Touchstone Mag | Louis Markos | April 2009
We hold these truths to be self-evident,” the United States’ Declaration of Independence boldly asserts, “that all men are created equal.” This noble sentiment declares unapologetically that all human beings—no matter their age or sex, culture or religion, race or ethnicity, social class or educational achievement—possess intrinsic dignity and worth. Unfortunately, over the last century, America—and even more Western Europe—has increasingly shifted its focus from political liberty to social engineering, from equal protection before the law to sameness mandated by law, from equality to egalitarianism. The focus today is not on equal creation but on creating equality.
This almost obsessive urge to create equality has spread even to the Church herself. The last several decades in America have witnessed many Christians’ slow surrender to egalitarian values and the projection of those values back onto Jesus, the Bible, and church doctrine and discipline.
To be sure, certain facets of the church have at times adopted a partly egalitarian vision. The early Church described in Acts 2:42–47 engaged in a voluntary sharing of goods and properties. Catholic monastic orders, past and present, have lived communally, their members taking vows of poverty. In the centuries since the Reformation, Protestant sects from the Anabaptists to the Amish have, in keeping with the priesthood of all believers (see 1 Pet. 2:4–5), broken down much of the hierarchical structure between clergy and laity.
Still, even the most radical of Protestant sects or the most severe of monastic orders retain high respect for the authority of the Bible and for the moral wisdom of spiritual leaders (abbot, elder, pastor). In the egalitarianism of today, however, the Bible is treated as a malleable text and church doctrines and disciplines subject to constant revision.
Thus, if the phrasing of the Bible stands in the way of an egalitarian view of the sexes, you simply change the phrasing of the Bible—along with hymns, creeds, and prayer books—to fit your gender-neutral vision of church, marriage, and society. Likewise, if you decide that original sin or substitutionary atonement or eternal damnation might “damage” the self-esteem of the more sensitive in the congregation, you simply find new ways to “understand” these cornerstones of biblical doctrine. Or, to come to the defining egalitarian issue of our day: If you think no distinctions should be made between heterosexual and homosexual “lifestyles,” then you simply jettison the Church’s (and humanity’s!) age-old understanding of marriage and human sexuality so as to embrace same-sex “marriage.”
The Heresy of Inclusivism
Note that Christians who insist on the sanction and blessing of same-sex “marriage” are not saying: “Well, society’s changing, and if the Church doesn’t keep up with the change, she will be looked upon as old-fashioned and irrelevant to the concerns of today.” No, they are saying something far more radical and troubling: “ Because we are Christians, we should be in the forefront of those who are currently fighting for gay ‘marriage.’”
How could those who call themselves Christians take such a position? The answer is that many have accepted what I must call, without apology, the heresy of inclusivism. Though rarely stated so baldly, this heresy posits that at the core of Jesus’ life and teachings is a simple, non-negotiable message of absolute love, tolerance, and inclusivism that should determine every aspect of the faith. Any belief or practice that jeopardizes this message is to be rejected, even if it is stated clearly in the Bible, accepted by the historic Church, and believed by nearly all Christians since the founding of the faith. Any statements or doctrines that portray Jesus as exclusivist or intolerant, even if spoken by Jesus himself, must either be rejected or reinterpreted to fit in with his “true” message of inclusivism and tolerance.
Love is to be “expanded”—that is, reduced—to a nonjudgmental attitude that desires only that people find and experience happiness in their own way. But what of that bold, Christ-like love that will do what it must to rescue a friend from a self-destructive lifestyle, that would rather see a family member suffer pain than live in bondage to sin? Well, if by self-destructive lifestyle and sin you mean that he does not recycle his garbage or support affirmative action or that he votes Republican, I guess it would be okay to set him straight in a loving way. But if you mean that a Christian might be impelled by love to disagree with the lifestyle “preferences” of a brother in Christ and help guide him back to the road of biblical morality, then you simply don’t understand Jesus’ message.
Egalitarian or Not?
Well, then, let us boldly ask the question: Was Jesus an egalitarian or not? To the Christian advocate of same-sex “marriage,” the answer is as obvious as the incident that proves it. Didn’t Jesus, just before celebrating the Last Supper, wash his disciples’ feet? And wasn’t foot-washing a task performed by household slaves? Surely in humbling himself like this, Jesus was clearly demonstrating to posterity that the distinctions between teacher and student, master and servant, leader and follower were no longer valid. Surely this was his way of leveling the old hierarchies and ushering in the egalitarian Age of Aquarius.
It was not.
Right before giving the account of the foot-washing, John says the following: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist” (John 13:3–4). Notice that Jesus performs the humble act of washing his disciples’ feet from a position of strength and authority. He does not do it because he suddenly realizes that he is the same as everyone else and has no right to claim special authority, but because he knows fully and uniquely who he is.
A New Type of Leadership
What is Jesus “doing” if he is not abolishing all hierarchy and ushering in a new egalitarian order? He is instituting a new type of leadership, one that loves and serves those over whom it has power and authority. Luke records a saying of Jesus that, like the foot-washing episode in John, balances an endorsement of distinctions with a call to servant leadership:
Jesus said to [his disciples], “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:25–27)
Again, the servant is not greater than his master, yet the true Christian master will manifest his authority through service. Once we accept this, we can see how Jesus’ “intolerant” condemnation of sin and his “tolerant” love for the sinner go hand-in-hand. Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus forgive sins; we never see him condone or endorse the sinful choices and lifestyle that placed the sinner in need of forgiveness. His word to the sinful woman caught in adultery is not “Continue as you are,” but “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11). The very fact that he forgives her sin is a clear indication that he considers her actions to be sinful.
Christ offers salvation freely to all who repent and follow him, yet he does not cease condemning the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and hardness of heart (Matt. 23). When asked if only a few people are going to be saved, he answers: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to” (Luke 13:24).
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