8 minute read
There was big news recently for both Canadian and American Christians alike. As it happens, both the Supreme Court of Canada and the United States Supreme Court released decisions recently with big implications on religious freedom in both countries. I thought it would be a good idea to comment on these things this week as both countries are celebrating independence, and we have so much else in common.
First, our American brothers and sisters have heard from their highest court on the subject of bakers and wedding cakes. In a not-so-landmark ruling, the court has affirmed, 7-2, that baker, Jack Phillips, is under no legal obligation to bake a cake for an event which he deems to be in conflict with his religious beliefs. For the record, this includes things like obscene cakes and Halloween cakes etc... If you're looking to get totally caught up check out Ed Stetzer's coverage of the ruling here.
Second, we come home to Canada. In late May, only a couple of days before the cake ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada issued a ruling in Wall v. Judicial Committee of the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Canadian readers may remember the case of the Alberta Jehovah's Witnesses congregation who excommunicated one of their members who then sued the group and claimed that the JW's decision to "disfellowship" him would cause him to lose most of his business. The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court of Canada while churches, especially those who practice some form of church discipline, looked on with great interest.
When the decision came out, a unanimous rejection of the court's jurisdiction to meddle in church affairs when it comes to discipline, churches rejoiced. Not only was this the best outcome for our cause, it was unanimous. For the interested, Joshua Tong wrote a great piece for TGC Canada explaining the decision in greater detail.
Though many of my fellow theological conservatives were surprised by these decisions, I have to admit I wasn't. (I was surprised the Canadian one was unanimous, but not of the result in general) I wasn't surprised because *Spoiler Alert* as much as some within evangelicalism want to believe it, we aren't being persecuted, and we aren't being oppressed.
While I was writing this, the SCC also rendered judgement on Trinity Western’s case where the decision was that the BC and Ontario Law Societies indeed have the power to deny approval to Trinity Western’s law school that would have required students to follow a code of conduct which restricts, among other things, all premarital sexual behaviour. So what about now Kevin!? Are we being oppressed now?
I must admit, I wasn’t tremendously surprised by any of these results. I’ve written before on how Christians ought behave when they are working in the secular sphere and encounter these situations. I believe Christians ought simply perform their duties and allow other people to live their lives while looking for opportunities to share the gospel and being ready to give an answer and Peter instructed us in his letter to believers.
We are living in a post-Christian, highly polarized, post-truth culture. That's just the reality at this point. I'm not saying that many Christian truths, beliefs and convictions aren't being challenged, of course they are, Christians value things that many of our friends and neighbours see as quaint and “old fashioned” at best and bigoted and horrible at worst. The difference being found, I believe, in how we express those values. What I am saying is that while we are seeing a loss of cultural prestige and influence, none of this amounts to persecution or oppression. Rather, we are at a critical juncture and our opportunities to preach Christ crucified have only increased. Here’s why:
In the Old Testament, Israel, God’s people, were “set apart”. However, this means so much more that simply acknowledging that they were God’s chosen people and other nations were not. This also means that Israel was ‘different’ than its neighbours. They had practices and followed rules that were often wildly different than their neighbours'. Israel also often found itself occupied and at the mercy of some of these neighbours who found their practices somewhere within that “quaint-horrible” spectrum I mentioned earlier. When these things happened, did the Lord tell Israel to complain that their rights were being infringed upon? Far from it! Rather, He said through the prophet Jeremiah:
“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
We have the same imperative. Live and do good in the place we are, be set apart, live our own lives as exiles away from home in a culture different than our own. Praying for and hoping for its good, yes, but above all, sharing the gospel with people, and see them saved, rather than wasting time trying to shape a culture into our image of Christianity.
As a Biblical conservative, a cultural Liberal, a husband, a dad, and a pastor, I want to see the church act differently in the world. My big passion in ministry is to see how believers can bring the Gospel into the world around them while pursuing the lost art of winsomeness. It is what fuels me and drives me to write. Engaging culture with the truth of the Gospel in a way that is winsome, wise, and as Colossians 4:6 directs us: “seasoned with salt.” It’s my hope that what I say here helps you not only in your own faith, but helps you share it more effectively and fruitfully.
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