Marriage: what are we trying to save?

A Swedish wedding from 1903

With the Marriage Act possibly being amended this year, the debate over what marriage means has reached huge proportions. Many Christians have been very vocal in their opposition to changing the the law on marriage, much to the scorn of those who disagree. I’m a Christian and I believe God has told us quite clearly that he does not approve of same-sex relationships (along with many other relationships.) But I’m not convinced that there’s really much point trying to save the Marriage Act as it is. What are we trying to save? Jesus had some strong words:

Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery. (Mark 10:11-12, NLT)

I think our society abandoned the Christian (Biblical) conception of marriage decades ago. Legally this occurred in 1975 with the introduction of no-fault divorces. Similar changes have resulted in almost complete legal recognition of de facto relationships. There may be arguments for no-fault divorce and de facto relationships, but I think the reality is that they have contributed to a shift in the meaning of marriage. I have no evidence for this, but I bet that most Australians would think that the idea of only getting married if you were committed to seeing it through to the end of your life is just as backward an idea as heterosexual-only marriage. Marriage is no longer an exclusive and irrevocable contract, but one of several possible labels you can give to long term relationships. A tiny fraction of Australians may end up in homosexual marriages, but the changes that have led to twice as many Australians my age being in de facto relationships than married, and a third of all marriages ending in divorce, have already happened.

Every minority has the right to express how they think the law should be shaped, so Christians should be free to express their opposition, especially when the facts aren’t settled yet. But I personally won’t be spending much breath to protect a definition I don’t agree with. It’s sad, but that ship has sailed.

I would however support changing the Marriage Act in another way: to remove marriage from it! I don’t think any particular label such as marriage should be privileged and codified in law above any other. If the whole of federal and state law was changed so that there was just a single relationship recognised by law (lets keep the term civil union for this, no one actually wants to describe their relationship as one) then I think we’d all be better off. If up till now marriage has had a religious definition then don’t try to change what it means – just remove it from the law.

What’s wrong with multi-site churches

At The Resurgence Gregg Allison has given a defense for multi-site churches. While his defense may address Mark Dever’s concerns, it says nothing about what I think is wrong with multi-site churches: it stifles the principle of the priesthood of all believers.

The NT doesn’t actually say very much about how we should do church or what our church meeting should be like. But one verse that clearly states the basics is 1 Corinthians 14:26:

When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. (ESV)

God has given every Christian gifts, which we should use to build each other up, by encouraging, challenging, rebuking and teaching each other. A church meeting is simply the time when Christians get together to use their gifts at the same time.

Unfortunately many churches restrict how we can do that by limiting those who can be involved in the church meeting to a very small group, such as the minister and “worship leader”. I am a believer both in lay preaching and flexible meeting structures because they allow more people to get involved. I suspect a house church done well would let even more people get involved, but regular churches can still make changes which let more people serve.

It gets worse though. Mars Hill Church is a multi-site church with 9 campuses. Each shares a video feed from the main campus, so that there is only one person teaching each week, and most of the time that’s Mark Driscoll. Compared to regular churches that’s 8 people with the gift of teaching who aren’t being given the opportunity to serve their churches. Compared to an ideal church, hundreds if not thousands must be missing out. And that’s wrong.

What’s wrong with publishing ministries? Part 2

Early this year I wrote about some of the problems I see in the Christian publishing world. This is a follow up.

My hope is for an eventual transformation and reform of the Christian publishing scene (and for secular publishing too!). No one could force such a thing, nor would that be desirable. Instead I am committed to opening accessibility for resources I produce (choosing for example to submit papers only to open access journals) and gently suggesting ideas to the other publishers I meet. Overall it’s about giving up the rights our government grants us for the good of others. It’s sacrificial, hard, and completely counter-cultural in this rights-obsessed society we live in. I’m convinced such changes are what we need, though the specific way in which each person will give up their rights will be different.

I want us to ask a hard theological question though: how does the thoroughly Biblical concept of supporting Christian ministry fit with copyright royalties? I believe it is a wrong model for financing ministry and could at times lead to problems. For those who are incredibly successful, it could lead to laziness or the idolising of wealth (those in Australia may have noted certain examples on TV this past week). For those who are not successful it could result in the end of their ministry. We wouldn’t say that the William Careys of mission (perhaps those in Japan today) have failed if people don’t come to know Christ, but we might say that a publisher has failed if its volumes don’t sell.

More likely, for those whose publishing is a side ministry, is that the resources remain marginalised. An unfortunate example is Ruth Buchanan, whose music is unavailable on SongSelect, nor on her website. There is not even an option to purchase the albums online, but instead we must email her for more information. I honestly cannot see how this is good for anyone. Presumably Ruth receives a sufficient income from her other work/ministries, so if the default was that Christian resources were open then she would be no worse off, and my church would be using her work in our praises (and possibly supporting her, or some of our members might support her privately). If a publisher was in financial strife then rather than restricting access to their resources they would support raise as other ministries do.

I am not suggesting that we all completely quit using collecting agencies like CCLI, or whatever other strategies we have. But I do think more people would have access to our music if we told them they could freely download and use it from our websites. We could still keep the music on SongSelect etc. as well. I am for the opening and enabling of access to resources, so it makes no sense to close off one avenue which works now!

Recently I proposed to Garage Hymnal that they automatically grant to everyone the rights of the CCLI CCL and MRL (was PCL) licences. These licences don’t effect album sales, instead they restrict what songs a church can sing on Sundays (and other days of the week!) Every person and every church should be free to sing good Biblical Christian music, without having to pay to put the words up on a projector. I proposed supporting them financially, matching what they currently get from those CCLI royalties, so that there would be no potential loss of income due to making their music available elsewhere as well. If ignoring royalties they were still at a stable financial position then reducing copyright restrictions should have no negative effect. And any bonus income from royalties could even be given to other ministries.

If you’ve read this and you believe Christian media resources are valuable, can I suggest that you do a number of things:

  • Please pray for a Christian author, musician or publisher that you know! Thank God for what he is doing through them, and that he continue to enable them to serve him.
  • Consider supporting them financially, not giving for the results of past work, but giving so that their future time may be free to serve God, no matter what the results might be.
  • Ask them to consider giving up some of the copyrights on their works, so that through their resources God’s word might spread even further. A good possible licence might be the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivslicence. It puts restrictions on using a work for commercial purposes and altering the work (so a work’s doctrinal orthodoxy wouldn’t be at risk) but otherwise gives you the freedom to share a work. Or perhaps they could just give the rights of the CCLI CCL and MRL to all, so that songs can be sung in church without restriction.
  • And if their business strategy so depends on royalties that their resources are only available to those who pay, challenge them to remove that dependence.
  • Finally, write to them, saying how their books or music teaches, encourages and challenges you, and that you’re supporting them prayerfully and financially (if you are).

What’s wrong with publishing ministries?

So today when I was looking at the music I was playing for church I read this, and finally realised why I think CCLI is wrong: “This score is illegal unless used with a CCLI licence. Please don’t undermine our ministry – support it!”

I’ve felt for a long time that there was something wrong with the CCLI model of music distribution, because it seemed to restrict and put up miles of red tape around what should be our free praise. But what could we do, it is what the law demands. But when I read this on the bottom of the sheet music I realised something I hadn’t before, which is that these publishers are ministries, which now makes me even more convinced that the general publishing models they have are wrong.

I wondered whether Christian music composition should really be thought of as a ministry. It’s not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament, but then there were musicians in the temple. More importantly, when it’s done well the writing of good Biblical songs should be thought of as what the Bible calls a “word ministry”.

The Bible describes and supports many forms of ministry: part time or full time, tent-making, asking for support, not asking for support. All of these are fine. What is not good is selling the gospel for personal profit (2 Corinthians 2:17.)

Now I can’t say that the Bible definitely excludes the way most Christian publishers operate, but I think it does present a different way of supporting ministry. The main way is that other Christians support ministries, through prayer and financially, to enable the Christian workers to use all of their time to do God’s work freely. To receive that work is entirely free – even if you do support them. But we don’t support these authors, composers and publishers like that (usually). Instead of supporting them so they are free to work freely we instead buy the results of their ministry. And for the composers who wrote the music I played tonight there is basically no way at all in which I can benefit from their ministry other than paying for their music (or paying someone else to buy it.) This is wrong.

I am not sure I am seeing the whole Biblical picture here, and would love to be corrected. I want to call on all Christian publishers to change their distribution models. They are operating as secular publishers do, but instead they should operate as other ministry and mission agencies do – being supported by fellow Christians so they can afford their living essentials, while offering the products of their ministries for free. This doesn’t mean they have to offer their big expensive books for free, just as if you requested a copy of your church’s sermon they might ask for a dollar or two to cover the disc. But it does exclude charging much more than the cost price, because they are not getting a living from the profits of their work, but from being supported by other Christians. And there’s no reason why they can’t offer electronic copies of their resources for zero monetary cost.

Thank you to the few publishers which do offer all you have freely!

The worthlessness of Homo divinus

But my acceptance of Adam and Eve as historical is not incompatible with my belief that several forms of pre-Adamic ‘hominid’ may have existed for thousands of years previously. These hominids began to advance culturally. They made their cave drawings and buried their dead. It is conceivable that God created Adam out of one of them. You may call them homo erectus. I think you may even call some of them homo sapiens, for these are arbitrary scientific names. But Adam was the first homo divinus, if I may coin a phrase, the first man to whom may be given the Biblical designation ‘made in the image of God’. Precisely what the divine likeness was, which was stamped upon him, we do not know, for Scripture nowhere tells us. But Scripture seems to suggest that it includes rational, moral, social, and spiritual faculties which make man unlike all other creatures and like God the creator, and on account of which he was given ‘dominion’ over the lower creation.

So says John Stott (quoted by Terry Gray.) Ideas like this seem to be more prevalent and popular now than ever before. If I can paraphrase the idea in my own words it would be that God caused modern man, Homo divinus, to evolve from the aspiritual, non-image-bearing Homo sapiens. There is much disagreement about how quick that process was, whether it happened to one man or a community, and what their moral state was (did they stop their “sinful” ways, or did they continue once they became enlightened?) But the overall idea is the same.

I do not think this idea is even worth our time considering. No one I’ve seen propose this idea seems interested in doing the Biblical texts justice. Yes there is a broad spectrum of interpretations for Genesis 1-3, from the strictest 24 hour creationist to the allegorical frameworkist. But I think Homo divinus makes all interpretations of Genesis meaningless. What it proposes is so totally different to the text that any interpretation is both possible but also deeply disconnected from reality. It even loses its strength as a polemic, both in ancient times and now (for how can it be one, when it agrees in every detail with the theories of the day?)

Let me give one example to show why I think Homo divinus is worthless. In Genesis 2 God created the first human, Adam. In verse 7 God forms him out of dust and then “breathed into his nostrels the breath of life; and man became a living being.” The Homo divinus interpreter would say that this refers to when man first became enlightened. Whether gradually or in an instant, God gives the man/humanity his breath or spirit, and man is made aware of God. It literally says that God inspired man! After this point man is fundamentally different from all the other creations, he is made in the God’s image.

But wait a sec, what does the Hebrew say? It says that he became a לנפש חיה, a nephesh chay, or a ‘living soul’. חי, chay ‘living’, is used to refer to all life. It is used throughout the Bible, mostly to refer to living creatures, but sometimes also to ‘living water’. נפש, nephesh ‘soul’, refers not just to humans, but also animals. It is used through Genesis 1, in Genesis 9 when God gives the command to never eat blood, and then in the foundational Leviticus 17 which expands on that commandment, calling blood the “life (nephesh) of all flesh.” Genesis 2:7 could just as literally be translated to say that “man became a living animal.”

How can the Homo divinus interpreter read this meaningfully? They can’t interpret it literally of course, that goes against the whole idea that Homo divinus wasn’t created directly from dust. But how can they interpret it allegorically either? Yes God did inspire man at that time, but the end result was that man would be a living animal, exactly what he was before. Man’s enlightenment produces no changes, or at least none the author of Genesis 2 thought worth mentioning. I’d be interested in hearing other interpretations of this passage, but I can’t see how a Homo divinus interpretation could do it justice, when even interpreted in the most ahistorical way possible the Hebrew words just go against their whole premise.

Don’t waste your time with Homo divinus. It’s a pathetic attempt at an interpretive framework.