Friday, June 15, 2012

Will they come...

A couple months ago, my attention was brought to a news item[1] involving the Presbyterian Church USA denomination. It reported about a congregation voting to leave the denomination over an issue they've recently been going through internal turmoil over: homosexuality. Further, this isn't the first denomination to struggle over the last several years with this issue and how to interpret scripture, with similar fractures.

One line in this articles jumped off the page at me:

Will they [gay people] try to come if First Presbyterian Church is considered an anti-gay church?
-- Robin Dailey
When I read this, several similar questions immediate came to mind:
  • Will adulterers try to come if church is considered an anti-adulterer church?
  • Will thieves try to come if church is considered an anti-theft church?
  • Will liars try to come if church is considered an anti-lie church?

I want to address a three issues this quote raises in my thinking.

Is homosexuality is different than other sins?

Society has not viewed homosexuality the same way as other immorality. Going back several decades, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder by the psychiatric community, listed in their official diagnostics literature.[2] I don't ever remember hearing about adultery or lying or any other activity society would generally consider immoral as being listed. We stigmatized it in its own category of badness, worse than other sins that are probably more mainstream.

However, now there are movements to normalize it. We see this both in society in general and within the church in particular. Certain groups desire to take it out of this special category of badness it has held and reframe it as good and moral. If we allow this, we're going from one extreme to another.

Both positions are out of whack.

It is not a mental disease. It is sin.[3]

It is not good, moral and to be celebrated. It is sin.

As sin, shame is an appropriate response for those involved in it.

Look at this passage:
Or don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor extortioners, will inherit the Kingdom of God.
-- Paul, writing to the Corinthians[4]
Homosexuality, if unrepented of, excludes one from the God's kingdom. But it's no different than pre- or extra- marital sex. Or stealing. Or drunkenness. Or slander. When was the last time theft was considered a mental disease? When was drunkenness considered something to be celebrated and embraced? When was the last time a church split over the debate as whether slander was a good thing or not?

We need to be balanced in how we categorize this behavior. Yes, it's bad. But let's not stigmatize it worse than other sins. Yes it's bad. Let's not make it acceptable.

Is attendance more important than transformation?


The passage quoted above continues:
Such were some of you, but you were washed. But you were sanctified. But you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of our God. ... don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
-- Paul[5]
The quote from the article asked if homosexuals would want to come to church under some given circumstance. Frankly, this is an irrelevant question. The questioner has forgotten that the gathering known as "church" is for believers to come to for the purpose of corporately worshiping God and learning from His word. While unbelievers are certainly welcome, our weekly gatherings should not focus on making unbelievers comfortable. Instead, they should focus on the beautiful One worthy of worship and train those who believe in Jesus and His payment of our sins how to live transformed lives by His resurrection power.

For those who do not hold to this profession of faith, this will naturally be uncomfortable. In fact, in many cases it will be uncomfortable for those who do follow Jesus as the Holy Spirit shines His light on areas of our lives that need transformation. I don't think it's appropriate to water down the message of the cross in order to somehow hope to be more attractive to those engaged in sinful lifestyles. The increased holiness of God's called out ones should be the metric by which we measure success within the church, not attendance of unbelievers.

However, none of this is to imply we should ignore unbelievers. As believers, we are called to be involved in unbelievers' lives. We need to leave the church assembly and be salt and light in a bland, dark world. Just as Jesus set the example for us by being called a friend of sinners, we as His bride should likewise engage with those around us, meeting them where they are, supplying their needs as appropriate and pointing them to where forgiveness and transformation from a shame filled life can be found.

And that place is not a church building. That place is not a church meeting. That place is at the feet of Jesus.

Increased attendance at church should be due to people desiring transformed lives, not because we're making unbelievers comfortable by redefining sin as acceptable.

Is the church known by what it's for or what it's against?


Finally, the original quote framed the question as a negative. It asked if people would come based on what the church is against. There are many, many things to be against. But transformation does not come by being against something. Transformation comes by being for something.

In my study of motorcycle riding, I was taught to not look at an obstacle. If there is something in my path and I focus on it, I will surely hit it. Instead, I was taught to focus on where I want to go and I'll automatically follow that path. This is a transferrable concept. If in our spiritual lives we focus on the obstacles of sin and failure in our lives, we will surely continue in them. However, if we focus on the One who saves and His word, we will be drawn to the path He wants for us.

As the church, we must focus on living lives of increased holiness and sanctification. We must spend time in God's presence and allow the fire of His passionate love to transform our hearts and minds. Our lives should be robed in righteousness as we grow in the knowledge of Jesus and long for the day when we see Him face to face. Our focus should not be on the ills of society. Rather our focus should be on loving Him with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength and from that place before Him, loving those around us as He loves them.

A better question to ask:
Will they [sinners of any type] try to come if church is considered a place to receive love, forgiveness and transformation?

2. Wikipedia article on homosexuality and psychology.
3. At least to the extent that sin in general is not a mental disease. An argument could be made that all sin is a type of mental disease (in the non-psychiatric sense), but that's a different discussion.
4. 1st Corinthians 6:9-10
5. 1st Corinthians 6:11,18b-19

Edit: fixed typo