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Between the Dock and the Boat (Part 1)


And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word.  (1 Kings 18:21)



We live in a culture that is increasingly confused and conflicted about its core values and beliefs. There seems to be precious little that, on the cultural landscape, is not up for grabs. We just marked the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. These brave men ran into the breach, dying by the thousands to save the world from the forces of Nazi tyranny. In many ways, that world they saved is greatly changed and all sorts of social conventions and behavioral rules have been knocked to the ground. This is a time where religiously, culturally and sociologically clear leadership, a clear sense of moral rectitude is desperately needed.


An honest study and appreciation of human nature shows us that an economy based on total laissez-faire is probably not such a good idea. After all, human nature is broken, bent and inclined to sin. In the same way, you cannot have a healthy, thriving society and culture if you engage in a laissez-faire morality. A person who advocates for a culture that has little in the way of behavioral standards is a moral coward at the least and a fool at the most. Societies do not flourish when all restraint is thrown to the winds.


Throwing all restraints to the winds seems to be increasingly in vogue today.

A casual study of history and sociology shows this casting aside is not such a good idea. We also see this in biblical history. The seventh book of the Old Testament, the Book of Judges, details the history of the nascent nation of Israel during the roughly three to four hundred year period after the death of Joshua, the successor to Moses who had lead the nation into the Promised Land. Judges records a nation struggling with its cultural and religious identity, much as we in America are today.


In Judges Chapter 2 we read where another generation grew up in Israel who didn’t have first hand experience with God’s mighty works in the settling of the land. So this new generation threw aside the religious and cultural roots and began to follow other gods and engage in those religious practices. The book recounts a series of periods of national apostasy and subjugation by foreign enemies. With no strong consistent spiritual and national leadership the last verse of the book makes the following assertion: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Judges 21:25.


Please allow me to be clear in this. We are not advocating more governmental control (a king) or a theocracy. We are advocating clear teaching, orthodox teaching for spiritual truth and Godly living. To be sure there is always debate as to what is precisely ‘Godly’ or not. We are not calling for Calvin’s Geneva, for example. In the strictest sense we are not attempting to reestablish a rule-book for society but we most certainly want to introduce others to Jesus who changes our inner rule-book to his own.


That being said, we still need as much societal agreement on proper behavior as we can get and we cannot overstate how desperately some agreement or consensus is needed here. This nation’s people are using their own intuition, their own thoughts and their own emotions as the basis for their morality, just as the nation of Israel back in the days of Gideon and Sampson. Put another way, our American culture cannot survive three hundred plus million people all doing their own thing.


Christians must step into this fray. We may feel most unwelcome in this venue, or made to feel uncomfortable but so what? No one welcomes a bad diagnosis of a disease from a doctor but that diagnosis needs to be heeded. We do not lose moral authority because our argument, our apologetic, isn’t popular with others.


In all fairness, we can degenerate into a discussion of merely what we are against to define our morality. We don’t wish to be one-sided as morality has the aspect of action as well as refraining from an action.

The apex of Old Testament social ethics was to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). So it is fair to discuss how we act justly and with kindness, or faithfulness while walking humbly with our heavenly father.


To be truly moral and ethical in a way that is God pleasing requires we walk with God.


A proper discussion of morality requires the involvement of the church. There are issues today in the forefront of cultural shift, or drift, that need careful parsing. Among these issues: racism, same-gender sexuality and marriage, euthanasia, infanticide, abortion and capital punishment. That is admittedly quite a laundry list of topics and some of the issues are not new on the nation’s landscape. However, the church must, with as much consensus as possible, speak out; make its voice heard prophetically.


Since the founding of the church, the community of believers has sought to answer the social questions of their day. Due to clearly defined prohibitions and larger principles, the church has stood against the gladiatorial games and exposing unwanted infants to the elements. The early church practiced works of mercy and kindness to the poor and sick. The church established hospitals. The great ivy-league universities, for example, were founded as seminaries to train young men to spread the gospel. The church was where slavery first met opposition in England and later in America. We see a clear pattern of rectitude towards moral issues in our past church history. But where is that sense of what is right and true today, even in the church? There seems to be an increasing pervasion of moral ambiguity and confusion. Even in the church, people are emulating the Israelites of Judges and doing what is right in their own eyes.


Our scripture recorded above from 1 Kings was such an occasion of moral laxness and confusion. God’s prophet, Elijah, called the people together at Mt. Carmel to confront their spiritual ambiguity and call them to decide for faithfulness and faithful obedient behavior to Yahweh God. Elijah confronted the nation; he asked them how long they would limp between two opinions?

If God is God serve him or follow Baal. What is interesting is that the Young’s literal translation lays verse 21 out like this: “Till when are ye leaping on the two branches?” In other words, what branch are you going to stay on? The King James asks Elijah’s question as “…how long will you halt between two opinions?” It is as if the nation is frozen in a moment of indecision. Our verse in Kings goes on to say that the people did not answer Elijah’s query. The people were undecided.

Two note-worthy events within recent days highlight where we are going with all of this: a change on the stance towards same sex marriage in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and a Catholic Bishop in hot water with politicians from his home state of California over a march for traditional marriage.


Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone is slated to participate and speak at today’s (June 19) March for Marriage (traditional marriage) in Washington D.C. This has raised the ire of various political, religious and gay leaders in California. The archbishop made clear in a letter released this past Monday that his responsibility and duty is to uphold traditional marriage. He has taken, and is taking a clear stand against same-sex marriage in spite of opposition. Of course, archbishop Cordileone is simply stating once again the Catholic Church’s stance on marriage with clarity.


On June19th, the same day the Catholic archbishop made a public stand for thousand years of church tradition on marriage the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted in their General Assembly to allow same sex marriage ceremonies in their churches. Given this action by the PCUSA and the current moral climate, with so many cultural forces advocating same-gender sexuality and marriage as good and acceptable, the message of Cordileone is crucial. Clarity is needed now; the nation needs to know a biblical response to these issues because they are in the forefront of discussion now. This is a spiritual conflict; make no mistake about it, any lack of clear direction and intelligence over the enemy’s plans only serves the interest of one’s opponent. Clear direction from top-down leadership from the denominational officers and pastors shapes the church.

Right doctrine and Godly behavior, which in part springs from right doctrine, must be taught in our denominations, in our seminaries and in our local churches. With so much confusion, we must make biblical stances known frequently. We have an enemy of the souls of men and women who gleefully obfuscates issues and spread confusion. Only the clear truth of God’s word can break through the clouds on confusion and moral darkness that cover the American landscape today. Although there is morally and culturally a sense of spreading darkness, as Jesus himself told us, we must work while it is yet the day. (John 9:4)




Copyright © 2014 Brian Bailey, Author