I haven't posted anything here on the blog for quite some time. But now it's time to flesh out the culmination of much prayer, discussion, study and searching in regarding my journey to lead a congregation through the new reality of legalized same-sex marriage. What follows here and the next three weeks hasn't been arrived at casually or uncritically. The obligations and the risks have been prayerfully considered and a path has been determined. Here is a summary of my message from this past Sunday.
It became clear to me during months of contemplation on these challenging issues, for every critically thinking Christian and for every church that seeks to be faithful, that an appropriate foundation had to be set first. In other words, a framework from which to engage these issues had to be first set forth to get a congregation on the same page. We had to first agree on how to begin to address these issues before we could get to the specifics of the issues themselves.
I set before the congregation a three-legged stool (literally) and explained that our approach to all these matters concerning family and sexuality must contain a three-fold commitment from the beginning if we were to successfully carry the weight of faithful ministry.
First, we must have an absolute devotion to God's Word.
A huge problem we have within the church and evangelicalism at large is an authority problem. When we dive into our sometimes heated discussions about hot-button moral issues, we rarely pause to consider that we are arguing from vastly different starting places. We must at least be honest and acknowledge this reality. I am leading my congregation to adopt an unashamed, absolute devotion to the authority of the Bible for our belief and practice. If we can't agree on this, then we have a bigger problem than any differences on gay marriage. And frankly, some may choose to get off the bus at this point. I have to trust that to God.
Either the Bible is God's written revelation or it is not. Either it is God's witness to Jesus Christ and constitutes a trustworthy guide for His church or it is not. There is no room for ambiguity here. If we believe God's Word, then let's say it loudly and clearly. If we believe God's Word, then let's strive to interpret it correctly and apply it faithfully. Let's agree that it doesn't matter what you or I think, but what God has revealed to be true. Our job is to desire to discover God's truth in His revelation and nurture a disposition to respect and obey it when we know that truth.
The culture doesn't determine truth. Activist groups that attempt to heap shame on me do not determine truth. Judges or lawmakers do not decree truth. God has revealed what is true. Let's talk about that and determine that Scripture alone will inform our views and policies.
Second, we must have real compassion for all people.
Jesus stated very clearly and concisely that he had come to seek and save the lost (Matt.19:10). Our attitude must reflect his mission and character. The church's mission is to seek the lost as well. The lost are those who are dying without Jesus and on a broad path to eternal separation from God in hell. Jesus talked about the reality of this broad way, and we have no right to ignore what He said.
The church is in the rescuing business by pointing people to God's truth. We must point people to this truth with conviction and compassion. We have to be clear that people go to hell for rejecting God and His provision in Christ, not for being gay, living together, watching porn, or divorcing. It seems that we spend a lot of time talking about the symptoms as if it were the disease. We need to understand that the disease is lostness and the only cure is genuine new life in Christ evidence by spiritual fruit.
The church must adopt the attitude that there are no throw-away people. Every person's greatest need is to know Jesus and have a personal, saving relationship with God resulting in eternal life. And because we want to be like Jesus, every person is sought and welcome because every person needs Him.
Our commission by Jesus is to make disciples, and the thrust of that directive is to teach disciples to obey God. We go about doing this with the grace and truth that was embodied in our Savior, who neither ceased to be bold with truth nor failed to be compassionate to sinners (John 8:1-11). Having the truth doesn't help people see Christ unless it is delivered with genuine love and compassion for people whom God loves.
Third, we must have accountability within the church.
The last peg in the three-legged stool is purely a church family issue. At some point in the past the church as a whole abdicated its responsibility to love each other the way God's Word instructs. Whereas, God has clearly told us to test the spirits, restore the wayward brother through gentle confrontation, and rebuke the sinner brother for his own good, we have chosen the cowardly route by perverting the words of Jesus. We have taken Matthew 7:1 and created a mantra for moral permissiveness and negligence within the body of Christ.
Many read Matthew 7:1 as a proof text for the idea that choices regarding sexuality are individual choices, reasoning that what might be right for one, may not be right for another. Those who do this wield this verse like a toddler with a loaded gun, failing to read on through verse 6. To make Jesus the guru of a live-and-let-live mentality is not only ignorant, but blasphemous!
Here is what Jesus was saying in Matthew 7:1-6: First, we should not be mean-spirited with our judgment. This is the point behind v.2 about being judged with the same measure with which we give it out (presumably by God). We are to be ever mindful to be careful with our judgment, exercising great humility and care. Second, we should understand that a hypocrite is an unfit judge. The whole absurd illustration of the speck and the log is about this matter. A good goal is to get the speck (sin) out of your brother's eye, but you have to be seeing clearly first yourself. Third, redemptive judgment is an exercise within the body of believers, not for the lost. Just as a dog or pig will not appreciate objects of beauty and wealth, neither will an unbeliever value trustworthy correction or rebuke.
There are many, many places within the New Testament that teach directly or by example the principle of accountability within the church family. We have to be committed to this principle. How that exactly looks at this point is hard to say, but I believe it starts with each individual loving others enough to tell them the truth about their sin. Biblically, it must be done gently and discretely as possible. But it must be done.
These three, the Bible, compassion, and accountability must constitute the foundational commitment of our church. The Bible gives us the right knowledge for our task, compassion equips us with the right attitude for engaging people, and accountability protects the integrity of Christ's church and gives us credibility in our witness to the world.
Now, we are ready to talk straight about gay (and other stuff too).