(by Chris Long)
I received the following message which was sent to me by a believer that sent my "Rationalizing Sin" article to their pastor. This is the pastor's response to that article (I'm making it anonymous), followed by my response (modified slightly). I share this in the hopes of showcasing by example the thought process that many within our churches have, and the real root issue that is involved (it's about much more than homosexuality!). Plus, I address the common argument that gets brought up of all the different Scriptures that are supposedly "no longer true" and thus if they aren't true, maybe "X" isn't true, either. It is my hope and prayer that all of this (yes, I know it's lengthy...but it's also important) will help each of us to not only know what we believe, but why we believe it. That is my reason for sharing - to help all of us to really think about some of these issues and decide where we're going to stand. Despite the tone in many of my writings, I don't think I know it all! I'm a seeker, and in my life I'm frequently trying to prayerfully figure out what's true and what's not, just the same (hopefully) as you. The conclusions I share below are ones I have reached so far, but I'm still learning and growing. I won't guarantee that every word of my response is correct, but the major theme of the importance of taking God's Word at face value, is. :)
Pastor's Response to my article:
I've read this several times and am struggling how to respond to such a long writing - so let me just offer a few thoughts -
I certainly agree with Long that we are all sinful human people - not that I'm happy about it, but I recognize there are lots of ways we want to do life on our own terms, instead of God's. Isn't that, after all, the definition of sin? Turning away from God - denying who God has made us to be - refusing to live into the fullness of life God offers us.
I also agree that to continue to deliberately sin - with no repentance - is to reject what God wants for our lives. But this, then, is to enter into the conversation about faith and works. What is it that saves us? The work of Jesus Christ - his life, death, and resurrection - or our own works? For if we accept what Jesus has done, then salvation is completed in that. If we have to live into it for it to be effective, then it becomes our own work that saves us. Generally, the teaching of the church is that salvation is complete in the person and work of Jesus, and that our lives then are lived in response to that ... or not. But faith, by itself, is sufficient. That, really, is a side issue - as even Long claims he is not condemning anyone ... though I question that.
It seems to me the primary issue in this question is whether or not homosexuality is a sin - and that is still a matter of biblical interpretation. Long denies these arguments - refuses to hear them - explaining them away as a rationalization of sin. I think that is naive - There are many other situations in which we use biblical interpretation to better understand what the texts say to our lives today. We (at least in our Methodist church) allow women to be ordained ministers and to lead churches. If we take the biblical writings at face value, as Long insists we must with homosexuality, then we must also refuse to allow women in the pulpit - and we must allow for slavery - and we cannot eat shrimp ... you get the idea. There is a place for thoughtful, careful Biblical scholarship and interpretation, in order to seek the truth of scripture for our day. I think this issue is one of those places.
There are many Biblical scholars who will make the arguments Long dismisses in his article - about the usage of words that do not translate directly into English, about practices that were different in the 1st century than today, about understandings about biology that were unknown to 1st century people, and about context and world view that have changed.
I also recognize that there are issues about which even the most learned Biblical scholars do not agree. How do we decide what is true for ourselves? Our tradition teaches we have Scripture as a primary guide, but are also given our intellect, the teaching of the wisdom of the ages, and our own experience of God. This is not the same as saying truth is relative - but there are ways in which some truths can belong to some people or some times. In any case, I am well aware that there are differing opinions on this subject - all of which are faithfully held - which is why you will not likely hear me preaching on this subject from the pulpit. I know what I am supposed to do with MY life - beyond that, it is up to God. (Another statement Long rejects, but I will not judge.)
It is my hope that we, the church, can continue to be in conversation about what it means to be faithful people in this time and place - and recognize that it is not just this issue, nor the issue of abortion, the primarily define our faithfulness - but rather our seeking to live in the fullness of God's call upon our lives.
Response from Chris to the believer that sent my article to their pastor:
First off, I want to congratulate you for being a genuine seeker on these things - someone that cares about what is right and what is wrong. :) You did the absolute right thing when you had a concern with something going on in your church: you went and talked with your pastor about it. And then, you followed that up by sending her an article like mine. I have to say that it would have been easy for your pastor to completely dismiss that article without even really reading or considering it - I do in some respect give her credit for being willing to read it (several times even, as she says).
With that said, your pastor, who's reply I have read, does very much seem to have an underlying structural problem in her thinking, which isn't related to homosexuality or abortion. Views on homosexuality and abortion are merely symptoms of a deeper theological issue. Unfortunately this is a serious structural issue.
When you get down to it, there are 2 main types of people when it comes to how we view the Bible:
1) Those that believe the Bible is a "guide book" - it gives us some truth, but truth also must take into account - as your pastor stated - things like "the wisdom of the ages", "our own experiences with God", "our own intellect", etc. Therefore, when the Bible says "x", if the "wisdom of the ages" (i.e. man's wisdom) or our own supposed "experiences with God" say different, then we can reject "x". Our culture today (what we think we know now) can dictate what parts of the Bible we want to believe as true and what parts we don't. What parts we want to agree with and what parts we don't.
2) Those that believe the Bible is not just a "guide book", but THE book that contains Truth as embodied in the Word of God. This truth does not change. Truth is truth. Now, that doesn't mean that some truth is not understood in the light of what was going on in Biblical times (i.e. the "context") - certainly we can look to the context of Scripture to understand the truth. But it doesn't negate the truth, it helps explain it.
Obviously #2 would be my camp. I believe God says what He means and means what He says. I don't spend my time trying to explain away portions of Scripture because "modern man's wisdom" or what *I* think in my brain disagree with God's Word. The Bible tells us that man is sinful from birth, it tells us that the heart is deceitfully wicked above all things, it tells us that none are righteous in ourselves - that our minds and consciences can be seared....If I'm relying on MY anything to tell me things of truth, I am in deep trouble because I in myself am fundamentally flawed! I need something outside of me, and outside of all these other flawed human beings walking around, to determine what is true and what is not. God has given us His Word for this very purpose!
Just because culture in the last 30 years has been moving towards a posture of homosexuality not being a sin and being "ok" does not mean it is. The Bible says different and for a very very long time, the church has held to that Biblical standard. It is only recently as our culture has left God in the dust more and more, that this has begun really changing. And unfortunately, large parts of the Methodist denomination is one of several which has caved in and "changed their perception of truth". If what is a sin and what is not can change every time culture shifts this way or another, we are in deep trouble. If God can call something an abomination to Him at one point in history, but a few thousand years later, it's all OK because WE know so much more now - and culture dictates truth to US (rather than God's Word dictating truth to culture), then we have no sure footing. We can never know what's true and what's not. We're like Pilate exclaiming "What is truth?" (John 18:37-38) when confronted with God's truth, which if you read your pastor's response carefully, I believe you can see as an underpinning in what she says.
Now, your pastor mentions some of the common arguments. People that want to pick and choose often take a posture of saying things like "well, the Bible also talks about slavery, laws regarding not eating certain things, the role of women", etc. which we know as "different" now.
Let's take slavery. The Bible never condones slavery that I can see. In fact, though not saying it outright, it seems implicit in quite a lot of the NT text discussing it that it is an evil. What the Bible does is ASSUME that slavery exists and writes to people given that assumption. And I would agree that the advice given to slaves is sound advice, though it can be hard to swallow.
For instance, I just read this in 1 Peter the other day:
"Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps...When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. " (1 Peter 2:18-21,23 NIV)
This is hard, right? Because it flies against what we would think. We would think that a person in that situation should NOT endure it, right? But the goal of what Peter is getting at is that if you suffer for doing right, it's credited to your account because God sees the injustice - and not only that, but it serves as a powerful witness to the one doing the wrong...it is a powerful testimony of sorts AGAINST them - precisely BECAUSE we don't respond in the way most people would - it shows LOVE - rather than the retaliation and anger that most people would show.
We can just as easily apply this to many domestic violence situations where the woman is often the "slave" of sorts to a man that is beating her (a "master" of sorts). There's a local woman here that was beaten regularly for a long time by her husband. She was a believer and he was not. Although human wisdom would have dictated that she leave, she stayed because she felt she was supposed to. Eventually, the testimony of her love helped bring her husband to Christ - and he now has a VERY large ministry where he has ministered to probably hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people and has helped lead untold amounts of people to Christ. In that situation, had she left and said "see you sucker!" it's in doubt whether the greater picture that exists today would have come to pass.
Now, does this mean that a person in that situation should always endure such wrong beatings? I'm not going to go that far and as far as I can see, I don't see the Scripture saying that either. In fact, for a woman in such a situation, my advice would most likely be the "show love and clear boundaries by separating" advice for which I also believe a case can be made from Scripture.
But the point is that it doesn't negate the truth as taught above in Scripture. See, someone reads that passage about slavery, and the natural inclination is to say that "that doesn't apply any more" because now we have "evolved" (another problem often underlying "don't take the Bible literally" people) and we know slavery is wrong and thus the Bible was wrong to say such things. But that isn't true. Truth is truth. The context of the slavery at the time explains the truth, but it doesn't negate it. Incidentally, the slavery passages are often very applicable in an employer-employee relationship of today or any other relationship where one person has dominance over another. The truth does not change!
As for the arguments that these people love to use regarding the OT law, again context is key, but it doesn't negate the truth.
The law was given for the nation of Israel as God's chosen nation and He wanted them to be "set apart" (holy) for Him. He wanted all the other nations to see a distinction with them. There are thus many regulations relating to them. It is true that we are not under "the law". It is true that Christ came to fulfill the law. However, that doesn't mean the law is to be discarded and nor does it mean that it doesn't give us great insight into God's heart. They are laws from God and they tell us things about Him and what He thinks. Much of the law if followed today would STILL actually be wise. For instance, most of the stuff relating to uncleanness and having to wait till evening or several days before you were "clean" again was important on a practical level as it helped keep diseases from running rampant with the Israelites. Many of the laws taught spiritual concepts as well as served a practical purpose.
There are several parts to the law including the moral code that governs behavior. The mistake that people make is they want to throw out everything because they think they can point to some things and say "well, that doesn't apply any more" or "we don't need to do that" anymore. They thus dismiss its entire value at telling us what God thinks about things.
And certainly just as the nation of Israel is to be "set apart" (holy) so those who are believers in Jesus Christ are to be "set apart" (holy). We are exhorted along these lines numerous times in the New Testament! The world may do what the world does but believers are to be "set apart" so most definitely those that are in Christ's family need to pay close attention to His heart on things as He has revealed them.
For instance, God's heart as revealed in the law shows us that He doesn't like parents taking their children and sacrificing them to idols. He doesn't like the killing of innocent children. This does not change. God shows us He doesn't like beastiality - that people are not to have sex with animals. Again, His heart on these things are not going to change. Forever and ever and ever God's heart is that men and women don't have sex with animals. It isn't going to change. Likewise, when God says that homosexuality is an abomination to Him and the penalty for the Israelites practicing it is death, this tells us God takes homosexuality very seriously too. It tells us what God thinks of homosexuality. God isn't going to change His mind - ever. It's not like He thinks "Oh well homosexuality is an abomination to me now for the people of Israel, but 2000 years from now I won't care if people commit homosexuality." God's standards do not change.
He has shown us His heart on things and we would be wise to not dismiss it. We are not bound to the law because Christ fulfilled the law and thus everything in the law was fulfilled in Christ (incidentally that means Christ wasn't a homosexual either and agreed that it was an abomination or else He couldn't have fulfilled the law as the Scriptures teach!!) So the rules and regulations about cleanness/uncleanness (food, bodily discharges, etc.), Sabbath, everything, have been fulfilled in Christ. When God told Peter "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." (Acts 10:15) He was clearly showing that Christ had fulfilled the law. We're not bound to it anymore. So we can eat meat that was forbidden in the dietary law, etc.
But just because Christ fulfilled the law and we're not under its yoke does not mean that God's heart on things has changed. This is the big big big mistake that many make. The law gives much insight into the character of God. And incidentally, many of the things that are in the moral law that showcase God's heart are reiterated in the New Testament as well. This includes homosexuality, the Sabbath, taking the Lord's name in vain, lying, cheating, and on and on and on this goes...
See, it's not a matter of "picking and choosing" which laws apply and which one's don't. It is a matter of looking at the laws and saying "what is God's heart" on such and such and looking at the reasons behind the laws. Honestly, this whole argument against the law usually results from homosexuality, which is ironic because it actually is one of the best examples of a law that God laid down that we can clearly see His heart on because He specifically said it!
The other mistake that goes right along with this is people trying to compare the parts of the law governing moral behavior with those related to food, worship, etc. They do this to try to dismiss the entire law's value because since obviously the worship provisions don't apply, we should just dismiss everything and not look at God's moral instructions and take him seriously when, for instance, he calls a particular sin an "abomination".
The whole "the law doesn't apply any more so we can dismiss it" is nothing more than an excuse by people trying to rationalize sin! It is true that we are not bound to it but we most certainly should not dismiss it either!
OK, next up is probably the "cream of the crop" for the "pick and choosers": the role of women in the church. This would require me writing a major article on this alone to do the topic justice (and I've already grown this far too long) so I'm not going to get into this on a detailed level. But suffice it to say that, again, context plays a very important role here. For many of the NT passages, particularly the Corinthian ones, we do indeed need to look at what was going on within their church to make sense out of what the Scripture is saying. But again, it doesn't negate the truth. When it starts talking about the head coverings and women staying silent, I do believe the cultural context explains this truth. Our context today (i.e. we don't even culturally have head coverings) does seem to indicate that while the Scripture is true, our context doesn't really match that Scriptural truth. However, this is a FAR cry from say, homosexuality, which existed culturally then, and still exists culturally now. Homosexuality is homosexuality...
Bringing all of the rabbit trails back to how I started:
This all comes down to how we view God's Word and whether we're going to take God at face value. There are some issues in the Bible where at least to me, I'm not so sure that things are "clear", but the vast majority, including homosexuality, ARE clear. We don't throw out what IS clear because there are some things that might be unclear (to us anyway - often as we grow in the Lord, things become clearer!) People with views such as your pastor (and some of the "theologians" she mentions) seem to like to make the Bible have far more "gray areas" than it really allows for.
People that adopt the type of view as your pastor believe they are being more loving and understanding toward their fellow man, and that people such as myself are actually condemning and judging others. Note your pastor even references me in this way stating things like "Long claims he is not condemning anyone ... though I question that." They adopt an attitude of truth is whatever *I* believe is right for my life. Note your pastor references this as well when she says "I know what I am supposed to do with MY life - beyond that, it is up to God." In other words, let me deal with me, and you deal with you, and don't you dare tell me that what I'm doing or not doing is wrong - because then you're judging and condemning me. See how it works?
The problem with this is that people that believe this way have it exactly backwards! The MOST loving thing that I can do is point someone to what God says - not to condemn them - but out of LOVE - so that they will see the truth, repent if need be, and make sure they are right with God by being in alignment with His Word! The motivation AND goal is LOVE! It is NOT loving to ignore or explain away what God says and leave people in a state where they are living blatantly unrepentant or even just ignorant to God's Word. It isn't about what *I* think or what *I* feel or what culture says is right or wrong, it is about what God thinks, what God feels, what God says is right or wrong. God is the standard!
There is a broad way, and there is a narrow way...I'm pretty sure the broad way involves human wisdom and thinking and feelings, and the narrow way involves God's wisdom and thinking and feelings.
Like your pastor, my goal for my life is to be the person that God wants me to be - to fulfill the calling God has on my life. But I'm quite certain that I'm not going to get there by disregarding or explaining away His book to mankind.
And now I need to share some practical advice for you:
As I said at the beginning, the type of position your pastor is taking is indicative of a deeper underlying structural issue - that quite honestly affects or will affect most all areas of her ministry & teaching - far beyond specific issues such as homosexuality & abortion.
If your pastor does not change her views and initiate a radical shift in her underlying premise, then I would strongly encourage you to seek out another church. Not because you are upset at the pastor or anything (if you are, don't be - the worst thing you can do with people such as her is show any sign of anger as that fits into their "non-loving" argument), but for your own sake. For your own spiritual growth and development, you need to be in a place that has these underlying structural issues right, because if these underlying things are not right, as I said, it skews everything else - and manifests in views of things such as homosexuality and abortion - and a myriad of other things that you might not know about, and the very real danger is you might be led astray without even realizing it!
Although many churches are caving in to the cultural pressure around them, there are many that are standing firm on the Word of God too. I would encourage you to find such a church. They exist in many denominations, but in some denominations you are much more likely to find them than others. Any church you investigate to possibly attend, I would encourage you to check out their views or even speak with their pastor about these things before becoming a member, etc.
May God grant you great wisdom in regards to all of this. Keep the faith & stand on the Word! :)
With love to you in Christ,
Final note from Chris:
There is one last quick issue that I did not address above that the pastor's message to me brought out, and I do believe it is a very important issue. In regards to salvation, she stated that faith alone is sufficient. She stated that our lives are then either lived in response to that, or not, but the faith is all that matters. This is a very common view, especially among those that "rationalize sin", because if all that's required to be "saved" and go to Heaven is a one-time act saying we believe in Jesus, then we can live however we want and it doesn't matter. (which "rationalize sin" people love because it means they can just keep on rationalizing!)
I firmly believe that such people, if they are not careful, may be in for a very big surprise when they stand before their Maker. There are Scriptures peppered all over the NT, including many by Jesus Himself, that shoot big giant holes in that notion. The type of faith that Jesus portrays is one that is very active: watching & waiting, living in obedience/striving to obey, abiding in Him, laying down our life, being radical with sin (just think of Jesus' radical cut off your hand/eye statement!), etc. There are some very sober warnings in Scripture if a person is open to see them. Further, I find it interesting that when Jesus talked of those that He would tell to depart from Him, He said they called Him "Lord" ("Lord, Lord, did we not...").
Yes, we are saved by God's grace through our faith in Jesus. But this is an abiding faith as we walk in relationship with Jesus, and this abiding faith will bring forth good fruit in keeping with repentance. The person that says they believe in Jesus but then really isn't interested in what else He says or want to obey Him and lives just like the world, is not bearing good fruit and in my estimation has cause to be concerned.
Laugh & Lift ministries
This article is Copyright by Chris Long 2011. You may use this article for free for any purpose, whether commercial or non-commercial, as long as you use the entire text and that all text, including this notice, is not modified or removed in any fashion. For any other usage, you must obtain written permission from the author. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
This is version 1.1 of this document (July 28, 2011).
Previous versions: 1.0 (February 27, 2011)
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