My youth pastor used to say,”If you throw an orange against the wall, what do you get? Orange juice. If you throw a Christian against the wall, what do you get? A Christian.” His point was that struggles, tough situations and trying times bring out what we are made of (ie. our true natures). Our nation is currently in the midst of a cultural war and I believe this can be categorized as a trying time for the church. For a variety of reasons, Christian views and positions are slipping in this society. More and more people view homosexuality as not only amoral, but moral with consenting love held as the highest value. In addition, opposition to this alternative lifestyle is now considered immoral. As in past generations, there has been a shift in views, leading to a climax in the “cultural wars.” My desire is that the church, when thrown up against the proverbial wall, would show that its true nature is Christ-like.
So in these times, how should the church act in a manner that is worthy of our calling (Eph 4:1)? Let me suggest that there are two ideas that the church must stand on.
1) The church needs to stand for compassion.
In the past, the church has fought for the rights of slaves around the world (and still do!), protected the widows and children, provided for the poor and etc. The church historically has sided with the hurting and the shamed, as we should be doing. Why then are we not coming alongside those that are hurting and are shamed the most in our day and age? Why have we created a church culture that gives grace, love and acceptance only to those who are perfect (aka. those who are spiritually mature, have all the Sunday school answers, etc)? A cursory glance through the gospels shows/teaches us that Jesus had a heart for the disgusting, unhealthy woman who was bleeding for 12 yrs (Mt 9:22), he had dinner with the despicable tax collectors (Mk 2:15) he protects (or stands up for) a sinful woman (Lk 7:36-50), he heals a crippled woman (Lk 13:10-17) and withholds condemnation toward an adulterous woman (Jn 8:1-11). And its not just Jesus in the New Testament; God in the Old Testament upholds justice for those treated as helpless and second class citizens (Amos 5:12; 8:4, 6; Micah 3:9-11). If Jesus protected people who were considered shameful and disgraceful, shouldn’t we do the same? Jesus was the epitome of what it meant to embrace the brokenhearted, to protect the shamed and to love the disgraced. To him, there were no requirements to receive his love and affections. He did not discern whether one was worthy of his time and love; instead, he gave his love freely to all who would receive it. We should act in the same manner.
2) The church needs to stand for truth.
Without a doubt, this will be unpopular and confusing in light of the first idea. First, we are not called to win the popularity contest (Jn 15:20; 2 Tim 3:12). While we want to reach as many people as possible, we should not confuse that with being popular. God’s truths are inherently unpopular. Remember, we’re talking about a Father sacrificing his son (Rom 3:25), the need for blood (Heb 9:22), of a woman who never had sex giving birth to a baby (Mt 1:23), etc. To a non-Christian worldview, this is crazy, weird, confusing and bizarre…and that’s ok! Our job isn’t to convince people (God’s job) but to convey the message. Second, how does the church stand for compassion by loving people who break God’s law while also taking a stand for truth? In some sense, it’s quite easy. Take a look around your church. Do you love your fellow church members? I hope the answer is yes! If you do, then you can also love a gay person. Such a person is no different in their spiritual standing from the sinner who struggles with his temper, with lustful thoughts, with pride, etc. Homosexual desires are not a super sin that God condemns more than others. No, in terms of legal guilt before God, it’s a sin just as heterosexual lust and adultery is. Homosexual acts does not lead one closer to hell than adulterous heterosexual acts. It’s not more of a sin, its no less of a sin, but it is as much of a sin (1). This is what the church needs to preach and take a stand on.
Of course, that begs the question, “How do we actually take a stand for compassion and truth?” It may be tough, but Jesus did it when he protected the adulterous woman, without condemnation but concluded with a command to leave her life of sin (John 8:1-11). I’ll explore the “how” in a following post, but I think its important that as a church, we should internalize these beliefs first. Then, actions will inherently flow out from our internally held convictions.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself
Mark 12:31 (ESV)
For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world–to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.
John 18:37b (ESV)
Footnote: (1) Are some sins worse than others? In terms of degrees of sin, that can be a yes or no depending on what you mean. There is a legal sense in which all sin is the same. When we break one of God’s laws, we break the whole law (James 2:10-11). That is the sense in which I focused on above. The other aspect is the consequences of sin. Some sins have more harmful consequences to ourselves, to others, and to our relationship with God. Implications of degrees of sin can be found in John 19:11; Ezek 8:6, 13, 15; Mt 5:19. Degrees of seriousness in consequence is illustrated by looking at the consequence of a new Christian striking someone through losing his temper and a prominent Christian leader striking someone through losing his temper (Grudem 1994; 612).