(Part Seven or an Eight Part Series. Full list of links to all posts in the series at the end of this article.)
From Apologies to Apologists
It seems we’re forever swinging to or from extremes.
That’s true of much of life, church life in particular. At times we see the Christian population with its nose buried in End Times writings; other times you’d think, by the lack of attention paid to it, that the Second Coming was a discarded myth. Sometimes we’ve sought political power; other times we’ve all but shunned participation in politics. And so we find ourselves again swinging from one extreme to the other regarding homosexuality. In the past, too many believers (some of them prominent leaders) have made irresponsible, even cruel remarks about homosexual people. At times the subject has been addressed from our pulpits as if the future health of America hinged on our defeating the “gay agenda”, and the sin of homosexuality has been elevated, in practice if not theory, to its own high mortal status.
But now, just search the web for articles and postings apologizing for the traditional Biblical view as if it were the flat earth belief we now snicker at. Peruse amazon.com and find recent books rebuking the Church for so much as calling homosexuality a sin, and calling all of us to love gays and lesbians by, in essence, legitimizing, or at least ignoring, homosexuality itself. Apologies for wrong attitudes and stupid remarks are called for at times; apologizing for what God Himself has declared is the height of arrogant unfaithfulness. And it is that very lack of fidelity to His Word and, by extension, He Himself, that we are dangerously close to.
In Ephesians 2:10, Paul referred to the church as God’s “workmanship”, the Greek word for which is poema, from which we get our word “poem.” I love this concept, sobering as it is. God’s the poet; we’re the poem – His earthly work of art; His visible representatives. That puts both tremendous honor and responsibility on us because, as His workmanship, we’ve been commissioned to represent Him accurately. John said as much himself, when he reminded his readers:
“He who says he abides in Him ought so to walk as He walked.” (I John 2:6)
And when describing how He walked, John mentions two of Jesus’ most noticeable qualities:
“—and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1: 14)
To represent Him properly, then, is to exhibit grace and truth. And on no issue are we more challenged to express both than on this one.
Jesus showed immeasurable grace when dealing with sinners, both sexual and otherwise. When interacting with an adulteress woman, tax collectors or prostitutes, He consistently showed respect, a propensity to dialogue and socialize with them, and even a readiness to defend them from mistreatment, always with an eye towards their earthly safety and their eternal well-being.
There’s our standard for grace when dealing with homosexuals: respect in our speech and actions, a willingness to dialogue, relate, and find common ground when possible, a readiness to defend them against verbal or physical mistreatment, all with an eye towards their fair treatment in this life and, more important, their salvation.
To fall short in this area is to relinquish our influence and credibility, and let’s sadly but clearly admit we’re guilty. Too often, the Christian expressing his views on homosexuality has done so with a contempt, in both his tone and words, seldom expressed when he describes other sins. “We’re all sinners”, he seems to say, “but gays are a special class of the worst sort.” Or, as my friend Mike Haley of Focus on the Family used to say, some speak of homosexuality as the sin Jesus “had to hang on the cross a little longer for.”
Imagine a doctor seeing a patient with a rare disease who, after examining him, curls his lower lip with distain and says, “I’ve seen lots of sick people, but you’re the sickest. Your problem’s rare and disgusting; I can barely stand treating you for it. I don’t know how you got this way, though I can only guess it’s your own fault. Anyway, you have a repulsive disease, here’s a prescription for it, now go take it and please don’t soil my office with your presence again.”
The doctor is correct in telling the patient he has a problem, and in offering him a remedy. But that’s about all he’s correct about. His attitude is deplorable; his words brutal. He’s guilty of atrocious bedside manners, so could we really blame the patient if he reacts negatively?
When there’s a lack of grace among us for gays, I believe we contribute to the growth and strength of the gay movement. Of course, individuals will answer to God if they embrace error, but what about us? To what extent have we helped them along the way?
Jesus wept openly over Jerusalem, knowing all it could have been yet foreseeing its doom. Paul’s heart’s desire was to see the Jews (who at times opposed him violently) saved. But today, who weeps for homosexuals; whose heart cries out to see them brought to the truth? A lack of impassioned, Christ-like tears may be a measure of our compromised grace.
But a compromise of truth is no less atrocious. Jesus refused to soft-pedal truth for the sake of grace when referencing sexual immorality. So when extending grace to an adulteress, He also called her behavior a sin. (John 8: 1-1) His Sermon on the Mount, an epic model of grace, also includes one of the most stringent standards for sexual purity in scripture. (“Whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has committed adultery in his heart”, Matthew 5:28) He categorized adultery, fornication and lewdness alongside blasphemy and murder (Mark 7: 21) and when rebuke was called for, whether towards his adversaries or disciples, He never withheld it. (See Matthew chapter 23, or Matthew 16:23, for example.) To walk as He walked, then, is to be as unsparing of the truth as we are of grace.
Imagine another doctor, this one beset with a need to be liked, and a greater concern for a high patient load than for providing adequate care. Upon discovering his patient’s life threatening illness, he fears the reaction he’ll get when he tells the patient and his family. He’s heard stories of people hating their doctors for telling them bad news, and how he hates being hated! He’s even heard of those who never visit the doctor again after getting a terminal diagnosis, and how will he keep his practice open if that happens? So he calls the illness something else – something nicer; less offensive. The patient’s happy, nobody’s offended, and the doctor’s practice keeps growing.
Until, of course, his patients start dying because he refused to tell them the truth while they could have done something about it. In his quest to be popular, he’s set himself up for some enormous malpractice claims.
In his defense, he might protest: “I wanted my patient’s to be comfortable when they came to see me!”
“Fine”, we’d respond, “so long as you didn’t make them comfortable at the expense of telling the truth about their condition.”
“But”, he’d protest, “I can’t keep my practice open by telling people things that upset them.”
“If popularity and a large clientele mean more to you than sound medical practices”, we’d answer, “then drop medicine and go into politics. A doctor’s calling is to treat illness, not to make friends.”
Thus a growing segment of the church seems guilty of malpractice. In our desire to be seeker friendly and sensitive, we’re in danger of shunning truth, and all the inconvenience and discomfort it evokes, because we hate confrontation, need to be liked, and prefer large churches to truthful ones.
And while our desire to be non-offensive seems noble to some, I can’t help but wonder where I and so many others would be be if the only Christian messages we heard were the “nice” ones. The call to repentance may have been a thorn in our side, but a life giving one.
Believe me, few people recognize their need for salvation by being told how likeable they are, nor are people born again by being made comfortable in their sin. Perhaps one of the greatest errors infecting modern Christian thought is the presumption that if people like us, then we’ve reached them. Yet Titus Brandsma, a Christian martyr who died at Dachau in 1942, had a more Biblical perspective on the matter:
“Those who want to win the world for Jesus Christ must have the courage to come into conflict with it.” (3)
To those for whom sensitivity takes precedence over truth, we’d respond as we did to our co-dependent medical friend: Comfort is fine, so long as you don’t make people comfortable at the expense of telling them the truth about their condition. And if popularity and a large congregation mean more to you than sound doctrine, then drop the ministry and go into politics. A preacher’s calling is to give the full counsel of God, not to make friends.
Ultimately, then, the church’s ability to respond effectively to homosexual people, and the gay rights movement at large, will be determined by our willingness to be inconvenienced. It will be inconvenient to hold a steadfast definition of marriage when all around us are demanding a revision of it. It will certainly be inconvenient to speak clear truth in our campuses, television studios, and sanctuaries, considering the growing controversy that goes along with truth these days. Yet in doing so, perhaps (or probably?) with an awakening among Christians to our need for the balanced, non-apologetic preaching of truth and grace, then amidst all the controversies that sound doctrine generates there will also be more prodigals who’ll hear and respond to truth, turn from error, and find a celebration waiting for them when they return to their father’s house.
It is not a pipe dream. Episcopal seminarian William Frey envisioned it some time ago, and, as he relates it, it sounds like nothing more than basic Christianity:
“One of the most attractive features of the early Christian communities was their radical sexual ethic and their deep commitment to family values. These things drew many people to them who were disillusioned by the promiscuous excesses of what proved to be a declining culture. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for our church to find such counter cultural courage today?”
Wonderful indeed. And, more than ever, possible,
Check Out the Entire Series, “The Gay Marriage Debate: Winning, Losing or Dropping Out?”