Thursday, May 30, 2013

The church's response to homosexuality (Part 3)

One of the remarks many evangelical Christians have made in recent decades regarding homosexuality goes something like this: "It is a choice."

In so doing, we have seemed to make no distinction between homosexual attractions and homosexual acts. That, I believe, has been a mistake -- a mistake we need to correct if we have not done so already. Before you write me off as a sin-condoning compromiser and trash this blog, please let me explain.

To me, when we paint with such a broad brush by declaring, "Homosexuality is a choice," we are in danger of confusing desires with choices. We don't do this with other sins. We seem to cordon off homosexuality and same-sex attraction into a land all its own. For instance, we seem to grant understanding to people, including some fellow believers, who say they have a propensity toward alcoholism and drunkenness. And there may be other sins and temptations to which we are willing to grant such a possible explanation -- but not homosexuality.

It seems to me this language of "choice" has left us insensitive to people who struggle with same-sex attraction and temptation for which they recognize no origin. Since sometime in their childhood or youth, they have felt these desires and have not known what to do with them. Make no mistake: Anyone who gives in to such a temptation is responsible for his sinful choice to act on such a desire. But to imply even the desire is a "choice" not only seems to reflect a refusal to try to understand others' struggles, but it seems to undermine our ability to evangelize and minister to such people.

Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in a 2007 blog post, "Caring Christians will be aware of the fact that many persons who struggle with homosexuality — males and females — testify as Christian believers or as those troubled in conscience that they simply have no idea where same-sex desire originated in their lives. They do know that they did not choose this pattern of attraction. Again, that does not reduce their moral responsibility in any way or to any degree. But caring Christians, fully committed to the sole authority of the Bible, must want to help persons to understand and deal with this specific temptation to sin."

Describing the causes of same-sex attraction as "likely to be very complex," Mohler also wrote, "Let’s remember that all of us are born with a huge moral defect — we are sinners from the start. Christians who have responded with claims that God would not allow a person to be born with a bent toward sin miss the clear biblical teaching that all of us are born with a bent toward sin and with a sin nature. We are born marked by Adam’s sin and already under God’s just condemnation for that sin."

So yes, we should affirm that participating in homosexual behavior is a sinful choice, but we should be careful about ascribing "choice" language to attractions and temptations that may lead to such acts. The gospel of our Lord Jesus holds the only hope for those involved in homosexual acts and those struggling with homosexual attractions. May we be bold and compassionate ambassadors for the One who delivers from sin and temptation.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The church's response to homosexuality (Part 2)

I don't remember for sure the preacher's exact words, with one exception, but I remember what he communicated and how the congregation responded. What happened is still Exhibit A for me of how a preacher and church should not address homosexuality.

It came in the mid-1990s during an evangelistic service hosted by a local church. The evangelist was telling a story about a man who was acting effeminately, and his punchline -- clearly intended to produce a laugh -- included a slur word for a homosexual. That was grievous enough, but the congregation's response grieved me even more. Seemingly everyone -- although probably not every one -- burst into laughter.

I feel certain neither the preacher nor the church intended these results, but here are some messages I think they were transmitting by those words and actions to anyone there who might have been struggling with homosexual behavior or the temptation to give in to homosexual urges or same-sex attraction:

-- We don't value you as an image-bearer of God, only as fodder for our jokes.

-- We consider your particular, sinful proclivity to be in a category by itself, worthy of our laughter but not our loving concern.

-- We don't want you to come to us in your need, because your kind of sin or temptation should be squelched, not shared.

-- We doubt this gospel we believe and preach has anything for you, so we are going to belittle the kind of sinner you are instead of offering you mercy.

Against those attitudes we have Jesus and God's Word.

We have Jesus, who loved those image-bearers of God considered the dregs of society during His time on earth. We have Jesus, who suffered and died as a substitute for all kinds of sinners.

We have God's Word, which testifies in I Corinthians 6:9-11: "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will 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, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God."

That's right: Homosexuals are right in there with all kinds of sinners, including idolaters, who definitely include all of us. The same gospel that saves the covetous and thieves and revilers and idolaters is the gospel that saves homosexuals.

Do we believe this? Will we think and live like this? The church's identification and mission to the world are tied up in how we answer those questions.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The church's response to homosexuality (Part 1)

How should the church of the Lord Jesus respond to homosexuality and its companion issue, same-sex marriage?

How should the church of the Lord Jesus respond to practicing homosexuals?

How should the church of the Lord Jesus respond to Christians struggling with same-sex attraction?

There are good answers to those questions, even trustworthy answers, I believe. Why? Because the gospel is powerful, and because I believe the New Testament shows us the way.

My observation based on a lifetime of being a part of evangelical Christian churches is the American church has made a number of mistakes regarding homosexuality. First, to clarify for any who have questions about that statement, let me be clear: Those churches that continue to teach homosexual behavior is a sin and is incompatible with Christian living are correct. We can never back away from this clear teaching in the New Testament, as well as the Old.

But many of those churches that have remained faithful to the Bible's sex ethic have made other mistakes, it appears to me. Among them are these:

-- We have often treated homosexual behavior as a sin worse than all others.

-- We have often treated practicing homosexuals as untouchables.

-- We have often made practicing homosexuals, and even those with same-sex attractions, feel unwelcome, even sometimes the brunt of cruel jokes.

-- We have often confused same-sex attraction with homosexual identification.

-- We have often spoken and acted in ways that prevent people with same-sex attractions from revealing their struggles and finding help in the power of the gospel and Christian community.

I believe our church and other churches want to be biblical and gospel-focused in confronting these issues. I look forward to trying to address them in future blog posts. May we all respond to these issues humbly and prayerfully, trusting in the power of our sin-conquering, sinner-delivering Lord.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

For mothers and other disciples near Mother's Day

(Below is a reprint -- with only a tweak or two -- of a blog post from November. I hope it is a helpful reminder to those who read it then and an encouraging message for those who have yet to read it.)

'Mother & Son 2' photo (c) 2012, Gordon - license: a blessing it is to know many ladies of many ages who are recipients of God’s saving grace and are following Jesus. They encourage and challenge me by the grace I see expressed in and through their lives. I benefit from those who are part of our family by birth or marriage and from those whom I have known across the years and miles. I also reap the reward of worshiping with such sisters in Christ week by week within Covenant Community Church.

Many of these female saints are mothers. As mothers, they bless their families with their sacrificial service for the good of their husbands and children. Some ladies who are not mothers or whose children have grown and moved away serve as spiritual mothers to young ladies, and some who still have children at home are spiritual mothers to others outside their nuclear family.

Some mothers in our church – and many other churches – are home educators as well. In addition to all the responsibilities all mothers have, these mothers also teach their children reading, writing, math and the other disciplines. For mothers with large families, this can mean home-schooling children for as much as a quarter of a century.

A recent conversation with my wife -- as well as some writing by Stephen Altrogge at The Blazing Center blog -- prompted me to want to write something for Christian mothers. This won’t be as provocative or as humorous as Altrogge’s posts, but I hope it proves helpful. You can read his posts on the subject here and here.

Here are some questions to set the stage for six recommendations: How does a Christian mother respond to the challenges mothers have always faced? And how does a Christian mother respond in seasons sometimes further complicated by even more responsibilities? How does she react to criticism from a world that often does not esteem motherhood? How does a mother respond when other Christians – often other mothers – pile unbiblical expectations on her and try to tell her via books, blogs, Facebook, speeches and one-on-one communication she is failing or she is not being a faithful Christian mother?

Certainly, it helps to have a loving and servant-hearted husband who leads her by grace. And it is beneficial to have children who genuinely express gratitude.

What I share below, however, is for a mother to apply regardless of how good her support system is. I hope these points will help mothers know how to think biblically about the unhelpful and even disconcerting messages they may receive from others. These points can be applied by any follower of Christ to his or her life, but I offer them specifically for mothers who are seeking to do their best to love their children and rear them to worship God and follow Jesus.

1. Flee fundamentalism, legalism and any other performance-based approach to Christianity. While sincere, those individuals and ministries that excel at burdening mothers and others with works-based and/or culturally driven standards seem always to be with us. They promote what amounts to an unbiblical, grace-deprived Christianity. Don’t let these anti-gospel messages define you.

2. Flee to Jesus and His gospel. This point is really a summary of those that follow, but there seems to be a need to state it explicitly. If you are going to flee something, you need to run to someone or something. Run to Jesus.

3. Recognize your security and most important identity are in Jesus. They are not in whether you do all the mommy things some Christian voices or some in the world try to convince you a good mother does. They are not in whether you accomplish all the things you think you should. They are not even in those occasions when you do accomplish all you think you should. As Milton Vincent says in A Gospel Primer for Christians:
The gospel also reminds me that my righteous standing with God always holds firm regardless of my performance, because my standing is based solely on the work of Jesus and not mine. On my worst days of sin and failure, the gospel encourages me with God’s unrelenting grace toward me. On my best days of victory and usefulness, the gospel keeps me relating to God solely on the basis of Jesus’ righteousness and not mine.
Your security and most important identity are also not in how your children perform. They are not in how your children turn out. That is important, but you cannot control those outcomes, no matter how well you perform your role as mother. You are not sovereign – even over your children’s lives. God is. Trust Him, because He is worthy of trust. Rest – yes, rest – in who Jesus is as your Savior, Lord and Life and in what He has done for you.

4. Preach the gospel to yourself. Remind yourself at least daily – maybe several times a day – what the gospel is and what Jesus has done for you. He is your substitute in His righteous life, His all-sufficient death and His triumphant resurrection. The gospel of Jesus is the truth that matters most. Read the New Testament with your spiritual eyes attuned to what it says Jesus achieved for you and who you are as a result of that work on your behalf.

5. Live by grace. Your salvation is all of God and all of His grace. Remind yourself of that grace when you fail. Extend grace to other mothers who do things differently than you while living under the lordship of Christ. Shower grace on your children, giving them a real-life picture of a God who is a loving, forgiving, embracing Father and not a performance-based, rule-focused tyrant.

6. Spend time with grace-extending ladies in a church with a growing gospel culture. Have other ladies in your life as mentors and friends who are seeking to live by the gospel of grace and are not continually burdening themselves and others with the weight of a moralistic, performance-focused mentality. This is best done in a church where everyone is hearing the gospel proclaimed and applied from all of Scripture to Christians, as well as non-Christians, and the church is growing in grace as a result. Our church is blessed by ladies who have learned to reject fundamentalism and legalism and are able to guide younger mothers in living by the gospel of grace. An online resource that is helpful for mothers is the Domestic Kingdom blog, which is edited by Gloria Furman, a pastor’s wife and mother in Dubai. She also is the author of the new book Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home.