First, we must not panic and withdraw from public life and culture.
There are many people discussing the “Benedict Option”—inspired by the ancient monk Benedict of Nursia and his withdrawal from society into a monastic life. Others are discussing the “Buckley Option,” based on modern-day conservative thinker William F. Buckley and the way he engaged culture with conservative ideas and ideals.
I agree with my colleague Darrell Holley, who recently suggested the term the “Kuyper Option,” based on the thought of the Christian prime minister of the Netherlands in the early twentieth century, Abraham Kuyper. While Kuyper believed in the separation of church and state, believing that the church and the government are distinct spheres with different ends and purposes, he did not believe in the separation of Christianity and culture.
Kuyper believed that, wherever it finds itself flourishing, Christianity is making changes to the world around it, transforming the culture. Thus Christians should fulfill vocational callings such as being a Christian scholar or sculptor or scientist or plumber or governmental leader or homemaker or horticulturalist, being salt and light in the world and transforming the culture around them. And this sort of cultural impact makes society more conducive to the work of pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and Christian laypeople engaged in evangelism.
I think Dr. Holley is right. We need the “Kuyper Option.” The last thing we need to do is to panic and worry. We need to rest secure in Jesus’s promise: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” This is not—especially not—just a promise for the good times, when we have a Christian cultural consensus.
The early Christians, a small minority in the midst of a radically pagan culture, were emboldened by this promise, even as they were being persecuted and martyred for their faith in Christ. We must resolve to be like those early Christians—to be strong in our faith, especially given the fact that we are in the midst of an increasingly post-Christian culture. Let us be winsome and loving, caring for the poor and downcast, showing what it means to live lives of faith, hope, love, and joy in a decadent culture that punishes us for holding to what makes our lives worth living.
Let us be ourselves—authentic Christian families and churches who are confident in the kingdom values our Lord has given us—attitudes and priorities and ways of life that are alien to the kingdoms of this world, but that are breaking in on this world even now and transforming it.
There is truth to a need the “Benedict Option” advocates stress—the need to get serious about our own internal biblical and churchly resources for rediscovering who we really are as the church of Jesus Christ. And this will mean rediscovering what it means to go against the grain of the prevailing cultural winds rather than coveting the cultural approval of secular society. Yet this desire to get serious about who we are as the church, which is called out from the world for the sake of the world, does not need to take us out of the world—to make us withdraw from culture and public life.
Second, we must re-emphasize Scriptural teaching on maleness, femaleness, Christian marriage, and the divine design for human sexuality if we are to have a coherent message.
This means we must get serious about divorce and not turn a blind eye to it in our congregations. Our tradition, like the entire Christian tradition, was historically very serious about divorce. We need to think carefully about ways we can return to the traditional Protestant position on divorce, which was simply a straightforward reading of Holy Scripture. We can never hope to be seen as consistent when arguing for the sanctity of marriage against homosexual marriage when Christian church members are divorcing in such high numbers and we seem to be looking the other way.
This seems so inconsistent and hypocritical to the watching world. Indeed it is inconsistent and hypocritical. It’s time Christians do their part in rebuilding the marriage culture by having strong marriages and exhibiting a stunning difference from the world in our divorce rate.
We also need to think more seriously about how our churches, and even associations of churches, can provide marriage and family counseling and support to our people who are struggling in their marriages.
Another thing we must emphasize is teaching and modeling, before our children, maleness and femaleness and the biblical meaning and beauty of sexual love in marriage.
This starts by not allowing popular culture, secular education, and the secular media to win the hearts and minds of our children. This will mean we have to break with our increasing desire to remake the church in the guise of current pop culture.
We must continue, strongly as ever, to emphasize sexual abstinence outside heterosexual marriage. But we must not simply be saying what not to do. Instead, we need to emphasize that violations of God’s vision for sexuality within the bond of marriage are not good for human flourishing, for living the good life that God has for us.
We need to reinvest sexuality with the beauty and mystery that is so essential to it. We need to make sexuality special again. Thus, we must explain to our children not just the what of sexual abstinence, but the why of human sexuality according to God’s good design. This is more necessary now than it was in generations past. Someone is going to give our children a worldview, and it needs to be the church and its scriptures and its tradition, not this present evil age, which is passing away with its lusts.
But this also means that we must teach and show and model for our children what it means to be male and female—that maleness and femaleness are not just about body parts. That they are about God’s unique and purposeful design, the delicate balance he designed for the home and family.
We don’t need to be afraid of masculinity and femininity. We need to re-learn biblical models of masculinity and femininity in opposition to our world’s macho models of false masculinity and sexualized models of false femininity. It’s vitally important that we not take these things for granted. We’ve got to be intentional and find ways to cultivate biblical femininity and masculinity in our daughters and sons. We mustn’t forget that without feminism and the flattening of the distinction between the sexes, homosexuality could never have gained such a foothold in our society.
It’s vitally important that we teach and model, not only before our children, but before a watching world, what Christian manhood and womanhood look like in the context of the loving, self-sacrificing servant-leadership of Christian men and the loving, nurturing, supportiveness of godly women who are following their husband’s leadership.
This will also mean recapturing what the Christian tradition believed about being a gentleman and a lady. This will be difficult, because it’s thought to be so quaint and outdated in our current cultural milieu. But we must be confident in our biblical, Christian heritage.
Last, we must show the world that Christians are the people who will be the most honest about sin and its consequences but the most loving and compassionate to sinners.
When you read what the writers of Scripture and what authors in the Christian tradition said about sexual sin, including the sin of homosexuality, you see that they were very serious. They never laughed and made light of sexual sin, including homosexual sin. They always approached it with deep sadness and tears. These tears kept them from being hateful toward the sinner.
Brothers and sisters, we desperately need to recapture this. We need to look back to our past, to our forebears’ efforts at what they called reaching drunkards and harlots and making them reformed drunkards and reformed harlots. This manifested itself in the desire to have homes to help people recover from an addiction to alcohol, for troubled youth who were deep in sin, for prostitutes who were ready to turn their backs on their former ways of living. If these same people were alive today, they would have the same love and compassion for homosexuals as they had for alcoholics and prostitutes. They would love them, care for them, and share the gospel of Christ with them.
We need lovingly to tell sinners the good news that Paul gave his readers in 1 Corinthians 6. And that good news, shared with some whom Paul said had been fornicators, adulterers, idolaters, homosexuals, drunkards, greedy people, thieves, revilers, or extortioners before their conversion, is that they were washed from their sin; they were set apart for God’s special, pure, and holy use; and they were justified by Christ.
As John J. Butler said in his 1871 commentary on 1 Corinthians, these people were “raised from the depths of heathenism,” “cleansed from sin,” “set apart to God,” with all their “powers consecrated to his service.” They were “accepted as holy, through the merits of Christ. . . .”
This is the good news we have to share! We must share it, in love and compassion, with those involved in same-sex relationships. And this love and compassion is the only way people will know we believe what we say we believe.