marriage today in the church and society

“Haven’t you read,” [Jesus] replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Matthew 19

Eugene Peterson, one of the very best Christian writers in my lifetime, himself a pastor had an interesting exchange in the past few days in which he seemed to affirm same sex marriage, and then immediately retracted that, and clarified his position. See this interesting post from Christianity Today.

My own position is to side with what scripture up front seems to make clear both in regard to marriage, and same sex relationships, or homosexuality. Of course scripture itself is nuanced, and challenging on some levels, and always must be read in light of its fulfillment in Christ. That said, it seems pretty clear why the traditional view not only holds strong with most Christian denominations and traditions, but surely will remain so in generations to come. Perhaps what might change is how people who have same sex attraction are received into the church, although that probably varies from church to church now.

Denominations and churches which accept and practice same sex weddings, and ordain those who are thus “married” I have seen, either argue that scripture itself leaves room for “covenant” gay sexual relationship, that when scripture does address this subject the few times it does, it is referring to something else altogether. I have read the arguments myself, and find them less than convincing in comparison to traditional teaching and interpretation of scripture. Or there are those “Christian” leaders who simply question Biblical teaching, even at times suggesting that the resurrection of Christ can be taken either literally or metaphorically, in others words that one can be a Christian without believing Christ’s physical, bodily resurrection. While I disagree, I can respect the former, but not the latter.

I think it’s a tragedy when whole groups are ostracized by the church, and now I’m thinking of the LGBT group. But any church, or Christian who doesn’t hold an affirming view of such relationships, will be seen as attacking the person. I doubt that enough work is being done to reach out to these people. At the very least they should know that they’re loved, and welcomed. I’m not sure myself just how to address this, though I think I know what my tentative suggestion might be. But I would want to be part of a group of men and women prayerfully deliberating on that.

As to my own view for society, I say that the church should not try to dictate what the state wants to do. The state, or government is not the church, and can’t be held to the church’s standards. Nor should the church be forced by the state to adopt the state’s standards. So I would hold to a separation of church and state, at the same time hoping that the church’s influence through the gospel might rub off on the state. But never at the expense of compromising the church’s own complete allegiance to Christ and the gospel.

It is quite a challenging and hot topic today, a sea change having taken place in society, with some impact on some churches. It’s simply a new time for the church to learn to live in a culture which doesn’t define marriage in strictly a traditional way. The church will continue on, but hopefully with new insight in helping those who feel rejected by the only one who can change any of us, and receives us all.

a Third Way in the bake a cake discussion

About a year ago to the day, while the discussion was still going on  in the new dilemma whether or not Christians should bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding, I weighed in with a post which hit some of the spot for that time (yes, bake the wedding cake). Surely much more needed to be said then, and we’ve moved past that part to some extent.

Scot Mcknight in his recent book, A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together (see current Kindle price, a bargain) advocates a Third Way, even as he acknowledges that both conservatives/ traditionalists and progressives argue strongly that there are only two ways.

The Third Way he suggests in a nutshell goes something like this. We all live together in the community of the church with all of our differences, of course, and fundamental to this discussion with our brokenness. And in doing so, as the church, we help each other go on in the path of holiness as those living in God’s grace and ongoing forgiveness in and through Jesus. We don’t want anyone to leave the church, just because they’re in a struggle and perhaps over a sin issue they can’t overcome.

This reminds me of Pope Francis’s recent Exhortation to the Roman Catholic Church, which I think actually is a good word to the church at large: how the church pastorally needs to think through how it can be present for everyone. There is no suggestion whatsoever that the church is to slough off concern over sin, but rather to be present in Jesus for the salvation and healing of sinners, which really includes us all.

Back to Scot McKnight’s thought: Many who experience same sex attraction, in spite of their desire to follow Christ, and regardless of how long and hard they’ve prayed, find that this attraction remains, while they are not attracted at all to the opposite sex. Scot shares something of the story of Wesley Hill, an evangelical New Testament professor, along with some most helpful words born out of this struggle.

Like many, Hill has found that the change for him apparently isn’t to come in this life. But what change he is experiencing is to begin to see his same sex attraction as something in a way to be embraced as a cross, as he takes the way of the cross in living faithfully to God’s call in Jesus according to scripture, by abstaining from same sex relations, and doing so with others of us who need to do the same thing for different issues, all on the road to holiness together. And that he looks forward to the day when the Lord will crown his self-denial with the Lord’s praise.

But on to the wedding cake issue. Love might mean that we can bake the cake, and attend the wedding, even though we’re not in agreement, so that we can actually have some sort of relationship with those people. For a Christian business to simply cut them off may send the message loud and clear that same sex activity and union is not accepted as God’s will. But it essentially closes the door to any relationship with them, and can send a message of antagonism and opposition to them as people.

Instead we need to think of ways that we can be present to them, even as we need the same presence from each other. A presence not based on how well we’ve done, persisting in spite of a number of shortcomings, which is going to be the case in any relationships worthy of the name relationship. A friendship not based on any good we see in another, or with the idea that they’ll become, or may become a Christian someday. But simply because they are who they are, period. End of thought.

Of course we want all to find and enter into the same good news that is central in our lives, for sure, and out of love. But love knows no bounds, the Father is waiting and ready to run with arms outstretched to any who may be coming his way. Something we are all desperately in need of. Something for each of us, and for everyone else in the world in and through Jesus.

yes, bake the wedding cake

In my post yesterday, which was far from perfect, I was simply making the point, reinforced by the scriptural passage at the end, how we as Christians, as followers of Jesus are to live lives markedly different from the world in terms of holiness. Yes, a passion for justice Jesus seemed to emphasize. But not by abandoning righteousness and holiness. Just read the Sermon on the Mount. I did mention the issue of gay marriage and homosexuality. That actually needs to be treated separately, given the issue itself and all that is swirling around it.

A comment after that post, even if on edge, I found helpful. And I would agree. Yes, Christians should have religious freedom, and if they don’t want to bake the cake, or take the pictures for a gay wedding, than that should be their prerogative. Religious freedom is supposed to be a given in this country, and it should be in terms of all of life, not just in church. But what does it mean for us to follow Jesus? What about the many of us who still hold to traditional marriage and find scripture upholding the same, as well as not finding the relatively recent reinterpretation of scripture altogether convincing, not at all so in overturning the basic teaching on homosexuality? The whole issue today in that score is riveting in that there are scholars and churches who seem open and it seems inevitable that a shift will continue. But by and large, no matter what some say, I can’t see a wholesale shift ahead at least not with evangelicals or those of the Great Tradition. Because the case for the new understanding in my view doesn’t stand up all that well when all is said and done in the study of the relevant passages along with the Book as a whole. My view.

But for us, what does that mean? Yes, we should be marked by holiness, a holiness which doesn’t excuse any sin, be it adultery and lust as is satisfied by too many through pornography. Instead we need to be marked by faithful marriages which weather the inevitable storms of life. By the quality of our lives. By abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage.

But hopefully needless to say we need to be marked by love as well. We should be known as those who roundly love each other in sacrificial ways. And we should be known as those who love sinners. We are sinners too, forgiven and being made holy, but nevertheless broken in ourselves. So that we all stand on the same level at the foot of the cross. We need to find creative ways of expressing that love across the board. And maybe all the more so to those who believe they are being relegated to a special status of sinners, treated worse than all the rest. Maybe it’s especially those people who we need to search out and befriend. To show them the love of Jesus, and simply to befriend them and enjoy them as human beings, made in God’s image as we are, all of us broken.

So yes, bake the cake. Attend the wedding. Take the pictures. At least think of creative ways you can share the love of Christ, even if you find that you have to draw lines. We may not be able to see it as a normal wedding. But they do. And we have to accept that. It is the gospel which is the power of God for salvation. We all need Jesus.

counter culture

I wonder why following in the way of Christ, in the way of the faith seems often so counter-cultural. There are those times when it does seem to run with the grain of culture at least among many. But when you study early Christianity and the world in which it inhabited, you find that some practices of society were eschewed by the church. Men having boys for pederasty, one such example. The early Christians were looked on with askance, considered different indeed in a world in which both the life the followers of Jesus lived as well as what they prohibited seemed far fetched to say the least.

Of course we have to turn back to our Bibles as well as pay attention to the tradition of the church on various subjects, including probably the hottest subject of the day, homosexuality, and specifically, gay marriage. The discussion will go on and while it is interesting to see how it is shaking out in American society now, one in which 75% still identify themselves as Christian, and how it will take shape in the future, the question remains for the faithful: Just how are we to be counter-cultural in our world today? Should people look at our lives and maybe shake their heads, seeing us as strange at least? This will take discipline in holy living on our part, I would think. One thing for sure in the mix of things: We Christians or followers of Christ are called to be counter-cultural, being different at the heart and core of our beings, our actions (and reactions) different as well.

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

1 Peter 4:1-5

testing everything by the word, but…

Yes, we in Jesus are indeed to test all things and hold on to what is good. The obvious question is: What do we test everything by, and how do we determine what is good? Of course the easy, obvious answer to most Christians is scripture, the written word of God. And the best answer will make it in terms of the church, in other words how the church interprets scripture by the Spirit. The discernment needed is not through private interpretation of individuals, though individuals need to grapple with it. But it must be collective, in community. If my interpretation of a certain passage is disagreed on by a majority of believers around me, that at least puts up a yellow flag. Maybe I am right and they need correction. But more often than not, it would seem likely that the majority would be right, though that is not a given. What is to be desired is a consensus of the faithful by the Spirit.

What I’m not referring to are the areas on which Christians disagree. Like most everything else in life, this is where it is tricky. Life is complex, and general answers which are helpful may not apply across the board. I refer to clear teaching, or basics all Christians and churches must hold to to be Christian. With room to deviate  on lesser issues surrounding or related to them. For example: We accept the teaching of salvation by grace through faith apart from works, works following. Where the church comes into especially prominent view is on teachings like the Trinity, which is not explicitly taught in scripture, but implicitly is clearly there. The church determined that over some time in answer to the Arianism which was the majority view of many professed followers of Christ and churches at one time. Trying to grapple with the idea of a human being God.

Today we have professing Christians and churches disagreeing on some key hot button issues, such as homosexuality, whether homosexual sexual activity is a sin or not, whether we should affirm practicing gays or not. I am on the traditional side, while some of my Christian friends are not. We need to test everything by the written word, scripture, and we also need to test the interpretations of others. How did they come to their interpretation, and how do they interpret scripture? In the same way we have to keep critiquing our own interpretations. We have to compare both Old and New Testaments, and then comb the New Testament to see why our reading or a majority reading of the church might have issues or is confirmed.

What becomes clear and is attested to over and over again must come to have prominence. Some issues such as the issue of homosexuality may not have the same prominence as other issues, and yet we still need to adhere to a line that is in keeping with the witness of scripture and the goal to which it points in the kingdom of God in Jesus. And to really be helpful on anything, we need to look at it from all kinds of angles with reference to scripture. The homosexual issue with reference to God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus, so that while we see it one way or another, we also grapple with it in terms of the whole counsel of God, in other words the grace and the truth which are in Jesus.

Of course scripture is concerned with not only what we profess but what we practice. We need breakthroughs in our lives no less, from God as we in Jesus seek to grow in and live out his word together for the world.

we need all of scripture

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

In this day and age not only is the knowledge of scripture waning among the faithful it seems, but the Book is not being appreciated for what it really is: the written word of God. Certain parts are out of style, or maybe we should say parts everywhere, or why not just say the entire Book? It doesn’t fit our fancy, just isn’t in with the spirit of the times.

This thought came home anew and afresh to me in listening to what I think is a powerful testimony of a lesbian coming to faith, well worth the listen. She wrestled through all of scripture. And over time. And the Lord met her there.

Of course I don’t believe we’re to live in the past. We in Jesus live in God’s kingdom and in that new reality here and now and for this day as God’s resurrection people in and through Jesus and his cross. We don’t go back to the old covenant. Nor do we live in the culture in and to which the new covenant was written. This book is the best I’ve read in helping us begin to think through that. Nevertheless we need every line, every thought that comes out of every part of scripture, everything given, all of it. Picking and choosing will not do.

All of it is in there for a reason. Parts of it I dislike. But those parts often either mirror the sin that can take hold and destroy, or my own sin in some way affecting my reading of it in ways I can’t or maybe never will fully comprehend this side of glory, though it’s probably good to work on that.

I like the idea of reading scripture, especially out loud which scripture itself advocates. I’ve done that a number of times (though not out loud, except perhaps in my mind), but mostly I’ve listened and continue to listen to it being read- in recent years from The Bible Experience. I have to keep listening, try to listen well, and grow in that, but in this way I’m pushed through the entire Book over and over again. Along with that we need serious Bible study and prayerful Bible reading (Lectio Divina). The only thing I’ve done relatively well is to listen to it being read, although I think it is too often in spite of myself, wandering thoughts and not paying close enough attention (becoming aware of this, I’m trying to do better), and yet enough of it getting through to me to make some difference.

We in Jesus have been aptly called “people of the Book.” As long as it is not a book we worship, but the God revealed in Christ we read of in the pages of that Book, we remain among the faithful. We look to the Spirit to help us as continue in God’s word together in and through Jesus for the world.

erring on the side of grace

It is a challenging day on a number of fronts. Of course if one sees everything as black and white, us and them, then it is simplified. But if one follows the way of Jesus and is willing to get their hands dirty, then life is much more messy.

We want to be faithful to revealed truth always, but we need to take care in just how we apply that truth to others, particularly in our sharing of it. We do no one any favors by holding it back. On the other hand, we must see the big picture, and what God might be doing in his grace through Christ in any given person’s life. I would think for example that if Jesus were here today, he would welcome gays, eat with them, and become their best friend. I wonder if God’s grace trumps some of the errors people embrace. I wonder when conversion happens, while at the same time seeing conversion as a process, and understood correctly, a life long process. I wonder if our hyper-sexed society isn’t off track and people especially scarred by the idol sex (I suppose the other two big idols, power and money). I wonder if even we Christians haven’t fallen into the same error of society: that our identity is in our sexuality, rather than in God. This is not to deny our sexuality as a gift from God, nor to deny its power, but only to want it to be in its place.

Yes, we need to be people of the truth, especially of the one who is the way, the truth, and the life. And we need to be people always characterized by grace. A grace which hopes and prays for the very best for everyone always, as we pray for God’s grace to be at work in people’s lives, together in Jesus for the world.