Proclaiming the Truth in Sodom

Jay Lickey

Of all my days of being in and around churches, I have heard some church names that caught my attention. The Halfway Baptist church always made me chuckle when I drove past it in college. I have heard of a few Corinthian Baptist churches which made me wonder what kind of problems they were dealing with. I have even heard of a Laodicea Baptist church. But in all my days I have never heard of a Sodom church. No one is surprised by this. But it does get you thinking, doesn’t it? What would a church do in a modern-day Sodom?

I think we are soon going to find out firsthand. The sexual sins of Sodom are now not only celebrated in pride parades but those who practice such things are given a month of special recognition, and in Canada, a whole season. Gender fluidity and same-sex couples are routinely shown in commercial marketing and made to look as normal as apple pie and baseball.

It seems clear to most faithful Christians that the tidal currents of our culture are swiftly carrying everyone out to the deep waters, where all the big sea monsters live. Western civilization is seeking to squeeze out what it regards as the cancerous tumor of biblical Christianity with its view of men, women, and sex. Of course, we should pray for a Third Great Awakening, but whether God grants us another revival or not, there is a faithfulness which we are called to right here, right now. The mission field is looking more and more like our backyard, and we need to learn what faithfulness means while being a despised minority. I live in Kansas, but even I am saying “we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

The following list contains the necessary features for faithfully proclaiming the truth in a society opposed to the truth. It is ordered by priority, not most important to least important, but a priority of flow. What begins at the top flows down to create and strengthen the features that follow afterward.

Love and Fear God

This is where it all begins. This is the greatest commandment upon which all others hang. Notice that I put love and fear together. The fear of God is distinguished, but not detached, from the love of God. We love God because He is unspeakably awesome in glory, power, and grace; and the One who is unfathomably awesome and uncontainable cannot be trifled with. We are drawn to Him not with a swagger, but with trembling worship that He would save us with such depths of mercy.

But is He truly enough for us? Every person has someone or something of ultimate value, and to lose that valuable thing is often the ultimate fear. The world is going to expose what this value is with threats of loss, pain, and a shame many of us have never experienced. Jesus said,

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Mt 10:28)

The fear with which Sodom will seek to leverage us with will only be overcome by a greater fear of Him whom we love.

Firm Convictions

To love God is to love Him with all our minds. We must know what God has spoken and become unmovably fixed upon it. As incredible as it sounds, the whole scope of history runs on the rails of manhood, womanhood, and marriage. Ray Ortland calls it the “wraparound concept for the entire Bible.”1 The pinnacle moment of creation was the creation of Adam and Eve, and of them being joined together by God in marriage (Ge 2:22). The entrance of sin and the undoing of creation was achieved by the subversion of marriage; Eve taking Adam’s leading role with the fruit (Ge 3:6). Marriage is created to be the display of the gospel, Christ the groom and the Church the bride (Eph 5:31-32). And the culmination of creation will be the marriage supper of the Lamb with his bride (Re 19:7). Therefore, the biblical convictions about gender and marriage are at the very heart of God’s plan and the gospel.

If these convictions are abandoned, morphed, evolved, blurred, or negotiable, the gospel is lost. This is not a matter of “different strokes for different folks.” This is an issue of being in the kingdom or out of it, of heaven or hell (1Co 6:9). If the truth is going to be spoken in Sodom, we must have firm convictions about exactly what that truth is.

Love of Neighbor

With a love for God and a love for what God has said and created, we can then bring a message of hope and life to people. This is the second great commandment. But how we love people is where things get tricky. I will develop this more fully, but at its core, love for neighbor must be a God-centered, truth-conveying, missions-minded love, because that’s what love is. But our pursuit of love will be the very point of opposition because the world’s conception of love is the unconditional acceptance, celebration and empowering of another’s self-expression. This means biblical love will be viewed as judgmental, intolerant, oppressive, bigoted, and discriminatory. Who is right? Who has the authority to make that determination? Only God can define what humanity is, what sexuality is, what marriage is—therefore he defines what love is.

If one steps outside of what God has created and has said about His creation, they do not come to another viable option, but instead they come to chaos. Those are the only options: Christ or chaos. Just like the prodigal son lived off his father’s money for quite a while, so also Sodom can hold things together on stolen capital and flaunt it while doing so. But the money will run out. Reality will come calling. In this sense we are the ones on the right side of history. When the sandy foundations of the sexual revolution begin to crumble, and people start stumbling our way in their brokenness, we must be there for them. We must be there with the same message we had at the beginning, with the same eyes of mercy, and the same readiness to show them what life in Christ is.

Strong Understanding of the Church

The most powerful proof of life-giving love we can show to our Sodom culture is the creation of a contrast culture: the Church. It is in the Church where every sort of people, with every kind of background, are brought together under one uniting head: the Lord Jesus. It is here that we love one another in Christ, grow together in Christ, reach the world together for Christ, and lift unified voices to Christ. It is within the church that our convictions grow, our love grows, our courage grows, and our fruitfulness grows. The Church matters because the Church, and the Church alone, is what Jesus said He would build (Mt. 16:18).

Therefore, we need healthy churches that rightly handle the Word in preaching and teaching, proclaim the gospel in evangelism, and apply it in discipleship, have meaningful membership, carry out church discipline, and are led, fed, and protected by qualified men.

Over the last 5 years we have heard about options for engaging with our cultural situation. The Benedict Option started it off and it was followed by the Buckley Option, the Franciscan Option, the Kuyper Option and more. These represent an array of cultural engagement strategies. But with Jesus’ promise to build the Church, and his Church commission to go into the world, I believe the best option is whatever you want to call a high commitment to the church (possibly the Gospel Option or the Calvary Option fit this). A believer’s engagement with the world will be magnified, sharpened, strengthened, and multiplied as it is done with the giftings, accountability, equipping, encouragement, and shepherding of the church.

Children Launched from Godly Homes

After the Church, the second greatest way to send the truth into Sodom is to send out children like sharp arrows (Ps 127:4). In fact, many saints of old considered the home a little church, where lives are formed as children see and hear the power of the gospel at the most intimate and personal level. They also can smell a fake in about 3.5 seconds. Children will recognize the goodness and blessing of loving, fatherly headship, and joyful, wifely submission, and when joined with the power of new birth, they will carry it into a future where parents can’t go. We must make homes an eighteen year-long discipleship boot camp filled with worship, laughter, love of the church, good books, cultural evaluation, Bible-memory, Christ-centered education (or at least education retrofitted to Christ), and examples of repentance and faith in everyday life.

Alien Mindset

When we say that we are seeking to love people, and the rage-mob screams that we are haters, clearly there is a disconnect. Of course, there is. We are citizens of another Kingdom with a different King and different values. Peter mentions this three times in his letter about suffering (1 Pt 1:1, 17; 2:11). For the longest time Americans felt that God’s Kingdom and the U.S. operated on parallel tracks. Yet, every culture, including America, has some degree of opposition to the truth. The sooner we see ourselves as Christians first and Americans second, the better. Christ is our King, and we are ambassadors. “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.”2 Embrace your alien status, grab your pilgrim staff, and stop being shocked that you don’t fit in this world.

Courage

At this point we must speak of courage. If you love and fear God, if you speak the truth about gender and sex, if you do this out of love for neighbor and as an alien ambassador, it is going to cost you. You are going to need courage; a tractor trailer full of it with a truck following that reads “wide load.” C.S. Lewis said through the character Screwtape,

Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.3

In our Sodom culture, we will need courage on tap every day. Thankfully, God has given us lots of accounts in the Old Testament about impossible odds, and nick-of-time rescues. Know them well.

Jesus said that we are sheep sent out among wolves (Mt 10:16), and you will experience the truth of His statement when you call transgender people by the pronouns God gave them at birth. Jesus isn’t saying how we are going to die, He is informing us why we should have courage. He knows what He is sending us into, and He really is sending us to prove God’s power. Right after Peter and John were threatened by the council, the church body read Psalm 2 and steeled themselves by recounting God’s sovereignty (Acts 4:23-31). Courage flows from the throne of a sovereign God whom no one can thwart.

Wise Cultural Engagement

Outside of a thorough church commitment, there are other particulars in the Scripture that should be mentioned. First, hospitality is one of the best tools at our disposal. There is no better to way to demonstrate love, prove one’s character, dispel misjudgments, and articulate the gospel than to bring people into one’s home. This is critical for discipleship, but it is good for evangelism as well. Jesus ate with sinners (Lk 15:2), and there is no indication that He choked when a particularly odious one sat near Him.

Second, as we live near those in Sodom, we must be careful. Jude warns in verse 23,

save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

There is a real danger to be drawn into a sin, or a version of it, when the people you are engaging with are so used to it. This danger is compounded by our watered-down Evangelicalism that values commonalities with the world over distinction from the world. We cannot give up holiness for the sake of evangelism.

Finally, look at persecution with different eyes. The “eternal eye” should make you rejoice. Jesus said leap for joy when they persecute you (Lk 6:23). The apostles rejoiced when they were flogged because they had been counted worthy (Acts 5:40-41). With the other eye, scan the various possibilities in your response to persecution. Because we see so many different responses, I believe this is a conscience matter. Paul is a good example of different responses. He was once smuggled out of town in a basket (Acts 9:25), but another time Paul got up from a stoning and went back to the same town twice (Acts 14:20-21). Sometimes the church kept him from entering the fray (Acts 19:30), and other times they couldn’t keep him back (Acts 21:12-14). Similarly, Martin Luther’s conscience dictated that he take a stand. Your conscience will also direct you as you prayerfully consider how to respond to persecution.

We don’t know the details of what will happen to us while living in a Sodom-like culture as faithful Christians. But we do know God is for us, the gospel will advance, no one can thwart God’s designs and we win in the end. Press on, brethren!

Reposted with permission from the September-October 2021 issue of Voice magazine, © IFCA, all rights reserved. Photo: San Francisco, by Daiwei Lu.

Notes

1 Ray Ortlund, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 16.

2 Martin Luther, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, c. 1529.

3 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, (New York, HarperCollins, 1996), 161.


Jay Lickey is the pastor of Open Door Fellowship in Basehor, KS. He holds a B.A. in Bible from Southwest Baptist University, and a M.Div. from The Master’s Seminary. Jay is married to Emily and is the father of Ty, Paige, Hudson, and Bella.

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There are 14 Comments

Ed Vasicek's picture

Great article, though I don't know that we improve our ministries by refusing to call people by their preferred pronouns.  I need to think about that one.  Maybe a good subject for a poll.

"The Midrash Detective"

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I think one way to frame the pronouns thing is to look at it from the angle of courtesy. Courtesy involves lots of not saying things out loud that you might be thinking. Sometimes it even involves saying things that aren't technically true. Some interactions that seem to be about truth really aren't. E.g., these are usually not quests for truth...

  • How's it going? (from a relative stranger)
  • Do you like the soup? (from a host... who isn't a really good friend yet)
  • Does this dress make me look fat?/How do I look? (from spouse)

Well, we could debate my list, but the point is that it's not always about the surface truth. Sometimes it's about the deeper truth: You're important to me; I want to see joy and blessing in your life; I want to be helpful to you/encourage you; I accept you as a human being, etc. So you don't want to deny the deeper truth by a failure of mere courtesy....  so you don't tell your kind host that you hate the soup; you don't tell your wife she looks tired and dreary (probably: it's probably fine in some relationships!); you don't tell strangers you're having a bad day... and you don't tell the trans identified woman that "she" or "they" is really a he. Their soul doesn't rise or fall on clearing up gender confusion. It might rise or fall, indirectly, on our being needlessly offensive, because while we say a surface truth we might be "shouting" a deeper one, in their perceptions: "I hate you; I'm a bigot" etc. Why slam that particular door before you're even friends?

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

josh p's picture

That sounds like the ends justifies the means argument. To me it's less about an evangelistic strategy then it is my own personal holiness and I just can't see a way that it's not a lie. Which is why I would just avoid it all together and refrain from using pronouns. 

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Well, we could debate my list, but the point is that it's not always about the surface truth. Sometimes it's about the deeper truth...

[...]

Why slam that particular door before you're even friends?

Because a relationship ("friends" in your example) based on a lie is not a good one, and is in fact destined for failure.  There's actual truth, and there is falsehood, not "surface" truth vs. "deep" truth.  A relationship is not even going to work at a surface level unless you're willing to lie or overlook obvious truth in order to maintain the facade demanded by the other person.  If you give up the actual truth before you even start, it's hard to say you actually care about the other person, no matter how "polite" you think yourself.

I'm with Josh.  If I were trying to not be offensive, I would just avoid using pronouns.  And in fact, when talking to another directly, you're more often going to use "you" anyway, rather than "he, she, him, her," which are 3rd-person.  Besides, even if you agree to use "their" pronouns, rather than the correct ones, you're just pushing off the problem.  When they then ask if you would agree they actually are their chosen gender, will you agree with them?  If not, you're going to offend them anyway.

Oh, and if the dress makes your wife look fat to you, and you tell her it doesn't (rather than deflecting or refusing to answer that question), it's still a lie.

Dave Barnhart

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Because a relationship ("friends" in your example) based on a lie is not a good one, and is in fact destined for failure.  There's actual truth, and there is falsehood, not "surface" truth vs. "deep" truth.  A relationship is not even going to work at a surface level unless you're willing to lie or overlook obvious truth in order to maintain the facade demanded by the other person.

I have never based friendship on what a person believes about their gender. I don't think it's ever come up at all. But all my friends believe things I think they're wrong about. It's really not a friendship if I require certain beliefs of them. Of course I want them to believe what I know to be true, especially if it's harming them, but what they believe isn't a condition.

As for the the looking fat example, it's not a great example but the point doesn't rise or fall on it either way. What I'd really do in situations like that is try to say something true but nonresponsive to the question. This is still evasion, which plenty of people have also told me is lying. They're wrong.

I don't think very many people actually live up to the standards they claim for these kinds of interactions.

If I had a coworker who was absolutely convinced he was the king of Spain, I'd have no problem greeting him as "your highness." It is not a deceit, because I'm not trying to convince him of anything. It's not a lie because it's not even a deceit. You could argue that it's a lie because he thinks I'm agreeing with him. But a) how do we know he thinks that? and b) is it really my problem if he makes an inaccurate inference? By now, trans identified folks are aware that they have demanded specific pronouns. They certainly should also be aware that not everybody who meets the demands is necessarily trying to communicate what they personally believe.

Try another analogy. In the coutroom, you're supposed to refer to the judge as "your honor." Are you "lying" if you know he's a dishonorable lout? Judges know its a convention, a courtesy and that what you really believe is anybody's guess.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Aaron Blumer wrote:

But all my friends believe things I think they're wrong about. It's really not a friendship if I require certain beliefs of them.

Of course it isn't, but with all of your true friends, you're willing to let them know when you disagree and why, and that's my point.  If you actually try to hide disagreement from them (rather than just avoid the topic at times to prevent arguments), I'd contend that that friendship is in trouble.

Quote:

As for the the looking fat example, it's not a great example but the point doesn't rise or fall on it either way. What I'd really do in situations like that is try to say something true but nonresponsive to the question. This is still evasion, which plenty of people have also told me is lying. They're wrong.

I don't think very many people actually live up to the standards they claim for these kinds of interactions.

I actually agree with you that deflection or evasion is often the best course, and that it's not lying.  I actually refuse to answer questions like that from anyone but my wife.  She and I have an agreement that we don't ask each other questions like that unless we want the truth.  And yes, we don't always "live up" to that standard, so sometimes we have to ask in response "Do you really want to know?" which is a reminder that the person is about to enter hard truth territory, and is doing so knowingly.

Quote:

If I had a coworker who was absolutely convinced he was the king of Spain, I'd have no problem greeting him as "your highness." It is not a deceit, because I'm not trying to convince him of anything. It's not a lie because it's not even a deceit. You could argue that it's a lie because he thinks I'm agreeing with him. But a) how do we know he thinks that? and b) is it really my problem if he makes an inaccurate inference? By now, trans identified folks are aware that they have demanded specific pronouns. They certainly should also be aware that not everybody who meets the demands is necessarily trying to communicate what they personally believe.

If I had a coworker who was literally convinced he was the king of Spain, he wouldn't last long at my business.  But for the sake of argument, if I were ever to use a title like that with someone who didn't actually possess it, my tone and phrasing would make it more than clear that my use of that honorific was extremely sarcastic, and not because I agree with its usage.  And as to the insistence on pronoun usage, I'm convinced that the entire reason for that insistence is to get us to actually think of them in those terms, and thus come to agreement with them on it, which is one of the reasons I'm loathe to give in on that point.

Quote:

Try another analogy. In the courtroom, you're supposed to refer to the judge as "your honor." Are you "lying" if you know he's a dishonorable lout? Judges know its a convention, a courtesy and that what you really believe is anybody's guess.

I'm not convinced this analogy actually applies, given this is part of "respect for the office" which is taught and modeled in the Bible.  I don't know what Paul thought of Felix, but I suspect it wasn't really "most excellent."  And his dressing down of the high priest was only apologized for to the extent that he wanted to respect the office of the high priest, not that he thought what he said was untrue.  Since there is a general understanding of the use of "respect for the office," I put that in a different category than changing pronouns.  I think there's a big difference between Felix maybe not being "excellent" in every way, since that was an official term of office, and say calling him a Jew if he had wanted to be thought of as such.

Plus, respect for the office is only given to those who actually hold, or in some cases (like ex-presidents) once held the position, or sometimes only when they are acting in an official capacity.  E.g. we don't call any people we know who are judges "your honor" unless they are actually sitting in court.  And we certainly don't accord any non-judges that same honorific at any time.  We don't use those terms for people who have not earned or been elected to those positions, even if they would want us to.

Even though I get where you are coming from on pronouns, I disagree that this usage really helps your argument.

Dave Barnhart

Dan Miller's picture

Aaron Blumer: ...It's really not a friendship if I require certain beliefs of them.

And vice versa? What if they require beliefs of you?

 

If I had a coworker who was absolutely convinced he was the king of Spain, I'd have no problem greeting him as "your highness." It is not a deceit, because I'm not trying to convince him of anything.

That's an odd qualification of deceit. You are certainly reinforcing his false belief with your statement, which you admit are not really true (white lie). 

It seems to me that this comes down to you asking yourself, "Should I do wrong by insulting this person over a pronoun? Or should I do wrong by calling him something that he isn't?" (Now - it also seems to me that having made your conclusion in this dilemma, you're trying to satisfy yourself in it by redefining "lie," "deceit," etc.)

 

Don Johnson's picture

Dan Miller wrote:

It seems to me that this comes down to you asking yourself, "Should I do wrong by insulting this person over a pronoun? Or should I do wrong by calling him something that he isn't?" 

By your first question, you are assuming it actually insults someone to call them what they are. 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Dan Miller's picture

By your first question, you are assuming it actually insults someone to call them what they are. 

There's a lot of anxiety in this. I had an interaction recently with a young female. Her mom introduced her and added, "Their pronouns are they and them." I continued to call her "her" and "she" through the appointment and nothing more was said. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Some means are justified by their ends... Though I don't think avoiding pointless offense needs ends to justify it.

About friends and differences of belief... I really can't think of anybody that I have ever confronted about everything I thought we disagreed about. So it's really not valid to say that a friendship is weakened by deciding not to talk about something. It would, of course, be weakened by deciding not to talk about anything! But there's quite a bit of ground between nothing and everything.

I do think that just avoiding pronouns mostly is a good solution also. But it's not always going to be possible to avoid that I don't think.

Let's take into consideration a feature of grammar too though. It changes over time. As an example who is usually considered a personal pronoun, but at some point it became customary to use the possessive form of that personal pronoun in reference to non-persons. People will say things like a car whose exhaust is too loud, or a dog whose leg was injured. ... Or even without the possessive a dog who is cute.

I suppose if this grammatical trend had begun in the context of a social movement to claim personhood for dogs and cars, everyone would have been up in arms about lying when they use the personal possessive pronoun in reference to non-persons... Because they're saying that dogs and cars are people.

But if I'd been around at the time I probably would have shrugged and said it's inevitable; language is often not technically accurate; language changes; get used to it.

In the case of our culture's sexual ethics, part of my attitude toward all this is that these changes seem to be inevitable. Until there is a widespread return to a lost view of what truth is and how it's known, especially moral and ethical truth,  the cultural drift is not really going to be slowed by fighting over pronouns.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Don Johnson's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

But if I'd been around at the time I probably would have shrugged and said it's inevitable; language is often not technically accurate; language changes; get used to it.

In the case of our culture's sexual ethics, part of my attitude toward all this is that these changes seem to be inevitable. Until there is a widespread return to a lost view of what truth is and how it's known, especially moral and ethical truth,  the cultural drift is not really going to be slowed by fighting over pronouns.

Yes, language changes, and mostly it just changes naturally.

These changes are agenda driven and the massive power of the media is part of it. There are countless examples. Notice how newspapers talk about "whites and Blacks." That is deliberate. Do you accommodate that in your writing?

Words are power. That is what this is about.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I don't think the arguments I've heard can pass a basic consistency test.

1. It's been traditional for a long time to refer to boats and ships and sometimes cars as "she." Based on the arguments above, it would be ethically wrong and lying to say "Ol' Bessie has served me well for 300,000 miles. She's a mighty fine truck!"  Or the American flag: "Long may she wave!"  If you want to factor in some other languages, German has masculine, feminine, and neuter definite articles. In English we use "the" for everything, but in German it's "der" for a car... a lie that the car is male. On the other hand it's "das" a neuter article, with "madchen" which is definitely a lie because "madchen" means little girl... and "die" for the sun, declaring it to be female. ... <sarcasm>so much lying!!</sarcasm>

2. If using a traditionally feminine pronoun in reference to a person who is biologically male is a lie/wrong for other reasons, what do we do about nouns? For example, the individual formerly known as Bruce Jenner is now known as Caitlin Jenner, a traditionally feminine name. So if it's wrong to use "she" and "her" in reference to Jenner, is it wrong to use Caitlin? In a work/job environment it may be possible to avoid pronouns, but avoid first names also? Where does this stop?

Gender in both pronouns and personal names (and articles) has had a fairly loose relationship with reality for a long time. It's never been lying. It's not lying now.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

josh p's picture

"2. If using a traditionally feminine pronoun in reference to a person who is biologically male is a lie/wrong for other reasons, what do we do about nouns? For example, the individual formerly known as Bruce Jenner is now known as Caitlin Jenner, a traditionally feminine name. So if it's wrong to use "she" and "her" in reference to Jenner, is it wrong to use Caitlin? In a work/job environment it may be possible to avoid pronouns, but avoid first names also? Where does this stop?"

The difference is that a person can change their name anytime they want. They can call themselves anything and I will call them their chosen name. They cannot however change their God-given gender. Is a woman "pastor" a pastor? I think you would agree that she is not. What if she was your sister and wanted to be called pastor by those who knew her? Would you do so? 
This whole discussion can fall into an argument akin to nominalism pretty quickly but a thing is what it is. If my father/mother/child came to believe he or she was a turtle I would not indulge their fantasy. It's simply not loving to do so. 

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