A Serious “Non-Concept” in the Church

Please consider that regardless of whether you’re able to fully accept this or not, there are gay Christians.

Like I said yesterday, perhaps your theology on the issue might not ever change or evolve, but please know, these are real people you’re talking about. This isn’t just a “concept” or an inanimate object– these are real live Christian brothers and sisters that deserve every bit of love and empathy as anyone else.
Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/some-things-to-consider-if-you-think-being-gay-is-a-sin/#ixzz33QzeYilK

 

A facebook friend posted a link to this article on his/her wall, and I replied. My reply was a little less in-depth than what you’ll see here, but it was still by no means derogatory or hateful (unless, of course, you define “hate” as “disagreement based on the scriptures”). That facebook friend deleted my post, and I suspect it had something to do with said person having homosexual friends that he/she is trying to attract to the church or else retain in the church. So, I’ll post some thoughts on this. Just ’cause.

Before I go on, because of the sensitivity of the topic and the length of this post, I need to make known my position right now. I’ll do that by quoting a later section of this post:

“…when the Law has done its work, they must be given the full comfort of the Gospel: “Christ died for you, even though you are attracted to the same gender. You may never be fully freed from this sin just as I have not been fully freed from lust and greed (or whatever the pet sin), but call it what it is (sin) and daily beg God for a new, obedient heart. He will hear you. Jesus has died for you, as he has died for me.”

This topic is difficult to discuss because of the feverish pitch in which the debate is typically conducted. I’m thankful that I can post an article with which I disagree that doesn’t attempt to take a high-and-mighty, “I’m better than you” tone, even though the author believes he is in the right and people like me are in the wrong. There is precious little that can be accomplished these days by discussing the topic because for the most part, people have already made up their minds. And because of this, we like to paint with a broad brush: if the other person disagrees with me, then they’re obviously to be lumped in with all of these other people who don’t agree with me (like the raging fundamentalists that assert that gay people cannot live happy or content lives).

I’ve know and worked (side by side, just feet away, for months/years at a time) with gay individuals, and I know from conversing (some both before and after they “came out”) that these people are nothing to fear. On the contrary, most of them I’ve encountered have lived out the claims of Paul in Romans 2 that they demonstrate the requirements of God written on their hearts when they serve their neighbors and contribute positively to society by holding down a job like any other (heterosexual) person and reliably performing well. Maybe I even work with or live near some homosexual people now, but I don’t really know or care. Martin Luther once wrote that he’d rather have a smart Turk (Muslim) over charge of him in the civil realm than a stupid Christian. I agree with this sentiment in a different way; I’d also rather have an honest and kind homosexual working alongside me and living as my next door neighbor than a dishonest or mean heterosexual.

But that’s the civil realm. What of the spiritual realm? Does this mean that I also want someone who is open and unrepentant in their homosexuality sharing the Lord’s body and blood with me in communion? Well, I’d also rather live as a neighbor to an honest and kind atheist than a dishonest or mean heterosexual (not that this comparison is somehow apples-to-apples, but you get the point, no?) but I would by no means whatsoever invite an atheist to commune alongside me, even if said person would do so (on some magical planet where this comparison makes sense). Likewise I do not think it a wise thing to knowingly share communion with an unrepentant homosexual. For the full reasoning why communion is such a big deal, you’ll have to check out my posts concerning it (and you’ll need to read them in reverse order, stopping at 12/31/2013 if more happen to appear at a later time).

Why not share communion with someone who is gay? Because homosexuality is sin just as my own daily wrongs are sin. The scriptures state as much. I don’t feel a need to post them here. Truthfully, it pains me to think of going through the effort of defending scripture that says it so blatantly. There is no shortage of quotations of these verses, so the reader can find them elsewhere. If a person is known to be in unrepentant sin, they ought not be given communion. It would be to their harm.

This brings us to my first point of contention with the article (I don’t dispute that there are gay Christians). If there are “alternative” interpretations of these passages that are just as viable as the classic ones, then I want to see them listed (and as of now, I make no plans to read Matthew Vines’ book). If these valid interpretations exist, then surely we will have seen them before 1700 years of church history. Let’s see these interpretations be shown to consistently appear in writings from at least 1/4 of  (because not each author will address the same topics) these doctrinal, reform, and translation experts: Calvin, Zwingli, Luther, Hus, Wyeclif, Aquinas, Anselm, Augustine, Jerome, and several of the Ante-Nicene fathers (the 2nd and 3rd generations of disciples). I suppose it would also be nice to see just as many authors in the Eastern church giving similar interpretations. Moreover, simple quotations are not sufficient; these interpretations must also fit into the systematic framework given by the apostles, demonstrating how homosexual relationships are vocations ordained by God (not merely permitted by God in the same way that he permits other sin) to the end of fulfilling the two tables of the Law and further demonstrating the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. Anything short of these requirements are just a blip on the radar of history by one or two rogue men. This may be a battle for theologians (of which I am not one), but I cannot help but express doubt that such writings exist. It’s an argument from silence, I admit. But that silence is pretty deafening; it doesn’t seem that any group consistently disputed the texts as they are written, and if the alternative translations are viable, you’d expect to see these experts to have reported them.

Secondly, any article that quotes Greg Boyd as an authoritative source of doctrine has already proven itself to be unworthy of taking seriously. Call that an ad-hominem attack against the article; I don’t really care. Greg Boyd is a brilliant man and his writing is very scholarly, but he is severely anti-scriptural on some things. The man is a heretic. I don’t mean that he’s got a few subtle points wrong or that he’s misinterpreted key doctrines; I mean that he’s attacked the fundamental nature of God as the scriptures espouse by embracing “Open Theism.”

But nonetheless, Boyd has exposed the crux of the matter, and the author of the quoted article does as well. In American churches, we do treat open and unrepentant homosexuals differently than other sinners. In some cases (my communion example), this is a good and necessary thing. In some cases, it’s a bad thing (we ought to treat people as people!).

I admit, I have been among Christians who have spoken very ill of homosexuals beyond merely stating that the behavior is sinful. Yes, I’ve from time to time heard the vindictive tone in voices as the topic is discussed even though if the words were written on paper, nobody would be wise to this tone. This attitude is wrong. This attitude is sinful. Exhibitions of this attitude ought to be followed by calls for repentance. But for all of this, the attitude just isn’t the commonplace one. In my time in the FE churches (and Reformed, and Lutheran), I’ve known very few bad apples who actually are vindictive against homosexuals compared to the thousands that I’ve known who are not. But this anger toward gays for merely being gay isn’t what the article is protesting; it’s actually protesting a lack of the church’s regarding open and unrepentant gay men and women as mature Christians who are just as pious as any other.

This protest is anti-scriptural.

But why, some ask, is the topic of homosexuality so prevalent in church discussions while other sins are not?

First, in my short experience as a Lutheran, I’m unable to recall a time when it was even discussed in Bible study or in a sermon. I could be wrong, but I don’t remember one. Lutherans just don’t seem to have the same preoccupation that many FE’s have on this topic. But given the state of affairs, I cannot blame FE’s for having such a preoccupation. Why?

Most sins are kept private. For people who are unrepentant in a different sin, they typically either leave the church or else keep the sin quiet while they commune and do their serving. What this means is that there is rarely a stand to be taken (though matters do come up from time to time). But homosexuality isn’t like that. When open and unrepentant homosexual people approach the altar for communion, this is the moment that a Christian (at least a Lutheran one) shows what he really believes. Either he will share communion in confession that homosexuality is not sin, or else he will not share communion in confession that the scriptures mean what they say. There isn’t any wiggle-room. If the communion is shared, we demonstrate either that refusal to repent of sin isn’t really a big deal and that profaning the body of the Lord is a fine thing, or else that we don’t think homosexuality is a sin.

This alone is my reasoning for not wanting open and unrepentant gay men and women to share communion with me or be given offices in church. There is no other reason for me than this: the scriptures call homosexuality sin, and I cannot in good conscience oppose them because one can not be rightly called “Christian” who calls “not sinful” what God has called “sinful.” I think the article’s author may have been trying to honor this point in respectful disagreement. Give credit where it is due.

What of Boyd’s point that we tolerate other sins more easily than homosexuality?

This is somewhat true. Let me list the sexual sins I can think of and explain how I think they are rightly handled in a good church.

  1. Adultery
    A call for repentance is given and restoration is given by the pastor/spouse upon admittance of wrong and a demonstration of desire to do better.
  2. Divorce (assume for non-abuse reasons)
    It’s difficult to “make right” what has permanently ended, so repentance in this case probably means admittance of wrong and a desire to do better. The pastor gives restoration.
  3. Fornication
    A call for repentance is given and restoration is given by the pastor upon admittance of wrong and a demonstration of desire to do better.
  4. Prostitution
    A call for repentance is given and restoration is given by the pastor upon admittance of wrong and a demonstration of desire to do better.
  5. Lust
    A call for repentance is given and restoration is given by the pastor upon admittance of wrong and a demonstration of desire to do better.
  6. Homosexuality
    A call for repentance is given and restoration is given by the pastor upon admittance of wrong and a demonstration of desire to do better.

The difficulty with #6 is that for this discussion, the topic at hand is never whether or not absolution would be given to the sinner. The topic is always regarding whether or not absolution is required in the first place. And that is the real problem that people like the article’s author have with Biblical churches. It isn’t that our pastors offer absolution to sinners, it’s that some people cannot conceive of calling a specific sin “sin” in the first place and therefore debate the need for absolution. Indeed, many claim “but these people were born this way!” as if this is a reason to allow the sin to continue in perpetuity. Let me state clearly: yes, I believe many (not 100%, but not 0%) were in fact born this way. I too was born with a sin nature that nags my flesh like a hell-hound. We’re in the same boat. We are sinners in need of a savior.

But wasn’t Boyd’s point specifically regarding a non-sexual sin (obesity)? Why then do we elevate sexual sins above others? Aren’t all sins the same?

Well, they’re all the same in that sin is sin and sin damns us apart from Christ. Rape and murder are the same as gossip in this regard. But rape and murder do not have the same consequences as gossip for either the victim or the perp. The nature of the offense against the neighbor in rape or murder is much more severe than that of gossip. All are 2nd-table offenses (1st table: how we serve God. 2nd table: how we serve our neighbor, and I deliberately mention gossip and not obesity for a better comparison), but they are inequivalent in magnitude. Rev. Fisk has a good video on this topic.

For this reason, I issue the following challenge to men like Greg Boyd: If you think your analogy between obesity and homosexuality is valid, then I invite you to write a cogent defense as to why you must allow unrepentant serial rapists and serial murderers to worship with you weekly. Additionally, faith without works is dead… show us you mean it by launching programs to execute your defense. I’m sure your churches have enough money between them to accomplish this, and surely you wouldn’t treat serial rapists and serial murderers different merely because they aren’t sinning on the same magnitude as gossips?

(Note, I am in no way equating homosexuality with rape or murder. I list homosexuality in magnitude among the non-violent sexual sins as I did above).

The article said it best. These are real people we are talking about. Precisely because they are real people, they must be given the message that will save them from Hell. They must be given the full terror of God’s Law as any other person (and for many, perhaps they are already in such a state and this can be bypassed). Then when the Law has done its work, they must be given the full comfort of the Gospel: “Christ died for you, even though you are attracted to the same gender. You may never be fully freed from this sin just as I have not been fully freed from lust and greed (or whatever the pet sin), but call it what it is (sin) and daily beg God for a new, obedient heart. He will hear you. Jesus has died for you as he has died for me.”

Such a person may or may not be openly gay, but they should no longer remain unrepentant.

I think it would be helpful for our pastors to receive some training in the sensitivities of these sexual issues, as confusion in sexual identity and attraction are becoming ever-more prevalent. In the end though, we’ve entrusted our souls to our pastors’ proper teaching and we’ve got to trust that they are handling well the issues that arise with human sexuality among their parishioners. But under no circumstance are we to ever change God’s Law in order to more easily justify sinners. It is neither permissible nor prudent.

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