By David Tulis
The federal high court in Washington plans to announce in the next few days whether a constitutonal rights for Jim-Joe marriages exists — an opinion that will overturn marriage if it goes in favor of gays.
Christendom as it is expressed among Americans is alarmed and prayerful in some quarters. Christians gathered in Montgomery, Ala., Saturday to demonstrate for marriage. Christian authors and ministers have taken to giving a biblical defense of marriage and Christian culture. An elder at Sunday school at my church has had us study marriage and the shift in culture.
But in many parts of Christendom there is a laxness about what could be a pending disaster. I suspect the high court, led by Justice Anthony Kennedy, will favor the constitutional view, that marriage is a state issue today as it has been since the founding. He’s pro-gay, but he also esteems the democratic process and in the majority opinion overturning the federal marriage law DOMA in 2013, he argued strenuously for the rights of states and peoples to set their own course culturally and not have the U.S. pinch them.
Still, a consensus even in the Christian press (World magazine, for example) predicts that homosexuality will win, that the federal high court will equalize marriage, broaden marriage, give marriage as a right to gays in the final legitimization of buggery.
Bill Knowles — defender
We bring up Bill Knowles and the question of whether Christians are aware of his plight as clerk of Hamilton County, Tenn. It is our wish that thousands of people praying daily for his courage vis a vis the prospective mudslide against marriage and family. Mr. Knowles has a duty to say, “Forget it! I’m not marrying you two guys.” His motivation shouldn’t be personal religious convictions. It should be based on legal, constitutional reasons connected with his oath and his duty under it. See my booklet, Good Faith & the County Clerk.
Christians are urged to pray for their magistrates, their judges, kings, generals, mayors, presidents, monarchs, dictators, tyrants, senators, representatives and sheriffs — those who exercise the power of the sword. By the office of prayer they magnify the claim God makes on public authorities, and by prayer they subject themselves to God and his providence.
But the state of prayer for Mr. Knowles, I suspect, is weak thanks to the pessimism that pervades American Christendom.
Whatever happened to Christianity?
Mr. Knowles is a practicing Christian who knows his Bible and attends a local church. He is concerned about spiritual matters, listens to Christian radio driving his car, and is dismayed at the warfare of the gay lobby against the family and marriage.
But he’s not the focus of prayer among faithful Christians, I suspect
➤ Christianity doesn’t look into the future, because that’s worldly.
➤ Christianity Christ’s advent, a millennial reign, and because the end is near earthly causes are fruitless, even if they have pious goals.
➤ The progress of evil deepens, and before the last day the earth will be consumed with wickedness.
The obstacles to reformation
The modern conceptions in Christianity are typified by Tennessee Temple University and the old Highland Park Baptist church, whose faithful represent the premillennial dispensationalist wing of God’s people.
The eclipse of hope began in the 1820s in Dublin, London and Plymouth with Edward Irving, reacting to the unspirituality in the Church of England. With newly developed theories of prophecy, Irving and followers J.N. Darby in the 1840s swept away axiomatic doctrines in Christianity, including its teachings about the church and end times. The church belongs to a dispensation of God that has failed, they held. God’s plan is not to reform the church and save her, but usher in a new dispensation — the advent of Christ and His direct rule upon the earth.
“What we are about to consider will tend to show that, instead of permitting ourselves to hope for a continued progress of good,” he lectured in Geneva in 1840 (John Calvin’s city), “we must expect a progress of evil; and that the hope of the earth being filled with the knowledge of the Lord before the exercise of his judgement, and the consummation of this judgement on the earth, is delusive.”
The Puritan-inspired missionary efforts of prior decades were presumption and error. Men ceased to look at the lines in the Lord’s prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” with confidence of progress against paganism and darkness. The goals of the missionary movement will be achieved only by Christ’s return. The advent became the new hope of the Christian.
“The old Puritan teaching allowed both for the hope in a mighty spread of the gospel in the earth and for a yearning for Christ’s glorious appearing. The new teaching, by reversing the order of these two things, nullified the first hope as far as the experience of the Church on this side of the Advent is concerned, by making the imminence of the Advent an essential part of what Paul calls ‘the blessed hope,’ it introduced practical effects *** far from beneficial,” Ian Murray says in his book, Puritan Hope.
Hence Christendom, following the growing influence of Darby, Dwight Moody, C.I. Scofield (1909 Bible edition), grew pessimistic and refused to take a long-term view of the church in history.
Shunned, the long-term view on culture wars, building out Christianity in a given city, any sense of a need to create a network supportive of someone such as Bill Knowles. Christians no longer say, “If the Lord wills,” but “If the Lord tarries.” Christ’s imminent return is the reigning orthodoxy, and you are worldly, lax and materialistic to think in terms of long-term Christian reconstruction or rebuilding.
Had a youth with an aptitude for mathematics asked Darby what he should do, Darby would have thrown into his answer “the entire weight of his character,” Murray says, and argued that such a goal as mathematics is suitable if entertained by a worldly man. Its pursuit is a mark of unbelief. Darby’s followers could have not fathomed the anti-slave trade work of William Wilberforce and the Clapham sect. Darby could not fathom the work of Calvin to make kings and authorities subservient to God, because that effort excludes private Christian piety.
The premillennialists rejected the 19th century concept of missionaries. This view held that missionaries are vital to bringing salvation to humanity and drawing every kingdom under the subjection of God. The missionary efforts of the modern church influenced by Darby are peculiar, seeking exclusively the chiefly the conversion of individual souls, with no reference to the circumstances of culture, country, law, education, medicine, courts, marketplace or family.
Asleep at wheel?
Irving and Darby belittled the church, rejected study of history and theology such as that of the rich Puritan school. The church is an institution without a future, they held, and the last moments of labor before Christ’s return belongs to new groups and earnest individuals. Want to study to be a minister? Don’t sweat it, they held.
The decline of Christian optimism and a can-do spirit we must attribute directly to theology. Theology matters; it drives all cultural and human activity. The Dwight Moody school of thought, heir to Irving and Darby, rejects the much more established view in Christendom, that which holds to the ultimate victory of Christ and the gospel of grace (also called post-millennialism)
Where does this analysis leave Mr. Knowles? Christians should raise him before God and ask God to give him courage to stand for marriage and to support his position. Such a stand legally correct, and ultimately is political, and will require him to invoke the aid of Sheriff Jim Hammond of Hamilton County. Christians certainly will rally around Mr. Knowles if he stands firm, if he represents the interests of God and his oath, and the people of this county.
Whatever happens, God’s people need to care, and need to think that a righteous defense of marriage is part of godliness and not mere worldliness.
Source: Ian Murray, The Puritan Hope[;] A Study in Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy (Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 1971) pp 198-206
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