“Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set” (Proverbs 22:28 KJV)
A senior Anglican ‘gay’ vicar and blogger, in his recent post gleefully outlined strategies to force the Church of England into permitting gay marriages. His post contained machiavellian hints about how they could advocate, manipulate, undermine and take advantage of structural weaknesses in the Anglican church set up, in their relentless pursuit of ‘the only goal’ – the so-called equal marriage. This brought to my mind, an inspiring sermon based on Proverbs 22:28, delivered by an elderly preacher (who died shortly afterwards). He spoke with grave concern about the dangers of moving ancient moral landmarks.
In all settled societies, where people own land or houses, there are clear landmarks to determine property boundaries. Anyone trespassing into his neighbour’s land is considered to be breaking the law and risks prosecution. This ancient practice was intended to protect people’s rights and provide a measure of security to homeowners. To understand the value of boundaries and landmarks in society – clearly defined moral norms within which we are called to function – we only have look at the differences between settled and nomadic societies. There is nothing inherently wrong, in the moral sense, with living a nomadic lifestyle as Abraham and his family did for several generations. However, little scientific or cultural advancement is achievable in such societies. All energy is directed to the frequent uprooting and replanting of stakes and pegs, with no time or energy left for any substantial building work to be accomplished. The permanence of a settled lifestyle is more conducive to progress and innovation.
The commandments of God serve a similar purpose – they form the foundation and framework for human flourishing. When we add or subtract from the teachings of the scripture, we undermine the very foundations of society. Sadly, many mainstream churches which once held societies and governments to account when God’s commandments were flouted, now stand at the forefront as transgressors and wreckers of the ancient moral framework.
What could be wrong with a council of senior churchmen agreeing to re-assign the boundaries of moral laws and to redefine marriage? First of all, it is based on the very arrogant assumption that we have the authority to pass decrees, either in favour of or against the upholding of the traditional definition of marriage. We do not. Neither church leaders nor national governments, nor global bodies, have the right to redefine marriage; and when they attempt to do so, they are in effect usurping the authority of God. As in human societies, when unauthorised entities decide to pass their own laws in contravention of laws instituted by a rightful Authority, they are liable to be condemned.
When God created mankind (Genesis 1:27 and 2:24), He laid down the rules of marriage. Since then specific concessions were permitted under certain dispensations, such as polygamy or divorce; but the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was not only to restore our relationship with God, but also with one another. This meant a restoration to the godly norms in marriage as originally intended by Him, and affirmed by Christ – “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:4-6 Berean SB).
Second, the Biblical laws safeguard the interests of everyone, but especially the most vulnerable in society. They provide a fair balance in the apportioning of rights and duties to individuals, and this balance is undermined when the boundaries are redefined. For example, a society which absolutely proscribes divorce – as most Christian societies did in the past – can seem harsh and rigid, insensitive to the plight of people struggling in difficult marriages. Yet, the real reasons for enjoining lifelong faithfulness in marriage were 1. To ensure the proper upbringing of children in a safe and loving environment with both male and female role models, and 2. For the mutual benefit of the couple – in terms of companionship and practical support, for example, when one of them falls seriously ill. Most stable societies had provisions to support or in the rare case separate – as in situations of abuse or adultery – struggling couples. In cultures, where the strength of the family unit was prioritised, relatives and friends often stepped in to help struggling families. Divorce provides an easy short-cut, but also rendered unnecessary the earlier support mechanisms and thereby weakened them, producing social isolation and fragmentation.
Third, newer and more virulent problems emerge when the ancient boundary stones are overturned. The well-meaning attempts to create the perfect conditions for human welfare outside the will of God has produced some ‘frankenstein monsters’. Evil means cannot produce good ends. All humanistic solutions unwittingly prioritise the interests of the fittest and strongest at the expense of the weakest members in society. The maxim seems to be that stronger party in any given equation must be spared all struggle, while the weaker one could be allowed to flounder or die. Consider these situations. An expectant mother aborts her helpless foetus who apparently has no rights, but is seen as an extension of the woman’s body and therefore denied a voice in the decision to end its life. A rich homosexual couple decide to employ a surrogate mother to bear ‘their’ child. So the child is deprived of any meaningful relationship with its biological mother, whose association ends once she has been paid for her services in the baby production line. So the happiness of the wealthier party – the gay couple in this case – takes precedence over the welfare of the poorer mother, and the baby who is condemned to a permanent separation from its biological mother. Similarly, divorce has longterm consequences for the most vulnerable members in the family unit – the children, who often grow up emotionally insecure and later, as studies have shown, struggle to build strong families.
“Don’t remove an ancient boundary stone that was set up by your ancestors” (ISV). For the commandments of God laid down the framework for a happy, fruitful life, and a decent, caring society. When these ancient boundaries are overturned, we are deprived of the divine harmony, security and protection they provide. Recently David Engels, a Belgian historian, compared the present situation in Europe to ancient Rome, and predicted a civil war within 30 years as the natural outcome of factors such as ‘family decay, individualism, the decline of traditional culture, globalisation, fundamentalism, and rampant crime.’
Indeed, the modern norms which prioritise the individual, to the detriment of the most vulnerable, produce societies that are cruel, hedonistic and fragmented. A society where people seek self-actualisation above the well being of their own children or elderly parents, harbours within it, a cancerous growth that could ultimately lead to its own demise. In contrast, in societies where the word of God informs social, political and cultural values, we see growth and a blossoming in every field of human endeavour. As Moses warned the Israelites – “These instructions are not empty words-they are your life! By obeying them you will enjoy a long life in the land you will occupy when you cross the Jordan River” (Deuteronomy 32:47 NLT).
Father, forgive us for removing the ancient landmarks that our fathers had set. We pray for a restoration of proper moral boundaries in our families, societies and nations. In Jesus’ name.