Category Archives: Culture

Cultural Markers – The Stained Glass Ceiling

Here is the WSJ reporting on a piece of business news.

A couple of things should be pointed out:
1) Holding to the orthodox faith will now exclude you from achieving high positions in the United States. And don’t take the lack of future “news” to say people have regained sanity, what it will mean is that companies will have “vetted” any candidates for embarrassing thought-crimes prior to appointment. The way this works in practice is that there is now agreement at high levels which will enforce a screen such that orthodox would not even pass earlier hurdles. Call it the stained-glass ceiling.
2) In one sense this is not terribly distressing because the orthodox faith is one of being pilgrims or exiles in this world (1 Peter 2:11-12). Being barred from the top levels of this world’s corporations should not be a surprise. It is also possible to still live a quiet and godly life (1 Timothy 2:1-4) which is pleasing to God.
3) It is distressing as an American because the American story, as much as I don’t like the word, has been one of progress. As we have expanded the franchise and the sphere of liberty and the pursuit of happiness to a greater number of people, we have never felt the need to close the door on others. This has been universally a working out of America’s Christian conscience. This generation is and will be the first to close the door on the great American experiment in liberty. After the Christians invited everyone in, they will be the ones shown the door. As an American, living to see the experiment end brings on a profound sadness.
4) In instructing my kids, if one of them appears to have such ambition, the advice must be to start your own company. One could council the closet, but just being a member of the church will cause suspicion. It is not a viable strategy. The good news is that barring a complete pulling up of the ladders through even more onerous regulation the US continues to be a good place for this. Now I would recommend going to Texas similar states, sorry New York, but the assumptions in those states are for new business.

What I don’t think most people will get, which I’d like to highlight here, is that my distress is not as a Christian. My informed faith is actually very robust here. Such things are actually expected. I can understand distress of more nominal Christians to whom deeper reflection or solid teaching of the faith may have been denied, but the faith has always included calls to deny the world. The American truce has just lasted longer than typical. My distress is as an American. One can only feel like Augustine or Benedict witnessing the end of Rome. The thought or idea, call her Columbia, that gave order to our temporal lives, is breaking apart. All that will be left will be dim reflections of her torch and the longing for a more permanent city.

Update: Nice to know that a Harvard Prof (Robert P. George) sees things the same way. If anything he goes further. My take was this is just about leadership positions or positions of influence, he says don’t bother applying.

In the Right Ballpark

The old rabbis made a hand-waving connection between the big commandments and the smaller ones. If you haven’t heard hand-waving before, what I mean is an observation that appears true but there is no immediate way to prove it. Mathematicians use the phrase when something is asserted that gets you in the correct ballpark and being in the correct ballpark is the only thing that matters. Mathematics and theology are closer disciplines than probably either group would like to admit. Since I’m a practical putzer in each, I can make statements like that. Any-hoo, the Rabbis probably got the initial idea from God himself who consistently compares Israel’s idolatry to adultery (Jeremiah 3:8ff, Ezekiel 16:1ff, Hosea 4:1ff, really the entire book of Hosea). If you have a problem with the first commandment (No other gods) then you will have problems with the sixth (no adultery). Of course what this is really useful for is going the other way. If your society is full of sexual sin, you have a deep problem with idolatry. If your society has a problem with stealing (7th commandment) then the spiritual problem causing it is with the 2nd commandment (don’t steal the honor from the name of God). This matching up of one through five with six through ten (sorry Reformed folks, we are using the numbering the Rabbis, the Catholics and everyone else did until Calvin) continues in hand-waving fashion. It gets you into the right ballpark for spiritual issues.

The one that I want to comment on is actually three-eight. The eighth commandment is don’t bear false testimony against your neighbor. Now all the law has a positive and a negative force. The negative force is don’t lie about your neighbor. The positive force in the words of Luther is “put the best construction on everything.” Our 24/7/365 existence combined with the ever present desire to appear “in the know” (FOMO anyone?) has created a monster for the positive force of the law. We immediately jump to putting the worst possible construction on any answer by people we think are against us. It is not just that they disagree with us but that they are evil. In more formal times we would be talking about words like slander, libel and smear. Rachel Held Evans, a societal bellwether in many things, is instinctive in putting the worst construction on everything. The most recent example is taking to the CNN belief blog to pontificate righteously condemning as evil baby starving people those who decided that they were no longer going to support World Vision after their initial statements per SSM. The best construction would have been something along the lines that following the revelation that World Vision was not what they thought, these people decided to move their support to another charity now with greater trust. For example maybe to Samaritan’s Purse, or to drop the charade at all and just give the money to a completely secular charity. Helping people is helping people. Nobody is confused about UNICEF also being a representative of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Or in other words, pure doctrine actually matters, even though our low content non-denominational culture has been trying to deny that for decades.

There are any number of things where the real problem in society is that we can’t tell the truth about our neighbor and instead substitute the worst thing we can possibly think up for their motivations. No matter how many pinches of salt are given to being a “uniter and not a divider” or “representing not blue or red America but The United States of America”, until the real spiritual problem is addressed we will continue tearing each other apart.

And getting into the right ballpark spiritually means looking at the third commandment which is about keeping the Sabbath day holy. Luther’s explanation of this priceless. “What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” If you are tearing your society apart through slander and smear, the real problem that is being made manifest is the ignorance and disdain for the Word of God and the gathering of believers.

Now there is an interesting issue here regarding two kingdoms and the church. America is not the church. Confusing the two, as I am in danger of doing above, is not the right path. Addressing the spiritual problem flows in two ways. The easy way is directed as the great multitude of the post-protestant penumbra of America, the washed (i.e. baptized) hordes that have left the church or have taken up dissent from within for fun and profit. The call of Joel 2:11-17 fits. “”Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him.” Respect for the Word of God does not mean twisting it to fit your preconceived notions and self-justifications. Keeping the Sabbath means placing yourself under the Word. And the 6th commandment and Jesus on divorce and marriage (Mark 10:1ff) are clear. As I said that is the easy one. The tough one is that the same Word makes clear what the church is to do regarding itself to those who will not accept its teaching – 1 Corinthians 5:1ff. The fact that we have entire church bodies that have been lost to the church because of our inability honor the Word is a travesty worthy of mourning.

“Yet even now…” That is the call to Christian Hope. Yet even now, when according to human standards the thing is dead and lifeless, God is faithful. He is the God of the living. He is the God of resurrection. Our Hope springs not from our ability to actually call the assembly or keep the fast, because we cannot. Our Hope is the steadfast love of the Lord. He relents over disaster. He calls forth his unfaithful bride and puts her in white for the wedding feast. That is why we return. That is why the church will live. It is not our love, it is His.

A Prophetic Confluence

I’ve been really haunted by a few things since I read the morning papers. Today is Annunciation Day. For those who might not know, what that means is this is the Christian Holiday when Gabriel announced God’s favor in the incarnation to Mary. (Luke 1:26-38) Was it literally the day? Probably not, but it is set 9 months prior Christmas. (See, the ancient could count). Then there are two stories in the news. First the oral arguments before the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case against the contraception mandate took place today. Second, and there is no kind way to say this, but the revelation that Hospitals in Great Britain have been incinerating abortion products as part of the recycling plan to generate electricity.

That last one, if you have any biblical history, should cause a deep shudder as offering children as burnt offerings is what Molech demanded. I’m going to quote the King James because it uses the most literal words here. It doesn’t hide the raw fact behind euphemisms of sacrifice and offering.

And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD. (Lev 18:21 KJV)

Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones. And I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he hath given of his seed unto Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name. And if the people of the land do any ways hide their eyes from the man, when he giveth of his seed unto Molech, and kill him not: Then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go a whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Molech, from among their people. (Lev 20:2-5 KJV)

And he (Josiah during his reformation) defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech. (2Ki 23:10 KJV)

And go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the east gate, and proclaim there the words that I shall tell thee, And say, Hear ye the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, the which whosoever heareth, his ears shall tingle. Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents; They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind: Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that this place shall no more be called Tophet, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of slaughter. (Jer 19:2-6 KJV)

And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin. (Jer 32:35 KJV)

I can’t help but feel like God is getting less subtle. This is the type of idolatry and gross immorality that should call for sack-cloth and ashes and full on prophetic rants. On the day that the church remembers the conception of Christ, we are reading about ways to prevent and eliminate the products of a conception. I know that this makes me sound nuts, but the confluence gives me pause. And what really gives me pause is that nothing will change. Lord have mercy.

Noah – Why I’m Looking Forward to a Movie

Noah Movie PosterCan I admit something? Well, I don’t care if I can or can’t – I’m going to. I’m looking forward to seeing Noah. I might even bring my kids – which depends more upon family budget than it does upon what is on the screen.
Now I’ve got some purely secular reasons for wanting to go:

  1. I’ve never seen a Russell Crowe film that wasn’t worth the time. Never. Not even the Rom Coms. He is the highest performing actor of his generation. (Maybe Denzel Washington comes close.) The fact that he took this script says something.
  2. I like Hermione. Sorry, Emma Watson. Along with the rest of the cast. If I was casting a movie blind, these are the actors I’d want to see.
  3. The director is roughly my age and knows how to tell what are spiritual stories. Go look at the movies he’s done. Each is interesting and a couple are near classics. Add to that the spectacle budget and what is clearly a passion subject for the director, this is the equivalent of Nascar. Even if it wrecks it should still be exciting.
  4. This one starts to cross into the theological, but it is still more secular. I would like to see A-list talent treating biblical themes. We can kid about actors “phoning it in”, but that is probably what #1 is about. The best just don’t phone it in. Even if the material is crap (see Crowe’s Rom-Coms) he himself can still sparkle. And you don’t get A-list talent in a paint-by-numbers biblical story. If you did, something went very wrong because the source material is so rich.

So, that gets me to the theological reasons.

  1. The Noah story has been so overly sentimentalized – we put it on baby’s walls! – that any serious treatment of it should be meaningful. One of the most haunting lines in the bible is Luke 17:26-27 where Jesus says, “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.” This is a story about the death of everything and our natural blindness to it. If the director needs to use global warming to do so, ok, he’s speaking from his experience. We might be blind enough that we need a physical prompt to consider the spiritual.
  2. The Genesis stories are sparse in their telling. They are made to appeal to universal themes. For a people that is no longer the Children of Abraham, these Genesis stories are where Spiritual wrestling can start. American’s are no longer wrestling with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob revealed in Jesus Christ, but they might wrestle with the unknown and enigmatic God of Noah. And eventually when you wrestle with the unknown God, you need shelter, because the unknown God sends floods.
  3. One of the great strengths of the scriptures is their refusal to simplify. When you read most “sacred literature” what stands out is how simplistic most of it is. When you read the bible, the heroes are often like Noah who does this amazing task of building the ark on simply the word of God and almost the first thing he does when he stumbles out of it is get drunk and curse his sons. Even Jesus, who is dogmatically perfect, embodies the contradictions. All the glory of God is best revealed on the cross. Deal with it. Especially if you are following a prosperity preacher or happy sunshine rainbows Christianity. I trust Noah in this team’s hand to not be simplistic.
  4. And the big one. I said this is a story about the death of everything and our blindness to it. That is only half true. It is also a story about grace. God chose one man or one family from the midst of the wreckage and sealed them in an arc. God’s justice and God’s mercy on full display.  We Lutherans call that the law and the gospel.   The worst of us (sin) and the best of us (tenacious faith) portrayed. However you decide to fill in the blanks, those bones are truth.

Theory meets Verification – A Video to Smile At

A video of the Physics prof who created the gravitational theory of the residue of the big bang (non-economic inflation theory) about 30 years ago being told of the just released experimental results. I liked the his comments around 2:00 forward – “what if I believed it just because it was beautiful”.

Law, Gospel and Barry Bonds

winter barry in spring
It is Lent which is a time for confession. First confession, this is little article is an exercise in procrastination. But I hope it is also an exercise of love.

I’m turning to Baseball. Did you know that they are playing spring training games? More interesting, did you know that Home Run King* Barry Bonds has taken a small position as hitting instructor for his old team the Giants? When I was a child I did childish things, like play basketball. Basketball is a beautiful game, although coaches and TV are doing their best to ruin it. Coach Wooden had the appropriate appreciation in never calling timeouts. To get to the core of basketball you need to be in the flow. All the time outs allow for ads and money and the coaches to feel important on camera, to get big, but they ruin basketball at its core. When I grew up, I started to recognize the poetic depths in baseball that basketball just doesn’t have the vocabulary rival. Not that the players see these things. Most players are not reflective types. Even in baseball you want to get into the flow, and turning on the brain inhibits the flow. But I’m praying for Barry. Because it is in him. Anyone who can be that big of an a**-hole on purpose, anyone who can display envy on a staggering level as he has, also has the necessary powers of reflection if turned in the right direction. And we need him.

So much of what is eating at America’s soul finds a living symbol in Barry Bonds. When I was struggling to play my last desperate games of basketball, a lanky kid was demonstrating how to play America’s pastime. But nobody was watching, or at least in Barry’s mind nobody was watching. He broke into the league with the Pirates in 1986. By 1990 he won the MVP, the Silver Slugger and the Gold Glove. I remember those Pirate years. Do you remember who was the favorite? 2nd rate slugger Bobby Bonilla, if not the journeyman catcher Sid Bream. Do you remember what Bonds would become known for in Pittsburgh during those years? Not being able to win in the post-season. In 1992 Franscisco Cabrera would knock in Sid Bream ahead of the Bonds throw to end the season…and Bonds time in Pittsburgh. That kid in Pittsburgh could have been the 2nd coming of Roberto Clemente. He could have continued to win awards and the respect of the league and been that example of excellence that gets talked about in hushed tones, a first ballot Hall of Famer that people trek to Cooperstown to see the brass plaque. But those were not the lessons Barry learned.

Barry learned that HR’s, not silver sluggers or gold gloves or stolen bases or any of the really hard things, are what bring what appeared like love. Pittsburgh loved Bobby Bo and not Barry. And instead of that being to Pittsburgh’s shame, Barry learned. Barry learned that “not winning when it counted” even though the club ace was Doug Drabek with a steep drop off after that is what you get playing for small market teams. What Barry learned was to get big. Growth, at any cost, was what was needed. And get big he did. He went from that all-around player competing for every major award while hitting 30 HR’s to the epic steroid run we remember. And when being smart about it wasn’t enough, when those hacks Sosa and McGuire hogged the spotlight, Bonds went all in the following years. Forget any semblance of fielding or the player he once was. He would put up the dingers in Ruthian fashion landing in McCovey Cove. Feats that haven’t and won’t be matched until a generation comes that does not remember Joseph.

America also learned those lessons – get big. Too big to fail. We not only blew one bubble but two. When the tech-bubble burst no longer allowing 20 year old geeks to become billionaires overnight, we blew the mortgage bubble. Can’t found, buy a McMansion on a $30,000 salary and liar loan and flip it. Get big, 2000…3000…4000 sq. ft. All growth is good growth, right? And in all that growth, we lost our soul. Just like Barry.

Of course he maintains his innocence. He will still occasionally try and say he didn’t use. When asked if he belongs in the Hall of Fame Barry will answer “of course”. He is right on a completely inconsequential level. His self-justifications are “scoreboard”. Look at the stats. Even if you don’t want to credit his late career, cut it off in the year of Sosa and McGuire. He’s still hall of fame by the strict letter of the law. The problem is that even our best is nothing in that court. If you are going by the law, it only takes one blemish. What we need is a Barry Bonds who could receive grace. We need Hall of Fame voters who could say, “He was wrong, but he was us. In a way, he was the best of us, which is also the worst of us.” And from that act of grace a Barry who could stand up at the Hall of Fame and talk not about 73* HR’s, but about teaching 18 year-olds how to hit in Spring Training. I’m praying for that Barry. We need him.

(HT: The Slurve, a great little baseball newsletter for following the game, and this article.)

Added Without Comment

Sometimes Prophecy Comes From Strange Places

This is Andrew Sullivan on Catholic/Christian understanding of marriage and sexuality…

But what Ross and Michael and Rod are really concerned about, it seems to me, is the general culture of growing intolerance of religious views on homosexuality, and the potential marginalization – even stigmatization – of traditional Christians.

I sure hope that doesn’t happen, but it’s not something a free society should try to control by law. There is a big difference between legal coercion and cultural isolation. The former should be anathema – whether that coercion is aimed at gays or at fundamentalist Christians. The latter? It’s the price of freedom. The way to counter it is not, in my view, complaints about being victims (this was my own advice to the gay rights movement a couple of decades ago, for what it’s worth). The way to counter it is to make a positive argument about the superior model of a monogamous, procreative, heterosexual marital bond. There is enormous beauty and depth to the Catholic argument for procreative matrimony – an account of sex and gender and human flourishing that contains real wisdom. I think that a church that was able to make that positive case – rather than what is too often a merely negative argument about keeping gays out, or the divorced in limbo – would and should feel liberated by its counter-cultural message.

He is absolutely right.  I’ve often felt frustrated by the current conversation on these issues.  First because I could feel myself just being negative and legalistic.  Don’t get me wrong, the law of God is good and wise.  We should follow it.  But the law never wins any converts.  Secondly because these conversations always brought up the doctrine of election and my personal verses of horror (Isaiah 6:8-13, Hebrews 6:4-8, Luke 19:26, Mark 4:9).  Some things are quite clear to me: 1) marriage as a reflection of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:32) is one of the concrete ways we experience being conformed to Christ.  There are others, but no place in my experience rivals the crucible of learning to deny yourself and live for ones totally unlike you (yet like you) as marriage leading to children.  The cross and the glory are more perfectly shown in that one flesh union than any other relationship.  2) the bible and Jesus are quite clear about the centrality of monogamy.  Yes, Abraham was polygamous and Solomon had a harem, but the bible never approves of these things.  They are simply noted.  What is preached is Jesus pointing at Genesis with one man and one woman and God putting them together (Mark 10:1-12).  The others are examples of the fallen world.  They were allowed because of the hardness of our hearts, but God constantly paints himself as the bridegroom with steadfast love or covenant faithfulness.  Go read the story of Hosea to understand just how deep that runs.  3) This ordering is both a participation in God and a following after God’s own heart.  4) Rejecting this is in some deep way a rejection of God.  God is merciful.  Maybe it does not go to outright rejection, but it is on that line.  It brings one right up to the line of ‘even what you have will be taken away’.  I get shrill at that line.  Stop, you don’t know where you are going.   5) Tossing aside all theology, any society that does not take monogamous marriage aimed toward procreation as the held up ideal is in for a world of hurt.  We can see this in our society.  All the best social science says this.  This isn’t even a practical question.  What this is is an example of putting personal license and liberty for rich upper-crusty folks ahead of the good of society.  Those things are clear to me, but a majority do not agree.  It might even be a majority within the church, God be merciful.

But after reading Sullivan much of that goes away.  Christians are no longer the bedrock of this society.  We no longer must take responsibility for society as a whole.  We do not live in Christendom and are not one revival away from reanimating it.  It has rejected the Christian witness.  The watchtowers have been torn down.  Remaining at those posts calling out warnings not wanted nor heeded is not the call.  The call is to offer the living water, to lead beside still waters to refresh the soul.  You want the joy and fulfillment of a lifetime spent in the image of God?  Come and see.

Of Cakes and Controversy

wedding-cake-2Depending upon how much you follow the news you might have caught winds of the “gay cakes” controversy. The basic situation is that since “gay marriage” is now legal in many states one of the traditional elements of a wedding is the cake. A twist on this story is not cakes but photographers. Some of these bakers and photographers are evangelical Christians who would probably agree with my scare quotes around “gay marriage”. They have refused to provide the cakes for the weddings and have been sued. They have lost the lawsuits and at least in one case been forced to shut the business. In others they have been hit with “damages”.

Now the first thing I would typically say is if a matter can be solved with human wisdom there is no need to bring theology or the bible into it. In these cases I’d say to the homosexuals getting married, did you really want someone who doesn’t agree with what you are doing to be providing these services? It is (theoretically) a one-time event. You might be shocked and affronted that there are still “troglodytes” who think in terms of sin and that you are engaging in it, but is bringing down the heavy hand of the government on private conscience really what you want to do. The end result of this is bad pictures and inedible cake served with a fake smile. Nobody wants that. Human wisdom says live and let live. In fact the secular philosopher might go so far as to thank the person for their honesty and the chance to get better service, unless the real point is not to celebrate the wedding, but to force compliance with a different morality.

But we seem to have moved past the point of humble wisdom and to theology. And here I think Lutheranism, and St. Paul in 1 Corinthians, has something to add. Lutheranism is a “two-kingdoms” theology. The short explanation of two kingdoms is that there is a Kingdom that Jesus rules directly which is the church and a kingdom that His rule is at one remove the earthly kingdom. Augustine would call this the City of God and the City of Man. You could also call it the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdoms of this World or the reign of the Gospel and the reign of the law. The earthly kingdom is ruled by Jesus but through means such as us and Satan and the law. You can imagine how messed up things can get when your prime ministers are actually working contrary to your purpose such that when the King does show up the prime ministers crucify him. The reason I bring that up is that most evengelicals, who are from the Reformed or Calvinist theology are not two-kingdoms. They typically believe things like “we are building the kingdom of God right here”. A Lutheran in contrast would say that we experience the Kingdom of God, primarily through the word and the sacraments, in the midst of this fallen world. The Kingdom of God comes where and when it wills apart from our effort as Luther would write in the small catechism.

So, to a reformed baker, baking a cake for a “gay wedding” is taking a step backward in building the kingdom. To a Lutheran it could be a sin or it could just be dealing with the world that we live in. But if it is a sin, the problem is not in providing the service; the problem is how that action impacts others.

Let me expand on that in two ways. First you need to read 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. Paul’s injunctions not to associate with the sexually immoral (or other classes of sin) have nothing to do with those outside of the church. If you bake cakes and a gay couple who do not claim to be part of the church want a cake. Bake the cake and do it well. Judging those outside of the church is for God (1 Cor 5:13). Your participation here is just the messiness of a messy world, but it is also you fulfilling your vocation as a baker. And the Christian baker is known not by political stands but by the quality of their cake. The Christian baker is the one with quality enough that even the gay-pagans would trust their cakes. Paul will expand on this a bit in 1 Corinthians 8:1ff when he talks about meat offered to idols. We know that a “gay marriage” is a pagan thing. It is not marriage defined by God as an image of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:32). The cake is offered to idols. Eating, in this case receiving pay, from such things is nothing because the idols are nothing.

Here is where we get to the two places where baking the cake might cross into sin. The first is if the couple are having a church wedding and professing to be Christians while engaging in a public sexually immoral lifestyle. “Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge…purge the evil person from among you (1 Cor 5:12-13).” Now you as a baker should never have been put in such a spot. It was the vocation of the ministers and elders of the church to have called out such immorality long before they walked into your bakery. Here is a good warning to the laity about demanding ministers with good doctrine. If they pass the buck, it eventually goes to you. You want the watchman who warns. But in such a time as ours, it might be a sin to bake the cake because if they are professing to be Christian you are giving approval to their actions. It is the way of the cross and the way of love to warn them, even if they will not hear it, that their actions place them outside of the church. The second place this might cross into sin is if you are part of a congregation, like the Reformed, who would take this as a stumbling block. Read 1 Corinthians 8:7-13. My baking the cake, even for a gay non-Christian, might be taken as betraying the faith. Again, notice that proper teaching and understanding would not place you in such a situation. If your congregation knew that idols were nothing and knew that God alone builds his kingdom, then dealing with the world as it is would not give offense. But if building the Kingdom has been made your responsibility, as the Reformed do, then the appearance of making the cake is working against the kingdom and would cause offense to your brother.

Now I bet you didn’t think “meat offered to idols” had any modern application. But I’d also encourage you to look at the complexity of the argument and the number of people I’ve probably managed to offend. While I believe it is right, I think the biggest take away is that our hope is not in the kingdom of the law. Just by existing in it I commit three felonies as day. And that should send me to the gospel kingdom for my deliverance and my hope. And my true hope is that on the last day this body of corruption will be replaced with the resurrected body and the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of my Lord as Satan is put away forever.

“The creation and sustenance of communities in which virtue can be practiced and taught”

That title phrase is stolen from this Rod Dreher post. Rod likes to talk about the Benedict option, which refers to St. Benedict the founder of western monasticism. When he talks about the Benedict option or a new Benedict, which he took from Philosopher Alastair MacIntyre, he is not talking about physical retreat so much as cultural retreat for the purpose of the title. The larger culture does not practice or value virtue. Things that orthodox Christianity would teach as virtues, such as chastity, are almost vices to the world. Hence the need for Benedict.

Here is where this crosses with 1 Corinthians 5:1ff which we have been studying in Bible Class, and how it crosses a generation gap and causes great angst. Paul, three times in that chapter, tells the Corinthian church to regulate itself by throwing the immoral brother out. The church is a community that practices and teaches virtue. By disregarding it, by allowing public vice, that community is destroyed. If the person repents and changes their life, the community is not destroyed, because that is the nature of practice in a fallen world. But if the person persists in such activity, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump”.

In order to create and sustain such a community, that community must be able to publicly say this person by their actions has placed themselves outside the community, and they have refused to repent. We have no judgment over those outside. God judges. But those inside are under the authority of the church. For a long time this was all very theoretical stuff. The church and the larger society were roughly overlapping circles, or that was the fiction at any rate. We were part of Christendom. The only people it didn’t apply to were those who had publicly opted out like Jews or the village atheist. So any suggestion that someone who wasn’t one of those two is outside the church gets taken as raving lunacy. It shouldn’t be, because we no longer live in the time of Christendom. The orthodox church is a much smaller circle within a neo-pagan society which includes entities that claim to be church but are not. In other words we are much closer to the Apostle Paul’s Corinth than we are to the American church of 1950. Continuing to practice the conventional wisdom of the church of that era today always ends in grief.