The day the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) handed down its decision compelling all the states to redefine marriage was considered among the darkest days in our history for some, while others danced and celebrated.
How will churches regard June 26, 2015?
Culturally speaking, there are at least three types of churches in the contemporary United States: Orthodox, Cultural, and Emergent. Each will have its own perspective regarding June 26.
Churches described as orthodox regard the Bible as the inerrant Word of God in its entirety, the sole authority for belief and practice, no matter what the cultural consensus of the moment. Because Jesus fulfilled the Law such churches don't try to force sinners into compliance, or stone them, but offer love and grace, along with biblical truth.
Cultural churches see the Bible as authoritative only in the broadest sense. Many embrace a rationalist hermeneutic (interpretation) that questions the authenticity of some Scriptures. Some cultural churches especially do not see Paul as inspired in his writings as Jesus was in his utterances. Culture is ultimately authoritative for many churches in this category.
The emergent church arises from evangelicalism, and its leaders and adherents work hard to make their churches culturally relevant, sometimes to the extent they allow culture to drive theology, finding innovative ways to reconcile the Bible with the cultural demands of the age.
I have not included liturgical churches, e.g., the Roman Catholic, Orthodox denominations, Anglican-Episcopal in these separate categories, because their individual congregations tend to be spread across all three.
The defining of marriage will somehow force a defining of churches. Out of that agonizing appraisal the nature of churches will be seen clearly. This is the way it has always been. Prophets, reformers, and the holiest men and women have come out of the crucible of crisis. Every time that has happened, the church is purer and society benefits.
There is a point at which churches become a "remnant" community. Orthodox Christians "must understand that things are going to get much more difficult for us," writes Rod Dreher, in Time magazine online. "We are going to have to learn how to live as exiles in our own country."
But this is how the "remnant" community has always lived. "Remnant" does not mean the weakened and tattered remains of what was once great. By the Bible's economy, the greatest strength and most powerful impact comes from the bottom. Jesus says the Kingdom belongs to those who are childlike. He says the tiniest of seeds, the smallest pinches of leaven, are transformative. Paul writes that God has chosen the "weak things," those that "are not" of consequence in the view of the great and mighty to confound the wisest. Isaiah, centuries before, had prophesied that it is the remnant that puts its roots downward and bears fruit upward that ultimately nourishes the whole society.
SCOTUS's five-member secular Sanhedrin has thus given orthodox Christians the opportunity to grow into the rich identity and blessing of being the remnant community in the midst of the new "Rome" and its oligarchy of patricians at the top.
To do this will require much watchfulness. The remnant church must be alert to the adversaries that would try to envelope and rob it of this moment. There have been historically two temptations that have growled at the heels of the remnant community—whether Old Testament Israel or the "spiritual Israel," the church.
The first of these temptations is to bow before the gods of the land. "Baal," always a problem for Old Testament Israel, literally means "lord" in the sense of the possessor and master of the land. Thus in contemporary times, orthodox Christians will be pressured to bow at the altar of the lords who seem to own the culture.
"LGBT activists and their fellow travelers really will be coming after social conservatives," says Rod Dreher. Dissenting Justice Samuel Alito was concerned that the decision "will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy" through the oppression coming from those "who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent."
How much will the remnant community and its leaders be willing to endure before they fall to the altars of the "gods of the land"? Every congregation and leader holding to a conservative interpretation of the Bible must confront that question.
The second temptation, and the most subtle, is that of finally caving in to the "spirit of the age"—the Zeitgeist. From the leaders seen by Ezekiel in a vision who brought abominations into the Temple, to popes intoxicated with Renaissance eroticism, to Calvinists joining the ranks of societal oppressors, to the German church that gave sanction to hideous Nazi doctrine, remnant communities have been corrupted when tantalized by the "sorceries," or enchantments of the age.
So, let the "exiles" sit for a while by "the rivers of Babylon" and weep. But then let them arise and seize the golden opportunity to become a new kind of church, resisting the temptations to bow before Baal or be snookered by the spirit of the age.
That could turn a day of darkness and infamy into a day of light and true beauty.