Living Between the Ideal and the Real
We are caught between graceless law and lawless grace.
We have basically three options:
- We can simply say, “No way, not ever, never. Stay away.”
This is graceless law.
- We can simply say, “Whatever. Y’all come. We can be “open and affirming.”
- We can acknowledge that we live somewhere in between and try to figure out a reasonable response, not a compromising of either but a conversation between the two.
The potential for splitting the church is substantial.
In 2014, among the oldest evangelicals only 20% supported gay marriage.
Among the younger evangelicals, over 40% supported gay marriage.
Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian….
There is no reason to panic….
This is an opportunity.
To show the culture what Christianity really looks like.
To show what the church really is (not the jaded culture warrior/fear driven/power wielding/whiny sin management, judgmental church that much of America believes the church is.)
A. WE UPHOLD THE IDEALS
This is where we identify the law that must accompany grace.
1. An ideal: marriage is heterosexual
The Bible is unabashedly straightforward: the ideal for marriage is heterosexual.
Admittedly there are various forms of marriage in the Bible that may not meet the definition of what is often called the “traditional family” (e.g., multiple wives, concubines, close degrees of marriage [between half-siblings, cousins, et al.]).
Furthermore, wedding “ceremonies”, as we moderns practice them, do not appear in Scripture. The arranged marriages and politically and religiously motivated unions found there are neither openly endorsed nor forcefully proscribed by Scripture.
This fact, however, does not sidestep the fundamental biblical understanding that God’s idea is one man and one woman for life in a “one-flesh” relationship (Gen. 2:24).
This ideal reflects a deeper truth: maleness and femaleness are subsumed in the image of God (Gen. 1:26ff). The intimate connectedness of male and female in every dimension of their relationship and responsibility in the world (regarding both procreation and stewardship of the earth, Gen. 1:27) finds its basis in His very nature as the triune God.
Husband (male) and wife (female) are assumed as “the norm” for marriage throughout the Bible (see, for example, Dt. 20:7; Pr. 18:22; 31; Mt. 19:3-6; Mk. 10:2-9; I Cor. 7:1-16; Eph. 5:22-33; I Tim. 5:1-16; Heb.13:4).
This is not to say that two people who define themselves as having a homosexual orientation cannot love each other and be committed to one another.
What it does say is that a homosexual relationship does not by definition fulfill the biblical understanding of the intent and purposes of the one-flesh (heterosexual) union.
2. An Ideal: the prohibitions are clear.
No passage speaks favorably of homosexual relationships or activity.
The language is plain.
The rules of interpretation don’t allow a ready dismissal of the relevant texts.
Lev. 18:22; 20:13
In the OT, God is protecting the integrity and identity of His people who will be His voice and instrument in the world.
The texts are embedded in an ancient code, a “holiness code”, if you will, for ancient Israel—requiring that the people of God stand apart from surrounding pagan societies. The instructions may be in reference to archaic Canaanite cultic activity—but they are nevertheless incontrovertible.
The seriousness of the act is seen in the penalties described.
In the NT, homosexual activity is clearly identified as unacceptable (whether it is in the general public or in the pagan temple cult.)
I Cor. 6:9-10
I Tim. 1:9-10
3. An Ideal: a unique people in whom God can be seen.
John 17:1, 4, 5, 10, 22, 24, 26
I Cor. 10:31
B. WE LIVE IN THE REAL WORLD
There is where we must identify the grace that accompanies the law.
The ideals exist as goals:
They beckon to us, draw us.
We are always moving toward them, taking people with us.
This is where we learn how to be faithful Christians in a chaotic age…
….how to remain true to Scripture and genuine Christian morality while also being gracious, compassionate, and loving.
1. We must address our personal feelings and reactions.
Mt. 7:1-5 Deal with the log in our own eye
We will eradicate fear, negative responses to homosexuals.
We are talking about people with minds and spirits, feelings and needs; real persons not objects of derision, disgust, and crude, insensitive jokes.
We will stop the queer jokes and insults and demeaning comments.
2. We will not act in unloving, demeaning, small-minded ways that give critics a reason to criticize.
I Pet. 2:10-12, 15; 3:16
3. Make the church a welcoming place, like we do for all sinners.
The fact of the matter also is that some Christians experience real homosexual desires. We cannot explain them. We cannot state unequivocally that “God made them that way” but neither can we simply deny that they exist.
Can the church be the place where those who experience the homosexual desire are safe and welcome, not rebuffed but prayed for?
After all, we share meals with gluttons, shop with the greedy, share complements with the vain, vegetate with the slothful, party with the drunkard….
We denounce homosexuality. But we do not decry laziness, irresponsibility, greed, gossip, slander, lack of commitment and genuine investment of heart and life into the church, the casual shopper mentality that accompanies so many culture Christians who drift from one church to another based on personal preferences and tastes.
We are inclined to define people according to categories of sin we have identified: thus, sluts and lushes are “bad” sinners. Others, with whom we are quite comfortable, such as idolators, covetous, jealous, and envious, are not so bad.
I am hesitant to make practicing homosexuals leaders in the church. But for that matter, I am hesitant also about power-mongers, pushy, brutal people, gossips, slanderers and gossips.
Can we share this journey of faith, which was freely made open to us by the God of grace, by inviting the person who identifies as homosexual to seek and worship, serve, and grow alongside us?
How about instead of fearing and sniping, we plan Bible studies and invite all our gay friends to join us?
Perhaps we could learn how to talk and to listen.
Perhaps we would help redefine tolerance (back to what it was) as “mutual respect when disagreeing.”
I can’t do their wedding—but I will welcome the gay couple, and their baby, into this fellowship with open arms and expect them to be treated like everyone else.
4. Uphold the ideals while having empathy for the struggle.
Jn. 8:7 Those of us who are without sin may cast the first stone
Go and sin no more
Keep pointing to what the Bible says:
Gay or straight, we are all called to a higher standard.
Is it unfair to ask the homosexual to be chaste…
To learn the value of obedience over gratification?
To serve God instead of his/her own desires?
The existence of inclination, orientations, and preferences has little to do with God’s moral call on our lives. We ask alcoholics to be sober, people inclined to be angry to reject bitterness, and people inclined to excess to be moderate and disciplined.
We are not slaves to our desires, strong as they might be: we build moral strength and personal character through the choices we make.
Are we all willing to bring our life, our practices, our habits, our desires, into line with His will?
But we know the going is tough:
But we should also remember that healing is rarely (if ever) instantaneous. It is rather a state of recovering. Relapsing is common among believers trying to repent and go other directions.
We will recognize that some may never really change or even choose to be celibate.
We will proclaim hope for the ability to live in the space between the ideal and the real.
We should be reminded that all sins but one are forgivable. God’s free unmerited grace is available to every human, regardless of class, social respectability or gender orientation, whatever that means. God’s grace is extended in its fullness to homosexuals as it is to everyone else.
Parents: balance convictions with love for children….
5. Transform the culture from the inside.
America has always been a secular culture.
A certain religious ethos existed in the early years, but it was intentionally set up to allow freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.
That means secular and sacred live alongside each other, each making the other uncomfortable!
Neither the government nor the culture is Christian.
We don’t necessarily expect them to adhere to Christian ideals.
We are not given the task of redeeming the culture or remaking the government so that they will enforce our Christian or biblical standards.
We will always be on the outside of the world, as “strangers and aliens.”
Ours is not a power game.
We seek to transform the culture the way Jesus did
Jesus’ mode of cultural transformation was focused on the individual. He did not resort to trying to change the cultural institutions of His time. He invested Himself in the life of sinful people one at a time, spending inordinate amounts of time with them, touching them with grace, confronting them with the need to change.
Our task is to be salt and light in a dark world. We are to be transformers of culture from the inside out, one person at a time, reaching individuals with the soul-saving, life-transforming gospel of Christ.
The church is a body of redeemed sinners.
Here is our challenge:
To fearlessly proclaim the truth Jesus proclaimed and embodied:
The kingdom is here and it matters for eternity.
We are to die to self, take up cross, and follow Him to the end.
To make the church a place of
truth that speaks with compassion,
love that speaks both hope and warning, and
grace for the journey.
D. One other thought: a strategic change of thinking
Rethink how we do weddings.
How about consider separating Christian and civil weddings?
The secular government has the authority to define marriage legally; i.e., churches don’t issue marriage licenses—the state does.
Marriage is a civil contract. I sign a license issued by the state. I am granted privilege and responsibility of officiating—as such I am an agent of the state.
Any couple, gay or straight, can go to the courthouse and get legally married and licensed. This legal contract spells out the rights, privileges, and benefits under the law.
The church wedding is different. It is for those who wish to sanctify and bless their marriage before God and in light of His plan and purposes.
The church cannot really legitimize homosexual weddings because they are not consistent with biblical teachings…and we will retain the right to make that determination for ourselves.