So recently Nashville put together a statement about the stance of the church on basic sexuality, covering issues such as marriage, homosexuality, fidelity etc. The blow-back has been as expected, huge. Now it is both confusing why the world is surprised that the church seeks to adhere to historical biblical doctrine, and not at all surprising they would be angry.
One critique I heard was there was no scripture attached to it, and sure, they should look at that. But it is also important to point out that even if the scriptures were included, as they have been already many times, since they are readily available to all who can read, the response would be the same. I am not so sure that pointing to the Biblical texts at this point helps, because it is not like this is new material.
The issue is about culture. The culture wants Christians to repudiate the Bible, not clarify its position on sexual ethics. They are not interested what is actually in there. The church wants to hold the line to Biblical fidelity despite culture. The truth is this has been written about, and argued, and debated, and taught from pulpits, and the church keeps coming back to the Word of God. If they are the church, then they have too. I have written about this many times as well, and it is not because it is a favorite subject of mine, but because it is relevant to our day, and pastors do not get to skirt by hard topics. Here are some of those with scripture: It was Inevitable, Upon the Bible can I only claim, A Confusion-ing.
Another critique was, where is the moral authority to make such an assertion? The church has struggled with her own sexual sins. True enough, we have. This is simply drawing yet another line that the church will continue to struggle with. The authority is God’s alone. Goals need emphasis to even identify a struggle, instead of simply normal practice. But you don’t change goal posts just because people have trouble keeping in it the net. You don’t have to attain perfection before you point out the ship is sinking. People will fall short, that is why it is magnificent that Jesus continues to forgive us! If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) We must never take lightly the trespass. A failing doesn’t mean a retraction of the Word of God. It means a calling to repentance, a reminder of his mercy, and entering into his forgiveness. He has both the authority to call us out, and to forgive.
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1)
Look at what is says: if we say we have not sinned we make him a liar and his word is not in us. The part prior says we deceive ourselves. So as much as we are free to seek forgiveness, we are not free to pretend that God’s rendering of sin isn’t a problem. This is what the statement is about. It is focusing on where the cultural lines are right now, and reminding the church what God has said.
Another critique was it didn’t mention all the possible other hetero sexual sins. Yes a lot of sin wasn’t included, there is a reason for instance that abortion wasn’t included in this one. (the result of many said sexual sins) The church has loudly spoken on that issue, and continues to fight for life, but it didn’t need to be addressed in this statement. Many will still have abortions, and thus much forgiveness will yet be needed and available. In the same way the church is not going to repudiate marriage simply because so many have had divorce. We will not repudiate that truth just because the culture wishes it so.
This is about addressing the airs of the day. There is a reason this is happening now as opposed to even twenty years ago. Some even say the response is late. It is a sad thing indeed when the church has to spell out ethics in statements. These things have always been basic understandings throughout the entire church history. The question shouldn’t be why wasn’t sin X included, but why does this have to be said at all?
When God calls us through his word to a standard, we are to fall in line as disciples of Jesus. When the Bible calls us to flee sexual immorality, we do not instead join with culture and run to it. (1 Cor 6:18) Yes the world is going one way, but the church does not follow. The reason that this is being addressed is because sadly, churches are falling for bad teaching here. In fact they are simply cowering to cultural whims. This is the church, saying to the church, that fidelity of scripture teaches a truth and we will hold to it despite culture. Paul tells us this in 1 Corinthians 5
12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
Many great Christian leaders signed it, because it is God’s design not because of politics. This is not even about calling out sinners necessarily, it is the Church taking a stand after the cultural winds have blurred the lines of even some bodies of believers. If the church doesn’t even understand the Word of God, how can we expect the culture to see it in us? This is what this statement is about.
The further evidence for the need of such a scraping of the line in the sand, is the response of some churches and bloggers. Some Christians are saying they love and welcome all, while rejecting this statement. Well the statement has said they also love and welcome and want to minister, but that they must adhere to it as faithful to God’s revelation. In order to actually minster and love, we need God’s truth.
Jesus says very clearly “Why do you call me Lord Lord, but do not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46) This is what the statement is saying: You are right Jesus, we can’t. Do not confuse the statement, with how counsel and ministry would look. This is simply the idea we would work form, we must work from, because many in the church do not even understand this.
The statement itself also says what should be encouragement VI: ambiguities in a person’s sex do not mean people are incapable of living fruitful and joyful obedience to Christ. VIII: People who experience same sex attraction may live a rich and fruitful pleasing walk with Jesus as they walk in purity, like all Christians. XI: They restate the necessity of communicating the truth in love at all times. XII: They affirm that the blood of Christ can cleanse all sexual sin. XVII: They deny that the Lord’s arm is too short to save any sinner.
Christians are not out to damn anybody, but to demonstrate that forgiveness is for all. No one is excluded. No one is hating anybody. The point is to say, if we are going to work through relationships and minister, then we must understand what the forgiveness is for, what the death on the cross was for-everybody has stuff to deal with. Everybody can be forgiven. But we have a responsibility to accurately communicate God’s intentions with his people. God loves and forgives for the purpose that we walk out of darkness, and not to continue in it.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1)
A Christians’ responsibility is to love people, part of loving people is telling them to not hurt themselves, and displaying mercy, and teaching them about forgiveness. We love because he first loved us, we show mercy because we were shown mercy, we seek reconciliation because God desires that none should be lost. Some may have failed in this approach, but understand, they need that same mercy as everyone else does.
Christianity does not mean we have attained perfection in our actions, and we look down our noses at everyone else. It is simply that we have experienced the joy of forgiveness, and want others to come to relationship with God as well: where the forgiveness is abundant, where the love is true, and the relationship is lasting.
I know that many will still misunderstand our intentions and still reject the truth we bring, but Christians follow Jesus even at the ire of the world. Jesus himself admitted from John 7:7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. Now Jesus doesn’t do this to frustrate and make enemies he does it to identify people’s need for himself. We need him. I need his forgiveness, you need it, we all do. We all have lusts that we have to work through, and be forgiven for.
Now the world’s response aside, I do think the document fails to demarcate between said raging world, and seeking hearts bound up in this struggle. The world will always howl at God, but someone seeking, needs compassionate ministry. They need to hear our own struggles with lusts, our own challenges of the heart, our own compassion for the hurting. They need a friendly ear. This is what Jesus did that many of us have failed at, he brought the truth yes, but he loved greatly. He was moved with compassion for those that were like sheep without a shepherd. The church needs to learn to be good shepherds again, not hired hands who simply strike the sheep.
So I am willing to admit that the statement didn’t include a detailed section of how to do this kind of ministry better than we have in the past. This may have the unfortunate affect of people doubling down and saying “see we were right!” or others saying “see, we are not welcome” but a good theology, doesn’t excuse poor practice. People struggling don’t necessarily need to again hear the hard truth, as I said above, but instead need the soft arms of someone reaching out for a hug trying to walk through this with them. This statement is for other Christians who have seen this lack of ministry, and therefore rejected the theology. But the theology is needed so we can frame a hug in the first place. But the hugs must come. The mercy must be displayed, the pursuit of reconciliation must be made.
Christians are not telling anyone to go away. They are telling everyone we are all in the same sinking boat, and we all need Jesus to rescue. The problem is how we point that out and distribute the life jackets. I pray we can all see this, and I pray that those who have failed to communicate this would themselves repent and learn mercy. We all need mercy.
We all need Jesus.