“How Should The Church Respond To Homosexuality?” by Gordon Walker

The Church’s Position on Homosexuality

How the Church should respond to homosexuality is a question that can only be answered once the Church has taken a position on homosexuality. However painful, clarity is a necessary prerequisite for compassion.

question markThe Bible’s message about sexuality is wonderfully positive. The Bible teaches that marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman combining companionship, mutual support, and faithful affection, all crowned with the closest physical intimacy of which the human body is capable.

“a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24 NIV)

 It is only after enshrining that positive ideal that the Bible goes on to make clear that, consequently, all sexual behaviour outside such a marriage is morally wrong. That means that homosexual practice, along with all other kinds of extra-marital sexual conduct, is prohibited de facto. But, as if to avoid ambiguity, homosexual practice is also explicitly condemned, particularly in Romans 1 where it is described as an abandonment of this natural ideal.

The Church’s Response to Homosexuality

But it’s not enough to take a position on this issue, because homosexuality is not just an ‘issue’ – it’s people, it involves people’s lives, their hopes, their desires. So when we ask how should the Church respond to homosexuality, we are actually asking how should the Church respond to people who are attracted to others of the same sex.

So let’s be very practical. You have a friend who is attracted to people of the same sex: what do you do?

Response to a Christian with same sex attraction

If they are Christians (and there are more in this situation than you may imagine), then above all else, they need our support.Gordon

If you are a Christian, and are attracted to people of the opposite sex, I want you to ask yourself: what kind of sexual sins have you committed? Fantasising? Going ‘too far’? Actual sex outside marriage? If we’re honest, we’re all on that scale somewhere, so let’s be clear – they’re all sinful. We cannot permit ourselves any excuse – it was wrong.

I’m saying this because we’ve got to be clear about our own sexual morality, before we can be of any help whatsoever to our friend. Because, when they stumble, what kind of sins do you expect them to commit? The same kind you do, except with different kinds of people. The object of their sexual sins may be different, and in that respect it is a different kind of sin, but it is as natural for them, and as enticing, and as difficult to resist, as your own opposite sex sins are for you.

That’s the attitude we need when they talk to us: whether they’re blissfully unaware they’ve done anything wrong, or whether they’re wracked with guilt. If they ask us, we need to be able to tell them that it was wrong … as wrong as our own sins. That’s the first and critical element in the Church’s response – remembering that we, too, are sinners and that we are all required to come before God humbly and repentantly.

The second element is an awareness of just how hard it is for a Christian to talk about this. We need to make it easy for them to do it – so don’t be in the habit of making cheap jokes about homosexuality and, no matter how provocative the more militant wing of their community is, don’t allow yourself to go off on a hateful tirade. You don’t know whose faith you are burying with those words. And, if someone does tell you about their struggles, thank them for the trust that they have placed in you, be aware of the courage that it took, and then live up to that trust.

Because, for a Christian with same sex attraction, even a kiss is wrong, any romantic relationship is tainted. That means that a Christian who is attracted to people of the same sex may be facing terrible loneliness, a sense of isolation and sexual temptation. Our friendship and support are critical. They need us to help them obey Christ.

Response to a non-Christian with same sex attraction

But what if your friend is not a Christian but is considering, or actively pursuing, a gay or lesbian lifestyle?

If they aren’t Christians they need to hear the good news about Jesus Christ – not because they’re attracted to people of the same sex, but because they’re human beings. All human beings need to hear the gospel because all human beings are sinners. Gay and lesbian people live in a culture that often tempts them to define themselves by their sexuality, the last thing they need is the Church reinforcing that message. That last thing they need is you and I acting as if the first conversation they need to have is about their sex life, as if that is all that separates them from God.

The subject is going to come up, it has to, but it’s not the first conversation we need to have, because what Paul describes as being of first importance is this,

“… that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 NIV)

The starting point of the gospel is Christ’s cross and we shouldn’t act as if it’s their bedroom.

The bottom line is that there is no special gospel for homosexuals, there is no special way to share the gospel with homosexuals. Jesus didn’t die to save them from their same sex attraction, he died to save all of his people from all of their sins, whatever they are.

Conclusions

The position the Bible takes on sexuality is unpalatable to our society, that much is obvious. What we often forget, however, is that the Bible’s teaching about sexuality is difficult in our society. In a culture as sexualised as our own, the stark choice between heterosexual monogamy and celibacy seems not only arduous but laughable. The Church has a huge part to play in restoring the place of sex as a good thing, but not an essential thing. It’s not enough for us to just say that, we have to live as if it were true.

We need to restore the mangled image of friendship, restore the value of celibacy, cherish the value of sacrifice, and, above all, undermine the lie that without sex, life is not worth living. We need to refute that by the lives we lead, and the relationships we build. That means that we need to be a community where Christ and his glory are paramount, where the wounded are welcome, where the fallen are restored, where the purposeless are given hope, where sins are overcome in an atmosphere of honesty and mutual support, and where we tell one another the truth whether it’s easy or not.

In other words, the Church’s response to homosexuality … is to be the Church. That’s where we have failed most conspicuously in the past and where we must focus our repentance and our passion in the future.

~

Gordon Walker is married to Suzie. He also has three daughters. Currently Gordon serves as the pastor of Carryduff Baptist Church and guest lectures for the Irish Baptist College.

 ~

Administrator’s Note: Due to the sensitive nature of this post all comments will be carefully monitored and will be subject to removal should the content or tone be deemed inappropriate.

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Treasure Hunting: Do Christians Need To Love Books And Reading?

Geoffrey Chaucer. William Shakespeare. Matthew Kelso.

At least, as I turned ten, this was how I envisioned my legacy. Work on my twin masterpieces had already commenced. The first, a lively journal detailing my everyday adventures (a source document for all future historians); the second, a detective novel of mysterious intrigue and heroic daring-do, boasting two(!) bickering mice as central protagonists (aptly named Chalk and Cheese). Both lasted a quarter of a file page.reading4

This isn’t simply a self-deprecating anecdote. This is a narrative framework for you to understand the rest of what I’m going to say. My background is steeped in compulsive reading. I’m an English Literature graduate; which here means I spent a small fortune on reading over three books a week for three years. Reading has played a holistic role in my personal development.

So, when faced with questions about the necessity of books and the cultivation of a Christian love of reading; well, you can anticipate my answer will be, a fairly biased, “of course it’s vital!”. While fortune apparently favours the brave, debate certainly favours the nuanced. So, let’s attempt to develop a nuanced understanding of whether Christians need to love reading, by briefly considering it biblically, culturally and impartially.

A Biblical Basis.

Our God speaks. When He speaks, stuff happens. The cosmos is forged ex nihilo (out of nothing). Covenants are sworn. Redemption is accomplished, and applied. God reveals Himself through speech; Jesus is the Word in flesh. Our entire understanding of God – and therefore our entire understanding of life, the universe and everything in between – is based on the fact that He speaks! While we’re not able to perfectly and totally understand this revelation, my point is: God gloriously and graciously speaks, revealing Himself to sinful humanity.

But how has God chosen to record that revelation?

We confess that God is all-powerful. God could have chosen any means to record His revelation. He could have shaped the constellations, placing the stars in certain patterns to spell out His fullness of truth. He could have produced a great play, or a work of art, to be copied and performed throughout the ages. But, instead: He gave us a book. He gave us a literary treasure hunt. God chose to have His speech – and His truth – recorded in a variety of different literary genres: history; poetry; wisdom; prophecy; gospel; epistle; apocalyptic. And God chose to all of these genres to be bound together, working in harmony to reveal His character, in a book.

Therefore, it’s inevitable that this book – the Bible – will play a central role in Christian discipleship and spiritual development. We’re to cultivate a deep love for (Psalm 119), and dependency on, Scripture. And the entire time, we’re to remember that it is a means to an end. Scripture is breathed out by God, for the profitable change of making us more Christ-like, by equipping us for every good work for His glory (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Christians, we need to love Scripture – above all other books – because, through it, we find the resplendent treasure of communion with God.

A Cultural Concern.

“So”, you ask, “our God speaks through a book. I agree: all Christians need to love Scripture. But, no-one has time for other books! So, they can’t need them then!”.

Picture the scene: it’s date night. You’ve scraped a few pennies together, and reserved a table at the trendy Italian(ish) bistro in Belfast. Together, you arrive, find your table and order. Basking in the glow of an imminent feed, you start to make conversation. But, shockingly, your partner has pulled War and Peace out of her handbag/his wallet! They’re utterly engrossed, and don’t look up until dinner arrives. The same thing’s happening all around you: couples, families, friends; all reading mammoth literary works!

That’s face it: that’ll probably never happen. But, Facebook abounds! In 2013, it was estimated that Britons spent 62 million hours on social media (Facebook and Twitter) a day. We have the time. And we have the ability to read. We just don’t match up the time with the literature. But, why should we?

Great plays, works of fiction, historical reflections – whether secular or explicitly Christian; all can be useful in helping us understand the human condition, or appreciate God’s creative power, or considered God’s providential hand throughout history.

An Impartial Conclusion.

God revealed the fullness of His character in His Son. And He recorded this revelation in the Bible. We can’t understand this revelation on our own. The Spirit is our guide. Which means the writing, thoughts and literature of other Christians is vitally important.

The Spirit is our guide. He’s been guiding men and women for centuries, as they’ve deeply considered God’s Word. In their work, we have invaluable resources. We can rejoice in God’s love for weak sinners with Augustine. We can be amazed by our union with Christ alongside John Calvin. We can be challenged on our prayer-life by the thoughts of Don Carson.

When we view books in this way, it helps us see why we should love them! They are only ever a means to help our understanding of Scripture; an understanding which is, in itself, a means to enjoying communion with God forever.

But, how is this conclusion impartial? Well, I’m asserting that literature is a means, not an end. Book-reading isn’t to be the ultimate and defining characteristic in our lives. Instead, a correct love of reading acknowledges it for how it helps us better worship God. And, I’ve been careful to use the word “can”. There are many Christians who simply can’t read. It’d be inappropriate for me to demand that they do. But, there are many Christians who simply don’t read. It’d be inappropriate for me to not encourage them to take up a book, and try!

This is an issue which demands nuance. Many things that I’ve said require careful distinctions, and I acknowledge that I’ve left several things unsaid, which deserve fuller attention. But, to finish, I want to challenge my book-reading brothers and sisters. So often we adopt an attitude of superiority, or consider ourselves experts based upon the volume of our reading. Hear, then, the warning of Thomas Brooks:

“[I]t is not hasty reading–but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that make them prove sweet and profitable to the soul. It is not the bee’s touching of the flower, which gathers honey–but her abiding for a time upon the flower, which draws out the sweet. It is not he who reads most–but he who meditates most, who will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest and strongest Christian.”

An Emissary to Earth

In the past week the news has been dominated by a small robot called Philae.Philae_on_the_comet_Front_view

Philae is a probe which landed on a comet 6.4 billion Kilometres away from earth. The jubilant scenes from command centres and universities were infectious, and naturally brought a smile to my face. It really is quite remarkable that after ten years of traveling through space this small robot has landed on a comet (nicknamed ‘Churi’).

As I drove to work one day I was listening to a Professor from Queen’s University speak about the mission. He talked about how we will now find out where life came from in the universe, and shared his hope that we would find water on this comet (which he called one of the building blocks for our solar system). However, he went further than that. He spoke of this mission as sending an ‘emissary from earth’ to space.

6.4 billion Kilometres into deep, dark space little Philae is our representative.

As I reflected on this discussion of where life originated, I was struck in particular with this phrase ‘emissary from earth’. The Professor’s voice came to life as he related the fact that this mission had actually succeeded in placing a little robot on this comet (which is only three miles long – very small when you consider the distance covered to make it there). Ten years of waiting and hoping came to fruition.

Ultimately Scripture paints a very different picture of where life originated. The Bible states explicitly that life originated in God (Gen. 1-2; Jn. 1:1-18). Yet this life disrespected and abused by his creation (Gen. 3:1-13). The amazing thing is that instead of ending life, God promised a new life that would be delivered by Eve’s offspring (Gen. 3:15) – a life where the serpent would be defeated.

The nation of Israel held on to this hope which was given. Although, it took much longer than ten years for this hope to be realised by God’s people. Judges, kings and prophets came and went and still this promised life did not appear. In fact, the Israelites who had been promised so much were a divided, rebellious, homeless and apparently defenceless people by the end of the Old Testament.

This, mercifully, was not the end.

Rather than an ‘emissary from earth’ to find life, Scripture teaches us that an emissary to earth brought life. Thousands of years, hundreds of generations and 39 books later the promised offspring arrived bringing life. Jesus Christ was God’s emissary to earth. He was as good an emissary as anyone could hope for – an embodiment of the sender, God in the flesh.

His great proclamation was ‘I came that they may have life and have it abundantly’ (Jn. 10:10). Jesus brought life with him, and made that life ours through his substitutionary death for us.

Amazingly this abundant life begins now, because as Jesus changes us through his indwelling Spirit we find a satisfaction in life that comes with the renewing of our thinking. We see work, money, sex, authority, friendship etc for what they are – good but temporary gifts from God. Therefore, we have life abundant because we do not hope in or trust work, money, sex, authority, friendship etc but rather we enjoy these things.

Nevertheless, we must still wait because there is a day coming when life will be renewed in a fuller way. God’s emissary to earth left again after his death for us. But there remains another promise, a promise that he will return once more. When he does the hope is that this life that he brought will then be fulfilled in a New Heaven and a New Earth as his people possess New and Glorified Bodies.

God’s people may have to wait another thousand years for this emissary to earth to return and bring this promised fullness of life. However, if his first arrival on earth has taught us anything, it has taught us to wait patiently because he keeps his promise.

With this in mind let us pray this prayer:

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.

By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

 

Words by Charles Wesley.

Cheesy Posters, Christ-like Saints

Anyone who has grown up in church, or drives past a church building, will have undoubtedly come across those cheesy Christian posters.3507748995_9c5556fde8

Perhaps you have seen the poster which says ‘CH__CH – What’s missing? U R’ or maybe the cool (not) ‘Jesus is my rock and that’s how I roll’ poster.

They are posters which certainly make a point, yet make you cringe at the same time.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been preaching in a small church in Belfast. This church has a couple of these kinds of posters up on their walls. One of these posters in particular caught my attention. It said, ‘Before the service, speak to God; during the service, let God speak to you; after the service, speak to one another’.

Admittedly, it is a little cheesy and somewhat simplistic; but nonetheless a helpful way to think about attending a church service and therefore an appropriate poster to have up in your foyer.

Today I want to very briefly draw attention to the benefit of living out this poster.

  1. Before the service, speak to God

This is a great piece of advice.

Obviously it is talking about praying. This is a necessary spiritual discipline, which if we follow both the example and commands of the Apostle Paul, should pervade all of our lives. We should be unceasingly involved in prayer – however, at particular times our prayers should become more focused. A Sunday morning is a good time to do such a thing.

This can happen in a number of ways. When I was a lot younger I was taken to a more traditional church, as people entered the building they would have taken their seats, bowed their heads and taken a few moments of silence (the assumption being that they were speaking to God). Most churches have a pre-service prayer meeting which offers this opportunity also. However, it may be something that you should do by yourself at home before leaving for a church service.

In all reality the ‘how’ is not so important as the ‘what’. We should be focusing our prayers, and therefore our minds, on the service which is about to take place. We should pray for God’s working through his Spirit in the service; we should seek that God would glorify Jesus through all that takes place in the service; we should pray for our attention and involvement in the service.

In doing so we prepare ourselves to hear God speak.

  1. During the service, let God speak to you

Our communication is not one way – we must speak to God but God also speaks to us. We must be willing to listen.

If a service is saturated in Scripture then all of its elements will carry God’s voice. Scripture is God breathed and so as it permeates the service so God’s voice permeates the service. This means that as we sing truth, pray sincerely, read and preach faithfully and even observe the sacraments of baptism and communion – God is speaking.

God is all powerful, and so if he wishes us to hear his voice he will ensure we hear his voice. However, this no way undermines our responsibility; and our responsibility in a church service to be attentive, engaged, listening, learning, and open to hearing God’s voice.

We can do this by waking up early and making it to the church building in good time for the service starting. Perhaps taking notes could be a good way of listening to God in a service. Even approaching the service with the question of ‘What is God saying?’ could aid our focus in a service.

Hearing God speak must provoke us to action though.

  1. After the service, speak to one another

The longer I spend in church the more and more I am learning that it is a community of people who must live their lives together. And as difficult as living in community is I am coming to appreciate more and more that this communal life is actually a great gift to us from God.

One way to foster this relationship with others, and to continue to develop these relationships is to spend time with them. The post-service period is a great opportunity to do this.

This can be anything from asking what people got up to on Saturday, to asking how work is going, to discussing the sermon or songs sang. All of this builds a relationship, encourages brothers and sisters and sharpens our own spiritual life. This may be more difficult for introverts – but it is certainly possible (even if you can only manage to speak to one person after each service).

Our relationship with God inextricably links us to our fellow Christians and one way we can serve them is by speaking (meaningfully) to them.

 

So, next Sunday (or maybe even some evening this week) speak to God before the service, let God speak to you during the service and speak to others after the service.

It makes a cheesy poster, but also a Christ-like saint.

Guest Post: Suzie Walker Shares How Taking Notes During Sermon’s Has Been A Blessing To Her

A few years ago I attended an Irish Baptist College commencement service at which Rico Tice spoke.  I remember feeling challenged, it was a good service and an excellent message.  But honestly, if I hadn’t written it down I wouldn’t remember the content. “Choose self sacrifice above self serving, choose service above power and choose suffering above security.”  What a great challenge contained in these headings.  But having a poor memory (for some things), if I hadn’t noted these headings down, I would still have been blessed, but I wouldn’t remember why.

But does that matter?

I must admit to feeling a little naked if I listen to a sermon without a notebook and pen.  I feel like the content may be lost to me, even if I benefit from the message in the moment.  Time passes and I can’t remember why I felt blessed.  Some people might say it doesn’t really matter, it just matters that there was blessing.

notes 3I disagree.  For me, the experience of sitting in a congregation of people and listening to a sermon is all about challenging my thinking and transforming my actions and learning all I can about the Scriptures and what they teach us about God and how we can serve him.  Without note taking I struggle to remember, I am less able to retain and apply the lessons.  It is true that I don’t always revisit my notes.  However I go to a church where there is often consecutive teaching through a Bible book.  My notes are such a useful tool to be able to flick back through weeks of notes to grasp an over-arching thread or revisit something which becomes more relevant in later chapters.

I was recently told a story of an elderly Christian couple who had dinner with relatives each Sunday.  They were always so positive about the pastor’s sermon, what a wonderful message and what a great blessing.  However, if asked what the message was about, they couldn’t remember.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  We all have those memory lapses.  Often that “good feeling” you get when blessed, or “uncomfortable feeling” when challenged, is part of what a sermon is supposed to do.  I love and value that feeling too.  But with notes I take so much more away, a journey through a book of Scripture with my fellow believers, a focus, a stepping stone to delve deeper. Note taking is definitely not a substitute for personal study, but can be a tool to help it.

I can appreciate that a lack of eye contact could be discouraging for the message giver, but better a congregation of heads down scribbling the message, than eyes engaged but minds elsewhere.  Most encouraging and beneficial to the church as a whole, is a congregation who hunger for God’s word, and use what they hear to deepen their knowledge of Christ and what he requires of them, to change their lives and the lives of those they meet, notes or no notes.  A ‘good feeling’ that lasts until lunchtime, is not a bad thing, but a set of notes, or simply a robust and reliable memory (if you are blessed with such a thing) will serve better to make our sermon listening transformational and long lasting.

Note taking is a matter of personal preference, but I sincerely hope that the top of my head is not seen as a discouragement to the sermon giver, but an assurance that I mean to make this message count in my life.

Why Always Me?

The title of today’s post is a phrase that has been made famous by a footballer – Mario Balotelli.

‘Super Mario’ as he is affectionately known is something of a character. On the football pitch he can be both magical and tragic. Of the pitch, there is an unending supply of stories and rumours about the mad things he has done. One of the more amusing stories is that the fire brigade had to be called to his home after fireworks were set off in his bathroom.

As you can imagine all of this eccentricity has led to some ‘rough-housing’ in the media. Thus, the famous celebration pictured below after he scored against Manchester United.

Why always me?

v2-mario-balotelli-why-always-me

This kind of mentality is not unique to Mario Balotelli though.

It appears quite evident that all of humanity has a propensity toward this kind of mentality. We may not show it off like Balotelli, but underneath all of us are wearing a ‘Why Always Me?’ t-shirt.

A friend shared a blog post on Facebook just last week which exhibited this kind of mentality quite clearly. The post offered a collection of tweets where people complained about their first world problems.

These are just a few:

‘Had to wake up for the ironing lady to come and collect our clothes AND SHE STILL ISN’T HERE’

‘queue @sainsburys salad bar for 15 mins to find they had no egg OR giant cous cous. To say this has ruined Monday would be an understatement’

‘I have a papercut on my iPad finger. Every tweet is agony, but I persist bravely’

‘My wallet is too small’

These tweets are both funny and sad at the same time. Whether these people appreciate it or not, as they tweet they are joining Balotelli’s chorus, ‘why always me?’

Sadly, it seems to me that this is a problem among many Christians too.

Please don’t misunderstand me; there is most certainly a place for complaint in the Christian life. We need only to read the Psalms and see that (although there we call it lament). The psalmist can cry out to God ‘How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?’ (Ps. 13:1) and there is no indication that he is sinning. Rather, the psalmist is teaching God’s people to cast all their burdens on their heavenly Father (1 Peter 5:7).

However, often Christians lament their ‘Christian-first-world’ problems. They are embarrassed on Monday mornings telling people they spent their weekend at church. They plead with God that they wouldn’t be asked what their position on homosexuality is. They avoid the token office atheist at all costs. They keep their head down and ensure as far as possible that being a Christian has no detrimental effect on their social standing (as judged by others).

I am as guilty of this as the next person – I don’t want to be ridiculed, mocked or suffer because I am a Christian.

However, I was challenged by my daily readings recently as I read through the book of Acts. The Apostles, by the power of the Spirit, are continuing the work that Jesus began in his earthly ministry. As they preach the gospel they are arrested. They are released, preach again and consequently arrested again. At the end of chapter 5 the Apostles are arrested, beaten and charged not to preach the gospel.

If you were one of those Apostles how you would feel leaving the court that morning? Angry, deflated, scared? Well, these Apostles were delighted and encouraged. Here is what Luke records about how they felt:

Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name. (Acts 5:41 ESV)

They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name.

What a challenge for us – as Christians we are worthy to be ridiculed for getting up early on a Sunday and heading to a building full of people singing, praying and preaching. We are worthy to be mocked for our ‘puritanical’ views on sexuality. We are worthy to suffer at the hands of those who hate God and his children. We are worthy because we are Christ’s.

Jesus’ dealing with our sin by taking the punishment on the cross has made us his brothers and sisters. We have been adopted into the family of God. We have a heavenly father, a divine brother and through the work of the Spirit bear a family resemblance. We are worthy because Christ has won us for himself.

Therefore, we should rejoice as we suffer shame for the name. No longer should we cry ‘why always me?’