Results tagged “sexual ethics” from Reformation21 Blog

When Dead Men Speak...

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I just finished watching the TV miniseries Chernobyl. I was brought to tears by the end of the series. In the final episode (spoiler alert, the reactor explodes), Legasov, the nuclear expert rises to speak before the Soviet tribunal tasked with determining whose fault the explosion of Chernobyl was. Legasov is a dying man. He had stood in the shadow of Chernobyl during the cleanup as untold amounts of radiation rained down upon him. At one point he acknowledged that just being in that place basically meant he would only live another five years, tops.

And Legasov stands to speak before the court. The truth is, the explosion happened, in part because of ambitious bureaucrats who disregarded the safety of others. But it happened ultimately because the Soviet government decided to cut corners and save a little money. He has been instructed by the KGB that he must not say this. He may not tell the truth. It will embarrass mother Russia.

And in a pivotal scene he decides to tell the truth even though the KGB will likely imprison or torture him. He tells the truth because he believes it will save countless lives. He tells the truth because he hopes it will motivate the Soviet government to make a change... to repair the 16 other RBMK reactors all over the Soviet Union so that nothing like Chernobyl would ever happen again. And as he stands to speak he decides to tell the truth. And we as the viewer know why he can tell the truth: because he knows that he is dying. What can they do to Legasov that the radiation has not already done? What can they do to this dying man who already is living with a death sentence? What more can they take from him? His life? He's already lost it.

Legasov can tell the truth because he is a dead man. And dead men can tell the truth, and Chernobyl ends on this note of the importance of truth and the price of lies.

This idea has me thinking about current events, especially this month. With the arrival of Gay Pride month lots of brands have begun to send the signal that they have heard the cultural message and are prepared to signal that they are on what they believe will be the "right side of history." Logos are being painted with rainbow imagery. Messages are being posted to indicate that this house has paid the cultural tax and is no enemy of the sexual LGBT revolution.

I attended a Christian liberal arts college--it was relatively conservative. I had classmates with lots of different perspectives when it came to Christianity, and I knew many of them to be what I would uncharitably term "weak kneed" in the face of the authority of Scripture, the nature of God, and of course biblical teaching on human sexuality. Many of those friends are predictably flying the rainbow flag this month. Then I had other friends I did not expect to see caving on this issue--friends I was close to and thought I knew to be firm in their biblical convictions. I thought that, of all those people I know, at least they would care nothing about what the world thinks of them. However, as it has turned out in some cases, I was wrong. This unexpected effect of the rising tide of sexual revolution has left me surprised and sorrowful. For the first time since I was in college, I feel as though the rising tide has swept my comrades out to sea, and I wonder how many more will be next.

I know that there have always been times when God's people felt like the only ones holding the line in the face of immense pressure. As He said to Elijah, I know that the Lord would say today, "I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." That is what I know. I see those faithful ones in my own denomination who are holding the line. And yet at this moment I cannot resist the feeling that the cultural revolution really is happening...it really is sweeping up those who formerly held fast to the Scriptures... it really is the new standard of the day. The pressure is immense. 

Like Legasov, I can tell the truth because I am a dead man. Yes, the KGB is standing right over there telling me I'd better speak the party line or else. But I can tell the truth because I am a dead man. I may live another 50 years, and those could become deeply unpleasant years for someone who believes that God gives us morality, not the urges and opinions of the mob. Yes, that mob may compare me to a Nazi or white supremacist (the worst of them already do). Yes, my children will be insulted (if they are faithful) and potentially mistreated because they believe God and not man. No, I will never get a glowing obituary in the New York Times when I die, celebrating my courage and bravery to question the old dusty truths that modernity has long since rejected in favor of a more enlightened perspective that attacks Scripture while pacifying the mob.

I may never receive that respect...those accolades...and--to be honest--the part of me that does want to be lauded by the crowds grimaces at the thought - who wants to die a villain? Nevertheless, I know that I have a few breaths to speak as "a dying man to dying men." The radiation may not take me, but the grave is coming nonetheless. If it isn't an RBMK reactor that takes me it will be something else. I am a dead man. And we are all dead men. And once we are in the grave, the accolades of society, the weeping masses who were inspired by our bravery in questioning God's Word, and the pundits who respected and applauded us for promoting and spreading lies will give us no comfort. In that moment, all that will matter is the truth: were we willing to speak it, did we believe it, and what will happen to us now? In that sense, death is the great equalizer, isn't it? No more mob justice to bully us into submission, no more angry placard carrying protestors to shout us down until we repent. Just the clean court of truth and justice: "What was the truth, and did we tell it?"

Christians, let me encourage you, God has saved for himself seven thousand who haven't bowed the knee to Baal. Resolve to be part of that faithful group and speak truth to a society full of lies because you are already dead men.

Christians in the Cultural Closet

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Our society celebrates the openness with which it accepts homosexuality and transgenderism. It contrasts our present enlightened times with past eras when what are now called "sexual minorities," LGBTQers, were once consigned to the closets, forced to keep their "sexual identity" hidden. Now those who identify according to their sexual and gender preferences are "out of the closets" and have been mainstreamed. They have a place at the table. They have been normalized. Thus, the narrative is that we have a more just, fair, and open society. Except the closets remain. There always are closets. Every society ancient and modern has closets. What changes are those who inhabit the closets. Gradually we are witnessing traditional, orthodox Christians being forced into the closets even as the sexual minorities move out.

Let me explain. Why do people take to hiding in society's closets? They are shamed into them. Once upon a time society strongly disapproved of sodomy and associated sexual sins. If one admitted one was homosexual, or was "outed" by another, one's political future was over, or one's career was ruined, and one was shunned by society. As recently as 1997 when Ellen DeGeneres "came out," her show, "Ellen" was cancelled. Homosexual characters were not portrayed positively until the mid-1980's and 1990's and even then it happened infrequently. Gradually homosexuality came to be accepted in the mainstream media and normalized. Out of the closet they came, culminating in the Supreme Court's Obergefell decision mandating the legalization of gay "marriage" in all 50 states.

What becomes of those who on moral grounds disapprove of homosexuality? They are slowly being shunned into silence. Their views are being forced into the closet. Recently Senator Joe Biden called Vice President Pence "a decent guy." A furious backlash resulted. Cynthia Nixon, an actress and liberal activist responded, "You've just called America's most anti- LGBTQ elected leader a 'decent guy.' Please consider this falls on the ears of our community." Biden immediately retracted his comment and agreed with her. "There is nothing decent about being anti-LGBTQ rights," Biden responded, "and that includes the vice president." Then there was the response to the news that Mrs. Pence returned to a part-time job teaching at a Christian school. Like all Christian schools, it holds to Christian moral standards that have been around for 2000 years. The response was outrage. The propriety of a spouse of a public official teaching in a school that perpetrates ignorance, hate and bigotry was called into question. Then there was the Covington Catholic High School's participation in the Right to Life march on January 18. The list could go on, but you can see the point. The message that society is sending will not be lost on conservative Christians: your views are no longer acceptable in polite company. Express them, and you will be loudly denounced and shamed. If you hold them, better keep them to yourself.

The transition is not yet complete, but it continues apace. Some pushback is still visible. Yet of the major media outlets (NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, FOX, NPR, ESPN, etc.) only one still gives voice to traditional views. The consensus is clear: light is now darkness, and darkness light. All right-thinking people agree. The call is not "Christians to the lions" as it was in ancient times. We mustn't overstate the case. Yet make no mistake about it, the call is "Christians to the closets." We are not being melodramatic, rather making a rational assessment. Our society is now more "open" than it was in the dark ages of the 1950's. Except it isn't. It still has its closets. It merely has changed the groups which it pushes into them.

Nearly every morning, I listen to Al Mohler's "The Briefing." His ability to synthesize and evaluate current cultural and political events is nothing short of remarkable. One of the aspects of his approach that I most appreciate is his ability to assess the news dispassionately. He'll relate some appalling new anti-Christian development with a neutral introduction like, "This is where it gets interesting..." He then calmly and irrefutably dismantles the presuppositions and outlook of the sexual revolutionaries. He is a brave man. We need more brave men to do what? Coolly, reasonably, persuasively refuse to be confined to the closets.

The Rhetoric of An Affirming Non-Ministry

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Last week in St. Louis, representatives of the United Methodist Church from around the world gathered together for a special session of their General Conference. The delegates to the meeting collectively represented over 12 million church members, worldwide.

Called for the purpose of considering a Commission on a Way Forward report, which evaluates the church's official stance on human sexuality (and, by implication, its qualifications for ministry), the General Conference voted to uphold its current standards. Not only does this move maintain the denomination's stand upon God's Word, declaring that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching," but it also represents a setback for the progressive agenda to normalize homosexual practice across the denomination.

This development in a denomination the size of the UMC is remarkable. The General Conference's decision to adopt the so-called Traditional Plan goes against recent trends in Mainline Protestantism (and Evangelicalism). The surprising result of the meeting will go down in history as a moment when the church in the "global South" chose biblical teaching over Western progressivism. Many observers anticipate a fragmentation to occur in coming months/years. As Mark Tooley (President, Institute on Religion and Democracy) wrote this weekend, traditionalists in the church wondered, "How long would their traditional beliefs be tolerated by United Methodists who view support for historical Christian sexual standards as morally equivalent to white supremacy?" Even mainstream news sources like the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Atlantic, and network news stations are dedicating attention to the General Conference and its outcome.

Though each of the items in the last paragraph is worthy of deeper exploration on its own, the piece of the 2019 UMC General Conference puzzle that has attracted my attention is the progressive party's use of language (hinted at by Tooley), especially by ordained ministers in the church.

What these men and women have given to us are examples of what I am calling "the rhetoric of an affirming non-ministry." In so doing, I want to intentionally hearken back to eighteenth-century American Presbyterian minister Gilbert Tennant, who blasted his non-revivalistic contemporaries in an infamous sermon entitled The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry.  

Consider some of the progressive UMC delegates' statements regarding the vote to uphold the church's condemnation of homosexual acts:

  • Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe (General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society) described the decision as "punitive," inflicting "unbearable pain" upon the church. She lamented, "The wound may one day be healed by the grace of God... but the scar left behind will be visible forever." Elsewhere, she is cited as saying, "The United Methodist Church's special General Conference failed Tuesday to love LGBTQIA people, recognize their gifts in the church, maintain our unity in the midst of diversity, and to live out our Gospel mandate to seek justice and pursue peace."
  • A pro-inclusion delegate from Oklahoma fumed, "I am a 32-year-old, and I am one of the youngest delegates here. For a denomination who claims so desperately to want young people in our churches, maybe we need to reevaluate.... This body is not where the disciple making happens. Thank the good Lord, am I right?"
  • One response on Twitter bemoaned the decision, "This is devastating. Above all, the United Methodist Church is supposed to be a place of grace and service, not this bigotry and hate. My heart is broken into a thousand pieces."
  • Rev. Will Green (Associate Pastor, Foundry UMC in Washington) reflected on the decision, "The church had the opportunity to affirm the blessing of same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ people. Delegates could have rid the language that forced me from my home and charted a path for all queer people to fully experience God's grace as United Methodists. But they didn't. The United Methodist Church is today a more exclusionary, judgmental and queer-phobic denomination than it was when I preached Sunday from one of its pulpits. Not only has it not flung open its doors to queer people and those who love them. It also has closed and locked a door that was until this conference just barely cracked."
 

Consider what it is that has evoked such laments and deprecations. The denomination merely - if surprisingly - upheld its traditional stance on homosexual activity, and voted to strengthen its enforcement of standards that were already on the books. The denomination did not introduce a more conservative and fully biblical stance, such as a condemnation of same-sex attraction as inherently sinful.

It is safe to say that the responses listed above are examples of the rhetoric of an unconverted ministry. Voices in other ecclesiastical circles (both Evangelical and Roman Catholic) make similar statements in opposition to biblical standards of sexual ethics. Here are just a few instances:

  • Author and popular blogger Rachel Held Evans wrote over a decade ago An Evangelical's Apologyto the LGBTQ community, which included the statements, "I'm sorry that we have used the Bible as a weapon. I'm sorry that we have used religion to shame. I'm sorry that we have assumed we speak for God. Most of all, I am sorry that we haven't been Jesus to you."
  • After the 222nd General Assembly of the PCUSA, in which a motion to apologize to the LGBTQ community was rejected in favor of a "statement of regret" (which passed), one commentator and delegate to the Assembly wrote, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry we hurt you. I'm sorry we allowed people to say dehumanizing things about you on the floor of so many past assemblies. I'm sorry we refused to acknowledge your God-given gifts, and I'm sorry we refused to ordain you to ordered ministries. I'm sorry we forced you to leave communities you loved. I'm sorry we demanded that you choose between Jesus and your authentic self. I'm sorry that we used Scripture - the same Scripture that you held dear - as a weapon against you. I'm sorry we turned the beautiful gifts of human sexuality and gender identity into something shameful. I'm sorry we put you up for debate. I'm sorry you were referred to as an "issue". I'm so, so sorry."
  • Matthew Vines, author and Founding Executive Director of The Reformation Project, which promotes the normalization of homosexual relationships in the church, was quoted last year as saying, "We're on the front lines of a shift. I want to live in a world where no one experiences any pain or terror upon realizing that they're gay, bisexual, trans, or pansexual. That requires us to reach even those little churches in rural Texas. I do think it's possible to reach all those churches, eventually."
  • To consider a more traditionally conservative group beyond Evangelical Christianity, even Pope Francis said in 2016, "I believe that the church not only must say it's sorry ... to this person that is gay that it has offended. But it must say it's sorry to the poor, also, to mistreated women, to children forced to work. When I say the church: Christians. The church is holy. We are the sinners."
  • An Eastern Orthodox Twitter user describing himself/herself a "a celibate, partnered, gay Christian" aired frustrations after the 2018 Revoice Conference, including, "Many well-meaning conservatives frame my sexuality in terms of "struggle". My biggest "struggle" to this day is people who fail to listen to what I'm actually saying. I struggle with a Church which fails to love LGBT+ people well."
 

There is a reason that we do not frequently hear echoes of the rhetoric of Gilbert Tennant when those who profess Christ as Lord fall into error. We especially  are right to hesitate to judge too strongly the spiritual condition of those who are lawfully ordained to gospel ministry. However, the rhetoric of an unconverted ministry is more of a danger to the church today than the rhetoric of Gilbert Tennant ever was.

We must maintain as much (if not more) vigilance against the outrageous emotional appeals coming from progressive voices in the church as we do against the socially impolite voices of those who see themselves as defenders of "the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).  Is there any place for the language of "injury, offense, and pain inflicted upon LGBTQ friends and neighbors" in conservative Evangelicalism?

Where this language emerges in conservative Evangelical churches, the accusation is that the church is failing the LGBTQ community. For the United Methodists, the failure is in the church's refusal to bless homosexual activity within the ranks of the church. For conservative Evangelicals, the failure is the church's insistence upon understanding same-sex attraction to be sinful in and of itself (apart from any "acting upon" the attraction).

In both cases, the Scriptural witness is clear, and has been adequately developed elsewhere.1 However, the claim being made by both against the clear biblical witness is that harm is being done by the maintenance of a biblical standard on the respective issues.

If we are rightly to uphold biblical standards to the glory of God, and for the good of His people (some of whom have yet to enter into the sheepfold), it is crucially important that we do not fall into the trap of adopting the world's rhetoric. Nobody will be won for Christ, granted peace of conscience, or experience joy in the Holy Spirit as a result of the church's capitulation to the demands of the culture in its agenda or its rhetoric. Rather, the great task set before Christ's church is to proclaim His Word (Law and Gospel) without apology, expecting it to "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37) and direct needy sinners to Christ.

Surely we can encourage our congregations to take seriously the call to sober-mindedness and solemnity in conversations about sex and sexuality, avoiding adolescent humor and expressions of cold-hearted ridicule. But we can do that while continuing to call out sin for what it is, proclaiming deliverance in Christ at every step of the way. Let us pursue greater faithfulness to our mandate, recognizing that such pursuit is not marked by compromise with and apology to the culture for perceived injuries, but by humble acknowledgment of the supremacy of Christ speaking in and through His Word.


1. Two good places to start are Transforming Homosexuality: What the Bible Says About Sexual Orientation and Change by Denny Burk and Heath Lambert (P&R Publishing, 2015) and Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God's Grand Story by Christopher Yuan (Multnomah, 2018).

The Karen Pence Rule

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Recently it was announced that Karen Pence - a private citizen who is not even occupying an elected office in the United States of America - is going to resume her teaching career at a Christian school. Part of this school's beliefs is that homosexual behavior is a sin, and they require their teachers and students to agree with this understanding in order to serve as faculty or attend as a student. As someone who attended a Christian college, I am quite familiar with the agreements that students make when they decide to attend a school that finds its roots in historic Christianity. For example, when I attended Christian college in the early 2000s I agreed not to be a drunkard, not to engage in illegal behavior, not to have sex outside of marriage, and yes, not to engage in other sexual behaviors that the Bible explicitly forbids for Christians - including homosexual behavior.

Not only is this not unusual for Christian colleges, but it is normal for nearly all types of Christian schools, including the one that Karen Pence is planning to teach at. To be honest, I was surprised this made news at all. I assume that the wives of elected officials are not expected to put their entire life and vocational calling on hold simply because their husband is in elected office. Modern feminism tells us that a woman is not defined or valued because of who or what her husband is. She can be her own woman after all. However, I often forget that I am not as woke as the next person by Twitter.

I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that the left is having what seems to be a complete meltdown over the fact that Mrs. Pence is teaching at a Christian school that believes Christian things and expects their teachers to share those beliefs. I found myself commenting nearly the same day: "Apparently Twitter just found out that Christian schools are a thing." This has been a frequent refrain from some others on Twitter, such as Rod Dreher and David French, among others.

The responses that they receive back are almost completely uniform. One person says, "The left just hates bigotry in the guise of religion." Another said, "We are against bigotry and hate; something Jesus also preached about being against. We are for love and acceptance - even those who may be considered sinners." And another: "Nah, it's the fact that the Left thinks bigoted Christians may not be good Christians." Here's another flavor of the same chip: "The left believes in following Christ's message. We just don't like you pseudo Christians giving the rest of us a bad name. Jesus weeps over your brand of 'Christianity'. It's not exactly 'love others as I have loved you'. You need our prayers, not hatred." And just for good measure: "Stop doing this. You know damn well what the issues are. It isn't a hatred of Christianity it's a hatred of bigotry." I could probably share dozens more comments almost exactly like this, but it does give a flavor for the response that is very much happening right now.

There are a lot of approaches one could take with these comments. One could ask these apparently learned religious scholars whether they have actually read the New Testament lately (Matthew 19:4-6, for example). One could ask these same people whether they have even studied the issue of what historic Christianity has taught for the last 2000 years concerning the concept of sexual ethics. One could ask such people to carefully define the notion of "bigotry" so we could pin down whether they are not themselves also bigoted against the teachings of historic Christianity.

There is no question that the Christian religion for the entirety of its existence has always taught that sexual immorality is forbidden. It is what defined Christianity in its most public-facing way during the time of the Roman Empire.

And there is also absolutely no question that for the entire existence of Christianity the church has without question, and with one voice always affirmed that it is sin for a man to lie with a man, or a woman to lie with a woman, among other things (see Unchanging Witness by Donald Fortson and Rollin Grams for the best documentation of this claim). What is amazing to think about is that for all the disagreements historic Christians of all stripes have had over issues like baptism, the Lord's Supper, sabbath observance, church government, bible translations, etc. this is one issue where the church has always been united.

This refrain, then: "We aren't anti-Christian; we're anti-bigotry" is deeply disingenuous because it is absolutely anti-Christian if one is talking about historic, credal, orthodox Christianity - in other words, Christianity. The only version of Christianity the left isn't bigoted against is some new, twisted, unfamiliar, unhistoric, non-credal version of our religion that no one in all of church history would have recognized.

Having said all of this then, when the left says they are not bigoted against Christianity, they are only speaking of a highly specific version of what its advocates are choosing to redefine as Christianity; a version of Christianity that has been stripped clean of its rough edges and has become so inoffensive to all as to hardly be "news" at all. It's a version of Christianity designed to repeat back to the culture what it already knows and believes. What we are witnessing in the wake of Karen Pence's recent employment is a highly qualified attempt on the part of the political extreme-left to have their cake (being bigoted against Christians) and eat it too (claim they are not bigoted).

As for the rest of us, if we believe what Christendom has always taught, whether Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical, Baptist, Pentecostal, or Presbyterian...if we believe what the Bible has unwaveringly taught...if we are Christians as the term has always been defined throughout all of history...if we choose to work for an organization that holds to historic Christian teachings and requires the same of us...you had better believe that the left hates us. How do I know? They're saying it. In their minds we are bigoted, and as someone has recently put it, "It's a hatred of bigotry."

In other words, the political and theological left really does hate Christianity, no matter how much wordsmithing they might do to persuade the watching world otherwise.

What is the answer, then? How should we then live? The answer is that as historic and orthodox Christians we need to prepare ourselves for even more equivocation and pretended moral high ground on the part of those who openly (or at least selectively) despise the code of morality taught in the Bible. We should be alert for when the people we are respectfully engaging with automatically assume an unrecognizable version of Christianity. We should endeavor to know Christian history and work hard to affirm our historic connections with the past in all areas whenever possible. We should continue to read and confess the creeds of Christianity.

We should learn to rejoice in our creeds and especially to remind the watching world that Christians are bound by their adherence to Scripture and that we do not have the liberty to simply redefine the faith after our own image whenever we feel like it.

Most of all, we have to remember the words of warning that Jesus gave: "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you" (John 15:18). John, similarly: "Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you" (1 John 3:13).

At the same time we must refuse to give in to self pity. There is nothing pathetic or sad about being a Christian. Gone are the days when we could expect to be applauded by the culture. Gone are the days when Christianity held cultural dominance. We are now in an era that is very similar to the one that the early church experienced where we are considered the strange minority for what we believe, teach, and pass on to our children. We are in the era of faithful, consistent unappreciated testimony.

The 2018 Year in Review

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As 2018 winds to a close, we want to express our deep and sincere gratitude to the many faithful readers of Ref21. We continue our commitment to call the church to a reformation that recovers clarity and conviction about the great evangelical truths of the gospel and that encourages their proclamation in our contemporary context. To that end, here are the top ten posts from this past year:

1.Only For a Time

"One could argue by way of sanctified biblical logic that a lack of experiencing the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit is squarely in keeping with the biblical teaching about their cessation!"

2. Is the PCA Becoming More Unified?

"What a blessing it would be if our energies were no longer directed to inner-denominational conflict but together in a shared (or at least compatible) vision of Christ's reign through the gospel in our sin-scarred world."

3.Can the Welcoming Church Speak?

"Let us be a truly welcoming church, extending a warm-hearted invitation to sinners of all kinds, just as Jesus extended such a welcome to us. But then, for the love of Christ and those we welcome, let us plainly and thoughtfully speak the truth. For unless God and his truth are sovereignly welcome in our midst, our welcome to the lost will end up in vain."

4.Lloyd-Jones on Racism ad the Gospel

"D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who I have never heard anyone describe as a Marxist, gospel-compromising, SJW, preached a sermon on John 4.13-14, titled, "Spiritual Dullness and Evasive Tactics," in which he brought up the issue of racism."

5.Revoice or God's Voice?

"Revoice was overwhelmingly not God's voice found in God's Word. But we do need to know God's voice on these issues. There will be no place to hide in this sexual revolution and there are men and women being deceived into death by the LGBTQ+ agenda and message that we must reach with the Gospel."

6.Whate're My God Ordains is Right

"We are thrilled at the arrival of our baby girl yet look towards the future with trepidation knowing that during her life our daughter will be challenged with disability. We are grieving for our set of dreams and expectations for her life and it is still an active process. There is no quick fix to this emotional pain, though every word of encouragement we have received has slowly soothed the hurt."

7.Spells Like Teen Spirit

"The better part of professing Christians in America are living in the sea of a Christian pep rally. For many, "going to church" is less about worshiping the infinitely holy God who has redeemed a people for Himself by giving up His Son to the bloody death on the cross, as it is about getting a shot of motivational vitamin-B for existential significance. Rather than being called by God into His presence by the mediating work of His Son, "Here we are now; entertain us" becomes the liturgical responsive call to worship."

8.God Helps Those Who Help Themselves

"I've heard it uttered dozens of times. Friends, family members, and strangers have looked at me, a Presbyterian pastor, and said, "Well, you know what the Bible says, 'God helps those who help themselves.'" I politely smile, but inside I've just died a little."

9.Revoice and the "Idolatry" of the Nuclear Family

"There is no male-to-male or female-to-female sexuality in God's created design. Furthermore, Genesis 2 views the creation of nuclear families not as idolatry but as a vitally significant way in which man's purpose in life is fulfilled. The words, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" (Gen. 1:28), described not the worship of a false god but obedient faith in the one true God. If the fulfilling of mankind's creation mandate involves idolatry, then the world created by God must inevitably be a different one from that which is described in Genesis 1 and 2."

10. Imagine There's No Hell

"If there is no hell then there is no need for the atoning sacrifice of the eternal Son of God. If there is no hell, we should draw the same conclusion that the Apostle Paul drew when he put forward the logical implications of the resurrection: "If the dead do not rise, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die'" (1 Cor. 15:32)! If there is no eternal punishment, then there is no magnification of the love of God."

Hit You in the Feels?

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Not so long ago, a bit of internet clickbait urged me to view a slideshow of gay marriage proposals guaranteed to 'hit you in the feels' (or something akin to that). That such an appeal could be made at all testifies to the pagan decadence of American culture. But it underlined for me that the persuasiveness of the new sexual revolution has not been in reason or some new enlightenment, as its advocates would have us believe, but in 'feels.' The cultural shift of recent years represents the triumph of emotionalism over reason, of sloganeering over critical thinking, and of self-aggrandizement over wisdom. Hijacking the civil rights narrative, the advocates of change have declared themselves heroes, and prophesied that those who do not join the revolution will suffer the ire of history books to come.

Most problematic is that any number of Christians have been, to greater and lesser degrees, swept along by the emotional and aesthetic persuasive appeals of this revolution. The world has painted wickedness with a rainbow of bright color, and Christians have been moved to agree that it is beautiful. Every now and again we read that another pastor or Christian celebrity has gotten 'woke' and now considers a (growing) selection of sins holy. Christian institutions and denominations turn from Christ to culture. Nor is it only the mainline who fall in line; while the UCC surrendered as a matter of course (surrendered? Perhaps it would be better to say, 'led the charge'), and few will be surprised when the CBF gives in, the Revoice Conference was held at a PCA church. What we see in these situations is not merely the corruption of the broader culture, where emotionalism has overthrown reason; it is something much worse, emotionalism usurping the authority of revelation. I would like to suggest three stages in Christian surrender to pagan culture.

The first and subtlest form of this revolution against revelation is the willingness to be guided by culture and embrace unlikely and idiosyncratic interpretations of Scripture that accommodate what one wishes to believe. Christians hear a traditional interpretation challenged by some ostensibly respectable pastor or scholar, who declares that new insight renders the passage irrelevant to the specifics of our context: 'Paul is not talking about homosexuality as we know it,' etc. Lacking the skills to investigate this novel interpretation, or simply because they desire it to be true, they accept it with a sense of palpable relief that Scripture did not contradict the world after all. In such cases it is still possible that careful and patient exegesis will turn the wanderer back when they see the accommodation they hoped for is not tenable; Scripture remains, at least in principle, their ultimate authority.

Next in line is an unresolved tension between the Word and the world. These Christians know, on the one hand, that the biblical sexual ethic is quite clear; on the other hand, their aesthetics and feelings have been affected by the sustained campaign for moral revolution. They feel caught in between, not wanting to reject the teaching of Scripture, but not understanding why something that seems to them perfectly good should be called abominably bad in the Bible. In this tension, the key question is whether they will default to biblical fidelity, even doubting the goodness of God's command (which is bad indeed), or default to the world's standards that snuck in by way of feels (which is worse).

The final and radical form of surrender to secularism is the dominant position of the religious left, a conscious rejection of biblical teaching when it goes against the culture's moral trends. There may be advocacy of implausible interpretations, there may be equivocation or struggle with some lingering respect for Scripture, but in the end biblical authority has been basically jettisoned. The human aspect of biblical authorship is highlighted and the divine authorship diminished. Jesus or the Holy Spirit may be pitted against the Bible. Paul may be cast as an innovative builder onto the Lord's simple teachings. Christians who hold to biblical authority can be accused of hermeneutical naiveté or even bibliolatry, ridiculed for replacing God with a book, surrendering themselves to the false magisterium of a 'paper pope.' At the bottom of all these slanders, secular culture has displaced Scripture as the true authority.

The first of these three stages in the revolution is only indirectly an attack upon Scripture's authority; it is only a predisposition to find the Word supportive of, rather than critical of, the world. The third stage has lost biblical authority all but in name, and could only apply to the far leftward fringe of those who call themselves evangelicals. But the second stage is a very present danger in evangelical Christianity, where sensitive souls are swept from the anchor of God's Word, and churches fall into step with the world.

How should the church prepare to face the world? How do we protect ourselves from being swept away by the aesthetics of a pagan culture? It would surely help to cultivate a Spiritual aesthetic and a sense of true beauty that will aid us to see things for what they are. But the more basic and fundamental response must be to denounce the revolution against revelation. The dike against this flood is that churches must firmly and deliberately maintain the authority of Scripture.

No Christian should doubt that the Bible is utterly authoritative over his life and doctrine. The authority of Scripture is an inescapable implication of divine inspiration. If the Bible has not only numerous human authors but a single underlying divine Author, if these are God's words, then the words of Scripture carry the authority of Scripture's God. God is absolutely authoritative. What He communicates is true, what He commands is obligatory. The good and proper response of a creature to the words of the Creator is "Yes, Lord." If this is so for all creatures indiscriminately, how much more so for the creatures re-created, the redeemed!

This shows the fallacy of all attempts to characterize those who hold to biblical authority as putting the Scriptures above the Spirit or worshipping a book in place of the living God. There is no replacement of God with the Bible in a high view of Scripture, only a proper reverence for the words of the Lord. God breathed these words (2 Tim. 3:16). The Holy Spirit inspired the authors of holy Scripture (2 Pet. 1:21). The Word of God bears witness to God the Word (Lk. 24:27). Submission to what God has said is submission to God. Anyone who worries that reverence and obedience to the Bible somehow dishonors the Bible's Lord should consult Psalm 119 and see the attitude displayed there to divine teaching. Accusations of bibliolatry are usually nothing more than a smoke screen, an effort to turn the tables by those who have put themselves above God's authority revealed in His Word.

The destructive effect of turning aside from God's Word is nowhere more powerfully shown than in Genesis 3. The Fall is a unique event, but it is also paradigmatic for all sin. The very heart of sin is disobedience to God, and that involves a denial (practically, at least) of the authority of what God has said. Sin says, 'listen to your heart,' and it gives the appeal--'once more, with feels!' Righteousness says, "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you" (Ps. 119:11).

How did the crafty serpent do his work? First he questioned and distorted God's command, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" (Gen. 3:1). When Eve corrected him, pointing out that it was only the one tree which was forbidden (vv.2-3), he proceeded to directly challenge the truthfulness of God's word, "You will not certainly die" (v.4), and then to challenge the goodness of God, "For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (v.5).

There was, of course, truth mixed in with falsehood. They did gain knowledge of good and evil, and in that sense become more like God; but in a more important sense they became much less like God, for in coming to know good from evil they passed from good to evil. God's command meant life, and turning from it they found death. Challenging God's commands, challenging His truthfulness and goodness, the serpent turned them from the way of blessing. This is how temptation works.

Genesis 3 is so instructive because it presents sin in its raw and unadorned form, the basic act of disobedience. There is nothing violent or perverse about eating a piece of fruit. God gave no reason why it would be wrong to eat it; He told them not to, and He warned them about the consequences. We may speculate about reasons behind God's command, but the narrative itself only offers this: it was wrong to eat because God told them not to eat. And that is quite enough.

Nor do we have evidence that God spoke this command frequently or in detail. Sometimes challenges to a biblical imperative include mention that the command or topic is only found in a few places in the Bible--as though there were a magic number of times God must repeat something before it becomes obligatory! On the contrary, God need only say something once, and it is utterly authoritative. It is kind of Him to repeat so many of His teachings, it helps them penetrate our thick skulls and stony hearts, but repetition is not a necessary criterion in order for His words to require our obedience.

God has spoken, and what God has spoken is authoritative; His Word is the necessary and decisive element in Christian theological and moral reasoning. It doesn't matter if He has spoken only once about something; once is enough. It doesn't matter if He hasn't explained why He commands something; the fact that He commands it is enough. Scripture is God's Word and bears His authority. As God's Word, it has the last word and trumps the world's word.

It is a tragedy that biblical authority is so lightly cast aside, and that this doctrine needs to be defended as if it were burdensome. It is a sign of how badly our values have been disordered, for the gift of Scripture ought to inspire a most joyful and exuberant obedience from those who love the Lord. God has spoken! This is a wonderful, beautiful truth. When we struggle against the authority of God's Word we struggle against the blessed promise of fellowship with our Maker and Redeemer. The world's approval, which tempts us to turn aside from faithfulness to the Lord, offers nothing worth having. But God's approval is treasure indeed; and He has said:

"These are the ones I look on with favor:

those who are humble and contrite in spirit,

and who tremble at my word."

(Isa. 66:2)


Josh Steely is the pastor of Pontoon Baptist Church in Pontoon Beach, IL. Josh received his BA from Wheaton College and his MDiv from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Revoice, or God's Voice?

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The Revoice Conference is history. When first announced with its advertised purpose statement, sponsors, plenary sessions and speakers, my Session requested I pastorally address it for them and our congregation, especially since it was hosted by a PCA church in St. Louis and contained students, graduates and faculty from Covenant Theological Seminary, our denominational seminary.  In compliance, I provided an initial analysis upon the purpose statement, each plenary session synopsis and the speaker's publications as well as public positions.

In the podcast/blog initially recorded on the Revoice Conference, I made a specific request that even though there were clear reasons to be concerned about the conference we ought to wait and see what each speaker would actually say in their assigned sessions. In addition, the speakers should not be critiqued simply because they are speaking at such a conference, but ultimately on the content of what they actually say in the conference. Through online access to the plenary session talks we now know the content of the conference. The overall verdict is in. Revoice was not and is not God's voice.

Except for a few notable exceptions - such as Dr. Sklar's treatment of Leviticus 18, which was consistent with his overall excellent commentary on Leviticus - Revoice was not and is not God's voice. While unable in this venue to address all of the issues which lead to this verdict, I will highlight five essential issues with necessary foundational thoughts as to why the plenary sessions were at best inconsistent and in many cases contradictory to God's voice which is revealed in His Word. I am grateful for a number of colleagues from various seminaries, ministries, churches and, in particular, The Gospel Reformation Network, each of whom are pastorally and comprehensively addressing with Gospel faithfulness and theological accuracy the content of the Revoice conference.

During the initial criticisms of the Revoice conference, multiple assurances were given by the conference organizers that everyone was overreacting. In fact, the conference founder, Nate Collins, declared that the organizers were committed to what the Bible teaches as "the traditional historic understanding of sexuality in marriage." But the reality is that the conference actually confirmed the concerns surfaced by the conference purpose statement which is...

The Revoice Conference is designed to support, encourage and empower gay, lesbian, same sex attracted and other LGBTQ+ Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.

So, in light of the heightened concerns evoked by the conference content and to comply with my Session's request, here are five essential issues with a brief theological rationale as to why these specific Revoice propositions are not God's voice. 

GAY CHRISTIAN IDENTITY

The Revoice purpose statement clearly affirms that those who profess Christ from an LGBTQ+ lifestyle are to be welcomed into the church and identified as "gay Christians." This Revoice identity proposal is not God's voice. Without denying or diminishing the reality of the "old man"--the powerful remnant of sin which indwells every Christian until glorification; nor  dismissing the challenges related to eradicating the practice of addictive sins, especially sins of sexual addictions intrinsic to natural or unnatural sexual immorality--it is abundantly clear that neither Scripture nor the Gospel affirms, allows or proposes that any believer is to be identified by their pre or post-conversion entangling sins no matter how notorious or addictive.

On the contrary, the Gospel calls us by faith, as the elect of God, who repent of our sins and come to Christ by the Spirit of God with the Word of God to know that we have been delivered from the power of sin through regeneration, with a new heart; from the penalty of sin through justification, with a new record; from the place of sin through adoption to a new family; and increasingly, though unevenly, from the practice of sin through sanctification with a new life; and ultimately, from the presence of sin through glorification to a new home. Therefore, our sins (from which we have been, are being and will be delivered) are no longer our identity as they once were through the distortion of idolatry.  Our identity is now Christ. In Him, by the saving power of the Gospel, we now confess we were created in the image of God and we also confess we are being conformed to the image of Christ.

In a word, we are in Christ and He is in us. Therefore, to live is Christ.  As for indwelling sin - it is an enemy to assassinate, not a distorted identity to embrace.  It is not only inconsistent to use sin as an adjective to modify or define our profession of Christ to the world, it is also unsupported in the Scripture and the Gospel message.

To my dear brothers and sisters who have come to Christ from such sexual immorality and anarchy--Praise God and hear God's voice as you fight the good fight for Christ.

"There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. AND "You have been set free from the Law of sin and death." AND "Do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies."

Please know you are in Christ and Christ is in you. Now through Christ and by the means of grace, join us as sinners saved by grace to confess Christ, who is our life to this world and until we meet him let us kill the sin that would kill us because Christ is our life and our identity.

I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. 

SAME SEX ATTRACTION

The Revoice Conference, as anticipated from the purpose statement and plenary session synopsis, consistently presented same sex attraction as an inconvenient desire beyond the power of the Gospel of grace to eradicate, and in fact, unnecessary to eradicate. It must simply be handled. The unmistakable proposal in Revoice is that same sex attraction is a syndrome to be strategically managed.  That is not God's voice.  To be clear same sex attraction is not a syndrome to be managed. It is a sinful desire to be mortified.  God's voice is clear. His grace is greater than any and all of our sin.  His grace not only provides an atonement to remove the guilt and shame of sin, but also empowers the forgiven believer to kill the practice and desire for sin before it kills you.

While the Word of God affirms, commends and commands brotherly and sisterly love within the same gender, it does not affirm sexual, erotic, or romantic love within the same sex. On the contrary, same sex erotic love in the Bible either brings God's judgment (Genesis 19, Leviticus 18) or its shameless practice and approval in the culture is the evidence of God's present judgment. ("God gave them over to unnatural desires..." Romans 1) Yet, praise God such sins though worthy of judgment, are not beyond the grace of God. The grace of God does not treat such sinful lusts of the heart as inconvenient attractions to be controlled, but as sinful desires to be crucified.  James 1 informs us that sin is the inevitable progeny when internal sinful desires (lusts of the heart) unite with external temptations. James is simply affirming our Savior's warnings concerning the sinfulness of the lusts of the heart which render us culpable of guilt, even though the heinous deed has not been done which brings even greater guilt and consequences. The believer is called to not only avoid the deed of sin but to relentlessly kill the sinful desires from which the deeds of sin are birthed when united to the external temptations of the world.

The call is clear and unmistakable. We are to mortify sin by fleeing temptation and killing sinful desires. When the parents are eradicated, the progeny cannot be conceived and birthed. The Gospel promises not only a sufficient atonement to remove the condemnation of such sins, but also the power to kill them.  Yes, we have "sin living in us" but we do not "live in sin."  On the contrary, the dominion of sin has been broken; therefore, in humble reliance upon Divine grace and the power of the Holy Spirit we can flee temptation and kill sin. Some of us may enjoy the blessing of immediate deliverance from its practice in our life.  Some may have to fight a lifelong battle with uneven success. But, all of us pursue holiness with full awareness that in Christ, we are "more than conquerors." Therefore, we will not and cannot accommodate our sinful desires nor lay down the Sword of the Spirit and the power of prayer by signing peace treaties with our sinful desires. That is God's voice. 

MARRIAGE AS A HISTORIC CHRISTIAN TRADITION

The Revoice conference affirmed that the act of sex outside of marriage, whether natural or unnatural, heterosexual or homosexual, is sin. Such a statement, of course, is commendable and one for which I am grateful. Revoice also proposes that "LGBTQ+ Christians" honor the "historic Christian tradition of marriage." Again, I'm grateful for such a position. Yet, some speakers declared that the teaching of a family consisting of one man and one woman for one life with their covenant children was idolatrous .  To support this contention they proceeded to use Biblical accounts of God's grace in dealing with broken marriages in a broken world and even accounts of brotherly love as the true Biblical teaching of family. While the Biblical definition of marriage and family like anything else can become an idol, the Christ-affirmed Biblical definition of marriage as foundational to family is not idolatrous and to propose such is not God's voice.

God's voice is a ringing declaration that marriage is affirmed in general revelation and defined in special revelation.  It is not simply a historic Christian tradition.  It has become a historic Christian tradition because it is a Biblical mandate, "For this cause, a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one." Genesis 2:24 as quoted by our Savior and New Testament writers. By doing so, Jesus defines marriage as a heterosexual, monogamous and conjugal covenantal relationship to be "held in honor by all."

Furthermore, Christ and Scripture affirm heterosexual intimacy within marriage as a Divine gift. Thus, the doctrine of marriage and sex within marriage to initiate the marriage and recreate, as well as procreate, is a historic Christian tradition because it is mandated in the Word of God which is our only rule of faith and practice. Specifically, the tradition exists because marriage and monogamous heterosexual intimacy within marriage is a Biblical ethic that is affirmed as a creation ordinance, embraced in the Decalogue and Biblically amplified by the impact of the Gospel upon marriage in the lives of husbands and wives. That is God's voice.

QUEER CULTURE

One of the most astonishing plenary sessions, though consistent with the purpose statement of the Revoice conference, was the astounding proposal that the New Heavens and the New Earth would be "blessed by treasures from the queer culture." This is not God's voice.

There is no doubt that God's common grace which restrains men and women from being as sinful as they could or would be, secures, as a byproduct, remnants of virtue even within some of the most depraved cultures produced by humanity's rebellion against God. I am sure that the queer culture, by God's common grace, has such vestiges of virtue that echo what is good and beautiful and true. But such remnants of virtue are not preserved by the motivating sins of the culture but - in spite of them.

The treasures of the New Heavens and the New Earth owe their presence only to Christ, to whom we also owe our assured presence in the New Heavens and the New Earth. All treasures of the New Heavens and the New Earth exist by the common or redeeming grace of God in Christ alone having been secured by the Spirit of God whom He sent for us and who preserves us for the glory of God the Father who sent the Son to make us His treasure. We have a treasured inheritance preserved for us in glory and we are preserved for that inheritance having been treasured by Christ who has made us His treasure and when we see Him we will declare that He is our treasure. "High King of Heaven, my treasure thou art." That is God's voice.

SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIPS

In order to "observe the historic Christian tradition of marriage" and manage same sex attraction, the Revoice Conference proposed the path of celibacy and the establishment of "spiritual friendships" for those with same sex attractions. "Spiritual friendships" were then declared as a means to manage same sex attractions in an aesthetic relationship.  This is not God's voice.

While Biblically defined spiritual friendships--the communion of the saints and the fellowship of believers--is certainly an embraced virtue and dynamic within the Body of Christ, but this proposed quasi-covenantal relationship built around the erotic impulses of same sex attraction is more than a bad idea. It is an instrument of assured destruction for any and all who embrace it.

The Church of Jesus Christ is called to welcome sinners to hear the Gospel of saving grace and then call upon them to believe in Christ and repent of their sins, all the while reflecting Christ who is a "friend to sinners" but no "friend to sin." We are to Biblically, by the power of the Spirit, patiently love one another in the uneven and imperfect journey of sanctification by grace. Moreover, there are and should be discipleship groups designed to help believers grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Furthermore, at times, believers who are seeking to mortify sins they have in common gather for encouragement and accountability. But those relationships are not built around the sin but around God's grace to eradicate the sin.

Christ's church is and must be a welcoming haven for sinners. But it is also a lethal death trap for sin. Our call to love one another in Christ is not a license nor a recommendation to develop a quasi-covenantal relationship configured around any sin and certainly not around sexually addictive sins. To paraphrase the commentary of another - same sex desire is not a pet cat to be tamed. It is a man-eating tiger who will devour its naïve owner if it is not killed.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Though I have restricted myself to five issues and restrained the analysis of each one to some simple Biblical, foundational perspectives, I realize this is beyond blog length. But I ask you to patiently read a few more sentences.

I was initially grateful to hear there was a conference addressing the LGBTQ+ agenda for two reasons. First, we are in the throes of a sexual revolution reflecting a tsunami-like wave of the neo-pagan world and life view of secular humanism with its insatiable sacramental pursuit of natural and unnatural sexual gratification. This revolution requires the normalization of sexual promiscuity and perversity. As one cultural analyst has said, "a cultural revolution is designed to celebrate what was once despicable and make despicable what was once celebrated." Like all revolutions, those who do not surrender will be marginalized or eliminated.  We are in such a revolution marked by sexual anarchy. Much is at stake. Therefore, a conference designed to help us with a Christian apologetic to defend the faith without being defensive and contend for the faith without being contentious is desperately needed--a conference faithful to God's Voice revealed in Scripture.

Secondly, we need a God's Voice conference that equips believers to not only speak the truth in love in the public square but also to love others with the truth through Biblically effective personal evangelism and discipleship. The Revoice Conference was not the issue. The issue was the purpose and content of the conference. I am praying that the Revoice Conference will stimulate confessionally faithful Seminaries, ministries and churches to produce a conference and publications which proclaim God's Voice and therefore, provide assets for a winsome apologetic and an effective Gospel ministry of evangelism and discipleship to both rescue those perishing in the idolatry of sexual anarchy and lovingly nurture them within the Body of Christ.

I do not question the heart motives of the Revoice Conference organizers. I am neither inclined nor equipped to do so. However, I do question their proposals. Revoice was overwhelmingly not God's voice found in God's Word.  But we do need to know God's voice on these issues. There will be no place to hide in this sexual revolution and there are men and women being deceived into death by the LGBTQ+ agenda and message that we must reach with the Gospel.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, not swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.  Corinthians 6: 9-11


*This post originally appeared at the Gospel Reformation Network. It is used here with permission. 

Rebirth of the Gods: The Normalization of Pagan Spirituality

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We used to talk about the New Age. When I first began to think about how a worldview can shape culture, New Age was all the rage. Now noone even mentions New Age. So it must have failed, right? Actually, quite the opposite: it became normal. That phrase "spiritual but not religious" is just one indication that people have accepted the paganism which New Age tried to establish.

During the 1990s, First Lady Hillary Clinton took on an advisor by the name of Jean Houston. Jean Houston is a brilliant thinker, but she's also a medium and very much a child of the New Age.1 Houston said in 1995, "At this time, we are living in state of both breakdown and breakthrough: a whole system transition requiring a new alignment that only myth can bring." And the myth that she proposed was in the book that she published that very year, The Passion of Isis and Osiris.2 Houston assured readers that they were living in mythic times, and that they could communicate with those mythic beings remembered as Isis and Osiris. That vision of the future, based on ancient myths, can be clearly seen in the reconstruction of our culture. Some of the powerful people in this movement talk about a new humanism, a new cosmology, a great work that we have to produce. And many of those people find themselves in the United Nations.

There has been some serious work done on this subject, including two important books recognized by anthropologists as essential to understanding who we are. The first one is Colin Campbell's The Easternization of the West: A Thematic Account of Cultural Change in the Modern Era.3 Many sociologists endorse this book as a plausible case. Campbell himself says that, "Easternization is currently occurring in the West...quite unlike anything previously experienced." He continues, "And what has been lost is faith in Christianity and the power of reason." That's very interesting; Christianity and secular humanism are both victims of this turn toward Eastern spirituality.

The second book was written by Phillip Goldberg, a western Jewish convert to Hinduism. His book is entitled American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation--How Indian Spirituality Changed the West.4He says "We are all Hindus now." And also, "America is engaged in a reconfiguring of the sacred, based on Hinduism--a reconfiguration Goldberg says is "comparable in power to the Christian great awakenings of the 18th century."

In perhaps the most luminous verses in the Bible, the apostle Paul tells us about this kind of paganism: "they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!" (Rom. 1:25). In an incredibly insightful statement, Paul actually says there are only two ways to be a human being: you either worship creation in a thousand different ways, or you worship the Creator who is blessed forever. That statement, uttered in the first century, has always been true, and it's certainly true today. Some might say, "Oh, these are such complicated issues. There are hundreds of different ways to worship God." No, there are only two ways: you either (1) worship creation in hundreds of different ways, or (2) you worship God, the Creator who is distinct from us.

To make this simple, I came up with two phrases: "one-ism" and "two-ism." The Bible is basically simple. One-ism stems from the worship of nature, which only sees nature as reality. Everything in nature is united together and worshiped as ultimate. Thus, everything is the same. The view that "all is one" comes from this perspective. In this way, one-ism becomes the great solution to all our problems, actually. Its approach is as follows: "We're divided, we must bring people together." To do that, of course, we must get rid of distinctions. And so one-ism tries to obliterate all distinctions, and any notion, of the binary.

What does binary mean? It means distinctions. It means "two-ism." And, of course, that's what worshiping the Creator actually requires. If there is not only nature but also the Creator of nature, there are two kinds of reality. This is the essence of the Christian faith, and it's the very first line of the Bible: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). In other words, there is God, the Creator, and then there's everything else: creation. That makes two kinds of existence, right? And these two--God and creation--cannot and must not be confused. This is exactly what happens in paganism, where God is brought into the creation as simply that sort of power that is inside everything and everyone. Christianity's two-ism, you see, is in direct opposition to what we see today in our culture, which is the determination to destroy the binary in all its forms.

This determination to eradicate the binary is prevalent in non-Christian spirituality. I once came across a lecture by Andrew Cohen, another formerly-Jewish Hindu. Cohen asked, "Why is it important that there is only one, not two?" I was surprised to hear this, since I had just published my book One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference5 (a book he should have read). "All our problems stem," he said, "from those who believe in duality." He concluded that the discovery that there is only one, not two, is the solution to all our problems. Even more fascinating was Phillip Goldberg's statement in American Veda: "Americans are now buying a fundamental notion of Hinduism which is known in Sanskrit as Advaita." To my great surprise, I discovered that Advaita means "not two." Hinduism, which has come into our world with such power, carries the message, "Not two; everything is one." And that kind of spirituality is driving so many ideas, even within our churches, causing us to quickly change the way we look at existence in terms of the being of God and the nature of ourselves as human beings. We want to cram everything into one.

In the next post in this short series, we will give consideration to how shifting world-views have impacted sexuality in American culture. 

 

1. In her role as a medium, Houston at that time purportedly got Hillary Clinton involved in some kind of relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt. A disclaimer: the newspapers said it was an instance of two brilliant women simply talking about Eleanor Roosevelt.

2 In Egyptian mythology, Isis is the goddess of the magic, fertility, motherhood, death and healing while Osiris is the god of the afterlife and the underworld.


*This is the second post in a series by Dr. Peter Jones.

Can the "Welcoming Church" Speak the Truth?

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One feature of life in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is the unveiling of the annual buzz-word for our General Assembly. This year, the word is "welcoming." So far as it goes, this is a fine aspiration for our denomination. We, of course, want our doors to be open not merely to certain kinds of people but to one and all. We especially want to embrace the heart of our Savior for lost souls of all kinds. We have good news to proclaim, and our gospel is one of welcome from a God of grace in the name of his crucified and resurrected Son.

Moreover, there is a legitimate need to emphasize "welcoming" in our national context of polarized worldviews. Far too many evangelical Christians look upon their political opposites as culture war "enemies" rather than as neighbors to be loved, served, and evangelized. If, for instance, proponents of sexual perversity and gender confusion are perceived as our enemies, then Jesus has told us what to do: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven" (Mt. 5:44-45). Unlike tax collectors and Gentiles, who love only their own, let us heartily welcome perceived enemies as neighbors who need to hear about our gracious God and his gospel.

It must be pointed out, however, that the context for "welcoming" as our new buzzword is not the polarized cultural struggle but its corollary within the PCA. In this context, "welcoming" is the self-embraced label of the progressive camp, which has assigned "fearful" as the conservative/confessional label. Commissioners are being urged to vote for "welcoming" priorities, which will likely be those that take a soft stance on homosexuality, gender egalitarianism, and other progressive priorities. The upcoming "Revoice" conference in St. Louis is providing an advance screening of what this looks like. This PCA event, much lauded by our progressive friends, advocates an "LGBT Christian" category and speaks of "sexual minorities"1 and even "queer treasure, honor, and glory" in heaven. Far from an irrelevant outlier, this conference previews where the "welcoming" agenda is seeking to go.

With this in mind, the question I want to ask is this: "Can the welcoming church tell the truth?" Amen to us welcoming sinners of all kinds with an open heart and ready embrace. On this point, progressives and conservatives sincerely agree. But, having welcomed one and all, do we then speak biblical truth about sexuality, gender identity, sin and repentance? For instance, what does the welcoming church say to the homosexual who wants to join its membership? We, of course, declare to them forgiveness and cleansing through the blood of Christ through faith alone. But do we add 1 Corinthians 6:9 and the Bible's insistence that homosexual desires be not merely accommodated but mortified and repented? When a new convert expresses disdain over the exclusive maleness of our pulpits and eldership, do we apologize and convey plans to become more welcoming in the future, or explain the Bible's teaching about male headship in the home and church? If they are secularists who assume an evolutionary worldview, at some point do they hear from us a biblical critique of evolution and an exposition of biblical creation?

Let me conclude by answering my own question. Yes, let us be a truly welcoming church, extending a warm-hearted invitation to sinners of all kinds, just as Jesus extended such a welcome to us. But then, for the love of Christ and those we welcome, let us plainly and thoughtfully speak the truth. For unless God and his truth are sovereignly welcome in our midst, our welcome to the lost will end up in vain.


1. See Kevin DeYoung's excellent critique of the phrase "sexual minorities," over at the Gospel Coalition.

Identifying Our Identity

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At present, two popular--yet antithetical--positions about sexuality and identity exist within the orthodox Christian community. In their recently book Transforming Homosexuality, authors Denny Burk and Heath Lambert identify these as the traditional and neo-traditional positions. Both of these positions exclude from acceptable Christian behavior sexual acts that are outside of Scriptural marriage between one man and one woman. Also, both sides should acknowledge that even if they see the other side as wrong, they are Christian brothers aiming to work out a practical and biblical theology to minister to same sex attracted individuals.

So what is the major difference between these positions? Those in the neo-traditional camp believe that sexual acts performed with the same sex are wrong, but that people who have these attractions should not think of the temptation, in and of itself, as sin. Many of this perspective would accept the modern language of sexual orientation, even going so far as saying one can be a "Gay Christian" or "a Christian who happens to be gay." The orientation then is neutral, or even positive, as Wesley Hill states that those of a gay orientation have a way to "harness and guide its energies in the direction of sexually abstinent, yet intimate, friendship...being gay and saying no to gay sex may lead me to be more of a friend to men, not less."1 One's sexual orientation, in that case, is to some degree affirmed as a platform for unique and special spiritual fruit.

This way of viewing sexuality and Christian living has grown in popularity in the Evangelical world that has sought to engage those who experience sexual attraction to the same sex. One must at the very least be thankful for engagement with same sex attracted persons. Many remember a time when the majority position was mere rejection and disgust at those who wanted to learn about Christ but confessed these attractions. Thus, this camp wishes to say: "You can be a celibate Gay Christian, or be a Christian who happens to be gay and celibate."

The traditional view has major problems with this view, as will become evident. For those of the traditional understanding, not only is the act to be considered sin, but the desire and internal temptation itself is something to be repented of, not a means of special spiritual fruit.

The neo-traditional approach is thus at odds with the traditional and confessional understandings of the doctrines of original sin, concupiscence, and repentance.

For instance, The Westminster Confession of Faith (and its cousins the London Baptist Confession of 1689 and the Congregationalist Savoy Declaration of 1658) in chapter 6.4 and 6.5 states that original sin is "original corruption, whereby we are...inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions..." and that corruption as well as the act "are truly and properly sin." This means the desires to sin themselves are properly understood as sin. It is a sin to be tempted to sin, when that phrase is understood to mean an internal temptation of desire towards that which is a violation of God's law.2

The Westminster, Savoy and London Baptist Confessions did not invent this conception of sin, but we see it both in Church history in the Augustinian doctrine of "concupiscence", but also in the text of Scripture itself in the Pauline doctrine of "the flesh," (Romans 7, Ephesians 2, Galatians 5, etc) in James' explanation of temptation by way of internal lust (James 1), and Jeremiah's statement of the depravity of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Finally, our Lord tells us that the sin of adultery is committed not merely by outward act only, but in our heart and with our eyes (Matthew 5:28).

This difference in identifying the desires, and not merely the acts, as sin is not mere semantics. It has profound consequences in how we address the person who desires to live the Christian life who has experienced same-sex attraction. When we are called to repentance, are we called to merely do different things or to desire different things? How you answer that question will determine how you counsel practical application of our battle against sexual sin.

Think of this firstly in how you counsel a man who confesses a common temptation of sex outside marriage with women he works with, socializes with, or sees at church. As a pastor should you counsel a man to harness his sexual energies to be more of a friend to women and have an identity as a lustful Christian? Or ought he be encouraged to mortify, kill, that desire for a sexual mate besides his wife, and affirm his identity in Christ as a hedge against his adulterous desires? One hopes all Christian pastors and counselors would attack the lust, and remind the Christian of their identity in Christ, that they are not to be discouraged by their sin, or embrace their lusts for good purposes, but to embrace their placement in Christ as their sole identity even while he struggles with sin.

Certainly, there is a place for identifying what we struggle with. We claim to be simultaneously sinners and saints. But we are saints in status, even while sinners in constitution. To identify solely as Christian, as in Christ, as declared righteous is not to deny sin in our lives, but to be able to fight against it. We fight against our fallen nature with what God has remade us to be. Can you be a Christian that struggles with same sex attraction? Yes. In fact, being a Christian means you struggle with sin rather than surrendering to it. Only a living thing struggles, only a born again saint struggles with sin. But we are no longer identified by our sin. Then should you identify as a gay Christian? No. For the same reason you should not identify as a stealing Christian or greedy Christian or lying Christian. Such a label confuses status with composition.

There is a better energy to harness in our sanctification. That energy is the Spirit as He cements our identity in Christ. Should we welcome those that come from the gay and lesbian community? We must do so! It is also our duty to remind all men and women of the liberating truth that if one embraces Christ, he or she is not defined any longer by his or her sexual attractions or temptations. Within the list of the condemned in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 are those who are identified by their sin including the greedy, sexually immoral, drunks and "homosexuals." But the glorious truth of 1 Corinthians 6:11 is Christians have a new identity: "Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." While Christians may still struggle with each of those sins, our identity in Christ trumps each temptation, and we are no longer identified by our sins and temptations, but by Christ.

There is a great practicality in the doctrine of identity in Christ. The Christian struggling with same-sex lust is told: "You are not weird, or an outcast, or a special sort of sinner. No, you are just like the rest of us, and struggle just like the rest of us. While one person sits in the pew on your left with active struggles against gossip, the person in front struggles against pornography, the one in back of you struggles with greed, and the one on the right struggles with pride. None of them are identified by their sin, but identified in Christ. You can be assured that we are not heterosexual or homosexual Christians, nor divided between lying and prideful Christians, but united as Christians who struggle against sin, and struggle to mortify it together and grow more and more into the likeness of Christ, whose name we carry."

All Christians struggle with sin throughout their lives here; but, that sin does not define us. Our lapses with sin do not define us. Christ alone defines us. He shares his title to a believer with no other, excepting the Father and Spirit, whose name we were sealed with in our baptism. (Matthew 28:19) This is not semantics. It is the practical theology of our identity in Christ, our doctrine of sin, and our active repentance. Let us dust off the words of John Owen, applying it to all Christians in our sinful corruption, excepting no group from the task as Christians: "Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you."


1. Wesley Hill,Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian, (Grand Rapids: Brazos PRess, 2015)pg 81.

2. Some object here that we can never understand temptation as sin because Jesus was tempted and resisted. But while our Lord was tempted externally, because He was free of the effects of original sin in the fall, Jesus did not have the corruption of a fallen nature for this confessional idea of internal corruption and temptation to apply to Him.

I was a junior in high school when the Roseanne episode featuring a lesbian kiss aired on network television, and I can remember well the controversy that surrounded that episode. Recent conversations surrounding the presence of a nine-year-old character named Mark on the Roseanne reboot -- a boy who, if not positively "gender fluid," at least exhibits the potential to arrive there -- have made me feel like I'm back in the eleventh grade (much to my immense discomfort). It seems that gender dysphoria represents the next (though probably not final) frontier in the entertainment industry's fairly blatant agenda to normalize whatever trendy effort to attack the givens and boundaries of creaturely existence (and so ultimately the Creator) is currently making the societal rounds.

Moral outrage at the latest crazy-making constitutes one potential response from evangelical Christians. Perhaps equipping ourselves with intelligent thoughts about freedom constitutes a better one. So much of the crazy-making, after all, advances beneath the banner of personal "freedom"--"freedom" conceived fundamentally if not exhaustively as the absence of any restraints upon my choices. So quickly, indeed, does the cause advance, that Barack Obama's grammatically and philosophically questionable comment that all Americans are now "more free" immediately following the Supreme Court's legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015 now seems, three years on, somewhat passé. Establishing and perpetuating a gender (or race, or age) for myself on the basis of man's unalienable right of "self-identification," that intangible but all-powerful trump card in present-day discourse, now seems a far more provocative exercise of freedom than merely marrying someone of my own biological gender.

I'm convinced that a (perverted) concept of "freedom" lies at the heart of our present-day society's apparent determination to dive headlong into the pit of pure insanity. If we and our children and our children's children hope to maintain our own good sense in such context, or perhaps even serve as catchers in the rye-field on the edge of said pit, we need to (re)align our own concept of freedom with a biblical and theological understanding of the same rather than the concept of freedom that pervades western societies. Resources for re-conceiving freedom might be found, I think, both in a good theology proper and in a biblical anthropology/eschatology.

With respect to theology proper, for instance, it might do us some good to remember that God is simultaneously freer and more restrained than any being in our experience. The freedom and restraint that mutually characterize God find expression in numerous texts of Scripture; for example, Numbers 23:19, which reads: "God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoke, and will he not fulfill it?" God's freedom is not generally questioned. God is the "ruler of all things" who possesses all "strength and power" (1 Chron. 29:12); thus, to put it simply, he does as he pleases. Talk of God being restrained may raise more eyebrows. But Scripture makes it absolutely clear that God cannot do anything at odds with his own character. This truth is reflected in Numbers 23:19, where the possibility of God not performing something he has promised to do is summarily dismissed. The author of Hebrews puts it even more bluntly: "it is impossible for God to lie" (Hebrews 6:18).

God's choices are not, of course, restrained by external forces. They are restrained, rather, by his own character. Indeed, God always acts "in character," so to speak, in a way that human beings do not. If, then, God exemplifies true freedom, we should conclude that true freedom consists in always acting according to one's nature, not in the freedom to make choices that may or may not be at odds with one's nature. Are we "freer" than God by virtue of our ability to either lie or tell the truth in any given set of circumstances? Surely not. God, it seems, is freer than us by virtue of actually being more restrained; by virtue, that is, of always acting in perfect harmony with who he is.

A consideration of man (in the generic sense) in what theologians have historically referred to as man's "fourfold state" likewise points to a notion of freedom that moves towards, rather than away from, restraint. Theologians typically assert that Adam and Eve possessed greater freedom in the state of integrity than we do either in the state of sin or the state of redemption. They likewise typically acknowledge that human beings will possess even greater freedom -- ultimate freedom -- in the state of glory. But human beings will simultaneously know greater restraint in the eschatological age. In the age to come, man will be, to steal Augustine's terms, non posse peccare (unable to sin). Thus he will become not only freer than he presently is by virtue of the fall, when he is non posse non peccare (unable not to sin), but also freer than he was/is in the states of creation or redemption, when he was/is (to varying degrees) posse peccare et posse non peccare (able to sin or not sin). In other words, ultimate freedom for human beings corresponds with ultimate restraint. In eternity, all our actions will conform to our nature. Superlative freedom and a superlative degree of divine similitude will be realized hand-in-hand. We will be most free when we are most like God, entirely unable to make choices that are at odds with our nature.

In sum, both God and man, properly considered, should prompt us to define freedom not as the absence of any restraints upon choices, but as the presence of proper restraint -- namely, one's nature -- upon choices. To put the matter more crudely, a fish is most free when it swims, not when it exercises some (hypothetical) capacity of choice to be a bird and fly. Redefining freedom along the theological and anthropological lines suggested above will immediately give the lie to much that passes for "freedom" in our day. Is gender reassignment, for instance, truly an exercise of "freedom," or an exercise in slavery?

It might also, however, challenge our own concept of freedom (or exercise of the same) at points that could make evangelical Christians uncomfortable. Can we rightly point the finger at those who advocate the kind of crazy-making noted above if we ourselves, when it is convenient to us, champion the (perverse) notion of freedom that informs such crazy-making?

Perhaps, in the end, gender fluidity and/or the next craze in self-identification will prove an opportunity for evangelical Christians to identity and forfeit a false god -- a false notion of freedom -- that has for far too long found safe haven in our ranks.

Looming Debate Over SSA

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These days, it seems that almost every week social media uncovers another eruption along the Presbyterian Church in America's (PCA) volcanic fault line between social accommodation/compassion and biblical obedience. This week, a conference promoting strategies to address same sex attraction (SSA) has raised heads and provoked comment. This particular event seems to be a laudable attempt to balance the tension: while calling for a compassionate acceptance of SSA Christians it also makes clear statements in support of biblical marriage and takes a position against homosexual behavior that most people in our society would consider fundamentalist. Conservatives should therefore refrain from drawing the worst possible implications from what seems to be a thoughtful and responsible attempt to address this major cultural touchstone.

While avoiding hysterical division, we can at the same time note that a major question mark hangs over the normalization of SSA as a Christian category. It seems that there is a growing consensus in the PCA that we can and must distinguish between one's sexual orientation and sinful desires. The alternative would seem to be that we tell men and women struggling with homosexuality that what they consider a part of who they are is sinful and (as some would have it) subject them to tortuous rehabilitation techniques that probably include electric shock. The bridge, therefore, between compassion and biblical fidelity is to embrace "gay in Christ" as a normal and wholesome category and then help our LGBTQ brothers and sisters live celibately with these desires.

One problem with this love-motivated strategy is that it collapses under the weight of Scripture. The biblical argument in favor of SSA acceptance goes like this: we always distinguish between desire and temptation. A heterosexual may sinlessly experience an attraction to a member of the opposite sex without giving in to lust. The same must therefore be the case for a homosexual. The orientation is not necessarily sinful, while the desire represents a temptation to be avoided. The key issue is behavior: does the person (heterosexual or homosexual) give in to temptation and commit the sin?

A first criticism of this approach will note that it fails to apply the Bible's vastly different approach to homosexuality versus heterosexuality, only one of which can ever be sinless. But the major problem is that the Bible does not distinguish between orientation and desire, while instead categorizing desire as temptation. Biblically, temptation is the outward circumstance that prompts desire into sin. But desire for sin itself is an expression of our sinful nature. Bible-believing churches take this approach to virtually every sin other than homosexuality (it is often pointed out that we would never take the pro-SSA approach to racism, for instance). A biblically accurate approach to homosexuality must therefore be congruent with our understanding of sin in general.

One key text is James 1:14-15: "each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." Notice that James does not equate desire and temptation but distinguishes them. Desire is the inward disposition toward a given sin. As James sees it, the key issue is not temptation but desire: until desire is sanctified by the grace of Christ, temptation is going to produce sinful behavior. Epithumia, the Greek word translated as "desire" identifies an inward impulse and almost always has a sinful connotation (see Rom. 7:7-8, Gal. 5:17, Col. 3:5, and 1 Thess. 4:5). Therefore, to isolate orientation from sinful desire in simply contrary to Scripture.

Theologically, the key term is concupiscence, which comes to us from Roman Catholic theology. The Latin Vulgate translated epithumia with concupiscentia, viewing it as a pre-sin orientation or disposition. The Protestant Reformation found no biblical support for a sinless orientation to sin and equated concupiscence with original sin. So, as is usually the case, we are not left to ourselves to sort out the question of SSA. Both biblically and in Reformed theology, orientation and desire cannot be separated; together, they must be cleansed by Christ and mortified by the Christian. (For valuable articles on the topic of concupiscence, see R. Scott Clark and Derek Thomas). Herman Bavinck pointed out that the rooting of sin in the will, apart from the fallen nature, is the impulse of rationalism, not the Bible. He noted that under secular humanism, "the basic idea was always that sin is not rooted in a nature and is not a disposition or a state, but always an act of the will."1 As for any idea that God approvingly endorses any orientation to sin, Bavinck responded as follows:

"Not only does Scripture testify against this view, but the moral consciousness of all humans rises up in protest against it. Sin may be whatever it is, but one thing is certain: God is the Righteous and Holy One who prohibits it in his law, witnesses against it in the human conscience, and visits it with punishments and judgments."2

This leads to the second problem with the loving attempt to embrace SSA but deny homosexual behavior: it collides with reality. If the desire for sin is unmortified (Col. 3:5), then it will produce sinful behavior when presented with temptation. Here is the quandary well-meaning pro-SSA churches are going to have to face: can you really embrace the desire as unsinful and persist in condemning the behavior as sinful? For some churches today, the answer is No. Indeed, this is the testimony of those PCA churches who have left our denomination for LGBT-affirmning communions. They argue that it is unloving to consign people who for no fault of their own are same sex attraction to a life of sexless loneliness and they can no longer bring themselves to refuse church membership (and, with it, leadership) on this basis. Yet the biblical and practical reality is that desire and behavior cannot be separated. This is why Solomon urged us never to rest comfortably with corruptions in the heart, but urged: "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life" (Prov. 4:23).

So what is the alternative? Must we choose between biblical fidelity and Christ-like compassion? The answer is No - a thousand times, No! For refusing this alternative, we should appreciate PCA churches who seek to minister to the homosexual community while still upholding biblical marriage and sexual behavior. Their problem is that affirming SSA as a Christian category - "gay in Christ" - is both biblically inaccurate and humanly unrealistic. What else, then? The what else for the homosexual question turns out to be the same as for every other sin. I know of no one who would affirm an orientation toward idol-worship, blasphemy, violence, laziness, stealing, lying, or covetousness (I'm perusing the Ten Commandments, you will observe). So why would we take a more positive position towards homosexual desire than any other sinful desire, especially when the Bible speaks with particular stridence when it comes to sexual sins against the created order? The answer is that for the love of God and man we should not.

Can we not affirm the person who struggles with homosexual desires? We absolutely can, just as we can affirm all persons who struggle with sin tendencies (and that is all persons!). But normalizing the desire is no help to anyone. We call them to repent of the desire, including the prayerful pursuit of biblical norms and the wise avoidance of tempting circumstances. We recognize that while God will bless this pursuit in his own timing, he is certain to do so (if not sooner, then in heaven). Then we love them with insight and compassionate action, requiring nothing more than faith in Christ, while acknowledging that repentance from sin is integrally joined to that faith for every Christian.

In short, true compassion will not be achieved in the affirmation of desires that the Bible forbids. True compassion embraces the biblical bridge between biblical compassion and truth, and does so by holding out a holy identity in union with Christ and in the experience of his cleansing grace. We find this very approach in the apostle Paul:

Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:9-11).


1. An excerpt from Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics: Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ.

2. Ibid.

In 1869, the German physiologist, Friedrich Goltz, published a series of conclusions from tests he performed on frogs. In his book, Beitrage zur Lehre von den Functionen der Nervencentren des Frosches (Contributions to the Theory of the Functions of the Nerve Centers of the Frog), Golz revealed that he had put a number of frogs in a pot of water and heated it to 78.8 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, the frogs obviously made efforts to get out. Golz then slowly turned up the temperature until the frogs died of at 107.6 degrees Fahrenheit. When he ran the experiment on decerebrated frogs, Golz discovered that the decerebrated frogs remained calm until they were fully cooked in the boiling water. I relay this story at the risk of offending both PETA and little boys who love frogs, in order to draw an analogy. In "late modernity," believers are in danger of becoming just like decerebrated frogs in the kettle. As the temperature of cultural wickedness increases around us, we remain motionless--until it's too late. While we silently tolerate and seek to negotiate with a culture in which abortion, sexual immorality, idolatry, materialism, abuse and every other form of wickedness runs ramped, we are being cooked. I am not suggesting that we become bombastic cultural warriors. I am, however, suggesting that we need to wake up to the reality of the wickedness in the culture in which we live and be willing to live as the faithful, God-honoring, sin-hating, righteousness-loving, truth-speaking believers Christ has redeemed us to be--no matter the cost. 

Jesus teaches us that there will be evidences of God's grace in the lives of those he redeems. The recipients of God's grace are marked as being poor in spirit, mournful, meek, merciful, peacemaking, pure in heart and hungering and thirsting for righteousness (Matt. 5:3-9). They will also be those who are "persecuted for righteousness sake" (Matt. 5:10).  Righteousness is not a culturally defined concept--something determined by statist ethics or media-driven agendas. As one theologian rightly explained, "What God says is right is right because he says it and He says it because it rests on his holy nature."1 This means that we must have our ethics shaped exclusively by Scripture. 

Recent exposés related to Rachael Dehollander, and other victims of sexual abuse, have served to prove how willing society--and, regrettably, even the church--has been to tolerate, cover and accommodate wickedness. If we have learned anything from this tragic situation, it is that we must wake up to the reality of wickedness in the world in which we live; and, be willing to call sin what it is. In order to do so, it is incumbent on us to defend the "straight line" of righteousness. Denhollander appealed to C.S. Lewis' reflections in Mere Christianity on the "straight line," as she faced her abuser: 

"I can call what you did evil and wicked because it was. And I know it was evil and wicked because the straight line exists. The straight line is not measured based on your perception or anyone else's perception, and this means I can speak the truth...without minimization or mitigation. And I can call it evil because I know what goodness is. And this is why I pity you. Because when a person loses the ability to define good and evil, when they cannot define evil, they can no longer define and enjoy what is truly good."

What a powerful word there is in this for us. We must seek, by a diligent use of Scripture, to appropriate into our own thinking, consciences and lives the "straight line" of righteousness. When we cease doing so, we will inevitably begin to accommodate evil. This is not simply a call for us to stand up for victims. It is a call for us to reject all unrighteousness. We must disabuse ourselves of the notion that something is wrong only because it hurts someone else in a perceptible manner. Sin is, first and foremost, rebellion against the King of Heaven. As R.C. Sproul put it, "Sin is cosmic treason...against a perfectly pure Sovereign." When King David finally acknowledged his sin of adultery and repented of it before the Lord, he confessed, "Against You and You only have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight" (Psalm 51:4). Accommodating culture on the horizontal plane is the inevitable result of downplaying the severity of sin on the vertical.

By nature, men and women approve those things that they know are abhorrent to God. The Apostle Paul--after opening the catalogue of natural depravity ranging from sexual immorality to unmercifulness (Rom. 1:29-31)--explained the science of cultural accommodation. "Who knowing the righteous judgment of God," he wrote, "that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them" (Rom. 1:32). Our natural instinct is not only to tolerate but also to practice and to approve evil in the lives of others. Accommodation can happen either explicitly (through vocal support or active engagement) or implicitly (by downplaying its severity or covering it up). When we accommodate societal sin in these ways we become just like the decerebrated frogs in the kettle. 

It is a travesty of the highest order when ministers publicly castigate fellow ministers for speaking out on such things as abortion, marriage, homosexuality and gender identity, while silently refusing to speak out on them. Appealing to kindness and ecclesiastical procedure--in attempts to censure vocal denunciation--is often nothing less than a smoke screen for fostering cultural accommodation. Rhetorical sophistry is par for the course, these days, for those who--wishing to blur the "straight line" of righteousness--silently promote ethical compromise.  

Believers are not to be zealous to uphold the "straight line" because we are better than others. God only justifies "ungodly" men and women (Rom. 4:5). Rather, we do so out of a desire to glorify the God who redeemed us and to reflect His image in a wicked and perverse world. We do so also for the sake of the Gospel. Jesus died for sin. It is impossible to hold out the abundant and lavish grace of God in the Gospel unless we first uphold God's holiness and standard of righteousness (Rom. 5:20). The law makes sin exceedingly sinful so that men and women will see their need for the forgiveness and reconciliation that is only found in Christ (Rom. 7:13; Gal. 3:22). 

There will, of course, be a cost if we decide to do what is pleasing to God and stand for the "straight line" of righteousness in a world that approves and promotes wickedness. Rachael Denhollander learned that painful truth. Though the cost may be great, we must remember that there is true blessedness in upholding God's standard of holiness. After all, Jesus didn't say, "Blessed are the cultural accommodationists, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." 

 

1. Van Til, C. The Defense of the Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008).

Andrew White, Todd Pruitt and John the Baptist

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Over at Mortification of Spin, Todd Pruitt has made waves by sounding an alarm over Andrew White, the PCA ruling elder who--as a Democratic candidate for governor in Texas--has stated his commitment to legalized abortion and gay marriage. As reported by Pruitt, Mr. White stated on Texas Public Radio: "I support Roe v. Wade 100%," and promised, "I'll veto any of this legislation that's coming out that limits a woman's right to choose." Todd responded with an open letter to Mr. White that laid out the biblical stance on the wickedness of abortion and called on him to repent. If Mr. White continues, Pruitt expressed the prayerful hope that his session and presbytery will subject him to church discipline.

In the aftermath of this public letter, Pruitt followed up to report on the response from the differing sides of the PCA.2 On the one hand, he notes how biblical conservatives expressed horror that an elder in our Bible-believing denomination could seek to provide political protection to sins condemned so clearly in Scripture, along with alarm over the apparent approval (or at least inaction) of his Session. On the other hand, Pruitt was contacted by numbers of progressives in the PCA who held the opposite view. Pruitt has been labeled as schismatic and divisive, accused of meddling, and derided for an "unchristian attitude." Included was the inevitable complaint that Todd had not followed Matthew 18 by first contacting Mr. White in private (this despite the fact that Matthew 18 concerns sins committed against us personally, not public sins by public persons).

One lesson from this situation is that the PCA in its fifth decade is deeply divided over core issues that extend even to the most basic biblical ethics. Just last week, Pew Research published a survey of views on the morality of abortion which claimed that 54% of PCA members support abortion "in all or most cases." Many of us have found this statistic hard to believe, but Andrew White and his supporters suggest otherwise. Is it possible that a professedly Bible-believing denomination could be so deeply divided on such a basic issue as the morality of the slaughter of pre-born babies? If so, how could this happen? Perhaps the PCA's differences over worship, confessional fidelity, and cultural accommodation are more closely connected to our most basic Christian commitments than many have thought. Or, perhaps, the issue is really only about the relationship between church and culture. This would seem to be the concern of Pruitt's critics, who argue that a professing Christian (and elder) should be able to give public support to biblical abominations. You know, two kingdoms, etc.

Here's where John the Baptist comes in. It so happens that my Wednesday night studies on Mark's Gospel bring me tonight to the passage where John the Baptist publicly scolds Herod Antipas for his adultery with his brother's wife Herodias (who is also his niece). Herodias doesn't like this a bit and so after her daughter mesmerizes a drunken Herod, John the Baptist's head comes off. What insight does this passage provide to Andrew White and Todd Pruitt? One way to answer the question is to ask where the faithful servant of Christ is found? Is he at the party with Herod? Is he defending Herod's right to practice his own idea of sexual ethics? I would say that the lesson for Mr. White is found in Herod's experience: if conscience does not silence sin, then sin will silence conscience. But for you, Todd, the lesson is found not only in the hatred directed towards John the Baptist but also in the attitude of Jesus toward his faithful servant.



The Nashville Statement: A Test of Orthodoxy?

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When the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) released the Nashville Statement on biblical sexuality, there were immediate responses from almost every quarter. Reactions ranged from wholehearted endorsement to begrudging acceptance to outright rejection. Many of those who rejected the Nashville Statement have done so because they disagree with the content of the Nashville Statement--those who support or defend issues such as homosexual marriage, transgenderism, and homosexuality. It is not surprising that they would be strongly against the Nashville Statement. 

Most who strongly supported and quickly signed the Nashville Statement are those who share CBMW's concerns over the wholesale rejection of biblical sexual ethics. They recognize that there is a need to speak up regarding what the Bible teaches on sexuality. And given the strong push in our country, and even in our churches, to reject the Bible's teachings on sexuality and to embrace the world's approach of "anything goes," I believe that there is a great need for strong, biblical teaching on sexuality.

There has also been a significant amount of pushback by some who share the concerns addressed in the Nashville Statement but who disagree with various aspects of the statement. Some are concerned about what CBMW means by "divinely ordained differences between male and female." Considering what CBMW has taught since its inception regarding male and female roles of authority and submission and the connection they have made with authority and submission in the Trinity, it's a reasonable concern to have.

After the Trinity debate last summer, the official answer from CBMW was that to be a complementarian one only needed to uphold the Danvers Statement and that it was not necessary to hold to the Nicene teaching on the Trinity. Such a position appears to make the Danvers Statement more essential for complementarianism than Nicene orthodoxy. That is a very rocky foundation and a legitimate concern for many who have not signed the Nashville Statement.

Another concern has been raised over the use of "procreative" describing marriage in the Nashville Statement. Again, because of the well-known teachings of CBMW and its authors on the topic of marriage and procreation, it's reasonable to ask exactly what they meant.

Others have expressed concern over the timing and usefulness of the new statement. They are concerned about the pastoral implications of such a statement. Will the Nashville Statement help or hinder efforts to reach and share the gospel with those in the LGBT+ community? Certainly it's true that the Bible's teachings on sexuality will be challenging and even offensive to many, but does the Nashville Statement add clarity or generate more heat than light? These are valid questions.

There have been a number of other concerns raised. Even some of those who signed the statement have addressed the reservations they have with the Nashville Statement. But in the push to defend the statement and to encourage others to sign it, there have been a number of articles that appear to make support of the Nashville Statement a test of orthodoxy.

In one article, an individual who supported the Nashville Statement comparea the Nashville Statement to separating the sheep from the goats. Another claims that to reject the statement is to reject the Bible. Yet another author stated that he had not seen anyone who supports historic Christianity that was opposed to the Nashville Statement. One defender wrote questioning the faith of those who disagree. These are serious claims to make and dangerous ones too.

As Christians and as the church, we must stand strong for what the Bible teaches, in all aspects of life. But we should be careful not to bind the conscience of other believers. The Nashville Statement, for however good it might be, is not the Bible. It is also not part of the confessional standards of my denomination. As such, even if it were a perfectly accurate representation of what the Bible teaches, I would not be required to sign it. Given the many valid concerns that faithful, honest believers have regarding the Nashville Statement, we should be very cautious about making support of it a test of orthodoxy.

As the Westminster Confession of Faith states:

"All synods or councils, since the apostles' times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both" (WCF 31.4).

The Nashville Statement might be helpful, but it is not "the rule of faith, or practice." It is not on par with the Nicene, Apostles', or Athanasian creeds which the Christian church has accepted as representing the fundamental aspects of Christianity. Opposing or supporting the Nashville Statement is not necessarily a proof of heresy or orthodoxy. This is especially true considering that some signatories of the Nashville Statement continue to hold to beliefs about the Trinity that are contrary to the ecumenical creeds.

In expressing my concern over aspects of the Nashville Statement, some friends who were supportive of it told me that they felt they needed to sign it because they had to do something to show support for biblical sexual ethics. Others said that the statement might not be perfect but no one else was doing anything. While I understand and share their desire to stand for the truth, especially in the face of such opposition today, there is danger in being too quick to act.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, we've seen many well-meaning people and organizations wanting to just "do something" to help. Sometimes it is useful. People are donating time, money, and resources that are dearly needed. Other times it's not so useful. A friend shared a story about an organization that donated a crate of limes. What are we going to do with limes right now? I'm not sure.

In making a stand for the Bible in our society today, we need to be careful and measured in our actions. I'm not opposed to making new statements that respond to challenges to biblical orthodoxy. Such statements may be necessary. But I would like to recommend that first we consider whether or not we're recreating the wheel.

As one writer pointed out, the Westminster Standards already address the very issues that CBMW attempts to cover with the Nashville Statement. Consider these excerpts:

On the creation of man:

"After God had made all other creatures, he created man male and female; formed the body of the man of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man, endued them with living, reasonable, and immortal souls; made them after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it, and dominion over the creatures; yet subject to fall" (WLC 17).

On marriage and divorce:

"Marriage is to be between one man and one woman: neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband, at the same time" (WCF 24.1).

"Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife, for the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue, and of the Church with an holy seed; and for preventing of uncleanness" (WCF 24.2).

"Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments unduly to put asunder those whom God has joined together in marriage: yet, nothing but adultery, or such wilful desertion as can no way be remedied by the Church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage: wherein, a public and orderly course of proceeding is to be observed; and the persons concerned in it not left to their own wills, and discretion, in their own case" (WCF 24.6).

On sexuality:

"The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts; all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections; all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto; wanton looks, impudent or light behaviour, immodest apparel; prohibiting of lawful, and dispensing with unlawful marriages; allowing, tolerating, keeping of stews, and resorting to them; entangling vows of single life, undue delay of marriage, having more wives or husbands than one at the same time; unjust divorce, or desertion; idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, unchaste company; lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays; and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others" (WLC 139).

What the Nashville Statement attempts to say has already been said and, in my opinion, said better by the authors of our historic Reformed confessions. Instead of a new statement, what we need as believers, especially those of us in confessional churches, is to teach the Scriptures and catechize our congregations so that we are well-equipped to answer the many challenges made to biblical orthodoxy. When society asks, "Did God really say?," we will be ready to respond.

I do not object to my brothers and sisters in Christ who have signed the Nashville Statement. They have done what they thought best. I share their desire to make a strong stand for biblical sexual ethics. I pray more Christians will be willing to stand firm on the truth of the Bible. We can expect the opposition to become increasingly fierce. I simply ask that in defending our decisions to sign or not to sign the Nashville Statement, we do not make either a test of orthodoxy.