July 2nd, 10am PST: This article was originally posted late 2014, the recent SCOTUS ruling to protect same sex marriage brings these principles into even greater regard.
World news has teemed with discussion regarding the Relatio post disceptationem, the document recounting internal discussion by the Catholic Church’s Synod of the Bishops, towards a more tolerant stance on homosexuality. Also in the news, Brian Houston of Hillsong Church has refused to take a public stance on LGBT, instead stating, “(Hillsong) is on the journey with it.” Other national headlines recount the potential fines and jail time of an Idaho wedding chapel committed to marriages between one man and one woman. Finally, openly gay mayor Annisse Parker’s public subpoena for sermons and speeches from five Pastors in Houston, Texas, remains an ongoing test of first amendment rights.
Five years ago I witnessed how “discussion” between the church and gay community would define the American landscape. We had a young man in our congregation who had spent years living a gay lifestyle. After turning to Christ, he had observed his former lusts fade. We asked he share his testimony. The evening of his testimony, he received a standing ovation from 2,000 young adults. However, that night my inbox was flooded with messages condemning our insensitivity and in one week’s time over 500 people chose to leave our ministry for good.
Recently, minority groups of supposedly Christian leaders have sprung up using terms such as “Third way” to define a pseudo-gray-area between the church and culture. Proponents of this liberal message believe they can focus on certain ill-defined essentials within the church, while ignoring the hot button issues altogether. In essence, they can Thomas Jefferson their bible, choosing the portions that bring in people and money, while politely ignoring the remainder of God’s counsel. Yet, let us be clear – No answer, is still very much an answer.
One old maxim says, “If it’s new, it’s not true.” This maxim carries ultimate veracity as it relates to the Word of God. The Bible hasn’t changed, and no matter how much the world changes, the Bible will never change. That is what makes it divine. If it did change, than it would be useless and untrustworthy.
The purpose of this article is not a defense of marriage nor indictment on the gay community, so we won’t spend much time in exposition, but a slight study is necessary to insure the reader understand the clarity of God’s Word.
The first thing that happened after man and woman were created was union between the man and woman under God’s authority. Genesis 2:24 reads, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” Jesus reiterated this truth in Matthew 19:4, “He who created them from the beginning, made them male and female, and said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh’ Consequently they are no longer two, but one…” Paul wrote the same in Ephesians 5:31, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become on flesh.” Therefore, from creation through the close of the canon, Scripture remains resolute on the definition of marriage.
In regards to homosexuality, Scripture is equally clear. A simple study of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 relates, “Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…” Paul does not here separate homosexuality out as different from other sins, but expects that Christians in Christ will have the grace to refuse those former ways, and walk in new life. Most would uphold the majority of that list, expecting that their church instruct an adulterer to refrain, or a thief to return what was taken, thus, to be consistent, they must also accept that homosexuality is outside of God’s design. And, likewise just as forgivable and correctable in the power of Jesus Christ.
Some say that Paul didn’t understand culture. Yet, Paul wrote these words when homosexuality was rampant. William Barclay reports that Socrates was a homosexual and Plato probably was. Plato wrote a Symposium on Love glorifying the act of homosexual love. It is likely that fourteen of the first fifteen Roman emperors were homosexuals. Nero even had a boy castrated so that the boy could officially become his wife. Confusion of sex roles has always been around, we aren’t living in a modern era of complex struggle different from those who’ve come before.
In the past two decades, science has attempted to prove that homosexuality is a genetic design. Although this remains unproved, it does seem that certain men or women are more prone to same-sex relations. Yet, this proclivity does not reduce the biblical imperatives above, but only strengthens the biblical position, for Bible is clear that all men are depraved and sinful from birth. (Jeremiah 17:9, Matthew 15:19, Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8-10) Thus, at birth some are born with deep propensities for thievery, some for pride, some for slander, and some for varied forms of sexual perversion outside the bounds of marriage. All are sinners, yet Christ’s power will save and sanctify.
God’s Word is quite clear. It was clear in 60AD, and has been for 1900 years. Thus, the real issue is not about varying forms of human sexuality, but about obedience to God’s Word. Those who defy God will shout a host of excuses to ignore and repudiate His Word. Those who accept God will respect and honor His Word, regardless of the cost.
A friend was in Costa Mesa and walked by an Irish Pub close to the beach. Hearing loud singing, he entered. Inside the group was holding a, “Beer and Hymn Sing.” Lager flowed while the roll was called up yonder.
Satan’s methods haven’t changed in 6,000 years. First, Eve trusted God and practiced only His will. Next Eve trusted God but listened to the devil. Finally, Eve ignored God, and followed the devil alone. This model of slow degradation, what Charles Spurgeon called, “The Downgrade” has been with us from the beginning and will be with man until the end. It looks like this:
Bible = Practice. A community breaks away from another to establish roots based on literal, historical, grammatical interpretation of the Bible. Historically, there have been dozens of groups like this; the most well known being the Reformers, Puritans, Pilgrims, and Fundamentalists.
Bible + Relevance = Practice. The Bible is still held as authoritative but it is used alongside popular survey results, attractive environments, sound bites, super-star guests, and an economic engine thriving on societal will power.
Relevance – Bible = Practice. Slowly, not so fast that any would notice, the statement of faith gets shorter on the website, the sermons get shorter on Sunday, and soon all that’s left is relevance with no commitment to the Word of God.
Over the course of the last thirty years, America has thrived in the second sector – Bible plus relevance equals practice. It has been a literal laser-light show of supposed success. Barna recently reported that although American Protestantism has declined in mass, Mega-Church attendance has risen 67%. What does this say? Simply, that while thousands of churches slowly die, the practice of relevance continues to skyrocket. And, quickly we’re moving to the final sector, Relevance minus bible equals practice. It’s relevance on steroids. Whatever works, goes. The Bible is lost.
To observe the consequence of such degradation, simply travel to Europe and walk by a Cathedral. Churches that once housed thousands of Christians, now sit dormant as Starbucks and museums, while only 3% claim Christ. Beers and hymns anyone?
Why does cultural history matter? Because it explains why the majority of so-called Christian leaders refuse to take a stand. On Sunday, Pope Francis said, “God is not afraid of new things.” And, his nebulous luke-warm-fuzzy approach to servant-leadership joins Brian Houston and many others who realize that the economic engine of their very organization is built on relevance, not bible. Subsequently if they dare take a stand, they will lose their populace, and henceforth lose their job. The following quote by Andrew Walker of First Things sums it adequately:
“If I were writing the Art of Cultural War, this is the strategy I’d use to bring the opposing side to heel. The steps look something like this: Relativize the issue with other issues. Be uncertain about the issue. Refuse to speak publicly on the issue. Be indifferent toward the issue. Accept the issue. Affirm the issue. Require the issue. Hillsong (Brian Houston) is currently on step three. I don’t think they’ll stay there.” – Andrew Walker, First Things
CLEAR IN THE PULPIT
The highest priority of the Church must be to protect a high view of Scripture. Without the Bible, there will be no church, and without the church, there will be no Christian strength with which to love or help anyone. A clear pulpit will allow a caring pew.
Clarity of biblical doctrine and diagnosis of current culture, mandate the true Christian (and even more so the Pastor) be concise regarding homosexuality and related sins. To the leader who would choose a, “Third way” and bury his head in the sand, may we submit that in so doing you will only blind yourself and showcase your unfortunates to the world. Among many others, the obvious benefits of a clear pulpit include:
- God determines your audience: As you build a church based on clear teaching of God’s Word, naturally the people who attend, members on the roll, and offerings given, will remain no matter what the world says.
- God determines your existence: If your By-laws, articles, sermons, and policies are biblical, then you can trust God with the consequences.
We forget that Paul spoke much of these things. To Timothy he wrote, “In the last days difficult times will come. Men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good… And indeed all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted… Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season…” (2 Timothy 3:1-3, 12, 4:2) And, he told the Corinthians, “We are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life… For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 2:16-17)
To “peddle” meant to be a cheap-salesman. Paul is literally saying, “Hard times will come, don’t manipulate the Scriptures simply to be popular.” Christian, we are to preach the full counsels of God and trust God with the outcome. To some it will be life, to others death, but the truth remains the same. The theology of the Pastor will impact the courage of the Pastor – The more man-centered-free-will oriented his plea, the more he must attempt to be liked. However, the more confident a man stands in the sovereign power of God, veracity of Scripture, electing hand of God’s providence, and irresistible grace of Christ, the less shaken he’ll be by the evils of earth, and more likely he’ll be to proclaim the full counsels of truth.
CARE IN THE PEW
A clear biblical pulpit will naturally lead to a caring pew.
First, by proclamation of a caring gospel. We live in the era of grace, the new covenant. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, all are offered the opportunity to turn from their past and cling to a Christ who forgives, regenerates, redeems, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies.
After Paul’s command, “Preach the Word” to young Timothy, he immediately follows with, “Reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:20) The Greek infers, “All patience” meaning that the church is to be a place of clear teaching as well as a place of enduring patience and care. Paul wasn’t delusional. He knew that his Greco-Roman counterparts with their licentious lifestyles would require years of grace, training, and assistance, thus in many ways Paul was the first to say, “People won’t care what you know, until they know that you care.”
Second, a clear biblical pulpit will provide a caring example. The church that holds to biblical truth, will conduct itself with biblical standards, thus leaders and members will provide a biblical model that provides all sinners, heterosexual or homosexual, an attainable hope of righteous and joyful living.
Rudy was a famous 1993 film directed by David Anspaugh. It is an account of the life of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, who harbored dreams of playing football at the University of Notre Dame despite being small, slow, and academically ineligible. Rudy traveled to South Bend, spent two years at a Junior College, and eventually made the practice squad, only to be ignored by the new head coach. At the climax of the movie, his entire team refused to dress for the game unless the coach included Rudy, eventually even allowing he enter the game for one play. The story of Rudy lives in Notre Dame lore to this day.
We learn a valuable lesson from the story of Rudy. Namely, that people are inspired by the underdog. They always have been, they always will be. And, the reality of Christianity is that all men and women were underdogs in the quest for eternal life; Unable to reach heaven, with no hope of their own, until Christ stepped in to ransom them, give them heaven, and even make them useful upon earth.
Although sin may satisfy for a moment, sinners aren’t truly joyful. Sexually transmitted diseases run rampant, multiple partners leave corrupted memories and jealousy, custody battles ensue, and lifetimes are abbreviated. Thus, when people come to church and meet a Rudy they find hope. A man or woman who was once lost and ignored; now flourishing, obedient, and spirit-filled. A man or woman who was once mired in personal agony, now leading a ministry, guiding a class, shouting in worship, or kneeling in prayer. A life to be observed. An example to be followed.
“Why does it matter though the church be like Jonah in the whale’s belly, swallowed up out of view by the fury of men? Do you not remember that the whale had no power to digest the prophet? Do not be too quick to bury the church before she is dead. Be patient while Christ tries His skill before you give it over. By your prayers, bring Christ to her grave to speak a resurrection word. The saints of old exhibited admirable faith in circumstances, which were just as dire. Indeed, we dishonor the Word of God if, when the church’s power is at its lowest ebb, we do not take the single bond of His promise as a guarantee of its deliverance.” – William Gurnall, 1655
When people tell me that homosexuality is inescapable, I listen. But, I do not agree. I do not agree because I’ve witnessed what the power of God’s Word can do in the life of my formerly homosexual friends – Two of which are now happily married to a wife, with children, and in ministry. The pulpit must stay bold, the Christian must stay prayerful, both must share the truth in love. As we hold to doctrine and act with compassion, Jesus Christ will continue to build His church.