On Friday, as the SCOTUS decision effectively legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states was announced, we were reminded once more of the stunning speed of the cultural revolution our country has experienced in the last decade. What was inconceivable ten years ago is now accepted, even mandated, by our culture. Not every American agrees that same-sex marriage is “right”, of course. But as homosexuality has become normalized and is now institutionalized, it is clear that our culture as a whole is embracing and celebrating this moment for gay rights and “marriage” equality. (Here’s an example of how wide-spread that celebration really was last Friday.)
On issues where our culture conflicts with the clear teaching of Scripture, Christians face hard challenges to stand graciously and lovingly for truth as those around us despise and reject that truth. This tension is not limited to matters of sexuality and marriage, of course, but our culture has evolved so dramatically on those issues that we face them there most starkly.
Ultimately, matters like these revolve around the question of authority. Do individuals or individual cultures have the right and prerogative to determine for themselves what is right and what is wrong? Or does the prerogative to determine right and wrong, truth and falsehood, belong to a higher authority like God and his Word?
Here are three reasons why Scripture, not culture, must be our authority:
1. Scripture is transcendent; culture is not. God revealed himself through his Word in one specific place over one specific period of (at most) 1500 years. But the truth of Scripture has been proven to transcend that specific place and time. The gospel of Jesus Christ has advanced, through history and around the globe. The central locus of God’s people was once the specific place where God revealed himself, but no longer, because the truth of Scripture transcends any one place or time.
Western culture is not transcendent. You might argue that the geographic breadth of what we would consider Western nations is large, and that the period of history we would consider Western history is long, and you would be correct. But try to transplant the ideals and values of modern Western culture into ancient Japan or China, or modern Sudan or Palestine. You’d have chaos. The assumptions, truths, and ideals of our culture don’t have the power to transcend their natural place and time. But the gospel is growing in Japan, China, Sudan, and even Palestine, because the power of God’s Word is transcendent.
2. Scripture is consistent; culture is not. In 2008, our president ran on a platform that opposed same-sex marriage; last Friday, his White House celebrated SCOTUS’ decision. In the 1950’s, Luci and Desi slept in separate twin beds on their television show; today partial nudity and sex are commonly aired during prime time. Culture changes, rapidly and profoundly. What is culturally acceptable today might not be culturally acceptable tomorrow, and vice versa.
But God’s Word is unchanging. The gospel of Jesus Christ is unchanging. Jesus himself is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). The God who speaks through his Word does not change (see Psa 102:25-27; Mal 3:6; James 1:17). The psalmist tell us, “the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations” (Psa 33:11). While the winds of culture shift, causing waves to rise and fall, the Lord and his Word are an immovable anchor.
3. Scripture delivers on its promises; culture does not. Culture offers great promises – joy, peace, fulfillment, and everything in between. Scripture offers even greater promises – the peace of God (Phil 4:7), adoption to sonship in God’s family (Gal 4:4-6), permanent freedom from condemnation (Rom 8:1), and eternal life (John 5:24), to name a few. Show me the person who has found culture’s promises to be truly fulfilling, and I will show you a Sasquatch – he might exist, but he is rare. As I minister to people in the hospital, or on hospice, or on their death bed, no one ever rests in the promises of culture in those moments. People rest in the promises of God, because we know – by God’s grace and through His Spirit – that God will keep his promises. His plans stand firm forever, and if he has promised us life and joy and peace, he will deliver.
At the end of the day, the culture war is a battle over authority. Our culture claims itself as authority by rejecting all external authority (“No right, no wrong, no rules for me…I’m free!” sings the Disney princess). Christians must know that God alone is the authoritative and just judge of the universe, and that he has spoken though his Word. Thus Scripture, and Scripture alone, is our authority.