As a follow up to yesterday’s post, I wanted to offer some thoughts on the ministry side of things. If yesterday was theology, belief, and cultural context, today is “how do we live with our convictions in this age of confusion, frustration, and complexity surrounding sexual sin, not least homosexuality?”
First, we must be committed to another Biblical truth, namely, the church is called to love sinners. That is one of our primary missions. Our goal is to reach people, far from God and close to God, who need to have the devastating effects of sin dealt with, either in terms of conversion or in terms of discipleship. Remember, we were first loved by Jesus while we were sinners. We are called to love in his name in light of that. This is our mission as a church. This cannot be theory. It has to be what we actually are passionate about and live out.
Second, though homosexuality is an extremely controversial and sensitive issue right now in our cultural time and space, it really does not change how we approach this in terms of conviction and compassion. Let me say that another way: though the issue of homosexuality is controversial, polarizing, and a headliner, a lightning rod of an issue, it does not force us to be belligerent on the one hand or morally tolerant on the other. Regardless of the buzz, we must still honor Jesus by being loyal to his truth and we need to embody Jesus by pursuing the sinner. Caving in on conviction is not helpful or loving. Lacking compassion is disloyal to Jesus, too. The prominence and cultural attachments to this issue do not change the basic dynamics of how a faith community reaches out to people struggling, or not struggling, with sexual sin.
Third, when engaging someone who claims to be a Christian who is homosexual, a key point of discernment is how that person views their sexual disposition. I am not asking whether they see the disposition itself as good or bad. That is a very complex issue. One thing that is important to affirm for all of us is that we were born sinful. Literally. We are full-of-sin, sin-full. We are bent in sin. All of us – emotion, intellect, volition, our bodies – are affected. Homosexual orientation is one subset of that reality. Here is what I am asking: Do they see it as part of the fall? Or do they find it a part of the good creation? Is it something they believe to be a temptation that can be overcome by the grace of the Holy Spirit? Or, do they believe it a valid and even life giving option within the human sexual options? Do they define it as sin-ful, or is it possibly righteous if expressed within certain ethical parameters? In other words, just like any other moral issue, do we sense they are repenting, fighting for faith, growing OR are they defending and camping out in sin?
Fourth, if a person does not claim to be a Christian, and who is a homosexual, and desires to fellowship with us and learn about the gospel during our services and other venues, then we welcome them, love them, walk with them, and preach, live, and commend Jesus to them. Right now they think, feel, and act with the natural self. They are blinded by the god of this world. They need a new heart. They need to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Forget their sexual disposition for the moment. They need a new life in Jesus. Lord willing, with great joy, they get saved! Then, we start the third point above.
Fifth, based in the point of discernment above, we respond to what they are believing and how they are living. If they are defending and camping out in what we believe to be sin, we must ask that they believe the will of God as revealed in the Bible and repent (whatever that means in their specific situation). If they repent, we embrace them, we walk with them, we disciple them into further Christian growth – just as we would with anyone else. If they will not repent, but defend and camp out in a sinful lifestyle, we must break fellowship with them, as texts like 1 Cor 5 teach us to. If they come broken and hungry for truth and redemption in the first place, then we of course embrace them, walk with them, and point them to Jesus. This is the case for all ethical/moral issues, not least homosexuality. Again, the current electricity does not fundamentally change anything about the mission of reaching the world, homosexual or not. The Biblical pattern of reaching without accommodating is our strategy.
Sixth, we trust God with the results. By taking this stand, the world will hate us. People who wanted a certain vision of Christianity that allows for certain idols and agendas to exist and even thrive will find this very disappointing and will even accuse us of being unfaithful to certain principles like love, grace, and healthy progress. But, by staying the Biblical line, we will also offer life to men and women who know something is fundamentally broken and twisted in their very being and, therefore, need the grace of Jesus to redeem and restore. Read this powerful letter from a lesbian written to an evangelical pastor here.
So, with men and women who struggle with homosexual orientation, we apply our Biblical minisry with love, patience, and conviction, just as we would with men and women who struggle with pride, despondency, gluttony, greed, bigotry, materialism, anger, heterosexual sin, and on, and on.