, 2017

News and Good News

Many ethical, moral and social issues continue to confront evangelical Christians as this latest edition of "News and Good News" arrives, and the sanctity of human life remains at the forefront.

As followers of Christ, we respond to questions about such matters as abortion, gene editing and care for disabled children with this biblical foundation we are introduced to in Genesis 1 -- every human being is an image bearer of God and possesses a life that should be valued and protected regardless of:

-- His or her stage of development from conception to natural death;

-- His or her condition physically, mentally and emotionally;

-- His or her ethnicity, skin color, nationality and legal status.

This means the embryonic child, the baby two months into an unwanted pregnancy, the Down syndrome newborn, the discarded orphan, the permanently disabled teenager, the terminally ill adult, the Alzheimer's patient and the minority person out of fashion with the majority are all as valuable as the epitome of health, power and popularity in any culture.

Such a worldview provides surety when others depend on subjective and qualitative judgments in ethical debates involving life issues.

Here are some recent news articles of interest to us as evangelicals:

1. Charlie Gard dies after parents' long battle on his behalf -- The British infant whose case gained international attention died only days short of his first birthday. His parents surrendered their battle with a hospital and the courts when they learned it was too late for the experimental treatment they had been seeking for months.

2. Human embryos edited for first time in United States -- Oregon researchers edited human embryos for the first time on American soil to correct a genetic mutation in what might be described as the first step on the path to the original genetically modified human beings. The research not only raises ethical questions but is unethical itself, a Southern Baptist bioethicist said. here.

3. Abortion still divisive after all these years -- A Pew Research Center survey demonstrates the divide that continues among Americans 44 years after the legalization of abortion. Overall, 57 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances, while 40 percent think it should be illegal in all or most cases, according to the survey. The poll does not appear to have asked for opinions on abortion at certain stages or for certain reasons or by specific methods.

4. President Trump announces ban on transgender military members -- People who identify as a different gender than their biological sex will be unable to serve in the armed forces, the president tweeted in a move that apparently caught the Pentagon off guard.

5. Christians receive long prison sentences in Iran -- Christians continue to face persecution in Iran, one of the world's most severe violators of religious liberty. This report says 11 converts to the Christian faith have received lengthy prison sentences in the last couple of months.

Despite the attacks on human life and religious belief, the Good News of Christ's life, death and resurrection for sinners makes us free no matter where we live.