‘LAUREL OR YANNI’ – A THEOLOGICAL CHALLENGE?

(June 10, 2018) Dr Jim McClure, straight shooting theologian, brings a topical wake-up challenge…

Imagine that you are returning home late one night. As you pass your neighbour’s house, you see that it is on fire. You are really very fond of those neighbours whom you consider as very close friends. They have two bright, friendly little children who are like family to you. Obviously those neighbours are fast asleep in their comfortable beds and are unaware that they are in such danger.

You are confronted with a problem – what do you do? You have two choices. Should you let them sleep and not disturb their comfort, or should you race towards the house yelling to awaken them and warning them of their danger even though their comfort will be disturbed?

What is the loving thing to do? What is the right thing to do?

Laurel v Yanni
Over the past few weeks there has been an audio clip on the internet that we could describe as the ‘Laurel v Yanni’ argument. Apparently while listening to this audio clip some people clearly hear the word ‘Laurel’ while others clearly hear the word ‘Yanni.’

At our dinner table a few weeks ago our daughter-in-law, who heard ‘Yanni’ could not understand why the rest of us heard ‘Laurel.’ So, who was right? Does this simple sound ambiguity suggest something more significant? If we have such divergent opinions about something we consider so apparently obvious, can we be certain about the inherent truth about anything?

True or false?
There is a widespread belief today called ‘Relativism.’ Relativism claims that there are no universal, objective truths but that every point of view is equally valid. People who hold this idea say, ‘Even if we disagree, we are both right. As long as it works for you, it is true for you.  What you believe is true for you but what I believe is true for me.’

So, does the ‘Laurel or Yanni’ debate confirm that? Certainly not!

For example, two people in a plane flying at 30,000 feet may have different opinions about what would happen if they were to jump out of it.

One may state that he believes that if he were to wear a parachute, he would safely arrive back to earth. The other may state that he believes that he does not need to wear a parachute to survive the jump.

Would both of them be correct, or would only one of them survive? There can be only one answer! Merely to believe something to be true does not make it so.

Christian belief under fire
I raise this because in the past decade or so Christian belief has come under fire and is often derided in the media. Christians are mocked for believing in a ‘magic invisible friend’ and because they believe the myths and fairy tales they have read in an ancient book. Therefore, some people believe, Christians deserve to be scorned.

In February this year the American vice-president, Mike Pence, was reviled on the ABC in America for his Christian faith, and his religious beliefs were described as a kind of ‘mental illness.’

Ironically although Christianity and Christian values, which have been a bedrock of civilisation in Western countries for many centuries, are now being attacked in those countries on all sides while Islam is unchallenged.

Last year even the renowned atheist, Richard Dawkins, acknowledged that when he was lambasted for criticising Islam. He wrote, ‘I am known as a frequent critic of Christianity and have never been de-platformed (that is, prevented from expressing his views) for that. Why do you give Islam a free pass? Why is it fine to criticise Christianity but not Islam?

Homosexuality – right or wrong?
Consider one of the issues that has dominated much of the media – homosexuality and ‘gay marriage.’ Some people say it is wrong while others say it is right. Some say it is an abomination while others say it is an expression of love. Some say that it is unnatural while others say that it is genetic and therefore totally natural.

So what is it? Is it just a matter of opinion? And are those opposed to homosexual practice and those who support it both right and both points of view are equally valid?

Is this basically a form of the ‘Laurel and Yanni’ auditory phenomenon? I do not believe so – such contradictory opinions cannot equally be true. Furthermore, in today’s climate of deviant morality merely to express the view that homosexuality practice is a sin is to trigger an uproar of objections.

‘Keep your beliefs to yourself!’
Recently in Australia the star rugby player, Israel Folau, posted on Twitter a short sermon by the late David Wilkerson who warned of ‘sexual perversions beyond description.’

Folau commented, ‘With great love I wanted to share this video in the hope that people watch it and think about it. Jesus is coming back soon and he wants us to turn to him through repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38).  Please don’t harden your heart.’

The broadcaster Karl Stefanovic lashed out at Israel Folau describing his comments as homophobic. He said, ‘I think it went from a man responding to a question about his beliefs to provocation, and even persecution.’ Stefanovic was therefore claiming that merely to profess one’s Christian beliefs is an act of ‘persecution’!

A rugby commentator on TV said to Folau, ‘Those beliefs that you talk about, keep them to yourself!’

And a former rugby player, Clyde Rathbone, stated, ‘It has become painfully clear that Australia’s best rugby player is a religious lunatic bent on self-immolation.’

Outdated and oppressive biblical values?
So let’s go back to where I started.  Does it really matter what a person believes? Is there such a thing as truth? And, of course, as Christians we must ask, ‘Can we trust the Bible?’ If people disagree with what the Bible says, does it really matter?

Current ‘political correctness’ says that in this present enlightened age the dogmatic and outdated values of Christians, that is, values derived from the teaching of the Bible, are well past their ‘use-by-date’ and are a hindrance  to tolerance and freedom in today’s more accepting and loving society.

Furthermore, some strongly argue that Christian beliefs, particularly those concerning homosexuality, are not only regressive and oppressive but also, they claim, scientifically unjustified.

Therefore it is now considered acceptable to denounce Christian belief and practice generally, and individual Christians in particular, if they do not embrace and affirm the current values of those who support homosexuality, transgenderism and transsexuality and all other related ideas.

Doing whatever you please!
It is not surprising to see this collapse of sound ethical values in an increasingly sex-obsessed and self-indulgent world where disrespect for human life, hostility and violence escalates at an alarming rate. As atheism grows and respect for God lessens and his revealed values are dismissed, this has been the foreseeable consequence.

Listen to what the last verse in the book of Judges says: ‘… every man did what was right in his own eyes.’ (Judges 21:25 RSV; ‘Everyone did whatever they pleased’ GNB). The period of the judges was turbulent and the book finishes with that terrible verdict, ‘Everyone did whatever they pleased.’

How current that sounds! A sense of the greatness and awesomeness of God had departed from the people then as it has also today.

The story of 1 Samuel is a continuation of the story of the book of Judges. When Samuel was a child, the nation of Israel was in a perilous state. Worship and submission to God and his word had been neglected and sexually bad behaviour, hostility and social breakdown were rampant.

Disrespect for God and the dismissing of his appeal to repent led to that dreadful state in which ‘Everyone did whatever they pleased.’

It was into this corrupt society that Samuel was born. Even acts of worship, that supposedly expressed love for God and obedience to him, had been corrupted. And at Shiloh, where the tabernacle had been set up, the sons of Eli the high priest, who were priests themselves, had no respect for or commitment to Almighty God.

We read in 1 Samuel 2:12, ‘Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord.’  And then we read in verse 17, ‘The sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord; for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt.’

Then we read these very telling words in 1 Samuel 3:1, ‘In those days the word of the Lord was rare.’

Consequences!
When God’s word becomes rare, there are serious consequences. When the clear teaching of his word is disregarded, morality degenerates. When the word of God is not faithfully and boldly preached, his ethical values are diluted and God’s people are confused as to what is right and what is wrong. This, I believe, is what has happened regarding the debate on homosexuality and the meaning of marriage.

The Western church generally has largely failed to give sound and courageous Biblical guidance to Christians on ethical matters and especially on the matter of the practice of homosexuality. The church’s prophetic voice has largely been silent and the bold and fearless challenge of prophetic preachers, who once called the people to repentance, righteousness and obedience to the values spelled out by God in his word, have been in short supply.

What does the Bible say?
You may ask, ‘What really is the biblical position on this subject?’  In both the Old and New Testaments the teaching is absolutely clear. Some people have tried to argue that the verses that refer to homosexuality are ambiguous and may be interpreted in different ways. Some maintain that what is said in the Old Testament is different from what is said in the New Testament. Some will even argue that the Bible actually approves of homosexual practice!

However such arguments are uninformed at best and deliberately deceitful at worst.

Let’s consider some of the biblical references. We do not need to go into theological gymnastics or labour over their context to try to understand what the verses mean. They are quite unmistakable.  In both the Old and New Testament the teaching is consistent:

  • Genesis 2:18, 23-24
    The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” … The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.’
  • Genesis 19:4-5
    ‘Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom – both young and old – surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”’ This is referred to in in Jude 7, ‘In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion.’
  • Leviticus 18:22
    ‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.
  • Romans 1:26-27
    ‘God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.’
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
    ‘Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders (literally – ‘a man who goes to bed with a male’), nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.’

But did Jesus have anything to say on the subject? He certainly did!   He affirmed sexual union as an act between a man and a woman. In Matthew 19:4-5, he said, ‘At the beginning the Creator made them male and female. … For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’  Jesus obviously was not affirming homosexual marriage!

For 2000 years the church has been consistent in its message that the practice of homosexuality is most definitely opposed to God’s purpose in creating both men and women. However while the Bible condemns the practice of homosexuality as a sin, it also requires Christians to love all sinners – for such also are we!

But it is unloving not to uphold what God says about homosexuality.  It is unloving to condone a practice that is morally wrong and spiritually destructive and socially destabilising. It is unloving not to warn those who are trapped in this heinous sin of its consequences.  However it is loving to do as Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:15, that is, to speak the truth in the spirit of love.

Compromising the word
Regrettably while the strident advocacy of homosexuality was taking place in Australia prior to the passing of legislation supporting homosexual marriage, many pulpits were completely silent on the matter while some others were actually promoting it – and continue to promote it!

Some denominations are actively encouraging their members to embrace it. For example, in May this year a committee of the Uniting Church in Australia recommended changing its policy statement on marriage from being the union of ‘a man and a woman’ to being between ‘two people.’

It went on to claim quite unjustifiably that ‘scientific research generally supports the view that people who are attracted to someone of the same gender were born that way’. The report continued, ‘This knowledge supports the view that same-gender sexual attraction can be understood as part of God’s good and diverse creation rather than unnatural.’

The report then stated, ‘If the church is committed to learning from Jesus about challenging the injustice of excluding people then it will seriously consider extending marriage to couples of the same gender.’

This is a disturbing sentence in that it is using the name of Jesus to support a practice of which Jesus clearly would not have approved.

Recently the Sunday Times courageously wrote about left wing activities in the world today. The article stated: ‘The secular goal, however, is not tolerance and inclusivity at all. It is to overthrow the Christian basis of the West. It is an exercise in the doctrinaire use of power. As such, the agenda the church is embracing is resulting in the bullying and intimidation of all who transgress the doctrine of gender and sexual fluidity.’

Samuel’s dilemma
Let’s return to the story of Samuel. The young boy was given a hard word from God about Eli and his family. It was a word that he really did not want to give to his elderly friend. He returned to bed with a troubled heart.

Samuel loved Eli and was deeply concerned about giving his old friend such a disturbing message.   In 1 Samuel 3:15 we read, ‘Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision.’

What a position to be in. He could have chosen to say nothing so that Eli would not be upset or he could have told him the plain truth as given to him by God.   We can fully sympathise with Samuel’s dilemma.

Tell everything; hide nothing
Eli, seeing that young Samuel was struggling with the message God had given him, wisely advised him, ‘What was it he said to you? Do not hide it from me’ (verse 17).

Young as he was, Samuel knew that there was only one thing he could do – tell the truth!  Share with Eli precisely what God had revealed to him!   So we read in chapter 3:18, ‘Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him.’  He did not withhold the message or water it down or change it in any way on the basis that it was the loving thing to do.

No, the truly loving thing to do was – and still is – to hold fast to the truth of God’s word, share his message and uphold the values that he has given us for the glory of his name and for the good of humankind.

The psalmist prayed to God, ‘Never take your word of truth from my mouth, for I have put my hope in your laws’ (Psalm 119:43 TNIV). And just before his death Jesus prayed for his followers, ‘Make them holy by the truth; for your word is the truth.’ (John 17:17 JBP).

That is the clear, unambiguous word we still need to hear today!

PS   The actual word spoken in the Laurel or Yanni debate is ‘Laurel’!
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Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.

Recommended is his enlightening Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, available in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks and offered free. Link for orders and questions: jbmcclure@gmail.com

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