Wedding cakes are awesome. Most of the time. They are usually beautiful, almost always delicious, and a highlight of the reception. One wedding cake however, a cake that was never even made, is at the center of an argument surrounding the role of government in regulating religious faith. An argument summed up in a simple question- Where does religious life end and secular life begin?
To devout Christians with a Biblical worldview the question is absurd on its face. Committed believers know there is no distinction to be made and no line to be drawn. Our faith in Christ is at the center of every part of our lives. The Apostle Paul made this clear in his letter to the church at Corinth when he wrote, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Paul’s “whatever” is an all inclusive term. It is not limited to works done in church or done in formal Christian service. It applies to how we conduct our relationships, the words we speak, and the jobs we perform.
This consistency along the continuum of religious life played a crucial role in the Protestant reformation. 500 years ago, Martin Luther launched the reformation with a notice posted on the door of a church in Germany. While his emphasis on faith, personal relationship with God and the right of individuals to read and know scripture changed the way people understood religion, his teaching on vocation had a profound impact on culture outside the church.
Prior to Luther the Catholic church considered vocation, or divine calling to service, as applying only to those serving in full time ministry. Monks, priests and nuns were called, farmers, bakers and laborers were not. Luther changed this. He taught that people were called to serve God and live for him in the work they did outside the church. He supported this position in his famous teaching that a priest could not give a poor man a loaf of bread unless the farmer first sowed the seed, teaching that faithfully fulfilling the duties of one’s job was a way people honored God and furthered His kingdom.
Luther’s teaching had two major impacts. The first was in the way it gave honor and value to the work of every man. For the first time in centuries poor people were taught that their work had worth in the eyes of God. The second was in the way people viewed work itself. Everyday labor was now a divine call, which meant people needed to perform their work in a manner consistent with their faith. There was no room for halfhearted effort, dishonesty or compromise. People knew they would one day give account to God for the work they did. They knew they had to approach work differently because of their faith.
500 years have passed and the question of faith and work is still being debated. On the morning of Tuesday, December 5th, the question will be argued before the highest court in the land. On one side will be a man who believes that his work is the expression of his faith and must therefore be fully consistent with it. On the other are those that say faith must yield to culture in the marketplace. Whichever way it rules, the Supreme Court decision in the case of Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission will have profound consequences.
Jack Phillips is a Christian baker in Colorado who views his work as did Martin Luther, as an expression of his Christian faith. He takes this attitude seriously, so much so that he refuses to make cakes for Halloween, refuses to make cakes celebrating divorce, refused to work on Sundays, and refuses to make custom wedding cakes for same-sex weddings. It is as a result of this last position that he finds himself before the Supreme Court of the United States. The State of Colorado thinks all bakers, regardless of their religious beliefs, should be required to make cakes celebrating gay marriage. When Mr. Phillips refused to bake a custom cake for a same-sex wedding the couple took Mr. Phillips to court, and Mr. Phillips was ordered to pay a fine and make custom wedding cakes for all customers.
Mr. Phillips chose another option. Unwilling to compromise his beliefs, he decided to get out of the wedding cake business. This decision was costly, as weddings comprised 40% of his bakery business and the loss in revenue forced him to lay off several employees. The decision was costly for Mr. Phillips, but it was not difficult. He would rather be poor than perform his work in a way he believes would dishonor God.
As Mr. Phillip’s case has wound its way through the court system passionate arguments have been made on both sides of the case. Some call it a free speech issue and side with Mr. Phillips, others call it a discrimination case and side with the state of Colorado.
I see a more important question, the question of who decides the limits of a man’s faith, of who decides the extent to which a person’s beliefs are allowed to influence his behavior in the marketplace. Whether or not one agrees with Mr. Phillips one thing is certain. The right of each Christian to determine for themselves how to incorporate faith into their work is being challenged. If our highest court decides that it is up to government to determine the limits of faith, Mr. Phillips will not be the only Christian forced to make a difficult decision. Photographers, florists, educators, therapists, and physicians may all be one day asked to say or do things contrary to their beliefs.
Our culture is evolving in an increasingly secular direction and previously questioned behaviors and values are now being endorsed and protected. Those who hold to a Biblical understanding of Christian living will need to be prepared to make a stand for their faith.
Thanks for reading. I welcome your thoughtful questions and comments. Feel free to click on one of the buttons below to share this with others, or to click on the subscribe button to receive future blog posts via e-mail. For those interested in a detailed discussion of what it means to make a stand for one's faith, the message on Daniel 1 on the sermons page of this site is particularly relevant.