Dr. Russell Moore: The State’s Interest in Marriage Briefly Explained

Why does the state have any interest in recognizing marriages at all? I believe that many people- even many Christians who greatly value marriage- would be hard pressed to offer an answer to this question; marriage is currently seen as a mere personal choice, with little thought given to the broader societal impact of marriage.

At a “Next Generation Event” during the recent annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Russell Moore, President of the Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, helpfully gave one main reason for the state’s interest in marriage:

The reason why the state [traditionally] recognizes male/female one-flesh unions: there’s a reason for that. There are all kinds of things the state doesn’t recognize that are important things: lots of us in this room are friends, [but] we didn’t go to the courthouse and register our friendship, and, if we ever get mad at one another and decide we’re not going to speak to one another, we don’t go to the courthouse and deal with it that way; the state doesn’t care who you’re friends with, [so] why does the state care who you’re married to? The state cares who you’re married to because (the state has an interest in that because) a male/female union- at least potentially- has some implications that society has to deal with, and those “implications” are called children. And so the state has to recognize, in some way, marriage, unless you’re going to have the kind of society where children are just abandoned on the side of the road and no one is taking care of them. I mean, really, when you think about the state’s interest in marriage, it boils down to, at the most basic level, issues of child support: ‘who’s responsible for this baby?’ The state is interested in that.

[The rest of the video from which the above quote was taken may be seen HERE.]

Even more recently, in an interview with National Review Online, Dr. Moore again gave a succinct answer concerning the state’s interest in marriage, this time explicitly mentioning the state’s interest in promoting situations in which children have the benefit of both a father and a mother:

The government has recognized marriage for one reason. The union of a man and a woman has implications for all of society in a way other relationships don’t. Male/female sexuality brings with it the possibility of children. Very few of us want the sort of “lord of the flies” laissez-faire kind of society which doesn’t care what happens to children. Encouraging the sort of fidelity that maintains, wherever possible, the right of a child to both a mother and a father is a state interest.

[The rest of the article from which the above quote was taken may be read HERE.]

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But didn’t Paul call himself "father"?

8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 T…

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On Titles for Church Leadership

Texts

But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. (Matthew 23:8-11 ESV)


But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness intohis marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9 ESV)


Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. (Acts 14:23 ESV)

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— (Titus 1:5 ESV)

Commentary

As recorded in Matthew 23:8-11, Jesus prohibits His followers from distinguishing themselves by the use of honorific religious titles. Jesus’ words in this passage come in the context of denouncing the behavior of the scribes and Pharisees- in view of their hypocritical and self-serving religious activities- so it is clear that religious titles are the subject of this passage (in other words, the Lord is not here prohibiting children from saying “Daddy” to their earthly fathers). Specific religious titles that the Lord prohibits for His followers are “rabbi,” “father,” and instructor.”


As the direct commandment of Jesus prohibits any Christian minister taking on “father” as a religious title, clear New Testament teaching also speaks against any specific group of Christian ministers distinguishing themselves from other church members by taking on the title of “priest.” As Skarsaune notes in relation to 1 Peter 2:9,

“The new people of God are not in a temple, attending a service led by priests, they are the temple and they are its priests, themselves conducting the service… since the whole people is priestly, all leadership ministries are called by entirely non-priestly, non-cultic terms.” [Skarsaune, In the Shadow of the Temple, 162. Quoted in James M. Hamilton, God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old And New Testaments (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006), 123-124.]


The prohibition against honorific religious titles, and the lack of “priestly” or “cultic” terms for church leadership does NOT mean, however, that the church has NO way of speaking about the men who help teach, counsel, and guide church members. All things must be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40), and if the church lacks recognition concerning WHICH men were qualified for leadership roles, then orderliness will quickly vanish. And so the Lord, through His apostles, has given qualifications for church leadership in passages such as Titus 1:5-9. Church leaders are referred to as pastors, overseers, bishops, or (perhaps most commonly in the New Testament) elders.


Application


Followers of the Lord Jesus Christ obey His commands. Followers of the Lord Jesus Christ who are in church leadership will not insist on being addressed with an honorific religious title such as “rabbi,” “father,” or “instructor” in DIRECT VIOLATION of Jesus’ command. Followers of the Lord Jesus Christ will not follow someone who refers to himself as “Father [So-and-So],” etc., because they will recognize that man as someone who does not care about the clear command of Christ.


As the New Testament avoids priestly terms in referring to church leadership- calling the entire church “a royal priesthood,” and naming Jesus as the ultimate high priest who fulfills all the sacrificial functions once and for all (Hebrews 4:14-16; 10:11-14)- followers of the Lord Jesus Christ should avoid systems of religion in which the ministers are referred to as “priests.”


Followers of the Lord Jesus Christ should seek out churches in which the congregational leadership actually meets the qualifications for church leadership mentioned in the New Testament and churches in which leaders are called by simple, New Testament terms such as “pastor,” “elder,” etc.

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Presenting the Gospel to Muslims: Key Biblical Concepts

In engaging Muslims with the good news of who Jesus is and what He has done on behalf of sinners, it is helpful to have some background information about the Islamic faith, but it is crucial to understand sound biblical doctrine. Specific Bible teachings that the Christian must understand and be able to present to his or her Muslim friends are: the Trinity, the Person of Christ, the Cross, the Trustworthiness of Scripture, and the Imputed Righteousness of Christ. The Trinity Muslims may misunderstand the Christian affirmation of the Trinity, thinking that Christians affirm three gods. Christians must be very […]

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Presenting the Gospel to Muslims: Key Biblical Concepts

In engaging Muslims with the good news of who Jesus is and what He has done on behalf of sinners, it is helpful to have some background information about the Islamic faith, but it is crucial to understand sound biblical doctrine. Specific Bible teachings that the Christian must understand and be able to present to his or her Muslim friends are: the Trinity, the Person of Christ, the Cross, the Trustworthiness of Scripture, and the Imputed Righteousness of Christ.

The Trinity

Muslims may misunderstand the Christian affirmation of the Trinity, thinking that Christians affirm three gods. Christians must be very clear that there is only one God (Deut 6:4). But we also must proclaim the truth that within the one being that is God, there exists eternally three co-equal and co-eternal Persons: namely, the Father (Matt 6:9), the Word or Son (John 1:1-2; 17:5; Col 2:9), and the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26; Acts 8:29; 13:2), each with distinct personal attributes (Isa 48:16; Matt 3:16-17; Rom 8:26-27; Heb 9:13-14), but without division of nature, essence or being (John 10:30; 14:9; Acts 5:39). We must readily admit: exactly how the trinity works may be beyond our comprehension, and we must admit that a denial of the trinity may be simpler. But we must challenge our Muslim friends with the question: why should God be so simple that we can completely understand Him?

The Person of Christ

Muslims agree with Christians that Jesus is sinless and that He was sent from God. But Christians must boldly proclaim the truth that Muslims deny: that Jesus Himself claimed to be God (John 10:30). Furthermore, Jesus’ earliest followers claimed that He is God (John 1:1) who took on flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) for the purpose of our salvation.

The Cross

The earliest Christians were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ death (and resurrection), as seen in John 19:32-35, Luke 1:1-4, and 1 Corinthians 15:1-7. Even enemies of Christianity testify to the death of Christ. The earliest Jewish opponents of Christianity did not claim that Jesus had not been crucified (and they admitted that His tomb was empty): Matthew 28:11-15; Josephus, Antiquities, AD 63-64. The earliest Roman opponents of Christianity did not claim that Jesus had not been crucified: Tacitus, AD 115. Modern non-Christian historians do not claim that Jesus was not crucified; Bart Ehrman, who is openly hostile to Christianity, yet stated: “One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on the orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate.” Furthermore, the Qur’an itself speaks of the death of Christ in Surah 19:33, though it seems to specifically deny the crucifixion in Surah 4:156-158. Though Muslims deny the crucifixion based on Surah 4:156-158, they do so in contradiction to the eyewitness testimony of the earliest Christians, the testimony of the earliest opponents of Christianity, all sound non-Muslim historical scholarship, and even claims of the Qur’an itself, such as that seen in Surah 19:33.

The Trustworthiness of Scripture

Though Muslim apologists today commonly question the trustworthiness of Christian Scripture, the Qur’an itself, in Surah 10:94, commands Muhammad to “ask those who have been reading Scripture before you” in order that he might relieve his doubts. In context, this Surah is referring to the “Scripture”- the Christian and Jewish Scripture- that came before the giving of the Qur’an. The words of the Qur’an assume, rather than deny, the trustworthiness of Christian Scripture. Christian Scripture is built on eyewitness testimony (see the above in the section on “The Cross”). Christian Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16).

The Imputed Righteousness of Christ

Surah 53:38 asserts: “That no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another.” This assertion is contradicted by Isaiah 53:4-6, in which the Messiah is proclaimed to be One who bears our griefs, sorrows, afflictions, iniquities, and punishment, being “pierced for our transgressions,” bringing healing to us all. Islam presents an irresolvable problem concerning the justice of God, for how can a holy and righteous God justify the ungodly? This problem is the reason that many Muslims believe that all people spend at least a little time in Hell having their sins burned away before they can enter Heaven. According to the good news of Jesus, this problem is addressed in Romans 3:21-26. God never neglects perfect justice: every sin is paid for, either by the sinner in Hell or by Jesus, in the place of the sinner, upon the Cross. Salvation from sin, death, and Hell is by grace alone through the imputed righteousness of Christ: the one who trusts in Christ is counted righteousness in Christ. Just as Jesus took our sins on Himself while dying on the Cross, the believing sinner takes on the righteousness of the resurrected Christ. This good news of salvation- accomplished by God in Christ on the Cross- glorifies God alone as the only Savior (something that should resonate with our Muslim friends, who say that they are jealous to glorify God alone). The good news of Jesus Christ is summarized in 2 Corinthians 5:21: God made the one who did not know sin [that is, Jesus] to be sin for us, so that in Him we would become the righteousness of God. (NET)

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Inspiring and Challenging Quotes from the Letters and Journals of Jim Elliot

[From a handout distributed at the Sunday Bible Study of Grace Heritage Church, August 14, 2005.] “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” “God, I pray, light these idle sticks of my life, and may I burn up for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life but a full one like Yours, Lord Jesus.” “The holy life of a fearless Samuel brought trembling to the elders of Bethlehem. Lord, wilt Thou impart a holiness of this sort to me? I can make […]

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Islam: The Five Pillars

Islamic piety is commonly understood in terms of five practices, which are referred to as “pillars” of the Muslim religion. The “pillars” are: 1. Confession; 2. Prayers; 3. Fasting; 4. Alms; 5. Pilgrimage. Confession (shahada): The basic Islamic confession of faith may be translated: “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is the Apostle of God.” By saying this confession in Arabic, with faith, a person becomes a Muslim. Many Muslims believe that saying the shahada with faith- along with an atom’s worth of good works- is a sufficient basis for a person to (eventually) gain entrance to Heaven, […]

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