Thursday, April 03, 2008

An Inconvenient Truth

Matt.11:19 - But the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.

The church, the body of Christ, should be, must be, a living organism that is in a mystery the person of Jesus Christ still living and active on this very planet. Of course we have our truths as revealed in the written revelation of God’s Word and these truths have been attacked and dismissed over the years by all sorts of enemies. Many believers have given their very lives when they refused to recant their faith in Christ and His Word. And that battle continues on many fronts, the Word is being challenged and the core truths that actually make Christianity what it is are systematically being massaged, changed, and ultimately deconstructed wholesale.

But in this post I would like to deal with another aspect of the life of the church and how we function. We live in perilous times, confusing times, times about which the Scriptures predicted. The human race is barreling down to a meeting with God’s judgment and sin is practiced now with complete and utter abandon. Greed and avarice, sexual sins of all kinds, blasphemy, idolatry, rebellion, violence, lying, theft, and sins that are being invented on a daily basis are now commonplace. Call it what you will, Babylon or Sodom, we are being inundated with the Godless living of the children of darkness, and their father, the devil, has eternal destruction planned for them.

But judgment for them is not our calling, redemption is our gospel. Yes, these vile sinners are in desperate need of transformation and conversion before they meet their eternal doom. Our glorious Lord and Savior has paid the price for them, and like His heart for Jerusalem, He beckons all to come to Him. And let us not forget that from which we came, and what would you call someone like us who receives the grace of God and yet still sins and disobeys God sometimes? Maybe...real vile? Now if we as the church and the representatives of Jesus Christ desire to reach out to these sinners we must be prepared for some inconvenient and vulnerable times of loving them in spite of their sin. Isn’t that what the Incarnate Christ did while he was here? He who was completely sinless walked and ate among sinners, sharing His love while only saving His condemnation for the self righteous leaders of the Temple.

And so we are faced today with a colossal task of standing firm upon God’s Word without wavering, and yet reaching out in love with the gospel of Jesus Christ to the most demonstrative of fallen sinners. The most repugnant, rebellious, and the most arrogant and unrepentant sinners must hear a voice that looks beyond their sin and speaks to their need. We as the servants of Christ must refuse to be offended and count our lives and reputations as nothing in favor of sharing Christ. Call it what you will, inconvenient, uncomfortable, and even distressing, but our mission and ministry must lead us to reach the most unpleasant of sinners and their lifestyles, and we must be prepared to suffer for His name.

We who hold sacred the immutable truths of Biblical Christianity must break up the fallow ground and go without the camp, bearing His reproach willingly and with a supernatural love for this sin drenched world. And in so doing we need to prepare ourselves for criticism. Oh yes, many sinners will mock us and reject our Lord, they will blaspheme the name of Christ, they will deride us as fanatics and archaic, and many other verbal assaults will be thrown at us. We should not shrink at our task, our privilege, because of some name calling or some strong incoming invectives that attack us on all fronts, no, we must remember Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself. We must remember the apostles who rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name. Suffering for Christ is in reality not suffering at all, it is a sacred calling of the highest privilege.

And most surprising of all, if we are to be seen among sinners we must be prepared to suffer the slings and arrows of the evangelical community who will judge our motives, judge our methods, judge our theology, and especially judge those sinners among whom we witness. If you desire freedom and isolation from any criticism then you must remain far away from lost sinners and only witness by throwing money in a plate to help others or leaving a tract on a windshield or some other form of witnessing that doesn’t require personal and inconvenient involvement. And in so doing we can secure ourselves an acceptable place in our evangelical niche without dealing with the inevitable questions that must arise about anyone who would involve themselves in the lives of precious and repulsive sinners. If your reputation is important to you than this journey ends for you right here.

And now I wish to focus in on a particular segment of our society and yes many societies all over the world. We call it the gay community and in reality it is the ever growing number of practicing homosexuals. When I was young I do not remember ever knowing anyone who was a homosexual. Perhaps that was due to the clandestine nature of the sin back then and also because it most assuredly was much less prevalent than it appears to be today. But other than pronouncing judgment and using the homosexuals to prove our doctrinal masculinity, how do we reach out to them and more directly how does the gospel apply to them? Look out now, we are entering some turbulence and the pilot has turned on the seat belts light. These are issues about which the church has turned a decidedly deaf ear, and every discussion about the nature of grace, the nature of repentance, the nature of conversion, and everything associated with redemption is always entered into apprehensively and with fear and trembling, not about God, but about our reputation before men.

There are mercurial aspects inherent in language that when combined with someone gifted in communication any point of view can be equally as persuasive. That phenomenon is what politics depends upon as well as the inability for most people to come to a view based upon unbiased reasoning. I ask you to meditate on my words stripped of whatever meager literary weight they might contain. I can sympathize with some gay perspectives, especially when they seem to have been born with a same sex attraction. Some show signs as early as two years old and with that it is not a choice. Some appeal for us to accept their lifestyle as from God and I feel their pain.

However, Scripture does not agree and to God’s Word I must bow, even though if I were God I would think differently. Isn’t that the underlying issue about which we are dealing here? With the onslaught of some sins coming openly into the public square, and now with accommodating acceptance, there is also a great challenge to God’s church. The colossal balance between openly and with vulnerability showing God’s love while at the same time remaining faithful to the other aspects of God’s Word is one of the deepest refining aspects of today’s church.

The issue is far from established in the midst of such curious personal evidence that includes gay people who seem to aggressively espouse all the core doctrines of evangelicalism but have been so conflicted about their own sexuality that they have understandably found a way to ease the tension without rejecting Christ. If our hearts are not moved we are something akin to a modern Sanhedrin.

The discussion contains a myriad of vantage points and comes with such delicate and uncomfortable communication that it usually results in a massive retreat into well worn shelters of entrenched comfort that are painless mantras of regurgitated perspectives from days gone by. And those of us who hold to the primacy of Scripture have been placed unwillingly in the center of this kaleidoscope of doctrinal issues that many see as a frontal assault on truth while others see it as a refining process that can and should result in a more clear projection of the Living Christ and His gospel.

I for one do not enjoy being uncertain especially when it involves some area of “settled law” in my own heart. I am much more comfortable in using my past views as precedent rather than re-visiting anything. And discussing the salvation of homosexuals opens up in myself a room for discussion that travels way too close to the all important question of sin. Without changing the nature of Scripture entirely the ultimate question of sin remains the same, but everything else it seems has been brought forth as a legitimate journey toward truth.

Think on this - If a gay person professes Christ, embraces every core doctrine of the faith, desires to live every other part of his life for Christ, but because of his same sex attraction his views about that are Scripturally skewed, do we receive him/her into the fellowship because:

1. We can pray that they will one day change.

2. They like us do not have all the truth

3. God’s grace covers sins we haven’t grown to recognize as sin yet

4. Because of the strength of same sex attraction they may never summon the strength to be free

5. We love them in spite of the uncomfortableness of their sin

Or will we one day discover that God’s grace was so powerful that He was willing to receive sinners who embraced His Son without ever being completely transformed in every area of their lives. us? Oh yea, this is not going away and the street lights on this well lit journey just dimmed.

The hypocrisies of the evangelical world are legion, but that isn’t the issue. When a man leaves his wife, moves in with his mistress, and after divorcing his wife and marrying his mistress he returns to another church and joins the choir and he and his new wife are welcomed. That happens by the thousands in the evangelical community. I believe the discussion is just beginning on how expansive God’s grace is when it pertains to professing Christians who continue in their gay lifestyle. It cannot be reconciled Scripturally but how do we address them and is there any room for waiting within the church for the Spirit to do His ministry?

I guess what I am asking is can a gay person get converted, born again, saved, before he is ready to set aside his gay lifestyle? And if not, what sins must everyone completely abandon before they can get saved as well? Since only the Holy Spirit can guide us into truth, can an unconverted sinner without the indwelling of the Spirit of truth be expected to Biblically recognize specific sins and abandon them before he can be saved?

We as evangelicals who sincerely attempt to interpret and obey Scripture will have to face this fact:

Many homosexuals will never admit that their attractions are sinful, or at least before they get converted. So, now what. How do we receive - reject - love - those who desire Christianity without at least an initial alignment with the Biblical view? No one can change a person’s view except the Holy Spirit. When I was saved I still believed in abortion, evolution, smoking pot, and a litany of other issues and truths that the Spirit changed within me later, BUT I WAS WELCOMED INTO THE BODY OF CHRIST.

I do not want to know how to change people’s views, that is usually futile. I want to know how do we treat those who believe Jesus is the only Lord and Savior and yet come in with a deception about sexuality?? Is there a time frame we allow them to change?? Do we receive them as legitimate believers or not? And if not, do we tell them? The Biblical views about the sinfulness of that lifestyle notwithstanding, how do we show Christ to these people who come as I did with doctrinally unsound baggage? We can provide a discourse for them but that is still wanting. Do we reject them until they acknowledge their sin, or do we embrace them with all the uncomfortableness of their unbiblical views?

This is serious and the subject is not just “how do we change their minds”, no, the conversation turns now to us. The church has not had an introspective discussion as to our behavior and hospitality toward people like that because we are understandably worried about changing the Scriptures. We must work our way out of Jerusalem and into the least of these with some probing and inconvenient observations about ourselves.

Welcome to the end days complete with the community of ostrich evangelicals. And of course I must present my “non-emergent” credentials so I can avoid some of the mischaracterizations that usually accompany any conversation that escapes the usual confines of “orthodox” thought.
The gospel is the universal “offer” of salvation made individually effective by faith in Christ. Hence “Go and preach to every creature”. But in the context of this discussion what are the prerequisites for conversion as it pertains to repentance, sin, and the particulars of the lost sinner’s present circumstance?

And as an “Arminian” I must ask this question, “Can a lost sinner be deceived by a wrong and false gospel?”. For instance, If a homosexual person inquires about salvation in Christ but he is told he must forsake his lifestyle first or at least upon the very act of faith and that message is flawed, can that present a man made road block in the path of a seeker? Remember Jesus Himself said that the Pharisees were blocking the way for sinners to enter the kingdom due to their man made rules, and he said that publicans and harlots enter the kingdom before the teachers of the law. We teach with great and swelling words that salvation is by grace through faith, not of works. We are such great reformers, aren’t we, “the just shall live by faith” is our borrowed mantra.

And yet we require, we require, certain works in order to be fully saved. We don't require heterosexuals to abandon greed, lying, gossip, judging, prayerlessness, questionable movies, slander, lust, stealing, and almost any other sins. "But what if they never change?”. I guess we would be FORCED to leave it in God’s hands, what a novel experiment. Until then maybe we could pray, maybe we could teach, maybe we could love, maybe we could show some grace that doesn’t license sin but authenticates love. Oh yea, we are worried about the implications of that upon our systematic theology which professes a sovereign God but refuses to trust completely on that same sovereignty we so often tout. What would happen if we received some gays into our fellowship and they never changed? What would happen if they left the same? What would happen if they never really were converted?

Jesus even made a reference to Sodom that pulled the self righteousness from under has followers who assumed that their righteousness exceeded that of Sodom because they did not commit the same sins. The more I delve into this whole area I am confronted with a question of the veracity of the grace we claim. Can it only apply to the clean outside like the Pharisees, or is the grace of God sufficient to save a sinner right where he is and start a process of conforming a son to His older brother? Must this sinner present himself with the sanctification process already in gear before he can follow Christ?

In the end we are accomplished grace talkers, but when it comes to dangerous and vulnerable and powerful grace we shrink with the uncomfortable uncertainty of an 8 year old little girl in a room full of dignitaries. We are afraid of making a mistake, we are afraid of expanding grace, we are afraid of trusting God. And what was the slur thrown at Jesus most often? He ate and drank with sinners and even allowed women of known sinful sexual practices to worship Him. And when some woman of a fallen sexual lifestyle openly worshiped Christ he rebuked the self righteous thoughts of his disciples. Oh yes, the Lord Jesus received sinners without any preconditions.

We can sleep well tonight, they can never accuse us of that…