“For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...”
~Romans 3:22b-23 (NRSV)
As the same-sex marriage debate hots up, and builds to the inevitable society-imploding crescendo (and this should be our biggest fear), there is a far more insidious dogma at the forefront of the dilemma. Perceptions of judgment, the matter of being judged, and matters of discrimination—whether right, wrong, or otherwise—are the immediate threats in these last days of the world.
Could it be, now, given these latest developments regarding the insistent assault on marriage, that the world and the Church—dichotomous identities in any event—are building toward loggerheads prophesied upon two millennia ago?
Perhaps it isn’t appropriate to speculate too much. But we can safely say we are in the last days.
That being a broader concern, we can look at the more specific concern regarding judgment—not usurping God’s role as Sole Judge—even in these last days.
A Better Test Than Judgment – Moving Toward God Or Away?
How might we more fully appreciate the significance in the position people take on an ethical continuum that has the Church at one end and the world at the other?
Same-sex marriage is a good test case.
Those that advocate a position of equality for all, despite the biblical insistence that marriage is between a man and a woman, and despite the several-thousand year history which has upheld that marriage is between a man and a woman, can clearly be seen at the world-end (and non-Church-end) of this continuum. Are they moving toward God or away? Using the Bible as the key indicator for movement toward or away—because it is God’s Word—we can only deduce they are moving away from God. Not that they ought to be judged—or feel judged. But, unfortunately, they will feel judged. We should be able to see that.
This is our sociological dilemma.
We, who are told not to judge—for we believe all have fallen short of the glory of God—will come across as judging. This is difficult for us to stomach. But in good conscience we can merely observe the movement toward God or away. This situation is as it is. We do not make it that way.
Each person, in each situation, places themselves decisively in the movement either toward God or away. Each person is accountable, and only to God. Are they moving toward God or away? At any movement, for every one of us, it can be one or the other; not neither nor both.
The Church’s Role
But the Church still has a role in fighting for what the Church has always fought for; what God expects it to fight for; to be an advocate for biblical truth against a popularity mandate. The Church has never had a popularity mandate.
The role of the Church is set apart to popularity.
The world will not respect this role of the Church, for the world cannot understand it, and sees the Church as judging, moralistically, the development of the times. The Church is judged by the world, and this is okay, as the world has no preclusion against judgment. The irony is the world hates Christians ‘judging’, but it is most itself when it is judging—especially when judging the Church and Christians for ‘judging’.
The Church should not struggle with either of these. Ministers should not struggle with either of these. (But the irony is, we will.) First, standing up as a Church against same-sex marriage, as a poignant example, is not judgment, by the means of judgment in usurping God’s role as Sole Judge. It is merely obeying God in defending the Church’s two-thousand year, biblically-constructed tradition. Second, the Church will be persecuted by the world. That’s biblical. We should expect it. Knowing this may not make it easier.
We easily confuse two differentiated issues: individual judgments on ethical positions with the Church’s role in defending the biblical mandate.
Whilst we are not to judge, the Church still has a role in maintaining its time-honoured, biblically-faithful tradition. And who is the Church? We are who so identify. No one would argue with this role of the Church, if they respected history and tradition and the value placed on serving God.
Better than judging people or situations is focusing on whether we are moving toward God or away. This honours everyone in a world where it’s impossible to always be moving toward God. It means grace is rendered dynamic wherever we are found wandering away. An eternal thread saved for forgiveness is better than a readiness to judge. But we may still be seen to judge.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.