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Defend the Church Within

Christians have lost the culture. Will they lose the church too?
Defend the Church Within

First Things has a symposium up gathering reaction of various religious conservatives to the Obergefell ruling. I’m in it, making my standard pitch for the Benedict Option — but I was startled and gratified to see that the Protestant leader Peter Leithart, without using that term, advocates for the same thing:

Orthodox Christianity has lost all cultural potency in the United States.

No one defending traditional marriage before the court dared raise the fundamental question: Who creates marriage, God or the state? Theology has no public standing, no persuasive force in the culture at large.

Obergefell is another nail in the coffin of the Protestant establishment. It’s not the first nail, or the last. It may be the one that snaps the lid closed.

What to do? For starters, Don’t panic. The church began as a disestablished minority, and that’s where much of the global church is. Early Christians were accused of incest; we can endure being treated as bigots. Been there, done that.

Then: Don’t pretend. We should stop acting like an exiled Tsar, hoping for the coup to put us back in the Winter Palace.

We should instead double our efforts to form an alternative public among the churches.

That means we stop veiling our convictions behind a publicly-approved idiom antithetical to orthodoxy. We can’t defend marriage without talking about God who joins a man and woman; we shouldn’t try. And we might as well say it plainly: We oppose gay marriage because we believe homosexual acts are sinful, and we believe that for biblical and theological reasons. Unbelievers already know it. Let’s admit it.

Some Christians aren’t convinced that the Bible prohibits homosexual acts. Let the Courts and the States go where they will. It’s absurd to urge the country to affirm Christian marriage until we’re united on the question. Given today’s disarray, that’s the work of a century or more.

Churches must take responsibility for marriages and families. The argument that we need to protect marriage for children is true in principle, laughable in practice. In sections of America, marriages aren’t steady enough to protect anyone. The best argument for traditional marriage is a thriving traditional marriage.

Creating an alternative public sounds like a plan to intensify the culture war, but it’s the opposite. Culture war continues because, in response to our displacement, we’ve tried to politick our values back on top. We failed, but for the church this is a skirmish in a spiritual war crossing millennia. We have the luxury of patience.

Attending to our own house is now our best strategy for evangelization and prophetic witness. It’s also the way of peace, perhaps the only way of peace remaining.

In the same symposium, Ephraim Radner sounds a similar theme:

Third, the Christian Church is now a secondary player in these cultural transformations. She is also intrinsically debased, so intertwined has she become, at least regionally, with larger cultural shifts and declensions. The imperative for renewal, both within the church and in her relationship with surrounding political cultures, is inescapable. Are we in need of new reformation, in line with the reformations of fourth century, the twelfth, the sixteenth, and the nineteenth? If so, we will need to reform in the direction of Christian unity, the lack of which helped to create the very ecclesial incapacities of today.

Read the entire symposium; lots of good stuff there. To me (naturally), the strongest point of all is the ones I’ve highlighted here: if the Church is to survive as a faithful witness to Biblical truth, she has to disentangle herself from the morally disintegrating broader culture.

One more thing: I predict that religious conservatives will be shocked by how many of their own in the days and weeks to come publicly embrace same-sex marriage.



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