Sexual Liberation, Natural Law, and the Modern Resistance to Fixed Moral Norms

In the 1960s it was common to hear American civil rights leaders appeal to natural justice and natural law in defense of the extension of civil rights to oppressed peoples, namely African Americans. Those arguments were compelling to Americans because they are fundamental to the nature of the country. Our founding documents, after all, appeal to “self-evident” truths among which is the truth that “all men,” including African Americans, “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Martin Luther King and others brilliantly prosecuted a America for her crimes against natural justice.

Since the heyday of the civil rights movement, many (but not all) of those whose voices that resonated so strongly with appeals to natural justice, in favor of liberation, have been quite resistant to the appeal to the same natural justice when it also dictates restraint.

In the 16th century Calvin had a word for the Genevan party who resisted moral restrictions of any kind: Libertines. For them freedom from restraint was paramount. Absolute freedom from restraint, however, doesn’t produce more freedom. The French Revolution (about which virtually everyone seems to have forgotten) did not actually produce genuine freedom but rather it produced terror and tyranny. In this regard R. R. Reno has another helpful, thoughtful essay today in First Thingsexploring the “glaring moral failure” of Higher Education, namely the development of a “culture of intimidation” of those who dissent from the late modern consensus among ruling elites on homosexuality. Apparently liberalism only goes so far.

So why were appeals to natural law so compelling in the 60s but less so now? The arguments in favor of liberation had a strong likelihood of succeeding because they fit a larger pattern of the elimination of restrictions on social mobility, a pattern that had been developing since the early 19th century. That same radical, egalitarian, libertine spirit also resists restrictions. In other words, the sympathy for natural law arguments among certain classes of social elites has been superficial, self-serving, and transient. Apparently they weren’t actually committed to natural justice as such but rather to liberation from all restraint. The coincidence of racial liberation with natural law (the founders were right but inconsistent with their own theory in their practice of chattel slavery) was just that. The righteous racial liberation of the 60s became unrighteous sexual liberation in the 70s. It began with heterosexual liberation from monogamy and marriage. According to Jesus, the creational order is one man and one woman. The libertine order is: one man and as many women as possible without the bonds of marriage. The Libertines pushed for no-fault divorce to facilitate sexual liberation. Creation pushed back with a panoply social ills (the virtual destruction of the stable, two-parent, heterosexual, nuclear family, a fearsome rise in the number and quality of STDs (the very fact that everyone knows what an STD is should tell us something) and even HIV but the Libertines will brook no restraint of their libidos.

Recently, I had an interesting dinner conversation, with a psychotherapist from San Francisco. He recounted the development of his thinking about homosexuality. It wasn’t very long ago that it was widely held in his profession that same-sex attraction or behavior was a disorder. It was listed as a as such in standard references. There was real evidence that it is a disorder. The association between sexual abuse, emotional abuse, alcoholism, and homosexuality aren’t negligible. Now, however, despite the fact of those associations and relationships, because of the social and cultural influence of the libertines, who have made it shameful to describe virtually any behavior as shameful, it is politically incorrect (read that expression as if we were spoken in Moscow in the 1950s) to speak what was a standard view not long ago. Did the evidence actually change? This psychotherapist argued that social acceptance of homosexuality had actually reduced the external pressures on homosexuals making them less repressed and allowing them to become better adjusted. Perhaps, but does that change the evidence? No. Just because libertine elites have succeeded in intimidating us into no longer saying what we know to be true doesn’t mean that the truth is not the truth. Just because we’ve decided that a dangerous and aberrant behavior pattern is now socially acceptable doesn’t change whether it is fundamentally contrary to the nature of creation.

Our dinner partner described stable, happy, monogamous homosexual couples as if they were the norm. Are they really? That’s not what Camille Paglia thinks. She wrote a scathing critique of the attempt by the PCUSA, in their report on sexuality, to sanitize and normalize homosexuality. Paglia is much more honest about the matter than most elites. She says the point, and for her, the thrill of sexual deviance is that it is deviant and unacceptable. See “The Joy of Presbyterian Sex” in Sex, Art, and American Culture (London: Viking, 1992). The last report I saw is that random, unprotected, bath-house sex was on the rise again in homosexual neighborhoods, despite the dangers, because post-boomer homosexuals had adopted a fatalist approach to the risks associated with sodomy with random strangers. It seems to be the case that well-meaning, guilt ridden elites have written a narrative about happy, stable, monogamous homosexuals that has relatively few actual actors.

What I’m about to say will seem alarmist to some and outrageous to others but I persist. Brace yourself. If frank talk about sin makes you queasy take this exit now. [3…2..1. You’ve been warned.] If elite libertines may dictate that same-sex behavior is now acceptable and that same-sex marriages must be tolerated in the name of freedom (absence of restraint) what else will we be required socially to accept? Presently pedophilia is considered taboo principally because a child cannot consent. What, however, if consent is redefined? How unreasonable is it to think that consent will be redefined? What about bestiality? If the highest good is now the absence of restraint (and its corollary, “self realization” or “self expression” or “self fulfillment”) then why not? To what degree does the consent of an animal matter? What if it is decided that animals do consent? Why not? It’s a possibility (Ex 22:19; Lev 20:15). Within the current framework, within which the sexual liberation agenda is being worked out, on what fixed grounds can these developments be resisted? If rules are regarded not as fixed in the nature of things (because there is no “nature of things”) but rather as manifestations of an arbitrary will to power then who is to say?

The truth is that human everywhere knows naturally, by virtue of being human, by virtue of being created in imago Dei, that there are fixed moral norms. Moreover, every humans knows what those fixed moral norms are (love God and love neighbor). Those norms are inscribed on the conscience of every human (Romans 1-2). Yes, humans, particularly late modern humans, are busily trying to suppress the knowledge of those norms (and of the God who revealed them) but they can no more be finally resisted than an inflated beach ball can remain submerged. Try as we may the beach ball finally slips away from our wet hands and it pops to the surface. So it is with heterosexual and homosexual libertinism. We know what the truth is. We know what reality is but we seem especially hell bent right now to deny what we all know to be true in the service of a perverse, radical, French-Revolutionary resistance to all norms, even creation. It cannot last and if it does any society that so indulges itself cannot last.

However great the social cost of libertinism, its spiritual and personal costs are even greater. The eschatology of libertinism is empty. There’s nothing there. The thrill of random sex and re-creating the nuclear family outside of natural boundaries is intoxicating but what happens the morning after? What’s next after the thrill fades? To what does one turn for the next excitement? The good news is that there is, grace is for sinners of all kinds, homosexual and heterosexual libertines alike. Jesus obeyed and died for libertines. Acceptance with God is free. All libertines of all sorts need do is admit their brokenness, their sin and sinfulness, and need of a Savior. Jesus has always accepted the broken, the dirty, and the needy. The law doesn’t really change but neither does grace. In the end we rely on that fixity, that stability don’t we? As a culture we may be sitting on our Father’s lap slapping him and he may indulge us for a time, but an end will come. Reckon now with reality, including the reality and necessity sin and salvation. It’s the only way out of the dreadful libertine spiral and the only safety from the wrath to come.

ACTUALLY RELATED POSTS

Two Kingdoms and Homosexual Marriage

Was There a Better Way to Handle This Situation?

Reacting to Homosexuals in the Congregation

30 comments

  1. Notice how all of this is done in the name of love as well. Summed up in statements like, “Who are you to say who I can or can’t love?” If God is love, and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, then we have our answer for what we see happening now.

  2. I’m glad to see, Scott, that you and I are thinking along the same lines. I made several of the same points earlier today.

  3. Dr. Clark, thank you for this thoughtful and insightful analysis. I am in complete agreement. (Watch out, you will soon be tarred with the label “culture warrior” and told that you “confuse the two kingdoms.”)

    If I may, I’d add one other example to the double standard of the libertines drawn from my own calling as a lawyer and law professor. In the 60s and 70s, my colleagues on the legal left were stout champions of “freedom of speech and expression.” All establishment barriers and norms that stood in the way must be and, to some degree were, pulled down. Now that the Left is more or less the establishment, it’s curious how many of them no longer are such ardenst champions of freedom of speech or expression. No longer is the First Amendment the holy grail of rights. Now they favor speech codes and non-discrimination laws that stifle freedom of speech and expression by those with whom they disagree. In other words, it seems painfully apparrent that for many libertines, free speech was not a consitutional value they championed on its own merits, but rather merely a tool by which to remove standards and barriers to their own libertine natures. Having largely achieved many of their goals, the First Amendment can be thanked for past services rendered and dispatched as no longer useful.

    With that said, many true constitutinalists, including those in the ACLU and in the academy, still believe in the First Amendment. But they are increasingly being marginalized and discredited.

  4. Dr. Clark,

    I do agree with a great deal of your analysis here. However I do have questions about your arguments from the slippery slope of homosexuality -> pedophilia -> bestiality. The reasons are fairly simple: Here in SoCal, which is broadly a friendly environment for gays, we just had two teenage girls murdered by a pedophile, the outcry against these crimes have been univocal from nearly the whole political/moral spectrum. We have very specific, and in fact tightening laws on the books regarding pedophilia. The same with bestiality, where the left-leaning state of Washington in recent years has passed far stricter bestiality laws following a bestiality related death. I do see the point that societal decay and sexual degeneration often go hand in hand. However, I also do think we need to look at the issue at hand for what it means to our homes, churches, and society at large.

    If I saw clearer injunctions in the NT that we as Christians are called to stem the tide of societal degradation, I would be more inclined to address these issues head-on. The Greco-Roman society of the NT was in many ways akin to our own plural society, with many of the sins plaguing their society also plaguing ours. The apostles did not refrain from calling these sins exactly what they were, however their concerns seemed to be more geared to these sins lingering impacts in the church. The same sinful, wicked society that Christians were being called out of, they were also called to submit to with the only exception being when imperial law required believers to directly and personally engage in sinful behavior. It seems that the apostolic church adjusted quite well to what was in fact a foreign environment.

    Maybe I am wrong on this, however I wonder if we haven’t lost the distinction between adjusting to and fighting against cultural shifts. I hope we never come to the day when we loose our nerve in calling sin what it is – rebellion against God and his created order. But, we conservatives have been actively engaged in this current culture war for at least four decades, and where has it landed us? Some churches and Christian leaders have so sold themselves to this battle that the fundamental marks of the true church have suffered great harm as these have been neglected for cultural engagement. Is there a better way we can engage and speak to the issues surrounding the politics of sex while maintaining our biblical distinctives?

    I do see legitimate fear that our rights might be taken away, or that we might suffer for proclaiming the whole council of God. So long as our Republic stands, and the constitution has any meaning we will have competent attorneys like CVD to advocate our rights when they are neglected. But there is also that possibility that God is allowing this long, slow degeneration of society to accomplish his purposes in advancing judgment and salvation. In which case preparing the church to be faithful to our confession in light of what might very well be on the horizon might be well in order.

    • Jed, Dr. Clark can respond for himself, but I’d offere a couple thoughts. First, I don’t hear Dr. Clark calling for a Christian jihad on the sins of secular society on any broad-based basis. His concern was targeted and narrow. Second, I always implore non-lawyers to bear in mind that the issues of gay marriage and non-discrimination laws favoring gays are legally intertwined with a host of legal issues that have a direct bearing on Christian freedoms to speak, act, and worship. Cases in one area stand as precedents for new cases in other areas. If the state through its voters and democratically elected representatives lose the right to say what marriage is, a principle has been established that will be very difficult to limit to gay marriage.

      Once the cultural drift slides a few more feet downhill, popular revulsion against pedophilia and bestiality could erode. The same arguments that prevent the state from limiting marriage to the creation order could prevent the state from forbidding pedophila and bestiality. That is, if it’s accepted that the state’s police power to uphold minimal public morals is no longer a “rational basis’ to support a law limiting marriage to one-man-one-woman, then it’s no longer a rational basis to support laws against pedophilia and bestiality. If public revulsion agianst homosexuality can erode in ten years, why could not public revulsion against any and all perversions of creation norms erode? If tge social-science and psychiatric consensus against homosexuality can erode so quickly, why could it not erode quickly against pedophilia and bestiality?

      Finally, I wonder if you agree that sheer human concern for the welfare of human beings made in the image of God, including children, is a sufficient cause to oppose same-sex marriage, bestiality, and pedophilia? It is for me. I see every day the train-wrecks of human lives and children ruined by those who are trying to live contrary to creation norms. I see the psychiatric reports and social services reports on the damage done to children raised by gay partners. It grieves me deeply, and the sad faces of those kids is what put the fuel in my engine to work for Prop 8. Not any necessarily Christian theological claim. Are we not being kind and charitable to try to hold the line against further violations of basic creation norms? Something to think about, at least, I hope.

  5. Another angle on social changes since the 1960’s: the change in theories of natural law or naturalism held by political and legal theorists. One crude way of summarizing the theories of Rawls and Dworkin and others might be this formula: maximize individual utility and minimize negative externalities. In the context of marraige, the new naturalism notes the value to individuals of marraige and seeks to remove negative externalities (the views of others about the fitness of same-sex partners) from the equation. In the context of Chipotle restaurants, the new naturalism notes the value to individuals of viewing the preparation of their burrito and seeks to remove the negative externalities (Chipotle’s table-height kitchen design which disadvantages the viewing by wheelchair bound customers). It appears that this emphasis on individual utility places individuals at the center of legal and political equations, and burdens informal and formal associations (think churches, military, Boy Scouts, the traditional family, corporations, universities) other than the sovereign state with the responsibility, expense, and disruption necessary for removing negative externalities from individuals’ calculation of utility. However, the new naturalism is not ultimately a humanistic venture. It has veered away from the centrality of the human individual by redefining individual utility within a matrix of non-human nature. Therefore, if a snail darter or polar bear finds some amount of utility in an absence or diminishment of human activity and development in its neighborhood, the human activity and development that is a negative external to those creatures must be stopped. Even if the neighborhood of the polar bear is the Northern Hemisphere and the negative externality is modern Western fossil-fueled civilization.

    • Peter, intesting observations. In other words, “it’s all about me” and the sovereing consumer?

  6. CVD,

    Your points are well taken, and I realize that my position might seem to give little care to the ills of this world. Like I have said before, and will again I do not see either you or Dr. Clark as guilty of cultural warriorism. Your line of work might bring you closer to that war, but maintaining constitutional rights as an attorney is different than pulpiteering and/or violating the 2k distinction.

    I have spent many volunteer hours in state-run children’s homes. I can agree with you that adoption by gay couples is not a good solution to the problem. However, neither is continuing as a ward of the state. Christians with the appropriate means and temperament might do better to consider adopting these kids as a better solution. In the same way that faith-based pregnancy clinics are a great answer to the horrors of Planned Parenthood. It may not completely negate the problem, but at least it is a meaningful solution for those willing to take it.

    Like I have said earlier, I am not against addressing these issues, I happen to be of the opinion that many of our current strategies and stances are ineffective and might even hamper our mission. If our churches did a better job of mercifully dealing with homosexuality within the congregation, of embodying the safety that is implicit with being a member of a covenant family we might be a better example to the world. Sadly, the destruction of the family, divorce, adultery, abuse are prevalent in our own ranks, and these do have a great bearing as Dr. Clark has noted on the issue of homosexuality. Nearly every gay or lesbian I have ever known has faced inordinate amounts of developmental trauma in the home. I know the pains of these because my family has been ravaged by the pain of adultery and divorce. If we can’t keep our own house in order, of how much value is it to be shoutin’ mad at the world without?

    That is why the issue of gay marriage, at least to me, pales in comparison to the importance of the church’s mission, even to the gay community. I realize that there is some disagreement here with how to go about this, however, I certainly am not lumping either of you in with the Fallwell’s, Dobson’s, or Colson’s of the world. I know, from reading your responses on several blogs, and from Dr. Clark’s thoughtful work in the area that you both maintain stances reasonable within a 2k framework. But even in this framework there is room for disagreement and discussion. My concerns might be in the minority, but I think that they are valid, and at the very least worth hearing.

    • Well said. I couldn’t agree more that the church needs to do a better job of being the church. The institutional church in America, generally, is in horrible shape, and too busy worrying about everything other than preaching the Law and the Gospel, administering the sacraments, and church discipline. With that said, I think individual Christians can attend to the ordinary means of grace on the Lord’s Day, raise their families, and also be citizens. Christians have done it for centuries. So I ‘d say it’s not either/or, but both/and. I’m sorry for the pains you’ve been through.

    • Hear Hear. If any institutional church had even a good record of action against sexual abusers- libertines, I might be more inclined to hear from one of it’s officers. But, frankly, anyone who’s dealt at any length with a sexually abused child or abused spouse or partner whose assailant was a church member, whether it be a priest or a parent or a sibling, knows that the church often sides with the assailant and more often than not becomes a safe harbor for such predators. Gay marriage? the church, as institution hasn’t earned the right to be heard on such a matter.

  7. Frankly, if society cannot uphold male / female dual sex pair bonding as the ‘norm’ for marriage, what gives society the right to deny polygamy? We have no standing on which to say to the cult LDS: You can’t marry a dozen women. Even further, we have lost the authority on which to deny polyamory (someone is going to sue, claiming
    ‘bisexuality’ and the ‘need’ to marry a person of EACH sex, and on what grounds now do I say we can ONLY permit the marriage contract between TWO parties? This California ruling DOES redefine marriage and the slippery won’t begin with the obvious issues like beastiality but with a reform of the contract to include MORE THAN ONE.

    Sincerely, I wish to thank Dr. Clark for this post. I appreciate Dr. Clark’s comments and Mr. Van Dyke’s (Old Life Theological Society) posts on this issue here and on OlTS.

    I was made very aware through Mr. Van Dyke and others about the legal implications on freedom of speech, religion and assembly and the State’s new vested interest in protecting same – sex marriage if it is legalized and fear for our children and grandchildren and the ‘coming persecution’. It is in God’s hands and perhaps our ‘days are numbered’ (of course they are!), but as I worship with a few almost extremist “hands-off” 2K-ers, it still remains difficult to watch their ‘seeming’ indifference.

    We believe in police and firefighters and purchase life insurance, brush our teeth, etc., and all these good things we are FREE to do. It is not just a ‘mere’ benefit “of ‘niceties’ to support and teach natural law, but it encourages true freedom, true peace and keeps the pathway open to true preaching and evangelization of the lost. It’s just my conclusion after seeing the harm these ‘libertine’ views on divorce, homosexuality, gender roles, etc., bring. When we don’t speak out, I feel as if we are letting others walk over the cliff….to their sure doom (Not lifting a finger to help as it were).

    I appreciate these discussions and can only pray that I know what the Lord requires of me. Living in the SF Bay Area can be very painful and I grieve for the many who ‘rejoice’ at this decision.

  8. Your blog is horse shit. You think you have it all figured out don’t you? You think being reformed means being Christian? It doesn’t. Much of reformed theology is true but your pretentious way of presenting Christianity would make Jesus vomit you out of your mouth.

    Do you have any idea how many students I’ve heard complain about you that go to Westminster? I would say at least 20. You don’t have it all figured out and have much to learn

    • Lucas,

      The evidence is that you are not alone in your assessment. I read the student evaluations!

      With what exactly do you disagree in this post? Why are you so angry?

      What would you change and why?

    • Lucas, do you realize that you are presuming to have it all figured out to be able (a) to pronounce the degree of correctness of reformed theology and (b) to use such foul language to pronounce holy judgment on someone you hardly know?

      May I humbly suggest that you check the plank in your own eye before spewing venom on the speck (as real as it may be) in your brother’s?

  9. Lucas, I’d say that unless Dr. Clark threw Calvin’s Institutes at your groin, your post is way out of line. I don’t know either you or Clark from Adam but your post is hardly a model for Godly correction and rebuke. Clark was generous in his response to you. Why don’t you stop hyperventilating before you write, so that you don’t come across as a braying donkey.

  10. Lucas, for the record, I’ve heard many more than 20 students and former students praise Dr. Clark for his teaching and scholarship. And scholars praise his scholarship. As a part time professor, I know that in a class of 40 students, you can usually count on the bottom 20 of the class to give a professor critical or scathing reviews. Counting students’ noses is an ureliable measure. You have to evaluate a scholar on the merits of a scholar’s work. You may disagree with Dr. Clark, but your personal attack on him and his professional work is way out of line. It’s not only unwarranted, but without class. I’d suggest you owe him an apology.

  11. Dr. Clark:

    Your blog is about the only thing on the internet worth reading and it is outstanding!!!

    I wanted to comment on your dinner meeting. My mother became a Registered Nurse in the early 1950’s. She distinctly remembers homosexuality being reclassified from a mental illness to something else, not because of scientific research but for political reasons. And you telling the truth about it upsets people. A man will forgive another for almost anything, except for telling the truth.

    BTW, if you are pretentious, then I pray we all become as pretentious as you.

  12. Lucas,

    Your post is guilty of nothing more than an ad hominen fallacy.

    Perhaps next time you could produce some evidence of refutation of Dr Clark’s article. If you’re going to spit out “You don’t have it all figured out and have much to learn”, would you mind showing the rest of us your proof. Until then, shut up! Your ignorance reflects your character.

  13. On the issue of bestiality and ‘animal liberation’ philosophy, I refer to the postmodern ‘rabbi’ Peter Singer. In the Netherlands there are groups advocating the pedophiles’ rights. Let’s face it, what was homosexuality like before our modern times? It was pederasty, which is basically just a form of pedophilia. It won’t take long before some genius comes along to proclaim that we now that we have embraced homosexuality, we have to take it one step further and re-institute this Greek custom.

    Regarding race and natural law, I agree that all races are made in the image of God and therefore to regard any race as inferior or superior to the other is a violation of that principle. The Gospel is for the Black or the Asiatic just as much as it is for the Red or White man. Indeed, there are probably more Colored Christians than White Christians these days! Koreans are coming to Europe to re-evangelize us, ironic isn’t it? Nonetheless, I have to admit that I disagree with the attitude that I’ve seen among some to disregard one’s race, encourage interracial or intercultural marriages and the likes, because I believe this disregards the fact that races are also unequal. That is to say, they differ from each other. Some excel more at things in which others don’t. Moreover, race, like language and cultural background, is part of who we are too.

    We have no problem accepting men and women are unequal though ‘equally’ made in the image of God and therefore neither inferior nor superior to the other, but if we’re talking race then all of a sudden this becomes unacceptable. My view is that God created different races, ethnicities, languages and nations so honestly, while I think we ought to co-operate and respect each other, applying absolute equality and color-blindness (though race is not actually about color of skin) to all aspects of life or human affairs (think ‘multiculturalism’) is really a modern-day Babylonian falacy and in my view just as much a violation of natural law.

    Anyway, your article was a very good read and I am glad to see we are on the same page. To those criticizing the church, I would say that yes, we have to preach the Gospel first and foremost, but that does not mean we have to soften our tone against those who live and promote the homosexual lifestyle, or any other libertine lifestyle for that matter! If people are offended by that, that is not the fault of either the church of the Gospel but because of their own sinful stiff-necknedness. The Jesus-never-mentioned-homosexuality-argument is nonsense and we ought to speak out against it instead of tolerating blind people to spread such false teachings. I would like the self-proclaimed Reformed and Presbyterian churches dare speak out more against it because thanks to the liberal mainstream perversions of Reformed theology, many Christians of other denominations who do get it right on Christian morals get ever more offended by Reformed theology and it gives them all the more reason to attack Protestantism as a liberal heresy. And for those who are Reformed but churchless for reasons beyond my own control, it is highly discouraging as well! Look up what the Eastern Orthodox priest Siardei Hardun had to say to the PCUSA on the issue of gay marriage. There you have an Eastern Orthodox proclaiming the Word to the folks who are supposed to believe in the Bible as the final authority. LOL!

  14. I meant to say: for those Reformed but churchless, like myself, liberal or soft stances against sins that are destroying society are very discouraging because you see other supposedly unbiblical churches speaking out against such sins and liberal dogmas while ‘Protestant churches’ are advocating perversions and use the Bible to defend their drivel!

    • Ruben,

      “Reformed but churchless”?

      I appreciate your honesty but isn’t that an oxymoron? I’m thinking the HC when it says:

      54. What do you believe concerning the “Holy Catholic Church”?

      That, out of the whole human race,1 from the beginning to the end of the world, 2 the Son of God,3 by His Spirit and Word,4 gathers, defends and preserves for Himself to everlasting life a chosen communion5 in the unity of the true faith;6 and that I am and forever shall remain a living member of the same.7

      1 Gen 26:4. 2 John 10:10. 3 Eph 1:10-13. 4 Rom 1:16. Isa 59:21. Rom 10:14-17. Eph 5:26. 5 Rom 8:29, 30. Matt 16:18. Eph 4:3-6. 6 Acts 2:46. Ps 71:18. 1 Cor 11:26. John 10:28-30. 1 Cor 1:8,9. 7 I John 3:21. I John 2:19. * Gal 3:28.

      55. What do you understand by the “communion of saints”?

      First, that believers, one and all, as members of the Lord Jesus Christ, are partakers with Him in all His treasures and gifts;1 secondly, that each one must feel himself bound to use his gifts readily and cheerfully for the advantage and welfare of other members.2

      1 I John 1:3. 2 1 Cor 12:12,13. 1 Cor 12:21. 1 Cor 13:5,6. Phil 2:4-6. * Heb 3:14.

      and the Belgic:

      Article 28: The Obligations of Church Members We believe that since this holy assembly and congregation is the gathering of those who are saved and there is no salvation apart from it, no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, regardless of his status or condition.

      But all people are obliged to join and unite with it, keeping the unity of the church by submitting to its instruction and discipline, by bending their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ, and by serving to build up one another, according to the gifts God has given them as members of each other in the same body. And to preserve this unity more effectively, it is the duty of all believers, according to God’s Word, to separate themselves from those who do not belong to the church, in order to join this assembly wherever God has established it, even if civil authorities and royal decrees forbid and death and physical punishment result.

      And so, all who withdraw from the church or do not join it act contrary to God’s ordinance.

  15. Dr. Clark,

    That’s not at all what I meant. Allow me to clarify.

    I am not of course churchless in any spiritual sense, as there basically is no salvation outside the church. I subscribe to the Heidelberg Catehism and the Reformed confessions so I am fully in agreement with you on that.

    I am ‘churchless’ (for lack of a better word) in the sense that I am unable to attend services due to the fact that there are no Reformed churches where I live or any others that would “do”, and even if there were it would still be difficult for me to actually be able to attend or be an active member for practical reasons that are really beyond my control.

    I wish this were not the case, I truly do. In fact, I have long been wanting to live and work abroad once I am able to, in part for a lack of conservative Protestant churches in the country I live. But that’s really all I’ll say about it here in public.

    Best regards and God bless.

    • Well, to tell you the truth, I do not personally know of any other confessionally Reformed Christians where I live, so no, I don’t think so. It’s either Roman Catholicism or gung-ho Evangelicalism/Pentecostalism, and they are for the most part getting ever more postmodern, Rick Warren-like. I’m sure no further elaboration is needed on that. 😉 There are self-proclaimed Protestant churches who are heirs to the Reformation that was once so strong in Flanders in ages long past, but – surprise, surprise! – they are theologically so liberal that I have a hard time referring to them as ‘churches’.

      In the Netherlands, Protestantism has become very fragmented and many Reformed denominations (there are so many I can barely distinguish between them because their names all sound alike) seem more mainstream Evangelical to me than anything else. The most conservative Reformed denominations there are rather closed communities which, I think, are probably not very comparable to the theologically conservative Reformed or Presbyterian Churches you have in North America. Sometimes they remind me of the Amish even though theologically they certainly are not. In addition, many highly conservative Reformed churches in the Netherlands are also extremely vocal in their support of Israel. Now, I don’t bring this up because I am against Israel or anything, but it seems rather odd to me since they sound almost like dispensationalists even though I’m sure they accept Covenant Theology. So overall, a rather confusing and disappointing situation in my neck of the woods…

      OK, I better hit the hay now, it’s late here, but I wanted to respond to you first.

      Best regards and God bless.

    • Ruben, I am not unaware of the problem of finding Reformed churches. I drive almost an hour and a half to church now. When I lived outside Cannon Air Force Base, I drove nearly two hours to church.

      There are numerous people on this blog who may be able to assist you in doing one of two things: Either finding a church that is within driveable distance of you — which might be a small church of 20 or 30 people in a city 40 miles away from you that you might never have found without the internet — or finding a church that is too far to drive regularly but which is willing to accept you into membership, send you weekly sermons, and conduct periodic pastoral visits.

      In a lot of places, there may be a tolerable evangelical or semi-Reformed church that you could attend but not join while actually having your membership in a solidly Reformed congregation. I see that often when the only Reformed option is a Reformed Baptist church that people cannot join without being rebaptized, but which is quite willing to have people attend on a long-term basis while belonging to some other PCA or OPC church.

      Some details of where you live, either posted publicly here or privately to Dr. Clark, might help. I’ve picked up that you may live in the Netherlands, and if so, you may find that some of the admittedly ultra-conservative churches in that country would react very differently if you had certain American pastors contact them on your behalf. Often there are a few outreach-minded members of even the strictest and least-outreach minded churches which would be happy to try to help an “outsider” join the body of Christ. Having grown up in the Dutch Reformed world, I’m well aware of the problems, as well as what are often tolerable if not perfect solutions to the problems.

      By the way, I also picked up on your comment about ethnic minorities in the church. My wife is Korean and I’ve said regularly that the way things are going in the American and European church world, it won’t be long before American Presbyterians and Dutch Reformed are going to Korea for their seminary training, the way people used to travel to America and the Netherlands for seminary.

    • Hi Darell,

      Thanks for your response and your sympathies, much appreciated!

      Well, in my country a two hours’ drive might end you up at to the other side of the country! 🙂 I actually live in Flanders, not in the Netherlands, though centuries ago Flanders used to be part of the Netherlands which back then had a more inclusive meaning. Flanders is the northern, Dutch-speaking part of modern-day Belgium. It used to be known as the Southern or Spanish Netherlands in the past to distinguish it from the Northern Netherlands, which had gained independence from the staunchly Roman Catholic Habsburgs (who initiated the Counter-Reformation) during the 80 Years War and were staunchly Calvinist. They formed the Dutch Republic and for a century ruled the waves. It’s in the Dutch Republic that the Canons of Dordt were written in response to the Remonstrants (who still exist, btw).

      Flanders, as well as the rest of modern-day Belgium, regrettably remained under Roman Catholic Habsburg rule, though there were many Flemish as well as French-speaking Calvinists during the Reformation. Guido De Brès, for instance, the author of the Belgic Confession (which in Dutch is called – and I translate – the “Dutch Confession”, since “Belgium” is really just the Latin-derived name for “the Netherlands” – confusing, isn’t it?). Due to the persecution they suffered, virtually all of them fled either to the Northern Netherlands (aka “The Netherlands” or, incorrectly, “Holland”, which is actually a province) or to England, and from there to North America. And guess what, I might just to do the same. I don’t have Protestant ancestry though, at least not that I am aware of.

      Considering my location as well as my limited means (I’m a student), I don’t think many of you guys can really help me out on this one, at least not right now. I’ll just have to be exercise patience for the next few years.

      Best regards!

  16. RSC,

    I am finding it hard to figure out what you are talking about in this post when you refer to “appeals to natural law” and how this natural law provides moral norms, such as the normativity of same-sex relationships. What is natural law, and what arguments does it give us regarding the moral status of same-sex relationships? When you say every human knows “naturally” (through conscious, you write) that there are fixed moral norms, what exactly is the “conscious”?

    I am also finding it hard to figure out who these “Libertines” are. If you want to hear moral justifications for same-sex relationships, and are wondering how, for instance, they answer slippery-slop arguments (and if you want to benefit your readers by showing how Reformed belivers can answer such alternative views and objections!), then you should read and interact with actual philosophers who work in ethics and defend ethical theories and write on such topics. Rather than write about some one-size-fits all theory you label as “libertinism,” why don’t you interact with actual arguments philosophers have made?

    • PA,

      I think everyone knows that homosexuality is contrary to nature (creation). For some homosexuals that’s part of the thrill or the attraction of the lifestyle.

      A libertine is someone who denies any objective, fixed (e.g., divinely imposed) limits on personal behavior. The argument for homosexual marriage is inherently libertine. It denies any objective basis in nature for marriage. It’s essentially subjective at root, it says that there is no fixed, objective definition of marriage. I think that all sane humans, with properly operated epistemic equipment can perceive the difference between what heterosexuals and homosexuals do. One produces offspring and the other does not.

      The first question is whether there is such a thing as “nature,” as “creation” or divinely instituted given-ness. It’s clear from Scripture that there is such a thing and that there are implications for violating it.

  17. I’d like to hear more on this topic, as I’m having difficulty in discussing the topic of contraception with a Roman Catholic. In researching the RCC position on contraception, and really their position on sexual ethics generally, the main appeal is not to scripture but natural law. Similar language to “fixed moral norms” is used to describe why it is not permitted for a husband and wife to use condoms (among other things). In the case where I am found defending this position, the Roman Catholic sees me as the “libertine” and would be asking why I don’t recognize such clear “fixed moral norms.” Unfortunately, I know very little about natural law, and I’ve found there to be a lack of robust reformed teaching on contraception. Does anyone have any ideas, books, or articles that may be helpful?

    • Mike,

      Natural law must be defined carefully to avoid becoming Amish or Gnostics (e.g., Christian scientists or the like). Contraception (that actual prevention of conception) may be said to be unnatural only if one is prepared to say that aspirin or antibiotics are “unnatural.” That is an untenable position, however.

      God’s moral law is the fixed moral norm to which all humans are bound. That moral law is revealed in creation and in holy Scripture. Nothing in that law prevents contraception, as defined above. Like the Pharisees, Romanists are guilty of putting a fence around the law and imposing burdens upon the consciences of God’s people that God himself has not imposed. This is why we adhere to the written, revealed law and not to the man-made traditions which emerge from the imaginations of popes and councils, which, as Luther rightly said, have often contradicted each other.

      Sola scriptura.

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