Wednesday, August 19, 2015

ANF VI: Arnobius Against the Heathen

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Arnobius: The Seven Books of Arnobius Against the Heathen

While, as the introduction points out, we don't find much positive Christian doctrine in the work that makes up 130 pages of this 500 page volume, Arnobius' broadsides against pagan theology are as devastating as those launched by Augustine a century later. In fact, in some ways this book may be seen as a thoughtful precursor to the first books of the City of God.
Really, I probably should have blogged slowly through this instead of simply glossing it months after I finished the book, but the best I can say is that you should read it (slowly) yourself and enjoy the great wisdom therein:
Explain to us and say what is the cause, what the reason that you pursue Christ with so bitter hostility? or what offenses you remember which He did, that at the mention of His name you are roused to bursts of mad and savage fury? Did He ever, in claiming for Himself power as king, fill the whole world with bands of the fiercest soldiers; and of nations at peace from the beginning, did He destroy and put an end to some, and compel others to submit to His yoke and serve Him? Did He ever, excited by grasping avarice, claim as His own by right all that wealth to have abundance of which men strive eagerly? Did He ever, transported with lustful passions, break down by force the barriers of purity, or stealthily lie in wait for other men's wives? Did He ever, puffed up with haughty arrogance, inflict at random injuries and insults without any distinction of persons? And if He was not worthy that you should listen to and believe Him, yet He should not have been despised by you even on this account, that He showed to you things concerning your salvation, that He prepared for you path to heaven, and the immortality for which you long...
Highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

ANF VI: Methodius Fragments II

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Methodius: Three Fragments from the Homily on the Cross and Passion of Christ and Some other Fragments of the Same Methodius

These last two sections are short and excellent. Again, it is unfortunate we don't have the whole of any of these works.
For the Word suffered, being in the flesh affixed to the cross, that He might bring man, who had been deceived by error, to His supreme and godlike majesty, restoring him to that divine life from which he had become alienated.
Truly excellent, read them all!

Monday, August 17, 2015

ANF VI: Methodius on the Palms

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Methodius: On the Palms

This short work is unimpressive, but might as well be read given its brevity.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Book Review: "End of Discussion" by Ham and Benson


A confession: I resolved to give up reading books like this when I was an undergrad. After slogging my way through Hannity and Colmes and O'Reilly and Franken, I finally decided that I was done reading books that would be functionally useless (because out of date) by the time the paperback edition came out. But, for End of Discussion by Mary Katharine Ham and Guy Benson I broke that rule for the following reasons:
1) Free speech and public discourse are topics I'm interested in;
2) They asked for my opinion on the book, and hence appealed to my pride;
3) The book was free, on the condition that I write a review (but not necessarily a positive one—boom! you've been disclaimed!);
4) There is precedent for this departure from my normal practice.
And, I'm glad I broke my own rule in this case. Not because I think this book is going to stand the test of time—in that sense it fits in with the books listed above. Don't get me wrong, Ham and Benson seem eminently more reasonable and thoughtful than most who write these sorts of things (see those linked above as examples). But this is still a book dealing with a single issue and examples of that issue that are current right now, and almost certainly will not be twelve months from now.

Still, End of Discussion is interesting, well-written, and accessible. It is not eye-bulgingly paranoid or blindly ideological or any other of the extremes that conservatives can tend to run toward. For those reasons, and for the questions this book raises about free speech in public life, I am quite happy to have read it and quite happy to recommend it as an useful contribution to the present conversation over free speech. (And yes, I do agree with the authors that it is unfortunate that we even are having a conversation about a freedom that a decade ago was simply assumed.)  

Summary

The central argument of End of Discussion is obvious from the subtitle—it's about how modern liberalism would rather shut down opposition than engage it. The authors suggest that a tendency on the left has been "not to declare our words or actions offensive, which would be preposterous enough... but to slowly and steadily declare our very existence offensive." (pg 6) Rather than have an argument about—to use an example mostly from the 90s that doesn't turn up much in the book—the merits and demerits of affirmative action, the left has begun taking pernicious position of simply declaring opponents to the program to be 'racist' and hence not worthy of being engaged in public discourse.

Now, there are obviously groups we do that with all the time—no one is going to seriously invite the Klan to send a representative to a public debate on race relations. But even that's not the same thing as saying that we're going to use political or social power to punish someone for their beliefs, particularly someone who is in the mainstream (like conservatives) and not on the fringes of society (like the Klan). Ham and Benson quite rightly point out that this aggressive argumentation is not just a new form of speech, it's actively destructive to a core American freedom.

End of the Discussion is structured loosely like this:

  • ·         Introduction to the book and to leftist outrage (Chapters 1-3)
  • ·         Specific topics and places where we see this outrage, including:
o   Race (chapter 4)
o   University Campuses (chapter 5)
o   Feminism and gender issues (chapter 6)
o   Media (chapter 7)
o   Homosexual issues (chapter 8) Full props to one of the authors for having the courage to come out publicly in this chapter—in a footnote. And I say "courage" not because I think it's particularly courageous to come out these days. For that, you've got to look back to Andrew Sullivan and Ellen Degeneres who came out before it was culturally acceptable. But coming out as a homosexual conservative? That takes courage and, from what I understand, is one of the ways to get yourself shunned in the LGBT community. And of course, there are those on the right who will hear that one of the authors is homosexual and that will be for them, well, the end of the discussion.
o   And, uh... stand-up comedy (chapter 9) Okay, okay, this one is about what you can and can't say in public using stand-up comics as examples, but still...

  • ·         What to do about it as a thoughtful conservative (chapter 10)
So obviously, this is a pretty wide-ranging book overall.

Strengths:

End of Discussion has several things to recommend it. At the very least it is well-written and carries a good sense of self-aware humor throughout. This is necessary when writing about contemporary liberalism—the alternative is despair.

Even better, Ham and Benson are reasonably even-handed given their own biases and preferences—far more so than my previous experiences with these sorts of books had led me to expect. They admit failures of the right as well as of the left, and encourage dissent and disagreement with what they have to say. Sure, it's a book and not a blog post (hence no "comments" section) and therefore encouraging pushback functionally means nothing, but there is still some level of humility here that we don't often see in books about American politics.

Most importantly, I think they're right. And you don't have to take my word for it, there's a whole industry of old Leftists—mostly sixties radicals who would rather be tied to a car by their thumbs and be dragged around town than associate with conservatives—who are horrified that the next generation of liberals is taking seriously everything they said about getting rid of traditional American freedoms. Okay, so that's an ungenerous way of putting it. Perhaps a better phrasing would be to say "the radicals of the Sixties didn't see the direction their teaching would lead their leftist heirs, despite the continuous and loud warnings from their counterparts on the right. Now they're trying desperately to correct those errors before all the good things they worked for are lost." And there were good things being pursued by the New Left. But, as the most thoughtful respondents to their pursuit pointed out at the time, their method was ultimately destructive to their ends. When we combine this with instant national communication and the increasingly thin skins of Americans, we should be concerned about a serious threat to the freedom of our republic.

But, that's getting on my own hobby-horse and away from the book review. The short version of this section is: End of Discussion is a solid enough and well-written book.  

Weaknesses:

I said that one of the strengths of this book is that it's fairly even-handed, and I stand by that statement overall. But here and there some of their examples could have been used a bit more carefully. Just as one example, the recent hubbub at Marquette gets cited as evidence of the liberal attack on free speech on a college campus. Here's a much more balanced treatment. The short version is: the goings-on at Marquette weren't so much an example of "how liberals shut down conservatives on campus" as they were an example of "how absolutely everyone on campus can end up doing exactly the wrong thing."

A second weakness is, as I've probably said ad nauseam at this point, that this book isn't going to stand the test of time. Two years from now people won't be reading this as a great contribution to discussions of free speech, or even as a good historical summary. So, you know, weigh the value of that before you decide whether to pay Amazon $18 for it. I won't say this book isn't worth $18, just that for the same price you could buy eighteen books at a used bookstore, or a new copy of Augustine's Confessions and Howell Raines' My Soul is Rested and have enough left over for a good cup of coffee.  I like to think that the authors would agree with me on this, but I don't know them at all so I couldn't say for sure.

One last point that might merit some further consideration. It might be the case that modern liberals are not necessarily more intolerant of free speech than modern conservatives—it might be that they are just the ones in power right now. Were conservatives the ones currently dominating culture and politics, they might be curtailing free speech while liberals trumpet the First Amendment. Let's not kid ourselves about the seduction of power and the temptation to use that power to shut down people you disagree with. These are not one-sided enticements which conservatives are immune to.

With all that said, the weaknesses of End of Discussion certainly do not outweigh its strengths. I am happy to recommend it to anyone interest in the state of free speech in contemporary society.



Friday, August 14, 2015

ANF VI: Methodius on Simeon and Anna

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Methodius: Oration Concerning Simeon and Anna on the Day that they Met in the Temple

This speech is excellent, if a bit overblown to modern ears at times. Unfortunately, we also begin to see something of what would become the Medieval worship of Mary. Fortunately, this does appear to be a later interposition rather than necessarily original to the time when Methodius actually lived.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

ANF VI: Methodius Fragments

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Methodius Fragments

These are short and worth reading, if not necessarily breathtaking. It is unfortunate we don't have Methodius against Porphyry, given how much the early church seems to have feared what Porphyry wrote...

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

ANF VI: Methodius on the Resurrection

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Methodius: From the Discourse on the Resurrection

This is an excellent little reflection on how the resurrection relates to the current reality of indwelling sin. Why is it that we must die and be brought back to life, rather than instantly being made perfect on conversion, especially given that we are declared perfect, even while sin persists? The reconciliation between our declared state and our current state is found according to Methodius in what will be our resurrected bodies. Unfortunately, we don't have all of this work. But what we do have is quite good and worth a read.
But the Son of God does nothing superfluously. he did not then take the form of a servant uselessly, but to raise it up and save it. For He truly was made man, and died, and not in mere appearance, but that He might truly be shown to be the first begotten from the dead, changing the earthy into the heavenly, and the mortal into the immortal.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

ANF VI: Methodius on Free Will

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Methodius: Concerning Free-Will

As with most pre-Augustine writers on the topic of free will, Methodius is more distinguished for his piety than for his theology or his exposition of Scripture. Still, this short work is worth a read to get a feel for the world that Augustine inherited and had to respond to.

Monday, August 10, 2015

ANF VI: Methodius Banquet of the Ten Virgins

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Methodius: The Banquet of the Ten Virgins; Or, Concerning Chastity

While I don't necessarily agree with all the conclusions of this dialogue, it can hardly be denied that it is truly an excellent work. It is especially useful to compare it to some of the extremes the Western church later fell into as regards marriage vs. chastity. This dialogue is even more useful for us as Protestants who are perhaps not used to thinking of the role of virginity in salvation:
Wherefore God, pitying us who were in such a condition, and were able neither to stand nor to rise, sent down from heaven the best and most glorious help, virginity, that by it we might tie our bodies fast, like ships, and have a calm, coming to an anchorage without damage, as also the Holy Spirit witnesses. (IV.II)
Our salvation comes miraculously through the virgin birth. And while we are not saved by Mary's virginity or any nonsense like that, virginity was nevertheless a key part of the work of our Savior. There's a work to be done (but not by me) comparing this work on virginity with the excellent work by Thomas Shepard's Parable of the Ten Virgins.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

ANF VI: Alexander of Alexandria

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Alexander of Alexandria: Epistles on the Arian Heresy and the Deposition of Arius

These writings are wonderfully devotional reflections on the Arian controversy and its causes, effects, and management by the church. There are many reasons to read these, but especially pay attention to the emphasis given to the authority of Scripture over the claims of the church authorities (paragraph 10, pg 295) and to the nature of Christ's person and work relative to our sin.
For Christ, by dying, hath discharged the debt of death to which man was obnoxious.
Oh the new and ineffable mystery!
The Judge was judged;
He who absolves from sin was bound;
He was mocked who once framed the world;
He was stretched upon the cross who stretched out the heavens;
He was fed with gall who gave the manna to be bread;
He died who gives life.
He was given up to the tomb who raises the dead. 
Excellent, excellent stuff. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

ANF VI: Peter's Fragments

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Peter of Alexandria: Fragments

Short snippets of sayings and letters, this section is as worth a quick read as anything.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

ANF VI: Peter's Canonical Epistle with Commentary

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Peter of Alexandria: The Canonical Epistle with the Commentaries of Theodore Balsamon and John Zonaras.

This piece is interesting not so much for it's content (which is fine, even if it doesn't really stand out) as it is as a model of how the Medievals approached the Ancients. That is, the interplay between the original text and the Medieval commentators is interesting to observe and reflect on. While we modern Protestants tend to stick to expositing Scripture rather than other expositors, it's still worth thinking about whether we ought to more directly engage those whose writings we appreciate and learn from.

Monday, August 3, 2015

ANF VI: Peter's Genuine Acts

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Peter of Alexandria: The Genuine Acts of  Peter

This isn't so much about Peter of Alexandria as it is about Arius' backstory. And while we need to be somewhat skeptical (as with all ancient historical narratives), there's still some pretty good stuff here. Overall, this short work is fine and worth reading, especially the quite gracious and generous instructions on how to think about those who have fallen into the Arian heresy at the very end.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

ANF VI: Archelaus Disputation with Manes

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Archelaus: The Acts of the Disputation with the Heresiarch Manes

This lengthy work is a supposed record of a series of debates held in front of important public officials between the Pastor of Caschar in Mesopotamia and Manes, the founder of the Manichean sect. In the text, Manes and Archelaus travel around the region debating the role of the body in the salvation of the human being. Is the body inherently wicked, and so salvation has to do with shedding the body in favor of the "good" spirit, as Manes claimed? Or, as Christians claim, are both body and soul made good, but fallen and so in need of redemption? Clearly many points of core Christian doctrine are going to come in to play here, including creation, the fall, the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. Even the doctrine of the Holy Spirit becomes relevant, since Manes claimed to be the Paraclete in person.

Though I don't think anyone would claim that we should read this as an actual direct transcript of an ancient debates (that's a literary form common in the ancient world, rather than an exact copy kept by a scribe of a debate between two religious leaders--though such debates did happen), this is still useful for seeing how Christian doctrine had developed in the farthest part of the Middle East. Over all, it's worth reading through, but don't bother getting bogged down--just skim over at a good clip.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

ANF VI: Pamphilus and Malchion

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Minor Writers: Pamphilus and Malchion

These final fragments are interesting enough, but not really worth more than a quick skimming over.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

ANF VI: Alexander

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Alexander of Lycopolis: Of the Manichaeans

This shorter work is another refutation of the Manicheans from the Eastern part of the church, and as such is worth reading. It's also kind of fun to see a pretty early version of the idea that "book learning" will lead you away from the faith and into heresy, "those who are devoted to dialectics... sagacious in handling nice and subtle questions; so that now they come forwards as parents and originators of sects and heresies." (pg 241)

Seriously, this is good one and worth attention and reflection. 

ANF VI: Phileas

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Minor Writers: Phileas

Another of the excellent minor writers, Phileas highlights the authority and dominance of the local church. While I don't endorse everything he writes, there's much here that shows what the church of the 4th century looked like in terms of its structure.

Monday, July 27, 2015

ANF VI: Theonas

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Minor Writers: Theonas of Alexandria

If the other "of Alexandria" minor writers are unimpressive, Theonas is a stand out. This may of course be because we have more fragments from him, and so more of his writings pop out. It may be because his writings are later and so the faith is more developed. Or it may be because his writings are the writings of someone else--a better theologian/writer. In any case, his letter to one of the Emperor's chamberlain's is worth reading both as good theology and as an interesting view of how a civil servant can be a good Christian, even under the emperor Diocletian.
Discharge the official duties to which you are severally appointed with the utmost fear of God and affection to your prince, and perfect carefulness. Consider that every command of the emperor which does not offend God has proceeded from God Himself; and execute it in love as well as in fear, and with all cheerfulness. (2) 

Friday, July 24, 2015

ANF VI: Theognostus and Pierius

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Minor Writers: Theognostus of Alexandria and Pierius of Alexandria

These snippets are short and easily read--and the last not only because they are short but because there isn't much there. So read quickly and move one.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

ANF VI: Alexander of Cappadocia

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Minor Writers: Alexander of Cappadocia

These brief fragments are short and unimpressive. Read them because they're quick, but expect little or expect to be disappointed.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

ANF VI: Anatolius

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Minor Writers: Anatolius

As the editors point out, it's probably best to systematize these fragments rather that just presenting them in a shotgun blast of text. I'd add that for the most part, these can be lightly skimmed or skipped all together. The writings of Anatolius is one that can be skipped, although it is mildly (but only mildly) interesting to see what sorts of things the first generation of post-persecution Christians were writing about. Math and the calendar at the end of the day just don't do it for me--but then again I'm pretty non liturgical, so I suppose that makes sense.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

ANF VI: Julius Africanus

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Julius Africanus: Extant Writings

Yet another writer living in the shadow of Origen, albeit one that comes much later than his other students. We see this as superstition and concern for genealogy begin to replace rigorous (if mistaken) philosophical inquiry. Which isn't to say Julius Africanus is without value--again we have a Christian devoutly pursuing the truth with all the tools at his disposal. And for that we should skim his work with appreciation, even as we read with caution.

Monday, July 20, 2015

ANF VI: Dionysius Fragments II

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Dionysius: Exegetical Fragments

These are not so much of value as the fragments of epistles and philosophical writings, which is not terribly surprising. The strength of the early church was in its endurance through persecution and its love for the institution and its ordinances, not in its expositional preaching. So this may be skimmed or even skipped.

Friday, July 17, 2015

ANF VI: Dionysius Fragments

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Dionysius: Extant Fragments

Another student/heir of Origen, the bits and pieces we have of Dionysius are mostly worth wading through, even if their value is pretty uneven as a whole. As with Gregory, Dionysius has a clear appreciation of the value of contemporary (i.e. "Hellenistic") philosophy and it does seem to be a shame that we don't have more of this work. Especially since Dionysius appears to have a good method of taking the ideas and comments of the Hellenistic Philosophers and turning them back on themselves, showing their absurdity when taken in isolation and their truth with illuminated by the light of Christ; their emptiness when lived for themselves and the satisfaction they can bring when put to the service of God.

Overall, this is worth reading, albeit at a quick skimming clip--not necessarily in depth.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

ANF VI: Gregory Thaumaturgus On Matthew

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Gregory Thaumaturgus: Part II: Dubious or Spurious Writings On the Gospel According to Matthew

Weighing in at one paragraph, this shouldn't be skipped! It's really just a restatement of Matthew 6:22-23, and so for that it's fine enough.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

ANF VI: Gregory Thaumaturgus On All the Saints

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Gregory Thaumaturgus: Part II: Dubious or Spurious Writings On All the Saints

This is so short there's no reason not to read it, but don't expect much. This is yet another later piece put in Gregory's mouth without much to recommend it to the reader.

Monday, July 13, 2015

ANF VI: Gregory Thaumaturgus Four Homilies

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Gregory Thaumaturgus: Part II: Dubious or Spurious Writings: Four Homilies

The emphasis in these homilies on the annunciation to Mary of her pregnancy on Mary's person shows that these are much, much later ("after Nicea... probably after Ephesus" as the Elucidation says). And while they're useful enough for showing our Catholic friends that there is absolutely no idea of a perfect Mary, and that even in speaking about Mary the later early church still held Christ alone to be the source of salvation, I don't know that these are necessarily all that useful for spiritual edification. The Fourth Homily is worth skimming, but you can reasonably skip the rest.

Friday, July 10, 2015

ANF VI: Gregory Thaumaturgus On the Subject of the Soul

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Gregory Thaumaturgus: Part II: Dubious or Spurious Writings: On the Subject of the Soul

As the Elucidation points out, this short essay is much more philosophy than theology and more reflective of an Aristotle than a Clement. And while the method is interesting (the soul is incorporeal, if it weren't... because it is... etc), it can be a bit dense here and there. So one to maybe skim, but not skip all together.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

ANF VI: Gregory Thaumaturgus Twelve Topics on the Faith

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Gregory Thaumaturgus: Part II: Dubious or Spurious Writings: Twelve Topics on the Faith

These twelve topics are pretty short and simply and worth a quick read. In brief, each topic is a doctrine of the Christian faith followed by a short explanation of why rejecting that belief (or embracing a heresy contrary to it) ought to result in excommunication. For example:
If anyone affirms that Christ is perfect man and also God the word in the way of separation, and refuses to acknowledge the one Lord Jesus Christ, even as it is written, let him be anathema. 
This, the author tells us, is clearly contrary to the revelation in Scripture that "
God the Word did not give a man for us, but He gave Himself for us, having been made man for our sake. 
Because so much of this is focused on the Incarnation and the nature of Christ, as the Elucidation points out it's pretty obviously a document from a time long after Gregory. Which isn't tosay it isn't excellent, just that it's rightly put in the "spurious" section of writings.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

ANF VI: Gregory Thaumaturgus: On the Trinity

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Gregory Thaumaturgus: Part II: Dubious or Spurious Writings: On the Trinity

This fragment is so short there's really no reason not to read it, even if it's pretty underwhelming.
That is all :)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

ANF VI: Gregory Thaumaturgus Sectional Confession

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Gregory Thaumaturgus: Part II: Dubious or Spurious Writings: A Sectional Confession of Faith

This short work is excellent, whoever wrote it. In quick, readable segments this work lays out some key ideas behind our beliefs. For example:
No one, therefore, can know God unless he apprehends the Son.
The author emphasizes the Divinity, humanity, and Triune Unity of the Lord, especially the place of Christ in His entrance into the world and His authoring and Lordship of creation.

Read this, it's short and excellent!

Monday, July 6, 2015

ANF VI: Gregory Thaumaturgus Oration and Panegyric

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Gregory Thaumaturgus: Part I: Acknowledged Writings: The Oration and Panegyric Addressed to Origen

This is Gregory's gift to Origen out of gratitude for Origen's time teaching and instructing him in the mental arts. Origen was especially helpful in teaching Gregory about the place of philosophy in the Christian life.
For he [Origen] asserted further that there could be no genuine piety towards the Lord of all in the man who despised this gift of philosophy-- a gift which man alone of all the creatures of the earth has been deemed honourable and worthy enough to possess, and one which every man whatsoever, be he wise or be he ignorant, reasonably embraces, who has not utterly lost the power of thought by some mad distraction of mind.
In this work, Gregory follows the standard Hellenistic philosophical method of walking through logic, physics, and ethics individually and in connection with each other. Origen specifically emphasizes how human understanding in each of these fields is simply wrong outside of the grace that comes to the Christian through Christ. Grace, however, enables us to look at the world properly through the filter of God's character as revealed in His Word. Through the lens of Scripture our logic is corrected, our view of physics and the operations of the world fall into its proper place, and our personal ethics begin to mature and grow us into a picture of the Lord.

This work is simply excellent, and well worth reading.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Baptism Again

Once again, there's a good healthy discussion on baptism going on here in Internetworld. And once again its the Presbyterian "children of believers are part of the covenant and so should receive its sign and be affirmed when they ask about their membership" against the Baptist "you shouldn't intentionally baptize unbelievers or let them be members of your church." This debate even has some of the same players--at least Mark Jones is a part of it. On the Baptist side it's Jonathan Leeman (in the interests of full disclosure: Leeman is a friend) and Tom Chantry. You can find the latest piece in the debate and all the necessary links here. I've weighed in on the earlier version of the debate here, wherein I make up my own terms and say everyone is wrong about everything but me.

Since better writers/thinkers than me have already weighed in, I thought it might be useful to bring up a real-world historical example dealing with the problem of just when we might affirm someone's faith. This is a longish section out of Jonathan Edwards' excellent little work known as A Faithful Narrative where he tells the story of a small revival that broke out in his town. In this section, he relates the conversion of a four-year-old girl.

"But I now proceed to the other instance that I would give an account of, which is of the little child forementioned.6 Her name is Phebe Bartlet, daughter of William Bartlet. I shall give the account as I took it from the mouths of her parents, whose veracity none that know them doubt of. 
She was born in March, in the year 1731. About the latter end of April, or beginning of May, 1735, she was greatly affected by the talk of her brother, who had been hopefully converted a little before, at about eleven years of age, and then seriously talked to her about the great things of religion. Her parents did not know of it at that time, and were not wont, in the counsels they gave to their children, particularly to direct themselves to her, by reason of her being so young, and as they supposed not capable of understanding: but after her brother had talked to her, they observed her very earnestly to listen to the advice they gave to the other children; and she was observed very constantly to retire several times in a day, as was concluded, for secret prayer; and grew more and more engaged in religion, and was more frequent in her closet; till at last she was wont to visit it five or six times in a day: and was so engaged in it, that nothing would at any time divert her from her stated closet exercises. Her mother often observed and watched her, when such things occurred, as she thought most likely to divert her, either by putting it out of her thoughts, or otherwise engaging her inclinations; but never could observe her to fail. She mentioned some very remarkable instances. 
She once of her own accord spake of her unsuccessfulness, in that she could not find God, or to that purpose. But on Thursday, the last day of July, about the middle of the day, the child being in the closet where it used to retire, its mother heard it speaking aloud; which was unusual, and never had been observed before. And her voice seemed to be as of one exceeding importunate and engaged; but her mother could distinctly hear only these words (spoken in her childish manner, but seemed to be spoken with extraordinary earnestness, and out of distress of soul): "Pray, blessed Lord, give me salvation! I pray, beg, pardon all my sins!" When the child had done prayer, she came out of the closet, and came and sat down by her mother, and cried out aloud. Her mother very earnestly asked her several times what the matter was, before she would make any answer; but she continued exceedingly crying, and wreathing her body to and fro, like one in anguish of spirit. Her mother then asked her whether she was afraid that God would not give her salvation. She answered, "Yes, I am afraid I shall go to hell!" Her mother then endeavored to quiet her, and told her she would not have her cry; she must be a good girl, and pray every day, and she hoped God would give her salvation. But this did not quiet her at all; but she continued thus earnestly crying, and taking on for some time, till at length she suddenly ceased crying, and began to smile, and presently said, with a smiling countenance, "Mother, the kingdom of heaven is come to me!" Her mother was surprised at the sudden alteration, and at the speech; and knew not what to make of it, but at first said nothing to her. The child presently spake again, and said, "There is another come to me, and there is another; there is three." And being asked what she meant, she answered, "One is, 'Thy will be done'; and there is another, 'Enjoy him forever'"; by which it seems that when the child said, "There is three come to me," she meant three passages of its catechism that came to her mind. 
After the child had said this, she retired again into her closet; and her mother went over to her brother's, who was next neighbor; and when she came back, the child, being come out of the closet, meets her mother with this cheerful speech, "I can find God now!" referring to what she had before complained of that she could not find God. Then the child spoke again, and said, "I love God!" Her mother asked her how well she loved God, whether she loved God better than her father and mother; she said, "Yes." Then she asked her whether she loved God better than her little sister Rachel. She answered, "Yes, better than anything!" Then her elder sister, referring to her saying she could find God now, asked her where she could find God. She answered, "In heaven." "Why," said she, "have you been in heaven?" "No," said the child. By this it seems not to have been any imagination of anything seen with bodily eyes, that she called God, when she said, "I can find God now." Her mother asked whether she was afraid of going to hell, and that made her cry. She answered, "Yes, I was; but now I shan't." Her mother asked her whether she thought that God had given her salvation. She answered, "Yes." Her mother asked her, when. She answered, "Today." She appeared all that afternoon exceeding cheerful and joyful. One of the neighbors asked her how she felt herself. She answered, "I feel better than I did." The neighbor asked her what made her feel better. She answered, "God makes me." That evening as she lay abed, she called one of her little cousins to her that was present in the room, as having something to say to him; and when he came, she told him that heaven was better than earth. The next day being Friday, her mother asking her her catechism, asked her what God made her for. She answered, "To serve him," and added, "everybody should serve God, and get an interest in Christ." 
The same day the elder children, when they came home from school, seemed much affected with the extraordinary change that seemed to be made in Phebe: and her sister Abigail standing by, her mother took occasion to counsel her, how to improve her time, to prepare for another world: on which Phebe burst out in tears and cried out, "Poor Nabby!" Her mother told her she would not have her cry, she hoped that God would give Nabby salvation; but that did not quiet her, but she continued earnestly crying for some time; and when she had in a measure ceased, her sister Eunice being by her, she burst out again and cried, "Poor Eunice!" and cried exceedingly; and when she had almost done, she went into another room, and there looked upon her sister Naomi: and burst out again, crying "Poor Amy!" Her mother was greatly affected at such a behavior in the child, and knew not what to say to her. One of the neighbors coming in a little after, asked her what she had cried for. She seemed at first backward to tell the reason: her mother told her she might tell that person, for he had given her an apple: upon which she said she cried because she was afraid they would go to hell. 
At night a certain minister, that was occasionally in the town was at the house, and talked considerably with her of the things of religion; and after he was gone she sat leaning on the table, with tears running out of her eyes: and being asked what made her cry, she said it was thinking about God. The next day being Saturday, she seemed a great part of the day to be in a very affectionate frame, had four turns of crying, and seemed to endeavor to curb herself and hide her tears, and was very backward to talk of the occasion of it. On the Sabbath day she was asked whether she believed in God; she answered, "Yes." And being told that Christ was the Son of God, she made ready answer and said, "I know it."
From this time there has appeared a very remarkable abiding change in the child: she has been very strict upon the Sabbath; and seems to long for the Sabbath day before it comes, and will often in the week time be inquiring how long it is to the Sabbath day, and must have the days particularly counted over that are between, before she will be contented. And she seems to love God's house, is very eager to go thither. Her mother once asked her why she had such a mind to go, whether it was not to see fine folks. She said no, it was to hear Mr. Edwards preach. When she is in the place of worship, she is very far from spending her time there as children at her age usually do, but appears with an attention that is very extraordinary for such a child. She also appears very desirous at all opportunities to go to private religious meetings; and is very still and attentive at home in prayer time, and has appeared affected in time of family prayer. She seems to delight much in hearing religious conversation: when I once was there with some others that were strangers, and talked to her something of religion, she seemed more than ordinarily attentive; and when we were gone, she looked out very wistfully after us, and said, "I wish they would come again!" Her mother asked her why: says she, "I love to hear 'em talk!" 
She seems to have very much of the fear of God before her eyes (Psalms 36:1), and an extraordinary dread of sin against him; of which her mother mentioned the following remarkable instance. Some time in August, the last year, she went with some bigger children to get some plums in a neighbor's lot, knowing nothing of any harm in what she did; but when she brought some of the plums into the house, her mother mildly reproved her and told her that she must not get plums without leave, because it was sin: God had commanded her not to steal. The child seemed greatly surprised, and burst out in tears, and cried out, "I won't have these plums!" and turning to her sister Eunice, very earnestly said to her, "Why did you ask me to go to that plum tree? I should not have gone if you had not asked me." The other children did not seem to be much affected or concerned; but there was no pacifying Phebe. Her mother told her she might go and ask leave, and then it would not be sin for her to eat them; and sent one of the children to that end; and when she returned, her mother told her that the owner had given leave, now she might eat them, and it would not be stealing. This stilled her a little while; but presently she broke out again into an exceeding fit of crying: her mother asked her what made her cry again; why she cried now, since they had asked leave. What it was that troubled her now? And asked her several times very earnestly, before she made any answer; but at last [she] said it was because—because it was sin! She continued a considerable time crying; and said she would not go again if Eunice asked her an hundred times; and she retained her aversion to that fruit for a considerable time, under the remembrance of her former sin. 
She at some times appears greatly affected, and delighted with texts of Scripture that come to her mind. Particularly, about the beginning of November, the last year, that text came to her mind, Revelation 3:20, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and sup with him, and he with me." She spoke of it to those of the family with a great appearance of joy, a smiling countenance, and elevation of voice, and afterwards she went into another room, where her mother overheard her talking very earnestly to the children about it, and particularly heard her say to them, three or four times over, with an air of exceeding joy and admiration, "Why, it is to sup with God." At some time about the middle of winter, very late in the night, when all were abed, her mother perceived that she was awake, and heard her as though she was weeping. She called to her, and asked her what was the matter. She answered with a low voice, so that her mother could not hear what she said; but thinking that it might be occasioned by some spiritual affection, said no more to her; but perceived her to lie awake, and to continue in the same frame, for a considerable time. The next morning, she asked her whether she did not cry the last night: the child answered, "Yes, I did cry a little, for I was thinking about God and Christ, and they loved me." Her mother asked her whether to think, of God and Christ's loving her made her cry: she answered, "Yes, it does sometimes." 
She has often manifested a great concern for the good of others' souls: and has been wont many times affectionately to counsel the other children. Once about the latter end of September, the last year, when she and some others of the children were in a room by themselves, a husking Indian corn, the child after a while came out and sat by the fire. Her mother took notice that she appeared with a more than ordinary serious and pensive countenance, but at last she broke silence and said, "I have been talking to Nabby and Eunice." Her mother asked her what she had said to 'em. "Why," said she, "I told 'em they must pray, and prepare to die, that they had but a little while to live in this world, and they must be always ready." When Nabby came out, her mother asked her whether she had said that to them. "Yes," said she, "she said that, and a great deal more." At other times, the child took her opportunities to talk to the other children about the great concern of their souls, sometimes so as much to affect them and set them into tears. She was once exceeding importunate with her mother to go with her sister Naomi to pray: her mother endeavored to put her off; but she pulled her by the sleeve, and seemed as if she would by no means be denied. At last her mother told her that Amy must go and pray herself; "but," says the child, "she will not go"; and persisted earnestly to beg of her mother to go with her. 
She has discovered an uncommon degree of a spirit of charity; particularly on the following occasion. A poor man that lives in the woods had lately lost a cow that the family much depended on, and being at the house, he was relating his misfortune, and telling of the straits and difficulties they were reduced to by it. She took much notice of it, and it wrought exceedingly on her compassions; and after she had attentively heard him a while, she went away to her father, who was in the shop, and entreated him to give that man a cow: and told him that the poor man had no cow! that the hunters or something else had killed his cow! and entreated him to give him one of theirs. Her father told her that they could not spare one. Then she entreated him to let him and his family come and live at his house: and had much more talk of the same nature, whereby she manifested bowels of compassion to the poor (1 John 3:17). 
She has manifested great love to her minister: particularly when I returned from my long journey for my health, the last fall, when she heard of it, she appeared very joyful at the news, and told the children of it, with an elevated voice, as the most joyful tidings; repeating it over and over, "Mr. Edwards is come home! Mr. Edwards is come home!" She still continues very constant in secret prayer, so far as can be observed (for she seems to have no desire that others should observe her when she retires, but seems to be a child of a reserved temper), and every night before she goes to bed, will say her catechism, and will by no means miss of it: she never forgot it but once, and then after she was abed, thought of it and cried out in tears, "I han't said my catechism!" and would not be quieted till her mother asked her the catechism as she lay in bed. She sometimes appears to be in doubt about the condition of her soul, and when asked whether she thinks that she is prepared for death, speaks something doubtfully about it. At other times she seems to have no doubt, but when asked replies "Yes" without hesitation."

Now, what are we to make of this? And you'll note I'm dodging around the "baptism" issue, as Edwards was a Congregationalist and so such the girl would have already been baptized. But we still are faced with the question of what a church should do when faced with this kind of situation? Of course, on the one hand we might note that this is an exceptional circumstance--most four-year-old girls aren't giddy over the WSC, mournful over their sins, and desperately worried about the safety of the local preacher.

We should note that whatever decision is made about affirming or not affirming children, some flexibility for exceptional circumstances should be allowed. Children with terminal diseases (God forbid!), war time situations, places where persecution is rife, all of these need to be considered and accounted for by the church and given maximum flexibility in the rules and in our thoughts.

But even with our exceptions for exceptional circumstances, what about normal circumstances? In the regular course of events when your child barely out of toddler-hood says "I'm a Christian, can I take communion/be baptized/attend member's meetings?" we are going to have to answer both as parents (non-authoritatively) and as members of the church (authoritatively). Edwards in this case responded with a "yes, you can", though he admitted that such was not the normal course of events. I think the answer is... I don't know.

I mean, in one sense the answer as a parent is pretty easy. Well, "easy", at any rate. The correct response if my four-year-old (not that I have one of those right now) to "daddy am I a Christian?" is "we'll have to wait and see what you think when you're older and what the church says about your application for membership, my job is to teach you not to make final judgments on whether it takes or not." I say that's the easy answer because it's the right answer of course ;) but also because it kicks the responsibility off onto the church. Of course it's not really "easy" because telling someone you don't know if they're a Christian does carry certain implications with it, since there are implications for not being a Christian, and that can be hard when that someone is your own offspring.

It's as a church member where we are obligated to speak with some authority where it gets difficult. As those with the authority to admit someone into membership and so make a public declaration about the state of their faith, this is something we need to do carefully and seriously with each individual. We need to be sure that we are giving full consideration to each request, including judging the sincerity of the applicant and the possibility that a few years down the road they will be equally sincere. Here is probably where most people are going to struggle with toddler-faith. Sure, they claim to believe in Christ now, but ten years from now will they have to be excommunicated for apostasy or simply stripped from the rolls as never having been believers in the first place. (Though we could also say the same about someone who has a history of bouncing back and forth between belief and unbelief.) What do we do?

We ask Jonathan Leeman, that's what :)

Friday, July 3, 2015

ANF VI: Gregory Thaumaturgus Canonical Epistle

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Gregory Thaumaturgus: Part I: Acknowledged Writings: Canonical Epistle

Well, my plan to regularly go through each of the readings in this volume was offset by work, current events, family, and all those other things that regularly drag us down ;)

But I'll keep plugging away at it, even if it means that by the time I actually post these reviews it may have been so long since I read the work that my memory of it isn't all that great. [shrug] What can you do?

The "Canonical Epistle," for example. Isn't really what it sounds like. It's not so much an "epistle that everyone admits is a part of the canon of Gregory's works" as it is a "list of guidelines and doctrines the same as we see released by councils and such." For example, there's Canon VIII:
Now those who have been so audacious as to invade the houses of others, if they have once been put on their trial and convicted, ought not to be deemed fit even to be hearers in the public congregation. But if they have declared themselves and made restitution they should be placed in the ranks of the repentant.
In other words, what are we to do with criminals who claim to be Christians? If they have been tried and convicted by the state, they don't even get to show up at the church meeting. But if they admit their sin and repent of it, they should be allowed back in to enter into the process of reconciliation that others have to go through.
Or, what about Christians who have been pressed into military service by marauding barbarians? If they forget their Christian obligations not to kill or pillage, again they must be expelled from the assembly--at least until a council has made a final decision about what to do in such instances.

This is worth reading to get a sense for how the church fathers thought about church life and the relationship between the general culture and the body of believers.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Same Sex Marriage and the Christian Future

Source
With the recent Court decision, it seems that the law of the land now recognizes the legalization of same-sex marriage. There are political, institutional, and ethical ramifications of this decision that need to be hammered out, but that's not my goal here. Here, my purpose is to offer a few thoughts to help individual Christians navigate these new social waters.
[Note: As of now, Christians are not legally being required to endorse same sex marriage. If that ever changes this post will require significant modification. For some reflection on the trend in that direction, check out this article by Jonathan Leeman.]
Before getting into the nuts-and-bolts of our response to this situation as Christians, we need to be sure to remember the great overarching truth that defines the place of the church in the world: in the long run, we are going to win. This is not to say we are going to have a personal victory in Hollywood-esque sense of some last minute hero riding to save the day; and this is certainly not to say that we will win the cultural battle in this nation at this time, or convince the Supreme Court or Congress or the states or what-have-you that they are wrong. This is rather to say that the Christ has already won. There are two sides of His victory that we need to remember.

On the one hand, Jesus achieved all the victory over sin, death, and the world that any of us will ever need when He paid for our sins on the cross. When that great substitution took place, the defeat of all the enemies of God was at hand and the vindication of His people was complete. He has won the victory for the church over the world, not through the church in the world, and as a result we can be confident that we are reconciled to God despite whatever happens in the halls of power in Washington DC. There is nothing that can can undo this triumph. (Romans 8:38-39)

On the other hand, Jesus will win even these worldly victories which appear to be losses now. I don't mean this necessarily as a Political Scientist--though I could say something about birthrates and how only Evangelical Christians, conservative Catholics, and immigrants are reproducing in any noticeable numbers (though admittedly even that is declining), so that in a generation or two this social and cultural pendulum will swing the other way. And I don't even mean this as someone who has studied quite a bit of history (though I'll talk more about that below). Once again, I mean that as a Christian, whatever happens in the world right now is at the very best temporary: Jesus is going to come back and put all of this right when he sets up His own kingdom--the City of God:
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:3-8)
In this coming eternal city, unrepentant sinners will be removed to judgment and God's people will live with Him forever. Jesus will win even what He appears to have lost now; until then we are merely in a holding pattern while we wait.

So what should we do while we are waiting?

Between the "already" of what Jesus has won on the cross and the "not yet" of His return, how are Christians to react to something like the Obergefell v. Hodges decision? Here are six suggestions:

1) Pray for non-believers:

The supporters of gay marriage, and especially homosexuals themselves, are in for a very, very miserable time--and we must feel a deep pity for them because of it. They are trying to steal satisfaction and happiness by combining their own sinful hearts and wills with a fallen natural institution that was never meant to bring ultimate fulfillment to anyone--let alone those who would use it wrongly and try to remake it in their own image. As a result they are going to find that this victory only makes them more miserable, more discontent, and more filled with anger and hatred. When the joy they thought they would receive from the legalization of their sinful behavior does not materialize, they will howl all the louder as they expand their demands. Proof of this discontent will follow on this decision immediately, as a stream of "this is not enough" statements will begin to flood the culture just as this movement for gay marriage followed on the decriminalization of homosexuality in Lawrence v. Texas (2003).
[This came out eve before the decision was released, which tells us that these authors were discontent with their victory before they even had it.]
We cannot help but feel great pity for a discontent that we can understand from our own experience. You and I even as Christians still from time to time catch ourselves trying to be happy with even the good things this world offers--family, friends, work, nature, and anything else you care to name. We know and have felt how ultimately hollow these things are when they are put at the center of our lives even when we use them as they are meant to be used, let alone when we make idols of them. As Christians, we can hope to recognize this hollowness and come to the joy that follows repentance and turning from our sin and embracing Christ. And so we must pray fervently for those who have never experienced true joy and who do not have the occasional respite from the emptiness of the world that is found in a relationship with God. We know the grace and mercy of our Lord and have been shown both the way out of the misery in the world and the truth that we will be wretchedly unhappy unless we find our joy in God and the life that comes through knowing Him. Once we have this joy we can understand that legislation, executive action, and court decisions will never make anyone happy, nor will being able to do whatever you want whenever you want regardless of what others think. The peace with God that comes through Jesus Christ alone is what enables us to echo Augustine in saying "our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee." (Confessions, I.1)

So pray regularly and deeply for those we are about to see become more miserable than ever.

2) Pray for individual believers:

We don't know what all the societal and political repercussions of this decision will be, but we can assume based on the last few years that the immediate future will be extremely difficult for certain individual believers. We need to pray that Christians who find themselves in these difficulties would remain faithful to the Gospel even as they think carefully about how to love God and their neighbors. They are going to be at the forefront of figuring out how to balance our obligations as Christians with the demands of Caesar, and how to picture well the Gospel in the eyes of the watching world.

3) Pray for the church:

At the end of the day, Christians are to value and support the church more than any other institution. It is more important than florist's shops, bakeries, and governments, and so we ought to spend much time begging for mercy and for holiness for the body of believers that God Himself died for. We are going to see increasing pressure on churches to conform to the new standard set by the culture, and so the church is going to have to develop a backbone such as it has never really needed in the United States before now.

4) Pray for families:

Christians in the past hundred years have not necessarily been models of what families ought to be--though it's not quite so bad a situation as the conventional wisdom suggests. Nevertheless, as the culture changes Christians will increasingly be models of what proper marriages ought to be, which in turn means we need to remember why it matters--the family is a temporary institution designed to teach about the relationship between Christ and the church. And so we ought to pray that we will continue to be a faithful picture of the Gospel to the world and that this institution will be strengthened rather than weakened, despite the culture's assault on it.

5) Cultivate faith by remembering the Gospel:

It is the Sunday School answer, yet it is the correct one nonetheless: our very first response to any situation should always be to remind ourselves that we are sinful rebels against God, and that rather than condemn us for our sins God sent His Son to become a man, live the life that we should have lived, and take our punishment when he died the death on a cross that we should have died. This life and death becomes counted as ours not because we are good people, but because we have believed Him. Faith is the foundation of the Christian life and what enables us to live in a world where we face such trials. What we will find is that as this faith grows, so too will grow our ability to live well in a hostile world, particularly in three areas:

a) Patience

Here is the promised nod to the history I've spent some time studying. When we look at the current Supreme Court decision it would seem to be a big one. But when we look at it in the overall context of history, it shrinks in size and proportion until we can begin to see how very very insignificant this really is in the grand scheme of things.
One hundred years from now there may or may not be homosexual marriage in the world, and you and I will be dead. But there will still be Christians and the church will live on.
One thousand years from now America as we know it will no longer exist. And no I'm not claiming to be a prophet or read the Bible as an exact map of the future or anything like that, I'm just telling you as a professional Political Scientist there is zero historical evidence that allows us to assume that any nation will last that long. But whatever happens to the United States in the next millennium, there will almost certainly be no homosexual marriage if it follows the historical pattern of other sinful institutions. The city of man will have progressed into other rebellious forms and shapes, racing it's debauched way to judgment. Yet there will still be Christians: the City of God will still be faithfully plodding its way along the pilgrim trail in a mixture of faithfulness and sin that will continue until the return of Christ. And if you want to reflect more on that, take up and read (slowly) Augustine's City of God.
So be patient, because we will win in the end however difficult things get for us right now.

b) Humility

At no point must we think that we are the innocent victims of a wicked culture. As Christians, the primary difference between us and the world is that we know we are sinful rebels against God. The fact that as Christians we have been forgiven for our rebellion is a difference that begins in God's character, not in ours. If we start playing the "who's more moral?" game, nobody wins. The proponents of homosexual marriage are not the "super-wicked!" of the world to be resisted by us virtuous saints. Those of us who correctly understand marriage are not the "super-virtuous champions of all that is good and right!" riding into battle against the forces of darkness. If that's your perception of Christianity's place in the world, you've radically failed to understand the Gospel. Whether we're thinking about ourselves individually or the church as it exists in this world, we must remember that we are saved despite our depravity, not because we are good and worth saving. We would do well to remember this absolutely every time we speak to this issue publicly--and I certainly include myself in that "we", since humility is not one of my strengths.

c) Love

Love forms the First and Second greatest commandments of the Christian life, and is the primary sign that we have truly believed God's promises in the Gospel. If we are not growing in our love for God and our love for our neighbors--including those who are working against what we believe politically--we simply have no claim to be true followers of Christ. Jesus died for us who hated Him; to fail to love is to publicly suggest that we still hate Him and want nothing to do with His sacrifice.

But in this context, what does it mean to love those who support gay marriage? There will be those who try to tell us that if we really love our opponents in this issue, we would support the opening of the institution of marriage to homosexuals. However, as absolutely any decent authority figure (perhaps especially parents) will tell you, "love" does not universally mean "let the other person do whatever they want." In this case, what is loving is for us to be respectful, kind, compassionate, and generous in our disagreement. The time has come for Christians to say "no" to the culture, and being loving means at the very least doing so as gently as possible.

6) Finally, Christians are to continue to evangelize:

Whatever the effects of this decision on our society, the reality is that we alone still have the Word of Life to share with the world; we alone can offer the way to achieve the hope, comfort, fulfillment, and happiness that all human beings long for. As Christians, we want above all else to see God glorified, and one of the ways we are told to pursue that desire is to share this message with others so that they too can become our brothers and sisters in Christ.

To that end we are to preach forgiveness through the cross. However vicious their assault on marriage, on the church, on God Himself has been, there is no one so sinful as to be beyond the mercy of Christ. Every Christian should say to himself "if I can be forgiven, anyone can." So don't stop telling others the good news--that God has opened up a way to salvation for all who will repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ.