Tag Archives: homosexuality

All sins are the same? [False ideas Christians believe about…Sin. Part 3]

27 Feb

This week I’ve started a blog series that will run for 11 weeks, in which we are fact checking ideas that Christians believe that might be totally false or at least partially so. This week we are looking at ideas about sin. Check out the first posts here and here that introduce the series and define sin. With this post, we begin fact-checking these ideas about sin. The first ideas two are contrasts: All sins are the same vs. Some sins are worse than others.

Which is true?  The statements totally conflict with each other.  Using simple logic, they can’t both be true, can they? 

Well, yes and no.  These statements need some explanation and biblical study.  That is what we want to do in this series, asking what does God have to say in the Bible about the topic?  Does God believe that all sins are the same?  Or does God teach us that some are worse than others?

As we attempt to answer these questions, we will seek to base our understanding on God who is the truth.  That is what is so unique and fascinating about Christianity.  We don’t hold to the idea that truth can ultimately be encapsulated in statements conceived and written by humans.  Instead, we Christians believe in the radical notion that Jesus is the truth.  He told us that he is the way, the truth and the life, and we believe in him.  This is foundational to differentiating between what is false and true, isn’t it?  Jesus is the truth!  Our understanding of what is true, then is rooted in our knowledge of him. 

So when we think about sin and whether or not all sins are equal, we have to evaluate this question based on what we know of Jesus. As we study these statements, we will come back to Jesus.

Let’s start with the first statement:  all sins are the same.

Are they? Of course not, because they are so different.  We know this.  Theft of a pack of gum at the store is on a whole different order of magnitude from murder or rape.  That doesn’t make the theft right, of course.  But clearly sins are different.  Different in their impact, in their consequences, and different in their ripple effect on the community and individuals.

So why do people say “all sins are the same?”  Often this phrase comes out of Christian’s mouths in reference to God’s justice.  When I have tried to share the story of Jesus to people, our conversation often comes to the part of the story that refers to Jesus dying for our sins.  Some people are loathe to agree that they have committed sins.  They think they are generally pretty good, and I suspect most are. They haven’t committed murder or rape, so they don’t consider themselves sinners. Sure they admit to telling white lies or doing other wrong things, but to them that is not sin.  To them that is just a mistake or error. In their opinion those occurrences of “missing the mark” are light years away from rape and murder or many other really awful things. 

They have a point, right?  So in those conversations it is important to show them from the Bible that God does count all sins the same in the sense that even what they consider to be a small mistake or error is actually an indication of our essential difference from God.  Whereas God is holy and perfect, we are not, even if we haven’t committed atrocities. 

In that sense it is important that all people understand that they have sin in their life.  This is a big emphasis in Paul’s argument in the letter to the Romans.  Chapter 3 especially: “There is none righteous, no not one.” And, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  There really is a sense in which all sins are the same in God’s eyes, but only when we are discussing the idea that all people are equally in need of Jesus because of our sin.

Sure, the Bible talks about the 7 deadly sins, and the unpardonable sin.  There is much debate about what is the worst sin. We won’t be able to answer that until we’re in heaven and can ask God!  Where we have gone wrong in our culture, therefore, is when we elevate some sins above others.  In the 1920s, it was alcohol, and there was prohibition.  Then for years we made divorce out to be the worst sin.  Christians who got divorced were almost shunned.  My wife’s uncle, for example, was a missionary in Africa, got divorced, and then remarried.  But his church here stateside, even after he was remarried, will not allow him to serve in leadership in the church because he was previously divorced! 

Then divorce gave its exalted status as the cardinal sin over to another.  Think 1960s and 1970s.  What sin became the new worst sin?  Abortion.  For years abortion was put forth as the worst possible thing a person could do.  Rallies and picket lines outside abortion clinics, including worse atrocities, were justified by people who said God was somehow punishing America for this new cardinal of legalized abortion.  But time went by, and it changed again.  What was the new worst sin after abortion?  Homosexual practice.  And perhaps in many minds that one still holds to the top spot today. 

Drunkenness, Divorce, Abortion and Homosexual practice are all sins.  But we are wrong to elevate one sin as somehow worse than any other.  That is another way in which there is a proper sense of seeing sins equally.  For example, we will rail against a person who is a practicing homosexual, but we say very little about our own gluttony or lying or excessive drinking.  Again, all of us are sinners, and we need to see that.

So, yes, all sin is the same, but sins are also very different, which will see in part 4 tomorrow.

Blog Year in Review – Best of 2014?

31 Dec

best-of-2014I think I’m going to have to “grade on the curve”.  You know how a teacher removes the highest and lowest student grades, and then regrades a test best on the remaining results?  One post was the most popular for the second year in a row.  In fact, this post received more than twice as many views as the second place post.  Here are the top three from 2014.

Reflections on a month of free coffee from Starbucks – 520 views

Why I dislike church worship surveys very, very much – 218 views

How and why we surprised our congregation – 184 views

This is a blog about Faith Church sermons, but the first two posts were not originally written about any sermons, nor were they written in 2014!  That’s why I might have to grade on the curve…

But once we get to third place, we start to see what was a major focus for us in 2014 at Faith Church, our sermon series teaching through 1st Corinthians.  Third through eleventh place were all posts about the 1st Corinthians series.

The third place post up there was a fun morning for us at Faith Church.  Aren’t surprises always fun???  Check it out and see what you think!

The fourth place post had 167 views and was also the top single day post with 105 views on April 16th.  Does it surprise you that it was this post: Is 1st Corinthians 6:9-11 really about homosexuality?

The sermon on 1st Corinthians 11:2-16 referring to the role of women in the church was also quite popular, with the intro post (7th place) and follow-up post (5th place) combining for 242 views.

Here’s looking forward to 2015!  We’ve started studying the Gospel of Luke, as we really want to spend time getting to know Jesus better.

 

Is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 really about homosexuality?

16 Apr

It was easily a Top 5 Most Nerve-Wracking sermon for me.  This past Sunday, as I mentioned in last week’s intro post, I came to 1st Corinthians 6:9-11 in our sermon series through the letter of 1st Corinthians.  In these verses, Paul mentions homosexuality.  That’s what made me nervous.  No matter what I said, I thought, I’m almost guaranteed to tick someone off.  I kinda feel the same way about this post…

But why?  Because this passage is not really about homosexuality!  Because homosexuality is such a live issue in our culture, though, I knew I couldn’t just skip past it.  Paul only briefly mentions homosexuality in his list of vices in 1 Cor. 6:9-11, so I could have given it as much attention as the other vices in the list, about two sentences each.  I knew I couldn’t do that though.  The church needs to talk about homosexuality.  But again, that wasn’t Paul’s chief concern, and I hope I did justice to what was his concern, namely, to remind the Corinthian believers “that is what you were!”  A habitual lifestyle pattern of sin is what they were, but no longer.  Jesus did such an amazing work of renewal in their lives, they are new creations, living a new way. His way, something he called the abundant life.  Paul’s words are an amazing reminder and encouragement to us.

Also, this sermon made me so nervous because, not just in our country (and world), but also in the evangelical subculture, there is a wide range of perspectives on homosexuality.  What I have found is that it seems people have a very hard time holding their positions with grace and love.  Instead I have seen lots of hubris, vitriol and judgment.  Blame and guilt all around.  It is rare that I have seen people navigate this minefield with humility and a heart for unity.  In fact I have seen people claim to be justified in their disunity and arrogance.   I truly I hope I did better than that.

So as I share some further thoughts in this follow-up post, I want to start with a comment about audience.  This blog is surely open to anyone to use as a forum for discussion.  But the audience is primarily the people of Faith Church.  I want to be clear that I am not attempting to make any political or societal proclamation here about homosexuality or marriage.  While I believe that a society should have good governance and there are principles for such good governance found in Scripture, I am not making a pronouncement about that in this blog or in the sermon.  Personally, I wish government would get out of the marriage business and leave that to the church.  I want to distinguish that because I don’t see Paul as making political pronouncements in his teaching either.  His audience was the people of the church in the city of Corinth.  That’s who he is talking to, and by extension, to Christians.  In the same way, my sermon and blog posts are to my church, and by extension to Christians.

I would love to hear your feedback.  Please write your questions in the comments below.  I would especially encourage you to read Wesley Hill’s book Washed and Waiting.  I was deeply convicted reading this book, and I recommend it for any disciple of Jesus. Hill’s conclusion matches that of my own and that of my denomination, that sexual expression is to be contained to marriage, and that marriage is only between a man and a woman.  Hill is a Christian and a homosexual.  He’s also a top-notch scholar.  Though he is not attracted to women, Hill has decided that he will still take God at his word, and God’s call for him is to be celibate for the rest of his life.  That kind of sacrificial commitment is an example to me.

Others look at the biblical material and interpret it differently.  They find a basis for seeing scriptural prohibition of homosexual acts as time or culture bound, or perhaps not applicable to monogamous homosexual relationships or marriages. I have to believe that purveyors of these views are not acting maliciously. I believe a guy like Justin Lee, that when he says he loves the Lord, he means it.  But I humbly disagree with his hermeneutics.  I believe there is probably a lot of theology and biblical interpretation Lee and I would agree on.  I hope that in future conversations and ministry partnerships with those who agree with Lee, I will be able to emphasize those agreements.  I find this article to very helpful in this regard.  Unity is vital. Unity doesn’t mean uniformity.  We can lovingly disagree about things, a lot of things.

But I will say that Lee’s hermeneutical method concerns me. He may be right. I may be wrong. I respect Lee’s heart and mind, and he does evidence a sharp mind.  Read the book and I think you’ll see that.  But I’m concerned that he has allowed himself too much leeway to veer away from an appropriate interpretation of Scripture.  Again, I don’t think he does so maliciously.  Instead I believe he is wrestling with his deepest impulses, how a loving God could give him impulses that seem so right, and yet declare them as wrong.  Imagine with me that the tables were turned.  What if Scripture declared that heterosexual expression of sexuality was a sin, that sexual expression was reserved for marriage between people of the same gender?  You know all those attractions that the majority of you feel toward the opposite sex?  What if you were told you were never allowed to act on those impulses, even in committed monogamous heterosexual relationship?  Yet you felt these attractions and impulses always raging within you.  But you are told that expressing those impulses, acting on that attraction, is against God’s Kingdom.  That would be exceedingly painful to deal with.  I bring up this argument to help people understand the emotional depth of anguish, even if just a bit better intellectual understanding.  I admit I’ll likely never come close to an emotional understanding of what those with same-sex attraction are dealing with.  In the end I believe it is possible to hold to the traditional biblical standard of reserving sexual expression in marriage, and marriage as only between men and women, and to hold that standard with gracious love.

I would love to hear what Hill has to say about Lee and Lee’s hermeneutics.  Hill clearly disagrees with Lee.  I also wonder what Hill has to say since the publication of his book and how our society has changed over the last few years.

I would also love to hear your thoughts.  I’m not interested in a mean-spirited discussion, so I will not allow those comments to be posted.  I hope you’ve heard my heart.

And let me say a few final words.  Faith Church, we need to be there for our brothers and sisters who have same-sex attraction.  We need to love them and express that love in genuinely loving ways.  For those who choose celibacy, and we do recommend this as the option that best honors the Lord, leading to that abundant life I mentioned above, the church needs to provide great support.  Imagine not have the companionship of your spouse.  We need to provide that to celibate disciples of Jesus.  Remember that this passage was not about homosexuality exclusively.  Paul reminded of a kingdom lifestyle of holiness that we all need to hear about.  This week what sin do you need to surrender to the Lord?

 

Box of crackers, Books about homosexuality, Sojourners magazine, Apostles Creed handout – Monday Messy Office Report – April 14, 2014

15 Apr

My Friday tidy office is mysteriously messy by Monday.  Here’s what I found today:

watercrackers

1. Box of Crackers – A friend in our church is in marketing for his company, and so he often receives samples from other similar companies.  On Sunday he brought in a box of crackers, hoping that a needy family in the church could use them.  A few of us were hanging out in the office getting ready to head home after worship and elective classes, and my daughter asked if she could sample the crackers.  He generously gave her a small pack, and asked what she thought of them.  “They taste like cardboard.”

2. Books about homosexuality – As I mentioned in last week’s post introducing this past Sunday’s sermon, we came to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 in which Paul mentions homosexuality.  So I spent time reading what a number of writers had to say about the intersection of Christianity and homosexuality.  Two of the books were still in my office: Torn by Justin Lee, and Homosexuality and the Church by Richard Lovelace.  The third, Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill was my favorite, and that one is loaned out already.  I was impressed by all three writers, and I encourage you to check them all out.   More on this topic tomorrow when I write a follow-up post to the sermon.

3. Sojourners magazine – I’ve had a subscription to Sojourners for a few years now, and the most recent issue came in the mail over the weekend.  I hardly knew anything about Sojourners, until a trip my wife took six years ago changed that.  Michelle traveled to Cambodia at the invitation of Aiyana Ehrman, and there they looked at the problem of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual slavery. Six years later, I’m amazed at what the two of them have accomplished.    One thing led to another, and our eyes, hearts and minds were opened to God’s heart for the oppressed.  Then in 2010 a group from Faith Church spent a week with our sister church, Kimball Ave, in Chicago, where they taught about serious injustices in their community: poverty, housing, violence and so on.  Michelle eventually got a copy of the Poverty & Justice Bible, which highlights in orange all the passages in Scripture that relate to God’s heart for the oppressed.  They used a lot of orange ink printing that Bible.  How did I go through four years of Bible college and through most of my seminary degree without seeing that, without being taught that?  Sojourners is an excellent organization that brings solid biblical teaching to issues of justice.  I would encourage you to check them out.

4. Apostles Creed handout – I think one of my teenage boys left this in my office.  They are attending our elective class that is a video series about the Apostles Creed. How many of you can recite it: “I believe in God the Father Almighty…”?  Growing up, I barely knew about it, but after marriage, I became a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church here in Lancaster.  Michelle had grown up there, and in worship we recited the creed just about every week.  What a thought that Christians around the world can audibly express their faith and unity by saying these few short lines!  What’s more is that Christians have been saying this creed for hundreds and hundreds of years.  I encourage you to memorize it!

Now it’s time to clean this mess up!

Palm Sunday and Homosexuality?

12 Apr

A couple weeks ago, the child sponsorship agency, World Vision, made a big splash in the news. Did you hear about it? It came out that they had changed a long-held policy about standards for employee sexuality. Their previous policy was that sexuality was only to be expressed in marriage between a man and woman. Now they had changed to allow employees for whom marriage is between two adults of the same gender.

When the news the broke, overnight they lost 10,000 sponsorships. And the evangelical subculture went wild. There were World Vision haters, supporters, etc. Because of the massive, sad, impact of 10,000 kids losing sponsorship, 48 hours later World Vision changed it decision and went back to its previous position. There is much that could be said about this, much that has been said.  I bring it up today because the World Vision situation is indicative of the fact that we live in a very interesting time, especially regarding homosexuality.

And today Paul mentions homosexuality. After addressing a situation of sexual immorality, and after addressing a situation in which some people in the church were suing one another in court, mostly likely over a property dispute, Paul now takes a step back to look at the bigger picture.

In our study of 1st Corinthians, tomorrow we arrive at 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, and in a list of vices, Paul mentions the act of homosexual sex.  But there are so many questions about this passage.  How do we interpret the specific words he used?  What was the situation like in Corinth and in the Greco-Roman empire at the time that might help us understand the expression of homosexuality that Paul was speaking to?  Was something specific happening in the Corinthian church?  And what of the fact that in this list of vices, there are many other things that Paul mentions that have nothing to do with sexuality?  Is his list intended to be exhaustive?  What are the similarities and differences between our culture and the one Paul was writing to?  How do those similarities and differences help us hone in on principles that could be broadly applicable not only to their culture, but also to ours?

What we’ll find is that these three verses are about so much more than the expression of our sexuality.  Join us tomorrow at Faith Church at 9:30am for a Palm Sunday sermon that won’t feel much like a Palm Sunday sermon, until maybe the end!