Homosexuality: The Agnostic Option

agnosticism

Reader and frequent commenter Dustin brought to my attention a very interesting paper in which a very bright, talented student of theology chooses to be agnostic on the morality of gay marriage. It was of particular interest to me because reader and frequent commenter Gary keeps urging me to take the agnostic position. I’d never heard it argued before, and I found it fascinating reading.

Brad East, a graduate of ACU and a current doctoral student in theology at Yale Divinity (also has written a few articles for the Restoration Quarterly Journal), brings another view: he doesn’t know the right answer. Here’s the conclusion to his paper “Confessing Bewilderment as a Theologian: On Tradition, Experience, and the Ethics of Same-Sex Relationships” (posted at his blog Resident Theology):

“Not only do I understand this argument {the argument that homosexuals should remain celibate or turn their desires to the opposite sex}, I believe it is simple, coherent, and biblical, and it names the experience of Christian friends who experience same-sex attraction. If I were pushed to make a decision on the matter with no room to struggle, I would find myself landing here. So why not claim it as my position? Primarily, the combination of the severe ambiguity of Scripture with the powerful, deeply emotional testimonies from gay Christians who affirm and model the mutual love and respect possible in covenanted same-sex relationships. Furthermore, given the example of the Spirit’s free and creative activity—paradigmatically in leading the early Jewish church away from every known possibility given to them by Scripture and tradition regarding the practices of circumcision and ritual purity—who can say where the wind blows?

“As it stands, because I am not and do not plan to be a pastor, but rather claim the calling of a theologian, I believe that the only faithful option available to me for the time being is to continue to live in the tension of not knowing, of not having an answer (even for class assignments). More than anything, my prayer is for the church: that we find ways to love one another and not to demonize, to welcome and not to barricade, to worship and not to exclude. If God gives even that much grace, it will be enough.”

I encourage everyone to read the full paper posted here (as well as his other posts).

Dustin,

Thanks for the link. Of course, Gary has tried to persuade me to take the agnostic position for sometime now. But I don’t buy the agnostic argument. I understand it — and the feelings behind it. But I can’t get there.

And I know you didn’t ask for an essay in response, but this is how I think through interesting things.

I agree with Brad that the Catholic view of marriage is logical but ultimately not dictated by scripture. Richard Hays also agrees that the scriptures never argue from procreation as a necessary end of marriage. Besides, what is our response when a man wants to marry a woman known to be infertile? Does that violate Rom 1? I’ve never heard it so argued. So maybe Paul’s point is simple enough: it’s about God’s design and our fallen condition in respect thereof.

Brad writes,

Not only do I understand this argument, I believe it is simple, coherent, and biblical, and it names the experience of Christian friends who experience same-sex attraction. If I were pushed to make a decision on the matter with no room to struggle, I would find myself landing here.

So that’s fair enough. The logic of the position of Hays and N.T. Wright is indeed simple, coherent, and biblical. The opposing arguments that I’ve seen (and I’ve read a great many) are not. These great scholars are important voices in denominations that would love them to take a different position, but their respect for the scriptures won’t allow it. Hays writes of a good friend who is gay, and so the issue hits him very personal. He’d love to take a different stance, but the scriptures won’t allow it — despite all the motivation there could be to take the opposite tack.

So why not claim it as my position? Primarily, the combination of the severe ambiguity of Scripture with the powerful, deeply emotional testimonies from gay Christians who affirm and model the mutual love and respect possible in covenanted same-sex relationships.

The “ambiguity of scripture”? I don’t buy it. Brad writes in a footnote,

Of course, I do not mean the ambiguity of the texts themselves, which are about as clear as possible. Rather, I mean the extremely limited presence of homosexuality at all in the biblical texts, combined with the radical subordination of marriage and family to the call of the gospel, as well as the alternative understanding of the nature of same-sex relationships in the first century context.

Let’s see —

* “the extremely limited presence of homosexuality at all in the biblical texts” — and yet every — or nearly every — reference to porneia — sexual immorality — includes homosexuality. That’s 75 uses in 68 verses. It’s all one argument (porneia includes homosexuality), but there are a lot of texts in which the readers of the books understood the writer to be condemning homosexuality within the scope of the broader condemnation of sexual immorality generally.

Some standard Greek lexicons define the term to clearly include homosexual activity —

Friberg: generally, of every kind of extramarital, unlawful, or unnatural sexual intercourse

Louw-Nida: to engage in sexual immorality of any kind, often with the implication of prostitution – ‘to engage in illicit sex, to commit fornication, sexual immorality, fornication, prostitution.’ πορνεύω: ὁ δὲ πορνεύων εἰς τὸ ἴδιον σῶμα ἁμαρτάνει ‘the person who commits immorality sins against his own body’ 1 Cor 6.18. ἐκπορνεύω: ὡς Σόδομα καὶ Γόμορρα … ἐκπορνεύσασαι ‘they committed sexual immorality … like Sodom and Gomorrah’ Jd 7.

BDAG: of various kinds of ‘unsanctioned sexual intercourse:

Thayer’s: used a. properly, of illicit sexual intercourse in general (Demosthenes, 403, 27; 433, 25):  Acts 15:20,29; 21:25 (that this meaning must be adopted in these passages will surprise no one who has learned from 1 Cor. 6:12ff how leniently converts from among the heathen regarded this vice and how lightly they indulged in it;

VGNT: applied to unlawful sexual intercourse generally.

Gingrich: of various kinds of unlawful sexual intercourse.

The truth is that sexual morality is a huge issue in the Bible, spoken of repeatedly, and in the Bible, sexual morality includes an insistence that sexual activity be heterosexual.

In fact, the fact that God pictures his relationship with Israel as a heterosexual marriage means something, given that Israel was led by male kings, male priests, and male elders. Why pick a female metaphor? Why not picture his marriage as homosexual and so allow Israel to be masculine — in a highly patriarchal age? Well, because it was unthinkable. God had no interest in validating gay marriage, even though the surrounding cultures allowed all sorts of homosexual practices.

In fact, the rabbis banned lesbianism on that rationale — that God commanded Israel not to engage in the practices of the surrounding pagan nations.

So I see no lack of verses. There are far more verses on sexual morality than lots of other things we consider not the least ambiguous.

* “the radical subordination of marriage and family to the call of the gospel” — I wish for another footnote. I take it that he is referring to Matt 19 and 1 Cor 7, in which celibate singleness is commended as not only acceptable — contrary to rabbinic teaching — but in many cases preferable. Which is true, and which argues in favor of the more conservative position. In fact, to me, it’s a very strong argument, and our refusal to hear it shows how far removed from Jesus and Paul our evangelical culture is.

I mean, if we really taught and practiced this, wouldn’t it be vastly easier to find missionaries to send to dangerous places, such as the heart of ISIS? I can’t help but think of Hauerwas in Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony recommending that, rather than bombing Libya back in the Reagan years, we might have sent 1,000 missionaries. But, of course, who has the heart to send a married man or woman with children (or the potential for children) to Libya?

* “the alternative understanding of the nature of same-sex relationships in the first century context” — This is, of course, a highly relevant concern, which I’ve dealt with at length in the recent posts. And it’s a very intellectually challenging question. And yet, I think Hays and Wright have worked their way through those issues. And we know all that we’re going to know in terms of history.

I think if we bring a high view of inspiration and scriptural authority to the table, then we can’t conclude that Paul was speaking to a culture so unlike our own that his words are irrelevant. There is nothing pointing us in that direction in what Paul actually said. In fact, I think he was speaking to a culture that ours is likely to become like very soon. Except for the pederasty thing. But the idea that men and women will increasingly, indiscriminately have both gay and straight sex seems to be coming down the road — and then we’ll be just like Greece in the early First Century, and the cultural distinction argument will evaporate.

[There is here a footnote to Rowan Williams here, which doesn’t help his case.]

Furthermore, given the example of the Spirit’s free and creative activity—paradigmatically in leading the early Jewish church away from every known possibility given to them by Scripture and tradition regarding the practices of circumcision and ritual purity—who can say where the wind blows?

Yes, the Holy Spirit did lead the church away from certain aspects of the Torah. And it was quite unexpected that God would, in effect, go back to Abraham and faith after the Law had been around for so long and with such great impact on Israel. But as I’ve covered in the last few series, it really does make a whole lot of sense — it’s just a lot of sense that wasn’t expected.

How did God make this clear? Well, he poured out the Spirit on Cornelius and his household before they were baptized, so that they spoke in tongues and prophesied. And he gave Peter a vision. And he gave the Spirit freely to Gentiles converted on Paul’s first missionary journey — evidenced by miraculous things. And they held this conference in Jerusalem.

No one said, “But the Gentile converts are such good and kind people.” It was outright miracles unquestionably from God’s hand that made it happen.

Moreover, it did not contradict Torah. It just didn’t apply Torah to Gentiles. An indirect result was that the Jews realized that they, too, were freed from circumcision because salvation is by faith — but the immediate question was, in effect: is the covenant with Abraham enough to save or must the Gentiles also submit to the covenant with Moses? And this question was a mystery, only revealed by God through the Spirit post-Pentecost.

The turning point in Acts 15 when James announces the decision of the council of apostles and elders is James’ observation that the OT prophets anticipated that the Gentiles would enter the kingdom as Gentiles. It’s just that the prophecies hadn’t been read that way until after Cornelius.

So I don’t see a homosexual sex analog here. The fact that God could do this hardly means that he has or that he will. The argument would be that sexually active gay Christians seem to have the Spirit, just like us sexually active heterosexuals. But does our doctrine of grace not allow this already? Don’t sinners receive the Spirit? (If not sinners, then who else?) Mere receipt of the Spirit only means that you’re saved, not that your sex life is entirely fine with God.

So we’re committing a category mistake here, I think. The presence of the Spirit reveals salvation, not sinlessness or approval of one’s marriage.

What would we think if a prostitute showed up in church, proved to be a great volunteer, great counselor, filled with wisdom, etc. Would we declare that God had changed his mind on prostitution? Or that God is amazingly gracious in working through someone in need of repentance?

I mean, think of the hundreds, if not thousands, of preachers caught in adultery who remained gifted speakers and leaders. Does that mean their adultery was okay with God?

After all, I’m not arguing that gay people are damned. I’m not even arguing that gay people who engage in gay sex are damned. Only that they sin in so doing — and it’s not the worst sin in the world. But it’s still sin and should be repented of — and those of us who are elders and leaders in the church need to lead the church to be purer, not less pure, and to thereby be better able to hold each other to account in love. We need to raise our game — not lower it — so that we have the moral standing to teach what we believe God desires — and to exert biblical discipline when needed.

We need to elevate our morality when it comes to heterosexuality and singleness in general. We need to call people to a gospel that’s bigger than our sexual desires. We need to form community that is not the same as marriage but meets our need for companionship without sex and marriage — which would be very much like heaven, you know. There’s no sex in heaven, but I’m sure there will also be no loneliness and no lack of companionship. And the church should be a foretaste of heaven.

So the gay marriage issue is a call for change and re-evaluation, but the solution isn’t found in bending the rules on sexuality or pretending that the answer is uncertain. It’s found in recommitting ourselves to Jesus and his gospel so that our churches become foretastes of heaven — communities where marriage is not needed for happiness and fulfillment because we’re so fully committed as communities to serving our God in mutual love.

Leave a Reply

  1. I guess I have a simplistic mind.

    While I understand much of the debate about the gay marriage issue, I’m bewildered by how many Believers struggle with how to deal with it.

    I do not see how a same-gender couple deciding to live together as if they are married, causes me to participate in their sin.

    And I see no evidence in the Text, that God seeks us to impose rules on unbelievers to compel them to live their lives, as if they are believers.

    Seeking to follow the wisdom of God is the result of our submission of our lives to his will. Following a “well-intended” set of rules does not cause us to be “good” in the eyes of God.

    Don’t judge someone just because they sin differently than you do (Dieter F Uchtdorf) … that’s piece of advise all of us need to remember.

    As Believers, our message should first be “Be reconciled to God”, then we can have a meaningful conversation about the life God wants us to live … which is best summarized by Jesus, in John 13 and 15: Love one another as I loved you and gave my life for you.

    Jesus did not spend his time judging, he spent his time forgiving and calling for reconciliation to God.

  2. Jay, if I’m reading you correctly I believe you’re suggesting that committed same-sex relationships are not a salvation issue. Wow. That is a wonderful position for conservatives and I’m being completely sincere. That asks no more from conservatives on homosexuality than we already ask from conservatives on divorce and remarriage. After all if their beliefs are correct progressive Churches of Christ are essentially asking them to treat divorce and remarriage as a matter of opinion and to worship with folks some of whom they consider to be adulterers. This could be the beginning of a bridge between progressive Churches of Christ and the rest of progressive Christianity. Thank you.

  3. After all, I’m not arguing that gay people are damned. I’m not even arguing that gay people who engage in gay sex are damned. Only that they sin in so doing — and it’s not the worst sin in the world. But it’s still sin and should be repented of — and those of us who are elders and leaders in the church need to lead the church to be purer, not less pure, and to thereby be better able to hold each other to account in love.

    So…. . if the sin (not just homosexual active BEHAVIOR, any intentional sin) remains unrepented and continues, does not that sin separate from God and lead to damnation? It is the sin of rebellion and refusal to submit to God’s calling to holiness.

  4. David, you said, “Don’t judge someone just because they sin differently than you do (Dieter F Uchtdorf) … that’s piece of advise all of us need to remember.” Indeed; something that conservative evangelicals often have to learn the hard, humiliating way.

    Gary, I always find your comments intelligent and well thought out. Your last sentence is spot on. The Progressive Church of Christ has a lot of ground to cover before it catches up with the rest of Progressive Christianity. Simply extending a hand of fellowship to a few other churches does not make one a progressive. Also, the Gay Rights Movement, as well as other political and social changes, have caused many of them to, as I call it, make a twisted u-turn into a conservative evangelicalism. I pray that the progressive movement in the CoC has not been mortally wounded.

  5. Thank you John. I really appreciate that. I love my Disciples of Christ congregation but it is painful to feel like an exile from Churches of Christ.

  6. “The Holy Spirit never enters a man and then lets him live like the world. You can be sure of that.” – A.W. Tozer

  7. Jay said “After all, I’m not arguing that gay people are damned. I’m not even arguing that gay people who engage in gay sex are damned. Only that they sin in so doing — and it’s not the worst sin in the world. But it’s still sin and should be repented of — and those of us who are elders and leaders in the church need to lead the church to be purer, not less pure, and to thereby be better able to hold each other to account in love.”

    This states a very strong permissive theology regarding homosexual behavior even if you still call it sin. Why would a committed gay monogamous relationship permit a gay Christian to be any more indwelled by the Holy Spirit than the gay Christian who has 1,000 sexual partners? At what point does the Holy Spirit cease to indwell the gay Christian? It would seem that the first chapter of I John would speak directly to this point.

    Considering again I Cor. 6:9-10: “9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

    Jay, help me understand the bridge between “not inherit the kingdom of God” from those who live in any type of gay sexual relationship, such as a gay marriage being indwelled by the Holy Spirit? Surely both cannot be correct statements.

  8. Buckeye Chuck and Chris,

    At what point does anyone fall away after having been saved? If an unmarried teenager slips and has heterosexual sex with his girlfriend, is he damned? For how long? What if he just commits the sin of lust? What if he loses his temper?

    Are you seriously arguing that all sin damns?

    The scriptures are clear on greed, anger, envy, bitterness … lots of things. These are plainly sins. At what point do these sins damn?

    You see, we (and it’s not just the Churches of Christ) have a bad habit of picking some sins as damning and some as not damning. But obviously, there does come a point when sin damns!

    Is that the point when we cross from heterosexual sin to homosexual sin? Is that really what Paul is saying in those passages?

    I think Laymond said it right the other day —

    Heb 10:26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,

    I like the book of Hebrews and the knowledge it distributes as much as any book in the bible, and believe the writer writes out of knowledge.
    If we know that what we are doing is a sin against God and we willfully continue to do defy God’s wishes we are in deep trouble. The catch here is if we know, and continue to defy. Just because someone tells you, you are wrong , don’t necessarily mean you are convinced you are wrong.

    Rebellion is the sin that damns — for which I could cite nearly the entire book of Hebrews. When Paul or other NT writers give a list of sins that damn, they aren’t saying, “These are mortal sins, while all others are venial.” Rather, he’s saying that you know very well that these are sins because I taught you that they are sins, and so if you persist in these wilfully (not the occasional slip), you endanger your soul — as Hebrews also teaches.

    Now, this is how we normally think about anger. If a brother occasionally slips and is overly angry but is working to defeat that sin in his life, we don’t consider him damned, but neither do we consider it okay for him to lose his temper. He’s in grace because he’s trying to do better.

    The same is true of sexual sin — hetero and homo.

    Now, there are other, more difficult questions. For example, Laymond puts his finger on the question of what do we do with those who just disagree over whether activity X is sinful? Well, those Churches of Christ that use instruments beg the Churches that consider instruments sinful to consider the instrumental churches in grace even though sinning — in the minds of the non-instrumental Churches.

    Hmmm …

    Well what if there’s an honest disagreement about whether it’s sinful to engage in birth control? Or assisted suicide? Or to wear tattoos? Or to let women preach? Our usual stance is that the more conservative brothers should consider such actions — perceived as sinful — covered by grace because they are acting in good faith, prayerfully and honestly intending to honor the scriptures.

    Now, my conservative brothers do this, too, when dealing with the ultra-conservatives — asking for tolerance because of grace despite disagreement. But when they look to their less conservative brothers, they see this as an incredibly dangerous loophole that allows Christians to sin and get away with it.

    But sauces, geese, and ganders. If we don’t grant grace both to our left and to our right, then there is not much real grace. There can be no unity.

    And yet this approach to grace plainly allows some sinners to be in fellowship and saved — which is bothersome. But with a little practice, it not only makes sense, it’s how it has to be. Nothing else makes sense at all. How can the blood of Christ continuously wash away our sins unless we’re still sinning?

    So, Chris, kudos on reading Tozer. But “live like the world” isn’t quite the same thing as “sin.” All Christians sin. None should live like the world. What’s the difference?

    Well, it’s about the heart and the direction of our lives and our willingness to listen to the scriptures and apostolic guidance. It’s about submission and penitence and submitting to the Spirit’s work within us.

    Now apply that same standard to the other sins mentioned in that passage.

  9. Excellent post!

    Gary, in Jay’s comment about homosexual behavior not necessarily damning, I didn’t see any qualification of ‘a committed, loving’ relationship.’ I did see him say that it is still sin that needs repentance. From having read Jay’s postings now for several years, I believe that His position would be that persistence in unrepented sin would be damning. Hence I see no reason for the glee with which you greet this post. Instead, I see Jay applying the patience and long suffering of God to a particular sin for which he still desires repentance.

    Jay further pointed out that church leaders need to lead the church into being more holy, not less, and that he believes the texts are clear about God’s attitude toward homosexuality. So, I believe Gary’s comment muddied the water somewhat by implying that Jay seems to think there is no reason for the church to be concerned about a committed, loving homosexual relationship.

  10. Jerry, what if it turns out that conservatives on divorce and remarriage are right and folks in unscriptural second marriages really aren’t married and are adulterers. There are a lot of damning words to that effect from a host of the early church fathers- the same church fathers who condemned all physical expressions of homosexual love. What do you think? Would the adulterers who didn’t think they had been adulterers be lost or not? It’s an exact parallel.

  11. Gary wrote,

    I believe you’re suggesting that committed same-sex relationships are not a salvation issue.

    Not exactly. I don’t believe there is anything that is a “salvation issue” other than faith in Jesus. All with faith in Jesus are saved.

    But those who rebel against God’s will in the Heb 10:26 ff sense are damned — regardless of which sin is the trigger point. Rebellion damns those who have faith because rebellion is the opposite of faithfulness.

    “Faith” presupposes faithfulness — which is a state of the heart. A person of faith will try to obey and will try to rid himself of sin — all sin.

    (Heb 10:26-31 ESV) For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

    Now, in this passage, and throughout the NT, “truth” refers to the truth of the gospel, not whatever truth was covered in last week’s sermon or bulletin article. But “sinning” applies to all sin of every single kind — from envy to murder, anger to genocide. Anything short of the image of God revealed in Jesus. It’s all sin.

    And sin so loved that it causes us to rebel against God puts us in jeopardy of damnation.

    So the only “salvation issue” is faith and its antithesis, rebellion.

    Where does homosexual activity fit in there? Same place as envy and genocide, greed and serial killing. It’s all sin.

    But certain sins are clear sins of rebellion in a given context. In some settings, everyone considers it sinful to smoke, and so smoking marks one as in rebellion. In other settings, no one considers it wrong and so it’s not rebellious.

    So should we go on sinning that grace may abound? God forbid! Our baptism is baptism into Jesus’ death, which includes a commitment to leave sin behind — just as Paul said in 1 Cor 6:9-10. To be converted, many Corinthians had to learn that certain practices were sinful, and having learned that, surrender them at the foot of the cross.

    Hence, as always, context matters.

    In http://www.GraceConversation.com, I debated the question of whether a heterosexual unmarried couple who continue to have sex after baptism are damned if they grew up in a culture in which premarital sex carried no moral stigma and the subject had not been taught them in their new church. The sin is still sin, but is it damning sin even though the Bible repeatedly declares that the sexually immoral won’t be saved?

    It’s my view that they remain saved because they have faith/are faithful. They can only obey to the extent they’ve been instructed. But things change once they’re taught — and they should be taught because sin is made sin because it harms people and societies. We can’t decline to teach God’s will regarding how to live to protect ourselves from sin by ignorance. The truly faithful want to know more, not less, of God’s will.

  12. Jay, let me try again as I may have failed to state my question clearly. My understanding of the status you described in your post was a situation where a gay Christian hears both sides of the Scriptural argument yet concludes that the Scriptures do not condemn gay marriage relationships. Therefore, they operate from an informed but incorrect interpretation of the texts.

    Are we therefore talking about where doctrinal grace would exist and not the rejection of Scripture itself? Is this position a parallel to your position on incorrect or faulty baptism? If not, how are they different?

    Those who believe the Scriptures permit IM or marriage, divorce and remarriage would not be covered by doctrinal grace as none is needed. I don’t see the parallel there. Those who believe the text permits gay marriage relationships may hold a correct or, perhaps, an incorrect interpretation of the text. Your position as I’m hearing it is that they are doctrinally incorrect but yet covered by doctrinal grace because of sincerity.

    Does the gay Christian who truly is convinced the Scripture does not condemn homosexual activity, remain indefinitely in God’s grace? Or does the prompting of the HS lead the gay Christian to a more intended understanding of the texts which would require the break up of the gay marriage? And if the HS leads toward that understanding, yet the gay Christian resists this prompting, will the grace remain? Is the only difference within the heart of the gay Christian themselves?

  13. Jay wrote : “So, Chris, kudos on reading Tozer. But “live like the world” isn’t quite the same thing as “sin.” All Christians sin. None should live like the world. What’s the difference?

    Well, it’s about the heart and the direction of our lives and our willingness to listen to the scriptures and apostolic guidance. It’s about submission and penitence and submitting to the Spirit’s work within us.”

    Jay, I agree and that’s the point, all be it poorly, that I was aiming for – if someone lives in a perpetual state of sin without conviction and repenting, at some point they have ceased to walk in the Spirit and are walking in the flesh. Their behavior is no different than someone who lives without Christ in this world. I’m not at all saying that a Christian lives in a perpetual state of perfection without sin, but neither should one claim to have the Spirit and yet continue to openly rebel against God.

    In 1 Corinthians, Paul says: “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” (1 Corinthians 6:11)

    Didn’t Paul write that the church ought to mourn over the sexual immorality in the church? At what point does the body of Christ start mourning?

    Sorry, I don’t mean to sound so pious, but sometimes it seems like we just don’t know as Christians what is right from wrong anymore. We seemed to be as confused as the world. Some churches allows homosexual marriage while others don’t. I think there’s a greek word for that – it’s called rubbish.

    We’ve got a church on every corner, or so it seems, that believes something differen’t than the church down the street. If that isn’t confusing to the non-believer, well it’s confusing to me and I’m a believer. Jesus prayed that we would be one. Well, we sure blew that one!

    I ask again, when does the church start mourning? I’m not talking about some half hearted theological sigh, but honest, soul searching, deep sorrow about what is becoming the state of the body of Christ.

    Thanks for letting me vent.

  14. Buckeyechuck asked,

    Does the gay Christian who truly is convinced the Scripture does not condemn homosexual activity, remain indefinitely in God’s grace? Or does the prompting of the HS lead the gay Christian to a more intended understanding of the texts which would require the break up of the gay marriage? And if the HS leads toward that understanding, yet the gay Christian resists this prompting, will the grace remain? Is the only difference within the heart of the gay Christian themselves?

    Now, that’s a really good question. I actually wrote a post asking this question some time ago — because it’s the right question to be asking. My answer is more pastoral than theological.

    The elders of a church are charged with teaching sound doctrine and refuting false doctrine. Therefore, the leaders of a given church must teach what they believe regarding homosexual conduct. It’s a charge from God and not optional.

    Obviously, there are only so many hours in the day, and so we can’t teach every Bible lesson we’d like to. But in today’s climate, this becomes a critically important issue — not merely whether homosexual sex is sinful but, more importantly, the need of the church to repent of its bigotry, hatred, and rejection of gay people. The leaders of the church must teach “love one another” and “love your neighbor” while also teaching sin to be sin — and how we are to deal lovingly with brothers and sisters who struggle with sins.

    Now, that means a gay Christians in a congregation that teaches gay sex to be sinful is subject to discipline if he sins this way — but no more so than those who sin regarding heterosexual sex. Paul lists “sexual immorality” right alongside “homosexual practice.” He makes no distinction.

    Church discipline is a difficult topic for any kind of sin. The key is to be consistent and disciplined. Disfellowshipping a brother or sister is about saving that person’s soul from the damnation that rebellion can bring — but also to protect the church from the dangerous bad example of tolerated, open, rebellious sin.

    But what if the leaders of the congregation read the text differently? What if they see gay marriage as sanctifying homosexual sex? What if they teach this is no sin at all? Now, I’m convinced that they’d be dead wrong, but that doesn’t make them damned. And it’s the leaders who are held to the higher standard than the members they deceive.

    So what about a gay couple under the oversight of such an eldership? Well, it rather depends. What if they know what they’re doing is sin but shop for an “affirming” church? That hardly protects them from being in rebellion.

    But what if they really are deep down persuaded that they are not sinning? And the church leadership affirms their behavior as Christian – in a culture that says the same thing? Well, it’s hard to declare them in rebellion, isn’t it?

    But what about over time? Doesn’t the Spirit at some point challenge their assumptions? Doesn’t their own Bible study challenge their assumptions? And, yes, these things surely happen. But it’s really hard for someone in another congregation to pass judgment over such things.

    And we have plenty of members who have other pet sins where the Spirit has yet to persuade them to give up their sin. I mean, we all will struggle both with knowing God’s will and doing God’s will until Jesus returns.

    Does this create a loophole whereby Christians can pick a church that suits there preferences and not be challenged to grow? Well, isn’t this the story of the 20th Century Churches of Christ? Isn’t that exactly what causes our churches to divide? And I’m not sure that splitting to be able to worship in legalism and condemnation of other believers is any worse than gay sex. In fact, the NT seems much more concerned with legalism as a sin.

    So, yes, it’s a problem caused by our sinful division and preference for autonomy over unity. And, yes, it makes it easier to sin and not be challenged and disciplined. It makes it easy to pick a church that affirms our sinful attitudes. And, yes, we’ve been doing exactly that for 150 years. And it’s very, very wrong.

    So take the opposite case. Imagine a church that teaches that all gay people are damned unless they change orientation. Most of us would find this ridiculous and ignorant and hateful. So are we willing to let our teens paint houses next to their teens? Well, maybe our teens would be a good influence. Or be badly influenced. So do we make this a “test of fellowship”? By what right? Or maybe training our teens how to talk about this would be a good thing?

    But, of course, there are boundaries. Faith is the main thing — and “faith” includes faithfulness. But someone — not well educated — could consider the Bible to reject gay people in general and yet have a faithful heart, due to suffering from very poor instruction and growing up in a culture that rejects gay people in general. Isn’t that possible? It’s pretty much the culture in which I grew up.

    Just so, in today’s USA, someone could consider the actively gay saved if they are married. They could cite not only the US Supreme Court, but Tony Compalo, Rachel Held Evans, and Stanley Hauerwas as agreeing. They could even buy a big ol’ stack of theological texts from Amazon that would affirm their views. Might they remain “faithful” despite their error?

    Now, there are two things about this very tentative conclusion that is very bothersome to me.

    1. Paul includes homosexuality in his lists of sins that are so obviously sinful that they mark the damned. Three times. But he also includes slander and a bunch of other sins that we tolerate in the Churches of Christ in copious quantities. And yet …

    2. This sure creates the potential for abuse. This is ameliorated to the extent churches talk to each other, we read each others arguments, and we are open to change. Over time, we should come to a common understanding if we’ll just TALK. But, of course, we don’t. There’s so little fellowship among Christian congregations that the opportunity to learn and teach are pretty minimal. And this is a part of contemporary church culture that is sinful and needs to change.

    So what the gay/grace question does is point out, very clearly, how very sinful church division is because it creates a climate in which we can’t even call sin “sin” and so call our members to a higher standard — whether it’s gay sex or the abuse of political power or concern for the oppressed or whatever. It gives Satan a free hand in the church. After all, if we criticize someone’s sin, they can just leave and go to the church across the street, which probably has better church music anyway. We allow a consumer church culture by our division.

    The problem ultimately isn’t grace or the desire of some to sin. The problem is a church so badly fractured and broken that it can’t really be the church God calls it to be.

    The solution, therefore, is — ironically enough — is to push for greater visible unity within the church-universal — DESPITE our disagreements. As we unite in practice, we will become closer in doctrine because we’ll be talking to each other and iron sharpens iron. As long as we consider it acceptable to exist in discrete, isolated pockets we call “congregations” segregated from all other believers in town, we’re going to be severely handicapped in church discipline, in teaching sound doctrine, in everything that we’ve been called to be.

    So I’m not thrilled with this answer — for many reasons. I’m open to a better one.

  15. It seems to me that the church is being backed into a corner……be kind and gracious to committed homosexual believing couples, which means approve of their lifestyle. I see the socially progressives framing the discourse for the church and not the other way around. This is how you must think. This is what being “open” and “accepting” means. This is what “loving ” and “affirming” means. Accept our mantra or else be labeled as bigoted and mean spirited, something of course Jesus would never be and something no loving church member would ever desire to be. However, there seems to be very little wiggle room for the church when culture gets to frame the argument. Sadly, it seems the church is buying in to the culture and culture’s mantra instead of the church influencing the culture.

    One of the main arguments that has infiltrated the church is “no one can call sin a sin or condemn a sin because “we all sin.” It has a ring of truth about it and of course it goes back to Jesus’ teaching on condemning another’s mote when you have a beam in your eye. It also has roots in “He that is without sin cast the first stone.” Of course these teachings are easy to manipulate to mean what they don’t in fact mean. It is not mean spirited or hate speech for the preacher to preach on fornication being wrong even though in a big enough congregation there will be some Christians who have fornicated recently. We don’t know all the motivations behind why they did. Maybe it was the engaged couple trying to hold off to their wedding but temptation over took them, maybe it was the divorced man who was lonely and went to a bar out of his loneliness and met someone who wasn’t hung-up on sex outside of marriage and it was all too easy. Maybe it was the unmarried Christian guy who pretends to be high and holy in church but he regularly uses the services of prostitutes. There could be many different scenarios of the motivation behind the sin, but does the preacher have to take all of those into consideration before he teaches God’s word? Should he teach God’s word in a loving non-condemning manner? Of course! Should he not teach against the sin of fornication because there are members practicing it to differing degrees with different motivations? Surely he can and should. How does this apply to same sex sin and committed couples? Marrying nullifies the sin of heterosexual fornication. Does it do the same for same sex sin? Is the only difference the marriage certificate? Is there not anything wrong in the practice itself of same-sex sex? Would Paul or Jesus bless a marriage of Tom and Bill or Sue and Debbie? Does the amount of affection, love and devotion between them nullify the sin? Does it nullify the sin of “shacking up” between heterosexual couples?

    Twice in the span of six verses in Revelations 2:14-20 Jesus rebukes two different congregations because “some” were teaching and “some” were practicing fornication. How does that happen given the clear concise teachings of Jesus and Paul and Torah? How does the church in Corinth allow open fellowship with the man who has his father’s wife? Were they not being open, affirming, loving, accepting congregations? They obviously were, to their detriment. Did they not have members who were guilty of other sins? Yes, of course. Even in Revelation there were other congregations with other problems like luke- warmness and self sufficiency, or just being dead. The difference is they were allowing the gangrene of sexual immorality to spread, either by teaching it(being complicit) or by affirming it instead of condemning it. There were no splits because some were teaching the teachings of the Nicolaitans. There were no splits over allowing Jezebel to teach and to seduce “my servants” to commit fornication. Those scenarios seem foreign to me and my upbringing. I promise you there would have been some splits over those peculiar teachings, especially if the guilty parties didn’t or wouldn’t repent. While we had members who sinned concerning fornication, I never attended a church that taught what was wrong (according to Jesus, Paul and the Torah) was the thing to do. That’s why the condemnation in Revelation seems strange. How could they not understand what they were doing was wrong? Well the only answer seems to be, whoever was teaching it to be OK was doing a good job of wrangling the scriptures. There was persuasive speech that made what was clearly unacceptable acceptable. The culture of the day was surely espousing it and culture had obviously made a lot of headway into the permissiveness of the church in those places. Perhaps those in Pergamum and in Thyatira who weren’t teaching and practicing fornication, they didn’t want to be known as being “haters” and “bigots.” It has always been hard to wrap my head around churches that could teach and affirm fornication but it has become much easier to understand recently given the controversy of same sex “commitedness.”

  16. While it might a duty of the elders (and preachers) to refute false teachings, they are only responsible when this comes to those within thier area who are teaching false doctrine. But we as saint are also called on to test the spirits and deiscern the truth. And we might have to do this in regards to what we are being taught by the preachers and elders. It is our fault if we are led astray by false doctrine and doubly so for those leading others astray no matter who it is, be it a stranger, teacher, preacher or elder.
    Paul condemned the fact that a man had his father’s wife and told others to condemn it as well. But because he had to do this it was either accepted or ignored, either way was wrong. Note, Paul wrote to the people, which included the elders, but didn’t write directly to the elders. It was the peoples responsibility to see the wrong and address it.

  17. What bothers me is that a Christian who has no malice what so ever in his heart toward a gay person can be labeled a bigot, unloving, uneducated, homophobic, etc. just because he happens to feel in his heart that God does not approve of sexual immorality. Disapproval or heartbrokeness over sin does not mean that a person hates someone else, whether it be heterosexuals shacking up, infidelity, gossipers, liars, etc. If that’s the case the Apostle Paul, Peter and Jesus Himself would fall into the category of “bigots” and “uneducated.” Or there unloving, bigots out there ( Westboro Baptist)? Yes, but don’t confuse those who take a Biblical world view with being bigots and unloving.

  18. Chris,
    It is bigoted to say that by being gay a person is sexually immoral. There are plenty of gay people who are not sexually immoral.

  19. Dustin, you are correct and I apologize for the wording and if I offended anyone. I was referring to someone who intentionally INDULGES in any practice who knowlingly is going against God’s will but who is unrepentant, and then condemns and labels those who disagree simply because of their spiritual faith.

    Thanks for pointing this out to me brother. We are all sinners and by God’s grace we are forgiven and walk by faith. I know I need forgiveness daily.