Christians Don’t Get to Vote on Immorality

On Wednesday of this week, the United Methodist General conference agreed to meet and “review” it’s stance on homosexual relationships. While I haven’t had great confidence in the United Methodist church’s theological fidelity for some time, the significance of this moment hits me with some gravity. Surely, John Wesley would turn over in his grave if he could somehow become aware of the willingness of his movement to surrender its moral compass to the pressures of popular culture.

Let’s be clear that this is an issue of major moral practice, that church leaders, (many who would call themselves pastors) are reworking as flippantly as if someone complained about the design of the church bulletin, and they figure a little tweaking would make it more appealing to the masses.

We must also dispense with the notion that this is just one of the many evolutions of thought in the history of Christendom. LGBT activists always maintain the “What about slavery?” argument as the universal defense of the notion that Christian moral standards can be voted upon and altered by democratic means. However, if the church has rightfully altered its thinking on any social, moral, or theological issue in the past, the justification for that change was not a consensus among church leaders, but the realization that we had departed from what the text of Scripture tells us.

We should be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that the movement to accept homosexual practices in the church is driven by a lot of things, but rigorous study of Scripture is not one of them. Anyone looking at the entirety of what Scripture has to say on the matter without biases or preconceived notions must conclude that God’s standard for sexual purity is one man, one woman, committed for life in a marriage covenant. For thousands of years, not one orthodox Christian denomination has read that clearly communicated standard differently; even when they disagreed over many of Scripture’s other teachings. Should we not be skeptical when it is at the precise moment that popular culture began to make these demands upon the church, that some began to imagine a different interpretation?

There is little doubt in my mind that the pro LGBT movement is winning the debate at a popular level in the greater church culture, not out of substance, but because they know how to frame the discussion in a way that appeals to emotions, and preys upon Biblical illiteracy. They’ve created monsters out of the opposing side, using the loaded language of popular culture wars, pitting privilege against repressed victims who just want to be free to love God authentically without hiding who they really are. They tell a love story, and we reply with a hermeneutical analysis of Scripture passages. Of course the love story wins, because everyone likes a good love story, but that doesn’t make it right.

Unlike some of the culture wars of the past that have been more about trying to get secular culture to recognize Biblical morality, this is a battle for the very identity of the church, and that makes it an issue worth planting a flag into and defending. We take that stand knowing full well that it means raising the fire-breathing ire of the entirety of secular culture and liberal religion. Homosexual behavior, like all sexual immorality, is unambiguously condemned by Scripture, and it is only with a whole lot of hermeneutical gymnastics that any other conclusion can be produced. Unlike some of the other things that can divide Christians, Scripture teaches that sexual immorality is one issue that cannot be tolerated in the body of believers (certainly that applies to other sins as well that we haven’t always been as quick to address, but that’s a topic for another time). Perhaps even more significantly, consider what it means for the church if we can take an inconvenient, but unambiguous teaching of Scripture (the very foundation of our identity), gather up a number of like-minded people, and veto God’s command. Can we really profess to be Christians any longer? Whatever is left after that, it’s certainly not Christian by very definition of the term.

Love and understanding, we are told, are the operative principles in this discussion. But only a superficial caricature of genuine love would desire a person’s emotional happiness over their long term well-being and eternal destiny. Scripture tells us that the most loving thing we can do as a body of believers when a person persists in defiance of Scriptural morality is to isolate them from the body in hopes that they will ultimately repent and find restoration. (1 Cor. 5) Though it seems harsh, that is the standard of accountability that every believer must accept, and it is the church’s responsibility to carry it out. I do have compassion for any person so possessed by a sin that they own it as an identity, and I would do anything in my power to see that person restored, but the one thing that I cannot do is to welcome them as a brother while they openly, purposefully, and unapologetically defy the very Scripture upon which our faith is founded.

The plight of an LGBT person who is pulled between the cross and sin is not something to be taken lightly, but to some degree, everyone who has made the choice to follow Christ has been there. Everyone has had a sin that they wanted to keep so strongly that they tried desperately to rationalize how it really wasn’t all that bad. And we must be clear, every emotional appeal, every attempt to normalize LGBT behavior, every misapplication of Scriptural love, and rationally bulimic attempt to squeeze LGBT lifestyles in between the lines of Scripture, is just man’s sinful heart trying to persuade itself that it doesn’t have to leave everything behind to follow Christ. However, we would be a sorry lot indeed if the church accommodated our sin instead of reaching out a hand to help us out and upward into a life that places the glory of God above all else.

–Thomas Hersman

“Respect the Classics”

I am the father of a precocious seven-year-old who can listen to a five-minute conversation between adults and recite back all the points and counter points. To the casual observer, she might seem extraordinarily wise beyond her years, but the ideas aren’t her own. She hasn’t reasoned through the different points and reached a conclusion. In many cases, she barely grasps what she’s talking about, but you have to admit, she sounds good.

Knowing the culture that she is growing up in, I will have to do my best to help her understand that she has to earn the right to be heard. It won’t be easy. We live in the era of social media where we can broadcast a constant torrent of our thoughts and feelings with merely a keystroke, and consequently, we assume that having the same power that came at great personal cost to previous generations somehow automatically implies that what we have to say is just as valuable.

I have found one amusing illustration of that attitude in the online reviews of classic works. I must shake my head in disbelief upon reading a random person’s comment that Augustine in his Confessions “just doesn’t keep the reader interested,” or Thomas Aquinas is “too complicated,” in Summa Theologica. Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not suggesting that we should read these works without criticism, but it would seem to me that if one finds a piece of literature that has influenced Christian thought for over 1600 years to be poorly constructed, the problem might be you, and not the book.

I must include myself when I point out that 30-somethings (Millennials) in the church today have a tendency to brush over centuries of thought and practice, and insist that changes be made to fit our particular wants and wishes. While the generations that came before us were simply happy to have a copy of the Scriptures in their own language and the freedom to meet in the open with fellow believers, we have the audacity to demand that services be shorter to fit our attention spans, music conform to our tastes for entertainment, and our favorite topics be emphasized while the ones that make us uncomfortable are avoided. While millennials are departing the church in droves, we say that it’s because the modern church isn’t engaging. In reality, it’s because we choose to prefer the company of the secular world over the company of fellow believers if they don’t recognize how special we are. This, in spite of the fact that meeting with fellow believers is commanded by Scripture, and no exceptions are provided for long sermons or boring music. (Heb. 10:23-25)

Someday, millennials will be the patriarchs and matriarchs of the church, but one thing that should happen before that day is for us to get a true sense of where we fit in the flow of church history, thought, and practice. Our generation does have a lot to give, but we have to earn our spot, just as previous generations have. We can start by listening when Ecclesiastes tells us that there is nothing new, and it has all been done before. Ecclesiastes is a lot like the old man on the porch sipping ice tea and staring off into the distance. He has the unique perspective of looking back over his entire life as a unified whole. That is a perspective that a young person cannot have. Older generations have seen movements come and go, with the longer cycles of history, and that is something that millennials would do well to consider. Instead we seem to get hung up on our own feelings of uniqueness. We often wear our characteristic narcissism almost like a badge of courage, when we ought to know that it’s just pride – dirty, ugly old pride. The church struggles with millennials’ unwillingness to be lectured on the biblical standards of morality, with calls to slow pitch hot button issues, but do we think we are the first generation to find righteous living upsetting to our delicate, snowflake-like constitutions?

To become a master at any worthwhile art or skill set, a person must study what the existing masters have to teach. A wise young person does well to listen to the wisdom that comes from previous generations of Christians, to discover why they set things up as they have, to consider what movements and ideas they have responded to, and what the outcome has been. When a believer who has demonstrated a vibrant walk with Christ for longer than you’ve been alive starts to talk, you need to listen. They have earned the right to be heard. In case you doubt me, consider this theme through Scripture, of the young learning from the old, and respecting older generations (Titus 2, 1 Pet. 5:5-7, Prov. 16:31, Prov. 20:29, 1 Tim. 5:1-3, Lev. 9:32). The old is not necessarily better, nor is the new bad, but for the believer, there is no substitute for the wisdom that comes with time and experience. With humility, we must approach the life and work of previous generations living and departed, to learn all that we can before we presume to think we can improve upon them.

–Thomas Hersman

Should Christians Read this Post?

Here’s a fun little experiment. Do a Google search for “Should Christians…,” and watch what happens. In the first page of results, I found the questions, “Should Christians: do yoga, vote, drink, eat pork, take antidepressants, celebrate Halloween, cremate loved ones, support socialism, get tattoos, play the lottery, or wear bikinis.” That only scratches the surface of what the internet has to say about the subject. It’s a good thing that people are asking tough questions about the implications of their Christian beliefs, but I do wonder about this approach.

If I am asking the question, “Should Christians…,” presumably the topic falls into one of two categories. Either it is specifically addressed in Scripture, or it is a topic that is not specifically addressed in Scripture. No rocket science there, right? However, if the first is true, why do I need to phrase the question “Should Christians…” when I can simply ask “What does Scripture say?” For example, there need not be any deep pondering over whether I ought to murder my neighbor for letting his dog in my yard. I don’t need to Google “Should Christians murder neighbors over petty squabbles?” In fact, unless I am simply ignorant of Scripture (and no believer ought to be), the only reason I have to approach a clear Biblical teaching as though it were unclear, is that I am trying to rationalize a view that I know is unbiblical. If that’s the case, I don’t need the topic better explained, but I do need to become more submissive to Christ.

Honest consideration of many of the issues that modern Christendom debates shows that there is often little ambiguity in the true meaning and application of Scripture, but there is a clash of secular culture’s values with those of Scripture. Many a hermeneutical infraction has grown from nothing else but dissatisfaction with what God clearly says. In those cases, look for faulty reasoning (since Jesus never mention homosexuality by name, it can’t be all that bad) and emotional arguments, (Doesn’t God want me to be happy?) and you will see the true nature of the problem at hand.

If however, Scripture doesn’t provide us a hard ruling on a behavior, we don’t have the right to proclaim “Christians should…” regarding our own judgment of where the line should be. That is the very definition of legalism. At the very most, I can appeal to Scriptural reasoning and consider the cause and effect of the choice at hand. God knew what He was doing when He gave us His Word. We don’t need to help Him out by filling in “the blanks.” There are many cases where circumstances, a Christian’s individual walk with God, and possible impact upon ministry, are the deciding factor for making the wisest choice. In those situations, the primary question is not, “Should Christians…?” but, “Should I…?” In practice, that ought to be a much higher standard than broad statements about what is generally the right choice for all believers. We are all (if we can be honest with ourselves) well acquainted with our strengths and weaknesses. For instance, I don’t drink alcohol. I’ve never had a drink. I choose not to drink because I believe it is the wisest choice for me. If I’m being honest with myself, I must admit that I have a tendency to over-indulge in food and leisure. There is a very good chance that I would do the same with alcohol, so I choose to abstain. I also don’t want to introduce it into my home, on account of its tendency to cause people to think and act foolishly, and in ways that are incompatible with the Christian life, ministry, and witness. I don’t want my children to see me drinking, and thinking it to be simply a natural part of adult life, choose to partake without understanding the real consequences. I believe that is a bit of sound Biblical reasoning. (Consider, Prov. 31:4-5, Prov. 20:1, 1 Tim. 3:8, Col. 4:5, 1 Cor. 6:12) I don’t need to invent Scriptural warrant for it by claiming the Jesus turned the water into Welches grape juice, or by massaging some other passage beyond its intended context. I know that drinking would not be the best choice for my relationship with Christ, or the ministry to which He has called me.

The temptation when considering behaviors that are not specifically or decisively addressed in Scripture is to think that we are free to do whatever we want, but that should not be our conclusion. A mature Christian’s standard for his own life is not what he can get by with, but what best honors Christ, and benefits his Christian life and ministry. (Consider Romans 14) If that is our attitude, then Biblical reasoning should be very compelling. If we start from that foundation for ourselves, and challenge others to think carefully under the guidance of the Holy Spirit about the lines that they draw for themselves, we need not obsess over aligning others to our specific way of thinking. An immature Christian, on the other hand, who simply wants to live comfortably close to secular culture needs to have a heart adjustment before biblically-based reasoning about best practice will take root.

Christians cannot simply appeal to controversy on debatable issues and conclude that since there is some disagreement in the church, it doesn’t matter what we do. In every significant decision that we make, we have a Biblical mandate to make the best possible choice. We need to be challenged and to challenge others to approach these questions from that perspective, without resorting to legalism or abstract emotional manipulation such as “Well, if you have to ask, you shouldn’t be doing it,” or “Would Jesus have eaten that last cannoli?,” or “Would you be doing that if Jesus were standing right there?” (Side not: There are a lot of things that I would not feel comfortable doing if the God of the Universe were standing in the flesh right next to me. I certainly wouldn’t be sitting here writing this to you. I’d be bowing and groveling at His feet)

We can answer the “Should Christians…” question simply. I should obey God’s Word when His standard is decisively given, and apply Biblical reasoning in other areas to make the choice that allows me specifically to best glorify God in my life. For the debatable issues, we hold a strict standard for ourselves, and extend grace to others, while encouraging them to live carefully in full view of a world that desperately needs a Savior.

by Thomas Hersman