Does Roman Catholic Emancipation Involve Breaking the First Commandment?

According to the logic of the Baylys, the answer is yes.

The brothers who are “out of their minds” are upset with Marvin Olasky and the rest of World Magazine for a piece on homosexual marriage by Megan Dunham in which she writes:

For the longest time I’ve struggled to put my finger on just what I believe about homosexuality and whether or not same-sex marriages should be allowed.

Always quick to spot the link between political infidelity and real infidelity, the Baylys conclude that Dunham’s questions about same-sex marriages are indicative of her and the magazine’s waffling on homosexuality.

But a similar concern could be raised about the Baylys who never seem to question the status of Roman Catholics or Mormons in the United States. Is it not possible to conclude from their silence about toleration for idolatry and blasphemy in the greatest nation on God’s green earth that they are in exactly the same position regarding the first commandment as Megan appears to be on the seventh? By implication, haven’t they affirmed this:

For the longest time we’ve struggled to put my finger on just what I believe about Roman Catholicism and whether or not the Mass should be allowed.

To deduce that the Baylys are soft on blasphemy and idolatry, of course, would be uncharitable. But that is exactly what happens when you confuse a policy with a conviction. Since they are out of their minds, we may be able to cut the Baylys some slack. But their insanity is worthwhile instruction for the rest of us pilgrims.

It is possible for people who affirm an inerrant Bible, the Westminster Confession, and Presbyterian polity to have different positions on what the state should do about murder, pre-marital sex, or health insurance. But to assume that all believers of a Reformed persuasion will come down on the same side in policy and legislative matters is to identify one’s own political convictions with articles of faith. And that identification obliterates Christian liberty. (Ironically, the Baylys are not so inclined to require uniformity among Reformed believers in worship.)

In which case, the Baylys are not wrong to question World (how could that ever be wrong?) or to oppose homosexual marriage. Their mistake is to judge sinful anyone who departs from their political and legislative orthodoxy.

postscript: in the comments on the Baylys’ post, the brothers state the following:

This is a magazine owned and run by Reformed Protestant Christian men and there is almost no Reformed Protestant Christian doctrine. Christians pay its bills and read it, but it carefully avoids judgment in the Church. This is what I meant about the doctrinal commitments of WORLD’s owners and workers being hidden from their subscribers.

They have a bully pulpit within the church and they act as if they’re speaking to the unrighteous. Preaching and writing should apply God’s Word and truths most intensely to those listening and reading–not those outside the church, those who do NOT subscribe.

This is a curious view of ministering the word of God. It seems to imply that such ministry is all about law, when in fact the only consolation in Scripture comes from the gospel. This difference — whether God’s people need the law or the gospel — is what distinguishes the Law Coalition from Reformed confessionalism.

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29 Comments

  1. Posted July 6, 2011 at 5:11 am | Permalink

    They have a bully pulpit within the church and they act as if they’re speaking to the unrighteous. Preaching and writing should apply God’s Word and truths most intensely to those listening and reading–not those outside the church, those who do NOT subscribe.

    Inquiring minds would like to know how this doesn’t describe those who preach “A Sermon to a President.”

  2. DJ
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 5:34 am | Permalink

    I understand that some Christians can have a view about homosexual marriage (or unions – shouldn’t natural law apply here? Marriage is reserved for a man and woman) that isn’t the standard evangelical response, don’t the Baylys have a point? Her beef ultimately isn’t with homosexual marriage… it’s with whether or not homosexuality is sinful.

    “For the longest time I’ve struggled to put my finger on just what I believe about homosexuality…”

    Therefore, she is waffling on God’s word. No? Isn’t this blog post being shaded a little unfairly? The Bible and confession and LC is pretty clear on this issue, no?

  3. David A Booth
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    Hi Darryl,

    Good try but your analogy doesn’t quite work.

    You compare the apparent silence of the Bayly brothers on Roman Catholicism and Mormons to what Megan Dunham actually wrote. In your better moments I’m sure you would recognize that this is an unfair comparison.

    Your blog post also led me to go read Ms. Dunham’s actual piece in World which, to put it mildly, is theological mush. For example, Ms Dunham writes:

    “Some sins are worse than others, right? Not in the eyes of God maybe, but certainly to most of us. For better or for worse, we tend to place degrees on sin. In doing so, cheating on a test isn’t nearly as bad as—murder, adultery (whether heterosexual or homosexual), stealing a car, or perjuring ourselves in a court of law. I don’t mean to teach my kids that some sins are worse than others, but I do it every day by my own reactions and responses to sin in both their lives and mine. They are learning early from me.”

    This is not an unimportant point in Ms. Dunham’s article nor in the growing acceptance of homosexuality among Christians. The refrain goes like this, “since we are all sinners we shouldn’t be so focused on any particular sin.” The problem is that Ms. Dunham’s assertion about sin is not Biblical. Jesus does in fact teach that some sins are worse than others (e.g. Matthew 11:20-24, John 19:11, etc …). As the Shorter Catechism puts it:

    Q. 83: Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?
    A. Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.

    It is a sign of the Biblical illiteracy of our age (did we really need another one?) that any author would pen, and an editor would publish, the assertion that all sins are the same to God in a magazine whose target audience is made up of Christians.

    I don’t read World and one article does not a magazine make. Nevertheless, this article does not encourage me to subscribe.

  4. Posted July 6, 2011 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    DJ, the column was about same-sex marriage. I don’t know how you go from that to thinking she is questioning biblical teaching on homosexuality, nor to an idea that Marvin O. or Joel B. are wondering along with Megan about homosexuality.

  5. Posted July 6, 2011 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    David, please specify how this is an unfair analogy. If the seventh commandment has policy implications, why not 1 through 4? And why are the proponents of sexual morality and marital fidelity so silent on blasphemy and idolatry?

    And to your point about some sins being worse than others, the way I read the Bible God’s people suffer far more for idolatry than sexual sins (unless of course sex is part of the idolatrous liturgy).

  6. Posted July 6, 2011 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Zrim, what if those minds are not in their minds?

  7. DJ
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    It seemed to be that this statement made her sound as if she didn’t know that the Bible condemned homosexuality, or at least that she was disregarding what it taught:

    “For the longest time I’ve struggled to put my finger on just what I believe about homosexuality and whether or not same-sex marriages should be allowed.”

    I did overlook where she said:

    “It isn’t that I think homosexuality is OK and is something Scripture overlooks or agrees with.”

  8. Posted July 6, 2011 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    DJ, whew! I thought you were going Bayly on us.

  9. DJ
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    Well, i confess that I am out of my mind, too.

  10. Posted July 6, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    DJ, we all are, but as with sin, some of us are more out of our minds than others.

  11. DJ
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    ha!

  12. Posted July 6, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    I guess the Bayly’s would anathematize me. I’m fairly libertarian with my acceptance of gay marriage. If they want to get married in a courthouse or a city hall or a casino, then I really could care less. If they want to get married in the church however, well then that’s quite another story. Maybe I’m wrong, but how is a legal piece of paper even the same thing as a covenant before God.

  13. Posted July 6, 2011 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    John Knox, but from a 2k perspective that takes seriously (even if provisionally) the workings of this world, a legal piece of paper along with the social consequences of it is not chopped liver. So while I am not going to insist that Christians must oppose gay marriage, I do think it is the work of good citizenship to think carefully about what happens to our society if we allow such a change in law. Ross Douthat, the New York Times columnist, is very thoughtful on this issue and all Americans would do well to ponder his reflections.

  14. Posted July 6, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Agreed on people needing to think seriously about the ramifications. One of the things that I have struggled with is the blurring of marriage itself. It was not always a legal ceremony, and then become both legal and religious, and now seems to be predominantly a legal ceremony. I struggle with trying to put together a marriage of the state, and a marriage before God. Maybe it is a misunderstanding on what marriage actually is? It seems to me that an open marriage, or a marriage with a regular practice of spouse swapping is more an affront to the institution which is a commitment of fidelity before God (thought also a typological representation of Christ and his bride), that gay marriage is. Both seem like an affront to the Christian design of marriage and one I don’t believe is recognized by God as legitimate but one of them still has some semblance of fidelity (maybe). I don’t know. Perhaps I’m not thinking through the ramifications properly.

  15. David A Booth
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Hi Darryl,

    I don’t understand why you can’t see the difference between being charitable about what someone doesn’t say (i.e. the Bayly brothers on Mormonism) and evaluating what someone actually puts into print. This seems so obvious to me. I feel comfortable interacting with your excellent new history of the OPC but wouldn’t criticize you for what you have failed to write about the Missouri Synod Lutherans. What am I missing?

    That said, my point is not that sexual sins are the worst sins but that Ms. Dunham spends a paragraph saying that there is no difference in sins before God. This is simply wrong and reveals a dreadful lack of familiarity with the gospels.

    Let me add, Ms. Dunham’s misunderstanding about sin was just an example of the theological mush in the article. I could just as easily have pointed to her postmodern approach to truth claims: “Because of my Christian worldview, I do not agree with the practice of homosexuality, …” Notice that the locus of authority is her worldview and not what God says. Ms. Dunham’s worldview is only binding on Ms. Dunham. What God has said is binding on everyone.

    The fact that Ms. Dunham does “not expect the government or most of our country or world to share that view” should not cause any bafflement in explaining homosexual marriage to her children. Christians have been living in governments run by sinners (including Christian sinners!) since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden. In case Ms. Dunham is reading this, here is an outline to help get the conversation with her children started:

    1. God says that the practice of homosexuality is sin.
    2. God is right no matter what a majority of our fellow Americans have to say about it. Let God be considered true though this means reckoning that every man is a liar (Romans 3:4).
    3. God instituted civil governments to punish evil and reward the good (Romans 13).
    4. To one degree or another, civil governments always fail in this mission by failing to punish the wicked or even by promoting evil behaviors. While civil governments are not called by God to punish all sins it is always wrong for civil governments to promote sin (e.g. the promotion of covetousness through running lotteries).
    5. Civil governments continue to be valid even when they are run by evil men and women who are implementing evil policies (Jesus and Paul commanded us to obey the civil magistrates which would ultimately put both of them to death). God’s plan is that we would disciple the people groups through the proclamation of the gospel, the administration of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and though teaching them to obey everything that Jesus has taught. We are not to be political revolutionaries.
    6. Psalm 146:3: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” This is also one of those rare times when it is helpful to quote Chuck Colson: “The Kingdom of God does not arrive on Air Force One”.
    7. The fact that American evangelicals are obsessed with politics is no reason for you to be. Following Jesus will involve resisting both secular and religious peer pressure … but as for you, make sure that you are trusting and following Jesus.

  16. Posted July 6, 2011 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    David, I have brought to the Baylys’ attention several times their silence on the sins of Mormonism and they still haven’t said anything about it. Plus, we make judgments all the time about what people talk about and what they don’t. It is not irresponsible to conclude on the basis of reading Old Life that Hart doesn’t consider debates over human origins to be a significant issue, at least one that has prompted him to write. In the case of the Baylys, my point concerns when Christians go to the law. The Decalogue includes ten commands. So why are some Christians so worked up about one of them but fail to speak up — say — for the fourth?

    I think it’s a fair question, especially when the Baylys have consistently condemned 2kers for not picketing at abortion clinics.

  17. David A Booth
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    O.k. I don’t know the Bayly brothers like you do.

    I was simply observing that Ms. Dunham’s published article hardly constitutes silence on an issue. It strikes me as a bit of a stretch to compare one person’s published comments to someone else’s silence.

    Best wishes,

    David

  18. K
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Dr Hart said: “please specify how this is an unfair analogy.”

    Well, for one, the status quo on these issues is different.

    Romish and Mormon practices have been universally legal for the past century.
    Abortion was illegal within your lifetime.
    Marriage is being redefined right now.

    Even if one believed in applying every one of the commandments to the same extent in our modern political context (a position I am claiming to defend), there would still be prudential reasons to fight the abortion and the redefinition of marriage fights before turning to these “first commandment” issues.

  19. Posted July 6, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    K, and what would those reasons be? So we’ve grown accustomed to idolatry and blasphemy, that’s no reason to put the love of man before the love of God. Or is it?

  20. K
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Oops, I meant to say I was not claiming to defend the application of each commandment in the same fashion in our modern context.

    The reason for arguing to preserve marriage before spending time on iconoclasm would be to steward resources: in our limited time, we should first fight the battles we can win.

  21. Posted July 6, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    Darryl said this: “Their mistake is to judge sinful anyone who departs from their political and legislative orthodoxy,” and this: “This is a curious view of ministering the word of God. It seems to imply that such ministry is all about law, when in fact the only consolation in Scripture comes from the gospel. This difference — whether God’s people need the law or the gospel — is what distinguishes the Law Coalition from Reformed confessionalism.”

    It boggles my mind that everyone cannot say a hearty AMEN to these two sentences. The Ten Commandments condemn us all- anyone who wants to continually spout off about the Law without any mention or consideration of the Gospel is not understanding the basic message of the scriptures at all and is insanely condemning himself while constantly condemning others. As we read almost daily that the Law is intuitive to our fallen natures and the Gospel is counter-intuitive to us, we still do not want to let it sink into our consciousness and believe it deeply in the fiber of our being. It is too good to be true. Yet we would much rather emphasize the Law rather than the Gospel to everyone- including ourselves. Does the Law save people or does the Gospel save people? We seem to think that we need to remind people constantly of the Law when in actuality we really need to be reminding people of the Gospel and be bearers of good news to those who know they need it.

  22. Bob
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    DGH,

    I like the analogy. I think it’s also fair to make the same criticism of every Protestant for signed the blasphemous Manhattan Declaration.

  23. David Yoder
    Posted July 7, 2011 at 4:19 am | Permalink

    “The reason for arguing to preserve marriage before spending time on iconoclasm would be to steward resources: in our limited time, we should first fight the battles we can win.”

    Practical, pragmatic yet unbiblical.

    When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”

    No one, just fight the battles you can win.

  24. Zeke Zekowski
    Posted July 7, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    John Yeazel (and DGH) – right on with your comment above. DGH nailed it the first time, and you added the extra spice. Very well said!

  25. Posted July 7, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Great discussion. Nice to see some light and not choke on smoke.

  26. Alberto
    Posted July 8, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Why is World magazine important anyway? If I want to read conservative views, I go to sources like The National Review. If I want to read liberal views, I know that I should check out The Nation. World magazine seems irrelevant, and I have never heard of it except on few occasions when Christians are speaking of politics; they also tend to not be of the two-kingdom type.

  27. Neoz
    Posted July 9, 2011 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Perhaps it is useful to remember that marriage in Puritan was stictly a civil affair. Admittedly, this is a reaction to the Roman sacrament of marriage, but were they on to something?

  28. Neoz
    Posted July 9, 2011 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    “Puritan New England,” I meant to say

  29. Posted July 14, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    One thing that normally falls from this discussion is that marriage is not a religious institution, or a right determined by the state, it is a civil institution ordained by God. If the state fails to do its God-given duty to properly define and sanction marriage, this has dire consequences for all of its citizens, Christian and non-Christian alike. Contrary to what Rome says, the definition of marriage properly belongs to the state more directly than to any other God-given institution. It is a civil institution, not a Christian sacrament. This is why I am taken aback when I hear professing Christians say that the government could erase marriage language from the legal codes entirely. If that happens, marriage will be a thing of the past for most of the country, and without the clear defining structure which the state provides for the minority of Christians who will continue to marry in God’s eyes.

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