Sunday, 24 May 2015

After Ashers - what now?

In the past week two significant events have caused grief to many Christians; the defeat of Ashers Bakery in their court case with the Equality Commission and the yes vote in the gay marriage referendum in the Republic of Ireland. During and shortly after the build up to the Ashers court case Christians across Northern Ireland have voiced their support for the company, attended rallies and pledged to buy their products. So too in the Republic of Ireland there have been those who have campaigned vigorously to maintain the biblical definition of marriage. Yet on both occasions those on the side of truth have suffered defeat. Like the psalmist David we have cried 'let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me' yet as we look around us we see the enemies of the gospel rejoicing in their victories, and declaring their intention to further pursue their anti-God agenda. In the face of an ever militant homosexual lobby we must ask ourselves, what should Christians do now?

The need to proclaim
The one thing which we must not consider is desisting from the proclamation of the truth of God's word. Society at large may have accepted homosexuality and gay marriage as being normal, yet the Word of God has not changed. Regardless of what society accepts, and regardless of what laws may be passed by the government, the Bible declares homosexuality to be sin. In Leviticus 18:22 we read that 'thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination'. Likewise 1st Corinthians 6:9-10 says that, amongst other sins, 'effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind' shall not inherit the kingdom of God. The word here translated 'abusers of themselves with mankind' is the Greek word arsenokoitēs (ἀρσενοκοίτης) understood by all reputable Greek scholars to mean a homosexual person. It is interesting to note that in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, the same words are used in the translation of Leviticus 18:22 (ἄρσενος & κοίτην). By using the Greek word arsenokoitēs the apostle Paul clearly had the same thought as Moses when he wrote his letter to Corinthians and was dealing with the same sin. The false teaching that the condemnation of homosexuality in Levicitus 18 is no longer relevant is therefore refuted by the apostle Paul writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The need to proclaim this truth is more important now than ever before. In the effort to oppose gay marriage it is easy to forget that homosexuality itself is sin, whether it be recognised by marriage or not. Many churches today have been guilty of this, rightly speaking out against gay marriage, yet permitting homosexuality to be tolerated within their ranks. This out not to be. Homosexual desires and actions are sinful before a holy God and the faithful Christian must proclaim this to be so, or be found guilty of serious compromise on biblical morals. Yet in doing all of this we must remember that the truth must be proclaimed in love. It is right to preach an offensive truth, yet we must not preach the truth offensively.

The need to pray
As the prophet Habakkuk considered the Lord's revelation off impending judgement he cried out 'O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy'. As we look at society around us there is clearly much about which we need to pray. We must pray for wisdom, that we would know how to earnestly contend for the faith. We must pray for the help of God, that we might continue in the faith. We must pray for the rising generation that they might know the faith. The push for the acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage is strongest amongst the youth of our population and it is the children of our province who are being most directly targeted with the promotion of the homosexual lifestyle in our schools. 'Men ought always to pray and not to faint' and if ever there was a day then prayer was needed for our land then it is today. The church must rise from its slumber and get to prayer!

The urgent need for prayer also extends to the realm of our government. We are to pray 'For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty'. This is not a prayer for our particular party or candidate to be successful in elections, but rather a prayer for all that be in authority, that even wicked rulers might continue to allow believers to worship without fear of persecution and pass law which uphold the standards of God's Word. We should not simply pray that God would give us Christian politicians, but rather that we would give us politicians who would consistently uphold Christians standards. Many professed believers have assumed political office and have then acquiesced to the demands of the homosexual lobby, sadly others have even actively promoted it. How we must pray!

The need for purity
When we lament over the rapid moral decline that is evident in our land it is easy to point the finger at the unconverted and lay the blame at the door of those who have rejected God. Yet it may be that the we need to look closer to home. We might stand firmly against homosexuality, yet be found wanting in other areas of morality. The scandal of Christians involved in affairs, broken marriages, co-habiting couples, pre-marital sex and a generally loose approach to purity has greatly hindered the church's witness against homosexuality. How can we stand against one moral issue whilst remaining silent, and even tolerating, other sins. The Christian is called to live clean in an unclean world, not to conform to its standards but rather to conform to the standards of the Word of God.

If our concern about the rise of homosexualilty is so great then why are we so enthralled by television programs which promote this and other vices. There is hardly a soap opera which does not regularly include homosexual storylines and characters, yet they are regularly watched by countless Christians. How can we oppose sin when we continue to be entertained by it? Psalm 101:3 says 'I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes'; surely this must also include what entertainment we deem to be suitable. If we do not seek purity in our own lives then we cannot demand it from society at large and our attempts to arrest the downward decline will never be successful.

The need to prepare
There are few people, looking at the direction our land is going, who anticipate that things are going to improve. Whilst we pray that God would come down and heal our land it is becoming increasingly clear that he has given them over to their vile affections and that 'evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived'. It is therefore necessary that Christians prepare for coming trials and tribulations. The judgment which has gone against Ashers Baking Company is surely but the thin edge of the wedge, and the time is coming when churches will be prosecuted if they refuse to admit homosexual members or conduct gay marriages and pastors will be jailed if they preach against homosexuality. Churches will lose their charitable status if they will not confirm to the equality agenda and believers will lose their job over biblical convictions. We must prepare for such a time in the only way that is possible, by looking to Christ 'the author and finisher of our faith'. Such a time will seperate the wheat from the chaff and it is only by looking to Christ and trusting in him that we will remain faithful in testing times.

It is also necessary that we prepare for the disappointment of those who will fall away. Even amongst those whom we believed faithful to the cause of Christ we will find some, even of our closest friends, who will compromise in the heat of tribulation. Churches and ministers whom we believed to be faithful to the Word of God will consider the price to much to pay and will acquiesce to the demands of the homosexual lobby. Although we expect this from the apostasy, it will be of greater dissapointment when we see it from those who profess to be evangelical and true to the Word of God. It is however inevitable, for we know that 'in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils'. Our challenge is to remain faithful no matter the cost; like Martin Luther we must say 'Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me, Amen!'

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