The legal establishment of same-sex marriage in New York state-not by a rogue court, mind you, but by legislative act-raises pressing questions for the Church. Will we stand for Christian principles in the face of this blindly egalitarian normalization of homosexuality, and the polygamy and incest that will logically follow? Will we stand firm when people call us bigots and compare us with unreconstructed racists? Will we continue to follow uncritically the principles of the world around us? Evangelicals have a history of cultural accommodation, after all. Will we join with our clearly anti-Christian society in this moral collapse, or will we present an alternative by clearly identifying, thoroughly rejecting, and firmly replacing those socially self-destructive principles?
Facing the same-sex marriage development, I suddenly feel like a mainline Presbyterian who now thinks his denomination has crossed the line because it has voted to ordain homosexuals. But that is like finally leaving a burning house because the roof fell in. Prior to that, it was an inferno. Prior to that, it was on fire. Prior to that, you watched passively while your children were playing with matches in the basement.
At some point, the Presbyterian Church (USA) unwittingly imported principles that were fundamentally hostile to the Christian faith. That bit of leaven has leavened the whole lump. The ordination of women in the mainline churches could pass only because they had already replaced their biblical foundations with individualistic ones drawn from modern cosmology. Was it the denomination's adoption of The Book of Confessions in 1967? No, the problem far predated that. J. Gresham Machen left Princeton and the Northern Presbyterian Church in 1930s after his clash with them over modernism. The Southern church took longer to decline, so it was not until 1973 that the conservatives there finally made their break.
If same-sex marriage in the nation parallels the ordination of homosexuals in the PC(USA), where was America's point of departure from Christian principles? (My concern here is chiefly for the integrity of Christians in America, not for America herself.) Was it a Supreme Court decision? Was it the Progressive Era? Was it the arrival of the German academic tradition in the late 19th century, or the Second Great Awakening earlier in that century? Was it the triumph of the Federalists over the Anti-Federalists at the time of the Founding, or was it even in what both schools of thought shared in their embrace of Enlightenment individualism? The further back we find the ultimate cause, the more radical our disagreement will turn out to be with our non-Christian fellow citizens.
If the Church continues to address individual issues as isolated challenges-abortion, divorce, teen rebellion, same-sex marriage-she will continue to plug holes in the dike while the rising waters come up through the ground to her knees, to her elbows, and then to her neck. The problem is not this-and-that hole where the water is leaking in, but where you are standing relative to the sea. Christians need a more thorough understanding of the culture and seek the high ground in the mind of Christ.
In the age of same-sex marriage, how radical a Reformation do we need if the Church is to remain distinct from the world? Remaining distinct is not about hemlines, how much you drink, nose studs, what entertains you, etc., though being distinct has consequences for these things. It means being transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2). It means understanding the world in distinctly Christian categories of thought.
In Lectures on Calvinism (1898), Abraham Kuyper distinguishes Christianity and modernism as two fundamentally different life-systems. Remaining distinct from the world is especially difficult in modern times. First, the modern world has many widely available and very attractive pleasures to seduce us. Some of those are inherently wrong. Some are merely imprudent. Some are perfectly wholesome but not if enjoyed in the wrong way or to the wrong degree, as the modern world tempts us to do.
Second, the modern world holds principles that look like Christian principles and perhaps have some reference back to Christian principles but are distinctly different and lead to cultural death. Both Christianity and modernism teach liberty, equality, and compassion, but the modern world does so in a way that is independent of God and places each person at the center of his or her own universe of concern.
If we do not understand this, then when our world calls us to conform to its Christianity-aping principles, we will blink and follow, submitting to what we think is our Christian conscience. Theologically, philosophically, and culturally, we need to be battle-ready.