What Price Victory?

cake protest

Each calendar year, on the first Monday in October, the United States Supreme Court begins a new session, hearing arguments and reviewing petitions from lower courts, followed by weeks and sometimes months of private deliberations, rendering final verdicts with the majority and minority opinions, until their work officially ends the following June or July.  October 2, 2017, the new session began with one particular case on the agenda drawing a great deal of attention, regarding a self-described Christian bakery and their right to deny service based upon their religious views. Yes, cake has made its way to the agenda of this nation’s supreme court.  It’s not the first time cake has garnered the attention of a nation, as a queen was said to have flippantly remarked to her subjects in regards to their lack of sustenance, “let them eat cake,” which resulted in her beheading.  Let’s be clear, nobody will be losing their head over this cake, at least not in a literal sense.

What we have in this instance is a bakery owner that refused to provide a cake for a gay wedding.  Based on his religious values and moral obligations, he did not feel it appropriate to bake the cake and refused to provide service.  The couple, in turn, hired a lawyer and took the matter to court claiming discrimination based on their sexual preference. The lower courts agreed with the couple and the case has found its way to the Supreme Court.  At this writing, arguments have been made for both sides and the court is expected to render their ruling in the spring of 2018.  **UPDATE The US Supreme Court ruled in favor of the bakery in stating that the State of Colorado was biased against his rights of religious freedoms.  Therefore they overturned the previous rulings against the bakery.***

The questions not being asked, at least not that I have seen, would be posed to the bakery owner, “why did you feel the need to identify your business as a Christian bakery and what is your intended outcome in doing so?”

I know many business owners that are Christians yet they do not identify their business as a Christian business.  They provide all sorts of services to any and all customers, after all, this is their livelihood and it keeps the heat on in winter and eventually pays their kid’s college tuition.  Do they become participants in the sins of others by providing services to those that do not align with their religious beliefs? I do not see in God’s Word any calling or requirement to self-identify your business as such, and whether in business or personal life, we are all called to share the gospel, the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.  As a Christian, you have the assignment to do so regardless of your work or private situation.  Hopefully, like the Apostle Paul, we are eager and unashamed to share the good news, the power of the resurrection to save.  It is part and parcel of what we are as believers and unlike a business, we do not punch a time card each day and carry the responsibility of evangelism for a given number of hours before turning off the lights and going home.  In fact, this is what holds back many believers from developing a more robust walk with God, the fact that many of us stand in worship on Sunday morning, then shut it down for the remainder of the week while we work and go about our normal routines, as if we do not want to cause a fuss by possibly offending others with our religious beliefs.  From that standpoint, I always applaud those that make it a point to carry their spirituality with them and shine that wonderful light of God’s love for humanity anywhere and everywhere. Again, it’s part of our assigned duties as believers, the great commission of sharing the gospel, which doesn’t require any self-identification such as a “Jesus fish” on the door of a business, we are called to evangelize in all circumstances and every opportunity.

Which brings me back to my two-part question, why choose to identify as a Christian business and to what end?  This is not a simple question with one specific right or wrong answer, it is much more complex in nature. I believe it is a fair question to raise and I consider this a daily challenge that we should pose to ourselves as believers.  Do we identify ourselves as Christians, that is, outside of church on Sunday, not just by word, but in actions and deeds, in how we conduct ourselves, or do we put off the robes of our salvation and blend in quietly in the workplace? Are we afraid of offending someone, or worse, do we hide our faith because we live a distinctly separate life during the week from what we portray in church? Do we hold back because we know our daily behaviors would expose a blatant hypocrisy in regards to what we practice as opposed to what we preach?

These are challenging questions that deserve an honest review by all believers and I encourage you to consider these in your private prayer and study time.  One of the best avenues for spiritual growth starts in quiet prayer, alone with God, where we take off the facade so often used to hide our true self, and approach the throne of grace in a spirit of honesty and humbleness.

Returning to the earlier questions, the reasons and expected outcomes behind the choice to identify as a Christian business, we should ponder the overall scenario and seek the Lord’s guidance as it applies to our roles and responsibilities as believers.  First of all, do you think this couple strolled into this bakery at random or was this a planned visit, knowing they might be turned away for their same-sex marriage request? The bakery had to know this day was coming unless they haven’t been paying attention to the changing tides of public opinion.  We always need to be vigilant and prepared as we rise to share the gospel, just as Jesus said to his own disciples in Matthew chapter 10, verses 16 and 17;

“Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.  Beware of them, because they will hand you over to local courts and flog you in their synagogues.”  

Jesus tells us to be wise and gentle, to be prepared for the traps laid out before us, yet remain in the spirit of love and evangelism.  To simply place a Christian symbol on your door and announce that you’re open for business, with no regard for what might come your way, is foolish and unwise.  Not having knowledge regarding this business or its practices, I do find it safe to assume that the baker was prepared and knew that he would never furnish a cake for any non-traditional marriage ceremony.  I did read in one report that he also made it a common practice never to serve Halloween themed items as he considered them to be pagan and therefore off limits.  But this doesn’t answer the question, to what end, what is the desired outcome of all of this? To quote the baker from a story in the New York Times, he stated in part, “I’m being forced to use my creativity, my talents and my art for an event – a significant religious event – that violates my religious faith.”  As believers, it is easy to understand where he is coming from and why he feels it violates his freedom of religion.  But does that really need to be the challenge at hand, if we refer back to the desired outcome, would he not also feel compelled to share his religion with those around him, particularly a couple that may or may not have ever heard the gospel message?

Was the intent of this business, in identifying as Christian owned, to share the gospel with those that crossed their threshold? If not, why not? Surely it was not intended as a way to weed out the undesirables, to drive away non-believers, but as a tool to say “come in and sit down, let me share the good news of Jesus Christ.” That is our calling, right?

The great pastor C H Spurgeon admonished the congregation, “You have the power of the Word upon your hearts, now go and show its power upon your lips by speaking to others, however few or many. Go out yourselves as sowers and scatter the seed your Lord has given to you for that end. Go where providence guides you—to the Sunday school class to teach, to the street corner to preach, to the remote village or hamlet to bear witness for Christ, or to the densely crowded city slums to uplift the banner of Christ—but go your way somewhere. Sit not down in idleness and fold your arms in indifference to the world’s woes. Behold, your compassionate Lord sends you, therefore go gladly anywhere, everywhere—where His wisdom appoints the way—where your business gives you opportunity or your traveling gives you occasion.  ‘I send you forth,’ says He.”

These remarkable words cast a narrow subset for those of faith, two categories to be exact, to either go gladly anywhere and everywhere, even where your business gives you the opportunity, or sit idly by with arms folded indifferent to the woes around you.  I do not see any additional categories, namely to shun those that oppose your views by refusing not only to share your faith in kindness but by denying service as well.

I have been taken to task by other believers, some with great vitriol, saying to bake the cake is to endorse their union and participate in this sinful abomination to God.  I don’t disagree with that statement in principle, but did not our own savior Jesus Christ, when bitterly questioned by the church regarding his association with sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes, reply in Mark chapter 2, verse 17 “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

This verse does not imply that we are free to go wherever we choose and participate in all sorts of activities that would seem contrary to our faith.  We are admonished by the Word to live our faith and to imitate our Lord.  Look at what it says in Ephesians chapter 5, verses 6 through 10;

Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for God’s wrath is coming on the disobedient because of these things.  Therefore, do not become their partners.  For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light consists of all goodness, righteousness, and truth— testing what is pleasing to the Lord.  

Do not become partners in sin, it doesn’t get more clear than that. But how do we share the good news if we turn them away in fear of becoming partners to their sin? Jesus was accused many times, as related in Matthew chapter 11 verse 19,  “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”

Yet listen to the words of Christ later in this same chapter, His call to all the world, in Matthew chapter 11 verses 28 through 30;

 “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

When we continue through the word, not settling for bits and pieces, but taking in the entirety of the message, we will find the truth, as we are guided by the Holy Spirit.  So we see the calling, we are conflicted by the process, we are instructed not to participate in sin, we see the savior accused of just that, but as we persevere we come to the undeniable beauty of the purest love that man has ever known….the calling to all by Jesus Christ.

I would also like to differentiate between the spiritual issues at hand, for believers, we are already on the path of righteousness, having been saved through grace, by accepting salvation in Jesus Christ.  We are now on a path of growth through daily study of the scriptures and prayer, seeking to know our heavenly Father more closely so that we mature in our faith.  In that process, we learn that our body is a holy temple, Christ resides within us through the Holy Spirit.  We are no longer our own being, Jesus paid a price for us through his death on the cross.  We read Paul’s admonishment to the early church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians chapter 6, verses 9 through 11, 

“Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom.  And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

I do not want anyone to misinterpret my message here today, to think I am glossing over or somehow watering down the scriptures to appease our society.  The church at Corinth is an example of a group of believers that embraced the culture of their society and lost sight of the true will of God.  Paul corrected the church directly as we just read from 1 Corinthians.

As believers we also have a calling, the great commission as it is often referred, to share the good news of Jesus with a lost world.  This is where we differentiate from our walk as believers and how we share the good news with those that have not yet come to know the truth.  We can’t water down the scriptures, but we have to go with love and compassion, sharing the gift of salvation that has saved us from the judgment we so rightly deserve. I love the idea of a shopkeeper putting his faith front and center for all to see, but in doing so, why miss the opportunity to share the love of Christ with everyone that walks through the door?

The baker is well within his rights to say he will not participate in a sinful union, but I say to you here and now, the purpose of declaring a business as a Christian establishment should be for no other reason than to proclaim the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ – and how do you do that if you turn away the very people that may need to hear it the most? God knows our hearts, if a baker sits down and engages a couple that is planning a same-sex union, for the purpose of sharing the good news, it would be mission accomplished.

I will end on this note, I am not a baker and certainly, from all I’ve read regarding this particular bakery, this man is very talented and artistic in his works.  I do not condemn his stance, but I question the intentions because if you deny a cake because you do not want to participate in the sins of the buyer, you should close the doors today because you have no clients on this earth that are without sin.  The wedding cake for a second or third marriage could be seen as supporting adultery.  When Jesus was asked about divorce, listen to what he said in Matthew chapter 19, verse 9, “I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery.”  What about a cake for a bachelor party? Again, I simply point this out, if you are vetting your customers, picking and choosing those that are sinful and therefore not to be served, how do you draw the line? We are all sinners, I struggle with sin every single day of my life, but I have been redeemed not by my own works but through the sacrifice made on my behalf by Jesus Christ at Calvary.

Simply consider this scenario, when the same-sex couple asked for a cake, what if, instead of refusing service and sending them away, the baker had sat down with them and told them right up front, “I am a Christian baker and my beliefs do not support same-sex marriage.  But since you’re here, can I share my testimony with you about how God poured out his grace upon me, a sinner, and changed me from the inside out?”  Think about that for a moment and consider the opportunity this simple step of faith in sharing the love of Christ could create in opening a dialogue.  Maybe they would have turned away and left, but maybe, just maybe they would have felt that love and opened up their hearts to the incredible good news of salvation.  As Spurgeon called out to his congregation, “your compassionate Lord sends you, therefore gladly go anywhere, everywhere…” and share the gospel.  Just consider this possible alternate outcome…..bake the cake, with love and compassion, share the good news of Jesus Christ, invite them to return often for more discussions, bring their friends, bring anyone that has questions or seeks to know more about this love that shines so brightly in our hearts.  Consider the outcome…

When the Supreme Court makes its final ruling, one side will declare victory, but at what price? If the majority opinion favors the bakery, will the ability to deny service based upon religious objections take priority over our calling to share the good news of our salvation through Jesus Christ? Will the very idea of using our business as a platform to proclaim our witness, become lost in the victory celebration? If so, believers may have won the battle but lost the objective.  Will it mean more to Christians to have our moment in the sun, to stand victorious on the Supreme Court steps, taking our victory lap, while we gleefully push aside those in most need of our testimony as we celebrate? Would anyone really win and is that what this is all about? Where is our love and compassion in all of this? If we win the legal right to refuse service over religious objections to what we perceive as a forced participation in sin, then who are we left to serve?

What is the desired outcome? What price victory? Share the good news, if you are led by the Holy Spirit to share your testimony, and that can be accomplished through your business, then bake the cake, share the good news and leave it to God to work things for the good.  Pharisees may call you a sinner, a drunkard, but you are never out of step with God if you seek his guidance and commit to the path of His will.  I have shared my views before and come under attack from other believers.  That’s okay, I’m not being physically beaten, nobody is stoning me and dumping my lifeless body outside the city gates, as was done to the Apostle Paul.  I am not proclaiming to be a victim and for the record, I do not condone any sin in any form.  The bible is clear on sexual immorality and I make no concessions to same-sex marriage, but that’s not the point of this message.  We can never compromise, I simply ask you to consider praying for the Holy Spirit’s discernment, then go back to the message and scriptures and see where it takes you.  I am no authority on God’s word, but I know the One who is and I seek His guidance daily.  Have you witnessed to anyone today, this week, this month? If not, why not? What are you waiting for, the clock is ticking and we are running out of time.  Our hearts must be overflowing with compassion for those that need to hear the good news. Are you worried that you won’t know what to say or you’re not sure how to break the ice? Reach out to us, we will provide you with ministry cards that you can carry with you in your pocket and when the moment arrives, give that person a card, let it be your icebreaker and let the Holy Spirit guide you from there.  This ministry can be your ministry as we all work together to share the love of Christ with our lost world.

In the book of Romans, chapter 12, the Apostle Paul reminds believers that we are one in the body of Christ.  Paul offers the following exhortations, Romans chapter 12, verses 9 through 21;

Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good.  Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor.  Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer.  Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes.  If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.  But “If your enemy is hungry, feed him.  If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.”  Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

God bless you for reading our messages, we encourage you to share your comments and most importantly, let us know if you have questions about salvation.  If you, or someone you know, has not accepted Jesus Christ, tell them about our ministry.  Contact us, request prayer, and remember to visit our “helpful resources” page to find more bible study resources.

John Stephen Frey is the author of this message and serves as our director emeritus and member of the prayer team  

 

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