Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
I begin this post with a brief introductory comment, placing this specific issue in a larger context.
This is an attempt to connect our biblical and theological convictions with a current issue and to do so pastorally undergirded by prayer. Although it focuses on a specific issue for prayer, it is also an example of how we might consider a life of prayer, both personal and corporate, in the midst of the many other issues we face on an increasingly regular basis. For one example with multiple incidents, consider the many issues surrounding the racial tensions which face us daily, and the necessity of thinking biblically and theologically, engaging pastorally, and praying faithfully in a similar manner. God and the gospel are the ground, the guide and the goal, and our hope.
This past summer the EFCA conference (delegates from churches and other conference-approved roles, which makes up the highest authority in the EFCA, under the Lord Jesus Christ), unanimously approved the Resolution on Biblical Sexuality and the Covenant of Marriage. It is a statement that articulates and lives out Jesus’ declaration of the great commandment – “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself”(Matt. 22:37-39).
Today, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will hear oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
You may remember this is about Jack Phillips, a baker from Lakewood, Colorado. In 2012 he declined to make a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding, since it conflicted with his religious beliefs, it went contrary to his conscience (think religious liberty, which also meant he had in the past refused to make cakes for any violation of his conscience, which included, for example, divorce, anti-American messages, profanities, disparagement of the LGBT community). The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled against Jack, claiming he was in violation of Colorado’s antidiscrimination laws. If Jack bakes cakes at all, he must bake them for all, including same-sex weddings.
On appeal, the Colorado Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed the Commission's ruling. When Jack appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, they refused to hear it. This ruling is being contested, which is why the case is now before SCOTUS. (Regarding the timeline, Colorado legalized same-sex marriage in 2014.)
In June 2015 SCOTUS determined, in Obergefell v. Hodges, that it is a fundamental right for same-sex couples to marry. That is now the law of the land, even though we as Christians believe that law of the land goes contrary to God’s law, which we affirmed this past summer (cf. Acts 4:19-20; 5:29).
The decision now before SCOTUS is whether or not a baker’s work is the same as an artist, a photographer, a singer, an actor a painter, and other creative professionals who create First-Amendment protected speech, and whether or not the baker has the right to decide which requests to accept and which to deny, and whether or not bakers will be be forced to comply or face prosecution, sanctions or legal coercion. Technically, here is how the issue is formally stated before SCOTUS: “Whether applying Colorado's public accommodations law to compel the petitioner to create expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage violates the free speech or free exercise clauses of the First Amendment.”
This is a major decision that will affect all of us. As SCOTUS hears these arguments, processes all the issues, and makes a decision, it is important for us to remember a number of key truths, and to pray.
Here is the context of our prayer: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:1-4).
And this is what we affirm of God, his Word, his promises, and how we live life before him in the presence of others in this country, seeking to be faithful citizens of two cities.
First, God is sovereign and he has a providential plan, which unfolds in time, the time in which we now live (Ps. 115:1-3).
“Our Father who is in heaven . . .”
Second, God’s ultimate desire is for his name to be honored, his Word to be upheld as he alone is the absolute determiner of what is good and what is not good, which is reflected in our ethics and morality reflecting him as image bearers, and his glory to extend to the ends of the earth as the water covers the sea (Isa. 11:9; Hab. 2:14), which is also our desire.
“Hallowed by your name . . .”
Third, God’s good plan is being unfolded in a sinful and broken world, a broken world in which the kingdom of God has broken in through the person and work of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:13-14; 2:15; Tit. 2:14; 1 Pet. 1:17-19). Through our union with Jesus Christ we are people of that kingdom, which reflects how we live life as kingdom-people in this world (Rom. 13:11-12; 1 Pet. 1:3-9; 1 Jn. 3:2-3).
“Your kingdom come . . .”
Fourth, as our sovereign God unfolds this providential plan in the midst of this time and place, we know that he guides and governs the affairs of humanity, including kings, rulers and those in authority: “The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov. 21:1).
“Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven . . .”
Fourth, as Christians we live in the world, but we are not of the world (Jn. 17). We live as salt and light in this dark and decaying world (Matt. 5:13-16). We know that true transformation comes only from the gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 1:9-10), and the ultimate enemy, the one who kills, steals and destroys (Jn. 10:10), seeks to prevent the progress of the gospel and the spread of the kingdom. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, authorities, the cosmic powers of this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil (Eph. 6:12). This means we pray: “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph. 6:18).
“Our Father . . . give . . . forgive . . . deliver”
Finally, we trust God and his promises. All the promises of God find their “yes” in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). God is both a promise-making and promise-keeping God. “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17), which means those who have been declared righteous by faith, they also live by faith. This reflects the Christmas story. God made a promise and even in the midst of 430 years of apparent silence, God was fulfilling his plan so that “at the right time” he sent forth his Son, Jesus Christ (Gal. 4:4). And God’s promises are always fulfilled in God’s ways, which is impossible for humanity, whether it is Mary’s miraculous virgin conception or Elizabeth’s pregnancy, who was barren and too old, “for nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk. 1:37; cf. Gen. 18:14 and the birth of Isaac). We trust God and live in a way that manifests his promises are true. We are a transformed and being transformed people. We are living out the truth of the Christ of Christmas.
“For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”