All this hubbub about the US Supreme Court’s recent decisions touching sodomite unions has people wondering if the United States is caput. Many are also wondering what place of the church of Jesus Christ has to speak to all of this political/judicial/moral carnage.
As a Christian (read: Bible-believer), I am opposed to homosexual activity. I don’t think that a man can “marry” another man. By his Word God defines marriage, and that necessarily precludes same-sex marriages. There is A LOT more to say than that, but at least that needs to be said.
Okay, so if the church of Jesus Christ follows the written Word of God, she will be opposed to homosexual perversions (as well as the PLETHORA of other sexual perversions). What shape should that opposition take?
Like everything else, there is a lot to say about this. In the remainder of this post, I want to highlight a very helpful distinction between the church as institution and the church as organism. The institution of the church is the form the church takes in her government and liturgical ministry. The church of Jesus Christ IS an institution: it has officers (elders and deacons), formal discipline (ending in excommunication), and a formal ministry (the liturgical preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments). However, the church is also rightly conceived of as an organism, a living being. The church is a body fit together with all sorts of people, each of whom are gifted and empowered by the Spirit to live out the commandments of God in their own lives, in communion with one another, and in this world.
The concept of the church as institution is roundly hated by many, including many Christians in our day. We read silliness like, “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.” The reality, of course, is that it is both of those and more. Regarding our point, the church as organism is dependent upon the church as institution. The regular function of the institutional church empowers and protects the functioning of the church as organism.
Alright, if that distinction makes sense, let’s move on to apply it to the present situation of homosexual “marriage.” How should the church as institution oppose sodomite unions? Should our elders, sessions, bishops, etc. tell us to vote for this or that candidate? Should our pastors stand in the pulpits and say, “Support proposition X” or “Oppose candidate Y”? I do not think so. That’s right. I do NOT think so. I think that the FORMAL ministry of God’s Word should be just that, a ministry of the God’s Word: Law and Gospel. The people who sit under that faithful ministry should go forth, as the organism of the church, and live according to that Word. Thus, the people of God could rightly band together in political/social groups to oppose this issue or support that one. The institution of the church, however, should not engage in that sort of political and social work directly. The institution of the church should continue heralding God’s Word in faithfulness, empowering the organism of the church to apply that Word faithfully in all areas of life.
This distinction, if kept, will allow Christians to live as Christians in EVERY age without making the institutional church the water carrier for any particular age’s political/social agenda. The distinction, if lost, will subject the institutional church to the political/social whims of every age and will rob the organism of the church of her very power house: the ministry of Word and Sacrament.