I don’t hate anybody. I’ll admit, some people are harder to love (even like) than others. But it’s possible to disagree with someone without hating or fearing them.
Lately, it has become popular for Christian authors and pastors to readily admit to the sins of other Christians. When it comes to any variety of sins and sinners, it seems we are quick to admit that “some Christians” have been hateful, rude, etc. Groups like the Westboro Baptist Church – which barely fit the legal definition of a “church” and debatably fit the New Testament definition of a church/Christians – are presented as the epitome of misbehaving Christians. I seriously doubt that you could find a better example of what Christians/the Church is NOT supposed to be than the Westboro folk, but it should be noted that they are the rare exception, an anomaly, i.e. NOT representative of Christians. According to the Hartford Institute, there are over 330,000 Christian congregations in America. Even if over 3,000 of those are similar to the Westboro bunch (and I doubt that it is even close to that), that would still be less than 1%.
It seems that once we’ve apologized for the sins of people we don’t even know and are not associated with, the next step is to stress “love and understanding,” as we deal with an increasingly hostile (and sinful) culture. While it is true that we should be marked by love and understanding, even loving our enemies (1 Timothy 4:12, Matthew 5:44, etc.), Christians also have a prophetic role in society. We are to be “Christ’s ambassadors” and to “correct, rebuke and encourage” (2 Corinthians 5:20, 2 Timothy 4:2). It seems that we are spending an awful lot of time apologizing on behalf of those we don’t know – and have not asked for, nor appreciate our apology on their behalf. Further, in our zeal to reach people for the Gospel (a good thing) we present a one-sided message, namely, Jesus loves you so much he died for you. This is true, but not precise. Jesus DOES love you, but he didn’t die for you, i.e. just to show you how much he loved you. Jesus died BECAUSE OF OUR SIN. The Gospel really only makes sense in light of our sin. If the message was just that God loves you, He could have sent a card. But because we are sinners and because God is holy and just, Jesus HAD to die an atoning death to satisfy the justice of God AND demonstrate the love of God. Simply put: God loves us, but He doesn’t have to…in fact, HE SHOULDN’T – after all, we are sinful, He is holy. Nevertheless, while God would be perfectly justified in abandoning us and leaving us to suffer the consequences of our sinful choices, because of His great love for us, God has provided atonement and offers grace (Ephesians 2:1ff., esp. v. 4).
So what is this thing we call “sin?” Theologians and philosophers have developed a variety of rules and guidelines for determining what is and is not acceptable behavior – ethical, moral, etc. The Bible clearly identifies certain behaviors as sin, but people disagree over whether or not certain actions are still sin. We could argue over specific sins, but there is a broader definition that really gets to the heart of the matter. When God created humans and placed them on Earth (Genesis 1-3), He commanded them to “not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” I think it’s silly that people have actually argued over exactly what the fruit was – i.e. was it an apple, peach, banana, etc.? The point is not the fruit, but what the fruit represents, namely, “the knowledge of good and evil.” This phrase does not mean “knowing right from wrong”; clearly Adam and Eve already had that ability. It was “wrong” to eat the fruit from that one, particular tree. What the fruit represents is not a particular choice, but moral authority. God created the world, everything in it and humans. By virtue of His position as Creator, He is the rightful moral authority. In other words, simply because He is God, He has the right to make the rules, moral and otherwise. However, He created humans as free moral agents; that is, humans can choose whether or not to accept God’s moral authority or substitute another (either themselves or another authority). In God’s universe, those choices that coincide with His moral authority are “righteous,” those that are contrary are “sin.” I suppose we could say that as humans, we have the right to define sin and righteousness however we want to; however, God as a prerogative of Deity (i.e. because He is God) reserves the right to define sin and righteousness. Thus, in spite of our moral choices, we are ultimately accountable to God for our moral choices. The New Testament uses an interesting word when it talks about “confessing our sin” (in order to be forgiven, see 1 John 1:9): “Homologomen” – Greek for “to confess” is literally “to say the same thing as,” i.e. “agree.” In other words, when we “confess” our sin, we are saying that we agree with God’s definition of sin.
So that brings me to my point, which really is not about gay marriage, although gay marriage/”marriage equality” illustrates the point. Who gets to define marriage? God created and Jesus endorsed marriage as between a man and a woman. There is absolutely no justification or example of gay marriage to be found anywhere in the Bible. I suppose it could be argued that God left that part out; after all, the Bible could only be so long, only contain so much information, etc. Instead of digressing into an argument as to whether or not homosexual behavior is or still is a sin, I want to look at the broader, moral issue here, namely, who is the moral authority?
Certainly society and culture have the right to determine morality. After all, as stated above, God created humans as free moral agents, and societies are basically groups of free moral agents, thus they can choose what they will define as moral. At times, society will inevitably choose to declare moral practices which God calls sin (see Isaiah 5:20). However, for the Christian, we forfeit our right to be our own moral authority. When we accept Christ as Lord, we cede to him the moral authority for our life. We acknowledge that our former choices, freely made, which were contrary to his standard, were therefore sin. Whenever we behave contrary to the definition God has declared as righteous, we are sinning.
There is a choice to be made. This choice is becoming increasingly polarized and pronounced. The choice is between the “ways of this world” (Ephesians 2:2) and the ways of God. The choice is for whom (Whom?) will be our moral authority? Who defines sin, righteousness, marriage…and everything else?