The Butcher, the Baker, and the Candlestick Maker: When Worship is Put Out to Sea

  • February 27, 2014

Campbell Wedding CakeIf you’ve been paying any attention at all to the blog world over the course of the last week or so, then you’ve probably seen the back and forth articles centering around the question of religious liberty relating to Christians and their responses specifically to so-called homosexual weddings. With several states seeking to enact legislation that protects small-business owners from engaging in commercial transactions that might violate their conscience, advocates for homosexual marriage have been pushing back in an attempt to articulate the position that to deny homosexual couples any service due directly to their homosexuality is a direct violation of their civil rights. If such denials of service are a violation of their civil rights, then regardless of your own personal beliefs (religious or otherwise) the law might then make participation in business transactions compulsory.

The back and forth on this question has been both steady and heated, and my purpose here is not to recount all the articles put forward in the last few days. (For that I would encourage you to read articles posted through the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the Gospel Coalition, and the website of Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler. Links to these sites are listed on our church’s website.) I simply want to offer a few observations that have struck me as a pastor that I believe are crucial for the way believers understand what’s really at stake in this issue:

First, do not miss the basic assumption that proponents of the homosexual agenda start from. As far as any modern discourse is concerned the default position for advocates of homosexual marriage is that homosexuality is inherently connected to the identity of the individual. In that sense, sexuality makes a person who they are just as much as race or religion.

Second, advocates for homosexual marriage (under the assumption mentioned above, whether these advocates are professing Christians or not) argue tenaciously that a denial of any commercial service on the basis of a person’s homosexuality is not just an illegal violation of civil rights protections (equal to the Jim Crow laws of the segregated south), but is in direct contradiction to their view(s) of Jesus’ life and ministry. So there is a strong and concerted effort to equate those who oppose participation in business dealings that support homosexuality with white supremacists who made racial segregation and apartheid legal and with religious bigots who spew forth hate.

Third, there is in my mind an overwhelming refusal to stick to the heart of the issue. I personally know of no one who would argue that homosexuals (or any other sinners) should be denied basic commercial services on the basis of their sexuality. The issue in regards to religious liberty centers around whether or not private citizens will be forced to participate in business dealings that support homosexuality in regards to so-called homosexual weddings. The issue isn’t whether or not a privately owned restaurant can legally refuse to seat homosexuals at a table, but whether or not Christian photographers, florists, and bakers will be forced not just to provide a service to homosexual clients but will be forced to promote and celebrate an event they deeply believe to be a clear violation of scripture. So the real issue isn’t over civil rights protections in regards to blanket-business associations. The issue is whether or not society’s ongoing redefinition of marriage forces Christians to make a choice between participating in society or surrendering their most basic freedoms of religious worship.

And here is where we step into the heart of why this question matters. The issue is bigger than whether or not a Christian baker should bake a cake for a homosexual client, or whether or not a candlestick maker should sell a candelabra to homosexuals. The issue is about worship. The issue is about God. The issue is about whether or not Christians will be forced to worship at the altar of God or at the altar of the government, in the cathedral of culture or in the cathedral of Christ. Do not allow the red-herrings and straw-men to distract you from what is really at stake. The issue isn’t about who Christians must do business with. The issue is about who Christians must worship.

Is this an overstatement? Well, those who disagree with me will definitely say yes, but I don’t think so. You see, the heart of their argument is that commercial services in regards to weddings are of the exact same kind of business transactions as any other service. In other words, to refuse to participate in a commercial transaction for a so-called homosexual wedding is the same thing as to refuse service in every other way. But is that correct? I’ve read a lot of pieces, some by professing evangelicals, who make this very argument. These “evangelicals” have said that they would never make churches, non-profit houses of worship comply with these regulations, but that private citizens must not be accorded these same exemptions. In doing this they mistakenly believe they are being both fair (and loving) to homosexual couples and protecting our most basic rights of freedom in regards to worship.

Such an argument fails to recognize that for believers a wedding is a service of worship.

It is not a secular legal agreement or a mere celebration of love. For the Christian, a wedding is at its heart not just about the couple, but more importantly about God. For the Christian, marriage is all about Christ, and marriages as part of the creation mandate are really all about God regardless of whether or not the bride and groom recognize that truth. This means that providing services for so-called homosexual weddings is inherently different than baking a cake for a homosexual’s birthday party! Weddings are about worship.

So to force a Christian to provide services for a so-called homosexual wedding, at rock bottom is nothing more than to force Christians to worship in a way that violates their most basic and deep-rooted beliefs, their conscience, and their God. The issue is not wedding decorations or wedding receptions. The issue is about whether or not believers are free to worship or not. What’s at stake is whether or not we are still free to worship God or are forced to bow our knees to Caesar and offer up incense at his altar. If we aren’t, and if society is able to trick us into believing that a wedding is not about worship, then it’s not just a Christian’s economic freedom that is violated but the Christian’s very freedom to be identified as a Christian at all.

What is at stake could not be higher. The waters have been muddied by confused thinking and distorted arguments, but the question is one that strikes at the very heart of what it means to be an openly professing and practicing Christian. The issue is whether or not we are willing to worship the beast of rebellion against God in order to receive the necessary mark, credentials, and small-business licenses for the basic ability to buy and sell (Revelation 13:11-17), or whether we will be willing to pay the price even unto death to worship the Lord our God and serve him only (Matthew 4:10), even when we are being called to bow the knee to and for the kingdoms of this world.

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