Last time, we looked at how Wilberforce exemplifies that godly reformation that can help to positively transform a culture, overturning inappropriate conservatism and avoiding the pitfalls of ill-considered radical revolution.
But, it is not always the case that innovation is right: sometimes, change -- even very popular change -- is to be stoutly resisted if we are to be faithful to what is right, sound and true. Or, when a would-be reform will end up costing the pain, dislocation and chaos that inevitably accompanies large scale social change, without sufficient compensating benefit that it makes sense.
Thus, discernment becomes a central question: when is change right, when is it wrong, when is it not worth the cost?
For instance, as we look across Western culture today, we can easily see that there is now a very "popular," media-promoted notion that marriage as we have traditionally known it, is in need of radical change to accommodate the "rights" of homosexuals. As a case in point of how that case is often made, let us observe on US Presidential candidate Mrs Hillary Rodham Clinton's recent statement on the subject, as made to the pro-homosexual Human Rights Campaign.
Speaking in opposition to the proposed amendment to the US Constitution to protect traditional marriage as being between one man and one woman, she said:
. . . This amendment was wedge politics at it's worst. It was mean-spirited, it was against the entire forward movement of American history . . . . It was the first time anyone was proposing we amend the Constitution to deny citizens rights rather than widen the circle of rights and opportunities . . . . we stopped the Federal Marriage Amendment and we sent a strong message that we will not stand idly by when anyone tries to write discrimination into our Constitution . . . .I want you to know this is exactly the kind of partnership we will have when I am President. [Go check the video at the linked page.]
First and foremost, we need to look a bit more closely at the issue of "rights." For, we have clearly reached a point where once something is tagged a "right," those who oppose it are going to be viewed as discriminatory, oppressive bigots. So, we must properly discern whether marriage in general is a right, and if the "marriage" of men with men or women with women, can properly be deemed a right.(Failing that, all that is going on is a subtle way of saying that one faction has power to shout down and improperly demonise, smear and shout “shut up!” at the other by using incivility to usurp the language of rights while suppressing the substance.)
Now, a right, rightly understood is a binding moral claim that others must respect, based in our being made in God's image. There is no other stable foundation for rights -- what governments or tides of public opinion and laws as the expression of that force of will give, they can take away again, and evolutionary materialism consistently and predictably founders when it tries to ground moral claims in anything beyond "might makes right." (And, of course, this sick slogan is the exact opposite of what a right properly is; the strong have no need to plead for respect!)
Immediately, we can see, too, that, properly we have no inherent binding moral claim on anyone else that they must marry us. In short, marriage is a covenantal agreement under God in light of the creation family life order for the human race, not a "right" that we can properly claim from anyone or any community.
To see that in a bit more depth, it is worth pausing to see how Jesus handled the debate over divorce in his day, and the grounds for it:
MT 19:3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"
MT 19:4 "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator `made them male and female,' 5 and said, `For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh' ? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
MT 19:7 "Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"
MT 19:8 Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."
In short, answering to the easy-divorce game [which is again a major problem] Jesus immediately pointed to the underlying creational, moral context: the one-flesh covenantal union we term marriage is rooted in the creation order of maleness, femaleness and the procreation and nurture of children, and woe betide those who tamper or trifle with it.
So, even before we come to the shocking statistics and other credible reports and analyses on just how short term, unstable and non-monogamous same-sex "unions' are, or eye-opening analyses of the devastating legal and cultural implications of the “redefine marriage” agenda, we can see that if easy divorce and mistaking permissions on account of the hardness of hearts fly in the face of God's intent and will, how much more so would confusing Adam and Eve with Adam and Steve or Eve and Sue?
Or, maybe, we do not need to guess. For, through the Apostle Paul [not to mention, Moses!], the scriptures are quite plain on what widespread acceptance or incidence of homosexuality in a culture mean, e.g. classically in Romans 1:
20 . . . since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
RO 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
RO 1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen.
RO 1:26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
RO 1:28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
So, plainly, not every instance of change demanded in the name of "liberation" or "rights" or "science" [cf. here, "knowledge”], etc. is progress or reformation. But, equally, in a culture that is tempted to dismiss and throw off the force of Scripture, how can we effectively discern and resist such immoral innovations campaigning under the false colours of "liberation" and "rights"? Or, should we simply throw up our hands ans say, "It's the last days?"
The Apostle is again solidly firm, in his last epistle. Just before he speaks of his upcoming beheading as a libation he offers as an offering to God, he grimly charges those who follow him, and explicitly warns:
2TI 4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
So, indeed, in the last days, men will be willful and wayward in rejecting the Word of God. However, that is no excuse for us to neglect our duty to stand by it and teach it, even in the teeth of threats or worse, far worse.
Moreover, let us observe carefully: in days like these, men will not put up with SOUND instruction, but will flock to those who will tickle their itching ears with what they want to hear, and to the myths that make them feel good about saying, doing and thinking that which is factually, logically and morally in deepest error.
That is our opening.
For, what is unsound, what is false and what is mythical give off highly characteristic signals that tell those who are interested in seeking and serving what is true, sound and right that they are moving off track, into the bogs of error. Namely, they are based on falsehoods, assertions in the teeth of credible evidence, they follow fallacies,and they appeal to our wishes and lusts, not our duties. So, as a practical first step in discernment about a "reformation" proposal, we should ask if our ears are being tickled with what we wish to hear, or whether our consciences and minds are being stirred to turn from error and folly to the truth. That means that we can easily enough tell the sound from the unsound, the uplifting from the degrading, the pure from the impure, if we will but heed the plain facts of the world without and our consciences within, then apply -- whether glorified through formal study or simply and plainly based on common sense and good conscience -- tests of sound thinking, purity and prudence to what we do in response.
Indeed, that is the precise force of yet another Pauline teaching, in Rom 2:
RO 2: 6 God "will give to each person according to what he has done." 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger . . . . 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, . . . they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)
In short, there is a very valid edition of the word of God written on each human heart, if we will but listen to it and persitently and penitently heed it. So heeded, it will lead us to the truth and the right, and will open our heart to the prophetic voice of the written word when it is taught to us, leading us to joyously receive the gospel, if we but have the privilege of hearing it. (NB: There are many famous Missionary stories just like that, my favourite being that of the Karen of Burma. Don Richardson's Eternity in their Hearts is a wonderful read on this well-documented fact.)
Consequently, the basic duty of the Christian as a persuader is, by light of Paul's own example:
2CO 4:2 . . . we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. If a "reformation" proposal, opinion, agenda or policy cannot pass such tests, it is a false, not a true reform. So, it is our duty to resist it, through the truth in love [Eph 4:15 - 16]. But, if a reformation is indeed a call to turn from the wrong and the foolish tot he right and the sound, then we should heed, support and if God so calls us, even lead it. Of this, William Wilberforce is an excellent example. By God's grace, may we have courage and grace to follow it. END
UPDATE, March 8: Slight cleanup. Emphasis on truthin it in love, Eph 4:15 - 16.