Cakes, Conscience, and Christian Stewardship
Religion & Liberty Online

Cakes, Conscience, and Christian Stewardship

I have already weighed in on the recent hubbub over whether bakers, florists, and photographers should be compelled by law to serve ends they deem unethical and in violation of their consciences.

Over at First Things, Eric Teetsel of the Manhattan Declaration offers some helpful embellishment on that last bit — conscience — arguing that Christians ought to be far less blind and arbitrary when it comes to the shape and scope of their stewardship and service.

As for the case at hand (whether to attend or service particular weddings), Teetsel offers the following:

Have you prayed about it? How is the Holy Spirit leading you? Do you feel you can attend the service without compromising your responsibility to be a witness to the Truth? Will attending enable you to continue a Gospel presence in the person’s life? If so, then perhaps you should go…

…Individuals may be led one way or another according to their conscience. One may feel they can provide the service without endorsing or celebrating the event; another may feel the opposite. Religious freedom and the right of conscience preserve the rights of individuals to come to their own conclusions in such circumstances.

Of course not every act of commerce amounts to an assessment of the moral nature of homosexuality. But every so often a creator is asked to use their talents for something their conscience cannot abide. It may be a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony, or a cake in a lewd shape, or a cake celebrating abortion. In those instances, the Bible fails to provide an absolute answer. What is a Christian to do? The answer is a matter of individual conscience. Not whether Christians should or should not do something, but whether they must do something.

Yet when it comes to nearly every case the Christian encounters, that first paragraph is a rather helpful introduction to the types of questions we should be asking. From setting wages and prices, to innovating new products and services, to the ends those outputs elevate, conscience is integral to rightly ordering our efforts.

In some cases, the Christian baker who disagrees with the ethics and arc of a homosexual wedding (for whatever reason) may wrestle with such questions and determine that going ahead and baking the cake is (for whatever reason) the Christianly thing to do. Yet in other cases, perhaps for the marriage of a heterosexual couple, that very same individual may decide something different. This level of spiritual discernment, moral weighing, and relational complexity is central to our call as Christians. It won’t look the same for everyone, and will vary from circumstance to circumstance. Mercy and justice require it.

In their book, Faithful in All God’s House, Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef strike at something similar. The Christian conscience is a “watchful monitor” of stewardship, they write, one that “brings law and conduct together, and judges behavior by the Law.” As “God’s witness in each human heart,” they continue, conscience makes demands on our behavior specific to the situations we encounter:

Conscience plays a unique role in the obedient life.

It is often said that the Bible falls short of particulars in laying down regulations for Christian obedience. We are never expressly told, for example, how much we may keep for ourselves of all the goods that God gives us. We are not informed as to whether money should be given to one charity or to another, or whether it is right to enjoy good food and drink while many starve. The Bible declines to be an ethical recipe book. The Word only reveals general mandates and universal commandments.

Why? Because God provides conscience to be the bridge from the general and universal law to the particular act. Conscience is, so to speak, the elbow where the vertical command coming down from God governs the horizontal deed done among men.

The Bible is geared to conscience. The Word is addressed to conscience, and should be preached to conscience. Out of the struggle to do the revealed will of God in daily living, conscience emerges ever more sensitive and helpful. Conscience is the agent of Christian maturity.

As for how and whether we get this right or wrong, let the Spirit and Word lead us, and let God be our judge. Making these types of transcendent determinations will and should remain a daily struggle for Christians consecrated to Christ, living faithfully, attentively, and sacrificially among their neighbors. But if such discernment is a struggle for the church, it most certainly isn’t the core competency of detached government bureaucrats.

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Joseph Sunde

Joseph Sunde's work has appeared in venues such as the Foundation for Economic Education, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work, as well as on PowerBlog. He resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his wife and four children.